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‘The president’s committed to raising the minimum wage,’ Labor Sec. Marty Walsh says. He should be

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The Senate voted against including a minimum wage increase in the American Rescue Plan in March, and as long as Republicans have the option of filibustering it, they will block any meaningful increase in what’s now a poverty-level federal minimum wage. But because $7.25 an hour is a poverty-level wage—and because raising it is proven popular with voters—Democrats need to find a way to make it happen, and happen in a form that isn’t an insult to the workers such a policy should be helping.

“When you think about raising the minimum wage, it’s really about raising the opportunity for families to earn a living,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh told MSNBC’s Ali Velshi on Saturday. “Most families can’t live on $7 an hour—no family can live on $7 an hour. It’s pretty hard to live on $15 an hour.”

“The president’s committed to raising the minimum wage,” Walsh continued. “I’m committed to raising the minimum wage, there are members of Congress committed to raising the minimum wage.”

What a minimum wage increase looks like is the big question. The Raise the Wage Act of 2021 would raise it in steps, going from $7.25 to $9.50 later in 2021, then $11 in 2022, $12.50 in 2023, $14 in 2024, and $15 in 2025. After that, the minimum wage would be indexed to median wage growth, so that we wouldn’t again have a minimum wage that hadn’t changed in more than a decade thanks to Republican obstruction. Importantly, the Raise the Wage Act would also raise the tipped subminimum wage from $2.13 an hour, where it has been since 1991, bringing it equal with the full minimum wage in 2027; the much less frequently used youth wage would also match the minimum wage in 2027.

One alternative you’ll hear mentioned a lot is a regional minimum wage, with lower-cost states having a lower minimum wage than higher-cost ones. There are a lot of problems with this. First of all, according to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, the only state in the country in which a living wage for one adult with no children is currently below $13 an hour is South Dakota. $15 an hour in 2025 is likely to be the equivalent of $13.79 in today’s dollars. So when people tell you that $15 in 2025 is too much, too fast … they’re sure not talking about what’s fair or right.

Second, consider how many states have already raised their minimum wages—and that it’s not just deep blue and expensive states like California, New York, or Massachusetts. In 2018, voters in Arkansas and Missouri raised their states’ minimum wages to $11 in 2021 and $12 in 2023, respectively. In 2020, more than 60% of Florida voters passed an amendment raising their state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026. The Democratic senators most likely to stand in the way of a meaningful minimum wage increase are West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema. Arizona voters in 2016 passed increases to $12 in 2020, with the minimum wage indexed to the cost of living after that. West Virginia’s minimum wage is $8.75 an hour.

But third, the history of proposals for a regional minimum wage is instructive.

“When the first federal minimum wage was being debated in the 1930s, Southern congressmen strongly opposed the federal standard, concerned that it would upset the white supremacist plantation system that dominated the South’s economy,” David Cooper and Lawrence Mishel write at the Economic Policy Institute. “In fact, Southern lawmakers insisted that the federal wage standard should be adjusted by region to account for differences in costs of living. What ultimately led to the minimum wage law’s passage as a single national wage floor was a “compromise” with Southern Democrats to exempt agriculture, restaurants, and a host of other service-sector industries that disproportionately employed Black workers. Even after it was amended in 1967 to cover more of these industries, the law still exempted most farmworkers—who today are majority Latinx—and allowed employers to pay a subminimum wage to tipped workers—who today are overwhelmingly women.”

Huh. What do you know. The early attempts for a regional minimum wage were about keeping wages low for specific people—as evidenced by the fact that the acceptable compromise was the one that wrote Black workers and Latino workers and women workers out of the policy. And once again we’re seeing efforts to keep wages low in ways that would, according to a 2019 analysis, disproportionately hurt Black workers and women of color. More than one in three of the workers who would lose out from a regional proposal similar to one suggested by Third Way would be women of color. Black workers would, on average, get half the raise they would get from the Raise the Wage Act.

Raising the minimum wage would lift hundreds of thousands of people out of poverty. The best available economic research, drawing on actual real-life minimum wage increases that have already happened, tells us that it would not cost jobs. It’s a matter of basic fairness, allowing workers to get a small share of increased productivity. By raising wages disproportionately for women and people of color, it would promote equity. It’s popular. This should be a no-brainer as an issue even for the likes of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, and a sledgehammer for Democrats to use against Republicans, not an issue to muddle with talk of a regional increase or other insulting compromises.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on April 6, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


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Universal Health Care Is a Popular Idea in America—Will Biden Keep Enriching Private Insurance or ‘Go Big’?

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on people’s lives, President Joe Biden has been on a victory tour to promote the American Rescue Plan, a hefty $1.9 trillion spending package that not only sends direct stimulus payments to struggling Americans, but also greatly expands health care options through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “We’re becoming a nation where health care is a right and not for the privileged few,” said Biden in his remarks at a hospital on the campus of Ohio State University. Eleven years after the ACA was first passed into law as President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform, it has survived relentless Republican attacks in the form of legal challenges and defunding attempts. Preserving and expanding it under Democratic leadership certainly constitutes a win against Republican obstructionism and a refusal to offer better alternatives. But this latest strengthening of the ACA is first and foremost a victory for the health insurance industry.

The American Rescue Plan includes tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to substantially lower premiums for insurance options purchased through the ACA health exchanges. Additionally, it covers 100 percent of the cost of COBRA coverage for those who have been laid off during the pandemic. Even the New York Times characterized it with the headline, “Private Insurance Wins in Democrats’ First Try at Expanding Health Coverage.”

Dr. Paul Song, co-chair of the Campaign for a Healthy California, and board member of Physicians for a National Health Program, explained to me in an interview that, “that’s money that’s just going to the private insurance industry.” He asked, “why not say to anyone who lost their job during the pandemic and lost their health care coverage, that you would automatically be enrolled in Medicare until you found your new job?” Such a move would cost significantly fewer taxpayer dollars but would have boosted the arguments in favor of a Medicare for All program, which centrist Democrats like Biden have vehemently railed against for years. Ironically, insurance industry loyalists cite high costs as central to their opposition to Medicare for All.

new poll by Morning Consult and Politico finds that a majority of Americans—55 percent—support Medicare for All. Strangely, the pollsters headlined their results by saying, “Medicare for All Remains Polarizing.” Nearly 80 percent of all Democrats support it, and even among Republicans, more than a quarter back the idea of a government-run health plan for all.

As Biden touts the success of the ACA (without mentioning the high cost of supporting it), a growing number of Democratic lawmakers are refusing to fall in line. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) dismissed the health care subsidies in the American Rescue Plan, saying, “I don’t think this was the most efficient way to do this,” and had instead called for exactly what Song suggested: that unemployed Americans sign on to a Medicare plan rather than their former employer’s plan.

Jayapal recently introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2021, which was co-sponsored by more than half the House Democratic Caucus. Her office released a statement explaining that the bill “guarantees health care to everyone as a human right by providing comprehensive benefits including primary care, vision, dental, prescription drugs, mental health, long-term services and supports, reproductive health care, and more with no copays, private insurance premiums, deductibles, or other cost-sharing.”

Dr. Song is hopeful, saying there is “more momentum every year” for such a program. Whereas in previous years Democrats like former Congressman Joe Crowley would have railed against Medicare for All, “they’ve all been voted out by the AOCs, by the Jamaal Bowmans,” said Song, referring to the freshmen representatives from New York who in recent years ousted centrist incumbents like Crowley from their party in primary challenges. Now, “for the first time, the entire New York delegation has supported Medicare for All,” he said.

The timing for a bold and comprehensive health care plan is ideal. According to Axios, Biden “loves the growing narrative that he’s bolder and bigger-thinking than President Obama.” Democrats are looking to distinguish themselves from Republicans in willingly spending what it takes to care for a population battered by the pandemic after years of austerity measures that have whittled away safety net programs. Criticism of Medicare for All from a cost perspective will not only be deemed hypocritical, but it will also sound Republican-like in its callous calculation to prioritize private interests ahead of human needs.

According to the advocacy group Public Citizen, the U.S.’s private health insurance-based system put the nation at such a deep disadvantage during the pandemic that according to a new analysis, “millions of Americans have contracted COVID-19 unnecessarily and hundreds of thousands of deaths could have been prevented.” This estimate is not based on people dying because they did not have health insurance. On the contrary, the government rightly stepped up to ensure that COVID-19 related treatments for the uninsured would be covered by taxpayers (yet more proof that lawmakers are willing to cover everyone’s health care costs if the crisis is dire).

Rather Public Citizen found that our entire health care infrastructure failed because “hospitals focused on profit and revenue were unable to respond to COVID-19 while safety net hospitals faced closure.” The patchwork of private health insurance systems and limited public systems left the nation in a confusing mess at a time when streamlined approaches to a deadly pandemic required systematic testing, contact tracing, and now, vaccine distribution. In contrast, as per Public Citizen, “Countries that had more unified systems were better able to roll out testing, track the spread of the disease via a central information hub, and intervene appropriately.”

Given the fact that Democrats require either some Republican support or an end to the Senate’s filibuster rule in order to pass any major legislation, Jayapal’s bill is likely to remain aspirational. However, newly seated Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra may be able to offer another pathway to a government-run health system. Backers of such a system ought to take heart from Becerra’s confirmation hearing where the likes of Republican Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) said to him, “Your long-standing support for single-payer, government-run health care seems hostile to our current system from my perspective.” Of course, Becerra said what he had to in order to win confirmation and toed the Democratic party line by responding that he would be enacting President Biden’s agenda, not his own.

Still, according to Dr. Song, “Secretary Becerra has been very public in saying that he thinks states should be afforded waivers, and now he has the ability to do that.” One of the positive aspects of the ACA is that states have the right to apply for federal waivers and that the HHS secretary oversees the granting of such waivers. According to the New York Times, “Because these waivers do not require congressional approval, they could become a crucial policymaking tool for the Biden administration,” regardless of which party controls the Senate.

“States like California could set up their own state-based health care system if it at least met the standards determined by the ACA,” explained Song. Just like their federal-level centrist Democratic counterparts, California Governor Gavin Newsom (and before him, Jerry Brown) spoke out in favor of Medicare for All while they were candidates only to back off from taking a strong stand on the issue once they had the power to do something about it. Newsom, who is facing a Republican-led recall effort, is now facing a push from his Democratic colleagues in California’s legislature to keep his promise on health care.

Regardless of how we arrive at a government-run health care plan, there is growing momentum for it. Scientists worry that the next pandemic is just around the corner. Instead of throwing taxpayer dollars into the pockets of private health insurance industry executives, a government-run plan would not only be more efficient and cheaper but also save lives—which is ultimately what should be the most important consideration.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.


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‘Bellwether’ for unions: Amazon battle could transform Biden’s labor revival

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Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday thrust himself into the middle of a bitter labor dispute at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama where union leaders are locked in a two-month drive to organize workers.

But the stakes in this battle go far beyond the struggle involving nearly 6,000 workers at the fulfillment center in Bessemer.

“What you’re doing is for workers across the country,” Sanders declared during a rally of dozens of workers at a union hall in Birmingham, just a 20-minute drive from the Bessemer facility. “They know if you succeed here, it will spread all over the country.”

If the push in red-state Alabama is successful, it could galvanize more organizing efforts at Amazon and other large retailers across the country. If it fails, it could become a lightning rod for Democrats’ efforts to push through one of the broadest expansions of collective bargaining rights in nearly a century — yet, at the same time, embolden a triumphal business community to harden its stance against organized labor.

“The implications of this election transcend this one warehouse, and even this company,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is organizing the workers. “It’s about the future of work, and how workers are going to be treated.”

The visit by Sanders, a Vermont independent, comes at a pivotal moment for Democrats’ and President Joe Biden’s sweeping efforts to rebuild the middle class by empowering workers and unions. Their proposals to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 and make it easier for employees to unionize are being met by a wall of opposition from Republicans and the business lobby, who say such moves would cripple the economy and bleed American jobs. And the Democrats’ lack of a clear majority in the Senate will make passage of any far-reaching legislation difficult.

The employees at the Amazon warehouse — a majority of them women and minorities — were considered “essential” during the coronavirus pandemic and ordered to continue working as much of the rest of the economy shuttered. Workers say they began organizing over concerns about the spread of the virus, and their frustration over racial injustice sparked by the George Floyd protests last spring. But the complaints go beyond the pandemic to what some say are onerous conditions.

“Amazon is a big plant, about the size of a football field. They want us to go to the bathroom and come back to the machine in five minutes,” said Linda Burns, who was injured on the job at the Bessemer facility. “They say we have quote unquote good insurance. I’m still getting bills in the mail off y’alls good insurance.”

Jennifer Bates, who also works at the facility, brought her case to Washington.

“Amazon’s going to poor communities claiming that they want to help the economic growth,” Bates said during a recent congressional hearing. “That should mean … a living wage and benefits that truly match the cost of living, and ensur[ing] workers work in safe and healthy conditions, because we are not robots designed to only live to work.”

Amazon responded to the union drive by requiring workers to attend “union education meetings,” Bates told members of Congress, as well as posting “anti-union” signs around the fulfillment center and sending messages to workers’ phones.

Amazon declined to comment for this article. But the e-commerce giant’s corporate Twitter account in recent days has directly addressed Democrats’ criticism about working conditions at its facility.

Sanders “has been a powerful politician in Vermont for 30 years and their min wage is still $11.75,” the company tweeted on Friday. “Amazon’s is $15, plus great health care from day one. Sanders would rather talk in Alabama than act in Vermont.”

The National Labor Relations Board will begin counting the votes on March 30, a process that could take a week or longer. The voting itself spanned two months because it was done by mail-in ballot as a safety precaution during the pandemic. In-person voting might have taken a few days.

Those critical of labor unions caution that such drives are often heavily influenced from elsewhere and can leave local workers caught in the fray.

“There are definitely concerted, planned, well-financed campaigns by major labor unions to come in from the outside and organize new, high-profile workplaces, and the Amazon campaign is a great example of that,” said Maxford Nelsen, director of labor policy at the Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit that’s critical of unions. “And employees are in the middle of trying to pick between the two sides.”

Nelsen rejected the idea that the union vote carried any broader significance for American labor policy.

“If the employees at the end of the day vote against unionization. I think that means a majority of the employees weren’t convinced by the union’s arguments,” Nelsen added. “That doesn’t mean anything more, anything less than that.”

The landmark labor law overhaul bill backed by Biden and unions, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, would prohibit companies from requiring their workers to attend anti-union meetings, Sanders told reporters after the rally.

It would also call for management to go to mediation and arbitration with the union if the two sides are unable to reach an initial collective bargaining agreement.

That bill passed the House earlier this month with just five GOP votes in support, making it a long shot in the 50-50 Senate.

But union and worker advocates say the unusual public attention on the union drive and the conditions at the fulfillment center have captured the moment and are emblematic of how weak federal labor laws and widening economic inequality have stacked the odds against workers.

“There has never been a greater argument for labor law reform and the PRO Act than this election,” said Appelbaum, the union leader.

Alabama is one of 27 states that have enacted right-to-work laws, meaning that workers can opt out of union membership if they choose. The PRO Act would allow unions to override those laws and collect “fair share fees” from non-members for the costs of collective bargaining.

Unions say they are already seeing momentum from the effort in Bessemer, and that the drive could also mobilize hesitant workers in states with stricter collective bargaining laws as well as younger workers who may be unfamiliar with unions after years of declines in membership.

And their next target may not be far away. Amazon already has plans to expand in Bessemer and neighboring Birmingham later this year.

“I think this campaign can be seen as a bellwether for things to come,” said Christian Sweeney, deputy organizing director for the AFL-CIO. “We’re seeing more interest on the part of workers in the South in lots of different sectors, from manufacturing to higher education to health care.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on March 26, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.


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Working Life Episode 216: Wealth Tax on the Table; Two Trillion for the Global Poor; Joe Biden and Union Organizing

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The number that sticks in my mind today, and has since I heard it, is 40 percent. While over half a million people in the U.S. have died of COVID in one year, while millions of people have become sick, while millions of people have lost their jobs, savings and homes, and many people have been forced to wait in long food lines to get enough to feed their families—while all that was happening, the billionaires—the top 0.05 percent in the country, the Waltons, the Jeff Bezos’ of the world—saw their collective wealth go up 40 percent. Which is one good reason to have a wealth tax.

This week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Pramila Jayapal rolled out an “Ultra Millionaire’s Tax”. The tax would only be on the wealthiest 100,000 households in America, or the top 0.05%, who have a net worth of $50 million, and it would raise $3 trillion over a decade. Since, and I’m just spit balling here, I don’t think my audience falls into the over $50 million-net-worth category, I figured it would be safe to engage the always-brilliant Amy Hanauer, executive director of the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, in a conversation about the great benefits of a wealth tax.

Some good news! Last May, I talked about an effort to raise two trillion dollars for poorer countries to battle the pandemic and the economic collapse. The money, so-called Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), can be created by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but the Trump Administration blocked the move—even though it comes at no cost to taxpayers here. But, now, there’s movement: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen appears to be in favor of some level of the SDRs, if not the full two trillion now in the newly resurrected bills in the Senate and House. Mark Weisbrot, co-director of CEPR and an expert in international affairs who has been leading the campaign since last year, joins us for an update.

I also have a few thoughts about the video Joe Biden made about the rights of workers to have a union. It’s a good thing—but it also shows how narrow the debate is about true union organizing rights. Check it out—and let me know your thoughts!

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on March 3, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a political / organizing / economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years.


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One of the most pro-worker moves Biden could make might surprise you

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One incredibly important move to help workers that the Biden administration has signaled didn’t necessarily look like a pro-worker move. Even before President Biden was inaugurated, his incoming White House counsel started asking for suggestions for judicial nominees who would be diverse not just on race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion, but on professional background. Specifically, more candidates who have been public defenders or civil rights attorneys (a group that also happens to be more diverse in other ways).

How’s that a pro-worker move? According to a new study by Emory University law professor Joanna Shepherd, judges appointed by former President Obama who had corporate backgrounds with Obama-appointed judges were 36% less likely to rule for workers over bosses in workplace disputes. Obama-appointed judges with backgrounds as prosecutors were 50% less likely to take the side of workers than were non-prosecutors. 

Advocacy groups like Demand Justice, which helped fund Shepherd’s study, are working to keep the pressure on the Biden administration to follow through on this and make the federal judiciary more diverse in this key way.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on February 27, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. Clawson has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently assistant managing editor at the Daily Kos.


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‘Union guy’ Joe Biden keeps his distance from Amazon union fight

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When Joe Biden was running for president, he promised union members that he would be the “best friend labor has ever had in the White House.”

Now in office, Biden is keeping his distance from the biggest union fight of his early presidency, one involving a powerful company that gave to his inauguration and has pledged to help his administration fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

The White House on Wednesday declined to directly endorse the union election at the e-commerce giant Amazon’s Alabama warehouse, telling POLITICO that, It’s the president’s position — and the policy of the U.S. government — to encourage union organizing and collective bargaining.

A Biden spokeswoman stressed that it’s also White House policy not to comment on the merits of specific cases that are currently before, or likely to be before, the National Labor Relations Board, which adjudicates unionization campaigns.

“President Biden has urged employers not to run anti-union campaigns or interfere with organizing and bargaining, and has called for holding employers accountable and increasing penalties when they do,” the spokeswoman said.

The comments from the White House underscore the delicate political dynamics that exist around the election in Alabama — an election that could result in Amazon’s first unionized factory in America. And they quickly drew a rebuke from labor advocates who still haven’t forgotten about the time former President Barack Obama rebuffed calls to join thousands of public workers protesting against a GOP-led state law that restricted state employees’ ability to unionize, despite previously pledging to walk the picket line on behalf of labor.

“If we don’t have the leader of the free world speaking up and saying, I’ve got these workers’ backs, so that they can actually freely choose their union … We’re leaving them stranded,” Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA told POLITICO in an interview. “I mean this is a real opportunity for the President to say, I mean what I say… when I put forward the ideals that I have in my labor platform.”

Biden’s labor platform includes passing an historic overhaul of federal labor law that would broadly expand workers’ ability to form unions. And so far the new president has appeared to keep his promises to fight for collective bargaining rights. Last month, Biden fired the labor board’s Trump-appointed general counsel and his replacement, the first time in more than 70 years a president has exercised that power over the agency.

The situation in Alabama presents a different set of challenges, however. The factory workers, Nelson added, are “taking on incredible power, and they need to know that they’ve got the president of the United States who has their backs and they’re going to have a fair chance.”

Some 6,000 full-time and part-time factory workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama fulfillment center have been voting throughout February on whether to join The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

If workers vote in favor of union representation, it would be a massive win for organized labor against a company that has been largely hostile to unionization efforts in the past. In recent days, organized labor’s allies in Washington have thrown their weight behind the union drive, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), former state Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Ga.), as well as actor Danny Glover, releasing a video in support of the election on Wednesday.

“I think it’s important for the administration to demonstrate during this campaign its support for unionization,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, said in a published interview earlier this week. Appelbaum declined requests to speak for this story, and the RWDSU instead directed POLITICO to his statement specifying that the Alabama election “is a great opportunity for the administration to show working people what’s important to them.”

Amazon has reportedly encouraged workers to vote “no” in the election, including posting flyers in bathroom stalls at the warehouse. The company also sought to delay the Alabama warehouse election, and requested that the vote take place in person, rather than by mail, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

The company has a fair bit of political heft in Washington, D.C. It was one of many that contributed to the president’s inaugural ceremonies, and it employs former top Biden and Obama White House spokesman Jay Carney, who bundled money for Biden’s election. On the day that Biden was sworn into office, Amazon sent a letter to him offering its help with Covid vaccine distribution.


Amazon spokesperson Heather Knox declined to comment on recent calls for President Biden to weigh in on the union vote.

“We don’t believe the RWDSU represents the majority of our employees’ views,” Knox told POLITICO. “Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”

During the campaign, Biden took aim at companies like Amazon for not paying corporate taxes, riffing on the disparity on the trail and in tweets. “I have nothing against Amazon, but no company pulling in billions of dollars of profits should pay a lower tax rate than firefighters and teachers,” he said at one point during the primary. “We need to reward work, not just wealth.”

He also ran for president as an unapologetic champion of unions, often citing the dwindling number of unionized workers as the primary reason for the shrinking of America’s middle class. Shortly after his election, Biden relayed that he had explicitly told corporate leaders that he was “a union guy.”

“They just nodded,” he said. “They understand. It’s not anti-business. It’s about economic growth.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on February 24, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.


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Joe Biden Has a Golden Opportunity to Strengthen Public Education

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In picking Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona to be his nominee for U.S. secretary of education, President-elect Joe Biden appears to have made a Goldilocks choice that pleases just about everyone. People who rarely agree on education policy have praised the decision, including Jeanne Allen, CEO of the Center for Education Reform, a nonprofit group that advocates for charter schools and school choice, who called Cardona “good news,” and education historian Diane Ravitch, who also called the pick “good news” because he does not seem to be aligned with advocates for charter schools and vouchers. Sara Sneed, president and CEO of the NEA Foundation, a public charity founded by educators, called Cardona an “ideal candidate,” in an email, and hailed him for “his emphasis on the need to end structural racism in education and for his push for greater educational equity and opportunity through public schools.”

But as Biden and Cardona—should he be approved, as most expect—begin to address the array of critical issues that confront the nation’s schools, there’s bound to be more of a pushback. Or maybe not?

After decades of federal legislation that emphasized mandating standardized testing and tying school and teacher evaluations to the scores; imposing financial austerity on public institutions; incentivizing various forms of privatization; and undermining teachers’ professionalism and labor rights, there is a keen appetite for a new direction for school policy.

Due to the disruption forced by the pandemic, much is being written and said about the need to “restart and reinvent” education and a newfound appreciation for schools as essential infrastructure for families and children. With an incoming Biden administration, Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, and the influence of incoming first lady Jill Biden, a career educator, we may be on the cusp of a historic moment when the stars align to revitalize public schools in a way that hasn’t happened in a generation.

Among the promising ideas that appear to have growing momentum behind them are proposals to fund schools more equitably, to expand community schools that take a more holistic approach to educating students, to create curriculum and pedagogy that are relevant to the science of how children learn and the engagement of their families, and to reverse the direction of accountability measures from top-down mandates to bottom-up community-based endeavors.

In her email, Sneed praised Biden’s commitment to expand the community schools model to an additional 300,000 students. She said, “My hope is that his effort will bring community schools to every part of the country, including the American South which is so often under resourced.”

Where’s the opposition to these ideas?

In her farewell address to the Education Department, before she tendered her resignation with a mere 13 days left, outgoing secretary Betsy DeVos told career staff members to “be the resistance” to an incoming Biden administration, Politico reported. In her farewell letter to Congress, she urged lawmakers to “reject Biden’s education agenda,” according to the Washington Post.

Does anyone really think there are any federal officials who will heed this advice?

During her tenure, DeVos cut more than 500 positions from her department, 13 percent of its staff, and proposed enormous funding cuts to programs. Employees accused her of “gutting” their labor agreement, reported the Washington Post, and replacing it with new rules that stripped out worker protections and disability rights, among other provisions. Employee morale “plummeted” under her management, Education Week reported, and she threatened to suspend an employee who leaked her plan to slash the department’s resources.

In Congress, DeVos was constantly besieged—from her approval, which required a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence, a historic first, to her contentious final in-person hearing. Her proposals to dramatically shrink federal spending on education went nowhere, and her many proposals for a federal school voucher program were never taken up by Congress.

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten captured most people’s sentiments when DeVos resigned, saying just two words: “Good riddance.”

Instead of taking up DeVos’s calls for “resistance,” Capitol Hill seems much more likely to welcome Biden-Cardona with open arms.

An “early test” for Cardona, as Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post reports, will be deciding whether or not to let states opt out of administering federally mandated standardized tests to every student. In 2020, DeVos had let states waive the mandate, but she announced she would enforce the requirement in 2021 should she remain in office.

As Strauss reported, should Cardona decide to waive the order, he would please a broad consensus, including state and local superintendents, teachers’ unions, state and local boards of education, and federal and state lawmakers “from both sides of the political aisle.” At least one national survey has found that a sizable majority of parents want the tests canceled.

Another potentially contentious issue will be Biden’s “pledge to reopen most schools” for in-person learning within the first 100 days of his administration. Attempts to reopen schools during a pandemic have caused teachers in many school districts to rebel by writing their obituaries, staging mock funeralsresigningcalling in sick, and organizing strikes and other labor actions.

However, the operative word in Biden’s pledge to reopen is “safely.” His proposal rests on key conditions, including getting the virus under control in surrounding communities, setting health and safety guidelines recommended by experts, and providing sufficient funding to protect returning students, teachers, and support staff.

This is the complete opposite of Trump and DeVos, who simply demanded schools reopen and then did nothing to support the reopening process.

When a reporter from the Associated Press asked Weingarten to comment on Biden’s proposal to reopen schools, she replied, “Hallelujah.”

In his leadership of Connecticut schools, Cardona has taken a similarly non-ideological stance on keeping schools open in the pandemic, as Education Week’s Evie Blad explains in a video (beginning at 5:57), by “[encouraging] schools to keep their doors open” and “providing resources” and “support.” But he “never mandated” schools to deliver in-person instruction.

Congress, where Democrats have a small majority in the House and a razor-thin margin in the Senate, may be resistant to provide the necessary funding Biden wants. But as Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa explains, Democrats are mostly united in getting a “big new relief package” passed and have a way to overcome Republican opposition using budget reconciliation.

On the issue of charter schools, vouchers, and other forms of “school choice,” which was DeVos’s signature issue, Biden has stated he does “not support federal money for for-profit charter schools,” and said they often “[siphon] off money from our public schools, which are already in enough trouble.”

Based on this measured stance, some, including Trump, have warned Biden would “abolish” charter schools and school choice, which is simply not true.

Cardona has taken a similarly evenhanded view of charters, the Connecticut Mirror reports. Under his leadership in Connecticut, existing charters were renewed while no new ones were approved. “Asked about charter schools during his confirmation hearing [for Connecticut commissioner of education],” the article notes, “Cardona said he’d rather focus his energy making sure neighborhood public schools are viable options.”

This is a refreshing change, not only from DeVos’s rhetoric for privatization, but also from previous presidential administrations, including Obama’s, that openly advocated for charter schools. It foretells that perhaps what Biden-Cardona might bring to the policy discussion over charter schools and other forms of school choice is some genuinely honest conversation rather than sloganeering about charters.

Where Biden and Cardona are most likely to encounter headwinds to their education policies are from Republicans stuck in the ongoing culture wars.

Eight days before a mob of Trump supporters, driven by the president’s tirades against losing reelection, broke into the nation’s Capitol, sent lawmakers into seclusion, and desecrated the building, Newt Gingrich, a former speaker of the House, reminded us that public education has long been a public institution in the crosshairs of right-wing ideologues. Asked by Guardian reporter David Smith, “where does the Republican party go from here?” Gingrich replied, “What you have, I think, is a Democratic party driven by a cultural belief system that they’re now trying to drive through the school system so they can brainwash the entire next generation if they can get away with it.”

Evidence of that “brainwashing” in public schools, supposedly, is the emphasis on the fully supportive inclusion of all students and protection of their civil rights that was behind many of the policy guidelines laid down by the Obama administration. DeVos rescinded many of those guidelines, but Biden has vowed to restore them.

Another source of potential discontent with the new energy that Biden and Cardona will likely bring to education policy are the holdovers of the “education reform” movement, who want to bring back in full force the top-down mandates from the Bush and Obama administrations, including charter school expansions, tying teacher evaluations to student test scores, and closing public schools based on their test scores.

For this crew, the central problem in education will always be “bad teachers,” and nothing but the most punitive accountability measures will do.

A case in point is a recent piece in New York Magazine extolling charter schools in which columnist Jonathan Chait writes that “the core dispute” in education politics is “a tiny number of bad teachers, protectively surrounded by a much larger circle of union members, surrounded in turn by an even larger number of Democrats who have only a vague understanding of the issue.”

In other words, if you don’t think cracking down on teachers and their unions is critical to improving schools, then you’re just not informed.

For decades, education policy has largely been a compromise between these two dominant factions of right-wing Republican ideologues and Democratic neoliberals, according to David Menefee-Libey, a professor of politics at Pomona College in Claremont, California. In a podcast hosted by journalist Jennifer Berkshire and education historian Jack Schneider, Menefee-Libey explains that charter schools and many other prominent features of federal education policy are the results of a “treaty” among these Republican and Democratic factions.

But as Menefee-Libey, Berkshire, and Schneider explain, in so many ways, the treaty has been broken, and after decades of attacks on public schools, we’re seeing the necessity of investing in public institutions, especially now, given the strains put on parents and communities by COVID-19.

“We are now at a point,” Menefee-Libey states, “where all of those large-scale, long-term public institutions are clearly at risk during the pandemic and the economic crash. [And] there are a lot of people [who] are discovering that maybe these institutions won’t automatically survive.”

Therein lies the golden opportunity for Biden on public education. Should he decide to go bold—not just by reopening schools with additional funding but also by proposing an ambitious investment in school infrastructure and community schools; not just by lifting burdensome accountabilities but also by actually listening to what teachers, parents, and students say they need for their schools to work; and not by trying to appease the tired, old arguments carried on by right-wing factions and reform fans in the Democratic Party—there is some likelihood he may get exactly what he wants. And that’s what our schools really need.

Source: Our Schools

This article was produced by Our Schools

About the Author: Jeff Bryant is a writing fellow and chief correspondent for Our Schools. He is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. His award-winning commentary and reporting routinely appear in prominent online news outlets, and he speaks frequently at national events about public education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm.


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Enormous VA Union Contract Moves Towards Uncertain Conclusion Under New Biden Administration

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Unionized workers at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have spent the past four years in a grinding workplace battle with a Trump administration existentially hostile towards unions representing federal government workers. Now, as negotiations draw to a close on their new contract?—?one of the biggest union contracts in America?—?the union says that the damaging hangover of the Trump years is still very much a reality. 

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) represents more than 265,000 VA workers, meaning their contract has widespread impact on government workers across the nation. In 2018, Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders that drastically restricted the collective bargaining rights and power of the union, even taking away the union’s office space in VA buildings. Joe Biden rolled back those orders shortly after taking office. Yet the change of administrations (a top priority for AFGE, and a major victory for them) may not be enough to guarantee that the hostile contract negotiations that have already been underway for years will come out as the union hopes. 

In early January, members voted to reject a proposed contract that they say was insufficient and one-sided. After that, a 30-day mediation period began. That mediation period expires this week. Because of some delays on the VA’s side in appointing a negotiator, the union is hoping for an extension, though it is unclear what a final timetable will be. What is certain is that after a process that has been marked by lawsuits, intransigence, political battles, and charges of bad faith, there are still significant outstanding issues to be settled. 

“We’ve alleged from the beginning that the VA’s never really come to the table with a sincere desire to reach agreement. There’s been a lot of bad faith behavior,” says Thomas Dargon, AFGE’s acting supervisory attorney working on the National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC). ?“What we’ve been asking for all along is for them to come to the table seriously.” 

The fact that the bulk of negotiations were conducted under a different and much more hostile administration creates some murky possibilities for the contract’s future. Dargon says it is possible that the contract will go back to the Federal Services Impasse Panel, a government board meant to resolve such disputes?—?and earlier this week Biden summarily fired the board’s ten members, presumably setting the stage for a more labor-friendly board soon. There is also the matter of Denis McDonough, Biden’s nominee for VA secretary, who will certainly be more willing to work with the union, but whose confirmation date is still up in the air. AFGE is hoping that the transition process will happen in time to meaningfully improve the current contract. 

“Surely new leadership could come in and set the right tone and work with the union as a partner,” says Dargon. Until the new contract is settled, the last contract, signed in 2011, remains in effect. 

The VA did not respond to questions about whether its bargaining position has changed since Biden took office. (Last September, the VA gave a contemptuous statement saying that AFGE ?“opposed attempts to make the VA work better for Veterans and their families.”) But on the ground, change for VA workers is slow. Linda Ward-Smith, a registered nurse at the VA and the president of AFGE Local 1224 in Las Vegas, says that the crisis of the pandemic only strengthened her management’s determination to act unilaterally, without treating the union as a full partner. She says that she’s still having trouble getting the VA to provide a workplace safety plan as it moves employees back into the office, and that the VA has not provided enough Covid testing for its workers, restricting it to those who have symptoms. More than 120 VA employees have died of Covid, according to AFGE. Such health risks highlight one of the union’s biggest outstanding issues in the current contract negotiations: the fact that the VA is seeking to do away with large sections of the contract that provide occupational health rights to workers. 

Ward-Smith says that, despite the fact Biden rolled back Trump’s executive orders affecting VA workers, her bosses have yet to implement the changes, saying they need to wait for further ?“guidance” before moving forward. ?“We’ve all still been in limbo. It’s almost like those executive orders don’t exist,” she says. 

Nevertheless, Trump’s defeat has provided a ray of hope. For the past several years, the VA’s workers have been losing faith in their union’s ability to get anything meaningful accomplished for them, watching as its power was cut off by unfriendly leadership and aggressive anti-labor rulemaking. ?“Employees lose hope. It’s insane the treatment our employees were getting, because they felt they had no say-so,” Ward-Smith says. ?“I’m excited I can get back to doing the business I was put in this position to do.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on February 5, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. 


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Card-carrying union member Walsh, Biden’s Labor nominee, wins businesses’ respect

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When Marty Walsh leaped straight from the top of a trade union federation to Boston City Hall in 2014, local businesses braced for the impact of a labor leader and his progressive policies.

They had little to fear from the new mayor. The following year saw “arguably the biggest building boom in the history of the city of Boston,” as one city official described it, with a record 70 development projects under way by July 2015 — including a rising rate of new construction using nonunion jobs. Walsh would go on to convince companies including Reebok, GE and Lego to relocate their headquarters to the city, as well as to draft the city’s first small business plan.

It’s that track record that has many national business leaders today optimistic that they will have Walsh’s ear when he assumes the helm at the U.S. Labor Department despite the fact President Joe Biden, who nominated him, ran on a platform that was widely panned by corporate America as potentially the most labor-friendly in history.

“He does have this reputation for bringing people together,” Glenn Spencer, senior vice president of employment policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said of Walsh, who will have his confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate HELP Committee. And “his background is in the building trades, which tends to focus on getting things done, as opposed to some other parts of the union movement.”

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to get the outcome we’re always seeking. But we hope that there’s an opportunity to weigh in and perhaps move things in a more positive direction.”

Unions and trade associations alike point to Walsh’s experience in Massachusetts, where he served as a state representative and head of the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council before running for mayor in 2013, as grounds for optimism.

Walsh “is a pragmatist, and he wants to get stuff done,” Drew Schneider, director of labor and employment policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, said. “He’s been in government for a long time, and the reviews we’ve heard are positive.”

Local labor officials were surprised at the talks he facilitated as mayor “that would never occur between big business, between unions, between environmentalists,” Sean O’Brien, president of Boston’s Teamsters Local 25, said. “So he has a strong, strong characteristic of bringing people together; listening before making decisions. He’s got the ability to broker relations and or mediate any potential conflict.”

Unions that backed Walsh for the job preached his consensus-building abilities as they lobbied for his nomination.


“Workers really need real clout, but I don’t think it’s an either-or situation,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said. “Ultimately, just like in the 1940s when business understood that worker clout could actually help their bottom line, the same is true right now.”

The issues of workforce training, vaccine incentivization, unemployment insurance and multiemployer pension plans are all areas where businesses say they anticipate being able to find middle ground with a Walsh-helmed Labor Department.

“The [unemployment insurance] system needs some upgrades, and that’s a place where we think there could be some bipartisan support and we could work together on fixing that,” Spencer said. And “the secretary-nominee comes out of the union world; he understands these multiemployer [pension] plans and how important fixing them is.”

But on other issues, including the overtime rule and independent contractors, employers anticipate some disagreement: “Just look at the fights we had with the Obama administration,” Ed Egee, vice president of government relations and workforce development at National Retail Federation, said.

And certain legislative priorities like the Protecting the Right to Organize Act — which would rewrite decades-old labor laws to strengthen unions — that Walsh will be responsible for shepherding on the Hill are nonstarters.

“The PRO Act is so beyond the pale of reasonable legislation,” Egee said. “That is completely unworkable for any employer, large or small. And it would have an absolutely devastating impact on workers.”

“I mean, at some point, they have to decide whether they want a relationship with the business community, or do they want the PRO Act? They can’t, probably, have both.”

The first hump will undoubtedly be the issue of workplace safety, which Biden has vowed to address rapidly amid the pandemic. The president has signed an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to examine whether issuing an emergency temporary standard, which would create an enforceable set of guidelines for employers, is necessary — and if so, to issue one by March 15. Trade associations are jostling to make their voices heard as they look to ensure that any standard takes into concern the businesses it will affect.

Should the agency deem a standard necessary, there are various forms it could take that would be more amenable to employers. Illustrations of this can be found at the state level, where local governments have in some cases taken the matter of workplace safety into their own hands.

“The Virginia standard, the Michigan standard take [employers’] efforts into account,” Egee said. “They’re workable standards.”

But California has “a completely unworkable standard,” he said. “Even the best-intentioned employer could not possibly comply with the black-letter law of the California regulation.”

With California Labor Secretary Julie Su — who steered the agency while the state’s standard was implemented — being tapped by Biden as deputy U.S. Labor secretary, it’s not unlikely the agency will choose a similar path.

Some are expressing skepticism that Walsh will be able to appease business while still acting as Biden’s labor chief.

Former Labor Secretary “Tom Perez … said a lot of the same things and wanted to have everybody at the table and welcomed all views, and at the end of the day, we don’t think any of our concerns were reflected in their actions,” said Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “So we would hope that Secretary-to-be Walsh listens to our concerns, and maybe gives them a little bit more attention than what we saw in previous Departments of Labor that opened up with the same message.”

And those on the left are cautioning against even attempting to negotiate with companies, in a manifestation of the thin line Biden will have to walk as he attempts to appease business and unions.

“The United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Restaurant Association and other trade associations will cut him off at his knees if he attempts to do anything bold,” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said. “In other words, my advice to him is: Don’t negotiate.”

“Washington is a different place than Boston or Massachusetts. You’ve got to be extremely tough.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on February 3, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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Transforming the Labor Landscape: The Working People Weekly List

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Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here’s the latest edition of the Working People Weekly List.

The PRO Act Could Transform the Labor Landscape: “Joe Biden promised to be the most pro-union president in modern history. He has a chance to prove it by passing the PRO Act, a sweeping labor law reform bill. As Joe Biden enters the White House with slim majorities in the House and Senate, organized labor is making a concerted push for a major piece of legislation: the PRO Act. The bill is a wide-ranging labor law reform that would help workers fight back after decades of retreat in the face of aggressive employers. The AFL-CIO recently declared the PRO Act one of its top priorities. The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) is leading the push for the PRO Act. The painters’ union organized its electoral work around the bill and has been holding public events on the legislation. Now, IUPAT is building up allies as it prepares to push the new presidential administration and Congress to pass the act.”

What Biden and Congress Can Do to Support Unions: “In the last Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the U.S. House of Representatives passed the most significant worker empowerment legislation since the Great Depression by creating a much fairer process for forming a union. It is called the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act. After an anti-worker majority blocked it in the Senate, reintroducing the PRO Act, passing it in both chambers of Congress and getting Biden’s signature is vital to our economic recovery. The PRO Act would protect and empower workers to exercise their freedom to organize and bargain. It would make sure that workers can reach a first contract quickly after a union is recognized, end employers’ practice of hiring permanent replacements to punish striking workers and finally hold corporations accountable by strengthening the National Labor Relations Board and allowing it to impose penalties on employers who retaliate against collective bargaining. It would also repeal so-called ‘right to work’ laws, which make it harder for working people to form unions and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.”

Activision Blizzard Says Interviewing Diverse Candidates for Every Opening ‘Unworkable’: “Activision Blizzard is looking to avoid a shareholder proposal that it interview at least one diverse candidate when it hires for a position, according to a Vice report. The proposal was made separately to both Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts by the AFL-CIO labor federation, which owns shares in both publishers. The proposal was based on the NFL’s Rooney Rule, adopted in 2003 to require all of the football league’s teams to interview at least one diverse candidate for every head coaching vacancy. It was later expanded to include vacancies for general managers and similar front office positions. In its letters to the publishers, the AFL-CIO argued for the adoption of the rule, saying, ‘A diverse workforce at all levels of a company can enhance long-term company performance.'”

Local Union Halls Opening Up to Provide Space for Vaccinations: “Community organizations with space are stepping up to make room so more people in Lucas County can be vaccinated. Press conferences, job fairs and union organizing have all brought WTOL 11 to UAW Local 12’s hall, but now they’re preparing to administer 300 vaccines to eligible people in Lucas County on Tuesday.”

Health Care Unions Find a Voice in the Pandemic: “Health care workers say they have been bitterly disappointed by their employers’ and government agencies’ response to the pandemic. Dire staff shortages, inadequate and persistent supplies of protective equipment, limited testing for the virus and pressure to work even if they might be sick have left many workers turning to the unions as their only ally. The virus has claimed the lives of more than 3,300 health care workers nationwide, according to one count. ‘We wouldn’t be alive today if we didn’t have the union,’ said Elizabeth Lalasz, a Chicago public hospital nurse and steward for National Nurses United. The country’s largest union of registered nurses, representing more than 170,000 nationwide, National Nurses was among the first to criticize hospitals’ lack of preparation and call for more protective equipment, like N95 masks. Despite the decades-long decline in the labor movement and the small numbers of unionized nurses, labor officials have seized on the pandemic fallout to organize new chapters and pursue contract talks for better conditions and benefits. National Nurses organized seven new bargaining units last year, compared to four in 2019.”

Biden Toughens Buy American Rules: “‘The Trump administration used the right words but never put in place policies to affect meaningful change,’ Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement. ‘This executive order will close loopholes that allow agencies to sidestep Buy American requirements… [and] is a good first step in revitalizing U.S. manufacturing.'”

The Unfinished Story of Women at Work: 9to5 Yesterday, Today the PRO Act: “If you’ve never had to make coffee for your boss, it’s thanks to women who organized in the 1970s. And while the electric typewriter is no more, how women of that era organized is relevant—to current battles like organizing Big Tech, building care infrastructure and winning labor reform by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act—so women can form and join unions now without fear. A new documentary, ‘9to5: The Story of a Movement,’ captures the history of an organization started by a group of secretaries in the 1970s, and their sister union, SEIU District 925, and offers powerful insight for us today.”

Mask Fights and a ‘Mob Mentality’: What Flight Attendants Faced Over the Last Year: “Aviation safety officials have received dozens of confidential complaints in the past year from attendants trying to enforce mask safety rules. The reports, filed in the Aviation Safety Reporting System database, at times describe a chaotic, unhinged workplace where passengers regularly abuse airline employees. The tension is at a level flight attendants have not seen before, said Paul Hartshorn Jr., a veteran attendant and a spokesman for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union. ‘I think we’re pretty well trained on how to handle a disruptive passenger,’ said Mr. Hartshorn, 46. ‘What we’re not trained to do and what we shouldn’t be dealing with is large groups of passengers inciting a riot with another group of passengers.'”

Biden’s ‘Buy American’ Manufacturing Order Called ‘Good First Step’ by Labor: “‘This executive order will close loopholes that allow agencies to sidestep Buy American requirements and increase the thresholds for domestic content,’ said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. ‘This order is a good first step in revitalizing U.S. manufacturing, which [President Donald] Trump’s policies failed to do over the past four years,’ Trumka said. The order will modify the rules for the Buy American program, reports the Associated Press, making it harder for contractors to qualify for a waiver and sell foreign-made goods to federal agencies. And it changes rules so that more of a manufactured product’s components must originate from U.S. factories.”

Amazon Union Drive Takes Hold in Unlikely Place: “The largest, most viable effort to unionize Amazon in many years began last summer not in a union stronghold like New York or Michigan, but at a Fairfield Inn outside of Birmingham, in the right-to-work state of Alabama. It was late in the summer and a group of employees from a nearby Amazon warehouse contacted an organizer in the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. They were fed up, they said, with the way the online retailer tracked their productivity, and wanted to discuss unionizing. ‘The pandemic changed the way many people feel about their employers,’ said Stuart Appelbaum, the retail union’s president. ‘Many workers see the benefit of having a collective voice.’ ‘I am telling them they are part of a movement that is world wide,” said Michael Foster, a Black organizer in Bessemer, who works in a poultry plant ‘I want them to know that we are important and we do matter.'”

NFL Players Endorse Amazon Warehouse Workers Unionization: “Amazon warehouse workers at the facility in Bessemer, Alabama will begin voting on what could become the first union in the technology giant’s history on February 8. The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), the union that represents more than 2,000 NFL players in the United States, has endorsed a union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, where workers are scheduled to begin voting in a historic union election on February 8. On Sunday, the NFLPA released a video on Twitter, where current and former NFL players, discussed the importance of union representation in improving their own wages, benefits, and working conditions, and how a union could do the same for Amazon employees.”

Labor Groups Push Biden Administration on Union-Friendly Priorities: “‘Robb’s removal is the first step toward giving workers a fair shot again, and we look forward to building on this victory by securing a worker-friendly NLRB and passing the PRO Act so all working people have the freedom to form a union,’ Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement Wednesday.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on January 29, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell  is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.


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