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Judge tosses Trump-era pork processing speed-up, this week in the war on workers

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Line speeds in meat processing plants are a classic example of something that‚Äôs simultaneously a worker safety issue and a consumer safety issue. And this week, both workers and consumers got a major victory when a federal judge threw out a Trump-era rule allowing pork processing plants to operate at higher speeds.

According to U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ‚Äúexpressly identified worker safety as an important consideration and requested public comment on whether increasing line speeds would harm workers. Then, after receiving many comments raising worker safety concerns, FSIS rejected the comments and eliminated line speed limits without considering worker safety.‚ÄĚ Faster line speeds lead to increased harm to workers, from repetitive motion injuries to knife injuries. And while the Trump rule allowing pork plants to increase line speeds as much as they wanted included a nod to cleanliness ‚Ķ realistically that‚Äôs going to suffer too, and the speed increase came as many government inspections were replaced by company-run inspections, with predictable results.

‚ÄĚAn agency can‚Äôt put its hands over its ears and refuse to consider facts that cut against its policy preferences, as USDA did here in ignoring workers and public health advocates, and blindly following industry‚Äôs wishes,‚ÄĚ said Public Citizen‚Äôs Adam Pulver, who represented workers from the United Food and Commercial Workers.

The Biden administration has already withdrawn a similar speed-up for poultry processing plants that hadn’t yet gone into effect.

A decade ago, the bill got little attention. But last year in September, it passed the House with bipartisan support, with every Democrat voting in favor and 103 Republican joining them. It has gained the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and 30 states across the country have already adopted their own versions ‚ÄĒ including Southern states like Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina. The pandemic and the election derailed a Senate vote last fall, but this year, advocates think the bill is finally poised to pass. It has 19 Republican cosponsors in the House.

Unions, after all, are simply made up of workers; bills that are good for the former tend to be good for the latter. Workers who face racial and gender discrimination on the job could benefit the most from the PRO Act‚Äôs provisions. In unions, said Celine McNicholas of the Economic Policy Institute, ‚Äúworkers of color are not experiencing the same sort of wage suppression that they are in other, non-unionized settings.‚ÄĚ Union membership thus correlates to lower racial wealth gaps. ‚ÄúThe PRO Act promotes greater racial economic justice because unions allow for collective bargaining, essentially shrinks Black-white wage gaps, and brings greater fairness in terms of hiring opportunities,‚ÄĚ she added.

‚ÄúIn the at-will employment system, workers are treated as disposable,‚ÄĚ said Sophia Zaman, executive director of Raise the Floor.

The act would require employers to provide a written reason for terminations and progressive discipline to allow workers to improve. It would ban actions designed to force workers to quit, such as reducing hours, and would prevent companies from using electronic monitoring as evidence in employee discipline.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on April 3, 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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The Two Things Unions Traded Away That Handed Workers to Trump

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This is a response to the cover story of In These Times‚Äô January issue, ?‚ÄúAre Trump Voters a Lost Cause?‚ÄĚ

Thank you for printing ?‚ÄúAre Trump Voters a Lost Cause?‚ÄĚ and thanks to Mindy Isser for writing it. I offer a different perspective. It is intended to continue a discussion, not to end one. 

Youngstown, Ohio used to be one of the major steelmaking communities in the United States. When Alice and I moved to the area in 1976, many here remembered the bloody confrontations of the 1937 Little Steel Strike. Yet in 2016 Clinton narrowly carried Mahoning County (where Youngstown is located) and in the 2020 presidential election, for the first time in decades, it went red.

Why have so many unionized workers supported Trump? An answer to this question requires looking all the way back to the early steel contracts made standard by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Two concessions made then render today‚Äôs unions powerless to stop factory closures.

The first is the no-strike clause. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act states that (private-sector) workers have a protected right to engage in concerted activity for mutual aid and protection. It is union contracts, negotiated by unions and employers, that forbid strikes and other direct action during the life of the contract. This language, which goes to back to the standard contracts of CIO unions, deprives workers of what Isser calls their ?‚Äúpower on the job.‚ÄĚ As the late Marty Glaberman used to say, the union then becomes a cop for the boss, standing at the factory door and telling wildcat strikers to go back to work.

The second is the management prerogative clause. The first contract between the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (a branch of the CIO) and U.S. Steel in early 1937 gave the company the exclusive authority to determine where, when and how production should occur. In 1980?‚ÄĒ?as lead lawyer for a coalition of six local unions, a number of religious bodies, the Republican congressman, and several dozen individual steelworkers, I tried to use the law to stop U.S. Steel‚Äôs abandonment of its Youngstown facilities, I introduced as an exhibit a glossy booklet produced by U.S. Steel‚Äôs own manager for the Youngstown area. The booklet advocated tearing down the open-hearth furnaces being used to make steel in Youngstown and building electric furnaces up river. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals characterized our lawsuit sympathetically as a ?‚Äúcry for help from the Mahoning Valley‚ÄĚ but could find no legal authority to support our plea. Ironically, just when racial minorities and women were entering the skilled trades in steel, mills were closed. 

Education by organizers, while it may result in greater awareness, is not a solution to the problem of factory flight. There was and is an alternative. It might be termed ?‚Äúcollective direct action at the local level.‚ÄĚ

John Sargent, first president of the 18,000-member SWOC local at Inland Steel in East Chicago, Ind., believed that the Little Steel strike of 1937, which most labor historians consider a crushing defeat, was a ?‚Äúvictory of great proportions.‚ÄĚ The union did not win a contract at Inland Steel. What workers won was an agreement through the Indiana governor‚Äôs office that the company would recognize and bargain with ?‚Äúthe Steelworkers Union, and the company union and any other organization that wanted to represent the people in the steel industry.‚ÄĚ As John said in 1980, looking back,

Without a contract, without any agreement with the company, without any regulations concerning hours of work, conditions of work, or wages, a tremendous surge took place. We talk of a rank-and-file movement: ?‚Äúthe beginning of union organization was the best kind of rank-and-file movement you could think of. John L. Lewis sent in a few organizers, but there were no organizers at Inland Steel. ‚Ķ The union organizers were essentially workers in the mill who were so disgusted with their conditions and so ready for a change that they took the union into their own hands. 

John continued,

We secured for ourselves agreements on working conditions and wages that we do not have today [1980]. For example, as a result of the enthusiasm of the people in the mill you had a series of strikes, wildcats, shut-downs, slow-downs, anything working people could think of to secure for themselves what they decided they had to have. If their wages were low there was no contract to prohibit them from striking, and they struck for better wages. If their conditions were bad, if they didn‚Äôt like what was going on, if they were being abused, the people in the mill themselves?‚ÄĒ?without a contract or any agreement with the company involved?‚ÄĒ?would shut down a department or even a group of departments to secure for themselves the things they found necessary. 

Only at Inland Steel, where the strike did not achieve its objective of a signed contract, did the workers return to a reopened steel mill ?‚Äúamid cries of victory from thousands of jubilant workers.‚ÄĚ 

The one thing that is crystal clear is that the ?‚Äúorganizer‚ÄĚ who seeks to nurture a movement capable of challenging company investment plans, must be prepared to stay in one place for a long time. As former Local 1462 President Ed Mann said, 

You got to put down roots if you want to change anything. You can‚Äôt be like a damn butterfly, flitting around all over. ‚Ķ Who knows what is going to make the workers say, ?‚ÄúThis is enough!‚ÄĚ But the point is, somebody has to be there when they say, ?‚ÄúThis is enough!‚ÄĚ

So why Trump? A final thought. The task of trade unions is to defend the wages and working conditions of their members, and, if possible, to improve them. People on the Left may wish that trade unions also advocated socialism. But that is not why trade unions were created. Another Local 1462union activist, John Barbero, insisted, ?‚ÄúYoungstown sure died hard.‚ÄĚ But our improvised resistance was unsuccessful, as was similar resistance to U.S. Steel at its Homestead Works, near Pittsburgh.

The form of organization better suited to advocate and work toward social change in the larger society is not a union in a particular kind of work or a coalition of national unions, but a coalition of local labor bodies, which is what Russians originally meant by the word ?‚Äúsoviet.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúThe Russian Revolution,‚ÄĚ Rosa Luxemburg wrote, was ?‚Äúthe first historical experiment on the model of the class strike.‚ÄĚ She stresses the spontaneity of the horizontal spread of the 1905 general strike and the way in which the issue bringing people together to take common action might be one thing, such as the length of the workday, in one place, and something quite different, such as the rate of pay, in another. She also emphasizes the importance of direct action in these mini-revolts, so that workers concerned to shorten their hours of work might simply walk off the job together when they had worked the number of hours they were demanding. (The IWW timber workers in the Northwest did precisely the same thing at approximately the same time.) Thus Luxemburg differed from those who, ?‚Äúin the manner of a board of directors,‚ÄĚ attempted to schedule a general strike for a specific day on the calendar.

In 1982, when workers were on strike at Trumbull Memorial Hospital in nearby Warren, Ohio, we participated in a huge march supported by many local unionists in the Mahoning Valley, including a large number of United Autoworkers members from GM Lordstown. As we marched, we chanted: ?‚ÄúWarren is a union town. We won‚Äôt let you tear it down.‚ÄĚ The promise implicit in this action can only come to fruition when no-strike and management-prerogative language is removed from union contracts.

Until unions in the United States take these clauses out of their contracts, their hands are tied. Workers may feel they have no other option than to believe the untruthful and self-interested leadership of a Donald Trump.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on January 25, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Staughton Lynd is a lawyer, writer, historian and social justice activist who lives in Youngstown, Ohio.

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Trump’s Anti-Worker Labor Board

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In his State of the Union address this year, President Trump declared that ‚Äúour agenda is relentlessly pro-worker.‚ÄĚ Despite this populist posturing, any sober assessment of Trump‚Äôs first term will show that it has been an all-out assault on labor.

Trump has ruthlessly attacked federal workers, granted more tax cuts for the rich, and severely weakened the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and he is now undermining Social Security. Campaign promises such as massive infrastructure projects, a minimum wage hike, and an overhaul of the health care system have barely even been attempted.

In a few short years, Republicans have used the opportunity presented by a Trump Administration to attack workers in ways we haven’t seen since before the Great Depression. While these seismic shifts in labor relations rarely get highlighted in the media, they should alarm anyone who cares about working people’s basic rights.

Can Workers Still Use the NLRB under Trump?

‚ÄúThe big-picture situation at the agency under Trump is not good,” wrote labor lawyer Gay Semel in the January 2020 issue of Labor Notes. “But in certain situations,” she emphasized, “the Board is still the only place workers can go for legal protection, and workers shouldn‚Äôt let the president‚Äôs pro-corporate appointees scare them out of ever exercising their rights.‚ÄĚ

For advice on when and how to go to the NLRB in the current political climate, see Semel’s article here.


Actions of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) are the most striking example of the anti-worker agenda. The Wagner Act of 1935, the first iteration of the National Labor Relations Act, established the NLRB as an agency to protect workers’ rights to organize and engage in collective bargaining. Trump has rapidly turned an agency designed to serve workers’ interests into another tool of corporate power.

Trump has appointed three Republicans to the board, none of whom has any experience representing workers or unions. In fact, all have long careers defending corporate interests. Between December 2019 and August‚ÄĒwhen Democrat Lauren McFerran was reconfirmed by the Senate‚ÄĒTrump presided over the first all-Republican Board in the NLRB‚Äôs 85-year history.

At the head of the board is the General Counsel, whom workers depend on to actually prosecute cases. Trump’s pick was management lawyer Peter Robb.

The Trump Board has dutifully pursued a corporate wish list of 10 items put out by the Chamber of Commerce in early 2017. Board members have already taken action on all 10. These priorities include delaying union elections, restricting the ability of employees to communicate about workplace issues, and enhancing the ability of employers to determine bargaining units.

We shouldn’t overstate the importance of labor law. Deep organizing and shop floor power are what’s needed to rebuild the labor movement and working people’s ability to fight back. But these laws still make a real difference in shaping the barriers to the revitalization we seek. The NLRB under Trump is on a determined mission to destroy the last vestiges of organized power working people have left.


As Celine McNicholas, Margaret Poydock, and Lynn Rhinehart of the Economic Policy Institute wrote in their October 2019 report ‚ÄúUnprecedented: The Trump NLRB‚Äôs Attack on Workers‚Äô Rights‚ÄĚ: ‚ÄúThe Trump board has repeatedly reversed long-standing board precedent, weakening workers‚Äô rights and giving more power to employers. In the two years that Republicans have held the majority on the board, they have overturned NLRB precedent in more than a dozen cases. All of these decisions overturning precedent favor employers.‚ÄĚ In most cases, the Board has issued these types of rulings without even bothering to solicit public input, a reversal of its normal practice.

Take the Board‚Äôs ruling in Bexar. Thanks to this ruling, now off-duty employees do not have a right to organize in public areas of their workplace if their employer is a contractor. In this particular instance, San Antonio Symphony musicians were barred from leafleting in front of their home venue, where the vast majority of their performances take place, because the venue is not owned by their employer.

In another case, UPMC, hospitals were granted the ability to ban union organizers from talking to nurses in hospital cafeterias that are public.

The NLRB has also set its sights on undoing more recent precedents set during the Obama Administration. In 2011, the Board‚Äôs Specialty Healthcare decision undermined employers‚Äô ability to increase the size of bargaining units in union elections, a tactic often used to make it harder for workers to organize. This ruling allowed, for example, workers in the cosmetics department at Macy‚Äôs to petition for a union election among themselves, rather than having to win an election for the entire store. One of the first things the new NLRB did was overturn this ruling‚ÄĒand then add additional measures that gave management even more power to beat organizing drives.


Traditional understandings and procedures in the collective bargaining process have also been upended. For over 70 years, employers were banned from making sweeping changes to wages, hours, or working conditions unless they demonstrated that the union had clearly waived its right to bargain over these issues.

Give $10 a month or more and get our “Fight the Boss, Build the Union” T-shirt.

But the Board adopted a new rule that allows employers to make unilateral changes if there is reference in the contract to management‚Äôs authority over the issue.

In Johnson Controls, a rule was announced allowing employers to withdraw union recognition at the end of a collective bargaining agreement if they can prove that the union does not have majority support. They can now do this without holding an election, such as through an employee petition for decertification. But employers can still insist on an election when the union is first trying to be established‚ÄĒno ‚Äúcard check‚ÄĚ there.


In this age of dire economic inequality, Americans need and want unions. Recent polls show that nearly half of non-union workers say they would vote for a union if given the chance. Sixty-five percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of unions, according to a Gallup poll this year‚ÄĒthe highest since 2003. But the NLRB is doing everything in its power to deny working people union protection.

Union elections have been undermined as well. Never letting a crisis go to waste, the board used COVID-19 as an excuse to halt all union elections in late March and early April, even though they could have been handled through the mail. This affected thousands of workers who were looking to vote a union in. More important, the Board enacted new rules that will affect the way union elections are done well after the pandemic is over.

Occasionally, employers will recognize a union voluntarily, without an election, when a majority of workers have signed union cards. The Board now requires such employers to tell those workers that they can file for an election to get rid of the union they just formed. New rules also dictate that a union election should proceed even when the union has filed charges of illegal practices by employers to alter the election.

Over the last decade, groups of Walmart workers have gone on many short strikes to raise awareness about the company‚Äôs labor practices. The NLRB ruled in July 2019 that more than a hundred Walmart workers who took part in a five-day strike were not protected by labor law. The Board argued that their action counted as an ‚Äúintermittent‚ÄĚ strike, which is unprotected, and thus there were no legal consequences for Walmart when the company retaliated.


There are already signs of what the Board will pursue if Trump gets a second term.

In the age of COVID-19, recent rulings related to workplace health and safety are particularly dangerous and despicable. Board regional directors have been told to dismiss COVID-related cases against employers. Incredibly, the Board has ruled that employers are not obligated to bargain over paid sick leave, hazard pay, or temporary closure due to the pandemic.

In such a stifled organizing climate, speaking out to the public about unsafe working conditions may be the only hope workers have for protecting their well-being. But the Board has made this more difficult as well, with recent advice memos from the General Counsel refusing to afford protection to or overturn firings of workers who spoke out against their company’s COVID safety procedures.

With each new ruling it becomes clearer that the Board seeks a workplace where employers have unfettered control over workers‚Äô minds and bodies. In December 2019 a ruling allowed private sector employers to place major restrictions on the wearing of union swag, upholding a Walmart policy that restricts employees from wearing anything but ‚Äúsmall, non-distracting‚ÄĚ union buttons or other insignia in stores. Walmart absurdly claimed this practice would ‚Äúenhance the customer shopping experience and protect its merchandise from theft or vandalism.‚ÄĚ

In July, employers were given the green light to discipline shop stewards for using profanity during meetings with management. This effort to restrict behavior also extends to language used on picket lines and social media.

Labor law is not a silver bullet. Having strong labor laws on the books wouldn’t mean much without a vibrant union movement to enforce them. Conversely, it’s possible to have a situation where anti-worker labor laws are overcome by a militant presence on the shop floor and in society.

But it’s clear that these laws have real-world effects, especially for our ability to organize in the future. The NLRB under Trump exposes his pro-worker rhetoric as a lie.

There will be real consequences of another Trump term. But after the election is over comes the hard work of reversing the huge power imbalance between workers and the boss.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on October 8, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Paul Prescod is a high school social studies teacher and belongs to the Working Educators caucus of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

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What’s at Stake for the Labor Movement on Election Day? Everything.

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Amer¬≠i¬≠ca is in cri¬≠sis. There can be no doubt about that. All of our imme¬≠di¬≠ate crises‚ÄĒthe pan¬≠dem¬≠ic and the unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment and the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic col¬≠lapse and the death spi¬≠ral of var¬≠i¬≠ous pub¬≠lic insti¬≠tu¬≠tions‚ÄĒhave lent the upcom¬≠ing pres¬≠i¬≠den¬≠tial elec¬≠tion an air of emer¬≠gency. For work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple in Amer¬≠i¬≠ca, though, the emer¬≠gency is noth¬≠ing new at all. What is at stake for labor in this elec¬≠tion is every¬≠thing. Noth¬≠ing, there¬≠fore, has¬†changed.¬†

Don¬≠ald Trump and the coro¬≠n¬≠avirus, the two fac¬≠tors infus¬≠ing this elec¬≠tion with urgency, are of recent vin¬≠tage. But the cri¬≠sis for work¬≠ing Amer¬≠i¬≠cans has been grow¬≠ing worse for at least four decades. Since the Rea¬≠gan era, eco¬≠nom¬≠ic inequal¬≠i¬≠ty has been ris¬≠ing, union pow¬≠er has been declin¬≠ing, and glob¬≠al cap¬≠i¬≠tal¬≠ism has been widen¬≠ing the chasm between the rich and every¬≠one else. 

Orga¬≠nized labor has been fight¬≠ing a¬†los¬≠ing‚ÄĒand some¬≠times inept¬≠ly fought‚ÄĒbat¬≠tle against these trends in every elec¬≠tion since¬†1980. The once-in-a-cen¬≠tu¬≠ry cat¬≠a¬≠stro¬≠phe sur¬≠round¬≠ing the¬†2020¬†elec¬≠tion may be what it needs to final¬≠ly reverse two gen¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tions of dis¬≠re¬≠spect and¬†defeat.¬†

Labor unions, which rep¬≠re¬≠sent work¬≠ers in a¬†work¬≠place, have always includ¬≠ed peo¬≠ple of all polit¬≠i¬≠cal stripes. The labor¬†move¬≠ment‚ÄĒthe broad¬≠er uni¬≠verse of groups pur¬≠su¬≠ing the inter¬≠ests of work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple‚ÄĒwill con¬≠tin¬≠ue to lean left, in the direc¬≠tion that val¬≠ues labor over cap¬≠i¬≠tal. (See¬≠ing police unions endorse Trump, whose admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion is deter¬≠mined to crush labor rights, is an exam¬≠ple of the fact that indi¬≠vid¬≠ual unions and their mem¬≠bers can act in self-inter¬≠est¬≠ed ways that go against the labor move¬≠ment as a¬†whole.)¬†

For rough¬≠ly the past half cen¬≠tu¬≠ry, union house¬≠holds have tend¬≠ed to vote Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic by about a¬†60‚Äď40¬†mar¬≠gin, but that mar¬≠gin has fluc¬≠tu¬≠at¬≠ed. In¬†1980, Ronald Rea¬≠gan nar¬≠rowed the gap to only a¬†few points. Barack Oba¬≠ma took the union vote by¬†34¬†points in¬†2012, but in¬†2016, that gap shrank by half. Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pres¬≠i¬≠den¬≠tial nom¬≠i¬≠nee Joe Biden, tout¬≠ing his Oba¬≠ma con¬≠nec¬≠tions and fac¬≠ing an out¬≠right incom¬≠pe¬≠tent racist, will like¬≠ly expand that mar¬≠gin¬†again.¬†

Since Con¬≠gress passed the Taft-Hart¬≠ley Act in¬†1947, unions have been oper¬≠at¬≠ing in the¬†frame¬≠work of a¬†set of labor laws¬†designed to rob them of pow¬≠er. The state of those laws today is abysmal. The right to strike is restrict¬≠ed, and com¬≠pa¬≠nies have been able to clas¬≠si¬≠fy large swaths of their work¬≠ers as¬†‚Äúinde¬≠pen¬≠dent con¬≠trac¬≠tors,‚ÄĚ who lack the right to union¬≠ize. More than half the states in the coun¬≠try have passed¬†‚Äúright to work‚ÄĚ laws, which give work¬≠ers the abil¬≠i¬≠ty to opt out of pay¬≠ing union dues, mak¬≠ing it extreme¬≠ly dif¬≠fi¬≠cult for unions to orga¬≠nize and main¬≠tain mem¬≠ber¬≠ship. The¬†2018¬†Supreme Court deci¬≠sion in the¬†Janus v. AFSCME¬†case¬†made the entire pub¬≠lic sec¬≠tor¬†‚Äúright to work‚Ä̬†as well, which is sure to eat into that last bas¬≠tion of strong union den¬≠si¬≠ty. The unful¬≠filled desire to achieve some sem¬≠blance of labor law reform has been the pri¬≠ma¬≠ry rea¬≠son that unions in Amer¬≠i¬≠ca have poured mon¬≠ey into the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty for decades, despite get¬≠ting decid¬≠ed¬≠ly mod¬≠est leg¬≠isla¬≠tive wins in¬†return.¬†
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs critical that in the new administration, labor doesn‚Äôt just get siloed: ‚ÄėWhat‚Äôs the thing we can do to make the unions happy‚Äô It‚Äôs got to be an approach to looking across everything, especially in light of the economic situation.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒSharon Block, former Labor Department official in the Obama administration

Ear¬≠li¬≠er this year, Sharon Block, a¬†for¬≠mer Labor Depart¬≠ment offi¬≠cial in the Oba¬≠ma admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion who now heads the Labor and Work¬≠life Pro¬≠gram at Har¬≠vard, and labor expert and Har¬≠vard pro¬≠fes¬≠sor Ben¬≠jamin Sachs spear¬≠head¬≠ed the assem¬≠bly of the¬†‚ÄúClean Slate for Work¬≠er Pow¬≠er‚ÄĚ agen¬≠da‚ÄĒsome¬≠thing of a¬†union-friend¬≠ly labor law plat¬≠form for Democ¬≠rats in exile dur¬≠ing the Trump years. That agen¬≠da is a¬†fair sum¬≠ma¬≠tion of the labor movement‚Äôs wish list. It calls for a¬†swath of reforms that make it eas¬≠i¬≠er for all work¬≠ers to orga¬≠nize and exer¬≠cise pow¬≠er. Its pil¬≠lars include sec¬≠toral bar¬≠gain¬≠ing, which would allow entire indus¬≠tries to nego¬≠ti¬≠ate con¬≠tracts at once; a¬†much broad¬≠er right to strike; work¬≠er rep¬≠re¬≠sen¬≠ta¬≠tives on cor¬≠po¬≠rate boards; stream¬≠lined union elec¬≠tions; more labor rights for inde¬≠pen¬≠dent con¬≠trac¬≠tors and oth¬≠er gig work¬≠ers; the end of statewide¬†‚Äúright to work‚ÄĚ laws; and stronger enforce¬≠ment of labor stan¬≠dards. Biden‚Äôs own labor plat¬≠form, while not quite as rad¬≠i¬≠cal‚ÄĒit con¬≠spic¬≠u¬≠ous¬≠ly does not include sec¬≠toral bar¬≠gain¬≠ing‚ÄĒdoes include the major¬≠i¬≠ty of the Clean Slate agen¬≠da. Biden‚Äôs plat¬≠form also says¬†there will be a¬†‚Äúcab¬≠i¬≠net-lev¬≠el work¬≠ing group‚Ä̬†of union rep¬≠re¬≠sen¬≠ta¬≠tives, which could pre¬≠sum¬≠ably push his plat¬≠form even fur¬≠ther left. Though Biden was among the most cen¬≠trist of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pri¬≠ma¬≠ry can¬≠di¬≠dates, the party‚Äôs cen¬≠ter has moved so much in the past four years that he has the most left¬≠ist labor plat¬≠form of any nom¬≠i¬≠nee since the New¬†Deal.¬†

While Biden is regard¬≠ed by many as very pro-union, his¬≠to¬≠ry has taught the labor move¬≠ment that its great¬≠est chal¬≠lenge will be get¬≠ting him to actu¬≠al¬≠ly pri¬≠or¬≠i¬≠tize labor if he assumes pow¬≠er.¬†‚ÄúI had the priv¬≠i¬≠lege of see¬≠ing Joe Biden in action. When he walked into a¬†room where we were dis¬≠cussing pol¬≠i¬≠cy, we knew that the inter¬≠ests of work¬≠ers, their col¬≠lec¬≠tive pow¬≠er, and the labor move¬≠ment was going to be on the table,‚ÄĚ Block says. But, she warns,¬†‚ÄúIt‚Äôs crit¬≠i¬≠cal that in the new admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion, labor doesn‚Äôt just get siloed:¬†‚ÄėWhat‚Äôs the thing we can do to make the unions hap¬≠py‚Äô It‚Äôs got to be an approach to look¬≠ing across every¬≠thing, espe¬≠cial¬≠ly in light of the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic¬†situation.‚ÄĚ

In oth¬≠er words, the new admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion must treat orga¬≠nized labor not as a¬†spe¬≠cial inter¬≠est but as the key to chang¬≠ing our increas¬≠ing¬≠ly two-tiered econ¬≠o¬≠my. That point is key to under¬≠stand¬≠ing the divide between the part of the labor move¬≠ment that sup¬≠port¬≠ed left-wing can¬≠di¬≠dates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Eliz¬≠a¬≠beth War¬≠ren (D-Mass.), and those that sup¬≠port¬≠ed Biden. While Sanders‚Äô back¬≠ers will speak of his fanat¬≠i¬≠cal moral devo¬≠tion to pro-work¬≠ing class pol¬≠i¬≠cy, Biden‚Äôs allies will speak of the per¬≠son¬≠al rela¬≠tion¬≠ship they have with him. It is the divide between those who see unions more as part of a¬†greater effort to improve con¬≠di¬≠tions for all work¬≠ers, and those who see them more as a¬†prac¬≠ti¬≠cal tool for mem¬≠bers.¬†‚ÄúJoe Biden had an open door pol¬≠i¬≠cy. That was the biggest thing. That was the crux of the rela¬≠tion¬≠ship,‚ÄĚ says a¬†spokesper¬≠son for the Inter¬≠na¬≠tion¬≠al Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion of Fire Fight¬≠ers, the first big union to endorse Biden when he entered the¬†2020¬†race.¬†‚ÄúWith Joe Biden at the White House, our voice is heard. We get pri¬≠or¬≠i¬≠ty¬†access.‚ÄĚ

This trans¬≠ac¬≠tion¬≠al, loy¬≠al¬≠ty-cen¬≠tric approach is unsur¬≠pris¬≠ing for a¬†career politi¬≠cian like Biden, but it can leave out labor lead¬≠ers who don‚Äôt have such a¬†long his¬≠to¬≠ry of back¬≠ing him. Most major unions did not endorse in the¬†2020¬†Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pri¬≠ma¬≠ry, pre¬≠fer¬≠ring to focus on back¬≠ing who¬≠ev¬≠er became the nom¬≠i¬≠nee to oppose Trump. And Biden‚ÄĒthough he has many union allies‚ÄĒis not a¬†cru¬≠sad¬≠er, but a¬†politi¬≠cian with decades of strong cor¬≠po¬≠rate back¬≠ing, lead¬≠ing many in labor to won¬≠der how much he real¬≠ly¬†means¬†what his plat¬≠form says. The Biden cam¬≠paign tried to mit¬≠i¬≠gate that wor¬≠ry by includ¬≠ing mul¬≠ti¬≠ple pro¬≠gres¬≠sive union lead¬≠ers in the Biden-Sanders¬†‚ÄúUni¬≠ty Task Force,‚ÄĚ which was explic¬≠it¬≠ly set up to uni¬≠fy the left and cen¬≠trist wings of the par¬≠ty, in part by get¬≠ting pro¬≠gres¬≠sive poli¬≠cies into the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic plat¬≠form. That task force prod¬≠ded Biden mod¬≠est¬≠ly to the left but not so far as to endorse core pro¬≠gres¬≠sive ideas like Medicare for All. The unions clos¬≠est to Biden, par¬≠tic¬≠u¬≠lar¬≠ly the fire¬≠fight¬≠ers, are opposed to Medicare for All because they want to keep the health¬≠care plans they nego¬≠ti¬≠at¬≠ed for¬†themselves.

The biggest labor unions often have strong pro¬≠gres¬≠sive fac¬≠tions but most¬≠ly plant them¬≠selves firm¬≠ly in the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Party‚Äôs main¬≠stream. In fact, four major union lead¬≠ers who serve on the plat¬≠form com¬≠mit¬≠tee of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Nation¬≠al Com¬≠mit¬≠tee vot¬≠ed against includ¬≠ing Medicare for All in the party‚Äôs plat¬≠form. One was Ran¬≠di Wein¬≠garten, pres¬≠i¬≠dent of the Amer¬≠i¬≠can Fed¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion of Teach¬≠ers, who also served on the Biden-Sanders Uni¬≠ty Task Force. She says the DNC plat¬≠form vote was a result of a pri¬≠or agree¬≠ment among those on the Uni¬≠ty Task Force to vote for its rec¬≠om¬≠men¬≠da¬≠tions, in the way you might vote for a union con¬≠tract that was imper¬≠fect but the best you could get.

The wretched¬≠ness of the Trump admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion has pushed unions to view the elec¬≠tion as a¬†mat¬≠ter of sur¬≠vival.¬†‚ÄúWhat Trump has done with his abysmal han¬≠dling of Covid, and his even worse han¬≠dling of racism, is to have sobered up every¬≠one that this is an elec¬≠tion like no oth¬≠er,‚ÄĚ Wein¬≠garten says.¬†‚ÄúThat this elec¬≠tion needs to be won by Biden to make sure that our democ¬≠ra¬≠cy, as imper¬≠fect as it is, stays in place. ‚Ķ Yes, it‚Äôs aspi¬≠ra¬≠tional about how we need to do bet¬≠ter. But it‚Äôs also very pri¬≠mal, about what the stakes are right¬†now.‚Ä̬†

The bru¬≠tal real¬≠i¬≠ties of the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic mean that many unions are forced to focus on their imme¬≠di¬≠ate needs more than on long-term ide¬≠o¬≠log¬≠i¬≠cal goals. In the Feb¬≠ru¬≠ary run-up to the Neva¬≠da cau¬≠cus, Joe Biden and the oth¬≠er Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pri¬≠ma¬≠ry can¬≠di¬≠dates bat¬≠tled to win the endorse¬≠ment of the pow¬≠er¬≠ful Culi¬≠nary Union, which has orga¬≠nized the state‚Äôs casi¬≠no indus¬≠try. (The union ulti¬≠mate¬≠ly did not endorse, and Bernie Sanders won the cau¬≠cus.) Less than two months lat¬≠er, the unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment rate for the union‚Äôs mem¬≠bers was close to 100%. Geo¬≠con¬≠da Arg√ľel¬≠lo-Kline, the union‚Äôs sec¬≠re¬≠tary-trea¬≠sur¬≠er, says the pres¬≠i¬≠den¬≠tial elec¬≠tion is now framed in relent¬≠less¬≠ly prac¬≠ti¬≠cal terms: The refusal of Repub¬≠li¬≠cans to deal with the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic and the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic cri¬≠sis show that only Biden can make the gov¬≠ern¬≠ment sup¬≠port work¬≠place safe¬≠ty leg¬≠is¬≠la¬≠tion, pro¬≠tect health insur¬≠ance and pen¬≠sions, and fund ade¬≠quate unem¬≠ploy¬≠ment ben¬≠e¬≠fits until Las Vegas is back on its feet. 

‚ÄúThe gov¬≠ern¬≠ment real¬≠ly has to pro¬≠vide every¬≠thing that the work¬≠ers need dur¬≠ing this pan¬≠dem¬≠ic,‚ÄĚ Arg√ľel¬≠lo-Kline says. Her union is adapt¬≠ing its leg¬≠endary get-out-the-vote machine for a¬†social¬≠ly dis¬≠tanced era, rely¬≠ing on phone bank¬≠ing, text mes¬≠sag¬≠ing and dig¬≠i¬≠tal com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ca¬≠tion more than door-knock¬≠ing and ral¬≠lies. She‚Äôs con¬≠fi¬≠dent that Trump will not car¬≠ry Neva¬≠da.¬†‚ÄúEvery¬≠body in the coun¬≠try sees how he‚Äôs being oppres¬≠sive to minori¬≠ties over here. How he‚Äôs attack¬≠ing the Lati¬≠no com¬≠mu¬≠ni¬≠ty. How he doesn‚Äôt want to have any¬≠body in this coun¬≠try who doesn‚Äôt look like him,‚ÄĚ she says.¬†‚ÄúWe know work¬≠ers nev¬≠er have an easy¬†road.‚Ä̬†

Across the coun¬≠try, unions that typ¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ly would be spend¬≠ing the sum¬≠mer and fall months focused on elec¬≠tion¬≠eer¬≠ing are forced to bal¬≠ance that with the work of triag¬≠ing the needs of mem¬≠bers fac¬≠ing very real life-and-death sit¬≠u¬≠a¬≠tions. The Retail, Whole¬≠sale and Depart¬≠ment Store Union rep¬≠re¬≠sents front-line retail work¬≠ers who have been sub¬≠ject¬≠ed to wide¬≠spread lay¬≠offs that now appear to be per¬≠ma¬≠nent. It also rep¬≠re¬≠sents poul¬≠try plant work¬≠ers in the South who have con¬≠tin¬≠ued to work through¬≠out the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic with des¬≠per¬≠ate short¬≠ages of pro¬≠tec¬≠tive equip¬≠ment. It is hard to tell whether the work¬≠ing mem¬≠bers or the unem¬≠ployed mem¬≠bers of the union face more dan¬≠ger. Stu¬≠art Appel¬≠baum, the union‚Äôs pres¬≠i¬≠dent, has been a mem¬≠ber of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Nation¬≠al Com¬≠mit¬≠tee for decades, but he has nev¬≠er dealt with an elec¬≠tion year that com¬≠bines such dire cir¬≠cum¬≠stances for work¬≠ers with such logis¬≠ti¬≠cal chal¬≠lenges to mobi¬≠lize them to fight. 

If there is any sil¬≠ver lin¬≠ing, it is that the val¬≠ue of unions is clear¬≠er than ever before. Their pub¬≠lic pop¬≠u¬≠lar¬≠i¬≠ty is near a¬†50-year high. Trump‚Äôs car¬≠toon¬≠ish class war lent the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic pri¬≠maries a¬†strong pro-union fla¬≠vor, and the work¬≠place inequal¬≠i¬≠ty exposed by the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic has only sharp¬≠ened the recog¬≠ni¬≠tion of the need for work¬≠place pro¬≠tec¬≠tions.¬†‚ÄúWe heard more talk about unions and sup¬≠port of unions than we‚Äôve heard in any oth¬≠er cam¬≠paign that I¬†can remem¬≠ber,‚ÄĚ Appel¬≠baum says.¬†‚ÄúThere is more of a¬†recog¬≠ni¬≠tion in the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty now and in soci¬≠ety as a¬†whole as to the impor¬≠tance of work¬≠ers hav¬≠ing a¬†col¬≠lec¬≠tive voice. I¬†remem¬≠ber when Bill Clin¬≠ton was first elect¬≠ed, and I‚Äôd go to union meet¬≠ings where peo¬≠ple would say,¬†‚ÄėIs the pres¬≠i¬≠dent ever going to men¬≠tion the word union?‚Äô That‚Äôs not a¬†ques¬≠tion we have¬†now.‚Ä̬†

That, of course, is no guar¬≠an¬≠tee that things will work out in unions‚Äô favor. The right wing‚Äôs long attack on orga¬≠nized labor has sapped some of the basic abil¬≠i¬≠ty of unions to exer¬≠cise pow¬≠er. No employ¬≠ees have been more direct¬≠ly sub¬≠ject¬≠ed to that attack than the work¬≠ers of the fed¬≠er¬≠al gov¬≠ern¬≠ment itself. The Amer¬≠i¬≠can Fed¬≠er¬≠a¬≠tion of Gov¬≠ern¬≠ment Employ¬≠ees has butted heads with the Trump admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion inces¬≠sant¬≠ly over issues such as the lack of pay¬≠checks dur¬≠ing the gov¬≠ern¬≠ment shut¬≠down, efforts to take away col¬≠lec¬≠tive bar¬≠gain¬≠ing rights from hun¬≠dreds of thou¬≠sands of employ¬≠ees at the Defense Depart¬≠ment, and work¬≠ers at fed¬≠er¬≠al agen¬≠cies being forced back into the office before the pan¬≠dem¬≠ic is under control. 

‚ÄúFor us, this elec¬≠tion isn‚Äôt about par¬≠ty affil¬≠i¬≠a¬≠tion. It‚Äôs not about the dai¬≠ly out¬≠rages from Twit¬≠ter. It‚Äôs about our very liveli¬≠hoods. It‚Äôs about our rights and our lives at work,‚ÄĚ says Everett Kel¬≠ley, pres¬≠i¬≠dent of the¬†700,000-member union.¬†‚ÄúThe issues that our mem¬≠bers are fac¬≠ing are real¬≠ly the same issues that face labor as a¬†whole‚ÄĒour mem¬≠bers just work in a¬†sec¬≠tor where the Trump admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion has the widest lat¬≠i¬≠tude to imple¬≠ment its anti-labor poli¬≠cies. But there‚Äôs no doubt that they want to export their union-bust¬≠ing play¬≠book from the fed¬≠er¬≠al gov¬≠ern¬≠ment to the broad¬≠er pub¬≠lic and pri¬≠vate¬†sectors.‚Ä̬†

All of the mon¬≠ey, email blasts and vir¬≠tu¬≠al get¬≠ting-out-the-vote that unions are engaged in on behalf of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty will, if suc¬≠cess¬≠ful, result in mil¬≠lions of mail-in bal¬≠lots. And all of it will be worth¬≠less if those bal¬≠lots are not deliv¬≠ered and count¬≠ed prop¬≠er¬≠ly. Sav¬≠ing the post office‚ÄĒand, who knows, per¬≠haps democ¬≠ra¬≠cy itself‚ÄĒis a¬†job that has fall¬≠en in the lap of the labor move¬≠ment. Unions have been key play¬≠ers in pub¬≠li¬≠ciz¬≠ing the threat to the postal ser¬≠vice. They have ral¬≠lied polit¬≠i¬≠cal sup¬≠port behind postal work¬≠ers and the pop¬≠u¬≠lar insti¬≠tu¬≠tion as a¬†whole. What may have been seen as just anoth¬≠er under¬≠fund¬≠ed gov¬≠ern¬≠ment agency a¬†few years ago is now an avatar of every¬≠thing wrong with¬†Trumpism.

The U.S. Postal Ser¬≠vice is, like many oth¬≠er insti¬≠tu¬≠tions, fac¬≠ing a pan¬≠dem¬≠ic-induced loss of rev¬≠enue. It is also the tar¬≠get of the Repub¬≠li¬≠can Party‚Äôs long-term desire to pri¬≠va¬≠tize mail deliv¬≠ery and allow cor¬≠po¬≠ra¬≠tions to take over its oper¬≠a¬≠tions. Add to that the president‚Äôs appar¬≠ent desire to sab¬≠o¬≠tage the postal ser¬≠vice before the elec¬≠tion to pre¬≠vent mail-in bal¬≠lots from being count¬≠ed, and sud¬≠den¬≠ly, the hum¬≠ble post office finds itself at the cen¬≠ter of a nation‚Äôs sense that the entire gov¬≠ern¬≠ment may be tee¬≠ter¬≠ing on the edge of irre¬≠triev¬≠able corruption. 

‚ÄúPri¬≠va¬≠ti¬≠za¬≠tion usu¬≠al¬≠ly means three things. It means high¬≠er prices for the con¬≠sumer, less ser¬≠vices, and low¬≠er wages and ben¬≠e¬≠fits for the work¬≠ers,‚ÄĚ says Mark Dimond¬≠stein, head of the¬†200,000-member Amer¬≠i¬≠can Postal Work¬≠ers Union.¬†‚ÄúThis is cer¬≠tain¬≠ly the fork in the road of whether we‚Äôre going to have a¬†pub¬≠lic insti¬≠tu¬≠tion that belongs to every¬≠body, serves every¬≠body and is the source of good, liv¬≠ing-wage union jobs‚ÄĒor a¬†pri¬≠va¬≠tized, bro¬≠ken-up gig econ¬≠o¬≠my postal¬†service.‚ÄĚ

With tens of mil¬≠lions of Amer¬≠i¬≠cans unem¬≠ployed, a¬†dead¬≠ly dis¬≠ease rag¬≠ing and an incum¬≠bent pres¬≠i¬≠dent who appears not to care very much about either cri¬≠sis, unions and their allies find them¬≠selves pushed into a¬†famil¬≠iar cor¬≠ner: Fight like hell for the less-than-ide¬≠al Demo¬≠c¬≠rat‚ÄĒmain¬≠ly because there is no alter¬≠na¬≠tive. Joe Biden is an imper¬≠fect ally. His record is busi¬≠ness-friend¬≠ly, and his labor plat¬≠form, though strong in the¬≠o¬≠ry, is not as aggres¬≠sive as those of some of his pri¬≠ma¬≠ry rivals. Labor move¬≠ment vet¬≠er¬≠ans remem¬≠ber¬†2008¬†well, when the Oba¬≠ma admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion swept in with promise but failed to deliv¬≠er on the Employ¬≠ee Free Choice Act, which would have enabled¬†‚Äúcard check‚ÄĚ orga¬≠niz¬≠ing (a method of form¬≠ing a¬†union with a¬†sim¬≠ple major¬≠i¬≠ty vote) and was labor‚Äôs main (rel¬≠a¬≠tive¬≠ly mod¬≠est) wish. Biden is sell¬≠ing him¬≠self as Obama‚Äôs suc¬≠ces¬≠sor. It is up to the labor move¬≠ment to ensure that a¬†Biden admin¬≠is¬≠tra¬≠tion does not take them for¬†granted.

‚ÄúWe have to look at a¬†Biden vic¬≠to¬≠ry not as an end to our work, but a¬†begin¬≠ning,‚ÄĚ Dimond¬≠stein says.¬†‚ÄúThe his¬≠to¬≠ry of this coun¬≠try is, it‚Äôs always been the peo¬≠ple and the move¬≠ment, includ¬≠ing the work¬≠ing class move¬≠ment, that have cre¬≠at¬≠ed change in Con¬≠gress. Not the oppo¬≠site¬†way.‚ÄĚ

That, in fact, is the task that the labor move¬≠ment‚ÄĒshrunk¬≠en, bat¬≠tered and divid¬≠ed though it is‚ÄĒshould be pour¬≠ing most of its ener¬≠gy into, even now. Union den¬≠si¬≠ty in Amer¬≠i¬≠ca has fall¬≠en by half since the ear¬≠ly¬†1980s. Bare¬≠ly one in¬†10¬†work¬≠ers are now union mem¬≠bers. That exis¬≠ten¬≠tial decline must be turned around, or labor will nev¬≠er have enough pow¬≠er to win the eco¬≠nom¬≠ic and polit¬≠i¬≠cal gains that work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple need. No new pres¬≠i¬≠dent can do this for the labor move¬≠ment‚ÄĒthey can only remove some bar¬≠ri¬≠ers to make it eas¬≠i¬≠er for the move¬≠ment to do it for¬†itself.

Biden¬†looks strong in the polls, but there is no cer¬≠tain¬≠ty about what lies ahead. Few union lead¬≠ers want to engage seri¬≠ous¬≠ly with the ques¬≠tion of what hap¬≠pens if Trump wins. The answer is always some vari¬≠a¬≠tion of¬†‚ÄúJust keep fight¬≠ing.‚ÄĚ But anoth¬≠er four years of Trump would be grim, and sur¬≠viv¬≠ing it would require a¬†fero¬≠cious turn toward rad¬≠i¬≠cal¬≠ism. After¬†2016, some fac¬≠tions of the union world toyed with the the¬≠o¬≠ry that the way to meet the moment was to cater to the minor¬≠i¬≠ty of¬†‚Äúwhite work¬≠ing class‚ÄĚ union mem¬≠bers who felt left behind and embraced Trump. That approach was always flawed‚ÄĒTrump‚Äôs base is the upper, not low¬≠er class‚ÄĒand sub¬≠se¬≠quent events have ren¬≠dered it a¬†moot point. The labor move¬≠ment has loud¬≠ly allied itself with Black Lives Mat¬≠ter and pledged to join the fight for social jus¬≠tice. Liv¬≠ing up to that pledge means mak¬≠ing a¬†choice to oppose Trump. If he is reelect¬≠ed, orga¬≠nized labor should expect to be one of many tar¬≠gets of his¬†vindictiveness.

All of which points to the fact that nei¬≠ther elec¬≠tion out¬≠come will mean auto¬≠mat¬≠ic sal¬≠va¬≠tion for work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple. The past 40 years of his¬≠to¬≠ry demon¬≠strate that. Con¬≠trol of the White House has gone back and forth, but through it all, the rich have got¬≠ten rich¬≠er, the wages of work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple have stag¬≠nat¬≠ed, union den¬≠si¬≠ty has declined and labor law has remained bro¬≠ken. The worst-case sce¬≠nario for the labor move¬≠ment is to see more of the same.

‚ÄúI don‚Äôt real¬≠ly look to the Democ¬≠rats for lead¬≠er¬≠ship; I¬†look to the labor move¬≠ment,‚ÄĚ says Sara Nel¬≠son, the head of the Asso¬≠ci¬≠a¬≠tion of Flight Atten¬≠dants and one of labor‚Äôs most promi¬≠nent pro¬≠gres¬≠sive voic¬≠es.¬†‚ÄúAnd we have the pow¬≠er to change this right now if we choose to do so. That pow¬≠er is not an appendage of the Demo¬≠c¬≠ra¬≠t¬≠ic Par¬≠ty. It‚Äôs our labor. It‚Äôs our sol¬≠i¬≠dar¬≠i¬≠ty,‚ÄĚ she says.¬†‚ÄúAs long as we out¬≠source our pow¬≠er to politi¬≠cians, we are nev¬≠er, ever going to get what work¬≠ing peo¬≠ple¬†need.‚ÄĚ

The views expressed above are the authors‚Äô own. As a 501¬©3 non¬≠prof¬≠it, In These Times does not sup¬≠port or oppose can¬≠di¬≠dates for polit¬≠i¬≠cal office.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 22, 2020. 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. You can reach him at Hamilton@InTheseTimes.com.

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‚ÄėCan‚Äôt possibly be serious‚Äô: Trump‚Äôs bid to shore up jobless aid falls short

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The president’s order depends on already cash-poor states being able to create and implement a new system and fund one-fourth of the aid.

Tens of millions of jobless Americans are unlikely to see their weekly unemployment checks grow anytime soon ‚ÄĒ despite President Donald Trump‚Äôs executive action promising an extra $400 a week.

The president’s order depends on already cash-poor states being able to create and implement a new system and fund one-fourth of the aid, which for many governors would be a difficult if not impossible task.

It also would draw from a limited pool of funding, meaning enhanced benefits might only last a few weeks once the program is up and running. And it imposes a minimum benefit requirement, which could render some low-wage and gig workers ineligible.

“I honestly think this can‚Äôt possibly be serious,‚ÄĚ said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst with the liberal-leaning National Employment Law Project. ‚ÄúThe White House must have released this thinking that this is just a negotiating tactic because it really is an empty promise.‚ÄĚ

How would it work?

The action uses presidential powers under what‚Äôs known as the Stafford Act to use disaster relief funding, in combination with state dollars, to send money to unemployed workers.

The Labor Department has so far said it will work with states, the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to help provide the relief, but it has not provided more specifics. Some states, like Hawaii and Missouri, have issued notices saying they are awaiting further guidance from DOL on how to implement the program.

States have to apply for the federal funding, and if they choose not to opt in or say they do not have the funds available to supply their portion of the aid, then unemployed workers in their state will get no extra benefit.

The memo instructs states to distribute the payments through their regular unemployment systems. But many experts and Democrats say they are confused as to how already struggling state systems would be able to administer Trump‚Äôs plan. ‚ÄúThat’s something that we just don’t understand how that would work,‚ÄĚ a Senate Democratic aide told POLITICO. ‚ÄúYou basically need to set up this whole new entity.‚ÄĚ

Where would the money come from?

Trump‚Äôs memorandum says the federal government would cover 75 percent of the costs, while states would provide the remaining 25 percent ‚ÄĒ or $100 per worker per week. But the president‚Äôs messaging on who would be required to foot the bill for the program has shifted in recent days, as he suggested he could have the federal government cover all of the costs or more than 75 percent.

‚ÄúWe have a system where we can do 100 percent or we can do 75 percent. They’d pay 25. And it’ll depend on the state. And they’ll make an application, we’ll look at it, and we’ll make a decision,‚ÄĚ Trump told reporters Monday in New Jersey. ‚ÄúSo it may be they’ll pay nothing in some instances.‚ÄĚ

But White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany appeared to knock down that idea during a Monday press briefing, noting that states are legally required to pay for a quarter of the aid. She added that states can use CARES Act funding ‚Äúas a way to bring that hundred dollars forward.‚ÄĚ

A White House spokesperson told POLITICO that ‚Äústates could also apply their existing state unemployment benefits‚ÄĚ as funds that meet the 25 percent share.

But some cash-strapped state governments have been holding on to a portion of that money, hoping that Congress will provide them with the flexibility to use it for budget gaps caused by declining tax revenues.

Can states afford it?

Governors are already making clear that it won’t be easy to come up with their required portion of the aid, nor to set up a new system in the middle of a pandemic that has already wreaked havoc on state budgets.

The nonpartisan National Governors Association, which for months has been calling for $500 billion for states from the federal government, said in a statement Monday it was ‚Äúconcerned‚ÄĚ about ‚Äúthe significant administrative burdens and costs this latest action would place on the states.‚ÄĚ The group called instead for Congress and the Trump administration to work out a solution that would not place new administrative and fiscal burdens on states.

‚ÄúStates are going broke and millions of Americans are unemployed, yet the solution calls for the states to create a new program we can‚Äôt afford to begin with and don’t know how to administer,‚ÄĚ New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said on Monday.

And Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, said Sunday his state was still reviewing whether it could afford to fund its share of the new program. ‚ÄúThe answer is, I don‚Äôt know yet,‚ÄĚ DeWine¬†said on CNN‚Äôs ‚ÄúState of the Union.‚ÄĚ

How quickly will workers get paid?

Requiring states to implement a new program could take weeks or months as they reprogram their antiquated systems to calculate who will be eligible. States will also have to find a way to separately fund administration of the new aid alongside regular unemployment benefits.

‚ÄúIt will definitely be months,‚ÄĚ Evermore said. ‚ÄúAnd that‚Äôs in states that are able to pay it out at all.‚ÄĚ

The White House acknowledged on Monday the uncertainty around standing up such a system. “I can’t pinpoint a timeline,‚ÄĚ McEnany said during a press briefing.

Who is eligible for benefits?

The memo says workers must receive at least $100 in benefits a week in order to be eligible, a requirement that could leave out many gig-economy, low-wage and part-time workers.

State unemployment benefits, which vary by state, typically replace about 50 percent of a worker’s wages. Most states will pay a minimum benefit far lower than $100, suggesting that some part-time and low-wage workers could fall below the threshold to receive the federal help.

Will this help the economy?

Experts warn there is not enough money available to have a meaningful impact on the economy.

Since Trump doesn’t have authority to order the spending of new money, the most he can do is push existing programs to spend their existing funding in new ways, said Jack Smalligan, who previously worked as deputy associate director at the Office of Management and Budget.

There‚Äôs roughly $44 billion available in the Disaster Relief Fund, from which the government will draw the federal portion of the benefit. Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at the progressive Century Foundation, calculated that would provide about six weeks of benefits if every state were to take up the extra unemployment insurance program ‚ÄĒ ‚Äúnot enough to endure the current Covid-19 surge and get to the point when jobless are able to go back to their jobs,‚ÄĚ he said.

He also noted that the extra $400 per week for eligible jobless workers would still represent an average 22 percent pay cut for those who had through July been receiving an extra $600 weekly from the federal government.

And that in turn is likely to lead to a drop in consumer spending that has been supporting jobs. The Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, estimates that cutting the enhanced benefit by $200 per week would cost 1.7 million jobs.

‚ÄúCompared to actually doing another installment of emergency unemployment insurance legislation,‚ÄĚ Smalligan said, ‚Äúwhat‚Äôs done in the executive order is really quite paltry.‚ÄĚ

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 10, 2020. 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.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro.

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Trump is playing shock doctrine with COVID-19, this week in the war on workers

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One of the week‚Äôs big must-reads was How Trump is helping tycoons exploit the pandemic, by The New Yorker‚Äôs Jane Mayer. Specifically, Ronald Cameron, the owner of the massive poultry processing company Mountaire. Cameron is a major Trump donor, and he‚Äôs on a White House advisory board about the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, there‚Äôs a campaign to bust the union of the workers at a Mountaire plant and the Trump administration is gutting regulations that protect these workers, whose job was already both dangerous and low-paid before COVID-19. Now, workers are getting sick and the company is keeping its numbers secret‚ÄĒand continuing to get favorable treatment from the Trump administration.

A worker at the plant told Mayer that¬†a fellow worker¬†ended up on a ventilator with COVID-19 after¬†she told the company nurse she felt unwell and ‚ÄúThe¬†nurse sent her right back on the God-damned line to work. The nurses aren‚Äôt worth shit in there.‚ÄĚ Mountaire workers got hazard pay of just a dollar an hour, which was canceled in June, while a Trump executive order forced them to remain on the job. ‚ÄúWhy are they giving us a one-dollar raise and giving two¬†million¬†dollars to Donald Trump? What are we, animals?‚ÄĚ the worker¬†told Mayer.¬†Read the whole thing.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on July 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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

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How the Trump Administration’s Small Business Protection Program Has Failed Communities of Color

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The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated businesses run by people of color. The Trump administration’s Small Business Administration isn’t helping.

In recent weeks, it‚Äôs become increasingly clear that the federal government has failed to protect minority-owned businesses from the pandemic‚Äôs economic fallout. According to data published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, the number of black-owned businesses decreased by 41% between February and April. For the businesses that have survived, their cash balances decreased by 26%, compared with a 12% decline overall. 

While Congress enacted two small business loan programs to be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA), many entrepreneurs of color, who are facing disproportionate effects of the current economic crisis, did not receive emergency funding. Meanwhile, large and well-connected companies, some of which are owned by members of Congress, walked away with over $1 billion in loans from the SBA. 

Trump‚Äôs SBA not only failed to support businesses struggling the most in the midst of the pandemic, but it failed to fulfill its purpose as defined by Congress. When it first created the agency, Congress specifically outlined the SBA‚Äôs obligation to support entrepreneurs from socially disadvantaged groups, who faced (and continue to face) limited access to credit, lower credit scores, a lack of relationships with financial institutions and lower levels of personal wealth. 

In the Small Business Act of 1953, Congress wrote: ‚Äú[T]he opportunity for full participation in our free enterprise system by socially and economically disadvantaged persons is essential if we are to obtain social and economic equality for such persons and improve the functioning of our national economy.‚ÄĚ In Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act, Congress laid out the SBA‚Äôs particular responsibilities to aide ‚Äúsmall business concerns owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals so that such concerns can compete on an equal basis in the American economy,‚ÄĚ whether that meant a leg up in federal contracting, management assistance, or whatever else the SBA determined would aid entrepreneurs of color.

Structural disadvantage

Today, business owners of color continue to face the same structural challenges that put them at a financial disadvantage compared to white business owners when the SBA was created. A typical black entrepreneur receives a third of the startup capital the typical white entrepreneur receives. Business owners of color tend to have smaller businesses on average than white-owned small businesses. Moreover, 95% of businesses owned by Black Americans have no employees, compared with just 78% of white-owned businesses. 

These facts illustrate just how vital the SBA‚Äôs programs remain for minority-owned businesses. Yet, by all accounts, business owners of color have faced disproportionate financial suffering during this pandemic, despite the two small business loan programs administered by an agency with a specific mandate to assist them. 

Consider the larger of the two SBA loan programs: The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). PPP uses private financial institutions to issue federal loans to small businesses that can later be forgiven, so long as the business spends 60% of the funds on payroll expenses. Since the program‚Äôs rollout, SBA failed to issue clear guidance to lenders, or conduct adequate oversight. As a result, banks prioritized larger, better-connected businesses. Plus, simply by the nature of the program‚Äôs first-come-first-served design, those bigger and better-connected businesses swallowed up most of PPP‚Äôs initial funds, leaving many minority-owned businesses to wait until the second round of funding was approved. By then, many businesses had already closed their doors for good.

For those business owners of color who actually got their hands on PPP money, the loans turned out to be less useful than imagined. Minority-owned small businesses are less likely to have employees but were still only permitted to use 40% of their PPP loans on non-payroll expenses. 

That‚Äôs where the SBA‚Äôs smaller program‚ÄĒthe Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL)‚ÄĒcould have come in handy. EIDLs provide small businesses with more flexible capital that can be used for a variety of business expenses, not just payroll. Additionally, businesses that apply for EIDL are eligible to receive a $10,000 advance on the loan that does not need to be paid back. Unfortunately, the SBA arbitrarily limited the amount of money businesses could receive from the $10,000 grants, and long wait times have left many business owners without any funds months after Congress created the program. And if business owners of color didn‚Äôt apply months ago, they won‚Äôt qualify for EIDL now: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin limited the program to allow only agricultural businesses in April.

The disparities in access to SBA loans for business owners of color are stark. In a recent report, UnidosUS and Color of Change found that only 1 in 10 Black or Latinx-owned small businesses received the PPP assistance they requested. Another reportfrom Goldman Sachs found that only 79% of Black business owners applied for a PPP loan, compared with 91% of small businesses overall‚ÄĒand that 26% of black business owners have less than one month of cash reserves compared with 17% overall. These disparities might have been reduced but for the SBA‚Äôs failure to instruct lenders to prioritize underserved businesses, including minority and women-owned businesses. 

Unfortunately, the SBA’s inaction in this crisis follows a decades-long tradition of failing to support its mandate to help business owners of color. The agency has not adequately provided small business owners of color with the support the Small Business Act calls for in nearly 70 years since the legislation’s passing.

8(a) program

Through the SBA’s 8(a) business development program, minority-owned businesses can compete for set-aside government contracts and receive management and technical training. Yet since its inception, opportunistic white entrepreneurs have defrauded and abused the program, while the SBA has failed to ensure money got in the right hands.

In 1977, the Washington Post reported that white-owned businesses were fraudulently applying to the program, procuring lucrative government contracts meant for minority-owned businesses. Meanwhile, actual business owners of color in the program reported that they lacked technical support and guidance from the SBA. One black small business owner reported that the SBA offered to let him split a contract with a company owned by the white brother-in-law of an SBA employee. Two Nixon officials received 8(a) contracts. One federal official received an 8(a) contract for his business that had no assets or employees and then subcontracted all the work to white-owned businesses.

In 1979, in response to the abuse, the SBA Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report that found that one in five 8(a) participants were defrauding the program. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) found the 8(a) program‚Äôs eligibility criteria were not applied uniformly, and the SBA failed to properly report data on participants.

Congress attempted to improve the 8(a) program in 1978, 1980, and 1988, but it continued to be mismanaged and plagued by fraud. According to GAO, most of the program‚Äôs dollars went to a small number of firms, and the program‚Äôs management training did not provide minority-owned businesses with the tools to become self-sufficient businesses, evident from their lack of non-8(a) clients after graduating from the program. The GAO also reported that the 8(a) program lacked resources and failed to properly record data on the participating firms ‚Äď in other words, they conveniently were unable to track the improvement (or lack thereof) of participants. 

Even after continued reports of mismanagement and fraud, the SBA failed to effectively implement GAO‚Äôs recommendations. In 1996, the GAO reported that, while the SBA had made some progress, 8(a) was still not optimally supporting minority-owned businesses. The report criticized the program for only graduating three businesses. Again in 2000 and 2008, the GAO reported that the program was understaffed and under-resourced and had failed to implement recommendations to improve the program and reduce fraud. This lack of resources meant the SBA could not effectively support minority-owned firms participating in the program or ensure participants met eligibility requirements.

In 2009, after years of inaction, ProPublica revealed that the Department of Defense had awarded nearly $30 million in 8(a) contracts to companies under criminal investigation for falsely claiming to be small minority-owned businesses. In 2010, GAO discovered that 14 ineligible firms received $325 million in 8(a) contracts meant for minority-owned businesses, and in some cases, the SBA was aware of the firm‚Äôs ineligibility at the time it gave out the money. As recently as 2018, the SBA inspector general reported the agency failed to remove ineligible companies from the program. Ultimately, it is unclear just how much money has been pilfered from the intended minority business owners due to the SBA‚Äôs negligence over the years.


In 1997, the SBA created the HUBZone program, which set aside federal contracts for businesses located in ‚ÄúHistorically Underutilized Business Zones.‚ÄĚ While not directly providing support to minority-owned businesses, this program served low-income communities, many of which have disproportionate levels of racial and ethnic minorities. This program would help channel funds into these communities, providing much-needed economic opportunity and growth.

Yet, since its inception, HUBZone faced many of the same issues plaguing 8(a). The SBA inaccurately reported data on HUBZone participants, which led to errors in reported levels of growth and achievement, according to one GAO report. Another report criticized the SBA‚Äôs communication about program guidelines to participating firms.

Beyond mismanagement and data entry errors, the SBA used inaccurate maps to determine whether small businesses were located in economically distressed areas. A 2008 GAO report found that the SBA awarded HUBZone contracts to small businesses in wealthy communities due to inaccurate maps and failed to address these inaccuracies with regular monitoring required by SBA policy. 

Despite the numerous warnings from GAO and OIG, the SBA did not effectively improve HUBZone, and in 2019, the Washington Post reported that $800 million in HUBZone contract dollars went to just 11 businesses, many of which were located in Washington, D.C.‚Äôs wealthy neighborhoods, including Dupont Circle, Navy Yard and downtown. Meanwhile, business owners in poorer neighborhoods were left behind. In the program‚Äôs 20-plus-year history, it has never once met its goal of awarding 3% of federal contracts to HUBZone firms. 

Reimagining the SBA

The SBA’s consistent failure to adequately fulfill its congressional mandate, especially in the age of Covid-19, requires that we reimagine what the agency could look like. If future administrations provided the SBA with adequate funding and appointed a Small Business Administrator willing to invest in these defunct programs, the SBA might be able to help build a more inclusive, stronger economy.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden has reportedly begun hearing proposals for closing the racial wealth gap from his economic advisors. He‚Äôd do well to look at what tools would already be available to accomplish that ambitious goal should he become president in 2021‚ÄĒthe SBA is one of them. 

Unfortunately, over the past several decades, presidents have cut the SBA‚Äôs budget while its own leaders have supported these cuts in the name of balanced budgets and efficiency. Decades of budget cuts have starved the SBA of the resources needed to conduct proper oversight and tracking of its minority lending programs and its PPP and EIDL programs. 

The SBA must do better. As Connie Evans of the Association for Enterprise Opportunity recently¬†told¬†the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, the pandemic‚Äôs ‚Äúeconomic consequences are projected to erase decades of minority enterprise growth in underserved markets.‚ÄĚ But with a new administration and Small Business Administrator dedicated to uplifting communities of color, the SBA could finally accomplish its long-disregarded goals.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on July 8, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Miranda Litwak is a researcher for the Revolving Door Project.

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Trump Is Using the Pandemic to Wage War on Immigrants and Separate Families

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When President Donald Trump first began talking about ending ‚Äúchain migration‚ÄĚ in 2017, media outlets pointed out that his own parents-in-law had likely obtained lawful permanent residency through their daughter Melania‚ÄĒa naturalized U.S. citizen. At the same time that Trump was ranting on Twitter, ‚ÄúCHAIN MIGRATION must end now! Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE!‚ÄĚ his wife‚Äôs parents were in the process of becoming U.S. citizens after five years as so-called ‚Äúgreen card‚ÄĚ holders.

When the coronavirus pandemic was declared, Trump saw his chance to attack immigration policies that reunite families, and in April 2020 he announced a 60-day ban on green cards that impacted people like his parents-in-law were when they lived in their home country of Slovenia. At the time he announced the ban, I was in the process of applying for my own elderly parents to obtain lawful permanent residency in the United States, just as Melania Trump must have done only a few years ago.

Under existing immigration law, U.S. citizens have been able to sponsor their spouses, children, siblings, and parents, to obtain green cards, or permanent residency. Since his presidency began, Trump has wanted to limit that sponsorship to only spouses and children under 21. To that end, he backed the RAISE Act, which would effectively have done through legislation what his unilateral ban accomplished through executive order under cover of the COVID-19 crisis.

When the 60-day ban was up in June 2020, Trump extended it to the end of the year and added a number of other visas to the list, including H-1B visas for foreign workers, to match the outlines of the failed RAISE Act. The White House claims that the ban will keep 525,000 foreign workers out of the country and make those jobs available to U.S. workers at a time of mass unemployment. One immigrant advocacy group pointed out that Trump‚Äôs ban is designed to favor immigrants from Western Europe.

The ban is the brainchild of Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who entered the White House with Trump and is considered to be the ‚Äúdriving force‚ÄĚ behind Trump‚Äôs racist anti-immigrant agenda. Miller began his job with a wish list of the types of immigration and immigrants he wanted to ban, both undocumented and legal. He is considered the ‚Äúarchitect‚ÄĚ of the Trump administration‚Äôs most cruel policy‚ÄĒseparating parents from their young children after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Since 2017, he has been the brains behind Trump‚Äôs ‚ÄúMuslim ban,‚ÄĚ the restrictions of refugee quotas, the cancelation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and more. Today, under cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump has been busy deporting young immigrant children in violation of the United States‚Äôs own anti-trafficking laws.

Miller‚Äôs uncle David Glosser wrote about the hypocrisy of his nephew‚Äôs agenda, saying that had the United States adopted Miller‚Äôs anti-immigrant wish list when his ancestors were escaping the Nazis, the family would have perished. America‚Äôs immigration policies have long served white elites like the first lady, but the rest of us have often been deprived of accessing those same policies.

For all of Trump‚Äôs talk about prioritizing American workers, he has already¬†carved out exceptions¬†for ‚Äúany alien seeking to enter the United States to provide temporary labor or services essential to the United States food supply chain.‚ÄĚ In other words, there are some jobs that Americans are too good for and that only low-wage immigrant labor will do. The¬†Washington Post¬†pointed out, ‚ÄúSo far this year, the Trump administration is approving H-2A visas at a rate 15 percent faster than last year, and it took steps to make it easier for farmers to hire temporary farmworkers even after the pandemic began.‚ÄĚ

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has decried Trump‚Äôs new ban, saying, ‚ÄúPutting up a ‚Äėnot welcome‚Äô sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won‚Äôt help our country, it will hold us back.‚ÄĚ Indeed, at a time when health care workers especially are in short supply, and more than 15 percent of all doctors and nurses nationwide are immigrants, it is unclear how a ban on H-1B visas that limit such workers into the country until December will help Americans. Jobless Americans are hardly going to rush to medical and nursing schools, incur huge debts, fast-track their degrees at an unheard-of rate, and emerge as fully-fledged professionals in time to handle the expected surge of new COVID-19 cases.

It is also unclear how preventing U.S. citizens like me from bringing my retired elderly parents will help American workers. My parents plan to bring their entire life savings with them to spend on private health insurance and other basic needs until the end of their lives, thereby creating jobs and stimulating the U.S. economy. More importantly, they will be able to spend the golden years of their lives with their daughter and family, instead of alone and isolated. But to Trump, my parents do not deserve the same treatment as his in-laws did.

As the immigrant advocacy group¬†Value Our Families¬†declared recently, ‚ÄúImmigration is not just about the economy. Our system is designed to unify family members and is a legal right for many Americans.‚ÄĚ Trump has trampled over that right and the rights of so many people over and over since he took office. His trampling of rights is precisely why millions of Americans‚ÄĒcomprising a minority, albeit a significant one‚ÄĒvoted for him in 2016 and¬†plan to vote for him a second time. Trump did not come into office in spite of demonizing immigrants‚ÄĒhe was elected because he repeatedly dehumanized non-Americans, particularly brown-skinned ones. He brought with him Steven Bannon, a man who said he was a fan of¬†The Camp of the Saints, a horrendously racist tome written by the late French author Jean Raspail, that depicted ugly caricatures of Indian immigrant hordes destroying the European way of life.

Trump’s presidency is a clear symbol of the last gasp of white supremacy angrily asserting its power over a country that, in spite of centuries of institutional policies designed to privilege whites, is becoming browner every year. As someone who spent the last 30 years of my life navigating the intricacies and obstacles of the U.S. legal immigration system, I am one of the relatively privileged ones, especially when compared to the traumatized undocumented children who have been separated from their desperate parents, or the refugees fleeing violence whose legal right to seek asylum has been decimated. And yet today, even I remain separated from my parents.

Trump‚Äôs unilateral ban on green cards and immigrant work visas upends congressional legislative oversight. California Representative Judy Chu (who happens to be my representative) last year introduced the Reuniting Families Act to streamline legal immigration pathways and make them more humane. So far the bill has 78 sponsors.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court, which far too often tilts rightward, slapped back against the president‚Äôs egregious attacks on DACA registrants. In a 5-4 decision on June 18, justices voted to keep the Obama-era program intact, offering some measure of relief to the 650,000 young immigrants who have been able to defer deportation and legally work in the United States. Justice Sonia Sotomayor correctly pointed out that Trump‚Äôs decision to cancel DACA was marked by ‚Äúimpermissible discriminatory animus.‚ÄĚ

Trump has expressed such ‚Äúdiscriminatory animus‚ÄĚ to non-white Americans since the beginning of his candidacy and presidential tenure. Through his anti-immigrant policies, he is keeping families like mine separated. He has made no secret that his goal is to preserve white domination in America, and it is for that reason he has enjoyed the fervent, irrational, cult-like following of millions of Americans terrified at the prospect of equality with non-whites.

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¬†‚ÄúRising Up With Sonali,‚Ä̬†a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.

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Trump expected to extend limits on foreign workers

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The executive order, blocking most people from getting permanent residency, will stretch restrictions through the end of the year.

President Donald Trump is expected to extend through the end of the year foreign-worker restrictions that were initially enacted in April because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Trump will expand on the executive order blocking most people from receiving a permanent residency visa, or green card, by including most guest workers who come to the United States for temporary or seasonal work. That will encompass skilled workers in specialty occupations, executives, and seasonal workers who work in industries such as landscaping, housekeeping and construction, according to the two people, as well as a Department of Homeland Security official. Agricultural workers and students will not be included.

The new order is expected to continue to have broad exemptions, including for health care professionals and those entering for law enforcement or national security reasons, which will be expanded to include those with economic interests. New exemptions will probably include au pairs.

We‚Äôre going to be announcing something tomorrow or the next day on the visas,‚ÄĚ Trump told Fox News on Saturday. ‚ÄúYou need them for big businesses where they have certain people that have been coming in for a long time, but very little exclusion and they‚Äôre pretty tight.‚ÄĚ

The end-of-the-year extension makes it likely that the president will try to make immigration a focus of his reelection campaign, just like in 2016, when Trump promised to build a wall on the southern border and deport millions of migrants who arrived in the country illegally. In his inaugural address, Trump promised to build with American labor. ‚ÄúWe will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American,‚ÄĚ he said.

Conservatives and hard-line immigration groups had been urging Trump to do more for months, contending that the initial order didn‚Äôt go far enough because of the skyrocketing unemployment rate and an election only months away. Four Republican senators ‚ÄĒ Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Charles Grassley of Iowa and Josh Hawley of Missouri ‚ÄĒ sent a letter to the president asking for a pause in guest worker visas for 60 days to a year, ‚Äúor until unemployment has returned to normal levels.‚ÄĚ Six House members, including the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), followed with their own letter.

Trump‚Äôs first executive order, signed in April, is due to expire on Monday. It‚Äôs unclear whether he will sign one or two additional orders. The White House did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday.

The new executive order will probably anger business leaders who insist that foreign workers are still needed, even with so many Americans out of work, in order to keep vital industries staffed.

As the coronavirus outbreak initially spread, the Trump administration quietly continued to allow foreign workers to enter the country, even easing requirements for immigrants to get certain jobs ‚ÄĒ allowing electronic signatures, waiving the physical inspection of documents and extending deadlines. Then Trump abruptly tweeted that he would stop all immigration into the U.S. as the unemployment rate soared to nearly 15 percent. But the next day he agreed to scale it back.

Trump has already restricted foreign visitors from China, Europe, Brazil, Canada and Mexico, and paused most routine visa processing and refugee cases ‚ÄĒ meaning the new actions may not have been necessary. 

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 21, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Anita Kumar serves as White House correspondent and associate editor, covering President Donald Trump and helping organize and guide coverage for POLITICO‚Äôs White House team. Kumar joined POLITICO in 2019 after covering the White House for McClatchy‚Äôs chain of newspapers for six years. She reported on Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in 2016 and Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.

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This week in the war on workers: Trump’s top attacks on workers … so far

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The Economic Policy Institute‚Äôs Perkins Project ‚Äútracks actions by the administration, Congress, and the courts that affect people‚Äôs wages and their rights at work,‚ÄĚ and as we get to the end of Donald Trump‚Äôs first 100 days, they‚Äôve provided a list of the top 10 things he and congressional Republicans have done to working people. Here‚Äôs a sample:


  1. Protecting Wall Street profits that siphon billions of dollars from retirement savers. At President Trump‚Äôs behest, the Department of Labor has delayed a rule requiring that financial professionals recommend retirement investment products that serve their clients‚Äô best interests. The ‚Äúfiduciary rule‚ÄĚ aims to stop the losses savers incur when steered into products that earn advisers commissions and fees. The rule was supposed to go into effect April 10. For every seven days that the rule is delayed, retirement savers lose¬†$431 million over the next 30 years. The 60-day delay will cost workers saving for retirement¬†$3.7 billion over 30 years.
  2. Letting employers hide fatal injuries that happen on their watch. The Senate approved a resolution making it harder to hold employers accountable when they subject workers to dangerous conditions. The March 22 resolution blocks a rule requiring that employers keep accurate logs of workplace injuries and illnesses for five years. This time frame captures not just individual injuries but track records of unsafe conditions. President Trump said he would sign the resolution. If he does, employers can fail to maintain‚ÄĒor falsify‚ÄĒtheir injury and illness logs, making them less likely to suffer the consequences when workers are injured or killed. Blocking this rule also means that employers, OSHA, and workers cannot use what they learn from past mistakes to prevent future tragedies. If the rule is overturned,¬†more workers will be injured, and responsible employers will be penalized.
  3. Allowing potentially billions of taxpayer dollars to go to private contractors who violate health and safety protections or fail to pay workers. The federal government pays contractors hundreds of billions of dollars every year to do everything from manufacturing military aircraft to serving food in our national parks. The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule required that companies vying for these lucrative contracts disclose previous workplace violations, and that those violations be considered when awarding federal contracts. The rule was needed, as major federal contractors were found to be regularly engaging in illegal practices that harm workers financially and endanger their health and safety. On March 27, President Trump killed this rule by signing a congressional resolution blocking it. This will hurt workers and contractors who play by the rules, while benefitting only those contractors with records of cutting corners.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on April 22, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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