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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 “our agenda is relentlessly pro-worker.” Despite this populist posturing, any sober assessment of Trump’s 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?

“The 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’t let the president’s pro-corporate appointees scare them out of ever exercising their rights.”

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

A BOARD OF CORPORATE STOOGES

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—when Democrat Lauren McFerran was reconfirmed by the Senate—Trump presided over the first all-Republican Board in the NLRB’s 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.

PRECEDENT OUT THE WINDOW

As Celine McNicholas, Margaret Poydock, and Lynn Rhinehart of the Economic Policy Institute wrote in their October 2019 report “Unprecedented: The Trump NLRB’s Attack on Workers’ Rights”: “The Trump board has repeatedly reversed long-standing board precedent, weakening workers’ 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.” 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’s 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’s Specialty Healthcare decision undermined employers’ 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’s 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—and then add additional measures that gave management even more power to beat organizing drives.

UNDERMINING COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

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.

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But the Board adopted a new rule that allows employers to make unilateral changes if there is reference in the contract to management’s 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—no “card check” there.

HURTS NEW ORGANIZING

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—the 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’s 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 “intermittent” strike, which is unprotected, and thus there were no legal consequences for Walmart when the company retaliated.

PERILOUS FUTURE

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’ 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 “small, non-distracting” union buttons or other insignia in stores. Walmart absurdly claimed this practice would “enhance the customer shopping experience and protect its merchandise from theft or vandalism.”

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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Amer­i­ca is in cri­sis. There can be no doubt about that. All of our imme­di­ate crises—the pan­dem­ic and the unem­ploy­ment and the eco­nom­ic col­lapse and the death spi­ral of var­i­ous pub­lic insti­tu­tions—have lent the upcom­ing pres­i­den­tial elec­tion an air of emer­gency. For work­ing peo­ple in Amer­i­ca, though, the emer­gency is noth­ing new at all. What is at stake for labor in this elec­tion is every­thing. Noth­ing, there­fore, has changed. 

Don­ald Trump and the coro­n­avirus, the two fac­tors infus­ing this elec­tion with urgency, are of recent vin­tage. But the cri­sis for work­ing Amer­i­cans has been grow­ing worse for at least four decades. Since the Rea­gan era, eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty has been ris­ing, union pow­er has been declin­ing, and glob­al cap­i­tal­ism has been widen­ing the chasm between the rich and every­one else. 

Orga­nized labor has been fight­ing a los­ing—and some­times inept­ly fought—bat­tle against these trends in every elec­tion since 1980. The once-in-a-cen­tu­ry cat­a­stro­phe sur­round­ing the 2020 elec­tion may be what it needs to final­ly reverse two gen­er­a­tions of dis­re­spect and defeat. 

Labor unions, which rep­re­sent work­ers in a work­place, have always includ­ed peo­ple of all polit­i­cal stripes. The labor move­ment—the broad­er uni­verse of groups pur­su­ing the inter­ests of work­ing peo­ple—will con­tin­ue to lean left, in the direc­tion that val­ues labor over cap­i­tal. (See­ing police unions endorse Trump, whose admin­is­tra­tion is deter­mined to crush labor rights, is an exam­ple of the fact that indi­vid­ual unions and their mem­bers can act in self-inter­est­ed ways that go against the labor move­ment as a whole.) 

For rough­ly the past half cen­tu­ry, union house­holds have tend­ed to vote Demo­c­ra­t­ic by about a 60–40 mar­gin, but that mar­gin has fluc­tu­at­ed. In 1980, Ronald Rea­gan nar­rowed the gap to only a few points. Barack Oba­ma took the union vote by 34 points in 2012, but in 2016, that gap shrank by half. Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Joe Biden, tout­ing his Oba­ma con­nec­tions and fac­ing an out­right incom­pe­tent racist, will like­ly expand that mar­gin again. 

Since Con­gress passed the Taft-Hart­ley Act in 1947, unions have been oper­at­ing in the frame­work of a set of labor laws designed to rob them of pow­er. The state of those laws today is abysmal. The right to strike is restrict­ed, and com­pa­nies have been able to clas­si­fy large swaths of their work­ers as “inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors,” who lack the right to union­ize. More than half the states in the coun­try have passed “right to work” laws, which give work­ers the abil­i­ty to opt out of pay­ing union dues, mak­ing it extreme­ly dif­fi­cult for unions to orga­nize and main­tain mem­ber­ship. The 2018 Supreme Court deci­sion in the Janus v. AFSCME case made the entire pub­lic sec­tor “right to work” as well, which is sure to eat into that last bas­tion of strong union den­si­ty. The unful­filled desire to achieve some sem­blance of labor law reform has been the pri­ma­ry rea­son that unions in Amer­i­ca have poured mon­ey into the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty for decades, despite get­ting decid­ed­ly mod­est leg­isla­tive wins in return. 
“It’s critical that in the new administration, labor doesn’t just get siloed: ‘What’s the thing we can do to make the unions happy’ It’s got to be an approach to looking across everything, especially in light of the economic situation.” —Sharon Block, former Labor Department official in the Obama administration

Ear­li­er this year, Sharon Block, a for­mer Labor Depart­ment offi­cial in the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion who now heads the Labor and Work­life Pro­gram at Har­vard, and labor expert and Har­vard pro­fes­sor Ben­jamin Sachs spear­head­ed the assem­bly of the “Clean Slate for Work­er Pow­er” agen­da—some­thing of a union-friend­ly labor law plat­form for Democ­rats in exile dur­ing the Trump years. That agen­da is a fair sum­ma­tion of the labor movement’s wish list. It calls for a swath of reforms that make it eas­i­er for all work­ers to orga­nize and exer­cise pow­er. Its pil­lars include sec­toral bar­gain­ing, which would allow entire indus­tries to nego­ti­ate con­tracts at once; a much broad­er right to strike; work­er rep­re­sen­ta­tives on cor­po­rate boards; stream­lined union elec­tions; more labor rights for inde­pen­dent con­trac­tors and oth­er gig work­ers; the end of statewide “right to work” laws; and stronger enforce­ment of labor stan­dards. Biden’s own labor plat­form, while not quite as rad­i­cal—it con­spic­u­ous­ly does not include sec­toral bar­gain­ing—does include the major­i­ty of the Clean Slate agen­da. Biden’s plat­form also says there will be a “cab­i­net-lev­el work­ing group” of union rep­re­sen­ta­tives, which could pre­sum­ably push his plat­form even fur­ther left. Though Biden was among the most cen­trist of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry can­di­dates, the party’s cen­ter has moved so much in the past four years that he has the most left­ist labor plat­form of any nom­i­nee since the New Deal. 

While Biden is regard­ed by many as very pro-union, his­to­ry has taught the labor move­ment that its great­est chal­lenge will be get­ting him to actu­al­ly pri­or­i­tize labor if he assumes pow­er. “I had the priv­i­lege of see­ing Joe Biden in action. When he walked into a room where we were dis­cussing pol­i­cy, we knew that the inter­ests of work­ers, their col­lec­tive pow­er, and the labor move­ment was going to be on the table,” Block says. But, she warns, “It’s crit­i­cal that in the new admin­is­tra­tion, labor doesn’t just get siloed: ‘What’s the thing we can do to make the unions hap­py’ It’s got to be an approach to look­ing across every­thing, espe­cial­ly in light of the eco­nom­ic situation.”

In oth­er words, the new admin­is­tra­tion must treat orga­nized labor not as a spe­cial inter­est but as the key to chang­ing our increas­ing­ly two-tiered econ­o­my. That point is key to under­stand­ing the divide between the part of the labor move­ment that sup­port­ed left-wing can­di­dates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Eliz­a­beth War­ren (D-Mass.), and those that sup­port­ed Biden. While Sanders’ back­ers will speak of his fanat­i­cal moral devo­tion to pro-work­ing class pol­i­cy, Biden’s allies will speak of the per­son­al rela­tion­ship they have with him. It is the divide between those who see unions more as part of a greater effort to improve con­di­tions for all work­ers, and those who see them more as a prac­ti­cal tool for mem­bers. “Joe Biden had an open door pol­i­cy. That was the biggest thing. That was the crux of the rela­tion­ship,” says a spokesper­son for the Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Fire Fight­ers, the first big union to endorse Biden when he entered the 2020 race. “With Joe Biden at the White House, our voice is heard. We get pri­or­i­ty access.”

This trans­ac­tion­al, loy­al­ty-cen­tric approach is unsur­pris­ing for a career politi­cian like Biden, but it can leave out labor lead­ers who don’t have such a long his­to­ry of back­ing him. Most major unions did not endorse in the 2020 Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry, pre­fer­ring to focus on back­ing who­ev­er became the nom­i­nee to oppose Trump. And Biden—though he has many union allies—is not a cru­sad­er, but a politi­cian with decades of strong cor­po­rate back­ing, lead­ing many in labor to won­der how much he real­ly means what his plat­form says. The Biden cam­paign tried to mit­i­gate that wor­ry by includ­ing mul­ti­ple pro­gres­sive union lead­ers in the Biden-Sanders “Uni­ty Task Force,” which was explic­it­ly set up to uni­fy the left and cen­trist wings of the par­ty, in part by get­ting pro­gres­sive poli­cies into the Demo­c­ra­t­ic plat­form. That task force prod­ded Biden mod­est­ly to the left but not so far as to endorse core pro­gres­sive ideas like Medicare for All. The unions clos­est to Biden, par­tic­u­lar­ly the fire­fight­ers, are opposed to Medicare for All because they want to keep the health­care plans they nego­ti­at­ed for themselves.

The biggest labor unions often have strong pro­gres­sive fac­tions but most­ly plant them­selves firm­ly in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party’s main­stream. In fact, four major union lead­ers who serve on the plat­form com­mit­tee of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee vot­ed against includ­ing Medicare for All in the party’s plat­form. One was Ran­di Wein­garten, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers, who also served on the Biden-Sanders Uni­ty Task Force. She says the DNC plat­form vote was a result of a pri­or agree­ment among those on the Uni­ty Task Force to vote for its rec­om­men­da­tions, in the way you might vote for a union con­tract that was imper­fect but the best you could get.

The wretched­ness of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has pushed unions to view the elec­tion as a mat­ter of sur­vival. “What Trump has done with his abysmal han­dling of Covid, and his even worse han­dling of racism, is to have sobered up every­one that this is an elec­tion like no oth­er,” Wein­garten says. “That this elec­tion needs to be won by Biden to make sure that our democ­ra­cy, as imper­fect as it is, stays in place. … Yes, it’s aspi­ra­tional about how we need to do bet­ter. But it’s also very pri­mal, about what the stakes are right now.” 

The bru­tal real­i­ties of the pan­dem­ic mean that many unions are forced to focus on their imme­di­ate needs more than on long-term ide­o­log­i­cal goals. In the Feb­ru­ary run-up to the Neva­da cau­cus, Joe Biden and the oth­er Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry can­di­dates bat­tled to win the endorse­ment of the pow­er­ful Culi­nary Union, which has orga­nized the state’s casi­no indus­try. (The union ulti­mate­ly did not endorse, and Bernie Sanders won the cau­cus.) Less than two months lat­er, the unem­ploy­ment rate for the union’s mem­bers was close to 100%. Geo­con­da Argüel­lo-Kline, the union’s sec­re­tary-trea­sur­er, says the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion is now framed in relent­less­ly prac­ti­cal terms: The refusal of Repub­li­cans to deal with the pan­dem­ic and the eco­nom­ic cri­sis show that only Biden can make the gov­ern­ment sup­port work­place safe­ty leg­is­la­tion, pro­tect health insur­ance and pen­sions, and fund ade­quate unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits until Las Vegas is back on its feet. 

“The gov­ern­ment real­ly has to pro­vide every­thing that the work­ers need dur­ing this pan­dem­ic,” Argüel­lo-Kline says. Her union is adapt­ing its leg­endary get-out-the-vote machine for a social­ly dis­tanced era, rely­ing on phone bank­ing, text mes­sag­ing and dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion more than door-knock­ing and ral­lies. She’s con­fi­dent that Trump will not car­ry Neva­da. “Every­body in the coun­try sees how he’s being oppres­sive to minori­ties over here. How he’s attack­ing the Lati­no com­mu­ni­ty. How he doesn’t want to have any­body in this coun­try who doesn’t look like him,” she says. “We know work­ers nev­er have an easy road.” 

Across the coun­try, unions that typ­i­cal­ly would be spend­ing the sum­mer and fall months focused on elec­tion­eer­ing are forced to bal­ance that with the work of triag­ing the needs of mem­bers fac­ing very real life-and-death sit­u­a­tions. The Retail, Whole­sale and Depart­ment Store Union rep­re­sents front-line retail work­ers who have been sub­ject­ed to wide­spread lay­offs that now appear to be per­ma­nent. It also rep­re­sents poul­try plant work­ers in the South who have con­tin­ued to work through­out the pan­dem­ic with des­per­ate short­ages of pro­tec­tive equip­ment. It is hard to tell whether the work­ing mem­bers or the unem­ployed mem­bers of the union face more dan­ger. Stu­art Appel­baum, the union’s pres­i­dent, has been a mem­ber of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Nation­al Com­mit­tee for decades, but he has nev­er dealt with an elec­tion year that com­bines such dire cir­cum­stances for work­ers with such logis­ti­cal chal­lenges to mobi­lize them to fight. 

If there is any sil­ver lin­ing, it is that the val­ue of unions is clear­er than ever before. Their pub­lic pop­u­lar­i­ty is near a 50-year high. Trump’s car­toon­ish class war lent the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­maries a strong pro-union fla­vor, and the work­place inequal­i­ty exposed by the pan­dem­ic has only sharp­ened the recog­ni­tion of the need for work­place pro­tec­tions. “We heard more talk about unions and sup­port of unions than we’ve heard in any oth­er cam­paign that I can remem­ber,” Appel­baum says. “There is more of a recog­ni­tion in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty now and in soci­ety as a whole as to the impor­tance of work­ers hav­ing a col­lec­tive voice. I remem­ber when Bill Clin­ton was first elect­ed, and I’d go to union meet­ings where peo­ple would say, ‘Is the pres­i­dent ever going to men­tion the word union?’ That’s not a ques­tion we have now.” 

That, of course, is no guar­an­tee that things will work out in unions’ favor. The right wing’s long attack on orga­nized labor has sapped some of the basic abil­i­ty of unions to exer­cise pow­er. No employ­ees have been more direct­ly sub­ject­ed to that attack than the work­ers of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment itself. The Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Employ­ees has butted heads with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion inces­sant­ly over issues such as the lack of pay­checks dur­ing the gov­ern­ment shut­down, efforts to take away col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights from hun­dreds of thou­sands of employ­ees at the Defense Depart­ment, and work­ers at fed­er­al agen­cies being forced back into the office before the pan­dem­ic is under control. 

“For us, this elec­tion isn’t about par­ty affil­i­a­tion. It’s not about the dai­ly out­rages from Twit­ter. It’s about our very liveli­hoods. It’s about our rights and our lives at work,” says Everett Kel­ley, pres­i­dent of the 700,000-member union. “The issues that our mem­bers are fac­ing are real­ly the same issues that face labor as a whole—our mem­bers just work in a sec­tor where the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has the widest lat­i­tude to imple­ment its anti-labor poli­cies. But there’s no doubt that they want to export their union-bust­ing play­book from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to the broad­er pub­lic and pri­vate sectors.” 

All of the mon­ey, email blasts and vir­tu­al get­ting-out-the-vote that unions are engaged in on behalf of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty will, if suc­cess­ful, result in mil­lions of mail-in bal­lots. And all of it will be worth­less if those bal­lots are not deliv­ered and count­ed prop­er­ly. Sav­ing the post office—and, who knows, per­haps democ­ra­cy itself—is a job that has fall­en in the lap of the labor move­ment. Unions have been key play­ers in pub­li­ciz­ing the threat to the postal ser­vice. They have ral­lied polit­i­cal sup­port behind postal work­ers and the pop­u­lar insti­tu­tion as a whole. What may have been seen as just anoth­er under­fund­ed gov­ern­ment agency a few years ago is now an avatar of every­thing wrong with Trumpism.

The U.S. Postal Ser­vice is, like many oth­er insti­tu­tions, fac­ing a pan­dem­ic-induced loss of rev­enue. It is also the tar­get of the Repub­li­can Party’s long-term desire to pri­va­tize mail deliv­ery and allow cor­po­ra­tions to take over its oper­a­tions. Add to that the president’s appar­ent desire to sab­o­tage the postal ser­vice before the elec­tion to pre­vent mail-in bal­lots from being count­ed, and sud­den­ly, the hum­ble post office finds itself at the cen­ter of a nation’s sense that the entire gov­ern­ment may be tee­ter­ing on the edge of irre­triev­able corruption. 

“Pri­va­ti­za­tion usu­al­ly means three things. It means high­er prices for the con­sumer, less ser­vices, and low­er wages and ben­e­fits for the work­ers,” says Mark Dimond­stein, head of the 200,000-member Amer­i­can Postal Work­ers Union. “This is cer­tain­ly the fork in the road of whether we’re going to have a pub­lic insti­tu­tion that belongs to every­body, serves every­body and is the source of good, liv­ing-wage union jobs—or a pri­va­tized, bro­ken-up gig econ­o­my postal service.”

With tens of mil­lions of Amer­i­cans unem­ployed, a dead­ly dis­ease rag­ing and an incum­bent pres­i­dent who appears not to care very much about either cri­sis, unions and their allies find them­selves pushed into a famil­iar cor­ner: Fight like hell for the less-than-ide­al Demo­c­rat—main­ly because there is no alter­na­tive. Joe Biden is an imper­fect ally. His record is busi­ness-friend­ly, and his labor plat­form, though strong in the­o­ry, is not as aggres­sive as those of some of his pri­ma­ry rivals. Labor move­ment vet­er­ans remem­ber 2008 well, when the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion swept in with promise but failed to deliv­er on the Employ­ee Free Choice Act, which would have enabled “card check” orga­niz­ing (a method of form­ing a union with a sim­ple major­i­ty vote) and was labor’s main (rel­a­tive­ly mod­est) wish. Biden is sell­ing him­self as Obama’s suc­ces­sor. It is up to the labor move­ment to ensure that a Biden admin­is­tra­tion does not take them for granted.

“We have to look at a Biden vic­to­ry not as an end to our work, but a begin­ning,” Dimond­stein says. “The his­to­ry of this coun­try is, it’s always been the peo­ple and the move­ment, includ­ing the work­ing class move­ment, that have cre­at­ed change in Con­gress. Not the oppo­site way.”

That, in fact, is the task that the labor move­ment—shrunk­en, bat­tered and divid­ed though it is—should be pour­ing most of its ener­gy into, even now. Union den­si­ty in Amer­i­ca has fall­en by half since the ear­ly 1980s. Bare­ly one in 10 work­ers are now union mem­bers. That exis­ten­tial decline must be turned around, or labor will nev­er have enough pow­er to win the eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal gains that work­ing peo­ple need. No new pres­i­dent can do this for the labor move­ment—they can only remove some bar­ri­ers to make it eas­i­er for the move­ment to do it for itself.

Biden looks strong in the polls, but there is no cer­tain­ty about what lies ahead. Few union lead­ers want to engage seri­ous­ly with the ques­tion of what hap­pens if Trump wins. The answer is always some vari­a­tion of “Just keep fight­ing.” But anoth­er four years of Trump would be grim, and sur­viv­ing it would require a fero­cious turn toward rad­i­cal­ism. After 2016, some fac­tions of the union world toyed with the the­o­ry that the way to meet the moment was to cater to the minor­i­ty of “white work­ing class” union mem­bers who felt left behind and embraced Trump. That approach was always flawed—Trump’s base is the upper, not low­er class—and sub­se­quent events have ren­dered it a moot point. The labor move­ment has loud­ly allied itself with Black Lives Mat­ter and pledged to join the fight for social jus­tice. Liv­ing up to that pledge means mak­ing a choice to oppose Trump. If he is reelect­ed, orga­nized labor should expect to be one of many tar­gets of his vindictiveness.

All of which points to the fact that nei­ther elec­tion out­come will mean auto­mat­ic sal­va­tion for work­ing peo­ple. The past 40 years of his­to­ry demon­strate that. Con­trol of the White House has gone back and forth, but through it all, the rich have got­ten rich­er, the wages of work­ing peo­ple have stag­nat­ed, union den­si­ty has declined and labor law has remained bro­ken. The worst-case sce­nario for the labor move­ment is to see more of the same.

“I don’t real­ly look to the Democ­rats for lead­er­ship; I look to the labor move­ment,” says Sara Nel­son, the head of the Asso­ci­a­tion of Flight Atten­dants and one of labor’s most promi­nent pro­gres­sive voic­es. “And we have the pow­er to change this right now if we choose to do so. That pow­er is not an appendage of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. It’s our labor. It’s our sol­i­dar­i­ty,” she says. “As long as we out­source our pow­er to politi­cians, we are nev­er, ever going to get what work­ing peo­ple need.”

The views expressed above are the authors’ own. As a 501©3 non­prof­it, In These Times does not sup­port or oppose can­di­dates for polit­i­cal 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 [email protected]


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‘Can’t possibly be serious’: Trump’s 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 — despite President Donald Trump’s 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’t possibly be serious,” said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst with the liberal-leaning National Employment Law Project. “The White House must have released this thinking that this is just a negotiating tactic because it really is an empty promise.”

How would it work?

The action uses presidential powers under what’s 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’s plan. “That’s something that we just don’t understand how that would work,” a Senate Democratic aide told POLITICO. “You basically need to set up this whole new entity.”

Where would the money come from?

Trump’s memorandum says the federal government would cover 75 percent of the costs, while states would provide the remaining 25 percent — or $100 per worker per week. But the president’s 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.

“We 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,” Trump told reporters Monday in New Jersey. “So it may be they’ll pay nothing in some instances.”

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 “as a way to bring that hundred dollars forward.”

A White House spokesperson told POLITICO that “states could also apply their existing state unemployment benefits” 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 “concerned” about “the significant administrative burdens and costs this latest action would place on the states.” 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.

“States are going broke and millions of Americans are unemployed, yet the solution calls for the states to create a new program we can’t afford to begin with and don’t know how to administer,” 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. “The answer is, I don’t know yet,” DeWine said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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.

“It will definitely be months,” Evermore said. “And that’s in states that are able to pay it out at all.”

The White House acknowledged on Monday the uncertainty around standing up such a system. “I can’t pinpoint a timeline,” 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’s 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 — “not enough to endure the current Covid-19 surge and get to the point when jobless are able to go back to their jobs,” 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.

“Compared to actually doing another installment of emergency unemployment insurance legislation,” Smalligan said, “what’s done in the executive order is really quite paltry.”

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’s big must-reads was How Trump is helping tycoons exploit the pandemic, by The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer. Specifically, Ronald Cameron, the owner of the massive poultry processing company Mountaire. Cameron is a major Trump donor, and he’s on a White House advisory board about the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, there’s 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—and 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 “The nurse sent her right back on the God-damned line to work. The nurses aren’t worth shit in there.” 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. “Why are they giving us a one-dollar raise and giving two million dollars to Donald Trump? What are we, animals?” 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’s become increasingly clear that the federal government has failed to protect minority-owned businesses from the pandemic’s 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’s 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’s 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: “[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.” In Section 8(a) of the Small Business Act, Congress laid out the SBA’s particular responsibilities to aide “small 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,” 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’s 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’s 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’s first-come-first-served design, those bigger and better-connected businesses swallowed up most of PPP’s 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’s where the SBA’s smaller program—the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL)—could 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’t apply months ago, they won’t 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—and 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’s 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’s 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’s dollars went to a small number of firms, and the program’s 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 – 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’s 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’s 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’s negligence over the years.

HUBZone

In 1997, the SBA created the HUBZone program, which set aside federal contracts for businesses located in “Historically Underutilized Business Zones.” 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’s 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.’s wealthy neighborhoods, including Dupont Circle, Navy Yard and downtown. Meanwhile, business owners in poorer neighborhoods were left behind. In the program’s 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’d do well to look at what tools would already be available to accomplish that ambitious goal should he become president in 2021—the SBA is one of them. 

Unfortunately, over the past several decades, presidents have cut the SBA’s 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’s “economic consequences are projected to erase decades of minority enterprise growth in underserved markets.” 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 “chain migration” in 2017, media outlets pointed out that his own parents-in-law had likely obtained lawful permanent residency through their daughter Melania—a naturalized U.S. citizen. At the same time that Trump was ranting on Twitter, “CHAIN MIGRATION must end now! Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE!” his wife’s parents were in the process of becoming U.S. citizens after five years as so-called “green card” 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’s 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 “driving force” behind Trump’s 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 “architect” of the Trump administration’s most cruel policy—separating parents from their young children after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Since 2017, he has been the brains behind Trump’s “Muslim ban,” 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’s own anti-trafficking laws.

Miller’s uncle David Glosser wrote about the hypocrisy of his nephew’s agenda, saying that had the United States adopted Miller’s anti-immigrant wish list when his ancestors were escaping the Nazis, the family would have perished. America’s 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’s talk about prioritizing American workers, he has already carved out exceptions for “any alien seeking to enter the United States to provide temporary labor or services essential to the United States food supply chain.” 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, “So 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.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has decried Trump’s new ban, saying, “Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back.” 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, “Immigration is not just about the economy. Our system is designed to unify family members and is a legal right for many Americans.” 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—comprising a minority, albeit a significant one—voted for him in 2016 and plan to vote for him a second time. Trump did not come into office in spite of demonizing immigrants—he 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’s 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’s 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’s decision to cancel DACA was marked by “impermissible discriminatory animus.”

Trump has expressed such “discriminatory animus” 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 “Rising Up With Sonali,” 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’re going to be announcing something tomorrow or the next day on the visas,” Trump told Fox News on Saturday. “You 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’re pretty tight.”

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. “We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American,” he said.

Conservatives and hard-line immigration groups had been urging Trump to do more for months, contending that the initial order didn’t go far enough because of the skyrocketing unemployment rate and an election only months away. Four Republican senators — Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Charles Grassley of Iowa and Josh Hawley of Missouri — sent a letter to the president asking for a pause in guest worker visas for 60 days to a year, “or until unemployment has returned to normal levels.” Six House members, including the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), followed with their own letter.

Trump’s first executive order, signed in April, is due to expire on Monday. It’s 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 — 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 — 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’s White House team. Kumar joined POLITICO in 2019 after covering the White House for McClatchy’s 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’s Perkins Project “tracks actions by the administration, Congress, and the courts that affect people’s wages and their rights at work,” and as we get to the end of Donald Trump’s first 100 days, they’ve provided a list of the top 10 things he and congressional Republicans have done to working people. Here’s a sample:

 

  1. Protecting Wall Street profits that siphon billions of dollars from retirement savers. At President Trump’s behest, the Department of Labor has delayed a rule requiring that financial professionals recommend retirement investment products that serve their clients’ best interests. The “fiduciary rule” 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—or falsify—their 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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Did You Vote For Unfair Pay and Unsafe Workplaces?

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Who could be against fair pay and safe workplaces? Give you one guess.

President Trump just signed a bill, passed by the Republicans in the House and Senate, that repealed President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces executive order.

“Fair pay and safe workplaces” says it all. The rule stated that our government should contract with companies that have “a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics.”

It required companies to report if the had violations of workplace laws covering wage theft, discrimination and safety, when applying for new government contracts of $500,000 to $1 million. The federal procurement officers would take that into consideration, and work with the companies to remedy the problems.

That is what President Trump and the Republicans repealed. This Trump/Republican government does not care if companies that have “a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics.” In fact, repealing this rule signals to companies that it is OK to “save money” by stealing pay from employees, violating their civil rights and threatening their safety.

This rule was a big deal, because companies that get federal contracts employ one in five American workers.

This is the Republicans, not just Trump. This is who they are.

But, of course, the “working class” voters who helped elect Trump and the Republicans all voted for this, right? They all clearly understood that electing Republicans meant that their pay and civil rights and job-safety were going to be rolled back so that the giant corporations could pass ever-higher profits to their “investors.” Right?

Of course they did. And they understood that the things our government does to make our lives better would be rolled back so that investor class could get huge tax cuts. Right? Of course they did.

But wait, there’s more.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) “recordkeeping rule” is also under the gun. This rule requires employers with more than 10 workers to keep records of safety incidents for five years. The Republicans in the Senate voted last week to gut that rule, too.

UAW President Dennis Williams called it “a slap to the face of American workers” and urged Trump to veto it. Williams said if employers can legally dispose of incident records after six months, “it will be extremely difficult to identify and fix hazards and incident patterns that cause illnesses, severe injuries, or even deaths on the job.”

“It will now cross the desk of President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.”

But this is only right, because this is clearly what the country voted for. Right?

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on March 28, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.


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Five Groups of Americans Who’ll Get Shafted Under Trump’s Hiring Freeze

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RichardEskowDonald Trump, in what’s been hyped as an “unprecedented” move, has instituted a freeze on the hiring of federal employees. Hyperbole aside (it’s hardly unprecedented, since Ronald Reagan did the same thing on his first day in office), one thing is already clear: this will hurt a lot of people.

Trump’s order exempts military personnel, along with any position that a department or agency head “deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” That offers a fair degree of latitude when it comes to filling positions in certain areas.

But Trump’s appointees aren’t likely to ask for “national security or public safety” exemptions for the many government jobs that help people in ways Republicans despise. So who stands to lose the most under this hiring freeze?

1. Social Security Recipients

Trump and his advisors seem to have had Social Security in mind when they included this language:

“This hiring freeze applies to all executive departments and agencies regardless of the sources of their operational and programmatic funding …” (Emphasis mine.)

While there may be other reasons for this verbiage, it effectively targets Social Security, which is entirely self-funded through the contributions of working Americans and their employers.

Social Security is forbidden by law from contributing to the deficit. It has very low administrative overhead and is remarkably cost-efficient when compared to pension programs in the private sector.

That hasn’t prevented Republicans in Congress from taking a meat cleaver to Social Security’s administrative budget. That has led to increased delays in processing disability applications, longer travel times for recipients as more offices are closed, and longer wait times on the phone and in person.

Social Security pays benefits to retired Americans, disabled Americans, veterans, and children – all of whom will be hurt by these cuts.

2. Working People

The Department of Labor, especially the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), ensures that working Americans are safe on the job. It’s a huge task: Nearly 2.9 million Americans were injured on the job in 2015, according to OSHA data, and another 145,000 experienced a work-related illness. 4,836 people died from work-related injuries in 2016. (These numbers count only reported injuries, illnesses, and deaths; not all are reported.)

OSHA’s employees study injury and illness patterns, communicate safety practices and rules, and inspect workplaces to make sure that the rules are being followed. This hiring freeze will lead to fewer such studies, communications, and inspections. That means working Americans will pay a price — in injury, illness, and death.

3. Veterans

Some 500,000 veterans have waited more than a month to receive medical care from the Veterans Administration. Nevertheless, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer confirmed that Trump’s hiring freeze will affect thousands of open positions at the VA, including positions for doctors and nurses. The nation’s veterans will pay for this freeze, in prolonged illness, injury, and pain – or worse.

Vets will pay in another way, too. Vets make up roughly one-third of the federal workforce, which means they will be disproportionately harmed by this hiring freeze. So will women and minorities, both of whom have a significant presence among federal workers – greater than in the workforce as a whole.

4. Small Businesses and Workers All Across the Country

Contrary to what many people believe, federal employees are work in offices all across the country. The goods and services purchased by each federal worker provide jobs and growth for their local economies. Cuts in the federal workforce will therefore cause economic damage all of the states where federal jobs are located.

According to the latest report on the subject from the Office of Management and Budget, states with the largest numbers of Federal employees are: California, with 150,000 jobs; Virginia, with 143,000 jobs; Washington DC, with 133,000 jobs; and, Texas, with 130,000 jobs.

That’s right: Texas.

Other states with large numbers of Federal employees include Maryland, Florida, and Georgia.

Demand for goods and services will fall with the federal workforce. So will demand for workers, which means that wages will rise more slowly (if at all). This hiring freeze will affect small businesses and working people in states like Texas and all across the country.

5. Everybody Else.

The “public safety” argument could also be used to exempt employees of the Environmental Protection Agency from the hiring freeze. But Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt, a longtime foe of environmental regulation who has sided with some genuinely noxious polluters, to run the EPA.

As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times. “In 13 of those cases,” the New York Times reports, “the co-parties included companies that had contributed money to Mr. Pruitt or to Pruitt-affiliated political campaign committees.”

In other words, Pruitt is dirty. It’s unlikely he’ll seek a “public safety” exemption for the inspectors that identify industrial polluters and bring them to justice. So another group that will suffer under this freeze, without getting too cute about it, is pretty much anybody who drinks water or breathes air. That covers just about everybody.

And that’s just the beginning.

This is not an all-inclusive list. We’ve left out tourists, for example, who’ll pay the price for staffing cuts at the nation’s monuments and national parks. But the overall impact of Trump’s hiring freeze is clear: it shows a reckless disregard for the health, safety, and well-being of the American people.

(And that’s not even counting his plan to end the Affordable Care Act. Physicians Steffie Woolhandler and David Emmelstein estimate that this will result in 43,000 deaths every year. And they’re not Democratic partisans or ACA apologists; they’ve been fighting for single-payer healthcare for years.)

Given these implications – and the thousands of jobs affected at the VA alone – it was surprising to read, in Politico, that “Trump’s move, by itself, doesn’t actually do much.”

That’s true, in one way. The 10,000 to 20,000 jobs affected by this freeze pale in comparison to the federal government’s total workforce of 2.2 million.

But Trump’s just getting started. His memo instructs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to come up with a broader long-term plan for reducing the federal workforce through attrition. And Trump’s choice for that job, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, is a far-right Republican who’s been fighting to cut the federal government for years.

This freeze is a bad idea, but there will be more where this came from.

This article originally appeared at Ourfuture.org on January 26, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”


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