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Businesses brace for mandatory workplace safety rules under Biden

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President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to issue mandatory workplace safety rules that employers must follow to protect workers from coronavirus exposure. It’s likely to be one of his first big fights with American business and a test of how far he can go to create a national strategy to slow a pandemic that is still raging out of control.

Employers, which until now have been treated to a flurry of optional guidelines by the Trump administration that have been revised and rewritten throughout the coronavirus crisis, are bracing for the new Biden rules.

Biden and his allies believe that a national set of rules for employers could help workers return more quickly to offices and other workplaces since everyone would be following the same emergency standard, rather than a patchwork of state-by-state, county-by-county regulations.

“We cannot successfully restart our economy until workers are safe — and the first step is to require that businesses implement very basic measures to prevent the virus from spreading in the workplace,” said Debbie Berkowitz, a senior policy adviser for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under President Barack Obama who’s now with the National Employment Law Project. “To stem the growing number of cases, hospitalizations and death from COVID 19, it is critical that OSHA, or the Biden administration, promulgate an emergency temporary standard immediately to mitigate the spread of this disease at work and then back out into the community.”

But Republicans and the business community are likely to come out strong against any such broad mandates.

“If done the wrong way, if it’s implemented as a strict regulatory requirement with little flexibility, I think it will be difficult for many businesses to implement,” Neil Bradley, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief policy officer, said during a press call this week. Ultimately, he said, it “will hold back both fighting the coronavirus and restoring the economy.”

The issue threatens to set up a contentious battle in the lame duck session of Congress, when lawmakers debate a new coronavirus relief package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans are demanding a robust liability shield for businesses and schools as a condition for a new aid package — a provision that former OSHA officials say would strip Biden of the ability to enforce Covid-19 workplace protections.

As part of his plan to combat the coronavirus, Biden says he will direct his administration to issue the so-called emergency temporary standard, which would lay out specific precautions that employers must take to protect their workers from exposure to the virus.

The standard isn’t likely to fully take shape until the new administration assumes control of the government, but a former OSHA official predicted it would at least mandate the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines, which broadly suggest allowing for social distancing, frequently disinfecting the workplace and providing protective equipment like gloves, goggles or face masks.

Implementing such a rule is something the new president could do quickly, even without Senate-confirmed leadership at the Labor Department or OSHA, according to two former senior OSHA officials.

Unions and labor advocates have slammed OSHA over its response to the pandemic. While the worker safety watchdog has cited companies for coronavirus-related risks over the past several months, large corporations have received meager fines in cases where their workers fell ill or have even died from the coronavirus. OSHA has also used its special enforcement powers far more leniently than previous administrations.

Unions say that much of the problem lies with the flexibility the watchdog has given to employers and the influence businesses have had over its enforcement efforts.

But flexibility is what businesses want to maintain.

The Chamber’s Bradley said that while he’s confident the Biden administration will listen to businesses’ position, any emergency standard would need to “be flexible enough to recognize” employers’ ability to implement public health safety measures and to “accommodate the differences in how businesses operate.”

“There is a big concern,” said Robyn Boerstling, who oversees human resources policy issues at the National Association of Manufacturers. “Every manufacturing facility is generally different. They make different things, they have different procedures, they have different assembly lines, production processes. So, manufacturers need flexibility in different ways to implement their controls.”

Boerstling says Biden’s plan will leave businesses with little room to weigh in on how the rules affect their specific industry once the emergency standard is in place.

When OSHA determines workers are in “grave danger,” the agency is able to issue emergency temporary standards that take effect immediately. The emergency standard stays in place until a permanent final rule is issued, but the agency will accept public comments on the standard during that period.

“An ETS is very immediate,” Boerstling said. “It’s permanent until it’s not permanent.”

The American Hospital Association, which represents more than 5,000 hospitals and health care providers that would be heavily regulated under any such infectious disease rule, suggested that an emergency infectious disease standard could hinder the health response to the virus.

The organization issued a fact sheet warning its members that an emergency standard would create “a new layer of conflicting and unnecessary regulatory burden at precisely the wrong time,” putting a strain on supplies of protective equipment and limiting hospital capacity.

“Unions have reported filing numerous OSHA complaints against hospitals; such actions could force hospitals to dramatically reduce their inpatient capacity rather than potentially expose themselves to very large fines,” the fact sheet said.

The maximum fine OSHA can issue against an employer is $134,937 per violation, when an employer’s breach of safety rules is considered “willful” or is a repeated violation. For other violations, including “serious” and “other than serious” offenses, the safety agency’s fines max out at $13,494 per infraction.

Such concerns were what prompted McConnell to push for Covid-19 liability protections — including shielding employers from being fined under federal safety laws — warning that “one-size-fits-all” rules would prompt “an epidemic of lawsuits” against employers who can’t comply.

But with both of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats facing runoff elections that will determine which party controls the upper chamber, the GOP’s negotiating posture over another aid bill is weaker than when McConnell first made those calls.

While there’s little chance Democrats would be willing to limit their incoming president’s ability to police workplace safety in exchange for an aid bill in the lame duck, McConnell seems in no mood to drop his demand for liability protections.

“It should be highly targeted, very similar to what I put on the floor in October and September,” he said of the next aid bill during a press conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on November 13, 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.


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Unions disagree over Biden’s Labor secretary pick

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Union leaders are hoping to influence Joe Biden’s pick for Labor secretary — but they’re increasingly at odds over who should get the job.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and some of his organization’s largest affiliate unions are singing the praises of Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who previously led the city’s Building and Construction Trades Council and could appeal to construction workers who supported President Donald Trump. But other unions in the federation are publicly pushing Rep. Andy Levin, a Michigan Democrat who worked as a labor organizer and ran the state’s job training program before he was elected.

The federation, which spans 56 unions representing over 12 million of the more-than 14 million unionized workers in the U.S., was supposed to discuss the potential Labor secretary pick and a possible endorsement at a meeting of union presidents who serve on its political committee on Friday. But that didn’t happen and another meeting hasn’t been scheduled, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

The split over Walsh and Levin was the reason why, one of the people said. “A number of the presidents were sort of furious at the whole thing,” said the person, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations.

Union leaders have long been expecting to hold sway in a Biden administration, given his support for workers’ right to organize — and the Labor Department will play the leading role in implementing Biden’s sweeping pro-worker agenda, making the role an obvious choice for organized labor to weigh in.Biden met on Monday with Trumka and the heads of Service Employees International Union, United Auto Workers, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and United Food and Commercial Workers.

But the early division over potential candidatescould make it difficult for Biden to choose someone who would win support from all sides of the labor movement. It’s also unclear whether any of the white male candidates whom unions are supporting would appeal to the Biden camp, which is trying to build a diverse Cabinet.

Also in the mix for the position is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s been courting the Biden camp — and, according to CNN, the AFL-CIO — as he pushes himself for the job. California Labor Secretary Julie Su, who is well-regarded by unions in her state, is another contender.

Biden and his team have said they do not expect to make any Cabinet appointments until closer to Thanksgiving, and those close to the transition say announcements for leaders at higher-profile agencies such as the Treasury and State Departments are likely to come before the Labor Department.

Unions will unify behind whomever Biden chooses, Trumka said in an interview.

“Once the nomination is made, everyone will get on the same page,” he said. “Because I have no doubt that the person Joe Biden will name will be an effective friend of workers and do right by working people.”

Still, Trumka and others in the labor movement are trying to put their thumbs on the scale.

The AFL-CIO’s two largest affiliates, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, threw their weight last week behind Walsh. Trumka, while stopping short of endorsing Walsh, said he would be a “great choice.”

But not everyone has fallen in line: United Auto Workers and Utility Workers Unionof America sent letters to Biden’s transition team Tuesday backing Levin, who serves on the House Education and Labor Committee. National Nurses United and Communications Workers of America have thrown their weight behind Levin as well.

Levin has stronger ties to labor than some of the other names floated, with time spent as an SEIU organizer and more than a decade working for the AFL-CIO. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he also served in the Labor Department during the Clinton administration and as Michigan’s chief workforce officer under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

“Levin has both the knowledge and the expertise and the connections, both in the labor movement and in the broader progressive movement, including the environmental movement, to really be effective and a forceful advocate for families,” Economic Policy Institute President Thea Lee, who worked with Levin at the AFL-CIO, told POLITICO.

Levin was elected to represent Michigan in the House in 2018 after his father, longtime congressman Sander Levin, decided against running for reelection. So far, he’s not openly campaigning for the Labor Department job.

“The power behind this, if it’s happening, is not me,” Levin said in an interview. “I’m humbled to have people I’ve worked with shoulder to shoulder for decades saying they’d like for this to happen.”

Walsh, for his part, led Boston’s Building and Construction Trades Council before becoming mayor, credentials that may help a Biden administration draw in workers from the other side of the aisle: 75 percent of construction workers who made political donations gave them to Trump’s presidential campaign.

Walsh and Biden also have a well-documented personal relationship: Not only did Biden speak at the mayor’s 2017 inauguration, but the pair have been spotted together in Walsh’s city at the anniversary of the Marathon bombings, at a Stop & Shop workers rally and even on a dinner date.

“He’s a friend and knows Joe: They’ve worked together on numerous occasions,” Trumka said. “They have the relationship I think is necessary.”

Current and former union officials have raised concerns about revelations of corruption under Walsh’s watch as mayor, including one city employee who pled guilty in September 2019 to accepting a $50,000 bribe. But Trumka was quick to dismiss those: “It’s nonsense,” Trumka said. “It had nothing to do with him.”

Walsh, for his part, has stayed tight-lipped.

“I’m excited about what a Biden-Harris administration means for Boston,” he said in a statement. “While it’s an honor to be mentioned among the many highly qualified individuals being considered for a role in the Biden Administration, I am focused on my job as mayor of the City of Boston.”

This article originally appeared at Politico on November 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before joining the trade team in June 2016, Megan worked for Reuters based out of Washington, covering the economy, domestic politics and the 2016 presidential campaign. It was in that role that she first began covering trade, including Donald Trump’s rise as the populist candidate vowing to renegotiate NAFTA and Hillary Clinton’s careful sidestep of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

A D.C.-area native, Megan headed south for a few years to earn her bachelor’s degree in business journalism and international politics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now settled back inside the Beltway, Megan’s on the hunt for the city’s best Carolina BBQ — and still rooting for the Heels.


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The $15 Minimum Wage Won in Florida, But Biden Didn’t. Here’s Why.

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On Novem­ber 3, Florida’s polit­i­cal­ly diverse elec­torate showed resound­ing support for Amend­ment 2, an ini­tia­tive to grad­u­al­ly raise the state min­i­mum wage from $8.56 an hour to $15 by 2026. This makes Flori­da the eighth state nation­wide, and the first state in the South, to get on track towards a $15 min­i­mum wage.

This vic­to­ry con­trasts sharply with the loss of Biden in the state, as well as sig­nif­i­cant loss­es for the state Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. The activists behind Amend­ment 2 say their cam­paign offers lessons for how pro­gres­sive ideas can win the day by pri­or­i­tiz­ing improv­ing the mate­r­i­al con­di­tions of work­ers, and speak direct­ly to the hard­ship that peo­ple face.

“Far too many work­ing peo­ple in Flori­da do crit­i­cal work to keep our com­mu­ni­ties going but are under­paid and under­val­ued, often bare­ly mak­ing enough to get by,” said Esther Segu­ra, a Jack­son Health Sys­tem nurse and union mem­ber with the Flori­da for $15 coali­tion, a net­work of labor, racial, eco­nom­ic jus­tice and grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions statewide. ?“We call them essen­tial work­ers, and now it’s clear the major­i­ty of Flori­da vot­ers agree that it’s time to pay them the wages they deserve!” 

A vic­to­ry for workers

Amend­ment 2, known as the Fair Wage Ini­tia­tive, faced a dif­fi­cult ter­rain, includ­ing oppo­si­tion from the Flori­da Cham­ber of Com­merce, the Nation­al Restau­rant Asso­ci­a­tion, and the anti-Amend­ment 2 PAC Save Flori­da Jobs—which warned vot­ers of dis­as­trous effects on Florida’s small busi­ness own­ers and eco­nom­ic recov­ery. Yet, the ini­tia­tive secured 60.8% approval among Flori­da vot­ers, just bare­ly meet­ing the 60% thresh­old need­ed to pass.

Under Amend­ment 2, the wage floor will increase to $10 next Sep­tem­ber and rise in $1 incre­ments each year until reach­ing $15 on Sep­tem­ber 30, 2026. For tipped employ­ees, wages will increase from $5.54 to $11.98 by 2026. Orlan­do attor­ney and mil­lion­aire John Mor­gan, who bankrolled Florida’s bal­lot mea­sure to legal­ize med­ical mar­i­jua­na in 2016, poured mil­lions of dol­lars into Florida’s Amend­ment 2 cam­paign, char­ac­ter­iz­ing it as ?“a vote of moral­i­ty and compassion.”

Rough­ly 2.5 mil­lion work­ers are expect­ed to see a pay increase next Sep­tem­ber, includ­ing 38% of women of col­or in the work­force, accord­ing to a report from the left-lean­ing Flori­da Pol­i­cy Insti­tute. Black and Lat­inx women?—?who in the Unit­ed States earn 63 cents and 55 cents on the white, male dol­lar respec­tive­ly?—?are expect­ed to see the great­est gains from Florida’s wage bump. 

For those who orga­nized around Florida’s Amend­ment 2 across the state, the ben­e­fits of rais­ing wages weren’t a hard sell. Indi­vid­u­als with Flori­da for $15 sent more than 3.1 mil­lion texts to vot­ers ahead of Elec­tion Day, and sup­port­ed a num­ber of work­er strikes and car car­a­vans led by Flori­da fast food and air­port work­ers. The effort also gar­nered the involve­ment of for­mer­ly incar­cer­at­ed work­ers like Alex Har­ris, a 24-year-old Waf­fle House work­er and Fight for $15 leader. “[Florida’s cur­rent min­i­mum wage] is just a way to keep peo­ple incar­cer­at­ed, to keep them strug­gling, and to keep them from being free,” Har­ris said, dur­ing an Octo­ber Fight for $15 ral­ly in Tam­pa, Flori­da. Har­ris, a return­ing cit­i­zen who regained his right to vote with Florida’s 2018 Amend­ment 4 bal­lot mea­sure, vocal­ized the need for vot­ers to show up for Amend­ment 2 through­out the campaign.

Dis­ap­point­ing results for Democrats

Yet, the Biden cam­paign did not fare as well. In some­thing of an upset, Biden?—?who had qui­et­ly endorsed a $15 fed­er­al min­i­mum wage as part of his eco­nom­ic plat­form?—?lost to Trump in Flori­da by rough­ly 370,000 votes, under­per­form­ing with the state’s diverse Lat­inx and His­pan­ic com­mu­ni­ties in coun­ties like Mia­mi-Dade, where Repub­li­cans put a lot of ener­gy into ?“social­ist’ fear-mongering. 

There was a sharp dis­crep­an­cy between Flori­da vot­ers’ over­whelm­ing sup­port for a $15 min­i­mum wage and a lack of sup­port for Biden, who received more than one mil­lion less votes than Amend­ment 2. (Trump also paled in pop­u­lar­i­ty to Florida’s min­i­mum wage ini­tia­tive, trail­ing its pow­er­house base of sup­port by more than 700,000 votes.)

Biden wasn’t the only per­son who faced defeat. Florida’s state Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty also suf­fered a sig­nif­i­cant blow on Elec­tion Day. Democ­rats lost five seats in the state House, and in Mia­mi, Repub­li­cans have forced at least one state Sen­ate race to a recount. 

But despite talk that Flori­da has offi­cial­ly joined the country’s ?“red states,” Flori­da mem­bers of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca (DSA) who were active­ly involved in the Flori­da for $15 coali­tion are less cyn­i­cal about the poten­tial of Florida’s mul­tira­cial work­ing class major­i­ty. The mem­bers of DSA, the largest social­ist orga­ni­za­tion in the coun­try, have their own ideas for why Biden?—?and state Democ­rats more broad­ly?—?failed to gar­ner the same suc­cess as Florida’s min­i­mum wage amendment.

Kofi Hunt, a co-chair of the Pinel­las Coun­ty chap­ter of DSA, says the Flori­da for $15 cam­paign was unapolo­get­i­cal­ly pro-work­er in its mes­sag­ing and spoke direct­ly to the strug­gles of Florida’s work­ing class. Hunt argues that the state’s mul­tira­cial work­ing-class base more broad­ly didn’t get a staunch pro-work­er mes­sage from either Trump or Biden, but con­cedes that the lat­ter offered more of a work­er-friend­ly plat­form. But Hunt and oth­ers involved in the Flori­da for $15 coali­tion argue Biden’s most pro-work­er poli­cies?—?such as uni­ver­sal pre-Kinder­garten and a fed­er­al min­i­mum wage boost?—?didn’t get the kind of lime­light that could have ben­e­fit­ted him more on the cam­paign trail in Florida. 

“The pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was large­ly about defeat­ing Trump and not what Joe Biden would do for work­ing peo­ple,” says Richie Floyd, a Pinel­las DSA orga­niz­er and labor activist who con­tributed to Flori­da for $15 efforts. ?“Dur­ing trips to Flori­da, Biden played ?‘Despaci­to’ on his phone and pan­dered to right-wing vot­ers in Mia­mi. This strat­e­gy com­plete­ly failed as we can see from the results out of Miami-Dade.”

Talk­ing to the work­ing class

The Flori­da for $15 cam­paign, on the oth­er hand, empha­sized the strug­gles of Florida’s work­ing fam­i­lies?—?such as unaf­ford­able health­care, child­care and hous­ing?—?and under­scored how achiev­ing high­er wages could direct­ly address those con­cerns. ?“It was about telling work­ing peo­ple across the state that there is a real choice on the bal­lot that can improve peo­ple’s lives imme­di­ate­ly. It was about focus­ing on what we can offer and how we can make lives bet­ter,” says Floyd. 

Mean­while, as Repub­li­can-friend­ly cor­po­ra­tions like Pub­lix?—?a south­ern gro­cery chain based in Flori­da?—?report­ed more than $11.1 billion in sales rev­enue this quar­ter, every­day Florid­i­ans have been left to grap­ple with the state’s bro­ken unem­ploy­ment sys­tem and the dead­ly mis­man­age­ment of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic by Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Ron DeSantis. 

While Hunt says Democ­rats gen­er­al­ly do a bet­ter job speak­ing to the needs of mar­gin­al­ized pop­u­la­tions, the ?“tug of war” between the cor­po­rate and pro­gres­sive wings of the par­ty makes it dif­fi­cult to com­mu­ni­cate a con­vinc­ing, uni­fy­ing mes­sage for Florida’s work­ing-class base?—?par­tic­u­lar­ly the state’s poor Black and Brown communities.

Instead of work­ing to meet these com­mu­ni­ties where they’re at, Hunt says many Flori­da Democ­rats scram­bled to pan­der to sub­ur­ban­ites and adopt con­ser­v­a­tive posi­tions more broad­ly, to make them­selves more appeal­ing to Repub­li­cans who already show up to the bal­lot box.

Floyd agrees with Hunt’s assess­ment. ?“If the Flori­da and Nation­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties want to be suc­cess­ful here, then they need to real­ize that focus­ing on the eco­nom­ic plight of the mul­ti-racial work­ing class is the only way for­ward,” he says. ?“To win, we have to focus on the needs of the work­ing class, and not the donor class.”

Car­men Laguer Diaz, a leader of the SEIU Flori­da Pub­lic Sec­tor Union and an adjunct fac­ul­ty pro­fes­sor at Valen­cia Col­lege in Orlan­do, also believes there’s a need to iden­ti­fy com­mon­al­i­ties between work­ing indi­vid­u­als?—?like the appeal of high­er wages?—?and cross-cul­tur­al mes­sag­ing. ?“It’s not about par­ty. It’s about work­ers. It’s about all of us,” she said.

Flori­da for $15 coali­tion part­ners aren’t alone in their crit­i­cisms. State Rep. Anna Eska­mani (D?Orlando)?—?a pro­gres­sive who eas­i­ly secured a sec­ond term in the Flori­da House on Novem­ber 3?—?is one of sev­er­al Flori­da Democ­rats who has been open­ly crit­i­cal of the state par­ty since Elec­tion Day, par­tic­u­lar­ly of the fail­ure of cor­po­rate Democ­rats to deliv­er any­thing more appeal­ing than vague promis­es for ?“change.”

“Every­thing is con­nect­ed, and I think that the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty did a very, very poor job of demon­strat­ing those con­nec­tions and anchor­ing the [Amend­ment 2] issue with our can­di­date [Joe Biden],” says Eska­mani. ?“And of course, it’s often due to cor­po­rate influ­ence. You know, many of the cor­po­ra­tions that were against Amend­ment 2 write checks to Democ­rats. And that’s a prob­lem, because then you end up hav­ing top Democ­rats, who had been brand­ed as lead­ing the par­ty, express­ing luke­warm sen­ti­ments about Amend­ment 2, when we all should be ral­ly­ing around it and lift­ing up the voic­es of our direct­ly impact­ed people.”

Demo­c­ra­t­ic State Sen. Annette Tad­deo, who rep­re­sents parts of Mia­mi-Dade Coun­ty, also expressed being unim­pressed with Biden’s ground-game down south. ?“You need a con­stant pres­ence, and you can­not take minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties for grant­ed,” she told AP News in a Novem­ber 4 arti­cle. ?“You can’t come in two months before an elec­tion and expect to excite these communities.”

Flori­da Democ­rats who refuse to embrace pro­gres­sive mea­sures like Medicare for All (which has major­i­ty sup­port nation­wide) and the Green New Deal pro­pos­al claim that it’s a polit­i­cal lia­bil­i­ty to cam­paign on these poli­cies in swing states. For­mer guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Andrew Gillum, for instance, faced anti-social­ist red bait­ing when he cam­paigned on Medicare for All in Flori­da in 2018. So did Biden this elec­tion cycle, for that mat­ter, despite denounc­ing social­ism at every turn.

But activists says ret­i­cence to embrace left ideas is mis­guid­ed, even in areas like Mia­mi-Dade where demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ists are well-aware of the uphill bat­tle they face in address­ing the bag­gage of the ?‘social­ist’ label. Can­di­dates across the coun­try who backed pro­gres­sive posi­tions like the Green New Deal per­formed exceed­ing­ly well. Social­ist can­di­dates and mea­sures also faced con­sid­er­able suc­cess on Elec­tion Day: As Mindy Iss­er report­ed for In These Times, DSA ?“endorsed 29 can­di­dates and 11 bal­lot ini­tia­tives, win­ning 20 and 8 respec­tive­ly,” includ­ing Florida’s $15 min­i­mum wage initiative. 

“Biden’s cam­paign, and most Demo­c­ra­t­ic statewide cam­paigns before him in the past 20 years, have nev­er laid out a coher­ent plat­form to work­ing class vot­ers here [in Flori­da],” says Orlan­do DSA orga­niz­er and Flori­da for $15 coali­tion part­ner Grayson Lan­za. ?“Being the par­ty of ?‘also not social­ist’ and noth­ing else is clear­ly not working.”

While some argue that a $15 min­i­mum wage isn’t going far enough?—?espe­cial­ly by the time we reach 2026?—?this initiative’s pas­sage sig­ni­fies more than just a wage increase. It demon­strates the pop­u­lar­i­ty of poli­cies that stand to ben­e­fit the work­ing-class major­i­ty across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum, and shows Flori­da work­ers are moti­vat­ed to orga­nize around issues that are per­ti­nent to their mate­r­i­al con­di­tions. As Floyd puts it, ?“This could bode well for future labor vic­to­ries, as I am hope­ful that politi­cians will see that work­ers rights is a win­ning issue, and take action accordingly.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mckenna Schueler is a free­lance writer based in Tam­pa, Flori­da. She is an avid read­er and con­sumer of pod­casts who writes about local news, pol­i­tics, and men­tal health. She has had work pub­lished in Cre­ative Loaf­ing Tam­pa Bay, Orlan­do Week­ly, the Health at Every Size® blog, and McSweeney’s Inter­net Ten­den­cy. You can find her on Twit­ter @SheCarriesOn.


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How to Help Employees Adjust To Remote Work

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With a global pandemic raging on, most of us have started working remotely from the safety and security of our homes. However, the transition from physical work to remote work hasn’t been easy. Remote working has loads of benefits, such as no office distractions, no frustrating commute, no colleagues interrupting your workflow, etc.

However, there are a few things that you need to do in order to help your employees adjust to remote work. If you work remotely, it is no longer easy to keep your personal and professional life separate – you are susceptible to working longer hours and more likely to be stressed.

What are the Difficulties Faced in Remote Work

  • Isolation

Remote work sounds enticing but it comes with its fair share of challenges and issues. One of the biggest issues with remote work is isolation. With COVID-19 wrecking havoc in our lives and most of us being under lockdown, the deficit in human interaction is already being felt by all of us.

The camaraderie of working in your office, chatting with your colleagues, etc. is something which we are all missing.

  • Issues with Virtual Communication

Want to ask your colleague something? Having an issue with the project that you are currently working on and need some help? We all are used to wandering over someone else’s desk and getting the help that we need.

For most of us, work communication went from face-to-face to over-the-internet overnight. This forced everyone to adopt complex working structures that led to dissonance and confusion. Where should we send the updates? Should we email it to our supervisor or should we start a Slack thread? All these and a million other questions, with no one, to answer them clearly!

Helping Employees Adjust to Remote Work

Even though the management needs to take care of the individual needs of the employees, a couple of things are very important to ensure that all of the employees are on the same page and are facing no difficulties while working from home. It comes under your managerial responsibilities to provide the best workplace environment to your employees.

  • Establishing Clear Communication Structure

The ways you communicate with your employees need to be clearly set. Email and Slack updates aren’t enough – you need to supplement them with video conferences regularly. However, don’t go overboard with these but do keep them a part of your workweek so that the employees will be able to chat in real-time and interact with each other regarding any issues.

Make sure that your employees know how to use the virtual communication tools and they are not lagging behind due to lack of knowledge.

  • Frequent Check-Ins

The most ideal way of ensuring that your employees are alright is by checking in with them regularly. Don’t be overbearing – just give them a daily call, or set calls throughout the week to ensure that they are working properly and aren’t facing any difficulties. It is very important to ensure that you providing all the workplace rights to your employees while they work remotely.

  • Offer encouragement and support

You need to remember that your employees have just gone through a shift – a shift that hasn’t been easy for most of them. Keep in contact with your team and connect with them on an emotional level. Ask them if they are facing any issues and if you can help them in any way, don’t hesitate to provide your services.

However, you have to ensure that you are not crossing any workplace professional boundaries at the same time.

  • Ensure Social Interaction

In physical workplaces, employees get to interact with each other due to a multitude of reasons. Even the mere task of getting coffee from the office kitchen will allow you the opportunity to talk to your colleagues. Such opportunities don’t exist when you are working remotely from home and for those of us who are extroverts, this can be crushing.

However, as an employer, it is your obligation to ensure that your employees are virtually socializing. It can something as minute as keeping the last 10 minutes of a meeting to talk about what you are doing to hosting a virtual pizza party where all of you have pizza together and video chat.

With the help of these few tips and tricks, you can ensure that your employees are adjusting to remote work easily.

Happy Working, Folks!

About the Author: Alina Burakova is a life coach and she loves helping people figure out ways out of their problems. She also reviews the best online tutoring, resume, business plan writing and test prep services at EduReviewer and has an avid interest in reading & writing.


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Democrats’ lackluster performance in Senate spells trouble for labor

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With the Democrats’ failure to win an outright majority in the Senate and Republicans making surprising gains in the House, Joe Biden’s sweeping promises to expand American labor rights just got a lot harder to fulfill.

Proposals pushed by Democratic lawmakers to raise the federal minimum wage to $15, expand workers’ ability to form unions and rewrite years of U.S. law form the cornerstone of Biden’s labor agenda. But if Republican Mitch McConnell stays in charge of the Senate, it’s unlikely that any push for collective bargaining rights or wage hikes would advance even if Biden wins the presidency.

“I am concerned about it,” Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, said in an interview.

Unions had high hopes for the election, spending $188 million backing Democratic candidates and voting for Biden in larger numbers than the general electorate did. They were also a major source of grassroots organizing power for the party.

Yet Democrats failed to win in many Senate battlegrounds this week, and both parties are still short of a majority in the chamber. Georgia is now the key to control of the Senate, with both of the state’s races appearing likely to head to runoffs in early January.

Despite the disappointing results, Weingarten and other union leaders say they’re not giving up. She says there will be “a real fight” to enact Democrats’ PRO Act in a GOP-controlled Senate, a bill that Biden has backed as a major priority of his administration that would vastly expand workers’ ability to form unions.

But passing that legislation and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 may be unachievable with GOP control of the Senate. House Democrats’ faced major headwinds from red-state members of their own caucus when pushing for the Raise the Wage Act, which the chamber passed July 18.

Enacting the most progressive reforms largely hinged “on taking over the Senate and either winning enough votes to make the filibuster unimportant or dealing with the filibuster,” Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), who serves on the Health Education and Labor Committee, said.

A Biden administration could still get a lot done if it “puts the right people” in the Labor Department, Levin said, “but there’s no fundamental reform.”

Biden will also have to weigh how much political capital he wants to risk with the powerful business lobby — which has billed the Democrats’ proposals as potential job killers and warned that putting any more liability on businesses could stymie the economic recovery from the coronavirus.

Some in the business community pointed to 2009, when newly elected President Barack Obama fell silent on a key labor-backed bill, the Employee Free Choice Act, despite endorsing it in the 2008 campaign and calling it a top priority.

Even with a 60-vote Democratic Senate supermajority, the party couldn’t pass the bill, which would have allowed unions to represent workers based on the informal collection of signed authorization forms, known as card check, instead of an NLRB-supervised secret ballot election.

The labor movement will keep pushing for its agenda, despite the shaky odds of full Democratic control of Congress, said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“We’ll figure out a way to get it done eventually,” Trumka said on a press call Thursday. “And we’ll have popular support. There are a number of legislative vehicles that we use; we will try everything we can.”

Weingarten said she is optimistic about Biden’s chances to find some bipartisanship in a divided Washington. “Given who Joe Biden is,” she said, “he uniquely will help demonstrate to these hard-core Republican senators and to the business community that long-term it’s in everyone’s interest to rebuild the middle class.“

Other labor leaders agreed that they don’t plan to tamp down their expectations of Biden’s labor agenda even if Republicans win control of the Senate, a result that won’t be known until January with the likely Georgia runoff elections.

“We are going to stay fiercely committed to demanding that the House, Senate and president take dramatic, bold action on curbing the pandemic and creating good jobs that people can feed their families on, and by tackling racial and inequality and the climate crisis,” Mary Kay Henry, international president of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union, told POLITICO.

Major unions like SEIU organized canvassing drives and texting campaigns in swing states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada. Union members overall were more likely to support Biden than voters generally, with 57 percent of union households backing him compared to 51 percent of non-union households, according to The New York Times’ exit polling.

But labor leaders say President Donald Trump aided the GOP’s performance by giving working people a message — albeit a false one — that they wanted to hear: Covid-19 will end after Election Day.

“If you’re tired of COVID, and you’re fatigued by COVID, and you’re anxious to get back to your job and your work or your small business is teetering, you want to believe that,” Weingarten said.

“You can’t underestimate the social isolation that has happened in America, since the start of this terrible pandemic,” she said.

Other leaders blamed Democrats’ performance in congressional races on freshman lawmakers, who are usually the most vulnerable in their efforts to get reelected.

“Democrats can also always do a better job of talking about kitchen table economics,” said Trumka. “I tell them that every single time that I meet with them, but many of the losses that we saw on the House side, were in districts with first-time Democratic seats.”

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said a Biden presidency could be the last chance for unions to secure an expansion of labor rights before restrictions on collective bargaining drown out their influence.

“As organized labor declines in numbers and percentage of the workforce, it has less political clout,” said Reich, who served under President Bill Clinton. “So it’s a death spiral.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on November 6, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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California proves it’s not as liberal as you think

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OAKLAND, Calif. — The myth of lockstep liberal California took a hit this election.

Voters in the deep-blue state rejected a progressive push to reinstate affirmative action, sided with technology companies over organized labor and rejected rent control. They are poised to reject a business tax that had been a decadeslong priority for labor unions and Democratic leaders.

President Donald Trump regularly portrays California as a land of complete liberal excess, and Democrat Joe Biden currently has 65 percent of California’s vote. Yet decisions on ballot measures this week reflect a state that remains unpredictable, flashing a libertarian streak with a tinge of fiscal moderation within its Democratic moorings.https://e3b374dfacf220d92b4c6008a9eb8004.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

“We’re not going to go for everything that’s progressive,” said Mindy Romero, head of the University of Southern California’s Center for Inclusive Democracy. “We think of ourselves as such a progressive state, and I’ve always said we’re a blue state but really we’re many shades of blue.”

California has long been an incubator for policies that go national, so industries and labor unions know that winning a ballot fight here has much wider implications. Already, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Thursday that he wants to build on his California success by pursuing the same law in other states and nations. And just as the state’s 1996 affirmative action ban touched off a similar set of laws across the nation, the California vote this week could deter other states from trying to reinstate racial or gender preferences.

The ballot outcomes underscore that California voters are not a liberal monolith even as Democrats enjoy unprecedented control in the state that produced Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.

Liberals thought 2020 was their moment to secure long-desired changes: California’s electorate has steadily more diverse and Democratic in recent decades, relegating its once-mighty Republican Party to the political margins. A deeply galvanizing presidential election tantalized liberal groups as a potential high-water mark for turnout and a chance to enshrine ambitious ideas.

Decades after a more Republican California electorate curtailed property tax increases in 1978 and banned affirmative action in 1996, campaigns believed that demographic shifts would produce different outcomes a generation later.

But they seemingly miscalculated. There was no bigger example than voters’ decisive rejection of Proposition 16. The ballot measure would have reinstated affirmative action and directly repudiated what liberals consider a racist chapter of California’s recent past.

State lawmakers, inspired by a summer of racial justice activism, saw a rare window to repeal Proposition 209, the 1996 law backed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson, a Republican widely blamed for turning Latino voters against the GOP for good in the state. The affirmative action ban passed when California still had a white majority population, and it was the second major wedge issue initiative that Wilson championed.

Many of the Democratic lawmakers of color who placed the repeal measure on this year’s ballot were inspired to enter politics during that divisive era. They saw Proposition 16 as not only a legal change but a moral imperative — and figured voters would as well.

The ballot measure had a clear cash advantage with $31 million from wealthy activist donors and foundations, compared to only $1.6 million raised by opponents. Yet it failed badly, securing only 44 percent support as of Thursday.

California is not uniformly liberal. It is still home to millions of Republicans, while the ever-larger Democratic tent includes plenty of moderates. And the state’s booming minority population still lags in voter participation.

“We have a history of being a more red state,” Romero said. “A big reason why California is blue is because of the growth of communities of color, most dominantly because of the growth of the Latino community,” but “it does matter the shape of the electorate. We still have a voting electorate that is white, wealthier, better educated than the rest of our population.”

Democrats saw a chance to go after another long-sought target: commercial property tax hikes.

Since its passage in 1978, Proposition 13 has been blamed for starving governments and schools of tax dollars by keeping property taxes low relative to the soaring value of housing and commercial real estate in California. Liberals acknowledge the political reality that they can’t convince homeowners to repeal Prop 13 provisions on residential property, often called the third rail of California politics. But they have long wanted to untether business property from the same protections.

Unions, education groups and the foundation started by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg were so convinced that November 2020 was their best opportunity that they gathered enough signatures for the ballot twice, the second one taking revisions they believed were an easier sell. It landed on the ballot as Proposition 15.

They presumed that high turnout from liberals and anti-Trump voters would translate into an anti-business vote; their ads regularly featured white businessmen in board rooms as a foil. Yet the initiative is poised to lose, trailing with only 48.3 percent of the vote.

Former Assemblymember Catharine Baker, a moderate Republican who was the last GOP lawmaker from the Bay Area, suggested Prop 15’s failure could “be an example of how a gigamajority Legislature might have not its finger on the pulse of the California electorate.”

The pandemic loomed inescapably over the election and reshaped campaigns’ appeals to voters. On Proposition 15, for example, backers argued they needed the money more than ever during a debilitating recession, while opponents countered that it would be foolish to further burden reeling businesses. The message of economic caution appeared to resonate, Baker said.

“There’s just no embrace right now for Californians, many of whom are suffering economically, for more taxes, the possible cost of that, and any closure of economic activity,” Baker said. “It’s made all the worse by the pandemic, in a time like this you want people to be able to make a living and be able to afford living here.”

Yet, the California electorate defies easy conclusions. The criminal justice landscape was a mixed bag after a year of surging activism. Voters handily rejected law enforcement’s effort to increase property crime sentences and limit early prison releases. They overwhelmingly voted to enfranchise felony parolees. Progressive Los Angeles district attorney candidate George Gascón built an early lead over incumbent District Attorney Jackie Lacey in a bellwether contest for criminal justice reform.

But Californians voted to keep cash bail, repudiating a 2019 law that sought to prohibit it and undercutting a state-by-state movement to eliminate the practice. In rejecting Proposition 25, the electorate sided with bail companies that spent millions to stay in business. They also vindicated civil libertarians and criminal justice advocates who warned a replacement system of predictive algorithms would perpetuate discrimination.

Those dynamics led the bail bonds industry to adopt the rhetoric of criminal justice reformers in warning about systemic bias — a tactic that reflected a calculation that progressive messages would resonate with voters.

“I think they knew they had to in order to win,” said Democratic strategist Katie Merrill. “You can’t win statewide in California on issues unless you are appealing to Democrats and progressives, and they knew they had to do it.”

Those licking their wounds this week pointed to one thing: money.

They said massive campaign spending can be a better predictor than partisan affiliation when it comes to ballot initiatives. Health care unions failed again to rein in kidney dialysis providers after they were outspent enormously by the dialysis industry’s $100 million counterattack. Real estate groups poured money into defeating a second consecutive rent control initiative.

But nowhere was cash clout more evident than in a battle over the tech industry’s employment practices. Homegrown Silicon Valley giants like Uber shattered state spending records by plowing more than $200 million into Proposition 22, which allows them to circumvent a state mandate to convert their independent contractor workers into employees. That massive outlay was enough to surmount unified labor opposition.

“I don’t know if we should be looking at this as progressive versus not progressive or if we should be looking at the overwhelming impact that money has in campaigns,” said Sandra Lowe, a Democratic consultant and former top California Democratic Party strategist. “It’s pretty hard to compete against $200 million of advertisements and most of the people that’s the only thing they know, is what they’re seeing on their television.”

Democratic strategist Michael Trujillo echoed that sentiment, noting that for all of organized labor’s political California clout, “labor’s money isn’t infinite.” Well-funded special interest groups were better able to sway critical Democrats, he said.

“California’s a liberal, Democratic state so if Democrats want to get an initiative passed it’s really on the backs of Democrats,” Trujillo said, and “for the most part, the folks that were able to get their message through in a very expensive state like California tended to do well.”

Some campaigns likely had a harder time breaking through airwave saturation and mailbox inundation of other big-money measures, said Public Policy Institute of California president Mark Baldassare. That may have been the case with affirmative action, which failed despite polls showing widespread support for racial equity measures. Though backers had $31 million, that was a fraction of the money other campaigns had to blitz voters.

“It was a very difficult landscape for other ballot initiatives to get attention and get support for voters,” which often means people default to voting no, Baldassare said. “The connecting of dots in some cases just didn’t take place.”

Still, Republican consultant Rob Stutzman pushed back on the notion that cash mismatches were the sole determining factor in organized labor getting “creamed at the ballot.”

If money exclusively swung elections, Stutzman argued on a post-election panel, “there would be 60 Democratic senators as well,” referring to cash-soaked challenges to GOP senators like Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn and Lindsey Graham, all of whom won.

This article was originally published by Politico on November 12, 2020 Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeremy B. White co-writes the California Playbook and covers politics in the Golden State. He previously covered the California Legislature for the Sacramento Bee, where he reported on campaigns, myriad nationally significant policy clashes and multiple FBI investigations of sitting lawmakers.

He has a bachelor’s degree in English from Tufts University and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. A native of Bethesda, Maryland, one of his life dreams is to throw out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game — although he would settle for winning a playoff series. He lives in Oakland with his partner and his cat, Ziggy Pawdust.


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Meatpacking Workers Say Attendance Policies Force Them to Work With Covid-19 Symptoms

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In April, despite his fever, a meat­pack­ing work­er con­tin­ued to carve neck bones out of pig car­cass­es at a JBS plant in Iowa.

Two weeks lat­er, he would test pos­i­tive for COVID-19. But in the mean­time, he said, he kept clock­ing in because of a puni­tive atten­dance sys­tem wide­ly used in meat­pack­ing plants: the point system.

Under the pol­i­cy, work­ers usu­al­ly receive a point or points for miss­ing a day. If they gain enough points, they’re fired.

For a few months ear­li­er this year, as case counts swelled, Tyson Foods sus­pend­ed its point sys­tem, and Smith­field Foods said it has halt­ed its ver­sion for the time being.

How­ev­er, the point sys­tem has endured at Tyson and JBS plants through­out the pan­dem­ic, and it has con­tin­ued to coerce peo­ple with poten­tial Covid-19 symp­toms into show­ing up to work, said plant employ­ees, their fam­i­ly mem­bers, activists and researchers.

“Peo­ple are afraid now to lose points, and they start to go to work even when they’re sick,” Alfre­do, a machine oper­a­tor in a Tyson poul­try plant in Arkansas, said through an inter­preter. He asked to be iden­ti­fied only by his first name out of fear of retribution. 

“If they see that you can walk, they’ll tell you to keep work­ing,” he con­tin­ued. ?“If you can’t stand on your own, they’ll send you home.”

Spokes­peo­ple for the country’s two biggest meat pro­cess­ing com­pa­nies said employ­ees are encour­aged to stay home while ill.

“Our cur­rent atten­dance pol­i­cy encour­ages our peo­ple to come to work when they’re healthy and instructs them to stay home with pay if they have symp­toms of Covid-19 or have test­ed pos­i­tive for the virus,” Tyson spokesman Gary Mick­el­son said. 

“Regard­less of our atten­dance pol­i­cy, at no point dur­ing the pan­dem­ic have we assessed atten­dance points against team mem­bers for absences due to doc­u­ment­ed ill­ness,” JBS spokes­woman Nik­ki Richard­son said.

Still, the point sys­tem has like­ly con­tributed to the virus’s spread, said Jose Oli­va, co-founder of the HEAL Food Alliance, a non-prof­it that orga­nizes food indus­try workers.

“It’s prob­a­bly one of the bet­ter prop­a­ga­tors for the coro­n­avirus that we’ve seen,” he said. ?“It’s absolute­ly dis­as­trous to have a point sys­tem in the midst of a pandemic.”

Work­ers at one Tyson plant and two JBS plants said the only way they can stay home with­out penal­ty is if they test pos­i­tive for the dis­ease. They are required to go to work if they’re wait­ing for test results, they said. 

Once he test­ed pos­i­tive, the Iowa work­er, 50, was allowed to miss work with­out rack­ing up points, he said. He request­ed anonymi­ty because he fears los­ing his job.

Com­pli­cat­ing the sit­u­a­tion is that many work­ers strug­gle to access test­ing or avoid Covid-19 tests due to the cost, wait times and fear of being tar­get­ed by immi­gra­tion author­i­ties, work­ers and advo­cates said.

The point sys­tem varies from plant to plant.

At the JBS plant in Gree­ley, Colo., where about 300 work­ers have con­tract­ed the virus, employ­ees can rack up six points before they’re fired, accord­ing to a doc­u­ment shared by the local chap­ter of the Unit­ed Food and Com­mer­cial Work­ers union. 

At a JBS plant in Mar­shall­town, Iowa, it’s sev­en points, and at a Tyson poul­try plant in Arkansas, where hun­dreds of work­ers have fall­en ill, it’s 14 points, accord­ing to screen­shots and pho­tos shared by meat­pack­ing work­ers in those plants. 

At the Tyson plant, the company’s gen­er­al atten­dance pol­i­cy notes that ?“approval of pre­arranged absences is based upon the busi­ness needs of the Com­pa­ny.” Even if work­ers give the plant prop­er noti­fi­ca­tion that they’ll miss a day, they receive a point, accord­ing to a copy of the atten­dance pol­i­cy.

Mick­el­son said the doc­u­ment did not accu­rate­ly reflect the company’s atten­dance pol­i­cy dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, as work­ers have been encour­aged to remain home if they’re sick. 

The point system’s enforce­ment can also depend on the super­vi­sor. They can bend the rules for employ­ees with whom they have a good rela­tion­ship, work­ers said.

While requir­ing employ­ees to wear masks and installing plas­tic bar­ri­ers between work­ers can reduce the trans­mis­sion of the virus, the dis­ease will keep spread­ing if plants don’t iso­late and quar­an­tine sick work­ers, said Shelly Schwed­helm, exec­u­tive direc­tor of emer­gency man­age­ment and bio­pre­pared­ness at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Med­ical Center.

To curb the virus’s spread, ?“get rid of the point sys­tem and don’t deter peo­ple from call­ing in ill,” she said.

After the Iowa meat­pack­ing work­er test­ed pos­i­tive, he stayed home for two weeks before return­ing to the plant. 

Dur­ing the day, he did jump­ing jacks in his base­ment in hopes of strength­en­ing his body enough to fight the virus and recit­ed gasp­ing prayers over the phone with his pas­tor. At night, he walked alone through his desert­ed neigh­bor­hood, wor­ried he wouldn’t wake up again if he fell asleep.

He said the com­pa­ny is ?“mak­ing us go back to work because some damn hogs got to die. But they don’t care about human life. They care more about the damn hogs than they do about people.”

New sys­tem for the pandemic

Before the pan­dem­ic, the JBS plant in Gree­ley allowed 7.5 points before a fir­ing. Now, it’s six, said Kim Cor­do­va, pres­i­dent of UFCW Local 7, the union that rep­re­sents the plant’s 3,000 workers.

“The atten­dance pol­i­cy became even more restric­tive,” she said.

Six work­ers died at the plant, mak­ing it one of the dead­liest pub­licly report­ed meat­pack­ing plant out­breaks in the coun­try, accord­ing to Mid­west Cen­ter track­ing.

Sick employ­ees can only recoup points at the Gree­ley plant if they have a doctor’s note and if they call into an Eng­lish-only atten­dance hot­line, a prob­lem for a work­force that speaks more than 38 lan­guages, Cor­do­va said.

To remove points from their record, work­ers must sub­mit to the union screen­shots of their call his­to­ry to the hot­line. Many work­ers find it to be a con­vo­lut­ed process, Cor­do­va said.

“They’ll give the point, and then the work­er has to fight to have it removed,” she said. ?“They make it real­ly dif­fi­cult to call in while sick, so work­ers are com­pelled to come into work even if they’re symptomatic.”

Richard­son, JBS’s spokes­woman, said their new point sys­tem is more for­giv­ing now because it allows work­ers to miss mul­ti­ple days in a row. The com­pa­ny reset all its employ­ees’ points to zero in late July, she said.

Tyson tem­porar­i­ly relaxed its point sys­tem in March but brought it back in June, even as case counts swelled.

The tim­ing of Tyson’s deci­sion was no coin­ci­dence, said Don Stull, a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Kansas who has researched meat­pack­ing for 35 years.

“As that ini­tial atten­tion being focused on the indus­try began to wane, they start­ed try­ing to run as near to pre-pan­dem­ic lev­els as they could. So they need­ed as many work­ers as they could get,” he said.

Mick­el­son, Tyson’s spokesman, said Stull’s claim was not true.

Few oth­er opportunities 

Large meat­pack­ing plants are often in rur­al areas with­out many jobs oppor­tu­ni­ties. That leaves work­ers in a bind when deal­ing with the point sys­tem, work­ers and advo­cates said.

Eric Lopez, a sales man­ag­er at U.S. Cel­lu­lar, said his moth­er works at the JBS plant in Mar­shall­town. A Mex­i­can immi­grant with no for­mal edu­ca­tion who doesn’t speak Eng­lish, she had few jobs avail­able to her in Mar­shall­town oth­er than the pork plant, he said. 

She knows peo­ple with symp­toms have con­tin­ued show­ing up to work, he said, and it’s caused her to break down after com­ing home from work because she fears catch­ing the virus.

For decades, the meat­pack­ing indus­try has relied on immi­grant, minor­i­ty and poor work­ers, a demo­graph­ic that activists and researchers said the pri­mar­i­ly white meat­pack­ing exec­u­tives have exploited. 

“Com­pa­nies are run by old, white guys who think of work­ers as a piece of machin­ery,” said Joe Hen­ry, the polit­i­cal direc­tor for the League of Unit­ed Latin Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens of Iowa, a His­pan­ic civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tion. ?“They see them as peo­ple with dif­fer­ent skin col­ors and dif­fer­ent lan­guages that they can just go ahead and treat like animals.” 

Tyson and JBS strong­ly denied this characterization.

“That is com­plete­ly untrue,” said JBS’s Richard­son, whose response echoed Tyson’s. ?“We have done every­thing pos­si­ble to both pro­tect and sup­port our team mem­bers dur­ing this chal­leng­ing time.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Heather Schlitz is a senior at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Urbana-Cham­paign where she stud­ies jour­nal­ism, glob­al stud­ies and East Asian lan­guages and cul­tures. Pre­vi­ous­ly, Heather report­ed on cli­mate change and the envi­ron­ment as a Dow Jones Data Jour­nal­ism intern at AccuWeath­er and has spent three years writ­ing about sci­ence news for the stu­dent news­pa­per and the Uni­ver­si­ty News Bureau.


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Power Comes From Class War, Not Biden

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It may have been the biggest mis­la­beled cel­e­bra­tion in Amer­i­can his­to­ry. By mid­day Sat­ur­day, Novem­ber 7, when the elec­tion was final­ly called, hordes of ecsta­t­ic peo­ple poured into the streets across the coun­try, honk­ing and cheer­ing and weep­ing with joy. This was wide­ly referred to as a cel­e­bra­tion of Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Biden. But it real­ly wasn’t about Biden at all. 

I was in Philadel­phia when the news came, and a major Count Every Vote ral­ly host­ed by unions and com­mu­ni­ty groups instant­ly turned into a Thank God That’s Over ral­ly. There was a for­est of wav­ing signs pro­mot­ing unions, and the Green New Deal, and democ­ra­cy itself. Biden-Har­ris signs were rel­a­tive­ly hard to find. Because even Joe Biden’s own vic­to­ry par­ty was not about Joe Biden. 

It was, first, about the end of the Trump night­mare. And sec­ond, about the pos­si­bil­i­ty of some­thing good hap­pen­ing again, one day. Biden him­self had lit­tle to do with it. No one has ever been excit­ed enough about Joe Biden to par­ty in the streets.

In fact, Biden’s entire cam­paign rest­ed on the idea of him not so much as a vision­ary leader but as a ves­sel into which an incred­i­bly broad spec­trum of Amer­i­cans could pour their hopes. After a fren­zied ear­ly pri­ma­ry surge by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the entire Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty seemed to coa­lesce around Biden overnight, based on the the­o­ry that the most mediocre can­di­date would be the safest bet against Trump. That bet paid off?—?with the help of the party’s left wing, whose activists did as much as any­one to elect Biden. When the eupho­ria of Trump’s down­fall wears off, the Left must wake up to one thing that will not have changed: The pres­i­dent-elect, like the sit­ting pres­i­dent, won by explic­it­ly run­ning against progressives. 

For Trump, crazy car­i­ca­tures of social­ists and immi­grants served as his boo­gie man. For Biden, it was the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. Their styles are dif­fer­ent, but both men won by cast­ing them­selves as walls to stop the tide of wild-eyed left­ists rush­ing in to take away your fos­sil fuels and your pri­vate health­care. Trump’s pitch came with racism. Biden’s came with over­ween­ing empa­thy. But both came with implic­it assur­ance that the left­ies would remain locked out­side the White House gates. 

This real­i­ty is what the Left must face. Though infi­nite­ly bet­ter than the alter­na­tive of creep­ing fas­cism, the 2020 elec­tion?—?a close Biden vic­to­ry, like­ly with­out Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­trol of Con­gress?—?is a poi­so­nous polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion for pro­gres­sive activists. They now find them­selves with­out Trump’s rad­i­cal­iz­ing influ­ence on the pub­lic and frozen out by a Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment that will cite the need to mod­er­ate their posi­tions to get any­thing passed. 

When the Left shows up to be repaid for their work of get­ting Biden elect­ed, they will run into John Kasich and the dis­af­fect­ed Repub­li­cans who are there for the same rea­son. It is not hard to imag­ine that these groups will more or less can­cel each oth­er out, leav­ing the cen­trists to feast on their favorite food, the sta­tus quo. 

For the mil­lionth time, the Left will see its polit­i­cal util­i­ty to the Democ­rats evap­o­rate after Elec­tion Day. Hope springs eter­nal, but the raw log­ic of our two-par­ty sys­tem dev­as­tates us anew, again and again. The way out of this trap is to build a pow­er cen­ter that is not locked into the elec­toral sys­tem, where it is vir­tu­al­ly impos­si­ble for the Left to con­sis­tent­ly win.

Where can such pow­er be built? The rich build it on Wall Street and in the cor­po­rate world. For the Left, it is the labor move­ment, the sole insti­tu­tion that enables work­ing peo­ple to build and exer­cise real eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal pow­er not behold­en to the veto of big com­pa­nies or politicians. 

The arc of the moral uni­verse may bend toward jus­tice, but it is very, very long. Longer than a life­time. Pro­gres­sives?—?the class of peo­ple who are best able to diag­nose society’s prob­lems, but the least able to change them?—?will con­tin­ue to be dis­ap­point­ed until they turn the bulk of their atten­tion away from the inher­ent­ly hos­tile elec­toral sys­tem and toward build­ing unions, the only things able to make social­ism real with­out ask­ing for permission. 

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the estab­lish­ment of the union world has become just as mani­a­cal­ly focused on elec­toral pol­i­tics as the estab­lish­ment of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. It is not easy to orga­nize an enor­mous revi­tal­iza­tion of union pow­er when so many unions are them­selves more inter­est­ed in con­gres­sion­al cam­paigns than union campaigns.

But 2020 has brought us the most vital ingre­di­ent of all: an ener­gized and rad­i­cal­ized nation of work­ers in dire need, who are about to be dis­ap­point­ed by how the sys­tem deliv­ers on its big promises.

This elec­tion wasn’t about Joe Biden. It was about get­ting back to a base­line of nor­mal­cy. That nor­mal­cy means class war. If we focus on giv­ing the work­ing class an ade­quate weapon, we won’t be in for quite so much dis­ap­point­ment by 2024.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 10, 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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Bernie Sanders Is Actively Running for Labor Secretary

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I?Vt.) is active­ly reach­ing out to allies in a bid to build sup­port for being picked as Sec­re­tary of Labor in the Biden admin­is­tra­tion, accord­ing to a Wash­ing­ton source who spoke to Sanders directly. 

Sanders’ inter­est in the posi­tion was report­ed by Politi­co in Octo­ber, pri­or to Biden’s vic­to­ry in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. At the time, Sanders said he was focused sole­ly on the elec­tion ahead. Last week, Axios report­ed that Biden’s team was ?“con­sid­er­ing an infor­mal ban on nam­ing Demo­c­ra­t­ic U.S. sen­a­tors to the Cab­i­net if he wins,” which would pre­clude Sanders from being selected. 

If that is the case, Sanders him­self is not let­ting it slow him down. This week, he has already begun mak­ing calls to allies in pol­i­tics and the labor world, say­ing that he wants to make a run at the posi­tion of Labor Secretary. 

Phil Scott, the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor of Ver­mont, said last month that he would appoint a replace­ment who would cau­cus with Democ­rats should Sanders leave the Sen­ate to join the Biden admin­is­tra­tion, a move that means Democ­rats would not be at risk of los­ing a valu­able Sen­ate vote. Still, the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom is that Biden’s abil­i­ty to get very pro­gres­sive cab­i­net sec­re­taries like Sanders con­firmed hinges on the Democ­rats tak­ing con­trol of the Sen­ate?—?an uncer­tain propo­si­tion that would require them win­ning two runoff elec­tions in Georgia. 

Oth­er names float­ed recent­ly as pos­si­bil­i­ties for Biden’s Labor Sec­re­tary include for­mer Cal­i­for­nia Labor com­mis­sion­er Julie Su, AFL-CIO econ­o­mist Bill Sprig­gs, and Michi­gan con­gress­man Andy Levin?—?him­self a for­mer AFL-CIO offi­cial. Major unions have not come for­ward with for­mal endorse­ments, but all of the can­di­dates have their back­ers inside orga­nized labor. (Levin has already received the pub­lic sup­port of Chris Shel­ton, the head of the Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Work­ers of Amer­i­ca.) Though Biden’s record is not as pro­gres­sive on labor issues as Sanders, he ran as a vocal ally of unions, and his choice for Labor Sec­re­tary will be expect­ed to have strong pro-union bona fides. 

The news that Sanders is still try­ing for the posi­tion is sure to ener­gize pro­gres­sives who believe that they are owed sig­nif­i­cant rewards for their sup­port of Biden dur­ing the cam­paign. After Biden won the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pri­ma­ry, he formed a task force with sup­port­ers of both him and Sanders, which issued a set of rec­om­men­da­tions wide­ly seen as a tool to pull Biden to the left. Hav­ing Bernie Sanders as Labor Sec­re­tary would give him an inside perch from which to launch efforts to put those rec­om­men­da­tions into prac­tice inside the administration. 

Today, Biden’s tran­si­tion team announced the mem­bers of its Agency Review teams, which are tasked with prepar­ing each fed­er­al agency for the new admin­is­tra­tion. Among the 23 mem­bers assigned to review the Depart­ment of Labor is Josh Orton, a senior advi­sor to Bernie Sanders. Orton declined to com­ment on Sanders’ pur­suit of the agency’s top job. A spokesper­son for Sanders’ office also declined to comment.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 10, 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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What the workplace will look like under a Biden White House

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The U.S. workplace will look much different with Joe Biden in the Oval Office — with some significant changes possible even if Republicans maintain a majority in the Senate.

“Biden, who won the endorsement of almost every major union in the country, has made labor reform a fundamental part of his program and is widely expected to name at least one union leader to his Cabinet,” your host reports. And “as the coronavirus pandemic continues to stoke permanent job losses and compromise worker safety, the case for structural change may be stronger than ever.”

What Biden can do will to some extent depend on which party controls the Senate, which won’t be determined until a pair of key Georgia runoffs in early January. “Still, the transition will be a sharp turn from the Trump White House, under which union membership has droppedpay inequity has widened and enforcement has dwindled.”

Here’s some of what you can expect:

— Heightened worker safety enforcement: One of the first things a Biden administration will likely do is instruct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to step up worker safety enforcement by enacting an emergency temporary standard, or a set of guidelines governing how employers must protect their employees from Covid-19. He’s also likely to ramp up penalties for violators.

— A reversal of Trump executive orders: Biden will be able to immediately rescind some of President Donald Trump’s executive orders — including those restricting employment-based visasbanning diversity training in the federal government and peeling back civil service protections — as well as reinstate Obama-era executive orders that Trump had undone.

— A more labor-friendly NLRB: The former vice president is widely expected to appoint more Democrats to the National Labor Relations Board, the agency responsible for settling disputes between unions and employers. Right now, it’s three Republicans, one Democrat — and an empty seat.

— Pursuit of progressive labor policy: Biden campaigned heavily on enacting Democratic labor legislation similar to that passed out of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House in 2020 and 2019, including a measure to hike the federal minimum wage to $15 and the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which would strengthen workers’ ability to unionize. This, of course, will hinge on the balance of power in the upper chamber, as many of the provisions are opposed by Republicans.

Union leaders rejoice: “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ victory in this free and fair election is a win for America’s labor movement,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. Said AFSCME President Lee Saunders: “[C]ome January 20, we will have a White House that honors our work, respects our sacrifice and fights for the aid to states, cities and towns that we need.”

WHO WILL BE BIDEN’S LABOR SECRETARY? There are already several names in rotation as Biden’s transition team gets to work, our Megan Cassella reports.

“Biden is widely expected to choose a more progressive candidate to lead the Labor Department, one that would help balance out more moderate nominees he’s expected to place at other agencies,” she writes.

“Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), a former union organizer who also has Labor Department experience, is high on the list of potential nominees, as is California Labor Secretary Julie Su. Levin comes from a potentially vulnerable district, however, and Democrats may be wary of a special election there, given their unexpectedly narrow control of the House.”

“Other possibilities for Biden’s Labor secretary include DNC Chairman and former Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez, AFL-CIO Chief Economist Bill Spriggs and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who POLITICO reported is interested in the position.”

CALIFORNIA’S PROP 22 GIVES GIG COMPANIES A NEW ROAD MAP: The success of a California ballot measure allowing Uber, Lyft and other gig companies’ drivers to be independent contractors — while still enjoying a few employee-like perks — may provide employers with a model to use across the country, Bloomberg’s Josh Eidelson reports.

Proposition 22 promises drivers “a guaranteed minimum pay rate while they’re assigned a task; a review process for terminations; and health stipends if they work enough hours,” he writes. “A University of California at Berkeley analysis concluded that after accounting for full expenses and wait times, the proposition’s pay guarantee is worth less than $6 an hour. (The companies dispute this.)”

“The companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ads … [and] it was money well spent. Uber and Lyft alone gained more than $10 billion in market value after the vote, and defanged a recent state court injunction that would have required them to reclassify their drivers as employees.”

“The companies don’t plan to stop there,” Eidelson writes. “‘You’ll see us more loudly advocate for new laws like Prop 22,’ Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi said on a Nov. 5 earnings call. DoorDash CEO Tony Xu said in a statement: ‘We’re looking ahead and across the country, ready to champion new benefits structures that are portable, proportional, and flexible.’”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on November 9, 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.


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