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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Labor Movement Fighting Anti-Asian Racism in All Forms

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Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

Anti-Asian racism has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working people condemn this vile behavior as a stain on our nation. We will continue to fight these injustices.

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance National President Monica Thammarath (NEA) stated, “It is not right that Asian Americans are afraid to be alone in public, especially our elders who live in poverty and depend on access to community services, and our young people who live in places where there are few community spaces to turn to. We grieve for the elders who have been assaulted in Chinatowns across the nation. We grieve for Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man who was attacked on one of his daily walks in San Francisco. We send our love to Noel Quintana, a 61-year-old Filipino American who was attacked on a Manhattan subway car, and to the 52-year-old Chinese American woman who was attacked outside of a Flushing bakery. We grieve for Christian Hall, a Chinese American teenager who was murdered by the Pennsylvania State Police. We grieve for Angelo Quinto, a 30-year-old Filipino American who was murdered by Antioch, California, police. Our communities are hurting, and we are more agitated than ever to create change.”

“The entire labor movement is appalled by the continued rise in anti-Asian racism across the country. Acts of physical violence, yelling of racial slurs and intimidation tactics used against our Asian American friends, family and communities must be called out and stopped,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA). “Anti-Asian rhetoric is only hurting our nation more during this pandemic, and we all must stand up and condemn in the strongest terms possible that racism in any form is unacceptable.”

“Racism in any form is wrong. Plain and simple. I have been so incensed to see the attacks on our Asian brothers and sisters that I could just scream,” said Clayola Brown (Workers United), AFL-CIO civil rights director and A. Philip Randolph Institute president. “For those of us of color who have endured systemic racism for 400 years, it is scary to see this unrelenting targeting and denigration happening to another group. The kind of ugliness we’ve seen happening to members of the Asian community as they simply go to the store or gather in a park to visit is disgusting and must be stopped. To watch elderly people come under attack and no one come to their aid shows we still have so much more work to do. Humanity must prevail. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘The time is always right to do what is right.’ We must all take responsibility to make sure that no one is targeted, tormented or harassed because of their ethnicity. Until we learn that lesson, we all pay the price for racism.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on March 8, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Prepared Remarks: Sanders Speaks on the Urgency of Raising the Minimum Wage and Passing the American Rescue Plan

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the need to pass the American Rescue Plan Act and offered an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. His remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:

Mr. President, I rise today to offer an amendment to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour over a 5-year period and I will be speaking on that amendment in a moment.

But before I do that, let me begin my remarks by talking about why this reconciliation bill that we are debating today is so important and why we need to pass it as soon as possible.

Let’s be clear.  Today, in America, we are living through one of the worst economic crises in the modern history of America and the worst public health crisis in more than a hundred years. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging across the country.  Meanwhile, over 90 million Americans today are either uninsured or under-insured and can’t afford to go to a doctor when they get sick.  The isolation and anxiety caused by the pandemic has resulted in a huge increase in mental illness.

During the pandemic, 63% of American workers have been living paycheck to paycheck, including millions of essential workers who put their lives on the line each and every day for totally inadequate wages. 

More than 23 million Americans are unemployed, under employed or have given up looking for work, while hunger in this country continues to soar.

Because of lack of income, millions of Americans owe thousands of dollars in back rent and many of them face the threat of eviction.  This is on top of the 500,000 who are already homeless.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest people in this country are becoming much richer, and income and wealth inequality is skyrocketing.  Incredibly, during the pandemic, over 650 billionaires in America have increased their wealth by more than $1 trillion.

As a result of the pandemic education in this country from childcare to graduate school, is in chaos.  The majority of young people in this country have seen their education disrupted and it is likely that hundreds of colleges will soon cease to exist.

In this moment of unprecedented crises, the Senate must respond through unprecedented action.   

Mr. President, for too long Congress has responded to the needs of the wealthy and the powerful.  Now it is time to respond to the needs of working families – black and white, Latino, Native American and Asian American.

That is what this reconciliation bill is all about.

This Budget Reconciliation bill that we are debating today will enable us to aggressively crush the pandemic which has already taken over 500,000 lives – and enable the American people to return to their jobs and schools.

It will establish a national emergency program to produce the quantity of vaccines that we need and get them into the arms of our people as quickly as possible.

It will allow us to keep the promises we made to the American people and increase the $600 in direct payments for working-class adults and their children to $2,000.

What that means is that a typical family of four would get a direct payment of $5,600.

The Budget Reconciliation bill that we are considering today will provide $400 a week in supplemental unemployment benefits to over 10 million Americans until the end of August.

Further, Mr. President, all of us know that we have a childcare crisis in America.  This Budget Reconciliation bill will provide the resources necessary to provide childcare to 875,000 kids in America.  

It will expand the Child Tax Credit from $2,000 to $3,000 and to $3,600 for kids under the age of 6.

And by taking these steps we will be cutting the child poverty in half.  Let me repeat that.  If we pass this bill, we will cut child poverty in the United States of America by 50 percent.

Further, this bill will provide $350 billion to prevent mass layoffs of public sector workers in state and local governments. 

At a time when over 90 million Americans are uninsured or underinsured, this bill will enable the Senate to substantially increase access to health care for millions of Americans, including a significant expansion of Medicaid.  

It will allow more Americans to receive the primary care that they need through a $7.6 billion increase in funding for community health centers.  It will address the serious shortage of doctors and nurses in rural areas and inner cities by expanding the National Health Service Corps.  And it will make sure our veterans receive the healthcare they have earned and deserve by increasing funding at the VA by $17 billion.

In addition, Mr. President, in the wealthiest country in the history of the world, we can no longer tolerate hunger in America and the long bread lines that have stretched mile after mile during the pandemic.

This bill will provide nutrition assistance to tens of millions of hungry families with children, the disabled and the elderly.

Further, Mr. President, this bill will provide rent relief, utility assistance and mortgage assistance to millions of tenants and homeowners who are in danger of eviction and foreclosure.  

It will begin to address the crisis of homelessness in America.

Further, Mr. President, all of us must acknowledge that there is a pension crisis in America today.  As a result of the greed on Wall Street, workers and retirees in multi-employer pension plans are in danger of seeing their retirement benefits cut by as much as 65 percent.  That is unacceptable. 

When a worker is promised a pension after a lifetime of work that promise must be kept.  This bill will provide the resources necessary to prevent the pensions of millions of Americans from being cut.

Mr. President, not only is this $1.9 trillion emergency COVID-relief package the right thing to do from a moral perspective and a public policy perspective, it is exactly what over 70 percent of the American people want us to do.

But, Mr. President, because of an unfortunate and misguided decision by the parliamentarian, this reconciliation bill does not include an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In my view, an unelected staffer in the Senate should not be in charge of determining whether 32 million workers in America receive a raise.

It is hard for me to understand how drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was considered to be consistent with the Byrd Rule, while increasing the minimum wage is not.

Therefore, Mr. President, I am offering an amendment today with Majority Leader Schumer, Senator Patty Murray, Senator Ron Wyden and many others in this Chamber to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

This amendment is similar to legislation which has been co-sponsored by 38 members of the Senate and legislation which has already passed the House. 

This amendment is supported by some 300 national organizations including the AFL-CIO and virtually all of the major unions in our country. 

And because raising the minimum wage to a living wage will significantly benefit women and people of color it is supported by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the National Organization for Women, UNIDOS, the American Association of University Women, Indivisible, Justice for Migrant Women, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and the National Women’s Law Center.

And while raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will mean a wage increase for over 30 million Americans, given the fact that nearly 50% of Black and Latino workers earn less than $15 an hour, it will be a huge help to those communities.

Let’s be clear.  This is the richest country in the history of the world.  We can no longer tolerate millions of our workers being unable to feed their families because they are working for starvation wages.  

Mr. President, nobody in America can survive on $7.25 an hour, $9 an hour or $12 an hour.  We need an economy in which all of our workers earn at least a living wage.

It is a national disgrace that Congress has not passed an increase in the minimum wage since 2007 – 14 years ago.

It is totally unacceptable that the minimum wage has lost over 30 percent of its purchasing power since 1968.

Yes. Now is the time to raise the minimum wage to a living wage – at least $15 an hour.  A job in the United States of America should lift you out of poverty, not keep you in it.

And when we increase that minimum wage to $15 an hour we will be giving over 32 million Americans a much needed raise. 

In fact, if this amendment becomes law, the average low-wage worker in America would receive $3,300 in additional income – each and every year.

And let’s be clear.  More than 60 percent of the American people support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.  This is not a radical idea.  This is what the American people want.

Since 1998, every time a state has had an initiative on the ballot to raise the minimum wage it has won – no matter if that state was red, blue or purple.

In November 61% of the people in Florida – a state Joe Biden lost by 3 points – voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

8 states and over 40 cities have adopted laws to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Just a few days ago, the House did the right thing and passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Now, this issue rests in the Senate. 

We must understand that the issue of starvation wages is a national emergency.  We must raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

In the last few days, I have heard some concerns from my colleagues about one part of our amendment and that is the provision to raise the tipped wage which now stands unbelievably at $2.13 an hour.  Yes, the federal minimum wage for waiters and waitresses, barbers, hair stylists, parking attendants and others is at $2.13 and has not been raised since 1991 – 30 years ago.

The proposal in this legislation would raise that tipped wage from $2.13 an hour to $14.95 over a seven year period – something which is desperately needed.

The National Restaurant Association, a very powerful lobbying organization has suggested to Members of Congress that this legislation is opposed by restaurant workers and would be harmful to their interests.  This is not true.  One Fair Wage, an organization representing service employees has just delivered to the White House a petition with 140,000 signatures from service workers who are demanding that they receive the same minimum wage as every other worker.

Polling among service employees and non-service employees also supports the reality that Americans want our waiters, waitresses and other service employees to get a fair minimum wage.

Now I have heard from some that people who are working in the service industry are doing really well and they don’t need an increase in the minimum wage.  The tips that they are receiving are covering all of their needs.  Really?

Today, 70% of tipped workers are women who suffer from three times the poverty rate of the rest of the US workforce, use food stamps at double the rate, and suffer from the highest rates of sexual harassment of any industry because they must tolerate inappropriate customer behavior to feed their families in tips.

Further, let us be very clear, the idea of moving tipped wages to the same level as the overall minimum wage is not a radical idea.

It already exists in seven states including California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Montana, Alaska, and Minnesota.

And I should point out that all of these states experienced a growth in the number of small businesses and restaurants after they abolished the tipped minimum wage.  And guess what?  Waiters and waitresses in these states received more in tips, not less.

Let’s talk about how the pandemic has affected tipped workers. In many states where the tipped minimum wage still exists, tipped workers did not even qualify for unemployment because their wages were too low.

And let’s be clear.  In an industry where more than 6 million people have lost their jobs, over 60% of sub-minimum wage earners could not get unemployment benefits because the state and federal government denied them benefits for not making enough earned income. At the same time, as restaurants re-open the CDC has declared restaurants as the most dangerous place to work, and now servers are responsible for enforcing new rules and protocols around social distancing and wearing masks. 

The restaurant industry has some of the highest rates of sexual harassment. In a workplace where 70% of the workers are women, and where they rely on their customers to determine their wages, women are often expected to withstand sexual harassment in order to get paid. 

In states where the sub minimum wage has been eliminated sexual harassment has been cut in half. And that is exactly what we should be doing on the federal level.

Mr. President, in my view, it all comes down to this. Which side are you on? Are you on the side of the working people in America who desperately need a raise? Or are you on the side of the wealthy and the powerful who want to continue exploiting their workers and paying starvation wages? It ain’t more complicated than that.

I urge my colleagues to stand with the working class of America. I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

This blog originally appeared at Working Life on March 5, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Gig workers could end up losers in Covid relief bill

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Airbnb, Etsy and other pillars of the gig economy are shaping up to be rare losers in Democrats’ coronavirus relief package.

Buried in the legislation are provisions that will require them to provide a lot more information to the IRS about the money millions of people earn through their platforms, which is likely to bring in billions of dollars more in federal taxes.

That will generate cash Democrats can use to reduce the total cost of their stimulus plan.

But the industry says it’s getting ambushed, complaining it didn’t even know lawmakers were planning the tax crackdown until shortly before it was approved last week by the House. Company officials worry that asking people for their Social Security numbers — which the companies will need to produce the tax documents — and raising the specter of the IRS will scare many away from their platforms.

“We’re concerned that the proposal could unintentionally dissuade many casual and one-time sellers, who could be forced to share their Social Security number with online platforms before listing anything for sale,” said a spokesperson for Etsy. That could “turn away would-be entrepreneurs at a time when many desperately need the extra income.”

It’s not entirely clear who pushed for the provisions, though efforts to require more reporting by the industry aren’t new. A spokesperson for the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee did not respond to a request for comment.

The wrinkle comes as Senate Democrats debate the stimulus plan, which lawmakers aimed to get to President Joe Biden’s desk by March 14, when expanded jobless benefits expire. Much of the focus on the stimulus has been on its winners, though there would be a few losers as well.

For those in the sharing economy, the issue is provisions that would dramatically reduce the threshold at which companies like eBay, GrubHub, Doordash and others would have to report to the IRS the earnings of people who use their platforms to make money. The users would also have to be given the information.

Currently, that’s only necessary when someone earns more than $20,000 through at least 200 transactions. Democrats would drop that to anyone earning more than $600, regardless of the number of transactions.

That’s projected to generate a lot of money — $8.4 billion over the next decade, according to an official forecast — because people are more likely to pay taxes on their earnings when they know someone else is telling the IRS how much they made.

Unlike more traditional jobs, there is relatively little independent reporting of how much people in the gig economy earn. Many in service-related businesses are treated by their employers as contractors, for example, so they may not be having taxes withheld from their pay. They’re supposed to instead be paying estimated taxes each quarter.

Others, like people selling goods on eBay, Etsy or Facebook, are just average people trying to make some extra cash.

Many may not track how much they’ve earned or realize that it’s subject to tax, in part because they don’t make enough to trigger the current income reporting requirements, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said in a report last year.

“Platform workers may not receive information on their earnings, creating compliance challenges for them and enforcement challenges for IRS,” GAO said.

That makes the area ripe for tax cheating.

The issue has been on lawmakers’ radar for several years, though much of the focus had been on a competing proposal by Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.). He has a more sweeping plan that would deal with things like worker classification rules while also imposing tougher income-reporting requirements, although not as stringent as Democrats are proposing.

Industry lobbyists say they did not anticipate Democrats swiping Thune’s idea and repurposing it for their coronavirus measure.

Said Thune: “I will continue to support a comprehensive approach to truly help workers in the gig economy.”

Proposals to raise money via so-called third-party reporting have long been popular with lawmakers searching for cash because they generate revenue but are neither tax increases nor spending cuts. And the $8.4 billion the gig worker proposal raises helps keep Democrats within their $1.9 trillion budget for the coronavirus relief.

The industry says it does not condone tax cheating. But it says Democrats’ reporting threshold is too low and would affect too many people who only sometimes use their platforms.

The companies say the tax requirements may come as a surprise to many, who might not understand what is being reported. The IRS form the companies would use — the 1099K — would report the gross amount of money someone has earned.

That isn’t necessarily what they’d have to pay tax on, though. The tax would only apply to their profits, after their own costs or expenses are deducted.

So if someone sold a bike on eBay for $800, for example, they’d get a form showing that. But if they had originally paid $1,000 for the bike, they likely wouldn’t owe the IRS.

“This is not about skirting tax obligations,” said Katie Vlietstra, vice president for government relations and public affairs at the National Association for the Self-Employed.

“A lot of people are cobbling together different ways to make it to the next paycheck,” she said.

“And this is going to be whiplash for a whole community of people.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on March 5, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Brian Faler is senior tax reporter at Politico. Before coming to Politico in 2013, he was a congressional reporter at Bloomberg News. Before that, he was an assistant to the late, great David Broder at the Washington Post.


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COVID-19 has the child care industry in dire crisis, but there are two big reasons for hope

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The child care industry and the workers in it—overwhelmingly women, many of them women of color—have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Really hard. But now there are two big reasons for hope, thanks to child care funding in the COVID-19 relief bill passed by the House and to a rush of states opening up vaccinations to child care workers.

After losing 400,000 jobs early in the pandemic, the industry hasn’t fully rebounded. In December 2020, there were still nearly 175,000 fewer child care jobs than there were in December 2019. In an industry that operates on extremely tight profit margins, enrollments remain down due to both reduced class sizes for social distancing purposes and parents keeping their kids home rather than risking group settings, while expenses for personal protective equipment and cleaning are up.

According to a December study from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, 56% of child care centers say they are “losing money every day that they remain open.” The first glimmer of hope on that front came at the end of December, when the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 allocated $10 billion to child care, and that money is going out. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Gov. Tom Wolf announced plans this week for $303 million in federal money, including $140.7 million to support providers who have lost enrollment and $87 million in increased payments for providers who participate in subsidized care. 

But the COVID-19 relief package the House passed includes much more help: $39 billion. And, HuffPost’s Emily Peck reports, “the money is retroactive, so centers that are already in debt or behind on their rent or mortgage payments can catch up.” 

While Senate Republicans have objected to many of the provisions in the relief bill, and intend to do everything they can to delay its passage, they haven’t targeted the child care money, so there is hope that help is on the way.

There’s a more individual form of hope, too, for child care workers. Following President Biden’s call for teachers and child care workers to be vaccinated (or have gotten at least one shot) by the end of March, pharmacies participating in a federal vaccination program opened up eligibility to those groups across the country, regardless of whether they were yet eligible under state guidelines. But that wasn’t all. 

A series of states quickly moved to open up their own vaccination programs to teachers and child care workers, including Massachusetts (where Republican Gov. Charlie Baker made clear he wasn’t happy about it), Washington state, and Texas. Prior to Biden’s push, teachers and child care workers had already heard that they would soon become eligible in OhioVermont, and New Jersey as the states continue to expand their vaccinations.

None of this is the end of problems for the industry or for its low-paid workers. Even before the pandemic, turnover was extremely high in daycare centers, and that’s only gotten worse during the pandemic. Median pay for child care workers is $11.65 an hour, according to one recent study. And despite the low pay, reliable, high-quality child care is not affordable for many families, keeping some women out of the workforce (at cost to their lifetime earnings) or leaving families with a series of bad choices. 

The pandemic has shown that child care is absolutely an economic issue, with increased work absences due to child care problems over the past year and many parents of young children—again, especially mothers—dropping out of the paid workforce entirely over it. There’s an immediate crisis here, but there’s also a long-term problem. It would be great if we could use the crisis to draw attention to the problem and look at longer-term fixes. But in the short term, keeping child care centers open and protecting their workers from COVID-19 are big steps.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on March 5, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Labor watchdog backs calls for binding Covid-19 workplace safety standard, slams Trump’s policy

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The Labor Department’s independent watchdog recommended that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration consider issuing Covid-19-specific safety rules employers would be required to follow, saying that would better protect Americans from exposure to the coronavirus.

The recommendation adds weight to calls by President Joe Biden, other Democrats and labor unions for the agency to issue such emergency protections, which business groups and many Republicans oppose.

In a report released Tuesday, the department’s Inspector General said mandatory rules “could be of importance” because it’s extremely difficult for the agency to cite employers for safety risks without them.https://953a1f8cee7a9b5ef151aee5a2980011.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

If OSHA issued a Covid-19-specific emergency temporary standard, “employers would be legally obligated to comply with it,” the IG said, and OSHA inspectors “may not be hampered by a lengthy process” when it comes to proving a violation.

OSHA has already issued Covid-19 guidance under a January executive order from Biden and published numerous documents detailing ways that employers can protect their workers from exposure. But the guidelines are not enforceable and do not require companies to comply.

OSHA inspectors in area offices across the country told the IG that a coronavirus-specific safety standard would be helpful to identify safety hazards during Covid-19-related inspections and make it easier to issue citations.

“Guidance in and of itself cannot operate in lieu of an [emergency temporary standard] as an enforcement tool,” the IG report said.

The Trump administration took the position that a Covid-19-specific safety standard wasn’t necessary because the agency could use other safety rules, like its requirements to provide workers personal protective equipment, to police businesses during the pandemic.

Biden took a different approach with his executive order, which directed the agency to decide by mid-March whether it was necessary for OSHA to issue an emergency standard.

The agency, currently being led by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Frederick, released stricter guidelines in January for employers on how to protect their workers from the coronavirus.

But so far, there hasn’t been any sign of whether OSHA will issue a safety rule or simply release more non-mandatory safety recommendations for workplaces, although Frederick has said that the January guidance was “not going to be the last step in the process” of responding to Biden’s order.

The IG’s findings could help the Biden administration justify the emergency rulemaking, which Republicans and the business community have opposed, warning it could increase liability and costs for already-struggling businesses.

However, the IG’s audit Tuesday found that the Trump administration’s business-friendly approach at OSHA did not provide the level of protection workers needed during the coronavirus pandemic and left workers’ safety at increased risk.

The report noted that while OSHA has received an influx of safety complaints during the pandemic, the agency suspended most of its on-site safety inspections last year, instead opting for informal inspections that typically result in a phone call to the facility, putting employees’ safety at greater risk.

“While remote inspections might help mitigate potential transmission of Covid-19, a reduction of on-site inspections could result in more work-site accidents, injuries, deaths or employee illnesses,” the IG report said.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on March 2, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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‘Can we find a deal?’: Coronavirus sparks debate over paid leave

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Democrats, Republicans and corporate America are coalescing behind a federal paid leave policy for the first time in the U.S., one of few rich nations where workers aren’t automatically provided the benefit. But as they hammer out the details, fracture lines are already emerging that could derail the decades-long effort once again.

President Joe Biden’s support for a federal program, combined with public frustration at a lack of paid leave during the pandemic, has Democrats reaching for a robust policy. Republicans and employers, many of whom balk at the potential cost to businesses and the government, are seeking a more targeted approach.

“We’re closer to a federal paid leave policy than we’ve ever been,” said Dawn Huckelbridge, director of Paid Leave for All, an advocacy group. “This is the time when we can push it to the finish line.”https://a4c41b575340f869f83742e574252ee9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

But negotiating the specifics, she acknowledged, will be an uphill battle: “There’s a lot of questions and various paths forward, and a lot of real-time chess being played.”

There is already a wide gap between what Biden campaigned on, what Republicans are amenable to and what employers think is workable. The president wants to provide all workers with a week of paid sick leave to care for a personal illness, and 12 weeks of longer-term paid family and medical leave to care for themselves or a family member. Some GOP members have floated a narrower approach, while others remain wary of a universal standard that could burden businesses.

“[A] permanent one-size-fits-all federal mandate being pushed by Democrats is not the answer,” House Education and Labor ranking member Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said. “New and small businesses are the least equipped to deal with sweeping national mandates during the best of times, let alone a pandemic, and the last thing we want to do is pile on yet another.”

But some advocates say a paid leave policy would have saved the government a load of money during the pandemic. Before the crisis struck, nearly 1 in 4 U.S. workers lacked access to paid sick leave, while 4 in 5 lacked access to paid family leave. More than half are estimated to lack access to paid medical leave.

“We did sort of a back-of-the-envelope analysis of this, and it would have saved the federal government a trillion dollars to have had a federal national paid leave program in place before this pandemic hit,” said Maggie Cordish, who advised Ivanka Trump on paid leave during the Trump administration. “A lot of people would be able to have kept their jobs, taking the time off they needed to deal with caregiving responsibilities, to reorganize their sort of carefully constructed caregiving infrastructure.”

For its part, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce prefers that lawmakers hold off on paid sick leave but would be open to a paid family leave policy.

“We are no longer in the ‘just say no’ mode, which we had been for a long time,” said Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the Chamber. “We are now in the ‘can we find a deal?’ mode.”

Deciding the length of leave is “the least difficult thing to figure out,” Freedman said. Even if Congress and the White House can manage to reach an agreement on the breadth of a policy, other, more complicated questions abound. Who pays for it? Would a federal policy preempt the web of existing state and local requirements? What type of employers would be covered, and what kind of workers could be eligible?

In search of answers, policymakers and businesses are looking to state and local governments that have implemented policies “to see how they have impacted workers and employers,” said Ben Brubeck, vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs at Associated Builders and Contractors.

The skeleton of a paid leave policy in the U.S. was first erected in 1993, when President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act. It entitled employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for personal illness, the illness of a family member or military deployment.

But the last three decades have seen no further federal action outside of a successful 2019 push to provide federal employees paid parental leave.

In the absence of congressional action, state and local governments took matters into their own hands.

Joshua Seidman, an attorney who represents employers, said that in a matter of years, businesses have seen new laws pop up in Washington state, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon and Colorado, among others. And that’s “just in the paid family leave space,” he said.

“This year, we’ve seen the paid sick leave landscape explode,” Seidman said, as the pandemic prompted a flurry of legislative activity.

Over the past decade, unions and labor activists have accelerated their lobbying activity at the municipal and state levels. Their efforts were fruitful: 12 states and the District of Columbia have implemented their own versions of paid sick leave; nine states and D.C. have rolled out a form of paid family and medical leave.

“As we win and study more of the laws that have passed at the state level, it does help to make the case federally,” said Jared Make, vice president for A Better Balance, a national nonprofit advocacy organization for workers.

Make, who works closely with paid leave advocates in statehouses, said his group will push for Congress to enact a law similar to what was just implemented in Colorado. That law, considered to be the most robust in the nation, covers all workers.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats like Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) have been fighting to establish permanent paid sick leave and family and medical leave at the federal level — most notably via their FAMILY Act, which they reintroduced earlier this month and would give workers 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Then-Sen. Kamala Harris unveiled a plan from the campaign trail that would give workers six months of paid family and medical leave. And Democrats fought to include a permanent paid leave policy in rounds of coronavirus relief legislation.

With the support of the Trump administration, Republicans began to warm to the idea. Ivanka Trump’s lobbying for the benefit contributed to its inclusion in the Families First relief package, which provided half the workforce with two weeks of coronavirus-related sick leave at full pay and up to 12 weeks of family and medical leave to care for family members at two-thirds pay.

The Families First program was a statistic-backed success: States that gained access to paid sick leave experienced about 400 fewer cases of Covid-19 per day, researchers at Cornell University and the Swiss Economic Institute found.But the tax credit portion of the program alone was extended in December — not the actual teeth of the policy, the mandate — and language to renew it was dropped from Biden’s rescue plan. The version of the bill moving through the House would once more extend the tax credits only.

At least one state, New Jersey, decided to give state workers coronavirus sick days after the federal provision lapsed, on top of the state’s other existing paid leave programs.

With a paid leave advocate in the Oval Office and narrow majorities in both chambers, Democrats are redoubling their efforts for a permanent policy.

“This shouldn’t be a partisan issue — it isn’t for families, and I’m going to keep making it clear that it’s not and trying to get this done,” said Senate HELP Chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney rolled out a bill last month alongside DeLauro and others that would provide federal employees with 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave, which she said she hopes can serve as a model for a similar program covering the private sector.

Still, Republicans remain concerned about how the policy could be funded in a way that does not place too much pressure on employers. In part, this is why employers and Republicans are more amenable to paid family leave over paid sick leave: Not only does FMLA provide an existing structure, but many states have rolled out paid family leave programs that are paid for in whole or in part via employee contributions, a model that would place less of a burden on businesses. The cost of paid sick leave, on the other hand, “is basically stuck on the employer,” Freedman said.

It’s a key example of wait-and-see at the state level: “Two of the biggest and what might be considered to be the most left of center states, New York and California, both are over 100 percent, employee-funded programs,” said Glenn Spencer, senior vice president of employment policy at the Chamber of Commerce.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on February 25, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Texas and Florida, Defying CDC Guidance, Aren’t Prioritizing Vaccination of Farmworkers

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Despite Centers for Disease Control recommendations, a few states with large farmworker populations have not prioritized Covid-19 vaccinations for farmworkers. 

Because farmworkers risk Covid-19 exposure in the course of their jobs, the CDC proposed that they should be near the front of the vaccination line. But Texas and Florida, which have large farmworker populations, have not included farmworkers in their initial rollouts, according to state documents.

Farmworker advocates said the people who pick and process the fruits and vegetables consumers rely on should become inoculated from the virus. During the pandemic, farmworkers have been forced to choose between protecting their lives and keeping their jobs.

“We believe that farmworkers should be a high priority for vaccine distribution because of their essential work and because of the high risk of exposure in the agricultural workplace,” said Alexis Guild, Director of Health Policy and Programs at Farmworker Justice.

In Texas, people who are old enough and have a history of illness are the priority, and that could include agricultural workers, said Douglas Loveday, Texas Department of State Health Services spokesman.

“Right now, agricultural workers 65 and older and those with underlying chronic illnesses that can lead to several illness or death if infected by Covid-19 can be vaccinated,” he said. ?“Discussions on future priority groups have begun, but nothing has yet been decided.”

Across the U.S., most farmworkers are not over 65. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average age of farmworkers is 39, with over half being younger than 44.

This past summer, Marco Antonio Galvan Gomez, a 49-year old agricultural worker, died from Covid-19 a few weeks after arriving in Texas.

Similarly, only people 65 years old and older, long-term care facility residents and health care personnel are authorized to receive vaccines in Florida, even though farmworkers in the state have been hit hard by Covid-19. For instance, the Immokalee community in southern Florida, known as the capital of tomato production in the U.S., had dozens of deaths over the summer.

Florida’s health department did not return requests for comment.

During the pandemic, farmworkers have been forced to choose between protecting their lives and keeping their jobs. At least 22 farmworkers have died from Covid-19, according to data from the National Center for Farmworker Health. 

As essential workers, farmworkers ?“were required to continue to work throughout the pandemic, but they often have been excluded from protections at the national and state level,” said Kara Moberg, attorney at Farmworker Legal Services of Michigan.

More than half lack health insurance, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2016 National Agricultural Workers Survey. Many employers don’t provide it.

Many workers also live in employer-provided accommodations?—?often in cramped housing with limited options for social distancing. Among those who don’t live in these facilities, it’s also common to live in crowded conditions.

“For workers who do not work or who do not live in employer-provided housing, they still tend to live in crowded housing conditions because of their low wages,” said Alexis Guild of Farmworker Justice. ?“So it’s very hard for them to socially isolate, socially distance.”

An October study by researchers from the University of California San Diego found that farmworkers, especially those who do not speak English and live in poverty, ?“may be at heightened risk for Covid-19 mortality in non-urban counties.”

All states’ distribution plans for vaccines follow a phased approach, but that differs from state to state.

The phases are decided based on vaccine availability. People in groups 1a, 1b and 1c (or equivalent) will receive the vaccine when the supply is limited. As vaccine availability increases, people in the next phases will be able to receive vaccinations, according to the CDC.

The problem with the CDC guidelines is that, similar to safety protections for workers, there is no federal standard for vaccine prioritization, said Jared Hayes, policy analyst for the Environmental Working Group. This is especially problematic for a workforce that frequently moves across state lines, he said.

“One challenge, especially with regard to farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented, is ensuring that they have access to the vaccine,” he said. ?“We’ve seen how badly the vaccine rollout (has been). Imagine how complicated it would be to vaccinate a workforce that is undocumented and migratory.” 

Problems with access, even if states prioritize farmworkers

Most states have followed CDC recommendations on farmworkers, but advocates worry it will be challenging to get the vaccine to them.

North Carolina, plans to vaccinate farmworkers and other frontline essential workers in the state’s Group 3 (equivalent to the CDC’s 1c phase), following healthcare workers and people 65-years old or older, which belong to Groups 1 and 2 respectively, according to the state’s vaccination plan.

As of Feb. 16, only Groups 1 and 2 were eligible to receive vaccines.

“The way that things are rolling out in North Carolina and just the timing of everything, we haven’t really gotten there yet,” said Justin Flores, vice president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), which represents tens of thousands of agricultural workers in the South and Midwest.

In the Midwest, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, which ?“represents hundreds of food and agricultural workers across the state,” complained that these workers are ?“currently not scheduled to receive vaccines until May,” according to an online statement.

Even though agricultural workers are classified as part of phase 1b in the state?—?which meant they were scheduled to receive vaccines as early as mid-January?—?they are not expected to receive vaccination until more than three months after the phase begins, according to Michigan’s prioritization guidance.

Mistrust of authorities, immigration status may lead to few vaccinations

Another problem that advocates see is that a combination of mistrust, fear and misinformation might lead farmworkers to avoid looking for vaccinations in the first place.

“The issue of distribution is really complicated and there’s a lot of fear in many communities,” said Guild, of Farmworker Justice. ?“We’ve heard from our partners on the ground, we’ve heard of mistrust and fears around vaccines.” 

According to some advocates, the role of community organizations in educating and providing critical information will be crucial in the next few months.

“Relying on expecting farmworkers to go to the CVS or a medical health clinic won’t be enough,” Hayes, of the Environmental Working Group, said. ?“We’re going to need to lean on the non-profit organizations that have always served farmworkers to ensure that they actually have access to the vaccine.”

Another reason why agricultural workers are in a vulnerable position with regard to vaccine access is that many of them lack legal immigration status, advocates said.

Roughly half of all farmworkers lack legal immigration status, according to the USDA.

Despite this, some advocates are hopeful that immigration status won’t affect farmworkers’ access to vaccination.

“We certainly hope and it seems to be that immigration status will not be a factor when it comes to the vaccine. We also hope to see the vaccine being free of charge, regardless of immigration status, or regardless of insurance status,” Guild said.

In a press release, the Department of Homeland Security encouraged undocumented workers to get vaccinated, stating that ?“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will not conduct enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics.”

“It is a moral and public health imperative to ensure that all individuals residing in the United States have access to the vaccine. DHS encourages all individuals regardless of immigration status, to receive the Covid-19 vaccine once eligible under local distribution guidelines,” the department said.

North Carolina is not checking immigration status during vaccinations, but some residents told the News & Observer they were still scared to get the vaccine.

In Nebraska, despite the federal government’s emphasis on reaching undocumented workers, Governor Pete Ricketts said in January that only documented workers will receive the vaccine.

Neither the governor’s office nor Nebraska’s health department responded to a request for comment.

Editor’s Note: The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit, online newsroom offering investigative and enterprise coverage of agribusiness, Big Ag and related issues through data analysis, visualizations, in-depth reports and interactive web tools. Visit us online at inves?ti?gatemid?west?.org

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on February 26, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Frank Hernandez is a senior at the University of Texas at El Paso, majoring in philosophy and multimedia journalism. Previously, he reported for Bor?derzine?.com, an online news magazine covering life on the U.S.-Mexico border.


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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: National Nurses United Leads Coalition to Urge CDC to Acknowledge COVID-19 Aerosol Transmission

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Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

National Nurses United (NNU) is leading a group of 44 allied unions and organizations, including the AFL-CIO—representing more than 13 million members and their communities—to urge the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to update its COVID-19 guidance to fully reflect the latest scientific evidence regarding coronavirus transmission through aerosols that infected people emit when they breathe, speak, cough, sneeze or sing. Today, NNU’s coalition delivered a petition with over 10,000 signatures, including scientific experts, urging the CDC to recognize COVID-19 aerosol transmission.

“Since the start of the pandemic, the nation’s nurses have demanded that the CDC’s guidelines be based on scientific evidence,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of NNU. “Nurses know that to effectively battle this virus, we all need to get on the same page about how it spreads….We urge the Biden administration to honor its commitment to listen to experts in the battle against COVID-19, which includes having CDC and other federal agencies explicitly recognize aerosol transmission.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on February 25, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Joe Biden Has a Golden Opportunity to Strengthen Public Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s the opposition to these ideas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source: Our Schools

This article was produced by Our Schools

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


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Grocery workers, heroes of the pandemic, left out on vaccinations, this week in the war on workers

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“Grocery workers say they can’t get coronavirus vaccines, even as they help distribute them,” the Washington Post headline reads. But as the story makes clear, grocery workers don’t “say” they can’t get vaccines. They can’t. Unless they are elderly or have comorbidities in addition to being grocery workers—i.e., unless they are eligible for vaccination for reasons other than being among the front-line workers who have kept us all going this last nearly a year—grocery workers don’t get vaccination priority except in 13 states. Meanwhile, pharmacies in some grocery stores are administering the vaccinations the workers can’t get.

“Of course health-care workers should get the vaccine first, that’s not a question,” one California worker said. “But how many people am I exposed to in a day? Hundreds. Sick or well? I don’t know. Customers come in with masks under their nose, sipping their coffee as they walk around.”

In 11 states there’s no plan to give grocery workers any priority for vaccination, while in Tennessee they’re at the same priority level as overnight camp counselors.

###

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on February 20, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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