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California’s Prop. 32: Clone of Past Anti-Worker Measures

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Maybe this election year will finally put a stake through the heart of efforts by corporations and extremist right-wing millionaires to silence the voice of California’s working families in the political arena.

This year, it’s called Prop. 32 and it’s a near-clone of 2005’s Prop. 75 and 1998’s Prop. 226, which voters defeated by 53% to 47%. Both times, huge mobilizations by working families turned back the millions of dollars from Republican PACs and corporate and anti-worker extremists. These are the same groups that are behind Prop. 32.

Deceptively titled, “Stop Special Interest Money Now Act,” Prop. 32 would ban the use of voluntary payroll deductions by union members who want to contribute to their union’s political activity. It would do nothing to stop the campaign spending by secret corporate-backed PACs and the wealthy.

For example, as the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor points out:

  • Prop. 32 exempts secretive super PACs and corporate front groups, which can raise unlimited amounts of money from corporate special interests and billionaire businessmen, to support their candidates or defeat their enemies. The measure does nothing to prevent anonymous donors from spending unlimited amounts to influence elections.
  • Prop. 32 is NOT campaign finance reform, as its backers claim. The wealthy supporters of this initiative created exemptions for Wall Street hedge funds, real estate investors, insurance companies and other well-heeled special interests, allowing them to continue contributing directly to the coffers of political candidates.
  • Prop. 32 would severely restrict union members in both the public and private sector from having a voice in our political process. As a result, teachers, nurses, firefighters, police officers and other everyday heroes would be unable to speak out on issues that matter to us all—like cuts to our schools and colleges, police and fire response times, patient safety and workplace protections.
  • This measure would give corporate CEOs and their lobbyists even greater influence over our political system. Corporations already outspend unions 15-1 in politics. This measure would effectively clear the playing field of any opposition to big corporations’ agenda, which includes outsourcing jobs, gutting homeowner protections, slashing wages and health benefits and attacking retirement security.

You can find out more on the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor’s No on 32 webpage, which includes a union-member toolkit and links to the No 32 Facebook page and Twitter account (Twitter handle is @StopExemptions). Sign-up for email alerts and volunteer opportunities.

On a lighter note, take a look at the video below from SEIU Local 521, where the resurrected “zombies” of the earlier versions of Prop. 32 are on the march for the brains of voters. On the Labor’s Edge blog, Khanh Weinberg writes about how the “Boo on 32” video was made.

This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on October 17, 2012.  Reprinted with permission.

About The Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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Workers and Their Unions Key to Economic Turnaround, Election Outcome

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Image: Mike HallMaryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and Columbia University Professor Dorian Warren both say the best way to solve the nation’s economic crisis is to grow the middle class rather than allowing wealth to concentrate in fewer and fewer hands. Unions, they say, will play a vital role politically and economically in building a strong middle class.

O’Malley and Warren spoke on a conference call with reporters Friday to counter recent attacks by Republican lawmakers on workers and their unions.

O’Malley pointed to Maryland’s top 10 ranking in job creation, its AAA bond rating and the fact it has the highest median income in the nation to show that economic prosperity is “achieved by a partnership with unions, not by scapegoating labor.”

We don’t see unions as an impediment to growth but organized labor helps us grow and maintain balance, invest in skills of the workforce and ensure people receive a decent wage for a decent day’s work.

From the post-war era through 1973, when one in three working people had a voice on the job, said Warren, the nation had the smallest economic gap ever between the rich and the poor, because of the growing middle class with good union jobs.

But as efforts were made to weaken unions and attempts to modernize and strengthen the nation’s labor laws were blocked, the middle class began to shrink, said Warren.

There are consequences to declining union strength and now we have the highest levels of economic injustice ever. Our economy has moved to an hourglass model with jobs at the top end and bottom end, but with the middle hollowed out.

When working people have a “strong collective voice,” said Warren, “we get a stable and strong economy with continued economic growth. Unions still remain the best tool and best route for workers to improve their lives.”

In the face of growing efforts to silence workers and their unions and the explosion of corporate cash and 1%ers’ campaign donations, Warren said:

Unions can challenge the money and power that threatens our democracy’s legitimacy….With union households accounting for about 25 percent of the electorate, union votes will be a major factor and, in battleground states, a decisive factor.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on June 17, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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Which Side Are You On: Election Edition?

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Image: Bob RosnerOkay, the election is right around the corner. The purpose of this column is not to tell you who to vote for, or even what to vote for. It’s simply to try to help you to clarify what is important to you. If I do a good job, you won’t even know my political leanings.

Foreclosures — Do you think that the cash support should go to the bankers or the people being foreclosed on? Ironically words like responsibility can be applied or not applied to both sides of this equation.

Sure we’re all mad at the banks. They took huge risks, kept their profits and stuck us with their losses. Which candidates are most inclined to hold the banks accountable? And which candidates are inclined to take contributions from said bankers? The rhetoric isn’t as important as the money flows, in my humble opinion.

Health Care — Health care is another popular political piñata today. Do you long for the old system of health care? Or do you think it makes sense to have someone looking over the insurance companies’ shoulders?

The wars — Is this a question of pride and winning or is it more of an issue of cutting our losses?

Unemployment assistance — 99 weeks does seem like a long time to get help for being unemployed. Too many too long. But if you know people who’ve been out of work that long, you know the struggle that they’re facing.

Political theater or political action — Which candidates are inclined to roll up their sleeves and work to get things done?

This shouldn’t be done from the hip. Definitely take out your voting pamphlets and  do some research on your options. Your steady hand is needed on the ship of state’s rudder.

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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Labor Day Reflections on Election Day Decisions

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Labor Day puts an exclamation point at the end of summer, and sounds the traditional starting bell for our election campaigns.  And it is the one day of the year that honors working people – those “who from rude nature have delved and carved all the grandeur we behold,” in the words of one 19th century proponent of the holiday.

These days find fewer workers delving and carving, and more of them word-processing or telemarketing.  How are they doing this Labor Day?

That depends on whether we look at the top of the labor market or further down the ladder, among the modern-day delvers and carvers.  Those at the top –- say the top ten percent of earners with scarce skills and years of higher education –- are doing well indeed.  (The top one percent is doing even better.)  (See Economic Policy Institute data.)  The globalization of markets and growing mobility of capital seem to have increased the market power of the top echelon of workers.

But gains at the top have not trickled down to the bottom.  Instead, companies’ intense pursuit of lower labor costs and higher profit margins has eroded job security, wages, and working conditions for many workers.  (See Economic Policy Institute data)

The fact of growing inequality seems clear.  Yet a major political fault line runs between those who believe it is a serious problem calling for government action and those who do not.  Of course, the one-two punch of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and rising oil prices has raised alarms across the political spectrum.  But the failure of ordinary working people to secure a fair share of productivity gains and spectacular corporate profits has not.  That brings us back to the election campaign that is already well underway this Labor Day.

On one side, news of growing economic inequality is met with a mix of complacency and fatalism.  After all, global market forces are behind these developments, and have produced more by way of fabulous wealth at the top than impoverishment at the bottom.  Those in this camp – let’s call them Republicans – often portray those who complain about economic inequality as captives of misguided economic populism and class envy.  Or, in the words of McCain supporter Phil Gramm, as “economically illiterate” and “whiners.”

On the other side of the aisle are those who are committed to using public policy to foster the well-being of those least favored by the market.  Recent studies indeed show that low and middle-income Americans do better economically in Democratic administrations (while higher income Americans do about equally well).  In this respect, the Democrats remain the party of the New Deal.

Indeed, divisions are especially sharp over two major pillars of New Deal labor policy – the labor law’s regime for enabling workers to unionize and bargain collectively, and the Fair Labor Standards Act’s minimum wage and overtime protections – both of which were intended to secure for ordinary workers a fair share of the rewards of economic prosperity.

On the issue of unionization, there is less disagreement over what is happening than over what to do about it.  Mainstream economists, including current Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, agree that growing inequality is partly due to the decline of unions.  Unions give workers leverage to bargain for a fair share of company profits.  No wonder so many workers who don’t have union representation say in surveys that they wish they did.

The question for political leaders is whether to do anything to make that possible.  Senator Obama and the Democrats support the Employee Free Choice Act, which makes it easier for workers who want union representation to get it, and harder for employers to browbeat their workers out of seeking representation.  Republicans, with a few exceptions, appear content to let unions continue their slide toward irrelevance, and to leave workers to their solitary fate within the labor market.  (See NYTimes article.)

Disagreement over minimum labor standards is less voluble, but only because one side is largely silent.  A recent GAO report finding lax enforcement of wage and hour laws provoked calls for action from the Democrats, and silence from Republicans.  Evidence of widespread employer evasion of employee rights and payroll taxes through misclassification of employees as “independent contractors” led Senator Obama, joined by several Democratic co-sponsors, to propose a legislative fix.  Republicans remain silent.

The ideological divide here is familiar.  But there is a common thread in these debates over labor policy that ought to create some common ground:  Both employees’ right to join a union and their right to decent labor standards are being undermined by employers that break the law, sometimes brazenly.  Many employers illegally threaten and intimidate workers who seek union representation, risking little more than a legal slap on the wrist long after the union drive’s defeat.  For some employers, compelling employees to work off the clock, or even doctoring time sheets to reduce payroll costs, has become business as usual, as Steve Greenhouse shows in his new book, The Big Squeeze.

When scofflaw employers get away with violating workers’ legal rights, they undermine the ability of workers to secure a decent life for themselves and their families, and they undercut and demoralize responsible employers.

The Democrats and Republicans have often diverged over the wisdom of expanding protections for workers.  But enforcing the laws that are already on the books ought to be a goal that unites the parties.  Unfortunately, when it comes to the law that protects employee rights, that seems not to be the case.

About the Author: Cynthia Estlund is the Catherine A. Rein Professor at the NYU School of Law.  Recent work chronicles the crisis of workplace governance – the decline of collective bargaining and the failings of both regulation and litigation – and charts a potential path forward.  Her book Working Together:  How Workplace Bonds Strengthen a Diverse Democracy (Oxford U. Press 2003) argues that the workplace is both comparatively integrated and intensely cooperative and social, and explores the implications for democratic theory and for the law of the workplace.  Other writings focus on freedom of speech and procedural fairness at work; affirmative action; and the significance of property rights in labor law.

Note: Workplace Fairness is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are their own.

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