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Get the Federal Government to Fund Union Organizing. Now.

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Though you wouldn’t know it from the actions of the federal government over the past half century, it is the stated policy of the federal government to ?“encourage collective bargaining.” It’s right there in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Unions and their political supporters have typically taken this to mean that collective bargaining rights should be legally protected, and the fight to achieve that simple goal never ends. But as the popularity of unions relative to business hits an all time high, the time has come to interpret this directive more expansively. Because the reality is that there can be no collective bargaining without unions. Unions require organizing, and large scale organizing requires money. The money for this organizing can come from the federal government. We need to start demanding it. 

Scarcely one in ten American workers are union members. That figure has been declining since it peaked shortly after World War II. It has fallen by half since the early 1980s, as the Reagan era burst into full gear and the four-decade-long explosion of economic inequality began. You may have seen the chart showing the share of income going to the top earners rising in perfect parallel with the decline of union density, the one chart that more than any other explains the state of America today. This inequality?—?the massive trend that underlies most of our country’s most serious problems?—?will not be reversed until organized labor is strong again. Union density must first stop going down, and then it must start going up. Way up, and fast. 

Why is it so hard to make that happen? Well, part of it is the fact that labor law in America has been hammered into shape by business interests with the goal of weakening labor and making unions hard to build and maintain. The PRO Act, passed by the Democratic U.S. House, would go a long way towards changing those laws. But whether it becomes law or not, the case remains that unions will have to organize not tens or hundreds of thousands but millions of new members in order to move the needle on a national level. The limiting factor to accomplishing that is not public sentiment?—?polls show that tens of millions of workers would like to join a union if they could?—?but rather the raw ability of America’s unions to organize on such a large scale. Simply put, unions don’t have the resources to organize that many people. They don’t have enough organizers. And they don’t have enough money to hire and deploy those organizers. If they did have that money, and they deployed it wisely, there is no doubt that union density would finally turn around.

Take, for example, the Amazon warehouse union drive in Alabama that has so captivated the world. The union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), has flooded that warehouse with organizers, and other unions have thrown in organizers as well. All this, to try to unionize around 6,000 workers. Amazon has 1.3 million workers, and hundreds of warehouses across the country. The RWDSU says it has received a thousand inquiries from other Amazon workers interested in organizing. Do they have the organizing resources to run, say, ten or twenty or fifty more warehouse campaigns like the one in Alabama simultaneously? No, they do not. Not because they don’t know how, but because there are simply not enough organizers to do it, and there is not enough money in union budgets to hire the vast army of organizers necessary to do the job. Not even at Amazon?—?a single company. 

Unions are funded by member dues, but those dues do not start coming in until a first contract has been signed. That means that organizing new unions requires a large up-front investment of resources that is gradually paid back over time. Not even the biggest unions can front the money to organize a million new workers, despite the fact that the money would eventually come back in the form of dues. But you know who could give us that money without breaking a sweat? The federal government. No problem. A billion dollars to hire the organizers to unionize a million new workers is out of the reach of any union, but it is just a rounding error to Uncle Sam. 

This is not welfare. This is an investment in the ability of workers to collectively bargain, which, as you recall, is a priority of the government. It is also an excellent investment in the promotion of social and economic equality?—?handing money to the working poor is only a momentary solution, but helping those working people get a union gives them a tool that will allow them to gain money and power for decades to come. I do not want the federal government to pay all the operating expenses of a union, or to pay the six-figure salaries of union presidents. I want the federal government to provide the money necessary to organize new union members on a scale that will benefit everyone. A simple, direct investment with well-understood tangible benefits. Most good union organizers make modest salaries, work extremely hard, and achieve surprisingly powerful results. A billion dollars a year could revolutionize the balance of power between labor and capital in America. I challenge you to find a better deal anywhere. 

When you consider the fact that every industry in America has a well-funded lobbying program designed to extract money from the federal government, it is shocking that unions have not done this already. (Christian Sweeney, the deputy organizing director of the AFL-CIO, said he knows of no such efforts to get government organizing money.) Unions, of course, do all sorts of business with the federal government, and lobby for all sorts of laws and perks for their members. Airline unions just won tens of billions of dollars to cover member salaries during the pandemic, and unions just won an $86 billionrescue of their failing pension plans in the latest relief bill. Unions can get money from the government. They just do not focus in an honest way on the question of how to achieve large-scale organizing. But they could. 

While researching this, I learned that I am not the first person to come up with this brilliant (and obvious) idea. Will Bloom, a labor lawyer in Chicago, wrote an essay in 2017 calling for the government to subsidize labor organizing. His suggestion was that a grantmaking board be established under the NLRB or another agency which would fund organizing projects. One can also imagine funding with strict guidelines going directly to major unions, or even to a central organizing body created by the AFL-CIO to fund major organizing campaigns. In any case, the specific disbursement structure is less important than the fact that money is flowing from the government into labor organizing. 

Bloom told me he sees no legal reason why this funding could not exist?—?if it came in the form of government grants, it would just be reported by the union on its disclosure forms like any other grant. I also asked the labor lawyer Brandon Magner about this idea, who told me ?“I am unaware of any obvious legal obstacles that would bar such subsidizing or invoke a strong court challenge.” In other words, the barrier to getting this money does not seem to be a legal one, but rather a political one. 

At our present political moment, the failure of political will and imagination here actually rests on the shoulders of organized labor itself. Joe Biden has shown himself to be the most pro-union president in decades. The Democratic Congress and the Biden administration have shown themselves to be willing and able to appropriate trillions of dollars in social spending to promote the same sorts of goals that an increase in union density would achieve. On top of that, Congressional earmarks?—?pet funding programs that each Congressperson can request be added to bills?—?are coming back, meaning that labor-friendly members of Congress could be pressed to fund labor organizing projects in their own districts. It is no exaggeration to say that there has never been a more opportune time to get this money. It is equally obvious that this opportune moment will pass. 

A billion dollars is nothing to the government. But America would be staggered to see what 10,000 new union organizers could do with it. Please: get this money, before it’s too late.

This blog originally appeared atIn These Times on March 30, 2021. 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.


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Florida may turn down Trump’s plan to increase jobless aid

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Republican and Democratic legislators alike say they don’t understand why Florida hasn’t acted yet.

TALLAHASSEE — Although Florida has some of the lowest unemployment payments in the nation, Gov. Ron DeSantis remains undecided about whether to ask for the stripped-down federal benefits recently authorized by President Donald Trump.

Eleven states have applied for a $400 weekly extra unemployment payment program, which was initiated following Trump’s expansion of jobless aid via executive action. Florida, however, remains on the sidelines and it could stay that way.

The longer the DeSantis administration delays, the longer it will take for hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Floridians to receive the extra help Trump promised — if the state eventually does apply for it. There is also a risk that the limited federal funding available could run out before the state acts.

But the delay speaks to the conundrum that Trump’s actions pose for Florida, a state led by a key campaign ally of the president. While extending the benefits could pump tens of millions into the battleground state’s economy, the federal proposal could prove extremely costly — and unwieldy — for the state to carry out given the rules surrounding the effort.

When asked about the funding on Thursday, a spokesperson for DeSantis did not say when — or if — Florida plans to act.

“Florida is currently reviewing guidance issued by the Department of Labor and the Federal Emergency Management Administration to determine the best course of action that will preserve the state’s financial stability while providing important assistance to Floridians in need,” said Cody McCloud, a spokesperson for the governor.

Republican and Democratic legislators alike say they don’t understand why Florida hasn’t acted yet.

“We should be exploring every option and following the lead of other states that have been successful,” said State Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).

Florida’s tourist-based economy collapsed amid the coronavirus pandemic and the forced business shutdown. More than 3.5 million Floridians have filed jobless claims since mid-March — including another 66,000 who filed their initial claim last week. The state has paid out more than $13 billion in the last five months, but most of that money has been an extra $600 a week payment that Congress included in the CARES Act. That extra payment expired at the end of July, but the House and Senate have been at odds over a new coronavirus relief package.

Trump stepped in and authorized dipping into $44 billion worth of disaster relief funds to pay for a new round of extra benefits. DeSantis last week suggested he was considering having Florida apply to FEMA to receive what is being called “lost wages assistance.”

The problem, however, is that the FEMA aid requires 25 percent matching money from states. Initially Trump suggested states could use unspent money that was part of the CARES Act but DeSantis has told the White House that such an approach could not work. The governor plans to use the more than $5 billion sent to Florida to help pay for coronavirus response and to patch holes in the state’s budget.

Federal authorities then told states they could use money they are already spending on state unemployment benefits to count toward the matching requirement. But there are complications with that approach as well. The first obstacle is that money spent by the state must be on or after Aug. 1.

That’s a problem because Florida benefits — which pay out a maximum of $275 a week — are capped at 12 weeks. Congress authorized additional payments to workers whose state benefits are exhausted but those are paid entirely out of federal aid. Many jobless Floridians already have rolled over from the state program to the federal one. Florida’s budget is in tatters and there’s no other place the state could easily get the matching money. DeSantis suggested that the state could perhaps borrow money for its unemployment trust fund, but such a move risks triggering tax hikes on employers.

Rich Templin, director of politics and public policy for the Florida AFL-CIO, said all the complications with the extra aid show that it’s “not a workable solution.”

“This really seems like a campaign soundbite just to get us through November with no real understanding how this will work,” Templin said.

Rep. Evan Jenne (D-Dania Beach) saaid DeSantis still needs to act quickly and take care of Floridians reeling from the economic collapse.

“If Donald Trump is going to offer him a bucket and a mop then he needs to take the bucket and mop and clean up the mess,” Jenne said.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on August 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Gary Fineout came to POLITICO Florida in February 2019 after spending more than two decades covering Florida politics and government.


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The House GOP health care bill is a job killer, says a new report

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 In addition to potentially increasing the number of uninsured by 23 million and being unequivocally unpopular, House Republicans’ Obamacare replacement plan could leave nearly a million people unemployed.

That’s according to a new study published Wednesday by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University and The Commonwealth Fund projects, which finds that the U.S. economy could see a loss of 924,000 jobs by 2026 if the American Health Care Act (AHCA) becomes law.

The study concentrated on coverage-related and tax repeal policies included in the AHCA. Some of the key provisions it said could add to job losses would:

  1. Phase out enhanced funding for Medicaid expansion by restricting eligibility in 2020, and imposing either a block grant or per capita caps.
  2. Replace premium tax credits with age-based tax credits. The premiums can be five times higher for older individuals, compared to the current threefold maximum.
  3. Allow states to waive key insurance rules, like community rating and essential health benefits. (The study does account for the Patient and State Stability Fund, a $8 billion grant meant to relieve states of high-cost patients.)
  4. Eliminate the individual mandate tax penalty and premiums hikes for people who do not maintain continuous coverage.
  5. Repeal numerous taxes and tax increases, like a tax on high-cost insurance (i.e. the “Cadillac tax”).

Short-term gain, long-term pain

Federal health funding stimulates the economy and job creation. Health funds pay hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other providers, and these facilities pay for their own respective employees and other goods and services, like rent and equipment. Health care employees and private businesses then use their earnings to purchase consumer goods like housing and transportation, circulating this money through the larger economy.

The GWU study found government spending or subsidies stimulate the economy more than tax cuts. Tax cuts do help, but only in the short term. The way AHCA is set up is that the tax cuts take effect sooner than federal funding cuts, which is why some states see net job growth by 2018. Then, when federal dollars are eventually pulled, states begin to see job losses by 2026.

Who’s most affected:

The employment rate among states that expanded Medicaid eligibility could disproportionately be affected, because those states received more federal dollars. New York, a state that expanded Medicaid, could be among the hardest hit with 86,000 job losses by 2026.

Between April 2016 and April 2017, New York added 76,800 jobs and the educational & health services sector saw the largest job gains, at 46,600 jobs. “The Affordable Care Act [ACA] contributed to that [growth],” Ronnie Kauder, senior research director at the New York City Labor Market Information Service, told ThinkProgress.

Kauder emphasized that the ACA wasn’t solely responsible for New York’s job growth, even in the health care sector. Uncontrollable factors like the state’s growing aging population and increasing life expectancy contribute to job growth as well.

New York has reaped the employment benefits of comprehensive health care, said Kauder. That’s in part because ACA encouraged states to test new models of health care delivery and shifted from a reimbursement system based on volume of services to value of services.

For example, New York received ACA grant funding to test effective ways to incentivize Medicaid beneficiaries, who struggle with chronic diseases, to participate in prevention programs and change their health risks. With that grant, New York created new programs at existing managed care organizations, which required new hires. The grant created positions like care coordinators, who connect and follow-up up with patients and providers in the program, said Kauder. “They are heavy on the training, but not licensed professionals,” she said.

But while she attributed some of New York’s job gains to the ACA, Kauder was skeptical that the GOP replacement plan would kill as many of them as the GWU study projects. “We don’t know what the state response will be,” he said. “It could be worse in Kentucky.”

The largest health care provider in New York, Northwell Health, hires on average 150 people a week. Northwell chief public relations officer Terry Lynam told ThinkProgress he doesn’t think the ACA directly contributed to a spike in job growth; however, it did help expedite the provider’s move from hospitals to outpatient care centers, also called ambulatory care, in an effort to slow rising health costs.

“What [ACA] has done was contribute to the ambulatory net growth [by cutting costs],” said Lynam. Northwell Health has 550 outpatient locations.

Northwell Health has qualms with the House GOP bill; specifically its cuts to Medicaid and change in coverage rules. “We are in a stronger financial position to survive that kind of reduction in revenue,” said Lynam. “But what about small providers serving low income areas, who need those Medicaid [dollars]?”

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Amanda Michelle Gomez is a health care reporter at ThinkProgress.


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