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Kansas Republicans Again Stab Workers, And Democracy, In The Back

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poole-60x60Once again, that conservative maxim about the government that’s closest to the people serves the people best was thrown out the window by conservatives when it comes to protecting the interests of workers against the abuses of businesses.

The latest example is Kansas, which just passed a law that said that local governments could not pass laws regulating just-in-time work scheduling, the practice of scheduling workers for shifts with as little as a few hours notice. The practice makes it impossible for workers on such schedules to plan to work second jobs or attend classes during their off hours. Employers who engage in this real-time scheduling expect workers to be on call, uncompensated, for when they might be called to work.

Workers subjected to these kinds of schedules often do not know how many hours of work they will have each week – and thus can’t predict how much they earn.

The bill, passed by the overwhelmingly Republican legislature and sent to ultraconservative Sen. Sam Brownback, pre-empts local governments in other areas as well, including their ability to impose nutritional labeling or content laws (thus a jurisdiction could not require restaurants to post the caloric content of their food) and their ability to police real estate transactions or rental inspections.

It is a continuation of a trend that has picked up momentum in recent years as more harshly conservative state legislatures have opted to clamp down on the ability of progressive enclaves in their states to govern their jurisdictions as they see fit.

That happened recently in North Carolina, where a state law was passed to invalidate local LGBT-rights ordinances. North Carolina is also one of 19 states that have laws on the books telling cities that they cannot pass their own minimum-wage laws. The list – compiled by the National Employment Law Project – is a rogue’s gallery of worker-unfriendly states: Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

What the Kansas legislature was attempting to prevent was the spread of laws like one that passed last year in San Francisco, the “Predictable Scheduling and Fair Treatment for Formula Retail Employees Ordinance.” According to this fact sheet, the ordinance requires larger employers to post work schedules for employees at least two weeks in advance and requires employers to give due consideration to employee requests for changes. If an employer makes last-minute changes to the work schedule or requires a worker to be on call but does not actually summon the worker to work, the ordinance sets out how the worker is to be compensated for his or her time.

The organization A Better Balance has been fighting to get a bill called the Schedules That Work Act passed at the federal level. You can imagine the uphill battle getting such legislation passed nationally will be, when conservative legislatures won’t even allow democratically elected local officials to rein in the abuses against workers within their municipal boundaries.

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on May 2, 2016, Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah Poole Worked at Campaign for America’s Future, attended Pennsylvania State University, and lives in Washington, DC.

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Why We Need A Jobs Summit

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Isaih J. PooleTo break the inside-the-Beltway consensus that a robust, government-led effort to lower the unemployment rate this year should not be on the table for legislative debate, the Campaign for America’s Future this week announced that it is convening a “Summit on Jobs and America’s Future” on March 10 in Washington.

This summit is based on the proposition that it is both economically and politically insane for there not be an alternative to the conservative agenda, misnamed “cut and grow,” which would have the federal government fold its arms and back away as the job market continues to stagnate. Absent a bold, galvanizing jobs plan from either the White House or the Democratic leaders in Congress, it is up to the progressive movement itself to raise up such a plan and use it to change the limits of the unemployment debate.

The jobs summit is intended to be a place where progressive members of Congress, together with activists and the movement’s best thinkers, can forge the elements of political movement for sustainable economic growth, dynamic job creation, and a revival of the American economy. (To register for the day-long conference, which is free, click here.)

President Obama actually helped set the framework for this in his State of the Union address. His call for a “winning the future” agenda that would include bolstering education, repairing and expanding our transportation networks, supporting universal availability of high-speed broadband and boosting research and development efforts can, done correctly, move us toward a new, greener and more sustainable economy of broadly shared prosperity.

In contrast, conservatives are doubling down on their blind faith, discredited by the slow decline of the middle class during the past decade and the climactic crash of the economy in 2007 and 2008, that cutting taxes and regulations alone will create an overflowing fountain of jobs from the private sector. Add to this the deficit mania that is fueling Republican plans to go beyond President Obama’s unprecedented pledge of a five-year freeze on federal spending to call for cuts of as much as $100 billion in domestic discretionary spending.

Of course, the conservative agenda is couched as being faithful to the message voters sent in the 2010 elections: focus on jobs and take actions that will reduce the federal deficit. But these cuts would truly be job-killing, not job-creating. On the chopping block would be a variety of aid programs that help fund state and local governments, which would force the layoffs of hundreds of thousands of public workers. More layoffs in private and nonprofit agencies would result from cuts in a broad swath of other services. Right-wing rejection of plans to build high-speed rail and bolster the rest of our transportation network has already killed thousands of jobs in the New York City area, and hundreds of thousands more jobs will be stillborn if the rejection is allowed to prevail.

The budget plans currently being embraced by congressional Republicans will deprive the nation of the basic building blocks the private sector needs to fuel long-term job growth: an educated workforce, a transportation network that moves people and goods effectively, a universally accessible Internet that is a platform for innovation and efficiency, research that can lead to the creation of the industries of tomorrow.

These policies are guaranteed to prevail, with disastrous consequences to our short-term and long-term economic future, if the only choices on the table are conservative and a “conservative lite” that accepts the basic premise that working-class Americans have to accept an era of austerity that includes unemployment above 8 percent for years into the future (while increasing shares of wealth continue to flow to the top) but is willing to offer an aspirin to dull the pain.

One way progressives must counter this is with an economic program that spends federal dollars today to put people to work today on the jobs that must be done today. That is a program that we should rally behind regardless of whether the political establishment deems it practical. The truth is, it is the right thing to do. It makes no sense that while we have close to 15 million people unemployed—6.4 million out of work for more than six months—we’re not funding jobs that would support the needs of thousands of communities. That would be especially true in the eight states—California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island and South Carolina—where unemployment last month exceeded 10 percent.

Progressives must also frame a long-term jobs agenda that adds meaningful substance to President Obama’s vision of “winning the future” through investment in education, research and infrastructure. The president’s past speeches have made the case that we cannot afford to drift into a re-creation of the old economy, with its cycles of bubbles and bursts, its stagnant middle-class income growth and its decaying public assets. And yet, yielding to the austerity crowd threatens to lead us down that very road. The result will be a nonexistent recovery for a broad swath of American workers and no progress on addressing the federal deficit. We can, and must, make the case that public investment in the essentials of economic growth now is the only way we can make progress toward bringing our budget deficit down to a sustainable level.

Getting this message into the center of the political discussion will require taking a page from the Tea Party playbook. On the right, a group of renegades embraced a platform based on a narrative that blamed the nation’s economic woes on the size of government—and mobilized voters in ways that shook the Republican political apparatus. If the Tea Party can do that with a fundamentally flawed analysis of our economic ills and the role of government, imagine what progressives can do with a sound analysis of where America is, where America must be and policies that can get us there that will revive hope and confidence in the future.

This article was originally published by OurFuture.org.

About The Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007 and also directs the Campaign for America’s Future’s online communications. Previously he had worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

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