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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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Why U.S. Labor Laws Need a Major Update—The PRO Act Is a Great Start

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When workers at Orchid Orthopedic Solutions tried to form a union, the company quickly brought in five full-time union-busters to torment them day and night.

The hired guns saturated the Bridgeport, Michigan, plant with anti-union messages, publicly belittled organizers, harangued workers on the shop floor and asked them how they’d feed their families if the plant closed.

The months of endless bullying took their toll, as the company intended, and workers voted against forming the union just to bring the harassment to an end.

“Fear was their main tactic,” recalled Duane Forbes, one of the workers, noting the union-busters not only threatened the future of the plant but warned that the company would eliminate his colleagues’ jobs and health care during a labor dispute. “Fear is the hardest thing to overcome.”

Legislation now before Congress would ensure that corporations never trample workers’ rights like this again.

The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, introduced on February 4, will free Americans to build better lives and curtail the scorched-earth campaigns that employers wage to keep unions out at any cost.

The PRO Act, backed by President Joe Biden and pro-worker majorities in the House and the Senate, will impose stiff financial penalties on companies that retaliate against organizers and require the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to fast-track legal proceedings for workers suspended or fired for union activism. It also empowers workers to file their own civil lawsuits against employers that violate their labor rights.

The legislation will bar employers from permanently replacing workers during labor disputes, eliminating a threat that companies like Orchid Orthopedic often use to thwart organizing campaigns.

And the PRO Act will empower the NLRB to force corporations into bargaining with workers if they interfere in union drives. That means an end to the mandatory town hall meetings that employers regularly use to disparage organized labor and hector workers into voting against unions.

Orchid Orthopedic’s union-busters forced Forbes and his colleagues into hour-long browbeating sessions once or twice a week for months—and that was on top of the daily, one-on-one bullying the workers endured on the production floor.

“There was nowhere to go,” Forbes, who’s worked at Orchid Orthopedic for 22 years, said of the relentless intimidation. “You couldn’t just go to work and do your job anymore.”

growing number of Americans, many of whom saw unions step up to protect members during the COVID-19 pandemic, seek the safe working conditions and other protections they can only achieve by organizing.

That includes Forbes and his colleagues, who endured years of benefit cuts but still put their lives on the line for the company during the pandemic.

They launched an organizing drive to secure a voice in the workplace. They also sought job protections to prevent the company from discarding them “like a broken hammer”—as one worker, Mike Bierlein, put it—when it’s done with them.

But as more Americans seek the benefits of union membership, employers’ escalating attacks on labor rights make the PRO Act ever more important.

Corporations drop hundreds of millions of dollars every year on “union-avoidance consultants”—like the ones Forbes and Bierlein encountered—to coach them on how to thwart organizing drives.

The higher the stakes, the dirtier employers play. Tech giants Google and Amazon used their vast technology and wealth to propel union-busting to a new level.

Google not only electronically spied on workers it suspected of having union sympathies, but rigged its computer systems to prevent them from sharing calendars and virtual meeting rooms.

Amazon developed plans for special software to track unions and other so-called “threats” to the company’s well-being. In Alabama, where thousands of Amazon warehouse workers just began voting on whether to unionize, the company showed anti-union videos and PowerPoints at mandatory town hall meetings, posted propaganda in bathroom stalls and sent multiple harassing text messages to every worker every day.

“It really opened my eyes to what’s going on,” Bierlein, who’s worked at Orchid Orthopedic for 18 years, said of the unfair tactics his company employed against organizers. “The deck is stacked against workers.”

The PRO Act will help to level the playing field and arrest the decades-long erosion of labor rights that significantly accelerated under the previous, anti-worker presidential administration.

It will require employers to post notices informing workers of their labor rights, helping to ensure managers respect the law. The legislation will enable prospective union members to vote on union representation on neutral sites instead of workplaces where the threat of coercion looms.

And the PRO Act will make it more difficult for employers to deliberately misclassify employees as contractors with fewer labor rights. That change will give millions of gig workers, including those driving for shared-ride and food-delivery companies, the opportunity to form unions and fight for better futures.

Right now, employers often stall negotiations for a first contract to punish workers for organizing or frustrate them into giving up. The PRO Act will curb these abuses by requiring mediation and binding arbitration when companies drag talks out.

Orchid Orthopedic’s campaign of intimidation and deception lasted until the very end of the union drive.

As the vote on organizing neared, Forbes said, the company promised it would treat workers better in the future if they decided against the union.

Instead, after the vote fell short, the company quickly increased the cost of spousal health insurance. That left Forbes more convinced than ever that workers need changes like those promised in the PRO Act to seize control of their destinies.

“I’m all about right and wrong,” Forbes said, “and the way we were treated was wrong.”

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).


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Enormous VA Union Contract Moves Towards Uncertain Conclusion Under New Biden Administration

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Unionized workers at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have spent the past four years in a grinding workplace battle with a Trump administration existentially hostile towards unions representing federal government workers. Now, as negotiations draw to a close on their new contract?—?one of the biggest union contracts in America?—?the union says that the damaging hangover of the Trump years is still very much a reality. 

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) represents more than 265,000 VA workers, meaning their contract has widespread impact on government workers across the nation. In 2018, Donald Trump signed a series of executive orders that drastically restricted the collective bargaining rights and power of the union, even taking away the union’s office space in VA buildings. Joe Biden rolled back those orders shortly after taking office. Yet the change of administrations (a top priority for AFGE, and a major victory for them) may not be enough to guarantee that the hostile contract negotiations that have already been underway for years will come out as the union hopes. 

In early January, members voted to reject a proposed contract that they say was insufficient and one-sided. After that, a 30-day mediation period began. That mediation period expires this week. Because of some delays on the VA’s side in appointing a negotiator, the union is hoping for an extension, though it is unclear what a final timetable will be. What is certain is that after a process that has been marked by lawsuits, intransigence, political battles, and charges of bad faith, there are still significant outstanding issues to be settled. 

“We’ve alleged from the beginning that the VA’s never really come to the table with a sincere desire to reach agreement. There’s been a lot of bad faith behavior,” says Thomas Dargon, AFGE’s acting supervisory attorney working on the National Veterans Affairs Council (NVAC). ?“What we’ve been asking for all along is for them to come to the table seriously.” 

The fact that the bulk of negotiations were conducted under a different and much more hostile administration creates some murky possibilities for the contract’s future. Dargon says it is possible that the contract will go back to the Federal Services Impasse Panel, a government board meant to resolve such disputes?—?and earlier this week Biden summarily fired the board’s ten members, presumably setting the stage for a more labor-friendly board soon. There is also the matter of Denis McDonough, Biden’s nominee for VA secretary, who will certainly be more willing to work with the union, but whose confirmation date is still up in the air. AFGE is hoping that the transition process will happen in time to meaningfully improve the current contract. 

“Surely new leadership could come in and set the right tone and work with the union as a partner,” says Dargon. Until the new contract is settled, the last contract, signed in 2011, remains in effect. 

The VA did not respond to questions about whether its bargaining position has changed since Biden took office. (Last September, the VA gave a contemptuous statement saying that AFGE ?“opposed attempts to make the VA work better for Veterans and their families.”) But on the ground, change for VA workers is slow. Linda Ward-Smith, a registered nurse at the VA and the president of AFGE Local 1224 in Las Vegas, says that the crisis of the pandemic only strengthened her management’s determination to act unilaterally, without treating the union as a full partner. She says that she’s still having trouble getting the VA to provide a workplace safety plan as it moves employees back into the office, and that the VA has not provided enough Covid testing for its workers, restricting it to those who have symptoms. More than 120 VA employees have died of Covid, according to AFGE. Such health risks highlight one of the union’s biggest outstanding issues in the current contract negotiations: the fact that the VA is seeking to do away with large sections of the contract that provide occupational health rights to workers. 

Ward-Smith says that, despite the fact Biden rolled back Trump’s executive orders affecting VA workers, her bosses have yet to implement the changes, saying they need to wait for further ?“guidance” before moving forward. ?“We’ve all still been in limbo. It’s almost like those executive orders don’t exist,” she says. 

Nevertheless, Trump’s defeat has provided a ray of hope. For the past several years, the VA’s workers have been losing faith in their union’s ability to get anything meaningful accomplished for them, watching as its power was cut off by unfriendly leadership and aggressive anti-labor rulemaking. ?“Employees lose hope. It’s insane the treatment our employees were getting, because they felt they had no say-so,” Ward-Smith says. ?“I’m excited I can get back to doing the business I was put in this position to do.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on February 5, 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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Card-carrying union member Walsh, Biden’s Labor nominee, wins businesses’ respect

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When Marty Walsh leaped straight from the top of a trade union federation to Boston City Hall in 2014, local businesses braced for the impact of a labor leader and his progressive policies.

They had little to fear from the new mayor. The following year saw “arguably the biggest building boom in the history of the city of Boston,” as one city official described it, with a record 70 development projects under way by July 2015 — including a rising rate of new construction using nonunion jobs. Walsh would go on to convince companies including Reebok, GE and Lego to relocate their headquarters to the city, as well as to draft the city’s first small business plan.

It’s that track record that has many national business leaders today optimistic that they will have Walsh’s ear when he assumes the helm at the U.S. Labor Department despite the fact President Joe Biden, who nominated him, ran on a platform that was widely panned by corporate America as potentially the most labor-friendly in history.

“He does have this reputation for bringing people together,” Glenn Spencer, senior vice president of employment policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said of Walsh, who will have his confirmation hearing Thursday before the Senate HELP Committee. And “his background is in the building trades, which tends to focus on getting things done, as opposed to some other parts of the union movement.”

“That doesn’t mean we’re going to get the outcome we’re always seeking. But we hope that there’s an opportunity to weigh in and perhaps move things in a more positive direction.”

Unions and trade associations alike point to Walsh’s experience in Massachusetts, where he served as a state representative and head of the Boston Building and Construction Trades Council before running for mayor in 2013, as grounds for optimism.

Walsh “is a pragmatist, and he wants to get stuff done,” Drew Schneider, director of labor and employment policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, said. “He’s been in government for a long time, and the reviews we’ve heard are positive.”

Local labor officials were surprised at the talks he facilitated as mayor “that would never occur between big business, between unions, between environmentalists,” Sean O’Brien, president of Boston’s Teamsters Local 25, said. “So he has a strong, strong characteristic of bringing people together; listening before making decisions. He’s got the ability to broker relations and or mediate any potential conflict.”

Unions that backed Walsh for the job preached his consensus-building abilities as they lobbied for his nomination.


“Workers really need real clout, but I don’t think it’s an either-or situation,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said. “Ultimately, just like in the 1940s when business understood that worker clout could actually help their bottom line, the same is true right now.”

The issues of workforce training, vaccine incentivization, unemployment insurance and multiemployer pension plans are all areas where businesses say they anticipate being able to find middle ground with a Walsh-helmed Labor Department.

“The [unemployment insurance] system needs some upgrades, and that’s a place where we think there could be some bipartisan support and we could work together on fixing that,” Spencer said. And “the secretary-nominee comes out of the union world; he understands these multiemployer [pension] plans and how important fixing them is.”

But on other issues, including the overtime rule and independent contractors, employers anticipate some disagreement: “Just look at the fights we had with the Obama administration,” Ed Egee, vice president of government relations and workforce development at National Retail Federation, said.

And certain legislative priorities like the Protecting the Right to Organize Act — which would rewrite decades-old labor laws to strengthen unions — that Walsh will be responsible for shepherding on the Hill are nonstarters.

“The PRO Act is so beyond the pale of reasonable legislation,” Egee said. “That is completely unworkable for any employer, large or small. And it would have an absolutely devastating impact on workers.”

“I mean, at some point, they have to decide whether they want a relationship with the business community, or do they want the PRO Act? They can’t, probably, have both.”

The first hump will undoubtedly be the issue of workplace safety, which Biden has vowed to address rapidly amid the pandemic. The president has signed an executive order directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to examine whether issuing an emergency temporary standard, which would create an enforceable set of guidelines for employers, is necessary — and if so, to issue one by March 15. Trade associations are jostling to make their voices heard as they look to ensure that any standard takes into concern the businesses it will affect.

Should the agency deem a standard necessary, there are various forms it could take that would be more amenable to employers. Illustrations of this can be found at the state level, where local governments have in some cases taken the matter of workplace safety into their own hands.

“The Virginia standard, the Michigan standard take [employers’] efforts into account,” Egee said. “They’re workable standards.”

But California has “a completely unworkable standard,” he said. “Even the best-intentioned employer could not possibly comply with the black-letter law of the California regulation.”

With California Labor Secretary Julie Su — who steered the agency while the state’s standard was implemented — being tapped by Biden as deputy U.S. Labor secretary, it’s not unlikely the agency will choose a similar path.

Some are expressing skepticism that Walsh will be able to appease business while still acting as Biden’s labor chief.

Former Labor Secretary “Tom Perez … said a lot of the same things and wanted to have everybody at the table and welcomed all views, and at the end of the day, we don’t think any of our concerns were reflected in their actions,” said Marc Freedman, vice president of employment policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “So we would hope that Secretary-to-be Walsh listens to our concerns, and maybe gives them a little bit more attention than what we saw in previous Departments of Labor that opened up with the same message.”

And those on the left are cautioning against even attempting to negotiate with companies, in a manifestation of the thin line Biden will have to walk as he attempts to appease business and unions.

“The United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers and the National Restaurant Association and other trade associations will cut him off at his knees if he attempts to do anything bold,” former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said. “In other words, my advice to him is: Don’t negotiate.”

“Washington is a different place than Boston or Massachusetts. You’ve got to be extremely tough.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on February 3, 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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Transforming the Labor Landscape: The Working People Weekly List

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Every week, we bring you a roundup of the top news and commentary about issues and events important to working families. Here’s the latest edition of the Working People Weekly List.

The PRO Act Could Transform the Labor Landscape: “Joe Biden promised to be the most pro-union president in modern history. He has a chance to prove it by passing the PRO Act, a sweeping labor law reform bill. As Joe Biden enters the White House with slim majorities in the House and Senate, organized labor is making a concerted push for a major piece of legislation: the PRO Act. The bill is a wide-ranging labor law reform that would help workers fight back after decades of retreat in the face of aggressive employers. The AFL-CIO recently declared the PRO Act one of its top priorities. The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) is leading the push for the PRO Act. The painters’ union organized its electoral work around the bill and has been holding public events on the legislation. Now, IUPAT is building up allies as it prepares to push the new presidential administration and Congress to pass the act.”

What Biden and Congress Can Do to Support Unions: “In the last Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the U.S. House of Representatives passed the most significant worker empowerment legislation since the Great Depression by creating a much fairer process for forming a union. It is called the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act. After an anti-worker majority blocked it in the Senate, reintroducing the PRO Act, passing it in both chambers of Congress and getting Biden’s signature is vital to our economic recovery. The PRO Act would protect and empower workers to exercise their freedom to organize and bargain. It would make sure that workers can reach a first contract quickly after a union is recognized, end employers’ practice of hiring permanent replacements to punish striking workers and finally hold corporations accountable by strengthening the National Labor Relations Board and allowing it to impose penalties on employers who retaliate against collective bargaining. It would also repeal so-called ‘right to work’ laws, which make it harder for working people to form unions and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.”

Activision Blizzard Says Interviewing Diverse Candidates for Every Opening ‘Unworkable’: “Activision Blizzard is looking to avoid a shareholder proposal that it interview at least one diverse candidate when it hires for a position, according to a Vice report. The proposal was made separately to both Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts by the AFL-CIO labor federation, which owns shares in both publishers. The proposal was based on the NFL’s Rooney Rule, adopted in 2003 to require all of the football league’s teams to interview at least one diverse candidate for every head coaching vacancy. It was later expanded to include vacancies for general managers and similar front office positions. In its letters to the publishers, the AFL-CIO argued for the adoption of the rule, saying, ‘A diverse workforce at all levels of a company can enhance long-term company performance.'”

Local Union Halls Opening Up to Provide Space for Vaccinations: “Community organizations with space are stepping up to make room so more people in Lucas County can be vaccinated. Press conferences, job fairs and union organizing have all brought WTOL 11 to UAW Local 12’s hall, but now they’re preparing to administer 300 vaccines to eligible people in Lucas County on Tuesday.”

Health Care Unions Find a Voice in the Pandemic: “Health care workers say they have been bitterly disappointed by their employers’ and government agencies’ response to the pandemic. Dire staff shortages, inadequate and persistent supplies of protective equipment, limited testing for the virus and pressure to work even if they might be sick have left many workers turning to the unions as their only ally. The virus has claimed the lives of more than 3,300 health care workers nationwide, according to one count. ‘We wouldn’t be alive today if we didn’t have the union,’ said Elizabeth Lalasz, a Chicago public hospital nurse and steward for National Nurses United. The country’s largest union of registered nurses, representing more than 170,000 nationwide, National Nurses was among the first to criticize hospitals’ lack of preparation and call for more protective equipment, like N95 masks. Despite the decades-long decline in the labor movement and the small numbers of unionized nurses, labor officials have seized on the pandemic fallout to organize new chapters and pursue contract talks for better conditions and benefits. National Nurses organized seven new bargaining units last year, compared to four in 2019.”

Biden Toughens Buy American Rules: “‘The Trump administration used the right words but never put in place policies to affect meaningful change,’ Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement. ‘This executive order will close loopholes that allow agencies to sidestep Buy American requirements… [and] is a good first step in revitalizing U.S. manufacturing.'”

The Unfinished Story of Women at Work: 9to5 Yesterday, Today the PRO Act: “If you’ve never had to make coffee for your boss, it’s thanks to women who organized in the 1970s. And while the electric typewriter is no more, how women of that era organized is relevant—to current battles like organizing Big Tech, building care infrastructure and winning labor reform by passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act—so women can form and join unions now without fear. A new documentary, ‘9to5: The Story of a Movement,’ captures the history of an organization started by a group of secretaries in the 1970s, and their sister union, SEIU District 925, and offers powerful insight for us today.”

Mask Fights and a ‘Mob Mentality’: What Flight Attendants Faced Over the Last Year: “Aviation safety officials have received dozens of confidential complaints in the past year from attendants trying to enforce mask safety rules. The reports, filed in the Aviation Safety Reporting System database, at times describe a chaotic, unhinged workplace where passengers regularly abuse airline employees. The tension is at a level flight attendants have not seen before, said Paul Hartshorn Jr., a veteran attendant and a spokesman for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union. ‘I think we’re pretty well trained on how to handle a disruptive passenger,’ said Mr. Hartshorn, 46. ‘What we’re not trained to do and what we shouldn’t be dealing with is large groups of passengers inciting a riot with another group of passengers.'”

Biden’s ‘Buy American’ Manufacturing Order Called ‘Good First Step’ by Labor: “‘This executive order will close loopholes that allow agencies to sidestep Buy American requirements and increase the thresholds for domestic content,’ said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a statement. ‘This order is a good first step in revitalizing U.S. manufacturing, which [President Donald] Trump’s policies failed to do over the past four years,’ Trumka said. The order will modify the rules for the Buy American program, reports the Associated Press, making it harder for contractors to qualify for a waiver and sell foreign-made goods to federal agencies. And it changes rules so that more of a manufactured product’s components must originate from U.S. factories.”

Amazon Union Drive Takes Hold in Unlikely Place: “The largest, most viable effort to unionize Amazon in many years began last summer not in a union stronghold like New York or Michigan, but at a Fairfield Inn outside of Birmingham, in the right-to-work state of Alabama. It was late in the summer and a group of employees from a nearby Amazon warehouse contacted an organizer in the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. They were fed up, they said, with the way the online retailer tracked their productivity, and wanted to discuss unionizing. ‘The pandemic changed the way many people feel about their employers,’ said Stuart Appelbaum, the retail union’s president. ‘Many workers see the benefit of having a collective voice.’ ‘I am telling them they are part of a movement that is world wide,” said Michael Foster, a Black organizer in Bessemer, who works in a poultry plant ‘I want them to know that we are important and we do matter.'”

NFL Players Endorse Amazon Warehouse Workers Unionization: “Amazon warehouse workers at the facility in Bessemer, Alabama will begin voting on what could become the first union in the technology giant’s history on February 8. The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), the union that represents more than 2,000 NFL players in the United States, has endorsed a union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, where workers are scheduled to begin voting in a historic union election on February 8. On Sunday, the NFLPA released a video on Twitter, where current and former NFL players, discussed the importance of union representation in improving their own wages, benefits, and working conditions, and how a union could do the same for Amazon employees.”

Labor Groups Push Biden Administration on Union-Friendly Priorities: “‘Robb’s removal is the first step toward giving workers a fair shot again, and we look forward to building on this victory by securing a worker-friendly NLRB and passing the PRO Act so all working people have the freedom to form a union,’ Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said in a statement Wednesday.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on January 29, 2020. 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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How Joe Biden Is Empowering America’s Workers

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Time and again over the past few years, as he fought to protect his coworkers at Bobcat’s North Dakota plant, William Wilkinson faced two obstacles.

One was the company. The other was a federal government that, instead of fulfilling its duty to safeguard workers, helped management exploit them.

Within hours of taking office on January 20, however, President Joe Biden began to level the playing field and harness the strength of working people to tackle the huge challenges confronting the country.

Biden understands that only with a healthy, empowered workforce can America end the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild the economy.

So in one of his first official acts, Biden fired Peter Robb, the union-busting corporate lawyer who wormed his way into the general counsel’s job at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and then used his power to turn the agency against the people it was created to protect.

Robb, who directed agency field offices and set policy, thwarted organizing drives and advocated stripping workers of long-standing union protections. He determined that employers had no obligation to bargain with unions seeking COVID-19 protections and even sided with employers who fired workers for voicing coronavirus safety concerns.

“Board charges used to scare the company. Now, they mean nothing,” said Wilkinson, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 560, who sensed Robb’s anti-worker animus rigging the scales in numerous cases that he filed on behalf of his members.

“No matter what, your case is dead before you get there,” Wilkinson said, recalling one dispute in which the NLRB refused to make Bobcat turn over financial data the union needed to assess a health insurance hike. “It’s Bizarro World. They have no interest in wrongdoing or whatever problem brought you there.”

Righting the NLRB will involve not only selecting a new, capable general counsel but, in a change from the former administration, installing board members committed to upholding labor law.

Biden’s housecleaning will ensure the agency returns to its mission of protecting labor rights, such as ensuring that the growing number of Americans who want to join unions—including employees of AmazonGoogle and transportation services—can do so without harassment or retaliation.

A properly functioning NLRB will reset the scales and once again bar corporations from changing working conditions in the middle of a contract.

It will roll back recent, unfair rulings making it easier for corporations to oust unions, discipline workers without recourse to their union representatives and misclassify employees as contractors with fewer labor rights. In classifying SuperShuttle drivers as contractors, for example, the board denied many exploited workers the chance to form a union and build better lives.

An overhauled NLRB will have to reassure workers that they’ll get a fair hearing when they bring contract violations and other offenses to the board.

“We just want to be equal,” Wilkinson said. “I’m not asking for special treatment.”

When the coronavirus struck, Wilkinson and many other workers across the country had to fight their employers to implement commonsense safety measures like social distancing and sanitizer stations.

Some refused, exposing their communities to needless risks and fueling the virus’s spread. All the while, the previous administration callously refused to ramp up workplace protections or hold corporations accountable.

But in an executive order declaring worker health and safety to be a “national priority,” Biden quickly unshackled the agencies charged with protecting Americans on the job.

The order requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—an agency that Wilkinson described as having “gone completely corporate” like the NLRB in recent years—to update COVID-19 safety guidelines for workplaces.

Biden also directed OSHA, whose leadership allowed investigations to lag and inspector positions to go vacant before the pandemic, to scrutinize its enforcement program and train resources on COVID-19 hotspots.

And under Biden’s order, both OSHA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration must quickly study the need for emergency, temporary infectious disease standards that would require employers to take certain steps to keep workers safe on the job.

The USW and other unions demanded these standards for nearly a year, realizing that many employers will act responsibly only when regulators hold their feet to the fire. Workers need these protections more than ever as America’s COVID-19 death toll eclipses 440,000, new variants of the virus begin hitting the nation and Biden accelerates the vaccine rollout that his predecessor botched.

To accomplish all of this vital work as quickly as possible, it’s essential to have battle-tested experts at the helm.

That’s why Biden tapped James S. Frederick, formerly the assistant director and principal investigator for the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment Department, to serve as one of the top leaders at OSHA.

During his 25 years on the front lines of occupational safety, Frederick doggedly pursued answers to workplace tragedies and advocated for some of the most important safety regulations that OSHA is responsible for enforcing today.

But it isn’t just technical knowledge that prepared Frederick for his new role. His empathy for injured workers and bereft families will give a fresh urgency to OSHA’s work.

“What a super win to get a Steelworker in there,” said Wilkinson, who praised the USW’s health and safety programs. “He’ll do a good job for working people. He’ll do it right.”

Working people took so many hits the past four years that Wilkinson felt the country’s foundation crumbling.

But with Biden in their corner, he believes workers will have the support they need to steer through the pandemic and build a stronger America.

“What he’s done so far is totally a morale changer,” Wilkinson said. “If Biden holds to his promises, I see the middle class growing, along with unions. That’s more jobs and higher wages for all working people.”

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).


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Biden signs executive orders aimed at combating hunger, protecting workers

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President Joe Biden signed two executive orders on Friday aimed at fighting hunger, protecting American workers and providing economic relief to families whose jobs and livelihoods have been destroyed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The measures ask agencies across the government to expand, extend and at times re-examine guidelines to find ways to provide further aid for Americans while working within existing authority, including by strengthening worker protections and increasing food benefits.

While they are not meant as a stand-in for the nearly $2 trillion economic relief package Biden proposed last week, the orders reflect the White House’s efforts to shore up the economy while lawmakers debate whether to enact a new, massive aid package — a process that could take months.


“These actions are concrete and will provide immediate support to hard-hit families,” Brian Deese, the head of the White House’s National Economic Council, told reporters on a call Thursday evening. But, he added, “They are not enough. And much, much more is needed.”

Through one executive order, Biden asks the Department of Agriculture to consider increasing food assistance benefits and money to help families with schoolchildren buy groceries. He also asks the Treasury Department to consider taking action to ensure that more Americans who are eligible to receive economic relief checks are able to get them.

And he is calling on the Labor Department to clarify guidelines that until now had forced American workers who refused an offer to return to work to lose their unemployment benefits, even if heading back to the workplace would have put them or their families at heightened risk.

“This is the United States of America, and they are waiting to feed their kids,” Biden said. “These are not the values of our nation. We cannot, will not let people go hungry.”

The second order is focused on protecting federal workers and contractors, in part by restoring collective bargaining power and worker protections by revoking measures that President Donald Trump had signed. It also eliminates Schedule F, a class of worker that Trump had established that stripped many federal civil service employees of job protections.

It asks agencies to take a look at which federal employees are earning less than $15 per hour and come up with recommendations to get them above that wage.

The orders are the latest in a blitz of executive actions that Biden has taken since he took office on Wednesday. The more than two dozen measures he has signed have been aimed in part at turning around the pandemic, tackling climate change and reversing some of Trump’s policies, including the so-called Muslim ban on travelers from certain countries.


Deese called on Congress to pass the American Rescue Plan that Biden laid out last week, which proposed $1.9 trillion in additional federal funding to tackle the pandemic, provide another round of direct payments to working families and extend unemployment benefits, among other priorities. But Republicans have panned that proposal, saying it is too expensive and comes too soon after the $900 billion aid package that Congress passed last month.

During the signing ceremony for the executive orders Friday, Biden pushed back on those concerns: “While the Covid-19 package that passed in December was the first step, as I said at the time, it’s just a down payment. We need more action, and we need to move fast.”

“We’re in a national emergency,” he added. “We’ve got to act like we’re in a national emergency.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on January 22, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Megan Cassella is a trade reporter for POLITICO Pro.

About the Author: Matthew Choi is a breaking news reporter.


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Biden has promised to be a champion for workers. Some early signs suggest he means to deliver

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President Joe Biden has long branded himself as a union guy, Joe from Scranton who represented the worker. The reality of his policies—especially as a senator from credit card company mecca Delaware—and his personnel decisions has been more mixed. But the early signs from his presidential administration have many labor advocates and progressive economists excited.

First off, Biden didn’t wait on a key union priority: getting rid of National Labor Relations Board general counsel Peter Robb. On Inauguration Day, Biden requested Robb’s resignation, and when Robb refused, Biden fired him. Robb had 10 months left in his term, but worker advocates felt—and Biden apparently agreed—that the extreme anti-worker agenda he was bringing to the role was such that 10 months was way too long.

Robb is a longtime union-busting lawyer who, as NLRB counsel, let McDonald’s off the hookfor any responsibility for labor conditions at franchisee-owned stores. “Since then, Robb has gone after so-called ‘neutrality’ agreements between unions and employers that make it easier for workers to organize,” Dave Jamieson reported. “And he has recently taken on Scabby the Rat, the labor-dispute protest icon beloved by unions and progressives. Robb apparently hates the rat and wants to ban its use as ‘unlawfully coercive.’” 

Robb had also sought to restructure the NLRB to remove power from civil servants and put them in the hands of political appointees like himself.

“There’s one measure that will signal that Biden is serious” about his claims to support unions, C.M. Lewis wrote at Strikewave the week before inauguration. “On day one, he needs to fire National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Peter Robb.” Well, Biden has signaled that he’s serious.

But that’s not the only labor-related move that drew excitement from progressives on the evening of Biden’s inauguration. The announcement of Janelle Jones as chief economist, Angela Hanks as counselor to the secretary, and Raj Nayak as senior advisor drew a lot of excitement on Wednesday night. Jones and Hanks have both been affiliated with the Groundwork Collaborative, which “is dedicated to unifying progressives and activists in communities across the country to refine and advance a progressive economic worldview.” Hanks has also spent time at the Center for American Progress, the National Skills Coalition, and as a staffer for the late Rep. Elijah Cummings. Jones has worked at the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and news of her hiring moved Rep. Ayanna Pressley to tweet “Personnel is policy. Janelle Jones = policy that meets the moment & the crises we face.” Nayak is an alumnus of the Obama Labor Department and has worked at the National Employment Law Project.

There was a LOT of excitement about these hires.

So the early signs on Biden and labor are looking decidedly better than expected. But that doesn’t mean the pressure can let up. American workers need the Biden administration to deliver big things. 

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on January 21, 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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