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Judge tosses Trump-era pork processing speed-up, this week in the war on workers

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Line speeds in meat processing plants are a classic example of something that’s simultaneously a worker safety issue and a consumer safety issue. And this week, both workers and consumers got a major victory when a federal judge threw out a Trump-era rule allowing pork processing plants to operate at higher speeds.

According to U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen, the U.S. Department of Agriculture “expressly identified worker safety as an important consideration and requested public comment on whether increasing line speeds would harm workers. Then, after receiving many comments raising worker safety concerns, FSIS rejected the comments and eliminated line speed limits without considering worker safety.” Faster line speeds lead to increased harm to workers, from repetitive motion injuries to knife injuries. And while the Trump rule allowing pork plants to increase line speeds as much as they wanted included a nod to cleanliness … realistically that’s going to suffer too, and the speed increase came as many government inspections were replaced by company-run inspections, with predictable results.

”An agency can’t put its hands over its ears and refuse to consider facts that cut against its policy preferences, as USDA did here in ignoring workers and public health advocates, and blindly following industry’s wishes,” said Public Citizen’s Adam Pulver, who represented workers from the United Food and Commercial Workers.

The Biden administration has already withdrawn a similar speed-up for poultry processing plants that hadn’t yet gone into effect.

A decade ago, the bill got little attention. But last year in September, it passed the House with bipartisan support, with every Democrat voting in favor and 103 Republican joining them. It has gained the support of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and 30 states across the country have already adopted their own versions — including Southern states like Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina. The pandemic and the election derailed a Senate vote last fall, but this year, advocates think the bill is finally poised to pass. It has 19 Republican cosponsors in the House.

Unions, after all, are simply made up of workers; bills that are good for the former tend to be good for the latter. Workers who face racial and gender discrimination on the job could benefit the most from the PRO Act’s provisions. In unions, said Celine McNicholas of the Economic Policy Institute, “workers of color are not experiencing the same sort of wage suppression that they are in other, non-unionized settings.” Union membership thus correlates to lower racial wealth gaps. “The PRO Act promotes greater racial economic justice because unions allow for collective bargaining, essentially shrinks Black-white wage gaps, and brings greater fairness in terms of hiring opportunities,” she added.

“In the at-will employment system, workers are treated as disposable,” said Sophia Zaman, executive director of Raise the Floor.

The act would require employers to provide a written reason for terminations and progressive discipline to allow workers to improve. It would ban actions designed to force workers to quit, such as reducing hours, and would prevent companies from using electronic monitoring as evidence in employee discipline.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on April 3, 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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The Two Things Unions Traded Away That Handed Workers to Trump

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This is a response to the cover story of In These Times’ January issue, ?“Are Trump Voters a Lost Cause?

Thank you for printing ?“Are Trump Voters a Lost Cause?” and thanks to Mindy Isser for writing it. I offer a different perspective. It is intended to continue a discussion, not to end one. 

Youngstown, Ohio used to be one of the major steelmaking communities in the United States. When Alice and I moved to the area in 1976, many here remembered the bloody confrontations of the 1937 Little Steel Strike. Yet in 2016 Clinton narrowly carried Mahoning County (where Youngstown is located) and in the 2020 presidential election, for the first time in decades, it went red.

Why have so many unionized workers supported Trump? An answer to this question requires looking all the way back to the early steel contracts made standard by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Two concessions made then render today’s unions powerless to stop factory closures.

The first is the no-strike clause. Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act states that (private-sector) workers have a protected right to engage in concerted activity for mutual aid and protection. It is union contracts, negotiated by unions and employers, that forbid strikes and other direct action during the life of the contract. This language, which goes to back to the standard contracts of CIO unions, deprives workers of what Isser calls their ?“power on the job.” As the late Marty Glaberman used to say, the union then becomes a cop for the boss, standing at the factory door and telling wildcat strikers to go back to work.

The second is the management prerogative clause. The first contract between the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (a branch of the CIO) and U.S. Steel in early 1937 gave the company the exclusive authority to determine where, when and how production should occur. In 1980?—?as lead lawyer for a coalition of six local unions, a number of religious bodies, the Republican congressman, and several dozen individual steelworkers, I tried to use the law to stop U.S. Steel’s abandonment of its Youngstown facilities, I introduced as an exhibit a glossy booklet produced by U.S. Steel’s own manager for the Youngstown area. The booklet advocated tearing down the open-hearth furnaces being used to make steel in Youngstown and building electric furnaces up river. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals characterized our lawsuit sympathetically as a ?“cry for help from the Mahoning Valley” but could find no legal authority to support our plea. Ironically, just when racial minorities and women were entering the skilled trades in steel, mills were closed. 

Education by organizers, while it may result in greater awareness, is not a solution to the problem of factory flight. There was and is an alternative. It might be termed ?“collective direct action at the local level.”

John Sargent, first president of the 18,000-member SWOC local at Inland Steel in East Chicago, Ind., believed that the Little Steel strike of 1937, which most labor historians consider a crushing defeat, was a ?“victory of great proportions.” The union did not win a contract at Inland Steel. What workers won was an agreement through the Indiana governor’s office that the company would recognize and bargain with ?“the Steelworkers Union, and the company union and any other organization that wanted to represent the people in the steel industry.” As John said in 1980, looking back,

Without a contract, without any agreement with the company, without any regulations concerning hours of work, conditions of work, or wages, a tremendous surge took place. We talk of a rank-and-file movement: ?“the beginning of union organization was the best kind of rank-and-file movement you could think of. John L. Lewis sent in a few organizers, but there were no organizers at Inland Steel. … The union organizers were essentially workers in the mill who were so disgusted with their conditions and so ready for a change that they took the union into their own hands. 

John continued,

We secured for ourselves agreements on working conditions and wages that we do not have today [1980]. For example, as a result of the enthusiasm of the people in the mill you had a series of strikes, wildcats, shut-downs, slow-downs, anything working people could think of to secure for themselves what they decided they had to have. If their wages were low there was no contract to prohibit them from striking, and they struck for better wages. If their conditions were bad, if they didn’t like what was going on, if they were being abused, the people in the mill themselves?—?without a contract or any agreement with the company involved?—?would shut down a department or even a group of departments to secure for themselves the things they found necessary. 

Only at Inland Steel, where the strike did not achieve its objective of a signed contract, did the workers return to a reopened steel mill ?“amid cries of victory from thousands of jubilant workers.” 

The one thing that is crystal clear is that the ?“organizer” who seeks to nurture a movement capable of challenging company investment plans, must be prepared to stay in one place for a long time. As former Local 1462 President Ed Mann said, 

You got to put down roots if you want to change anything. You can’t be like a damn butterfly, flitting around all over. … Who knows what is going to make the workers say, ?“This is enough!” But the point is, somebody has to be there when they say, ?“This is enough!”

So why Trump? A final thought. The task of trade unions is to defend the wages and working conditions of their members, and, if possible, to improve them. People on the Left may wish that trade unions also advocated socialism. But that is not why trade unions were created. Another Local 1462union activist, John Barbero, insisted, ?“Youngstown sure died hard.” But our improvised resistance was unsuccessful, as was similar resistance to U.S. Steel at its Homestead Works, near Pittsburgh.

The form of organization better suited to advocate and work toward social change in the larger society is not a union in a particular kind of work or a coalition of national unions, but a coalition of local labor bodies, which is what Russians originally meant by the word ?“soviet.”

“The Russian Revolution,” Rosa Luxemburg wrote, was ?“the first historical experiment on the model of the class strike.” She stresses the spontaneity of the horizontal spread of the 1905 general strike and the way in which the issue bringing people together to take common action might be one thing, such as the length of the workday, in one place, and something quite different, such as the rate of pay, in another. She also emphasizes the importance of direct action in these mini-revolts, so that workers concerned to shorten their hours of work might simply walk off the job together when they had worked the number of hours they were demanding. (The IWW timber workers in the Northwest did precisely the same thing at approximately the same time.) Thus Luxemburg differed from those who, ?“in the manner of a board of directors,” attempted to schedule a general strike for a specific day on the calendar.

In 1982, when workers were on strike at Trumbull Memorial Hospital in nearby Warren, Ohio, we participated in a huge march supported by many local unionists in the Mahoning Valley, including a large number of United Autoworkers members from GM Lordstown. As we marched, we chanted: ?“Warren is a union town. We won’t let you tear it down.” The promise implicit in this action can only come to fruition when no-strike and management-prerogative language is removed from union contracts.

Until unions in the United States take these clauses out of their contracts, their hands are tied. Workers may feel they have no other option than to believe the untruthful and self-interested leadership of a Donald Trump.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on January 25, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Staughton Lynd is a lawyer, writer, historian and social justice activist who lives in Youngstown, Ohio.


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Trump Is Using the Pandemic to Wage War on Immigrants and Separate Families

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When President Donald Trump first began talking about ending “chain migration” in 2017, media outlets pointed out that his own parents-in-law had likely obtained lawful permanent residency through their daughter Melania—a naturalized U.S. citizen. At the same time that Trump was ranting on Twitter, “CHAIN MIGRATION must end now! Some people come in, and they bring their whole family with them, who can be truly evil. NOT ACCEPTABLE!” his wife’s parents were in the process of becoming U.S. citizens after five years as so-called “green card” holders.

When the coronavirus pandemic was declared, Trump saw his chance to attack immigration policies that reunite families, and in April 2020 he announced a 60-day ban on green cards that impacted people like his parents-in-law were when they lived in their home country of Slovenia. At the time he announced the ban, I was in the process of applying for my own elderly parents to obtain lawful permanent residency in the United States, just as Melania Trump must have done only a few years ago.

Under existing immigration law, U.S. citizens have been able to sponsor their spouses, children, siblings, and parents, to obtain green cards, or permanent residency. Since his presidency began, Trump has wanted to limit that sponsorship to only spouses and children under 21. To that end, he backed the RAISE Act, which would effectively have done through legislation what his unilateral ban accomplished through executive order under cover of the COVID-19 crisis.

When the 60-day ban was up in June 2020, Trump extended it to the end of the year and added a number of other visas to the list, including H-1B visas for foreign workers, to match the outlines of the failed RAISE Act. The White House claims that the ban will keep 525,000 foreign workers out of the country and make those jobs available to U.S. workers at a time of mass unemployment. One immigrant advocacy group pointed out that Trump’s ban is designed to favor immigrants from Western Europe.

The ban is the brainchild of Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who entered the White House with Trump and is considered to be the “driving force” behind Trump’s racist anti-immigrant agenda. Miller began his job with a wish list of the types of immigration and immigrants he wanted to ban, both undocumented and legal. He is considered the “architect” of the Trump administration’s most cruel policy—separating parents from their young children after they crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Since 2017, he has been the brains behind Trump’s “Muslim ban,” the restrictions of refugee quotas, the cancelation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and more. Today, under cover of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump has been busy deporting young immigrant children in violation of the United States’s own anti-trafficking laws.

Miller’s uncle David Glosser wrote about the hypocrisy of his nephew’s agenda, saying that had the United States adopted Miller’s anti-immigrant wish list when his ancestors were escaping the Nazis, the family would have perished. America’s immigration policies have long served white elites like the first lady, but the rest of us have often been deprived of accessing those same policies.

For all of Trump’s talk about prioritizing American workers, he has already carved out exceptions for “any alien seeking to enter the United States to provide temporary labor or services essential to the United States food supply chain.” In other words, there are some jobs that Americans are too good for and that only low-wage immigrant labor will do. The Washington Post pointed out, “So far this year, the Trump administration is approving H-2A visas at a rate 15 percent faster than last year, and it took steps to make it easier for farmers to hire temporary farmworkers even after the pandemic began.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has decried Trump’s new ban, saying, “Putting up a ‘not welcome’ sign for engineers, executives, IT experts, doctors, nurses and other workers won’t help our country, it will hold us back.” Indeed, at a time when health care workers especially are in short supply, and more than 15 percent of all doctors and nurses nationwide are immigrants, it is unclear how a ban on H-1B visas that limit such workers into the country until December will help Americans. Jobless Americans are hardly going to rush to medical and nursing schools, incur huge debts, fast-track their degrees at an unheard-of rate, and emerge as fully-fledged professionals in time to handle the expected surge of new COVID-19 cases.

It is also unclear how preventing U.S. citizens like me from bringing my retired elderly parents will help American workers. My parents plan to bring their entire life savings with them to spend on private health insurance and other basic needs until the end of their lives, thereby creating jobs and stimulating the U.S. economy. More importantly, they will be able to spend the golden years of their lives with their daughter and family, instead of alone and isolated. But to Trump, my parents do not deserve the same treatment as his in-laws did.

As the immigrant advocacy group Value Our Families declared recently, “Immigration is not just about the economy. Our system is designed to unify family members and is a legal right for many Americans.” Trump has trampled over that right and the rights of so many people over and over since he took office. His trampling of rights is precisely why millions of Americans—comprising a minority, albeit a significant one—voted for him in 2016 and plan to vote for him a second time. Trump did not come into office in spite of demonizing immigrants—he was elected because he repeatedly dehumanized non-Americans, particularly brown-skinned ones. He brought with him Steven Bannon, a man who said he was a fan of The Camp of the Saints, a horrendously racist tome written by the late French author Jean Raspail, that depicted ugly caricatures of Indian immigrant hordes destroying the European way of life.

Trump’s presidency is a clear symbol of the last gasp of white supremacy angrily asserting its power over a country that, in spite of centuries of institutional policies designed to privilege whites, is becoming browner every year. As someone who spent the last 30 years of my life navigating the intricacies and obstacles of the U.S. legal immigration system, I am one of the relatively privileged ones, especially when compared to the traumatized undocumented children who have been separated from their desperate parents, or the refugees fleeing violence whose legal right to seek asylum has been decimated. And yet today, even I remain separated from my parents.

Trump’s unilateral ban on green cards and immigrant work visas upends congressional legislative oversight. California Representative Judy Chu (who happens to be my representative) last year introduced the Reuniting Families Act to streamline legal immigration pathways and make them more humane. So far the bill has 78 sponsors.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court, which far too often tilts rightward, slapped back against the president’s egregious attacks on DACA registrants. In a 5-4 decision on June 18, justices voted to keep the Obama-era program intact, offering some measure of relief to the 650,000 young immigrants who have been able to defer deportation and legally work in the United States. Justice Sonia Sotomayor correctly pointed out that Trump’s decision to cancel DACA was marked by “impermissible discriminatory animus.”

Trump has expressed such “discriminatory animus” to non-white Americans since the beginning of his candidacy and presidential tenure. Through his anti-immigrant policies, he is keeping families like mine separated. He has made no secret that his goal is to preserve white domination in America, and it is for that reason he has enjoyed the fervent, irrational, cult-like following of millions of Americans terrified at the prospect of equality with non-whites.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

About the Author: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.


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Woman Who ‘Flipped Off’ President Loses Termination Lawsuit

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The woman who was infamously fired after giving the middle finger to President Trump has lost her wrongful termination case. A Virginia judge tossed Juli Briskman’s lawsuit, finding no First Amendment protection for private sector employees.

The ruling was not unexpected. In general, private employees are not shielded from repercussions for their words or actions, even if the conduct occurs off-duty and away from the workplace. First Amendment advocates worry about reprisal against employees who do not share their employers’ political beliefs or who openly oppose the administration in power.

Are employees ever on their own time?

Juli Briskman was riding her bike last October when the president’s motorcade drove by. She “flipped the bird” to express her personal feelings, a gesture captured by a White House pool photographer. The photo went viral but did not identify Briskman, who outed herself by re-posting the photo to Facebook and Twitter.

Soon after, she was fired by her employer, Akima LLC, ostensibly for violating the company’s social media policy. But Briskman claimed she was told by management they had to let her go because her anti-Trump gesture might anger the White House and cost them lucrative government contracts. She sued for wrongful termination, arguing that private speech – she was off-duty and away from work — is protected under state and federal free speech exclusions.

Judge Penney Azcarate dismissed the lawsuit, saying that those First Amendment exclusions do not apply in the private sector, where employment is at-will. She added that she would have ruled the same had Briskman given the finger to President Obama.

Azcarate let stand one part of the suit. Briskman said she was promised four weeks’ severance but was only paid two weeks’ worth. She was granted a month to amend her lawsuit accordingly.

Freedom of expression vs. business interests

Briskman’s lawyer alluded to broader ramifications. “Juli Briskman’s case is about democracy and the grave threat facing all Americans if keeping our jobs relies on our unconditional silence and support of the government in power.”

The defense lawyer said the underlying issue is much more simple. “The company found out about a rude and profane act and Akima decided it wasn’t interested in continuing with that particular person.”

Employees’ free speech has limits … and consequences

In the last few years, countless people have faced public backlash and been fired or suspended from their jobs (public and private sector) for speaking their mind on social media:

  • In West Virginia in 2016, the director of a nonprofit was fired for racist comments on Facebook about Michelle Obama. She compared the then-First Lady to an ape. The mayor of the town, who replied that the offensive comment had “made my day,” also resigned as a result of the furor.
  • Earlier that year, a mortgage company employee tweeted a similar offensive remark about the First Lady. Twitter users complained to her employer, who summarily fired her.
  • A CBS executive was fired in 2017 for saying on Facebook that she had no sympathy for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting massacre because they were country music fans and thus presumably Republicans.
  • In the wake of the Charlottesville alt-right rally, at least four people lost their jobs after they were outed on social media for embracing Nazi ideology.
  • Comedian Roseanne Barr had her hit TV show cancelled by ABC after a series of Twitter rants. The final straw was a tweet that seemed to disparage both African-Americans and Muslims.
  • A New York Times writer was fired for a tweet equating President Trump’s inauguration day with the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center.
  • A California prosecutor has been suspended (with pay) after a profanity-laced social media tirade against Rep. Maxine Waters, Michelle Obama and Mexican immigrants.

The common thread is that all of these people were on their own time, on their private social media accounts, in a non-work capacity. The First Amendment guarantees against government censorship of free speech, but does not necessarily exempt free speech from employment consequences. In an at-will employment state (like Virginia), employees can be terminated for violating explicit social media policies or other written codes of conduct, for conduct that reflects poorly on the employer, or for no reason at all.

The question raised by Briskman and her proponents is how far employers can go in policing the private speech of their workers, and whether political views are grounds for dismissal if the employee’s beliefs do not align with the boss’s beliefs. In other words, do employees effectively forfeit their First Amendment rights by accepting a job?

This blog was originally published by Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law on July 10, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.


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Trump took credit for airline safety in 2017. What about the surge in coal miner deaths?

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President Donald Trump is taking credit for what a new study is calling the safest year on record for commercial aviation. The president, however, is refusing to take responsibility for what his mine safety agency is saying was a year where almost twice as many coal mine workers died on the job than the final year of the Obama administration.

On Tuesday morning, Trump tweeted: “Since taking office, I have been very strict on Commercial Aviation. Good news — it was just reported that there were zero deaths in 2017, the best and safest year on record!”

Over the past 20 years, the average number of airliner accidents has shown a steady and persistent decline, thanks to “safety-driven efforts” by international aviation organizations and the aviation industry, according to the Aviation Safety Network, an independent research group. Nowhere in the analysis did the researchers mention efforts by the Trump administration as a reason for the airline safety improvement.

In the coal mining sector, data from the Trump administration’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the federal government’s mine safety agency, show coal mining deaths nearly doubled in 2017. But unlike the aviation statistics, Trump isn’t taking any personal responsibility for the coal mining deaths. What’s more, he tapped a former coal executive with a record of safety violations to head MSHA.

The death of a coal miner in Fayette County, West Virginia, on December 29 brought the total number of U.S. coal mining fatalities in 2017 to 15, according to MSHA’s website. Eight of the 15 coal mining deaths last year occurred in West Virginia. The remaining deaths occurred in Kentucky, Montana, Wyoming, Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. In the previous year, under President Barack Obama, the coal industry saw its lowest number of coal mining fatalities to date, with eight deaths recorded across the country.

A number of factors could have led to the rise in coal mining deaths. The nation saw an uptick in coal production last year. Estimated coal production for the first 11 months of 2017 totaled 719 million short tons, 54 million short tons, or 8 percent, more than production for the same period in 2016. For 2018, though, the U.S. Energy Information Administration is forecasting a drop in production due to a decrease in exports and slower domestic demand.

Employment in the coal mining sector reached about 51,700 in September, about 3,000 more than the year before. But since then, the sector’s job numbers have declined slightly each month.

Under the Trump administration and a Republican-controlled Congress, mining companies could be taking more risks under the assumption that enforcement will be more lax. The House of Representatives wants to cut MSHA’s coal enforcement budget by $11 million, or almost 7 percent, after cutting the division’s budget by $7.9 million in FY 2017.

During his presidential campaign, Trump reached out to coal miners, telling them that he would bring jobs back to their communities, despite widespread consensus that coal will continue to decline in the long run. In return, the miners have put a lot of faith in Trump to fulfill his promise.

As part of his focus on coal, Trump selected David Zatezalo, a former coal mining executive who has faced criticism over his company’s safety record, to serve as the head of MSHA. Zatezalo, who was confirmed by the Senate in November, retired in late 2014 as chairman of coal producer Rhino Resources after serving in various top posts at the company.

Zatezalo was head of Rhino Resources when the company was issued two “pattern of violations” letters from MSHA over safety and health issues at its mines in West Virginia and Kentucky. At the time, the Obama administration was seeking to improve enforcement of mine safety following the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster.

Last month, the Trump administration also announced plans to examine whether it should weaken rules aimed at fighting black lung among coal miners, a move the administration says could create a “less burdensome” regulatory environment for coal companies.

Most coal miners understand the increased dangers they face when the government steps back from safety enforcement. But the miners also see limited employment alternatives, unless they choose to uproot their families and relocate.

“We have all witnessed friends and family fight in vain for compensation after suffering from permanent injuries and black lung,” Nick Mullins, an author and former coal miner, wrote in an op-ed for HuffPost last month. “Few people seem to realize the lack of choices miners face. They do not realize that many miners would jump at the chance to earn a decent living without risking their life and sacrificing their health.”

This article was originally published on January 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Mark Hand is a climate and environment reporter at ThinkProgress. Send him tips at mhand@americanprogress.org


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Comey’s Testimony Underscores Need for Strong Whistleblower Protections

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For me, the most telling moment of former FBI Director Jim Comey’s June 8th testimony occurred early in the hearing, when Mr. Comey choked up as he recalled the White House’s publicly stating that the President had fired him because the “FBI was in disarray.”

This emotional display seemed out of character for Mr. Comey. While U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he successfully prosecuted organized crime. As Deputy Attorney General during the George W. Bush Administration, Mr. Comey refused to sign an extension of the warrantless domestic spying program and defied the White House Counsel and Chief of Staff. Mr. Comey can fairly be described as a “tough guy.” So how did he go from leading the most powerful law-enforcement agency worldwide to being labeled a “leaking liar”?

To an experienced whistleblower advocate, Mr. Comey’s predicament is not surprising. Mr. Comey’s experience, unfortunately, is like those of many whistleblowers I have represented over more than a decade. President Trump promised to bring a business approach to government–and his retaliation against Mr. Comey is straight out of the corporate defense playbook. Corporations typically take the following steps of escalating retaliation to silence whistleblowers:

Intimidate and Silence the Whistleblower

In his June 8th testimony, Mr. Comey described in detail how the President had asked him to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn and had conditioned Mr. Comey’s job on “loyalty” to him. Senator Rubio expressed skepticism about Mr. Comey’s feeling intimidated by the President and blamed Mr. Comey for not pushing back. But that type of Monday-morning quarterbacking ignored the power dynamics of the conversation. Mr. Comey wanted to keep his job and was understandably reluctant to accuse the President of obstructing an investigation.

Whistleblowers often confront this intimidation tactic in the workplace. A supervisor or senior company official tells the whistleblower to “let it go,” “mind your own business,” or learn to be a “team player.” And in some cases, the whistleblower is told to shut up if he or she wants to remain employed. Threats of retaliation, whether express or implicit, are powerful tools to silence a whistleblower. When a company officer or senior manager orders a subordinate to do something unlawful or to cover up unlawful conduct, holding firm to one’s ethical values is not an easy avenue to follow. As Mr. Comey learned, refusing to carry out an unlawful order may be career suicide, at least in the short term.

Retaliate Swiftly and Severely Against the Whistleblower

Initially, the bizarre method of firing Mr. Comey seemed surprising for a President who perfected the art of firing on his reality show, The Apprentice. Mr. Comey was not given an opportunity to resign; he was not even notified that he had been fired. But now that we know about the President’s real motive for firing Mr. Comey, it’s clear that his tack was deliberate.

Mr. Comey learned of his firing while addressing FBI agents at a Los Angeles field office when the announcement flashed across a television screen. The White House had announced Mr. Comey’s firing without notifying Mr. Comey himself. President Trump sent a loud and clear message to Mr. Comey and to every senior government official about the consequence of disloyalty.

In the corporate workplace, whistleblower-employees are similarly humiliated as a warning to their colleagues. A whistleblower may be escorted out of the office with security guards while other employees are present, pulled out of a meeting and fired on the spot in front of colleagues, or simply fired via text message. When a corporation fires a whistleblower in this humiliating fashion, it ensures that all other employees know the consequence of whistleblowing.

Badmouth the Whistleblower and Their Work History

Firing Mr. Comey in a humiliating and offensive manner served only as phase one. President Trump then defamed Mr. Comey and asserted that he fired him because of chaos within the FBI, as well as the alleged loss of confidence in Mr. Comey among FBI agents.

These statements stand in stark contrast to the President’s repeated, public praise of Mr. Comey before Mr. Comey refused to comply with the President’s “hope” that Mr. Comey drop the investigation of Flynn. Indeed, if President Trump believed that Mr. Comey’s leadership caused chaos within the FBI, then why did the President invite Mr. Comey to continue to serve as FBI Director?

This patent distortion of Mr. Comey’s performance record is an all-too-common experience of whistleblowers. Prior to blowing the whistle, they receive strong performance evaluations and bonuses; they are valued members of the team. But once they blow the whistle and refuse to drop their concerns, they are suddenly deemed incompetent and unqualified for their position. And when a company realizes that it lacks any existing basis to fire the whistleblower, it creates one by subjecting the whistleblower to heightened scrutiny and setting the whistleblower up to fail. For example, a company might place the whistleblower on a performance-improvement plan that contains impossible objectives, and then fire the whistleblower for not meeting those unattainable goals.

This tactic may backfire and enable a whistleblower to ultimately prevail at trial, but the damage to the whistleblower’s reputation is permanent. Prospective employers are reluctant to hire someone who previously fired for poor performance and are especially reluctant to hire a whistleblower. Many whistleblowers never find comparable employment and must accept lower-level positions, earning a fraction of what they did before their wrongful termination.

Attack the Whistleblower’s Credibility

Apparently, President Trump has no evidence to rebut Mr. Comey’s vivid account of the President’s alleged attempts to obstruct justice. So President Trump called him a “liar.”

Desperate to defend themselves at all costs, corporations frequently employ this tactic–labeling the whistleblower a disgruntled former employee who will say anything to win his or her case. So far, this is not working well for President Trump, whose accusation merely serves to shine a spotlight on his own questionable credibility.

Attacking a whistleblower’s credibility is an effective and pernicious tactic in many whistleblower cases. Once expelled from a company, a whistleblower is marginalized and alienated from former coworkers. The key witnesses continue to work at the company and, fearing retaliation, are reluctant to corroborate the whistleblower’s testimony. Though whistleblowers may still prevail (for example, by using documentary evidence), the attack on a whistleblower’s credibility is odious because the company fired the whistleblower precisely for having integrity.

Create a Post-Hoc Justification for Firing the Whistleblower

Prior to firing Mr. Comey, President Trump papered the file with a post-hoc justification for the firing. After the President decided to fire Mr. Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was tasked with drafting a memorandum to the Attorney General outlining concerns about Mr. Comey’s performance. Most of those concerns focus on Mr. Comey’s statements about the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Surely President Trump knew of those public statements when he repeatedly asked Mr. Comey to remain as FBI Director (as long as he could pledge “loyalty” and drop the Flynn investigation).

In this case, the White House’s initial reliance on the Rosenstein memo as the basis for the decision to fire Mr. Comey backfired because President Trump told NBC anchor Lester Holt that he had decided to fire Mr. Comey regardless of the memo. In many whistleblower-retaliation cases, however, these types of pretextual memos may be persuasive. Some judges even rely on such memos, which mask the real reason for a firing or other adverse action, to grant the company summary judgment and deny the whistleblower a jury trial.

On the other hand, creating a post-hoc justification for a retaliatory adverse action sometimes misfires by providing strong evidence of pretext and spurring a jury to award punitive damages. For instance, a former in-house counsel at Bio-Rad Laboratories recently secured more than $11 million in damages at trial in a Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower-retaliation case. The jury awarded $5 million in punitive damages because Bio-Rad had backdated a negative performance evaluation of the whistleblower that the company drafted after it fired him.

Focus on the Whistleblower’s Alleged Misconduct

To distract attention from what may be obstruction of justice, President Trump and his attorney have focused on Mr. Comey’s leak to the press and have alleged that the leak was unlawful. This accusation seems frivolous because Mr. Comey did not leak classified information, grand jury material, or other sensitive information. Instead, he revealed that President Trump had conditioned his continued service as FBI Director on his agreeing to drop the investigation of Flynn. As a private citizen, Mr. Comey has a constitutional right to blow the whistle to the media about this matter of public concern. Mr. Comey did not reveal to the media information from FBI investigative files or classified information. Yet President Trump and his allies compare Mr. Comey to leakers who illegally disclosed classified information. This is an appalling accusation against the former head of a law-enforcement agency.

But this is another standard corporate defense tactic in whistleblower cases. To divert attention from the wrongdoing that the whistleblower exposed, the company uses its substantial resources to dig up dirt on the whistleblower. The company or its outside counsel examines the whistleblower’s timesheets and expense reports with a fine-tooth comb to find any discrepancy, reviews every email to find some inappropriate communication, and places all of the whistleblower’s work under a microscope to find any shortcoming.

Sue the Whistleblower and Initiate a Retaliatory Investigation

Firing Comey, concocting a pretextual basis for the firing, and branding him a leaking liar apparently was not sufficient retaliation.  So shortly after his testimony, President Trump’s personal attorney announced his intention to sue Mr. Comey and/or file a complaint with the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (OIG).  I am skeptical that a civil action against Mr. Comey or an OIG complaint poses any real legal threat to Mr. Comey.  To the contrary, such a complaint would likely pose a greater risk for President Trump, including potential counterclaims and the risk of being deposed or questioned under oath by the OIG.

The misuse of legal process against corporate whistleblowers, however, is an especially powerful form of retaliation in that it can dissuade a whistleblower from pursuing their claims.  When I defend against this form of abuse of process, I am always struck at the seemingly endless resources that the company will spend to prosecute claims lacking any merit or value.  Fortunately, these claims can go awry by spawning additional retaliation claims under the whistleblower protection laws.  And a jury can punish the employer for subjecting the whistleblower to abuse of process.

Why Whistleblowers Deserve Strong Legal Protection

In light of Mr. Comey’s distinguished record, he will likely bounce back and rebuild his career. But most corporate whistleblowers never fully recover. Too often they find their careers and reputations destroyed. Even when whistleblowers obtain monetary relief at trial, they are usually blacklisted from comparable positions, especially if they work in a small industry.

Mr. Comey’s experience as a whistleblower is a stark reminder of what can happen to any employee who is pressured by a powerful superior to engage in unlawful conduct or to cover up wrongdoing. When intimidation tactics succeed, the public suffers. The company could be covering up threats to public health or safety, environmental contamination, financial fraud, defective products, or any other conceivable harmful wrongdoing.

Courageous whistleblowers who put their jobs on the line deserve strong protection. As Congress embarks on a mission to gut “job killing” agencies, let us hope it will spare the very limited resources that are spent enforcing whistleblower-protection laws. Without such a large backlog of whistleblower cases, OSHA could have, for example, addressed the complaints of Wells Fargo whistleblowers years ago, potentially curbing or halting the bank’s defrauding of its customers. And Congress should consider filling the gaps in existing whistleblower laws. If Mr. Comey “lacked the presence of mind” to explicitly reject the President’s improper demand for him to drop the Flynn investigation, then surely most employees would also be reluctant to refuse an order to commit an unethical or unlawful act.

After Mr. Comey’s testimony, Speaker Ryan pointed out that “[t]he President’s new at this. He’s new to government.” Mr. Comey’s testimony should be a lesson for the President about how to treat whistleblowers. To make America great again, the President should abandon the Rambo litigation tactics that apparently served him well in New York real-estate disputes, and instead view whistleblowers as allies, not as enemies. As Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project and I argue in an article in the Emory Corporate Governance and Accountability ReviewDraining the Swamp Requires Robust Whistleblower Protections and Incentives.

This article originally appeared at the Whistleblower Protection Law Blog on June 13, 2017, it is reprinted here with permission.

Jason Zuckerman represents whistleblowers nationwide in whistleblower rewards and whistleblower retaliation claims.  Recently Matt Stock and Zuckerman issued an ebook titled SEC Whistleblower Program: Tips from SEC Whistleblower Attorneys to Maximize an SEC Whistleblower Award.


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Under Trump, coal communities are stuck between a rock and a hard place

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Blair Zimmerman, Pennsylvania’s Greene County Commissioner, knows coal. As a mine worker for 40 years and then a politician in southwestern Pennsylvania, he knows how important coal is to both the identity and economic stability of his community. He’s even called the White House a few times since President Donald Trump took office, asking the president—who ran on a platform of supporting coal miners that he argued had been forgotten by Washington—to renew health insurance for thousands of retired coal miners.

But he doesn’t think that anything Trump does will bring coal jobs back to levels seen in the industry’s heyday.

“The coal industry is going to be around for years, but to bring it back—that’s not going to happen. [Utilities] are not going to invest in fossil-fueled power plants,” Zimmerman said. When he talked about the promises Trump made to places like Greene County, a community of just over 36,000 situated on the state’s southwest border, Zimmerman laughed, raising his voice a little.

“He doesn’t have a plan. That was all political B.S.,” Zimmerman said. “He said it just to get elected.”

And it worked, because of places like Greene County—in November, Trump overwhelmingly carried the county’s vote, beating Hillary Clinton by 40 points.

One hundred days into his presidency, however, Trump’s actions to help coal communities have been limited to cutting environmental regulations that experts say will do little to help bring mining jobs back.

Meanwhile, Trump’s skinny budget, released in March, would cut funding to seven of the 12 federal programs aimed at revitalizing struggling coal communities. Since 2015, these programs have functioned together under the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization, or POWER, Initiative. These Obama-era programs include things like workforce training, to help unemployed coal miners obtain necessary skills for finding new jobs, and economic development, to help new businesses move into these communities. According to a new Center for American Progress analysis, Trump’s proposed budget would cut at least $1.13 billion from these programs. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at the Center for American Progress.

“A lot of the attacks in this budget make it clear that the Trump administration is not really concerned with helping coal miners.”

“Having the administration fund programs that direct money into economic development in the coalfields is really the only way to truly help people right now that are living and working in these communities,” Veronica Coptis, a lifelong Greene County resident and executive director of Coalfield Justice, told ThinkProgress. “A lot of the attacks in this budget make it clear that the Trump administration is not really concerned with helping coal miners, but more concerned with ensuring that coal companies continue to have more control.”

In Greene County, where the unemployment rate is currently 6.7 percent(about two percent higher than the national average), POWER Initiative funds have been hugely useful for the Southwest Corner Workforce Development Board, a body that oversees programs aimed at helping job seekers find employment and learn skills in southwest Pennsylvania.

Ami Gatts, who has worked for the Southwest Corner Workforce Development Board for 25 years, rising to the position of director two and a half years ago, said that the board has received over $1.5 million in POWER Initiative funds, which has paid for things like supportive services to help unemployed workers get computers or transportation for school, or training seminars aimed at helping out-of-work miners obtain new skills. Through POWER Initiative funding, for instance, the Southwest Corner Workforce Development Board can reimburse companies up to $8,000 taking a chance on an untrained worker. The employee gets a full salary, while the company is taking less of a financial risk on its new hire.

“When you cut those funds, we don’t have the money to train people to make a skilled workforce,” Gatts said. “It’s going to affect our employers, and it’s going to affect the people who need those skills. It’s very detrimental.”

Beyond cutting programs, however, Gatts said that Trump’s rhetoric about coal jobs coming back has a paralyzing impact on coal communities, where many workers would rather go back to familiar jobs than embark than learn a new trade or skills. Many unemployed coal workers have been hesitant to take advantage of the workforce training services provided to the community?—?because they are convinced that the coal industry, with Trump’s help, will rebound to its former glory.

“Every time I hear, ‘We are going to put the coal miners back to work,’ it stops our coal miners from moving forward.”

“Every time they put out hope, it stymies people. They just stop and they don’t move forward,” Gatts said. “Change is not something people welcome, and every time I hear, ‘We are going to put the coal miners back to work,’ it stops our coal miners from moving forward.”

The story of the fall of the coal industry has been one of a steady, decades-long decline, with the number of coal mining jobs falling from 177,500 in 1985 to just over 50,000 today. As both a candidate and as president, Trump has made a great many promises to coal communities devastated by a rise in automation and competition from natural gas and renewable energy. He has promised to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the Obama-administration’s signature domestic climate regulation aimed at tackling greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector. He has pledged to repeal environmental regulations aimed at protecting streams from mining pollution, and has promised to do away with other regulatory burdens that he argues have been killing the coal industry.

But while these moves may boost coal production slightly—and line the pockets of coal executives in the process—they will do little to stem the production of cheap natural gas or slow the automation of the coal industry. Utilities have already said that Trump’s recent actions have not changed their outlook on coal as an energy source, nor have the actions caused utility executives to reconsider previously scheduled coal plant closures. In short, Trump’s regulatory assault will do little to bring back coal jobs to the regions where he’s promised relief.

Mining jobs paid well—an average of $60,000 a year for people just starting in the industry. And finding unemployed miners jobs that pay similar wages is not easy—especially when workers lack particular skills that employers are looking for. Many unemployed miners, as well as potential employers, are either unwilling or unable to take on the financial burden of paying for a particular kind of skill training, which is why POWER Initiative funds have been so crucial for entities like the Southwest Corner Workforce Development Board in trying to address the gap between unemployed workers and potential employers.

“In order to get the skills, you need to have money to pay for the training,” Gatts said. “If you take that away from us, you’re not going to be offering our employers any trained workers.”

Both Gatts and Commissioner Zimmerman note, however, that POWER Initiative funds can only go so far—and that it means little to the community to have a trained workforce without opportunities for employment within the community.

“The future of the county needs to be the future, and that means looking beyond the coal industry.”

“We have to bring in other industries, and support the guys that are here now in the coal industry,” Zimmerman said. “The future of the county needs to be the future, and that means looking beyond the coal industry.”

Both Zimmerman and Gatts are looking to the technology sector as a potential new industry for Greene County—they argue that since tech work really only requires an internet connection, companies could find lots of potential workers in economically-depressed coal communities, as long as those communities have access to education and training. It’s a strategy that is similar in many ways to candidate Hillary Clinton’s proposed plan for revitalizing coal communities, which involved federal support for local education and training programs as well as major investment in expanding broadband access for rural communities.

Since 2015, Greene County has been partnering with a nonprofit called Mined Minds, which was started by tech consultant Amanda Laucher, who was born in Greene County but moved to Chicago to work in tech. Together with her partner Jonathan Graham, Minded Minds has begun offering coding bootcamps to teach software development and tech skills to unemployed miners and others in Greene County and the surrounding area.

“We strongly believe that there is talent in these areas,” Graham told ThinkProgress. And he said the program is mutually beneficial. “The tech industry is continuing to grow and getting a talented workforce is difficult and expensive.”

Graham and Laucher also offer their students both pre-apprenticeships—a combination of real world tech work and continuing workshops—as well as full apprenticeships. Mined Minds also works with companies from Silicon Valley to New York to help place graduates of the programs in tech jobs that can be done remotely, so that graduates don’t have to leave their homes, once they have completed the bootcamp and apprenticeships.

The Mined Minds programs, thus far, are self-funded, but POWER Initiative Grants have helped the Southwest Corner Workforce Development Board pay for some of the associated training costs for Greene County residents. Mined Minds also recently applied for their own POWER Initiative funds, with the hopes of expanding their boot camps and reaching more residents in southwest Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

“I think as a model, it makes sense. Having the support of grants means that we’re not taking all the risk ourselves in trying to bring more industry into an area,” Graham said.

He said that if the Trump administration were to cut POWER Initiative funding, it would slow—but not completely derail—their ability to expand their training programs.

“Don’t pull these funds. We need to help these people.”

But for Gatts, who has worked in economic development in this community for over a decade, losing federal funding would be a blow.

“I do think these programs are very necessary,” she said. “Don’t pull these funds. We need to help these people.”

This blog was originally posted on ThinkProgress on April 24, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Natasha Geiling is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Contact her at ngeiling@americanprogress.org.


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This week in the war on workers: Trump’s top attacks on workers … so far

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The Economic Policy Institute’s Perkins Project “tracks actions by the administration, Congress, and the courts that affect people’s wages and their rights at work,” and as we get to the end of Donald Trump’s first 100 days, they’ve provided a list of the top 10 things he and congressional Republicans have done to working people. Here’s a sample:

 

  1. Protecting Wall Street profits that siphon billions of dollars from retirement savers. At President Trump’s behest, the Department of Labor has delayed a rule requiring that financial professionals recommend retirement investment products that serve their clients’ best interests. The “fiduciary rule” aims to stop the losses savers incur when steered into products that earn advisers commissions and fees. The rule was supposed to go into effect April 10. For every seven days that the rule is delayed, retirement savers lose $431 million over the next 30 years. The 60-day delay will cost workers saving for retirement $3.7 billion over 30 years.
  2. Letting employers hide fatal injuries that happen on their watch. The Senate approved a resolution making it harder to hold employers accountable when they subject workers to dangerous conditions. The March 22 resolution blocks a rule requiring that employers keep accurate logs of workplace injuries and illnesses for five years. This time frame captures not just individual injuries but track records of unsafe conditions. President Trump said he would sign the resolution. If he does, employers can fail to maintain—or falsify—their injury and illness logs, making them less likely to suffer the consequences when workers are injured or killed. Blocking this rule also means that employers, OSHA, and workers cannot use what they learn from past mistakes to prevent future tragedies. If the rule is overturned, more workers will be injured, and responsible employers will be penalized.
  3. Allowing potentially billions of taxpayer dollars to go to private contractors who violate health and safety protections or fail to pay workers. The federal government pays contractors hundreds of billions of dollars every year to do everything from manufacturing military aircraft to serving food in our national parks. The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule required that companies vying for these lucrative contracts disclose previous workplace violations, and that those violations be considered when awarding federal contracts. The rule was needed, as major federal contractors were found to be regularly engaging in illegal practices that harm workers financially and endanger their health and safety. On March 27, President Trump killed this rule by signing a congressional resolution blocking it. This will hurt workers and contractors who play by the rules, while benefitting only those contractors with records of cutting corners.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on April 22, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.


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Leaked Trump administration plan to close Chicago EPA office puts 1,000 jobs at risk

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President Donald Trump’s proposed cutbacks to the Environmental Protection Agency may include the closure of the agency’s regional office in Chicago, a move that could undermine the agency’s ability to monitor pollution in the Great Lakes and curtail its ability to implement enforcement actions against coal-fired power plant owners in the six-state region.

The workforce for the Chicago Region 5 office would be consolidated with the EPA office in Kansas, the Chicago Sun-Times reported, citing anonymous sources. Trump’s budget chief Mick Mulvaney singled out the EPA as a target for budget cuts and the agency, under the leadership of former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt, was tasked with choosing two regional office for closure by June 15. The identity of the other regional office has yet to be disclosed.

“This decision doesn’t make sense from an efficiency standpoint. Instead, this decision makes sense from an ideological standpoint,” Nicole Cantello, the head of the union representing agency employees in the region, told ThinkProgress. She received leaked information about the possible closure of the regional office and believes it accurately represents the intentions of the Trump administration.

Cantello, who also works as a lawyer in the EPA Region 5 office, added: “If you wanted to drive a stake through the heart of EPA enforcement and EPA’s ability to protect the country, this would be one way of doing it.”

News about the Trump administration’s plans to close the Chicago EPA office leaked the same week the agency discovered a potentially carcinogenic chemical had spilled from a U.S. Steel facility in Indiana into a tributary of Lake Michigan. U.S. Steel reported last Tuesday that it leaked an unknown amount of wastewater containing hexavalent chromium into a waterway in Portage, Indiana, within 100 yards of the lake.

The Region 5 office oversees environmental protection in six states surrounding the Great Lakes: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. “It would be devastating to environmental protection in Region 5, the office that is the steward of the Great Lakes,” Cantello insisted.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers from the region are pushing back against the Trump administration’s proposal to eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. In a March 30 letter to House appropriations committee leaders, the members of Congress explained the initiative “is showing real and measurable results, but there is still a great deal of work to do.”

EPA employees and environmental activists gather in Chicago on Feb. 6, 2017, to protest Scott Pruitt’s nomination as EPA administrator. CREDIT: AP Photo/Carla K. Johnson

Consolidating the two regions would make EPA Region 7, located in Kansas City, Kansas, the largest regional office in the nation, covering 10 states. Region 5 has expertise in dealing with the states in the upper Midwest and a deep knowledge of Great Lakes protection. “That expertise would be completely lost,” Cantello said.

Region 5 has only 500 employees, while Region 7 employs 1,000 staffers. “You could imagine how 500 people would be able to handle all the issues going on in 10 states,” she said. “It would be virtually impossible. Therefore, it would put people’s lives at stake. For the people who live in the six states, there won’t be an environmental cop on the beat.”

Under the administration’s plan, 3,000 EPA employees nationwide would lose their jobs. Closing the Chicago office, and eliminating its 1,000 positions, would help accomplish that goal. Whether any employees would be transferred to the Kansas office is unknown. But the EPA regional office in Kansas does not have adequate space to accommodate hundreds of new employees, Cantello said.

Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), whose congressional district includes the city of Flint, called reports of the proposed closure of EPA’s Chicago a “misguided” move that would jeopardize federal resources to help Flint recover from its water crisis.

“If true, the closure of the EPA’s Region 5 office —which serves Michigan and other states in the Great Lakes region—is very concerning,” Kildee said in an emailed statement. “EPA efforts to protect the Great Lakes through the successful Great Lakes Restoration Initiative are also critical to reduce pollution run-off and combat the threat of invasive species like Asian carp.”

EPA employees rallied in early February against the impending confirmation Pruitt as EPA Administrator, in what was the first protest by federal workers against the Trump administration. Roughly 300 people—a third of whom work for the agency—took to the street outside the agency’s Chicago regional office.

With the latest leaked information about the possible closure of the Region 5 office, Cantello said her union plans to work with members of Congress from the six states to fight back against the closure of the Chicago office.

The Trump administration plans to focus on regional offices for job cuts, not the EPA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Along with Chicago, employees housed in other regional offices are fighting back against the administration’s plans to gut the agency. In the EPA Region 3 office, the mood “is fear, dread,” Marie Owens Powell, an EPA enforcement officer and a local union leader, told National Public Radio’s Morning Edition.

The Philadelphia office employees hope they can persuade their representatives to save the EPA and convince friends and family to speak out in defense of the agency’s work, the union leader said. A recent poll by Quinnipiac University showed a large majority of U.S. voters oppose cutting EPA’s budget.

The proposed budget cuts are like nothing Cantello has seen in her 27-year career at the EPA. “I’ve been through many presidential transitions and have never seen this type of animosity toward our staff and animosity toward our mission,” she said. “George W. Bush, even though there were some things around the edges he wanted to do that were from a conservative bent, generally supported our mission.”

The Trump administration wants to let the states take over many of the duties of the EPA. “This idea that the states do the same work of the folks in the region is a fallacy supported by some Republicans but is not something that is a reality on the ground,” Cantello said. “The notion that there is duplication between what we do and what the states do is not reflected in reality. All the enforcement we do is requested by the states because they can’t do the work we do.”

In the six-state Midwest region, where coal-fired power plant capacity retains a sizable share of the electric power generating mix, the EPA Region 5 office has pending cases against coal plants for violations. “We don’t know if we will be allowed to follow through with those cases,” she explained. “We already have some cases on the docket against coal-fired power plants. We may not be able to get the cuts in environmental pollution that we would get under a regular course of business.”

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on April 17, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Mark Hand is a climate reporter for Think Progress. Contact him at mhand@americanprogress.org.


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The Trump Economy Myth and Job-Killing Policies

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Making America Great Again; every time a U.S. company hires a hundred people, or even a dozen, President Trump’s support network blasts out the message that this is what he’s doing. Now they’re crowing that unemployment fell to 4.5 percent in March, even though many say this number underrepresents how many people are actually out of work.

Only 98,000 jobs were actually gained in the month, about half of what economists had expected. And even if these new jobs are something to crow about, it’s not as if they have anything to do with Trump.

Propaganda is one thing, but Trump’s actual policies will hurt job and wage growth once they kick in.

Obama Momentum

Remember when President Obama had been in office a few months, and the fiscal year 2009 deficit was reported to be $1.4 trillion? Right-wing propaganda outlets showed charts drawn to convey that the 2009 budget deficit was his fault.

The 2009 fiscal year budget ran from October 1, 2008 to September 30, 2009. Obama’s first budget year began the following month. The 2009 budget deficit wasn’t an “Obama deficit,” is was a Bush deficit. Obama did not have time to do anything. For the same reasons, the 2017 economy, and any health it has, is still Obama’s.

In fact, when Obama DID do something this is what happened:

That job reversal was the result of actual policies put in place by Obama, not Republican propaganda.

Propaganda, Not Policies

Like almost everything Republican, the Trump administration is almost entirely about propaganda, not actual, rubber-meets-road policy. Healthcare is the best example of this. After years of propaganda opposition to Obamacare, Republicans had no actual coherent, alternative policy plan to put forward, and were unable to come up with one when the opportunity came for them to do it. The actual policies they finally came up with would have caused 24 million Americans to lose their healthcare.

Propaganda might achieve a propaganda goal, policies get actual things done.

As of today, there is no real Trump economic policy in place. He has submitted a ridiculously extreme budget proposal. He has proposed to “study” trade. He has no real “trillion-dollar” infrastructure plan – his budget proposal actually cuts infrastructure spending – and his tax “reform” plan does nothing more than give corporations and wealthy people huge breaks.

Actual Trump Policies Undercut Jobs And Wages

Trump’s actual policies will undercut job and wage growth. Right off the bat, Trump’s budget proposal would eliminate as many 200,000 federal jobs.

Trump is trying to reverse the “overtime rule” that increases the salary threshold for receiving overtime pay from $23,660 per year to $47,476. This rule is a big deal and would mean that would immediately boost the pay of 12.5 million workers, if Trump allows it to go into effect. Even with the rule the percent of workers who are eligible for overtime pay would still be lower than it was in 1975.

Trump’s executive orders also undercut job and wage growth. He has removed protections against wage theft and rights violations by federal contractors, affecting one in five workers.

Another example of actual Trump policies affecting jobs is in the energy sector. Calling climate change a “hoax,” Trump wants to promote oil and coal jobs at the expense of wind and solar jobs. But the U.S. solar power industry now employs more workers than coal, oil and natural gas combined. He wants to gut the auto fuel economy rules, undercutting opportunities for renewable-fuel companies like Tesla to innovate.

Stocks Up But Trump Economy Is A Myth

The stock market has risen under Trump; Tomahawk missile-maker Raytheon stock just went way up. Cruise missile strikes aside, bumps like these aren’t based on economic fundamentals or sound projections, but instead on the expectation of windfalls for corporations and the already-wealthy stock-owning investor class through the huge tax cuts Trump has promised.

But beyond momentary market gains,  the idea of a booming Trump economy is a myth – at least for people who work. There are no actual policies, existing or on the horizon, aimed at actually boosting jobs and wages. Only bluster. In fact, Trump has said we need to reduce American wages to the point where we can be “competitive” with Mexico and China. Yes, he said that.

His executive orders so far undercut jobs and wages. His budget eliminates jobs. His dramatic cuts in the things government does to make our lives and economy better — education, scientific research, regulation, etc. — will eat the seed corn of our future prosperity.

Trump does not offer real policy, only the propaganda of the moment, to be reversed at the next moment if convenient.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on April 10, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.


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