O'Malley Follows Clinton with a Money-in-Politics Plan of His Own

Today, former Maryland governor and Democratic presidential contender Martin O’Malley unveiled his detailed plan to limit the rampant role of money in politics. Like Hillary Clinton, who released her plan a couple weeks ago, campaign-finance reform advocates widely applaud O’Malley’s ambitious plan. (It’s worth noting that Bernie Sanders has yet to release a specific money-in-politics plan beyond a short section on his website.)

“Martin O’Malley has provided a strong plan, focused both on reducing the barrier of big money and raising the voices of everyday people in politics,” says David Donnelly, president and CEO of Every Voice, a campaign-finance reform group.

His plan is largely modeled off what’s essentially a wish list for reform advocates that was released by a number of reform groups back in July, as well as off the Government by the People Act, a bill sponsored by Representative John Sarbanes that has earned widespread Democratic support.

Like virtually every candidate on the left, O’Malley vows to fight to overturn the Citizens United decision. At this point, this is boilerplate policy for any Democrat, but given the immense obstacles that must be overturned to do so, it’s kind of wishful thinking.

Reform advocates have increasingly been pushing to institute a public-financing system for federal elections. Sarbanes’s bill, which O’Malley pledges to pass if he’s elected, institutes a small-donor matching system for congressional elections. Every donation under $150 would be matched with public funds six-fold; if a candidate pledges to only take small donations, that ratio jumps to 9 to 1.

Again, calling for public funding and small-donor empowerment has become the party line. Clinton’s plan calls for a public system for all federal elections, though it doesn’t specify the matching ratio. That O’Malley failed to outline a fix for the broken presidential financing system is a major flaw for advocates. Clinton has also pledged to sign an executive order that requires government contractors to disclose their dark-money spending, another point that O’Malley did not address. Reformers have long been pushing Obama to sign such an order, but so far he has not.

However, there are still some aspects of campaign finance that O’Malley is strong on. Clinton’s plan was criticized for not addressing issues of enforcement, à la the broken FEC. O’Malley devotes an entire section detailing how he’d overhaul the commission. Most notably, he’d restructure it to be headed by one administrator, rather than a perpetually gridlocked board.

One thing worth noting is that he comes out in support of the bipartisan redistricting commissions that were recently upheld by the Supreme Court, which is somewhat ironic given that he oversaw one of the most gerrymandered district maps in the country while governor of Maryland.

Despite the apparent strengths and weaknesses of the candidates’ plans, it’s clear that money-in-politics is now a top-tier policy issue on the Democratic side.  Considering that Bernie, Hillary, and Martin have all gotten somewhat in the weeds on campaign-finance reform and political spending more generally, we can expect the issue to be a major focus in the first Democratic debate.

“Considering all major Democrats in the race have similar ideas for how we can fix our broken system,” says Every Voice’s Donnelly, “the upcoming debate would be the perfect opportunity for them to discuss what they’ll do to put everyday people at the center of our democracy.” 

Hillary’s Relationship Status with Labor: It’s Complicated

From the get-go, Hillary’s campaign has been banking on early support from labor unions. And so far, she’s done OK. Very early on, the American Federation of Teachers, led by political ally Randi Weingarten, endorsed Clinton for president. She’s also garnered support from International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. A number of smaller unions have also thrown their weight behind her candidacy.

However, for a number of reasons, things have become rather complicated in her quest to rally a united labor movement behind her. For one, Bernie Sanders has proven to be an effective thorn in her side. His populist platform has excited a broad swath of rank-and-file union members. When the AFT endorsed Clinton, there was significant backlash from its membership, which claimed the endorsement process was undemocratic.

That trend of early endorsements from union leadership and subsequent rank-and-file unrest has played out with each endorsement for Clinton. A grassroots movement, Labor for Bernie, has emerged in an effort to encourage labor unions to hold off endorsements for Clinton and consider Sanders, whom they say is more ideologically in step with the labor movement. Earlier this month, his campaign said that 26,000 people participated in a phone call with the Democratic contender that focused on the labor movement.

In addition to Bernie’s insurgency, whispers about a potential run by Vice President Joe Biden has led some major labor unions to sit back and wait. Last week, Politico reported that both SEIU and AFSCME were waiting to endorse in light of the possible shake-up in the race if Vice President Joe Biden were to jump in. 

SEIU has pushed back on that assertion, saying that its endorsement process is still underway and Joe Biden's indecision has not played a role. "SEIU leaders are engaged in deep conversations with our members around the issues that matter to them most and about the candidates they feel will best lead on those issues," the union said in a statement to the Prospect. "This process was always intended to be fluid and therefore doesn't include a set timeline for endorsement." 

Sanders supporters argue that the decision is due just as much to Bernie’s rank-and-file support as it is to Biden. The two prominent unions have huge membership rolls and a broad political network, making their endorsements highly coveted in the Democratic field.

Still, many union leaders seem ready to toss their hats in Hillary’s ring—banking on the fact that she is still the most plausible candidate. Yesterday, Annie Karni of Politico got the scoop that the political arm of the biggest union in the country, the National Education Association, is recommending a Clinton endorsement and will be holding a vote soon. The move has already stoked anger among state affiliate leaders and rank-and-filers in the three-million-member union.

Despite that news, Clinton is still very clearly concerned about shoring up labor support. Indicative of that was the news yesterday that she supports a repeal of Obamacare’s “Cadillac Tax,” which is a big sticking point for many labor unions. Sanders had already introduced legislation in the Senate to repeal the tax. 

As Politico’s Morning Shift notes, the move could be a strategic move to give her some cover on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she’s yet to take a clear position on.

Not all union leadership is focused on Clinton, though. Her opposition to the construction of the Keystone Pipeline ticked off the Teamsters union—and as Fox News reported yesterday, the union voted unanimously to withhold an endorsement. It’s even seeking an audience with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.

There’s many obstacles that remain in Clinton’s quest for robust labor support. If Biden does jump in, that will severely complicate matters. And if rank-and-file Bernie supporters can successfully pressure union leaders to hold off on endorsements, that could force her campaign to push further left—perhaps more so than she is comfortable with politically.   

This post has been updated to reflect a recent statement from SEIU asserting that Joe Biden's possible candidacy has not played a role in its endorsement decision. 

Walker Walks Away from the GOP Race

The New York Times is reporting that this evening, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will announce that he’s dropping out of contention for the GOP presidential nomination. Though he was once a frontrunner in Iowa, his campaign has long been struggling for notoriety—a chronic problem now for many candidates competing with The Donald.

The latest CNN poll showed Walker’s support in Iowa at about one-half of 1 percent. His campaign was counting on a strong performance in the second debate to bolster both his poll numbers and donor base. That didn’t work out so well.

As I wrote last week, another indication of the increasing desperation of his campaign was the unveiling of his incredibly anti-worker and anti-union plan that would kill the NLRB, gut federal public-sector unions, and make the country one giant right-to-work wasteland. The move seemed to be a last-minute attempt to remind well-heeled big-business donors that he was the de facto candidate for big business and would stand up to the oppressive organized-labor regime.

According to the Times, donors didn’t respond as expected. “Everyone I know was just totally stunned by how difficult the fund-raising became, but the candidate and the campaign just couldn’t inspire confidence,” one donor said.

There are a few important takeaways from Walker’s impending departure:

  • His early adornment as the Koch brothers’ political lackey appears to not have been enough to earn Tea Party support in Iowa or New Hampshire. It will be interesting to parse out in the coming days just how much of a role the Kochs had in his dropping out—and the disappearance of his donor base.
  • Speculation that all these GOP candidates will be able to lean on their well-funded affiliated super PACs, no matter their polling numbers, has so far proven to be false, twice: Rick Perry had millions in his super PAC coffers, and Scott Walker’s Unintimidated PAC was well-funded, too.
  • An anti-labor agenda doesn’t seem to have much national appeal. Unions have more public support than they’ve had in years, and in an age of unprecedented income inequality, voters are better able to see through policies that are directly intended to decrease the power of the middle class.

As the AFL-CIO succinctly puts it, “Scott Walker is still a disgrace, just no longer national.” 

Why Major Parties Want Big Donors to Ditch Super PACs

In 2014, the Supreme Court dealt yet another blow to campaign finance regulations as it did away with contribution limits to political parties. The case, McCutcheon v. FEC, overturned the tenet of Federal Election Campaign Act that imposed individual aggregate contribution limits to national political parties and federal candidate committees.

While Citizens United created a whole new world of political money that operated outside of the traditional campaign finance framework, McCutcheon decimated that traditional framework by eliminating donation caps meant to keep the corrupting influence of big donors out of the party apparatuses and federal campaigns.

In the last presidential election cycle, the aggregate two-year contribution limit to political parties or federal candidates was $117,000. Now, as we enter the first post-McCutcheon presidential election, it seems that campaign finance reformers’ worst fears about unlimited aggregate contributions are coming true.

As the Washington Post reported over the weekend, both the national Republican and Democratic Party are urging their wealthiest supporters to contribute 10 times more than what was allowed in the last go-around.

“Under the new plans, which have not been disclosed publicly, the top donation tier for the Republican National Committee has soared to $1.34 million per couple this election cycle,” The Post reports. “Democratic contributors, meanwhile, are being hit up for even more—about $1.6 million per couple—to support the party’s convention and a separate joint fundraising effort between the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign.”

Such a rapid increase in contribution asks is turning the political fundraising world on its head. The political parties are soliciting massive donations in exchange for VIP treatment at the conventions, retreats with party leaders, and for the GOP at least, an explicit opportunity to “influence messaging and strategy.”

Some speculate that bringing mega-donors back into the traditional fundraising fold (and out of the super PAC world that has wreaked havoc on the parties’ functions) could reinvigorate the political power of the national parties, which have become eclipsed in recent years by individual candidates. Additionally, some prominent partisan donors see the benefit in donating (and wielding influence) directly to parties and, thus, the eventual nominee, rather than gambling millions by backing an individual candidate’s super PAC during an especially volatile primary season. Just how much of a big-money exodus from super PAC to political party there will be is still unclear.

While McCutcheon did away with contribution caps, there was also a backroom political deal late last year that tucked a vast expansion of party fundraising capabilities into a spending bill. That provision raised the limit for individual contributions to national party committees from $97,200 to a whopping $777,600. Marc Elias, who is now Hillary Clinton’s general counsel, was the key architect of that provision.

And Hillary stands to gain a lot from a well-funded Democratic Party, which she has partnered with early on to set up a joint-fundraising account that gives her campaign a small cut of contributions to the DNC.

The optics of all this doesn’t bode well for her supposed commitment to campaign finance reform, on which I wrote about last week.

Meanwhile, reform advocates aren’t happy with this new development. “This is a return to the old system of using the parties as vehicles to launder the buying and selling of government influence and decisions,” Fred Wertheimer, president of the reform group Democracy 21, told the Post

What a 20-Week Abortion Ban Would Mean

Mitch McConnell isn’t willing to shut down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood—but only because it would be political suicide, not because he’s suddenly become pro-choice. In an op-ed for Cincinnati.com, the Senate Majority Leader championed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a national 20-week abortion ban that the Senate will take up on Tuesday. “Despite the strong passion on both sides of the issue,” wrote McConnell, “it seems obvious to me that if an unborn child has reached the point where he or she can feel pain, that child's life deserves protection.” According to the American Medical Association, it’s unlikely that fetuses feel pain before the third trimester.

Like most bills aiming to restrict abortion rights, the national 20-week abortion ban would most likely affect women with few resources. The Guttmacher Insitute conducted a survey of women who had obtained abortions at or after 20 weeks and the results were distressing. The women faced difficulties finding a provider and the money. The majority of the women were facing challenges like raising children independently, depression, drug use, and domestic violence.

Not only does the bill place an undue burden on women attempting to exercise their constitutional rights, the Pain-Capable Unborn Protection Act allows for little exceptions and further victimizes women and children who have been sexually assaulted. The bill does exempt women whose lives are “endangered by a physical disorder, illness or injury” but says nothing about psychological or emotional issues.

Adult rape victims are also allowed to terminate their pregnancies—but only after they’ve received counseling and medical treatment. For children who are victims of rape or incest, they must also report the abuse to law enforcement before the abortion. If a victim of sexual abuse does not report the crime, which 68 percent of victims don’t do, she will not be able to obtain an abortion.

This bill, passed by the House in May, joins the growing list of anti-choice legislation proposed around the United States. In January, the president indicated that he would veto the bill if it made it to his desk. But the vote signals just how willing Republican lawmakers are to disregard science and the Constitution in the name of restricting women’s rights.

The Fed Will Continue to Support the Recovery—But For How Long?

This afternoon, the Federal Reserve announced that it will keep interest rates near zero for the time being, maintaining its critical support for the sluggish economic recovery. The decision came as a surprise to many observers on Wall Street, including analysts at Citigroup, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase, who expected a rate hike to be announced today. But citing instability in the financial market and the global economy, the Fed said today it would not raise rates in the short term. Some six years after the recession officially ended, today’s decision is a sign that the economy is still far from recovered.  

The decision comes less than a month after Fed Up, a nationwide coalition of economists, union members, and grassroots activists, descended on the central bank’s annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to demand that the Fed not abandon its role in the recovery. As I reported last month for The American Prospect, Fed Up organizers cited large racial gaps in unemployment and poverty as well as paltry wage growth as indicators that the recovery has yet to reach millions of communities, particularly those of color. During the symposium, the coalition held teach-ins on economic policy and delivered a petition to Fed leaders demanding they hold off on a rate hike until more Americans had a chance to feel the recovery.

“This is a victory for the working families who stepped up with innovative organizing to send the Fed a clear message: Our voices belong in the debate about our economy,” said Fed Up Director Ady Barkan in a statement today. “With the recovery still far too weak in too many communities, it would have been economically devastating—and immoral—to slow the economy.”

Although indicators like unemployment are near pre-recession levels, as economist Josh Bivens argues, there’s plenty this number keeps hidden, particularly the number of people who have given up looking for work. Today, the employment-to-population ratio for prime-age adults is less than half of where it was in 2008 as millions of workers remain unable to find employment. Bivens and his colleagues at the Economic Policy Institute refer to these people as “missing workers.” Wage growth, Bivens adds, has been similarly pessimistic, barely keeping pace with inflation.  

And even these modest gains have been dramatically uneven. According to Census data released this week, the poverty rate among black Americans is more than two-and-a-half times the rate for whites, and has actually gone up over the past year. Similarly, black unemployment and underemployment has remained at more than twice the rate for whites.

It’s groups like these that would feel an interest rate hike most dramatically, Bivens said in a statement today. “Tightening before the economy has reached genuine full-employment is not just a mistake,” he said, “it’s a regressive mistake that would hurt the most vulnerable workers—low-wage earners and workers from communities of color—the most.”

“Today’s decision by the Federal Reserve to keep short-term rates unchanged is welcome,” Bivens added.

But the Fed’s reasoning for keeping interest rates low doesn’t seem to have much to do with issues like racial inequality or unemployment—in a statement released today, the Fed cited “solid job gains and declining unemployment” since the central bank’s last meeting in July. Rather, the Fed seems more worried about “recent global economic and financial developments” that could hamper growth.

In a press conference today, Fed Chair Janet Yellen reiterated that “the recovery from the Great Recession has advanced sufficiently far, and domestic spending is sufficiently robust” to warrant a rate hike now, but “in light of the heightened uncertainty abroad ... the committee judged it appropriate to wait.”

Moreover, the Fed still expects to raise interest rates by the end of this year, whether or not the job market sees much improvement. Over the past few months, Fed governors have hinted strongly that a rate hike would come by the end of the year, and many analysts expect an interest-rate hike at upcoming Fed meetings in October or December. If the Fed is serious about supporting a broadly shared recovery, it should hold off on this rate hike until more Americans have a chance to feel the recovery. 

Outsourcing Substitute Teachers in Philadelphia Gets Off to a Bad Start

Last spring, officials from the Philadelphia School District announced plans to contract out substitute-teaching services, saying they could not effectively manage the responsibilities in-house. At the time, approximately 60 percent of substitute teaching jobs were filled daily, and officials said a private vendor would be able to fill more open positions. Naomi Wyatt, the chief talent officer for Philly public schools, said they paid more than $18.6 million annually for substitute teaching expenses, including reimbursement costs for traditional teachers who fill in when subs cannot be found.

The announcement effectively meant that the district would seek to use non-unionized substitute teachers that they could pay at “market-rate.” It eventually hired Source4Teachers, a New Jersey-based company that provides schools with substitute teachers, substitute paraprofessionals, and substitute support staff. The company works in nearly 200 districts throughout the U.S. and dozens locally, but Philadelphia School District is its largest client.

Though the cash-strapped urban district denied they were contracting out to save costs, the pay differences for substitutes between last year and this year are substantial. Source4Teachers pays between $75 and $90 per day for uncertified substitutes, and $90 to $110 for credentialed ones. By contrast, the district had paid $126.76 for uncertified substitutes, and $160.10 for credentialed ones. The biggest difference is for retired substitutes: the district had paid retired subs up to $242 daily, depending on their educational degrees and college credits; under Source4Teachers, retired educators receive the same rate of pay as all other teachers.

“They assured the teachers that their pay would be ‘similar’, that was the word they used,” said retired teacher Kenneth Schamberg to The Philadelphia Inquirer in July. “Since when is a 61.9 percent pay cut similar?”

The new academic school year started this week, and The Inquirer reported today that Source4Teachers is off to an embarrassing start. On the first day of school, it had filled only 11 percent of open substitute teaching positions, which meant 477 city classrooms did not have teachers. The rate and number of vacancies were roughly the same on Wednesday and Thursday, too. 

Owen Murphy, a spokesperson for Source4Teachers, said they hope their “learning curve will soon go away” and that they will produce more teachers fast. So far, the firm has just 300 workers credentialed and ready to take on substitute teaching jobs, but Murphy says hundreds more are currently in the midst of applying. He also said he expected far more substitutes who worked for the district last year to apply to work with Source4Teachers, but so far that hasn’t happened. They hope to eventually have a pool of 5,000 substitutes ready to call on for work.

Wyatt said that other big urban districts like Baltimore, Cleveland, and Detroit also outsource substitute-teaching services.

The president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Jerry Jordan, suggested that district officials intentionally manufactured a substitute teaching shortage in order to outsource the jobs. He referenced a 2012 Boston Consulting Group report that recommended privatizing the positions. Jordan told The Notebook, a non-profit education news site in Philadelphia, that he knew of qualified substitute teachers who were not called in to work.

"It’s unclear how much money this move will save the School District. But we have no doubt that this will have a tremendous negative impact on educator morale, which is already at an all-time low in Philadelphia,” Jordan wrote. “These are the kinds of actions that, in the long run, will severely compromise the ability of our educators to create positive learning environments for our children.”

Three Ways the Planned Parenthood Hearing Was a Ridiculous Show Trial

Yesterday, a mostly male group of GOP lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee made good on their promise to “investigate” Planned Parenthood, by holding a hearing on the heavily edited and widely debunked “sting” videos released by the Center for Medical Progress, which, despite its misleading name, is not a medical organization.

But the hearing was clearly not designed to seek the truth.

First, it ignored the fact that Planned Parenthood provides basic health care to millions of women. The hearing happened amid threats of another government shutdown over funding for the organization. Gianna Jessen, an anti-choice activist who was invited to testify as an “abortion survivor,” said, “Planned Parenthood receives $500 million of taxpayer money a year to primarily destroy and dismember babies.” Of course, the Hyde Amendment stipulates that no federal funds go toward abortions, and only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services involve abortion procedures (which, as a reminder, is a woman’s right).

That fact is also something Jessen doesn’t seem to understand, but the Republicans let her testify anyway. “We often hear that if Planned Parenthood were defunded, there would be a health crisis among women without the services they provide, “she said. “This is absolutely false.”

No, that is absolutely true. Women’s lives are put at risk without abortion access and the other services that Planned Parenthood provides. In Texas, where it was effectively defunded, fewer women have access to the health care they need. In El Salvador—where abortion is outlawed—the cause of death for 57 percent of pregnant females between the ages of 10 and 19 is suicide.

Second, the hearing was centered on misleading videos being evidence of illegal activity. Despite the fact that the videos were released by the Center for Medical Progress, no one from CMP was at the hearing and Representative Trent Franks even admitted to having not seen the unedited videos. This did not stop him from continuing to push the false narrative that seemed to be the theme of the show trial. “Numerous video recordings have been recently released that incontrovertibly document corporate officers and employees of Planned Parenthood,” he said, “casually discussing their rampant practice of harvesting and selling the little body parts.”

In reality, the Planned Parenthood officials were discussing the perfectly legal practice of tissue donation. But the videos were edited to remove the portions where they repeatedly said that tissue donation is not for profit. And when hearing witness James Bopp, the lawyer for the National Right to Life Committee was asked to comment on the legality of the videos, Bopp declined, saying, “I was advised that that’s not the purpose of the hearing.” Of course, the videos are what spurred the hearing in the first place, but being under oath is likely a powerful inducement to not speak about videos that are deliberately misleading.

Third, the hearing was glaringly one-sided. Not only was no one from CMP present, neither was anyone from Planned Parenthood. In fact, Priscilla Smith was the only pro-abortion witness present and though she is not a doctor, Franks continually asked her questions that should be posed to someone in the profession. “How do you know it’s viable, without a medical professional?” Franks asked about fetuses. “I’m not a doctor,” Smith promptly responded.

The hearing lacked legitimacy, reality, and truth. Republicans can claim to care about the unborn as much as they would like, but the purpose of this hearing was to find even more ways to restrict a woman’s right to abortion, and her control over her own reproductive health. 

Details Emerge for Baltimore’s Plan to Privatize Public Housing

A little over a year ago I reported on the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD)—the federal government’s new plan to preserve public housing by turning units over to the control of private developers. Instead of Congress supporting public housing through direct subsidies to local housing authorities—a responsibility which they’ve persistently shirked for decades—RAD would enable private companies to rehab and manage public housing units in exchange for tax credits and subsidies. Developers would have to keep rents low, and their contracts would continually renew to prevent companies from turning affordable units into market-rate rentals.

Baltimore residents learned last summer that their city would be converting 40 percent of its public housing stock through RAD, but up until this weekend little was known about how exactly developers would be subsidized. On Saturday, Sun journalist Luke Broadwater shed some light, reporting that the city will issue tax breaks worth millions of dollars, and will sell its public housing complexes “for far less than their state-assessed value.” The nearly $100 million collected from the sales will be invested back into the city’s remaining public housing stock.

Through public record requests, Broadwater found that ten developers will be excused from paying $1.7 million in local taxes per year for at least the next 20 years. In addition to city tax breaks, each developer who buys a public housing complex will also receive millions of dollars from the federal government, through federal tax credits and “developer fees.”

Baltimore is one of the first cities to finalize its deals under RAD, and community members have mixed feelings about how officials pushed forward with the program. Housing advocates, tenants, and union workers have led protests, raising concerns of public housing loss, resident displacement, and middle-class job cuts. In general, the city has not been forthcoming with concrete details to assuage anxieties.

As Broadwater reports, Baltimore’s Board of Estimates approved the tax breaks—“without details publicly revealed or debated” in April by a 4-1 vote. Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, controls three of the five board seats. The city comptroller and the city council president hold the other two.

The city council president, Bernard C. "Jack" Young, voted against the tax breaks, citing his general opposition to privatizing public housing. He also worried about the possibility of losing hundreds of public sector union jobs through RAD conversions, like maintenance workers and building monitors.

Carl Stokes, a local councilman, said he’s supportive of the deal because at least the incentives will support low-income people living in buildings that desperately need maintenance and repair. Baltimore has a history of awarding tax breaks to build flashy waterfront developments and tourist attractions.

Nationally, HUD Secretary Julian Castro has called RAD “the answer” to housing issues in many struggling communities. While Congress has so far approved just 185,000 public housing units to be transferred to the control of public developers—out of a total of 1.2 million units—public housing authorities, real estate companies, and other stakeholders have been lobbying Congress to lift the program’s cap. California Congresswoman Maxine Waters sent a letter to President Obama in December urging him to directly fund public housing rather than depend on private developers to save the units. "Put simply,” she said, “if the price of accessing private capital is to put public ownership at risk, then that price is too high.”

As Baltimore’s situation suggests, it might be cheaper for Congress to just increase direct funding for public housing, rather than rely on a costly mix of tax breaks, subsidies, and developer fees. Yet such a move is doubtful to happen any time soon. But while RAD appears to be the most likely way officials aim to preserve crumbling units in the near future, even the most optimistic experts cannot guarantee that it will protect the nation’s public housing units over the long-term. 

California Teachers Unions Push for Cushion Before Upcoming SCOTUS Case

This fall, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that could severely weaken the power of public-sector unions. The justices will decide whether such unions can charge “agency fees” (also known as “fair share fees”) to individuals who wish to dissociate with their union’s political lobbying but still benefit from workplace collective bargaining.

These reduced annual dues help stave off “free riders”—those who enjoy the advantages of union membership without financially contributing to the union’s work. The case’s lead plaintiff, Orange County teacher Rebecca Friedrichs, insists her free-speech rights are denied by paying agency fees, and argues that unions won’t actually suffer if she wins in court. “It’s hard for me to describe,” she told The Washington Post. “I just want liberty. I want to stop this silencing of my voice and the silencing of millions of teachers out there.”

As the Prospect’s Justin Miller put it, “the Friedrichs case has the potential to overturn decades of legal precedent [since 1977] that has become intractably embedded in union strategy—and state law.”

In the meantime, The Sacramento Bee reported that teacher unions in California are pushing Governor Jerry Brown to embrace a last-minute measure that would permit unions to address all new teachers during their orientations. Such conversations could help unions recruit new members, and thereby mitigate the negative effects of an unfavorable ruling in Friedrichs. As reporter Christopher Cadelago wrote:

Up against the clock in the Legislature, the labor groups are pushing for a bill that could give unions some time—a half-hour—to meet with employees to voice the benefits of union participation. That, some believe, could prevent workers from fully withdrawing from their ranks if the court rules against fair share fees.

One version of the teacher unions’ bill is “nearly identical” to a California bill that grants unions up to 30 minutes to speak to new home health-care workers during their orientation period. That law was passed shortly after the Supreme Court’s 2014 Harris v. Quinn ruling, which said that Illinois home health-care workers could not be required to pay agency fees. (Harris v. Quinn avoided the free-speech questions that will be considered in Friedrichs.)

Groups like the Association of California School Administrators, the California Association of School Business Officials, and the California Special Districts Association say that bills like the ones proposed by the teacher unions should be considered only after the Supreme Court makes its final decision in Friedrichs, and only when there is more time available for public comment.

I’d guess that if California legislators were planning on supporting a bill like this, they’d wait until after the Friedrichs decision came down, just as the home health-care worker bill passed after the Harris case was decided. Either way, we won’t have to speculate for much longer, because California’s legislative session ends this week.