Labor

Indiana Senate Passes Right-to-Work

The Indiana Senate has passed so-called right-to-work legislation, paving a clear path to Gov. Mitch Daniels' desk. The passage was expected—after Democrats in the state House ended their boycotts and efforts to water down the legislation last week, there were almost no major road blocks left. Republican majorities in both chambers were already in favor of the bill and Daniels has repeatedly voiced his support. As I wrote this morning, the move marks a major turning point in labor history as Indiana becomes the first state in the traditionally pro-union northern block to pass the measure. The legislation forbids mandatory union membership and keeps unions from collecting fees from non-members. Still to come, however, is the union response. Indianapolis is hosting this weekend's Super Bowl and Republicans have rushed to get the bill passed before strikes and slowdowns could hurt the festivities. While the event organizers have no-strike deals with relevant unions, strikes could still...

Where Indiana Goes, So Goes the Nation

(AP Photo/Michael Conroy) Rob Parsons, a steelworker from Merrillville, Ind., screams during a union workers protest on the steps of the Statehouse after the Senate voted to pass the right-to-work bill in Indianapolis, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012. The governor is expected to sign the bill later in the day. On March 4, 1957, Indiana passed right-to-work legislation. The Sunday Herald out of Bridgeport, Conn described how a crowd of 5,000 union members arrived at the state's Capitol the day before the bill passed, demonstrating and demanding that then-Gov. Harold W. Handley veto the measure. The day before, according to the Milwaukee Journal , more than 10,000 demonstrators had come to show their opposition. When the measure finally passed both chambers, Maine's Lewiston Daily Sun declared it " the biggest news right now in labor union circles. " "Seventeen other States have right-to-work laws which declare that no individual shall be forced to join a union as a condition of employment,"...

Indiana Wades into the Culture Wars

Indiana is hardly a state known for its intense culture wars and political battles. Mostly, it's known for one of the greatest sports movies of all time . But this year, Indiana is entering territory usually occupied by places like Kansas and Texas. The state legislature is not only about to pass a controversial bill to decrease union power; a measure to teach creationism has already passed out of the state Senate's Education Committee. The right-to-work legislation is hurtling at lightning speed for Governor Mitch Daniels's desk. After a year of fighting, including recent boycotts from Democrats, the legislation passed the state's House last week, leaving little doubt that the measure, supported by the governor and most of the state Senate, will soon become law. Indiana will be the first state in the Rust Belt to pass such legislation, which prevents mandatory union membership and forbids unions from collecting fees from anyone who chooses to opt out. Proponents argue that the move...

Wisconsin Walk-Through

Wisconsin activists shocked onlookers last week when they presented more than one million petitions asking for Governor Scott Walker to be recalled. Since then, the pendulum has seemingly swung in the governor's favor: high fundraising numbers, a state of the state address celebrating his policies, and a poll showing him leading four potential opponents. But there's still a lot of time left to go: two months of verifying signatures, and then, assuming at least 540,000 are valid, an election six weeks later. If there's a Democratic primary, the process will be even longer. With all that time and a divided electorate, the key questions will likely come down to which side can frame the debate and which side can turn out its voters. With Walker currently ruling the television waves and his opponents perfecting an impressive grassroots organization, it's hard to see one side with a clear upper hand. Even the poll offers few conclusions. So let's take this week's news, point by point. THE...

Go Big or Go Home

For those watching labor fights, the two very close, hard-fought games for the AFC and NFC championships yesterday (I'm talking football here, people), might have echoed what's happening in Indianapolis, host city to this year's Super Bowl. The battle over collective bargaining in one of the country's original manufacturing havens has already spawned teams, rules, and some hard-hitting tackles. And soon, one side may be trying for a Hail Mary. State Republicans, including Governor Mitch Daniels, are pushing for "right to work" legislation that would forbid unions from requiring non-members to pay representation fees. Such laws generally leave unions with little power to bargain collectively, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, workers in states with such laws make $5,300 less than those in states that allow workers to organize. Proponents of the proposed Indiana legislation argue it will lure more businesses and therefore, more jobs. For three weeks, the Indiana state House...

Recalling History

Governor Lynn Frazier of North Dakota was recalled in 1921 after accusations that he was a socialist. AP Photo
Yesterday, Wisconsin activists turned in more than one million petitions supporting the recall of Scott Walker . It was almost double the number they needed to turn in. The Republican governor prompted mass protests last year when he slashed public-employee benefits and then began dismantling collective-bargaining rights in the state. Unions, Democrats, and others affected by the policies were all eager for political payback. "This is the most participated major recall in American history," Meagan Mahaffey, executive director of the coordinating group United Wisconsin, told me with evident pride. But that's not saying as much as you might think; only two governors have ever been recalled. The recall of former California Governor Gray Davis is relatively well known, but I, for one, wasn't familiar with the first official gubernatorial ouster, which took place 90 years ago in North Dakota. Deciding to put that liberal-art history degree to use, I dug around a bit to discover the story...

The Mickey Mouse Defense

While Democrats celebrate the million petitions turned in today supporting a recall of Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, Badger state Republicans are hoping that the best offense is a good defense. "Of course the Democrats got a million signatures," said Ben Sparks, spokesperson for the Wisconsin GOP. "They're allowing individuals to sign up 80 times and they're allowing Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny to go on the rolls." Critics of the recall effort have long charged that many of the signatures gathered were invalid. However, the anti-Walker forces gathered significantly more petitions than expected (they only needed 540,000), and United Wisconsin, the group co-ordinating the effort, seemed confident that with so many extra signatures, the recall would be almost impossible to avert. Sparks, however, wasn't so eager to give up. "We have volunteers throughout the state who are working to verify these signatures," he said, noting the GOP was holding training sessions every night this week...

One Million Strong

AP Photo/Craig Schreiner
(AP Photo/Andy Manis) Jeremy Levinson, left, a lawyer to the recall committees, talks Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012, in Madison, Wis., about the petitions United Wisconsin will turn into the General Accounting Board offices Wednesday to force a recall election for Gov. Scott Walker. United Wisconsin collected about 1 million signatures to recall Walker. Mike Tate, center, chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, listens. When I reached United Wisconsin spokesman Erik Kirkstein by phone this afternoon, he was already breathless and having trouble coming up with the neat sound bites PR people are supposed to have on hand. He was clearly ready to celebrate. "I guess you've heard—it's already been leaked," he said before exclaiming that the effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker had gathered more than one million signatures—almost double what his opponents needed to trigger an election. "This has blown away even the highest of expectations!" He's right. The movement needed a total...

Labor's Second Front

The union battle spreads from Wisconsin to Indiana in the fight over "Right to Work."

AP Photo/Alan Petersime
One year ago, a broad coalition of Wisconsinites held a massive three-week occupation of their state capitol opposing Governor Scott Walker’s bid to cripple collective bargaining for public employees. The Wisconsin uprising captured national attention, inspired organizing across the country, and instigated recall campaigns of its most prominent opponents. Now, another Republican legislature is set on breaking labor’s back, and union activists in the Hoosier State are hoping for an uprising of their own against. Governor Mitch Daniels’s efforts to make Indiana the first “right to work” state in the industrial Midwest. “I hope that as Hoosiers, we’ve got enough tenacity to last as long as they are in Wisconsin,” says Jay Potesta, government affairs director for the sheet-metal workers’ union and former president of the Indiana Building Trades Association. Tomorrow, a right-to-work bill covering all private-sector workers in Indiana is expected to pass one of several required votes...

Scott Walker, Texas Ranger

The Wisconsin governor feels right at home in the Lone Star State.

AP Photo/Scott Bauer
While Rick Perry campaigned in South Carolina Thursday, criticizing Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain while bragging about his own pro-business record, another controversial conservative governor was hanging out in Texas: Scott Walker. The Wisconsin governor, who sparked a firestorm last spring with his effort to eliminate collective-bargaining rights for state employees, keynoted a lunch at the Texas Public Policy Foundation's annual legislative orientation, held at the Hilton Hotel. Outside, a large crowd protested with signs supporting the effort to recall the polarizing Wisconsin chief executive. The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF)—a think tank with a clear and aggressive policy agenda of slashing government until it's all but nonexistent—is a dominant player in Texas conservative politics . While the Texas Legislature won't meet until next year, TPPF's annual policy orientation is nonetheless a gathering of many big names in Texas politics, and its panels often help set the...

Tocqueville for Toffs

O n any given day in Washington, D.C., the city’s hotels teem with civic activity. Trade associations, lobbies, corporations seeking government contracts, lawyers looking to influence agency rules—all form a beehive of action. At last count, there were 12,200 registered lobbyists in Washington, according to opensecrets.org, and that doesn’t include the many thousands of corporate attorneys who are technically not lobbyists. Of the top-spending trade associations or issue organizations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce leads the list with a budget of more than $46 million. Only one quasi-liberal group, the AARP, is even in the top 20. This is the vision of Alexis de Tocqueville made flesh, with one notable difference: Nearly everyone in this associational paradise speaks for the top 1 percent or 2 percent of the income distribution. Tocqueville, in Democracy in America , famously identified “the art of association” as an essential complement to American constitutional democracy. The...

No More Mr. Nice Obama

With key recess appointments, the president shows he's through being held hostage by intransigent Republicans.

There’s a common and compelling logic to President Obama’s recess appointments today of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Board and of three appointees to the National Labor Relations Board. In the case of both boards, the appointments were necessary if the boards were to function at al—the very reason that Senate Republicans had made clear their determination to appoint nobody at all to the two boards. In December, Republicans filibustered Cordray’s nomination, stating clearly that they had nothing in particular against Cordray but were opposed to the existence of the board itself, which had come into being as part of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act passed by Congress in 2010. Lacking the votes to repeal the act, Republicans chose instead to kill the board by refusing to confirm a director, without which the board could not fully, or even substantially, function. At the NLRB, the expiration of board member Craig Becker’s term at the end of December left...

Stephen Lerner's 2011

“We must expand from one-day marches and demonstrations to weeks of creative direct action and activities,” wrote Stephen Lerner in New Labor Forum , a quarterly left-labor journal, several weeks before Occupy Wall Street took shape. One way to do that, he continued, “is to build these kinds of longer and more involved protests around students and community groups that have the energy and willingness to take time off from their day-to-day lives to engage in more intense activity (which includes the risk of getting arrested.)” Lerner wasn’t volunteering activists to do anything that he hadn’t already done. As the primary architect of the Service Employees International Union’s Justice for Janitors campaign, which remains the most successful (and against-the-odds) private-sector organizing campaign of the past quarter-century, Lerner had planned and participated in dozens, if not hundreds, of disruptive demonstrations over the years to dramatize the janitors’ cause. At the same time, he...

Showdown at the Docks

Occupy Wall Street protesters celebrated the movement's three-month anniversary by taking the fight to major ports.

Protesters at the Port of Oakland Monday. Photo/Aaron Bady
On Monday, occupiers set out to shut down ports across the West Coast. Targets included SSA, which is largely owned by Goldman Sachs, and the Port of Longview, which multinational EGT is trying to operate as the West Coast’s only port without members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). The actions, which shut down operations at Longview, Oakland, and Portland, were opposed by ILWU leadership. They led to intense debate among and between occupiers and unionists over tactics—who the blockades hurt, whether they’re worth the legal risks—and democracy, namely, how democratic the ILWU and the Occupy movement each are, and whether workers should have a veto over actions where they work. This week saw the continuation of two hunger strikes, one by occupiers in New York demanding an occupation space, and another by occupiers in DC demanding full congressional representation for the district. Activists continued taking foreclosed homes, including a “Home for the Holidays...

Bottom Up

In 1938, Congress passed, and FDR signed into law, the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the first federal minimum wage and overtime protections. And that, to the extent that most Americans think about the minimum wage, was that. To be sure, Congress occasionally raises the minimum wage (though they’ve got a long way to go to make it a living wage), but the national law, covering all workers, has long since been established, right? Not quite. In fact, the 1938 law only passed when Roosevelt and congressional liberals agreed to exclude some categories of workers—categories that included many millions of people—from its coverage in order to win the votes of the Southern Democrats they needed to pass it. So agricultural workers (by which Southern Democrats meant, African American sharecroppers) were excluded from its terms. They’ve since been included, but many migrant and immigrant workers are frequently and illegally short-changed. Retail workers only came under the act’s...

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