Labor

Follow the Money—Where?

During the past few hours in California, the new model of Republican/Big Money campaign finance has become clear. It’s the Russian Doll model—every time you think you’re about to identify the source of a major contribution, you open it up and lo! There’s another doll that you have to open up and lo! There’s another …

Unions Fighting Two-Front War on California Ballots

Flickr/quinn.anya

This is the eighth in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year.

It’s been a bad year for California unions. Republicans have never been fans of the labor movement, and now state Democratic support is waning. In September, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a pension reform plan that will force union members to work longer for fewer benefits, and vetoed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, an AFL-CIO-backed bill that would have given labor rights to domestic workers. And earlier this month, Brown vetoed a bill that would have allowed child care workers to unionize. In cities like San Jose and Los Angeles—both Democrat-leaning cities with Democratic mayors—unions are fighting more losing battles against pension reform.

In this election, state unions were forced to open a new front—at the ballot box. California ballot Proposition 32 puts labor in even deeper trouble, and could leave the movement effectively silenced. And even if labor kills the measure, it will still come with huge costs to other campaigns in the state.

Ohio's Brown Revolution

(Flickr/SEIU)

United States Senator Sherrod Brown is wearing Velcro strap sneakers. They are distinctly geriatric in flavor, black and sturdy-looking, the sort that might be found in the “Mall Walking” section of the shoe wall at FootLocker. Brown is wearing them with a suit. On stage. At a big Teamsters rally a couple of weeks before Election Day. 

Say what you will about Brown—and plenty has been said about the liberal bête noire of national conservatives during this election cycle—but the man certainly has his own distinct brand of business casual. And in his fierce race to maintain his Senate seat against Republican State Treasurer Josh Mandel, it just might be Brown’s brand of who-gives-a-hoot sartorial schlump and off-the-cuff crankiness that is winning Ohio voters over. 

Power and Privilege in the Workplace

Flickr/daysofthundr46

Today, Adele Stan uncovers another example of a big employer trying to bully their employees into voting for Mitt Romney. We've seen a number of these stories in the last few weeks, as one company after another sends out notices to their workers saying, Hey, we're not telling you whom to vote for or anything, but if that socialist Barack Obama gets elected, we might have to fire you. The twist in this case is that the company, home improvement retailer Menards, is using an online "civics" course as its means of persuasion. Employees who take the "voluntary" (which means you don't have to take it, but your bosses are keeping account of who did and who didn't) course are fed a bucket of anti-Obama propaganda.

As this kind of thing becomes more common, there are a couple of things to remember.

Central Florida's Corridor of Power

(Flickr/Kissimmee Convention & Visitors Bureau/Express Monorail)

If you want to know what’s different about Florida, both in general and in this election cycle, just ask Jose Lopez. The organizer and leader of a laundry workers’ union that’s part of the Service Employees International Union, Lopez has been walking precincts as part of SEIU’s campaign to re-elect President Obama since mid-summer. One day, as he was chatting with an elderly man on his doorstep, his canvassing partner interrupted and asked Lopez, “How much do you know about snakes?” A rather large snake, it seems, had slithered between Lopez’s legs.

The elderly gentleman, who, like hundreds of thousands of new Florida voters, had migrated from Puerto Rico to the Orlando metropolitan area, excused himself, returned carrying a machete and proceeded to hack the snake not entirely to death. “The machete was too dull,” says Lopez, shaking his head. “He ended up just beating that poor snake to death with that thing.”

In Michigan, a High-Stakes Game for Labor

(Flickr/CedarBendDrive)

Sixth in a series on the 174 ballot measures going before voters on November 6.

The Belle of the Electoral College Ball

(Clare Malone/The American Prospect)

Soren Norris is pretty sure he’s just been spouse-blocked.

Norris, a canvasser for Working America, the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate, is walking away from a door that’s been slammed in his face by a rotund man in a polo shirt and khakis at the mention of Ohio’s incumbent Democratic senator, Sherrod Brown. He explains the phenomenon, common enough in this politically divided state to have been given a name by political professionals. “It’s when you want to talk to one, and the other one won’t let you talk to them. She might have been in the back. Who knows?” Norris shrugs off the encounter and is soon off to the next house on his list. He and his team of canvassers need to knock on 3,500 doors in Cuyahoga Falls, a city 45 minutes south of Cleveland, tonight—T-minus 25 days until Election Day in Ohio.

It’s no secret that every four years, in the full flush of autumn glory, this state becomes the prettiest girl at the Electoral College party. Pundits hang on her every anecdotal word, and pollsters won’t stop calling. For both candidates, Ohio’s the closest thing there is to a must-win. Obama for America has spent $54 million on ad buys here, and the Romney campaign has spent $55 million. You can’t turn on the television without seeing Barack Obama’s ears or Mitt Romney’s hair; the radio is awash in spots parodying the candidates to sell cars. For many Ohioans at this point, political ads have become white noise, making grassroots get-out-the vote efforts all the more crucial in the race’s final days.

George McGovern: America's Critic and Champion

The former presidential candidate challenged the country he loved while firmly embracing its people.

(AP Photo/Cliff Owen, Pool, File)

George McGovern, the former Senator from South Dakota and 1972 Democratic candidate for president who died Sunday at the age of 90, was perhaps the greatest exponent of an alternative American patriotism of the end of the 20th century. In this respect, McGovern’s predecessors were men and women like Jane Addams, W.E.B. Dubois, and William James. Historian Jonathan Hansen has described this critical patriotism well as the “claim that critical engagement with one’s country constitutes the highest form of love.” The critical patriot rejects the conventional patriot’s belief that loyalty to the state and, especially, to its military aims should be reflexive and unconditional. Critical patriotism fears that the patriotism of flag pins and yellow ribbons is, as Todd Gitlin has written, “affirmed too easily.”

Holding the Stick

The National Hockey League's low-ball contract offer could cost a lot of games, and a lot of communities their seasonal income.

(Flickr/Tim Shahan)

The National Hockey League's low-ball contract offer could cost a lot of games, and a lot of communities' their seasonal income.

Will the Munger Kids Kill California's Schools?

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

America has the Koch brothers, and now California has the Munger kids. Unlike the rightwing Koches, Molly Munger and her brother Charles Jr. entered politics from opposite directions—she’s a liberal Democrat and a champion of inner-city schools; he’s an economic right-winger, a social moderate, and a Republican activist. But thanks to the vicissitudes of California politics and the self-absorption that wealth can bring (their father is Charles Munger, a Pasadena attorney and investor who is the longtime vice-chairman of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway investment consortium), they’ve come together in the past couple of days to attack the most important measure on the California ballot: Governor Jerry Brown’s initiative to raise taxes on the rich so that the state’s schools and colleges won’t take a massive fiscal hit immediately following the election.

Better Know a Ballot Measure

(Flickr/radarxlove and jamelah e.)

When Oregon voted on the nation’s first ballot initiative in 1904, the idea—as high-school civics teachers have told students ever since—was to take power away from the industries that ran the state legislature through bribes and corruption and return it to the people. In those days, corporate interests dominated and corrupted state politics all across the United States. Mining and railroad companies loomed particularly large, buying off entire legislative chambers and putting lawmakers on their payroll.

They Work Hard for the Money

(AP/Mel Evans

As work becomes increasingly a matter of machines building or moving other machines, workers either lose their jobs or—if they are fortunate enough to keep their jobs—become vastly more productive. Productivity surged in the U.S. during the early years of the current downturn when companies laid off workers by the millions and replaced them with machines. Revenues per employee at the S&P 500, the Wall Street Journal reported, rose from $378,000 in 2007 to $420,000 in 2010.

And yet, the wages and benefits of employed Americans experienced no corresponding increase as workers’ productivity rose. Indeed, over the past quarter-century, as economists Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon have reported, all productivity gains have gone to the wealthiest ten percent of Americans. In the quarter-century following World War II, by contrast, productivity and median household income both rose by 102 percent—but that quarter-century was the only period in American history when unions were strong.

The Amalgamated Pole Vaulters

(Flickr/TexasEagle)

 

A common refrain among union critics is that Americans no longer need unions—that unions were well and good for the exploited sweatshop workers of a century ago, but today’s empowered Americans need no such crutch. 

With workers’ incomes falling, and with the United States leading all industrial nations in the percentage of its workers in low-wage jobs, it’s increasingly clear that today’s we need unions for many of the same reasons that the workers of 1912 did: They’re exploited and underpaid. But if it’s only the nation’s most exploited workers who need to band together, why have America’s most talented employees formed unions of their own?

A Touchdown for Labor

In the NFL referees lockout, the union is coming out ahead.

(AP Photo/David Stluka)

In the NFL referees strike, the union is coming out ahead.

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