Labor

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...

Made in America — Again

Leaders discuss returning manufacturing to the U.S. in a Prospect roundtable.

AP Photo/Madalyn Ruggiero
Andy Grove was, successively, the director of engineering, president, CEO, and Chairman of Intel Corporation. In an article last year, Grove proposed levying tariffs on goods produced offshore and dedicating the funds to help companies scale up production in the United States. Andy Grove was, successively, the director of engineering, president, CEO, and Chairman of Intel Corporation. There are three distinct causes for the jobs we’ve lost. First, the declining demand for products. So everybody focused on the stimulus—they assumed that the demand cycle and the employment cycle are related like they used to be. But they’re not. I don’t understand pure Keynesianism at a time of global flows like we have now. If we turn on a spigot to increase demand for consumer products, we need to have some factor that measures the portion that goes to a domestically made product. That portion in the last ten years must have changed in a very major way. You want a measure? How about asking for the...

GOP vs. Job Creators

In the ongoing battle over extending the payroll tax cuts that currently save the median American household about $1,000 a year, one salient point is commonly overlooked: The proposal that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are championing also cuts in half the payroll tax for employers. Currently, employers are subjected to a payroll tax of 6.2 percent on every paycheck they write. The Democratic proposal would reduce that to 3.1 percent on the first $5 million in taxable payroll—that is, it would chiefly benefit small and middle-sized businesses. Yet every Senate Republican but one (Maine’s Susan Collins) voted against this proposal when it came to a vote on Thursday, complaining that it taxed job creators by proposing to off set the tax cut by raising taxes on individuals and couples for that portion of their annual income in excess of $1 million. Never mind that that the Treasury Department has concluded that only 1 percent of those taxpayers are small businesses...

Game Plan

With a labor agreement tentatively in place, the NBA's next challenge will be bringing the fans back.

AP Photo/Mike Segar
With its labor dispute nearly behind it, the NBA is facing another mammoth problem: winning fans back. In a time when the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high and the economy won’t grow, many basketball fans viewed the NBA strike as an ugly and petty fight of rich players against wealthy owners over a few more million. “It’s the most ridiculous thing I saw in my life,” one longtime fan ranted to the New York Post. “They make so much money. It’s childish.” Childish or not, as the National Basketball Association welcomes back its players after reaching a tentative deal last Saturday, it has to figure out a way to bring back fans who were stung not only by the lockout, but by years of expensive ticket prices, the LeBron James-decision fiasco, and players throwing tantrums. The five-month labor crisis and resulting lockout, which came after the players’ association and NBA owners’ inability to reach an agreement over a variety of issues from players’ salaries to revenue sharing after...

NBA, Final

A league labor agreement includes a surprising caveat to protect owners from ... themselves.

AP Photo/Hans Deryk
After spending almost half the year in a pitched labor dispute that shutdown league operations, the NBA owners and players union agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement last weekend. The reformed players union—which had disbanded last month to file an antitrust lawsuit against the owners as a negotiating tactic—and league representatives are set to meet again Friday afternoon to come to official terms on the ten-year contract. As long as the final details (such as drug testing and player age restrictions) are worked out over the next week, a shortened 66-game season will kickoff on Christmas Day. The general consensus on the deal is that the owners came out ahead at the players' expense. The old contract had stipulated that 57 percent of basketball-related income go toward players' salaries, while the new deal reduces that number to 51 percent next season, and possibly even lower in years to come. But the fight wasn't just about the overall divide of money, and for the other...

Back from China?

A s in hundreds of cities and towns in the once-industrial Midwest, a ghost not only haunts but dominates North Canton, Ohio. It’s a ghost of brick and mortar, glass and steel, of a smokestack that rises directly across the street from the City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce. The ghost’s name is still painted on the smokestack, four years after the factory beneath it clanged to a halt. “Hoover,” it says—as in Hoover Vacuum Cleaner, a company founded in North Canton in 1908 that was the town’s largest employer, and leading citizen, for one year short of a century. At its height, Hoover’s North Canton empire spread over 17 factories and buildings, one of them a private hospital for local Hoover workers (as many as 7,000 during the company’s flush decades) who took sick or were injured on the job. “This was Hooverville—our own version, not Herbert-Hooverville—a company town,” says Doug Lane, a former city councilor who now heads the Chamber of Commerce. “If the city needed a fire truck...

God Help Us

Will Rick Perry’s blend of Christian-right, small-government, and pro-corporate fervor land him in the White House?

I n April, Rick Perry traveled to North Texas for a taping of televangelist James Robison’s TV show, Life Today . For six months, starting as soon as he was re-elected Texas governor in November 2010, Perry had been crisscrossing the country to promote his second book, Fed Up! , while testing the presidential waters with potential donors and conservative activists. His visit with Robison, a hellfire-breathing pastor known as “God’s hit man” (for “giving ’em so much hell nobody will ever want to go there”), had the potential to pay serious dividends. Robison had led the Christian-right campaign that helped lift Ronald Reagan to the White House in 1980, and he was re-emerging as the chief instigator of a national effort to mobilize evangelicals to defeat Barack Obama in 2012. With former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee—who left divinity school in 1976 to work for Robison—having forgone the race, the pastor was searching for a candidate the resurgent evangelical right could anoint. Perry...

A More Perfect Union

E mily Dopper and her boyfriend, Willem van Leeuwen, tourists from the Netherlands, were on their way to lunch at the Boathouse restaurant in New York’s Central Park when they encountered the picket line. Clay Skaggs, a striking waiter, intercepted them. “We’re asking you not to eat here,” he said in a tone of polite explanation. “They practice sexual harassment, and they stole $3 million in wages over two years. They also got a C-rating on their health inspection.” Dopper looked dejected and unconvinced. “We came here to Central Park all the way from Europe,” she said. “There are lots of other great places nearby,” Skaggs continued. He handed them a foldout flyer. One side featured a detailed map of the park and its myriad paths and attractions, displaying locations and write-ups of other restaurants and a big red circle with a slash around the Boathouse. On the other side was an explanation of the issues in the strike, with summaries in 19 languages. Adopting his best waiter’s...

Republicans Deep-Six the NLRB

Doing filibustering Senate Republicans one better, the one Republican member on the (currently) three-member National Labor Relations Board appears to have decided to bring the board to a screeching halt by refusing to vote and thus denying it a quorum. In a letter made public yesterday, Republican Brian Hayes wrote fellow GOP-er John Kline, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, that he might well not participate in the Board’s scheduled November 30 vote on changing the rules for union certification elections. The proposed rule change essentially would shorten the period between the time that workers file for a union-representation election and the election itself from the current time period, which is as long as management can delay a vote (sometimes, for years) to roughly three or four weeks. In his letter, Kline complained that he was not privy to some of the deliberations of the board (that is, of the two Democratic members) and thus might fail to show up for...

Thanks, But No Thanksgiving

Employees and consumers fight back against "Black Friday," which increasingly starts on the holiday itself.

It may feel as traditional as leftover turkey, but it’s only been since the 1960s that retailers have named the day after Thanksgiving, when bargain shoppers hunt for discount goods like big game, "Black Friday." But this year, black could just refer to the pall cast on store employees’ holidays, which have been increasingly cut short in an effort to start the sales earlier and earlier. In Nebraska, rumors of a Thanksgiving midnight opening at the Omaha North Target store where Anthony Hardwick has worked for the past three years first circulated on Facebook. By the time store managers confirmed that employees were scheduled to start their shifts at 11 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, the part-time parking attendant had taken matters into his own hands. “There was a sense of inevitability about the whole thing,” Hardwick said. “Initially, I thought I’d like to start a petition to give to corporate to show how many team members and customers are against this.” Hardwick argued that all hourly and...

Wisconsin Dems off to a Fast Start

Opposition to labor restrictions has galvanized Wisconsin Democrats over the past year, but they face a tough haul with their recall campaign against Republican Governor Scott Walker. A recall will only be triggered if the campaign manages to collect signatures totaling 25 percent of the ballots cast in the 2010 election. That equals more than 540,000 signatures, though they'll need to gather more than that to guard against any challenges. All the forms must be submitted to the state's election board within 60 days of the first day of the campaign last week. It's no easy task, but Wisconsin Democrats are already well on their way to gathering the required number less than a week into the campaign. Over the course of the first four days, United Wisconsin (as the recall group is known) secured 105,000 supporters. From a pure logistical viewpoint, that's an impressive haul, yet I'm not so sure it guarantees their success. They have been organizing this campaign since the summer and used...

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