Labor

Busted in 'Bama

Last Wednesday night, a cop in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, pulled over a rental car that didn’t have the right tag on it. He asked the driver for his license, and the driver instead produced his German identification card. Before Alabama’s new immigration law took effect this fall, the driver would have been ticketed, but under the terms of the new law, the cop arrested the driver and hauled him off to the police station for the crime of lacking proper identification. In fairly short order, a colleague of the arrestee showed up with the driver’s passport, visa, and German driver’s license. At that point, the driver was released—but the story had just begun. Turns out the driver was a Mercedes executive in town to visit a Mercedes SUV plant about 20 miles outside Tuscaloosa, which employs roughly 2,800 Alabamians. And his arrest drew the immediate attention of Robert Bentley, the state’s Republican governor, who had signed the immigration bill into law. Bentley called his homeland security...

The Establishment Strikes Back

Protesters in front of the New York Stock Exchange Thursday.
Occupy Weekly: The Establishment Strikes Back. This was the week that Occupy Wall Street faced its greatest pushback and pulled off its largest action yet. Sunday’s surprise police raid on Occupy Portland turned out to be one of several around the country, as mayors sent cops to clear occupations in cities including Chapel Hill, Salt Lake City, and New York. Some raids were marked by violence against protesters and press (including reporters from the right-wing New York Post and Daily Caller ). Occupy Boston has secured a preemptive restraining order in hopes of warding off a similar eviction, and Occupy Los Angeles is seeking one as well. Post-raid occupations face new choices and challenges going forward. But the crackdown seems to have swelled the numbers for Thursday’s Day of Action , which opened in New York with protesters and police surrounding the New York Stock Exchange. By day’s end, New York occupiers had staged a student walk-out, shared personal stories in subway cars,...

Now What?

AP Photo/Seth Wenig
E arly Tuesday morning, surprised by a violent police raid on Zuccotti Park, dozens of Occupy Wall Street activists stayed and accepted arrest, a few chained themselves to a tree (which was cut down by police), and others fled, though not all fast enough to escape tear gas. Later that morning, protesters returned expecting the city would yield to a temporary restraining order allowing their camp, but police ignored the order. Tuesday evening, defeated in court, occupiers returned to Liberty Plaza, filing in one or two at a time past watchful police. There were new signs (“Curfew 10 PM”), new rules (no lying down), and a newly urgent question: What’s next? For the two months since its birth, Occupy Wall Street -- and the international movement it’s inspired -- has been defined and driven forward through confrontations. Just as earlier threats to its existence helped make “Liberty Plaza” a teeming village and a household name, the latest attack could galvanize and inspire –- and keep...

Bending the Rules

Congress keeps finding new ways to attack farm-bill reform.

Yesterday, the House and Senate released their final appropriations bill for the current fiscal year. Like the House bill passed in June , the bill, which provides funding to the Department of Agriculture, cuts a number of programs. The National Sustainable Agriculture coalition discusses the programs most hurt in a detailed blog post. One of the areas most hurt is conservation: On the whole, programs that help preserve land were cut by almost $1 billion. But the most senseless provisions were, perhaps, the ones that prevent the USDA from finishing revisions to the rules that govern how meat markets work. The rules, which are enforced by a division of the USDA known as the Grain Inspection, Packers & Stockyards Administration, or GIPSA, regulate the markets through which chicken, hog, and cattle farmers interact with meatpacking companies. Food advocates have long described the ways in which power has consolidated among meatpackers so that a handful of companies control the...

Generation Y Bother

Young adults entering the workforce today think they'll be worse off than their parents—they're not wrong.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
The recession officially ended nearly two and a half years ago, in June 2009, but for the generation of young adults who’ve been trying to take their first steps into adulthood, its effects could shape the future for decades to come. Why is this recession different from other sharp downturns? The standard economic indicators fail to tell the whole story. Yes, unemployment rates for young people remain at the record-high levels they hit at the Great Recession’s peak in 2007, but this is typical for young workers, who tend to be the last group that recovers after a recession—and tend to feel its effects far after the economy has rebounded. The young baby boomers who bore the brunt of the 1981-1982 recession had lower earnings even 15 years after the economy recovered, and during that downturn, the economy only lost half as many jobs as during the Great Recession. For youth entering the workforce today, not only has the sour economy delayed their careers; they are entering a workforce...

Rosie the Riveter and the Ironies of Bentonville

When the doors swung open this morning on Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas—funded to the tune of $1.4 billion by the Walton Family Foundation—one of its prize possessions was Norman Rockwell’s iconic World War II-era painting of Rosie the Riveter. The painting features a confident, insouciant Rosie on her lunch break, eating a sandwich, with a riveting gun on her lap, a copy of Mein Kampf that she uses as a footstool, and an American flag fluttering in the background. Given the Walton family’s epic history of mistreating its company’s workers, and its company’s female workers more particularly, the inclusion of Rosie in the permanent collection is almost too ironic for words. Nonetheless (otherwise, this blog post would end right here), a few facts from the annals of Wal-Mart (approximately 48 percent of whose stock is still owned by the Walton family) are in order. Such as the average hourly wage of its 1.4 million American employees...

Relief for Chicken Farmers

The USDA updates rules protecting small-livestock farmers from big business.

Flickr/Stirwise
Late last week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) sent new rules designed to protect small-scale livestock farmers to the White House for final approval. Farmers have waited more than three years for the changes, which the USDA was directed to review in the 2008 farm bill. The rules haven’t been updated for several decades and have often gone unenforced. In the meantime, the meatpacking industry has grown more powerful, and small farmers have struggled to make ends meet. That is especially true in the chicken industry, in which farmers have basically been forced to contract with a handful of chicken-processing companies and have seen their wages decline drastically. I wrote about it last year for the Prospect in a piece called “The Serfs of Arkansas.” The updated rules will reform the way poultry packers contract with their farmers. Before they can be issued as final, the Office of Management and Budget will determine their cost. The rules will guide the way the Grain...

The Return of Sanity

Issue 2 opponents cheer at a rally co-sponsored by the Cleveland Teachers Union and We Are Ohio in Cleveland as they hear election results sounding the defeat of Issue 2 in the Ohio general election on Tuesday, Novmber 8, 2011. By voting no on Issue 2, Ohioans overturned the controversial Senate Bill 5, which, among other things, limited collective bargaining for 350,000 unionized public workers. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
The common thread in yesterday’s unbroken string of Democratic and progressive victories was the popular rejection of right-wing overreach. From Ohio, where voters overturned by a margin of 61 percent to 39 percent Republican Governor John Kasich’s law stripping public employees of collective-bargaining rights; to Maine, where voters overturned by a margin of 60 percent to 40 percent Republican Governor Paul LePage’s law abolishing Election Day voter registration; to Arizona, where voters recalled Republican state Senate Leader Russell Pearce, the most vehemently anti-immigrant state legislator in the nation; to, will-wonders-never-cease, Mississippi, where voters rejected an initiative declaring a fertilized egg a person from the moment of conception, effectively outlawing abortion and just maybe birth control as well, by a decisive margin of 57 percent to 43 percent, voters shouted a resounding STOP to the rightward gallop of public policy at the hands of the radicalized Republican...

Judgment Day in Ohio

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wisaflcio/
It may be that all the millions of dollars spent by both sides and the tens of thousands of precinct walks they (well, chiefly labor) undertook in the battle to repeal Ohio’s Senate Bill 5, which nullified the collective-bargaining rights of the state’s public employees, merely ensured that Ohioans would vote the way they originally intended to. The latest poll taken before today’s election—from Public Policy Polling (PPP), completed this past weekend—showed that voters backed repeal by a whopping 23-point margin, 59 percent to 36 percent. As PPP noted, voters also backed repeal by a 23-point margin when they were first polled back in March. Initially, as Republican Governor John Kasich’s war on unions was moving through the state’s legislature, liberals feared that popular opposition was tepid. In Wisconsin, the crowds of protestors swelled to 100,000 in opposing that state’s legislation curtailing public employee’s collective-bargaining rights. The one demonstration in Columbus, by...

One Big Question

Last Thursday, I attended a conclave, sponsored by the Frederich Ebert Foundation, of about 20 American liberals (chiefly economists and union representatives) and 20 German social democrats (economists, unionists, Social Democratic Party officials, and a couple of stray businessmen) to see what we could learn from each country’s respective economic, social, and political arrangements. Early on, one German friend posed a question to us Americans: “Where’s your [i.e., America’s] learning curve?” What he meant was that Germany and much of continental Europe had relearned certain key lessons after the financial meltdown of 2008 and its calamitous aftermath that America had apparently failed to process—chiefly, the need for an active and resourceful government capable of regulating markets and boosting the economy when the private sector is flat on its back. To be sure, with Northern Europe (Germany in the lead) currently promoting austerity to Southern Europe (Greece above all), it’s not...

A Model of Health

http://www.flickr.com/photos/59937401@N07/6127242068/sizes/l/
I n 2005, when Local 6 won its first union contract at the boutique Time Hotel on West 49th Street, Angel Aybar, then a 21-year-old room attendant responsible for checking, cleaning, and restocking minibars, not only got a raise from $10 to $16.50 an hour; he became a member of a uniquely effective health plan. The New York hotel workers’ plan provides comprehensive coverage at its own health centers, including full dental and optical care, with no deductibles or co-pays and a core philosophy that emphasizes primary care, wellness, and prevention. Aybar even credits the health plan for his marriage. “My wife and I had been sweethearts since junior high,” Aybar says. “She was working, and they were taking over $100 a month out of her paycheck for her health insurance. I guess it’s not very romantic of me to say this, but it was the union health plan that pushed us over the edge to get married. She was getting chronic headaches. They kept telling her it was just stress. Her first visit...

Union Busters Going Down

Polls for a referendum on an anti-union law in Ohio indicate repeal.

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Tomorrow, Ohioans will vote on Issue 2, a referendum to repeal an anti-union law that threatens to destroy public-sector unions in the state. Last spring, the governor and majority-Republican legislature passed Senate Bill 5, restricting public unions' ability to strike, collectively bargain with employers, and collect dues. In response, state Democrats and unions put the law on the ballot. Going into tomorrow's vote, it looks like labor will pull it off. A new survey from Public Policy Polling shows 59 percent of voters plan to reject SB 5 on Tuesday, while only 36 percent of voters will vote to approve it. It would be an immediate victory for workers' wages and job stability. As a crucial swing state, the win for labor also bodes well for Democrats in the 2012 elections. The Latest Ohio Set to Vote Big Against Kasich's Anti-Union Bill Talking Points Memo Democrats hatch new jobs bill plan Politico Greek Leaders Reach Deal to Form a New Government The New York Times As crisis spreads...

McEntee, Head of AFSCME, to Retire

Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municiple Employees (AFSCME), the 1.4 million-member union that is the largest in the AFL-CIO, has told certain members of AFSCME's executive board that he will not run for re-election. McEntee has been heading AFSCME since 1981 and is the senior member of the AFL-CIO's executive council, as well as the longtime head of its political committee. In an e-mail yesterday to members of his own executive council, AFSCME Indiana leader David Warrick wrote: "Last night President McEntee called me to let me know he has decided to retire and will not be runnng for re-election. We did not discuss his reasoning for this decision but I had heard his health has not been the best lately. Under his direction our Union became not only the largest Public Sector Union in the nation, but also the largest Union in the national AFL-CIO, and I thanked him for his lifetime dedication to AFSCME and the labor movement. In our discussion...

Strike While It's Hot

Today, Occupy Oakland ups the ante in Occupy Wall Street tactics: It has called a general strike for the city of Oakland. Nobody seriously expects that the general strike will turn into—well, a general strike. The kind of effort required to assure that establishments large and small either close their doors or allow their workers to wander off hasn’t really been attempted, as it was, successfully, across the Bay in 1934, when the San Francisco general strike did come pretty close to shutting the city down—the only time in American history when a general strike actually became general. (More on that below.) But a number of unions and left-of-center groups have endorsed today’s strike without actually calling upon their members to strike. The Oakland Education Association has urged its members to take a personal leave day to join the rally, or conduct teach-ins on the 1934 strike. A large SEIU local that represents city workers has said it would be a contractual violation for it to call...

Half-Right Brooks

David Brooks’ column today is one of his better ones—noting that the U.S. is plagued by two kinds of inequality, that which divides the top one percent from everyone else, which is prevalent in our major cities, and that in smaller cities and rural areas, where college grads are doing OK but where the bottom has fallen out for those Americans who don’t complete college or, worse, high school. The gap between the lives of college grads and others has widened not just in terms of income but health, diet, marriage stability, and the percentage of children born and raised out of wedlock. Brooks isn’t the first conservative to have noted the disintegration of family life within America’s working class; Rich Lowry at National Review has also picked up on this. But neither Brooks, in today’s column, nor Lowry take the necessary further step of identifying what exactly has caused all this. If they want to take that step, they should check out the collected works of William Julius Wilson, the...

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