Labor

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...

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...

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