Labor

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...

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...

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