Labor

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

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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

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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...

Women and Wal-Mart

Do you remember the big Wal-Mart class-action case alleging that the behemoth retailer systematically discriminated against women, which the Supreme Court tossed out ? (Technically, the SC said the case was too big and the plaintiffs too disparate to be bundled together and tried in a single lawsuit because they all had different situations and complaints). The Court made this flat declaration at the early stage called “motion for summary judgment”—before the plaintiffs had a chance to present the evidence that they had a common complaint. Brad Seligman , the longtime employment lawyer who has been crusading against workplace discrimination for decades, has filed the first of what he says will be a series of regional lawsuits raising the same issues for smaller groups of plaintiffs. Seligman took his winnings in earlier anti-discrimination lawsuits to start the nonprofit Impact Fund, precisely to fund these kinds of cases. Keep your eye on these.

Steve Jobs and the Chinese Wall

Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs hit the bookstores on Monday (or, worse, the websites that have replaced bookstores as the place where people go to buy books), and the more piquant details have already started popping up in the press. Among those details—actually, it’s a good deal more than details—is Jobs’s Manichean view of humankind (at least, those elements of humankind with whom he came into contact). As Michael Rosenwald summarizes it in Monday’s Washington Post : In his personal life, [Jobs] was capable of seeing people in only two ways – as enlightened or as bozos. There was no in-between, and he would ruthlessly cast aside whoever he deemed a bozo…. Those who were deemed enlightened were granted the right to work with Jobs in his binary world where products were either ‘the best’ or ‘totally [expletive],’ Isaacson writes. Isaacson’s description may make it easier to understand Apple’s production process, in which its products were designed to a fare-thee-well in...

Once Made in the USA

The U.S. may soon reach the point where it can't rebuild its manufacturing base.

Manufacturing, says Andrew N. Liveris, thrives in countries that have plenty of customers and a government that significantly supports industry. Right now, he continues, the United States is down the list on both counts. What is unusual about Liveris' comments on the diminishing presence of manufacturing in America and his criticisms of the American government for letting that happen is that he is chairman of Dow Chemical Company, the giant multinational headquartered in Midland, Michigan. Unlike most of his fellow CEOs of U.S.-based multinationals, Liveris actively campaigns for more manufacturing in this country. In his new book, Make It In America: The Case for Reinventing the Economy , he argues that the United States is at a tipping point -- if manufacturing does not make a comeback soon, the opportunity to do so will slip away, and the nation will inevitably lose its status as an economic powerhouse. Yet under Liveris, Dow isn't leading the charge back home. Sixty percent of its...

Florida, Inc.

If a state were a business, CEO Rick Scott would be shown the door.

(Flickr/Governor Rick Scott)
Florida Gov. Rick Scott's ever present, camera-ready grin masks the strain of an embattled politician. His approval ratings rank at the bottom among the nation's governors, and Democrats are poised to use him as the bogeyman of the 2012 election in a key battleground state. He can't match the always-sunny-in-Florida cheer of his predecessor, Charlie Crist, but Scott rivals any Wall Street CEO's unyielding optimism amid dismal earnings. "Hey, how's it going? You doing all right?" he says as he smiles and grips a woman's hand. Scott is working the halls in a place where he isn't a familiar face: the legislative office building. It's rare to see the governor leave his office, behind gigantic wooden doors at the end of a great hall, to whip votes on legislation. Lawmakers usually come to him. But these are desperate times. Scott is working to charm four Republican senators into changing their votes. With only days left in the lawmaking session, he needs a last-minute victory on a bill...

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