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A new agenda for labor law, with Celine McNicholas


Labor law in the US has been broken down over the past several decades until it’s nearly nonexistent. And yet a new wave of worker resistance and political interest in labor makes it a good time to push for a reimagining and rebuilding of the laws that govern the workplace. The Economic Policy Institute has just published a new agenda for doing just that–rebuilding the right to a union, giving unions real power again, and protecting workers who don’t have unions for what the institute calls “First Day Fairness.” Celine McNicholas, one of the authors of the report, joins me to talk about the movement that will be necessary to rewrite the rules to give workers an equal chance.

I think it is really encouraging that so many of these reforms already live in existing, already-introduced legislation in Congress. None of them get a great deal of attention, but in particular the Workers’ Freedom to Negotiate Act which was introduced this Congress which goes to the heart of many of the reforms aimed at ensuring that folks can unionize. That is the piece of legislation that includes some of the re-imagined right to strike reforms, as well. In terms of how likely it is that any of this passes, I think that is really on all of us. We have a responsibility as advocates to get in there and make sure that people are, number one, aware of these bills, and also that there is a grassroots movement. I think mentioning that you are in Wisconsin, there is a great demonstration in what workers can demand from elected officials. We absolutely have to greet this new Congress with the clear understanding, if it is Democratic controlled, that these issues are top-tier issues, that we demand that they be considered in the first hundred days. The fact that we haven’t had a minimum wage increase in so long at this point, we are looking at over a decade of failure to pass legislation, that is shared by both parties. I think in terms of the likelihood of all of these measures, any of these measures, passing is really incumbent upon all of us to speak up and demand that our elected officials don’t just treat these things as campaign slogans, but that we really demand action on these critical reforms that, quite frankly, affect all of us regardless of party affiliation, regardless of many of the other issues that may divide us. I think a fair economy and how we are all treated at work, how we are all paid, and economic justice, to me, is such a unifying issue that I really hold out hope that it will be a top-tier issue in a Democratic controlled Congress. Let Trump veto a minimum wage increase. Let Trump veto a bill that would actually give people in this country a meaningful path to have a union in their workplace. I remain optimistic that Democrats will recognize that these issues simply cannot be ignored going forward. That said, we have to demand it. It is not enough to just be against the status quo. We really need meaningful reform in this area.

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Building the movement for Medicare for All, with Benjamin Day

This week saw the 53rd anniversary of Medicare, created, as Benjamin Day of Healthcare-NOW! points out, in the middle of the upheaval and social movement agitation of the 1960s. Today we are in the middle of similar (and also very different) upheaval, and organizers are using it to build support for expanding Medicare to the rest of the population. I spoke with Day about the building of a Medicare for All caucus in Congress, the upcoming elections, and why street protests are still going to be important to the struggle.

 

I think that there is going to be a few phases of this movement. Right now, there is definitely a focus on the elections and trying to get…really pressuring all candidates to embrace Medicare for All. After this moment is over…and it looks like we will gain quite a few Medicare for All supporters in Congress just through the election process…but, after that, it is going to be sort of another social movement fight to get sitting reps to embrace it like happened last year.
I think what that looks like will really vary depending on whether Democrats retake the House or the Senate. We are kind of preparing the way for that. A lot of our work has been focused on these elections and pressuring candidates when they are most vulnerable and when they are most accountable, I think. But, Phase Two is really going to be doing very targeted organizing the districts of Democrats who should be on board with this bill and they are not yet.

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Keeping the pressure on Chuck Schumer and the Democrats, with Liat Olenick of Indivisible Nation BK

Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer has been hearing from his constituents a lot lately, and they’re demanding he stand up and fight. That’s the message brought by Indivisible Nation BK, which has held rallies outside of Schumer’s Brooklyn home, his Manhattan office, and elsewhere demanding that Schumer unify the Democrats in standing up to Trumpism and Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. I spoke to Liat Olenick of Indivisible Nation BK about the group’s mission, and how it came together around the idea that someone should hold elected officials accountable.

Indivisible is all about holding your own elected officials accountable. As a Brooklyn group, we meet in Prospect Heights, Boerum Hill, Park Slope area, we’re literally in his backyard, we’re right near his house. We do have members from all over Brooklyn but because we’re so close to him we kind of feel a special responsibility to continue to hold him accountable and put pressure on him to be the leader that we need right now.
All elected officials are there for one reason, because they were elected by people going out and voting for them. When we signal to our representatives what we want them to do or that we are thankful for something or that we are disappointed in actions that they have taken, they pay attention because they want to, ultimately, get reelected and stay in office. The whole Indivisible model is based on that. We, especially with Chuck Schumer, take that really seriously because we are in his backyard and also because he is the most powerful Democrat in the country right now and more than anybody else, we need really strong consistent clear leadership coming from him and his office.

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The Supreme Court and the corporate class, with Saqib Bhatti

The Supreme Court last week handed down decisions in Trump’s Muslim ban case, in the public sector labor union case Janus v. AFSCME, and more, decisions that will harm working people, particularly people of color. But most of the time these decisions are talked about separately from one another, and from other Trumpist attacks on immigrants and working people. Saqib Bhatti of the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE) joins me to talk about them all together, contextualizing the slant of the Supreme Court these days and the shape of the struggle to fight back.

Looking at these issues, what is really important to understand is the connections between “Who are the corporate actors that are actually bad across all of these issues?” One of the things that we are seeing is with a lot of these things, the thing that people love to do with the Muslim ban is really beat up on Trump or say, “This is a terrible decision by the Supreme Court,” but the reality is we can raise those concerns all we want and it doesn’t actually hurt Trump for us to be saying, “He is anti-Muslim, he is racist.” In fact, it actually helps him with his base. With a lot of the politicians we are seeing that the reason why they are actually appealing to white supremacists is because they realize that it actually helps them. The way for us to take them on, while it is important to call out those politicians for what they are and what they are doing, we can’t stop there because at the end of the day that is not going to be an effective way to move them. Especially now if we are seeing the Supreme Court that in the coming years is likely to be stacked by far right ideologues, it seems like the avenue to fight on these fights only in the discourse of public sector and government is going to be going away. That is why it is truly important to look at, “Who are the corporations that these politicians are beholden to? Who are the corporations whose agenda the Supreme Court is carrying out?” and really show some of these connections. What we have found in our research is that a lot of the same companies that are really profiting off the mass incarceration system, that are really profiting from our immigrant policies, that are supporting politicians that are anti-Muslim and support policies like the Muslim ban, these are actually a lot of the same corporations, and by the way, those are also the same corporations that are responsible for defunding the public sector because they don’t pay their fair share in taxes.

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Our immigration policy has always separated families, with Jess Morales Rocketto

When it comes to family separation, no one knows better than migrant domestic workers the myriad ways that US immigration policy has always kept people away from their loved ones. Domestic workers have for decades been coming to the US to care for other people’s children, often while leaving their own far away, and their leadership is key in a moment when Americans are rising up in protest at Trump’s policies around immigration and the family. I spoke with Jess Morales Rocketto, political director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, about the Trump administration’s latest moves, the growing movement to abolish ICE, and much more.

 

Our immigration campaign at National Domestic Workers Alliance is called We Belong Together and it is focused on family separation because this was something that we knew was a problem in our immigration system and was something that we understood was being totally mismanaged and the consequences were happening in our members and our families. Folks who came here and were not connected with their children for 20 years at a time because they were back in their home countries. Or, trying to sponsor their family members and having to be waiting 15-20 years for their family members to be able to come over. I think that part of why we felt like it was really critical to sound the alarm is that in the same way that people don’t value domestic work because it is women’s labor, because it is women of color’s labor, because it is mostly immigrant women’s labor, they also weren’t valuing what they were saying about the immigration system and about the desire that ultimately wins is because the reason that people come here is because they are seeking a better life, often for their family. That could be their chosen family, it could be their children, it could be their extended family.

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Charlottesville is a place, not an event, with Molly

Nearly a year after the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally drew national headlines, Charlottesville, VA activists are still dealing with the fallout. The death of Heather Heyer at the vehicle of James Alex Fields, Jr. wasn’t the only incident of violence last summer, and activists are still preparing for trials of both white supremacists and local Black Lives Matter activists, struggling to institute proactive reforms, and bracing for the potential of another white supremacist rally in their town. I spoke with Molly, one of those local activists, on what’s happened and why the eyes of the nation should still be on Charlottesville.

 

On Friday, after Corey was convicted the judge sentenced him to 360 days active confinement with 340 suspended. That is a 20 day sentence that you actually have to serve. Typically, around here, you serve half of a misdemeanor sentence. You serve 10 days. He has the option of serving it on weekends. So, he could serve five consecutive weekends. Again, the prosecutor requested during sentencing that there be no active incarceration and the judge chose to sentence him to that anyways. Typically, if both the prosecutor and the defense agree on what the sentence should be, the judge just goes with that. He was choosing to send a message here.
We have heard a lot of that “both sides” narrative from both of the judges we hear from mostly are general district judge, Judge Downer, and our circuit court judge, Judge Moore. They both do a little bit of moralizing and sermonizing during sentencing and he said, you know, “bad behavior on both sides.” Like I said, I didn’t take a lot of detailed verbatim notes. It is the same speech every time. I have it written down maybe twenty times across six notebooks. “The whole day was very chaotic, very unfortunate. It cost the city its reputation. We went from a world class city to the city where this happened. This behavior is very serious. We have limited resources for keeping people incarcerated.”
And yet, you still chose to sentence Corey to active incarceration. And the fact that he chose that moment to say that, “What really was damaged here was our city’s reputation.” Not that this young man’s life was in danger. Not that someone died. Three people died. At least people in the upper thirties were treated in hospitals. But, “This city’s reputation was damaged and it is important to send a message.” This young man who defended himself against a known imperial wizard in the Ku Klux Klan was sentenced to serve jail time and 100 hours of community service and two years of good behavior and up to one year of active supervision by offender aid and restoration.
He already served this community. He serviced this community by protecting himself and protecting us on August 12th. So, Friday night, we gathered in Justice Park, that is the park with the Jackson statue by the Albemarle Courthouse, and we marched down the downtown mall chanting and just… It is surreal living in this town because there is such a disconnect. There are so many people for whom this is so real and so present and this is our whole life now. Then, there are people who, when we’re outside the courthouse chanting and holding signs. They come up and they say, “What is this about? What is happening?” We were marching down the downtown mall on Friday night and there was I think a wedding after-party at one of the fancier bars and there is a women in a wedding dress drinking champagne and forty of us marching down the mall chanting for Corey.
As we came back around on the other side of the mall on East Market Street by Emancipation Park, the place where the disorderly conduct allegedly occurred, we took the street. We were marching in the street and I have heard from activists around town that the police used to let us do that. They used to let us take the street because it was easier to just let us quickly move through the street like we were going to do and everyone can move on with their lives than it would be to arrest eight people, like they did on Friday. All eight people were served…they were getting summonses for traffic violations. They are not criminal charges. It is pretty unusual to take people to jail for a traffic violation.

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A New Social Contract, with Cathy Albisa

It can be so easy to get bogged down in the unending horrors coming from the news every day. But while we get stuck watching the bad news, organizers across the country have been engaged in creating solutions that democratize the economy, broaden participation, and fundamentally change our society for the better. A new report from the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative looks at these efforts and pulls them together to lay a blueprint for “A New Social Contract,” and NESRI’s executive director Cathy Albisa took the time to explain what the report entails and why it matters to look forward to a fundamentally different world.

The first thing we wanted to do was make sure we were looking at things that were truly structural, that would address the various intersections of injustice that people were experiencing today. Structural solutions will deal with economic, racial, gender, climate justice, all at once because they are looking at the root cause and these root causes are integrated. Once we looked at those structural solutions, we did see certain things that they had in common.
The first one should be no surprise to anyone, which is that they are driven by values. Too much in our economic and social policy is driven by profit, driven by hate, driven by things that we would consider completely anathema to our values. These solutions that are driven by core social justice and human rights values.
The second thing we noticed about them is what I mentioned earlier. They really are better for everyone. They center people that are most marginalized, but they are systemic solutions that if we really scaled up would really lead to universal systems that addressed people’s basic needs and offer opportunities for neighborhoods not to just survive, but thrive all over the country.
The third is that almost all of them had a really central component that involved reenvisioning local democracy. It is no secret that our democracy is in peril right now. We have been downgraded by The Economist from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy.” Even before this election a report was coming out of Princeton, hardly a radical institution, they deemed that we were no longer a democracy, but really more of an oligarchy. It is clear that communities are feeling this and that they are coming up with new forms of local democracy, community control, worker ownership to rebuild that sense of collectivity from the ground up.

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Halting the bipartisan deregulate-a-palooza, with Alexis Goldstein

Donald Trump ran a faux-populist campaign for office, bashing Democrats for being too close to Wall Street. But in office, it’s a different story. Alongside Congressional Republicans and a handful of Democrats, he’s been busy deregulating the banks, dismantling consumer protections, and otherwise handing Wall Street a bunch of gifts–to say nothing of the tax cuts. I spoke with Alexis Goldstein of Americans for Financial Reform to explain why, when we’re still living in the wake of 2008, deregulate-a-palooza is bipartisan policy–and how to stop it.

It is basically déjà vu all over again, is the short answer. It is like it is the 1990s and it is full speed ahead on ripping up all of the rules that we put in place after the last financial crisis. There are a few different things that are going on. One thing that is happening is in the consumer space. One of the best things that came out of the last crisis was the creation of this consumer bureau that was the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was one of the few places that was actually looking out for the little guy and if your bank rips you off for like $15, you could complain and pretty quickly usually get a resolution because they have this complaint system and the Consumer Bureau would reach out to the company on your behalf. It is amazing. The other thing that they did is they sued companies and tried to get back money that financial companies had stolen from people. They got back billions of dollars to millions of Americans. Trump installed this guy, Mick Mulvaney, who is this Tea Party guy who was already at the Office of Management and Budgets, so this is his other job. He is basically like Scott Pruitt at the EPA, a longtime foe of the bureau, running the bureau and dismantling it from within. When you complain, there is this database you can look at. So, if you have a company that is really giving you the run-around, you can look into the database and see if other people have had the same problem. Mulvaney wants to take the complaints offline so you can’t read them anymore. There were a bunch of lawsuits that the Bureau was pursuing against payday lenders that were totally scamming people and charging them like 300% interest. He dropped some of those lawsuits. He totally eliminated the Office for Students and Consumer Protection, which was one of the best – in my opinion – offices looking out for student loan borrowers. That is the consumer space. Then, if you look into the more bank-y, more systemic risk, more crisis kind of stuff, we are also seeing rollbacks there. We are seeing proposals to undo Dodd-Frank. Then, the third piece is partially Trump, partially GOP, but also, there are Democrats to blame. There were these really big pieces of legislation that was recently signed into law, that kind of makes a future bailout more likely. It is sort of like Congress is doing bad things and then, Trump is doing bad things in both the consumer space and the financial systemic risk space. It is all the bad things.

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Stopping family separation at the border, with Eve Stotland

There’s been a lot of anger about the Trump administration’s policies on immigration, and in particular lately, around the policy of family separation at the border. But what is actually happening, and what do families actually need? Eve Stotland of The Door is an attorney who has worked on just these issues for years, and she joins us to disentangle the questions of what the Trump administration is and is not doing to migrant children and their families, and to tell us how to challenge this policy and fight for fair treatment for migrants and for everyone.

There are a few things going on and I think that some of them are getting conflated, so it is really helpful to pull them apart. One thing that is absolutely going on is that the US government, and very specifically Customs and Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement – these are two agencies that are in charge of policing our borders and enforcing our immigration laws–these agencies, when they detain families, when they are arresting families at the border for violating immigration laws, they are separating parents and children.
Now, some of this is new and some of it is not new. It is a surprise to a lot of people that I talk to that the US has been detaining–meaning prison, putting families who violated immigration law in prison, it is called immigration detention, but let’s remember it is prison–for many years. So that is not new. Also, immigration has been detaining children for many years. Also, Immigration has just been jailing a lot of people. In fact, I think there is something like 34,000 beds.
What is new here is that really Immigration did not have a policy at the border of separating parents and children. That is something that has developed recently. It is hard to track exactly when it started because the federal government is not being honest about it. One day they say there is no new policy. The next day, they say there is a policy. Then, Trump blames the Democrats for the policy.
The amount of intentional misinformation that is going out there is really intense, but what we do know, because people at the border, including the ACLU, have been tracking this and have brought a lawsuit about it, is that absolutely at least 600 parents and children have been separated in recent months at the border.

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Defeating the attack on food assistance–for now, with Rebecca Vallas

A lot of things wind up embedded in the massive, regularly-renewed piece of legislation known as the “farm bill” each year, and one of the most important–at least, to the 40 million Americans who rely on it–is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously and still commonly known as food stamps. The program has been in the sights of Republicans, fresh off a victory on tax cuts, who want to pay for those cuts by slashing benefits to working people and the poor. Rebecca Vallas has been following the progress of these attacks and the broader push by the Right to put “Work Requirements” on everything, and she joins us once again to talk about how the farm bill was defeated and how SNAP might be saved.

A little bit of background on what the SNAP program is. It used to be called food stamps. People might be familiar with that name for the program, but today it is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It helps about 40 million Americans put food on the table in any given month. Now, the benefits that it provides are already extremely meager. Just $1.40 per person per meal. Just pausing there for a second. Imagine that as your food budget, but you have got Republicans in Congress saying, “Nope, that is too much. We have got to actually take some of that away from people who are struggling to put food on the table.”
That is what this what this farm bill would have done, is to make a program that is already incredibly meager, where families already, by and large, report running out of food by the third week in the month. It is to make that program even harder to access for people when they are facing hard times. And the people that it targets, by and large, are people who are struggling to find work or can’t get enough hours in their job. That is who would be most hurt by this proposal.
Now, what happened last week, is we saw total unity among Democrats. We saw Democrats saying, “This is a heartless bill that I can’t vote for” and we saw that from every single Democrat in the house. What we saw in the Republican caucus was really disarray. Not super dissimilar from what we have seen on a number of occasions with a number of pieces of legalization where Republicans can’t quite seem to agree on how heartless they want to be.
We actually saw the bill go down literally in the middle of the voting. It seems like Republicans weren’t aware that they didn’t have the votes to pass the bill. So, we saw Democrats in lockstep say, “No, I can’t vote for a piece of legislation that takes food away from as many as 2 million Americans,” which is what this bill would have done. And we saw Republicans split between wanting to see the bill be even crueler and take even more food away from even more people. In some cases, in the case of moderate Republicans, we saw them saying, “Actually, I am realizing this is going to be bad for me in November.”

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