Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

In the Wake of Deadly Clashes, AFL-CIO Stands with Mexican Teachers Union

June 24th, 2016 | Charlie Fanning

charlie fanningAt least eight protesters were killed and 53 injured earlier this week in clashes with police in Oaxaca, Mexico, during demonstrations against neoliberal education reforms. The teachers union in Oaxaca has been leading protests this summer against the federal government’s move to impose a national education plan that blankets over indigenous concerns in Oaxaca and imposes teacher evaluations that disadvantage schools in the poor region, as well as attacks against the union, including the controversial arrests of union leaders, mass firings of protesting teachers and the freezing of union bank accounts.

On Sunday, police sought to break up a blockade of protesters and violence erupted, with reports of police shooting into the crowd. The recent tragedy is another in a long line of incidents in Mexico’s ongoing human and labor rights crisis, including the 2014 disappearance and murder of 43 students from the teachers college in Ayotzinapa at the hands of local police and criminal gangs.

AFT President Randi Weingarten has called for an end to the violence and the immediate start of productive negotiations, and described the situation as “a sad commentary on human rights when a government meets union concerns with deadly force.”

 Talks have begun between union officials and the government, as teachers in Oaxaca continue their protests despite police threats. The AFL-CIO stands with teachers and their families in Oaxaca in their struggle for justice and autonomy.

Further, as the U.S. and Mexican governments continue to push for expanded trade benefits under the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the AFL-CIO and Mexican unions oppose the agreement and demand that the Mexican government—and other countries with dire human and labor rights records like Vietnam and Malaysia—undertake fundamental reforms to end impunity for human rights abuses and protect freedom of speech, association and labor rights.

This article originally appeared in aflcio.org on June 24, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Charlie Fanning is the Global Advocacy and Research Coordinator at AFL CIO

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House Republicans stand strong for anti-LGBT discrimination in the wake of Orlando shootings

June 23rd, 2016 | Laura Clawson

LauraClawsonLGBT people may be able to marry, but in many states they can also be fired or not hired because they’re LGBT. And House Republicans are fighting to keep that from changing.

President Obama’s executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity went into effect in 2015. Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has been trying to get the House to pass an amendment backing up that executive order, but House Republicans are not having it. They’ve beenfighting to keep allowing employers to discriminate against LGBT workers even if they get federal money, and they’re not stopping now.

The House Rules Committee blocked Maloney’s amendment from getting a full House vote. Again, we’re talking about something saying that if you want federal money, you can’t discriminate. And context matters here:

Maloney argued that allowing a vote to prohibit discrimination in the workplace after the targeted attack on the gay nightclub would send a message of solidarity with the LGBT community.

“It’s hard to imagine that any act that is so horrific could lead to anything positive. But if we were going to do anything, it would be a very positive step to say that discrimination has no place in our law and to reaffirm the president’s actions in this area,” Maloney told The Hill. “Seems to me a pretty basic thing to do.”

Sorry, make that—context should matter here. But House Republicans have made it clear that there’s no context that would stop them from enabling discrimination.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.com on June 15, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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Another Foreign Corporation To Sue U.S. Thanks To Trade Agreement

June 22nd, 2016 | Dave Johnson

Dave JohnsonThere is a clause in many “free-trade” agreements allowing corporations to sue governments in corporate courts for passing laws, regulating and other things that might limit their profits. Never mind if the people of a country want to do something to make their own lives better; these agreements say that their governments have to pay corporations if they do.

These “investor protection” provisions even let tobacco companies sue governments that try to help people quit smoking – even for discouraging children from starting!

Recent cases like this include a Canadian oil company suing the U.S. government for not letting it build a pipeline across our country so they can sell oil to China. They include Mexican and Canadian meat packaging corporations suing to force the U.S. to stop country-of-origin labeling (COOL) of meats. They include big Mexican seafood corporations suing to force a halt to “dolphin-safe” labels on tuna cans.

Corporation Threatens Suit Over Blocking Huge Open-Pit Mine In Pristine Wilderness

Now this: Northern Dynasty Minerals is threatening a lawsuit against the U.S. government for not approving a permit allowing them to dig one of the world’s largest open-pit gold and copper mines in Alaska’s Bristol Bay wilderness.

The Pebble Mine would have produced as much as 10 billion tons of contaminated waste (3,000 pounds for every person on Earth.) The mine threatened one of the world’s most valuable salmon habitats and the corresponding fishing industry. The Bristol Bay wilderness is home to grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, wolverines, foxes, otters, moose, and many more species, making it a major tourist area. These animals also depend on clean water.

Northern Dynasty is threatening to sue for a massive payout unless the government changes course. The infamous North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) enables them to do this.

The Huffington Post has the story, in “Pebble Mine: Canadian Mining Company Threatens to Stick U.S. Taxpayers with Costs of “Potentially Catastrophic” Mining Scheme“:

According to the company’s lawyers, Northern Dynasty is prepared to file a claim for “arbitration” under NAFTA, seeking compensation for the failure of the Pebble Mine project to move forward to federal permitting. The basis? That the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has acted in a “grossly abusive, arbitrary, and deliberately opaque manner,” in breach of due process, U.S. statutes, and “Northern Dynasty’s legitimate expectations . . . .”

In the ensuing 42 pages, the letter lays out the basis for Northern Dynasty’s astonishing claim that NAFTA entitles it to a bailout based on EPA’s alleged efforts to prevent it from pursuing its scheme to develop a copper and gold mega-mine in the headwaters of the greatest wild salmon fishery on Earth.

A huge, dirty, polluting open-pit mine in one of the last pristine wildernesses on Earth? The waste from the mine threatens an entire fishing industry. But a big corporation is able to sue our government for not issuing a permit for this outrageous and dangerous scheme.

That is what these “free trade” deals are about – placing corporate profits for a few already-wealthy investors (“Wall Street”) over sovereign governments, their people and the planet’s environment.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is another huge “free-trade” deal with similar provisions placing corporate profits above the sovereignty of governments. There is a drumbeat being engineered by corporations, Wall Street and the Obama administration to force a vote on the TPP during the “lame duck” session of Congress after the election. Holding this vote at that time would mean there is very little accountability to the public, but a lot of opportunity for passing around corporate largesse. Call your member of Congress and your senators to let them know how you feel about this idea.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on June 15, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

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Baltimore May Be the Next City to Adopt a $15 Minimum Wage

June 21st, 2016 | Bruce Vail

Bruce Vail

The national movement toward a minimum wage of $15 an hour is picking up steam in Baltimore, with a key test of strength for the local movement expected before the end of the summer.

The City Council’s Labor Committee met this week to begin the process of moving legislation to a vote, hearing testimony from supporters and opponents, and setting the stage for a full Council vote in late July or August.

“We’re making progress. I’m encouraged,” says Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (D), the chief sponsor of the legislation. Powerful opposition from Baltimore business interests is apparent, she tells In These Times, but that is to be expected. On the other hand, support is strong from a majority of the members, Clarke adds, so proponents are pushing forward for a full Council vote just as soon as practical.

“We hope to get this passed in August or September,” says Ricarra Jones, a political organizer for 1199SEIU. Opponents are “trotting out the same old discredited (economic) theories,” she says, but the momentum of successful $15 minimum wage fights in California, New York, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., should help push the Baltimore effort forward.

Jones says local labor unions are rallying in favor of the higher minimum wage. Aside from SEIU, prominent in the coalition are the Baltimore Teachers Union (an affiliate of American Federation of Teachers), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and UNITE HERE. Ernie Grecco, President of the Metropolitan Baltimore Council AFL-CIO Unions, adds that support is “unanimous’ among the 160 local labor organizations affiliated with the group.

As reported earlier at In These Times, Clarke’s bill would raise the minimum wage in steps from the current $8.25 an hour to $15 by 2020. It would then establish a cost of living adjustment (COLA) so that the wage would rise annually thereafter, based on inflation statistics. Significantly, it would also eliminate the so-called “tipped wage,” the special sub-minimum of $3.63 an hour that applies to waiters, waitresses, bartenders, and other servers who receive tips as part of their daily work.

Melvin R. Thompson, a lobbyist for the Restaurant Association of Maryland, focused on the tipped wage during his testimony to the Labor Committee June 15. “Passage of this legislation will force many employers to eliminate jobs because paying such high minimum wages to unskilled, entry-level workers will be unsustainable for businesses that utilize such labor. If passed, this legislation will ultimately hurt the very people it is intended to help,” he told the committee.

The Restaurant Association commissioned a study that found the $15 minimum would cause the loss of about 3,500 jobs in the city, Thompson added. One restaurant manager, identified as an official of the Ruth’s Chris Steak House chain, asserted that the chain would close at least one, or possibly two, of its locations in the city if $15 legislation passed.

These voices against raising the wage were joined by executives from the Greater Baltimore Committee and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, two influential Chamber of Commerce-like organizations representing business owners.

In sharp contrast to the well-tailored suits and slick presentations of the lobbyists was the testimony of Vonzella Barnes, a housekeeper at the Horseshoe Casino, a recently-opened gambling palace controlled by the multinational Caesars Entertainment Corp.

Hired at the opening of the casino two years ago at a wage of $9.50 an hour, she has had no raises, the 46-year-old mother of two testified to the Labor Committee. The cost of the two children, and other regular monthly expenses, means that “I constantly have to borrow money from my Mom to pay the rent,” she said. “At her age, I should be giving her money, not borrowing from her.”

Barnes wore her red UNITE HERE union t-shirt as she testified, signifying that many union workers in Baltimore would benefit from the $15 minimum wage. UNITE HERE and several other unions represent workers the casino, but even union wages in some of the lower-pay positions leave workers at near poverty levels.

Indeed, 1199SEIU members launched a series of short strikes against Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2014 over a demand for a $15 minimum, but failed to achieve that is the final settlement. During that fight, it was exposed that hundreds of employees of the wealthy Hopkins Hospital were forced to rely on Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies, or other anti-poverty programs, to make ends meet.

Councilwoman Clarke linked her minimum wage proposal to Baltimore’s race riot last year, which exposed the dismal living conditions in the city’s low-income neighborhoods. “We’ve had this debate about minimum wage in Baltimore before, and the actions of the city have not been enough. This year has to be different – because last year was different. Baltimore has to change its ways,” she says.

This blog originally appeared at inthesetime.com on June 20, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’sDaily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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Appeals court upholds workers' right to a union vote without delays and stalling tactics

June 20th, 2016 | Laura Clawson

LauraClawsonA federal appeals court has upheld a National Labor Relations Board move modernizing and streamlining union representation elections. The rule, which business lobby groups like the American Builders and Contractors and the National Federation of Independent Business have tried to brand as “ambush elections,” cuts down the time employers have to fire and intimidate union supporters, and reduces the endless litigation employers would use to prevent workers’ voices from being heard. The case went before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative in the country, but the bosses still didn’t win:

In delivering the opinion of the court, Judge Edith Brown Clement said the “board acted rationally and in furtherance of its congressional mandate in adopting the rule.”

“Here, the board identified evidence that elections were being unnecessarily delayed by litigation and that certain rules had become outdated as a result of changes in technology,” she wrote.

“It conducted an exhaustive and lengthy review of the issues, evidence and testimony, responded to contrary arguments, and offered factual and legal support for its final conclusions.”

A previous lawsuit by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and some of its allies had been dismissed. Congressional Republicans also tried to block the rule from going into effect, but President Obama vetoed that attempt.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.com on June13, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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The Right to Strike Must Mean the Right to Return to Work After a Strike

June 17th, 2016 | Shaun Richman

With the decisive victory for union members at Verizon, 2016 is already on pace to be the second year in a row where recorded strike activity has increased over the previous half-decade. Now, a new decision from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) could restore legal job protections for striking workers, making workplace job actions a more common—and more powerful—union strategy.

Workers simply do not have a meaningful right to strike if they do not have a right to return to the job when the strike is over. But, thanks to the judicial gutting of labor rights, going on strike is a high stakes proposition for American workers. Not only do striking workers lose out on pay and benefits during the strike, but they run the risk of losing their jobs entirely. So, while work stoppages are on the rise relative to the last few years, they are at historically low levels compared to the post-war era when wages actually rose with corporate profits.

In a new case, American Baptist Homes, the NLRB attempts to strike a balance between workers’ statutory right to strike and protection against employer retaliation for union activity and a boss’s Supreme Court-granted “right” to hire permanent replacement workers “to protect and continue his business.” Thankfully in this case, the exceptionally arrogant and stupid Executive Director of the employer in this case and her counsel went on the record that their use of permanent replacements was meant to “punish the strikers and the Union” and to discourage future strikes, as Benjamin Sachs has detailed.

For much of the last four decades, the NLRB has simply taken a boss’s word that the permanent replacement of striking workers was necessary to continue her business. Now, the NLRB has declared that it will return to an earlier, Supreme Court-approved standard in which employers’ rights to permanently replace striking workers may be “wholly impeached by the showing of an intent to encroach upon protected rights.”

In other words, the NLRB will investigate when an employer hires scabs—and they better have a good case. Since most strikes these days are defensive—pushing back against employers’ attempts to gut work rules, slash pay and benefits and bust the union—this is a big deal.

“…to interfere with or impede or diminish in any way the right to strike.”

A forthcoming book by labor law scholar Julius Getman, The Supreme Court on Unions: Why Labor Law is Failing American Workers, explores in depth the “judicial arrogance” of the court in substituting their own ideology and facts when shaping the labor law regime. It is particularly well timed as we look forward to a profound change in the Court in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death (although Getman clearly did not anticipate Scalia’s timely passing when he wrote the book).

One aspect that stands out in Getman’s book, to this writer at least, is the shakiness of the legal precedent that allows employers to permanently replace striking workers. It begs for a campaign of judicial activism to repeal it.

This legal vulnerability of strikers was established by a 1938 Supreme Court decision, NLRB vs. Mackay Radio. It was a poorly decided and little-revisited case upon which the entire anti-union playbook depends. Getman shines a welcome spotlight on the case, and inspires the conclusion that the so-called “Mackay Doctrine” is overdue for a sustained campaign of judicial challenge from unions and their allies.

In the original case, NLRB v. Mackay Radio & Telegraph Co., the union’s strike lasted all of one weekend. The employer continued operating by transferring workers from its other facilities, and when support for the union’s goals failed to materialize, the leaders called off the strike. When the strikers returned to work on Monday, four of the leaders were singled out and denied reinstatement.

The NLRB quickly ruled that the employer’s actions were clear violations of the law and went to court to order the employer to reinstate the four fired strikers, with back pay. The 9th Circuit Court refused to enforce the NLRB’s order, as this was generally a period when many jurists considered the labor act, in part or in whole, to be unconstitutional. That’s how the case got to the Supreme Court.

Ironically, the Mackay decision was hailed at the time as a victory for labor. It was yet another decision that cemented the constitutionality of labor law, but the Court also found for the union and the NLRB.

The labor relations act, after all, was meant to protect workers who engage in union activity from “discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment,” and these four workers were singled out for their strike activity and told that they no longer had jobs.

Of course, Mackay had no time to hire permanent replacements in a weekend.

The issue was inserted by Justice Owen Roberts as an offhand comment, which I’ll quote in full because it bears scrutiny:

Although Section 13 of the act, provides, ‘Nothing in the Act should be interpreted to interfere with or impede or diminish in any way the right to strike,’ it does not follow that an employer, guilty of no act denounced by the statute, has lost the right to protect and continue his business by supplying places left vacant by strikers. And he is not bound to discharge those hired to fill the places of strikers, upon the election of the latter to resume their employment in order to create places for them.

In other words, the employer in Mackay broke the law because it discriminated against the strike leaders by singling them outand firing them, but if the employer had found a non-discriminatory way to discriminate against strikers (like, say, hiring scabs to replace them in the order of reverse seniority) then that would be hunky dory.

“…the right to protect and continue his business…”

In the four decades that followed Mackay, very few employers took the liberty to permanently replace striking workers, as it generally fell outside what was considered socially acceptable behavior by employers in the post-war era.

Which isn’t to say that some employers didn’t try to push the envelope in their union-busting attempts. Most judicial revisiting of Mackay comes from cases where the Courts rejected employer attempts to go further.

For instance, in a 1963 case the Supreme Court rejected an employer’s attempt to grant replacements a “super seniority” for their service as scabs by ruling that it was not “proper under Mackay.” It was this sort of right-wing judicial activism that pushed back on union rights and served to give a bad footnote the appearance of settled legal doctrine. But the court has never revisited the facts or logic of the Mackay decision.

As Getman points out, what is now considered the “Mackay Doctrine” is in direct conflict with the actual Mackay decision:

The holding is that it is illegal to decide which employees are entitled to work after a strike on the basis of union activity. But the dictum insists that the employer may give employment preference to those who work during a strike over those who strike, which is precisely the same result, penalizing union activity that was outlawed by the holding.

“It is impossible to know,“ writes Getman, “what led the Court to go out of its way to announce that the hiring of permanent replacements was consistent with the Act.” But one can easily guess that the conservative judges, aghast at New Deal encroachments on property rights, sought to ensure that the bargaining power of unions was “balanced” in some way.

The Mackay Doctrine wasn’t really put to use until the 1980s, starting with the Phelps-Dodge copper mining company, which bargained its Steelworkers local to impasse over drastic cuts in pay, benefits and working conditions, pushed them out on strike and then had the scabs vote to decertify the union 12 months later. This is how employers have weaponized Mackay to union-bust much of American industry. (And it would be clearly illegal under the new American Baptist Homes standard.)

The results are far from Justice Roberts’ nebulous “right to protect and continue his business,” and farther still from “balancing” the power of unions and management. Common sense dictates that the right of management to permanently replace striking workers be revisited; justice demands that the Mackay Doctrine be overturned.

Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I think Mackay is vulnerable to constitutional challenge as a violation of workers’ 1st amendment rights of free speech and assembly, 13th amendment protections against involuntary servitude and 14th amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection. As it is, the American Baptist Homes NLRB decision is certain to be resisted and appealed by business and industry, and will inevitably wind its way up the federal courts.

Even if the Court doesn’t go for those constitutional arguments, it could be ruled to have been “wrong the day it was decided” for having ignored both the plain language of the law, as well as the clear legislative intent. Or the Court could decide that their predecessors acted in the public interest by attempting to “balance” the power of unions and management in 1938, but that the track record of Mackay since 1983 demonstrates that true balance can only be achieved by restoring the right to strike without reprisal.

Or if the Court really wants to weasel out of the controversy, they could lean on the crucial (and crucially forgotten) “protect and continue his business” portion of the initial Mackay dictum—only granting the “right” to permanently replace strikers to employers who can demonstrate that they might go out of business otherwise, or, as in American Baptist Homes, that they have no ulterior union-busting motive.

Not that Julius Getman would necessarily agree with my proposal. “The long existence of the doctrine,” he writes, “its acceptance by Court after Court, and the fact that it has survived attempts to overturn it by amendment all will make it a ward of stare decises, safe even from liberal courts.”

Getman is a brilliant and accomplished legal scholar. I’m just an organizer who argues with lawyers a lot. So, with respect, I don’t see a substantial downside to trying. It was the dogged pursuit of anti-union lawsuits by the right-wing—often, initially, unsuccessful—that helped make Mackay precedent, as well as brought us on the verge of outlawing neutrality agreements and outlawing the union shop in the public sector. It is time that we launched a sustained counter-offensive in the courts.

And what about striking workers who do lose their jobs under the current doctrine? Who could argue against taking every step imaginable to restore their rights and their livelihoods?

This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes.org on June 15, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Shaun Richman is a former organizing director for the American Federation of Teachers. His Twitter handle is @Ess_Dog.

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Would You Trust Henry Kissinger with Your Social Security?

June 16th, 2016 | Richard Eskow

Years ago a political scientist said that the mass media can’t influence what people think, but it can influence what people think about. Today it does both. If you’re a billionaire who wants to manipulate public opinion, that means you’ll keep feeding it stories that serve your ideology and self-interest.

Hedge fund billionaire Peter G. “Pete” Peterson is a master of the art. At a time when 47 million Americans (including one child in five) live in poverty, when our national infrastructure is collapsing and the middle class dream is dying before our eyes, he’s managed to convince a few voters, a lot of politicians, and far too many major-media journalists that our most urgent problem is … federal deficit spending.

They don’t just want you to be concerned about it. They want you to be afraid.

The front for this effort (one of many assembled by the Peterson Foundation) is called “The Coalition for Fiscal and National Security,” and they’ve assembled a list of prominent figures to promote it. Let us consider the message, and the messengers.

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The group’s mantra is a statement that retired Admiral Mike Mullen first made when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

“The single biggest threat to our national security is our debt.”

That’s a surprisingly bold and naive proclamation, especially from someone of Mullen’s stature. It takes a lot of imagination, and some highly implausible assumptions, to believe that our national security is really endangered by federal deficits.

The Peterson Foundation provides both, of course. Unfortunately its manipulated facts and figures fail to make their case, even when taken at face value.

What would a rational list of nonmilitary risks look like? Climate change would almost certainly top the list. Many military experts already consider it a grave national security threat. A bipartisan group of 48 defense leaders and experts – including, perhaps paradoxically, some of the Peterson group’s signatories – signed a full-page ad let year entitled “Republicans and Democrats Agree: U.S. Security Demands Global Climate Action.”

One defense expert called climate change “the mother of all risks.”

It’s easy to see why. Rising sea levels threaten many of our coastal towns and cities, including most of lower Manhattan. Millions of Americans are likely to become internal refugees in their own country, posing the risk of widespread lawlessness and instability.

Climate change is expected to trigger a number of future conflicts around the globe, as nations and peoples compete for increasingly scarce resources. Some scientists believe that climate change contributed to the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Wealth inequality also belongs near the top of the list. Extreme inequality makes a society unstable. Today millions are trapped in poverty while the20 richest Americans own more wealth than half the entire nation – some 150 million people in 57 million households.

Persistent poverty plagues minority communities, while the 400 richest Americans own more than the nation’s entire African-American population (plus one-third of this nation’s Latinos). There are growing rates of suicide, opioid overdose, and deaths from alcoholism among lower-income whites. Economist Anne Case calls them “deaths of despair.”

What will happen if the middle class continues to collapse, if poverty remains inescapable for generation after generation, if most people face working years filled with dashed hopes and retirements plagued by penury?

Despair can turn to rage, sometimes without warning.

That’s one reason why it’s especially imprudent for the corporate-friendly “Coalition” to target Social Security, along with the rest of the social safety net. Sure, they try to sound reasonable. They even mention cutting the military budget (although they tip their hand by emphasizing military health care and payroll expenses, rather than cost overruns or expensive weapons systems.)

But they always turn to social programs, sometimes with not-so-subtle transitions like this: “Defense spending is the largest single category of discretionary spending… In 2015, it was second only to Social Security spending.”

See what they did there?

There’s little chance of getting tax increases or cuts in military spending through this Congress or the next, and they know it. The drumbeat for lower deficits only serves to undermine the social safety net – when we should be spending more to rebuild our economy.

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When a group uses prominent people to promote its arguments, it’s prudent to ask: Who are these people? Can we trust them? Are they wise and just?

Well, there’s former Michael Hayden, who headed both the NSA and the CIA. History will remember Hayden for giving sworn testimony to Congress that contained numerous falsehoods, as documented by the Senate Subcommittee on Intelligence. (Experts say it’s very difficult to convict someone for lying to Congress, but it’s still wrong — and illegal.)

Hayden signed off on detainee abuses that he argues were not technically“torture.” He insists other torturers have done much worse, in case that’s your moral standard.

Madeleine Albright’s on the list too. She was widely criticized for answering “we think the price is worth it” when asked about the Iraqi children who died as the result of sanctions against Iraq.

But the most prominent name on the list is Henry Kissinger’s. Is Kissinger credible?  It’s true that he’s popular among media and political elites, but that sad fact only serves to remind us that some memories are short – and that, for some people, the ties of social status outweigh those of morality and decency.

It was Kissinger who reportedly fed confidential information to then-candidate Richard Nixon – information that was used to sabotage the Vietnam peace talks, extracting a massive toll in human lives just to boost Nixon’s election chances.

It was Kissinger who delivered the illegal order to bomb Cambodia and Laos. More bomb material rained down on these tiny nations than was used in all of World War II. His actions cost countless lives and gave rise to the mad, massacring Pol Pot regime.

It was Kissinger who ignored the pleadings of a US diplomat and gave the green light to Pakistani atrocities in what is now Bangladesh, praisingPakistan’s dictator for his “delicacy and tact” while ridiculing those who “bleed” for “the dying Bengalis.”

“Yahya hasn’t had so much fun since the last Hindu massacre!” Kissinger said of Pakistani dictator Yahya Khan. (The government of Bangladesh reported that 3,000,000 people died in the “fun.”)

Kissinger supported the violent overthrow of the Chilean government by a right-wing dictator. Kissinger gave the go-ahead to the Indonesian government’s massacre of from 100,000 to 230,000 people in East Timor. (Estimates vary.) Kissinger’s other offenses and blunders are too numerous to list here.

His intellect is overrated, too. Princeton professor Gary Bass writes that “Kissinger’s policies were not only morally flawed but also disastrous as Cold War strategy.”

Would you trust this man with your Social Security? Do you think he’d make wise and humane decisions about our society’s priorities?

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Sure, there are some decent people on the Coalition list. But they’ve been misled by tricksters and lulled by the groupthink that comes from decades inside a bubble of insular privilege.

And what a bubble it is. It’s a glassy gold bubble that filters out every color of the rainbow except its own, bathing its occupants in a warm autumn-colored glow as strangers shiver in the cold blue daylight outside. The bubble speaks with the voice of false authority. It’s a floating oracle with the soul of a confidence man.

But the crowd is thinning out. There are real threats to face outside the bubble: poverty, inequality, a crumbling infrastructure, a dying planet. It’s time for the bubble to disappear, as all bubbles eventually do, by blowing away on the wind or vanishing with a soft pop in the light of the midday sun.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on June 16, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

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The War on Workers’ Comp

June 15th, 2016 | Stephen Franklin

Stephen FranklinFor nearly a century, millions of workers have endured punishing jobs in construction, mining and factory work—jobs with high levels of work-related disability and injury. As a tradeoff for the dangers, they’ve had the assurance of workers’ compensation if injured permanently on the job. Employers accepted this deal, albeit sometimes grudgingly, because it  removed the possibility of being sued over work-related injuries.

But as labor has weakened and Republicans have won control of more and more statehouses, states have slowly chipped away at workers’ compensation benefits.

Since just 2003, more than 30 states have passed laws that have “reduced benefits for injured workers, created hurdles for medical care or made it more difficult for workers to qualify,” according to a recent investigative series by ProPublica and NPR. Some of the harshest cuts came in California, Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Kansas, Indiana and Tennessee. Today, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), many injured and disabled workers “never enter the workers’ compensation system.” OSHA also estimates that workers’ compensation covers only about 21 percent of the lost wages and medical bills encountered by injured workers and their families.

Illinois, long a union stronghold, could nevertheless join the pack of those closing the doors for some to workers’ compensation if right-wing millionaire Gov. Bruce Rauner gets his way.

Traditionally, when companies hired workers, they bought their work histories. That is, they assumed responsibility for the physical problems employees developed over years of difficult work. But Rauner wants to narrow eligibility for compensation dramatically, requiring an injury to account for at least 50 percent of the claim.

Rauner’s argument is that workers’ compensation was designed for “traumatic” injuries, and that including repetitive injuries which accrue over time, effectively requires employers  to pick up non-workplace injuries. He contends that changing this standard would put Illinois on the same track as many other states.

John Burton, a veteran workers’ compensation industry expert, disagrees.

“What the governor is proposing is to take a lot of cases that have been compensable for the last 50 years and to throw them out,” he said.

One of these is Steve Emery.

The third-generation coal miner rode the wave downward, working in one mine after another as the industry collapsed. Then his hands, once powerful enough to manage the grueling job of breaking up large chunks of coal with a sledgehammer, failed him.

The spiraling numbness in his wrists and hands ended with a doctor saying he would never work in a mine again. He was 50 years old and had spent more than 30 of them in southern Illinois mines.

After a four-year battle with insurance companies arguing that Emery’s injuries were not job-related, he received $1,815 a month in workers’ compensation—enough to live on, but one just about one fourth of what he used to earn

Under Rauner’s proposed rules, Emery might not have received workers’ compensation at all. Democrats asked Emery to tell his story at an Illinois State House hearing last year as an illustration of the workers who would be left out in the cold under Rauner’s plan.

Dave Menchetti, a veteran workers’ compensation attorney in Chicago, adds that the shift proposed by Rauner would be “extremely difficult for doctors,” who are not trained to quantify the causes of injuries. “It would severely prejudice older workers and workers in heavy industries because those are the kind of workers who have pre-existing conditions.”

So what happens when business-minded workers’ compensation reformers get their way?

What the bottom looks like

A federal commission that examined workers’ compensation laws in 1972 was “disturbed” by the wide divergence of rules between states, and an “irrational fear” driving states and employers to search for “less generous benefits and lower costs.”

“We were talking about a race to the bottom,” explains Burton, a Republican, lawyer and economist, who led the groundbreaking study.

The study recommended mandatory federal standards; none were ever put in place.

And the race hasn’t abated, Burton says.

Indiana offers an example of what happens when a state wages the race to the bottom.

Starting decades ago, as Indiana’s leaders sought out factory jobs to supplant the state’s mostly rural economy, they embraced  a low-cost, employer-friendly workers’ compensation system. And it has stuck, as the state’s Senate has largely stayed under control of the GOP.

Workers in Indiana must wait seven days before receiving benefits (as opposed to three in Illinois). While permanently disabled workers in Illinois can receive benefits for life, Indiana caps benefits at 500 weeks, just under 10 years.

To qualify for permanent total disability in Indiana, workers must meet a “pretty high bench.” as Terry Coriden, a former chairman of the Worker’s Compensation Board of Indiana, describes it. “If you can be a greeter at any type of store, then that type of employment could be deemed to be reasonable, which would preclude you from total permanent disability,” he says.

Only 45 workers out of 597,058 who filed claims between 2005 and 2014 received permanent total disability status in Indiana, according to statistics from the Worker’s Compensation Board of Indiana. The rate was twice as high in Illinois, according to data from the National Council on Compensation Insurance provided by Burton. Only 13 percent of the Indiana workers who filed claims over those years qualified even for permanent partial impairment.

And the system simply pays out less.

Consider the case of a steelworker in northwest Indiana who suffered third- and fourth-degree burns over two-thirds of his body after being hit by hot metal and slag from a blast furnace.

In the nine years since, he has undergone 38 surgeries and still has no feeling in parts of his arms and legs.

Before the injury, he was earning as much as $130,000 year because of extensive overtime. Today, he gets $600 a week in workers’ compensation as a totally disabled individual, as well as $2,200 monthly in Social Security Disability income. In order to stay afloat, he has dipped heavily into his savings and his wife has picked up low-wage part-time jobs.

The worker did not want his name used because he feared that the company would retaliate. “I don’t want any blowback from the company until my workers’ comp ends,” he says. “I don’t want them kicking me out of it.”

He is especially concerned, he says, because despite having his employer authorize and provide the majority of his treatment, several recommended procedures were not authorized In Indiana, workers must go to the company’s doctors and follow whatever they prescribe. If they don’t, they lose their benefits.

Steve Emery, in Illinois, saw what happened when he visited a company physician.

His hands were “killing” him when he saw a local Southern Illinois physician of his own choosing in 2010. “The doctor said, ‘We’ll have to do surgery and you’ll never do work again,’ ” he recalled.

Peabody Energy, however, said he had to see the company’s physician in St. Louis. “[The doctor] said, ‘Mr. Emery, did you hurt this way when you was a kid playing baseball or mowing grass?’ ” Emery recalls. “I told him I didn’t play baseball and didn’t push a push mower “ Nonetheless, he says, “They denied my claim ASAP.” Peabody officials in St. Louis did not reply to requests for comment.

Fortunately for Emery, Illinois workers typically have the right to choose their doctor as well as their treatment (unless their employer has set up a “preferred provider” network, in which case they have the right to choose any two doctors within the network). Illinois also allows workers to seek a boost in their payments if they can show that they will suffer from a marked decrease in earnings. Indiana lacks both of these rights.

Low workers’ compensation payouts mean that workers in the state may even have more difficulty getting a lawyer to help them pursue a claim, given that legal fees are set according to the settlements received.

“The well-known truth is that it is hard to make money doing the work,” said Kevin Betz, an Indianapolis lawyer.

The business argument

To justify his plan, Gov. Rauner blames the “high costs” of workers’ compensation with driving jobs to other states, including Indiana.

“Employers are flat-out leaving the state, and they are saying it is because of the workers’ compensation policy,” says Michael Lucci, an official with the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank that has received financial support from Gov. Rauner and also supports Rauner’s anti-union right-to-work drive.

There’s no disputing that nationwide, the downward race has paid off financially for employers. Workers’ compensation costs as a percent of payroll fell in 2014 to the lowest figure since 1986, Burton notes. Some of the decline has come from improved safety, but some, he says, has come from restrictions on workers’ compensation.

Lucci’s organization has churned out reams of information backing up the argument that Illinois’ workers’ compensation’s costs are uncompetitive as compared to its neighbors, especially Indiana. For Illinois steelmakers, workers’ compensation costs account for about 7.3 percent of their payrolls, for example, as compared to only 1.3 percent in Indiana, according to the Illinois Policy Institute.

That’s just as Indiana intended it. The logic behind its laws is “inducing businesses from other states to Indiana,” explains Coriden.

Experts say that the idea that high costs are actually driving companies to relocate, however, may be little more than a myth.

West Virginia is one of those states that have slashed benefits to drive down costs for employers. But Emily Spieler, a former head of the state’s Workers’ compensation Fund, says it didn’t boost business much in the economically troubled state. Similarly, Spieler, a professor at Northeastern University’s School of Law, says she has yet to see any studies showing a positive financial impact for states. She is also dubious that workers’ compensation is a large enough factor to lead a business to change locations.

Asked for evidence that workers’ compensation costs may be driving firms out of state, officials from the Illinois Governor’s office cited their contacts with employers and site selectors and suggested contacting business groups for more information.

But when In These Times posed that question to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which has been outspoken about the need to drive down workers’ compensation costs in order to remain competitive, Jay Shattuck, a contract lobbyist for the group, said he was not aware of any studies specifying that workers’ compensation alone made Illinois noncompetitive. (He also notes that the Chamber, while supporting most of Rauner’s plan, doesn’t see Indiana’s low payout system as the ideal.)

Victor Bongard, a lecturer in Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, is familiar with Indiana’s pitch about attracting businesses through its low-cost workers’ compensation. He agrees that it is one factor in where businesses choose to settle, but “not a determining factor,” he says. He points to California, which “draws business to relocate there and manages to foster lots of new businesses despite its high workers’ compensation costs.”

Cost-shifting—but to whom?

With employers and the states’ workers’ compensation systems paying less, who picks up the bill?

In addition to workers themselves, the federal government is on the hook. These changes shift injured workers from state workers’ compensation programs to the government’s Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) system, as the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) pointed out in a June 2015 report. OSHA estimated that in 2010, SSDI picked up as much as $12 billion to cover injured and ill workers.

Looking at the District of Columbia and 45 states, where the ranks of workers receiving compensation fell by 2.4 million between 2001 and 2011, researchers at the Center for Economic and Policy Research said last year that more than one-fifth of the rise in disability income payments appeared to be linked to cuts in workers’ compensation.

The calculations were age-adjusted to take in the growing ranks of elderly receiving the federal Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

“The logic of cutting back on workers’ compensation is that we’ll be tough on these workers,” says Dean Baker, an economist and co-director of the organization. “But if you are just shifting the cost from workers comp to disability, you aren’t saving public money.”

Shifting the financial burden raises another problem. The workers’ compensation system was created to make employers responsible for the problems encountered by their employees. The shift to SSDI not only frees them from any financial accountability, but makes it harder for public officials to spot troubled workplaces and jobs.

In Indiana, because worker compensation payments are so low, attorney Richard Swanson said that injured workers who can’t return to their jobs “often make SSDI their first choice for income replacement.” That’s especially the case for older factory workers used to higher wages. “That’s their first question if they cannot return to work due to their work injury. You see it constantly,” he says.

Which way Illinois?

In Illinois, the fate of injured workers has become hostage to a larger political squabble that has left the state without a budget since last July.

Reforming workers’ compensation is part of a broad package of anti-union measures from Rauner, policies that have had no traction in the Democrat-dominated state legislature.

Rauner’s workers’ compensation proposal isn’t as draconian as some of his other policies aimed at workers, such as letting communities strip out numerous issues from collective-bargaining arguments, killing the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act, and allowing local communities to set up right-to-work rules. His cost-cutting proposal would mirror  the national downward trend in workers’ compensation—but he isn’t proposing (yet) the squeezes that states like Indiana, Florida and Oklahoma have put on injured and disabled workers.

But state Democrats think it’s only a matter of time.

“There isn’t much support for ending the workers’ compensation system, which is where the governor is going,” said Steve Brown, spokesman for State Rep. Michael Madigan, the powerful speaker for the State House.

The thinking of the Democrats, and the state’s trial lawyers, is that Illinois has already opened the door to reforms and cost cutting for the workers’ compensation system with the 2011 reforms and they should be allowed to roll out.

And the figures reflecting the impact of a 2011 reform by the state are significant, as reported by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. The state’s worker compensation premiums dropped from the nation’s fourth highest to the 7th highest between 2012 and 2014—the largest decline among all states. So, too, benefits payments fell by 19 percent between 2011 and 2015.

Whatever Illinois’ private carriers lost in premium income seems to have more than offset by the savings on benefit payouts. After losses in 2009 and 2010, state insurers broke even in 2011 and have since seen profits climb steadily, according to data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. According to Menchetti, “it seems that some of the decision-makers would like stricter scrutiny [of the industry], evident in a provision in House Bill 1287 that has to do with how the Department of Insurance would regulate excessive premiums.”

So it appears that the new law has been a boon for both employers and insurance companies—if not workers.

And if employers’ costs have been dropping, “Is there really need for more reform?” Menchetti asks.

The wrong kind of reform

There’s a case to be made that workers’ compensation needs to be reformed in a different way—to help workers get on their lives, not to force them down the economic ladder and into a bureaucratic hell.  Even in relatively worker-friendly Illinois, Steve Emery saw firsthand the determination of employers and insurance carriers not to give up a cent they don’t have to.

Before his hands failed him, Emery worked six or seven days a week, 12 to 16 hours a day, and was taking home as much as $80,000 a year. He worked at a number of mines across southern Illinois, and the last was the Willow Lake mine, owned by a subsidiary of the Peabody Energy Corp., which calls itself the world’s largest coal producer. It recently declared bankruptcy.

The company shuttered the mine and laid off 400 workers in the fall of 2012. The shutdown took place soon after a worker died, and the company said it had difficulties meeting safety and performance standards there. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) had put the mine on notice in 2010 for repeat safety violations.

After filing for workers’ compensation, Emery fought the company for four years. Despite the fact that his exceptionally punishing job had left his hands virtually frozen, his attorney Steve Hanagan says, the coal company considered his injuries not job-related. It is a “typical dilemma” that applies “to many,” he said. “The battle over causation is very common.”

Emery appealed his case to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, which found that his his injury was job-related and hindered his ability to work.

“He essentially used his hands more than you can imagine, having bangs and jolts and all kinds of trauma,” said Hanagan. “The causation is quite evident.”

Confronted by money problems as he waded through his workers’ compensation battle, Emery’s marriage broke up. His wife “just couldn’t take it” and they couldn’t keep the house. He moved into a small apartment and started learning how to cope on his $1,815 a month benefits. He never qualified for a pension or had a pension plan despite decades of work in mostly non-union mines.

Emery, whose father and both grandfathers were miners, never expected things to end this way.

“I lost everything, man. My whole life changed.”

This post originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on June 13, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Stephen Franklin, former labor and workplace reporter for theChicago Tribune, is ethnic news director for the Community Media Workshop in Chicago. He is the author of Three Strikes: Labor’s Heartland Losses and What They Mean for Working Americans(2002), and has reported throughout the United States and the Middle East.  He can be reached via e-mail atfreedomwrites@hotmail.com.

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This Year's Top Five Reasons They're Attacking "Greedy" Trial Lawyers and "Frivolous" Lawsuits

June 14th, 2016 | Arthur Bryant

Arthur BryantWhen corporations or the government value money over lives and safety, injure people, or discriminate against them, the courts are where they can be held accountable. But corporate and government wrongdoers don’t want to be held accountable.

That’s why, for decades, they’ve been waging a massive propaganda campaign to demonize trial lawyers, litigation, juries, and our system of justice. They’re trying to poison public perception by attaching toxic adjectives to everything that could make them pay. They attack “greedy” trial lawyers, “frivolous” lawsuits, “runaway” juries, and “jackpot” justice— and call our legal system a “lottery”—because they don’t want justice to be done.

Each year, Public Justice counters this self-serving, corporate PR campaign by making sure people know the truth. We recognize the lawyers who made the greatest contribution to the public good by trying or settling a case as finalists for our nationally-prestigious Trial Lawyer of the Year Award.  This year’s finalists, listed alphabetically by case name below, will be honored—and the winner will be announced—at Public Justice’s 34th Annual Gala & Awards Dinneron Sunday, July 24, at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.  Their cases show what trial lawyers and lawsuits can do — and why they’re really being attacked.

Andrews v. Lawrence Livermore National Security

In 2008, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was taken over by a private company, Lawrence Livermore National Security (LLNS), controlled by the Bechtel Corporation and the University of California. LLNS promised to save the federal government $50 million annually. To do so, it then fired more than 400 of the lab’s most senior workers, including many top scientists and researchers. It gave them one hour to pack up their belongings and return their badges before they were “perp-walked” out of the lab.

Gary Gwilliam and his team at Gwilliam, Ivary, Chiosso, Cavalli & Brewer and Omar Habbas of Habbas & Associates would not let this stand. They sued on behalf of 130 workers, litigated for more than seven years, and won a $2,728,327 jury verdict for breach of contract and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing for five test plaintiffs. They then negotiated a $37.25 million settlement for 129 of the 130 plaintiffs—the equivalent of over three years’ salary for each. When the defendants insisted that the settlement be confidential, the plaintiffs’ counsel refused—because the public had a right to know the disastrous effects of the government’s attempt to privatize a national lab.

Fox v. Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is famous for its healthcare and hygiene products, which have become staples in American homes. Consumers trust that J&J will ensure that its products are safe and alert them to any potential dangers it knows. A deadly breach of that trust led to the death of Jacqueline Fox, who used two of the company’s talc-based feminine hygiene products—J&J’s Baby Powder and Shower to Shower Body Powder—daily for over 35 years.

Jere Beasley and his colleagues at Beasley, Allen, Crow, Methvin, Portis & Miles, along with attorneys from Onder, Shelton, O’Leary & Peterson, LLC, The Smith Law Firm; and Ferrer, Poirot & Wansbrough proved J&J knew that long-term use of talc had been linked to ovarian cancer, but never disclosed that fact—even after the company’s talc supplier began warning of its dangers.  In the first case holding the company liable for talc-caused injuries, the jury awarded $10 million in compensatory damages and $62 million in punitive damages. The case laid the groundwork for the 1,200 similar suits J&J is currently facing.

Jones (Varden) v. City of Clanton
and similar cases

Every night in America, about 500,000 people sit in jail because they cannot afford to pay bail—the largest pretrial detainee population in the recorded history of the world. These detainees, who have not been tried yet and are often held for minor, non-violent offenses, constitute 60 percent of the U.S. jail population and cost counties $9 billion in 2011 alone. While they’re held, they can lose their jobs or homes, be beaten or attacked, or simply fall prey to unsanitary and depressing conditions. So many plead guilty, regardless of whether they committed the crime, just to get out and go home.

Alec Karakatsanis of Equal Justice Under Law in Washington, DC, along with counsel from Dawson Law Office, McGuire & Associates, ArchCity Defenders, the Roderick & Solange MacArthur Justice Center, and William P. Quigley used litigation to start ending this practice. In a series of lawsuits first filed on behalf of Christy Dawn Varden, a mother of two held in jail because she could not afford to pay bail, they argued that keeping a person in jail because she could not pay bail—without an inquiry into her ability to pay—was unconstitutional. The U.S. Department of Justice agreed. Their lawsuits stopped unconstitutional poverty jailing practices in Clanton, AL; Ascension Parish, LA; Velda City, MO; Moss Point, MS; Similar lawsuits have been filed in dozens of other cities.

Linde v. Arab Bank

The Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) of 1990 allows people who were injured by acts of terror abroad to bring civil suits in federal court. Linde was a mass tort consolidation case with 117 plaintiffs who were injured in suicide bombings and attacks in Israel, 40 wrongful death cases, and 440 family members of those injured or killed. The plaintiffs charged that Arab Bank administered a Saudi-funded universal insurance plan for the benefit of Palestinian terrorists killed, injured, or apprehended by Israeli security forces. For years, branches of the Saudi charity authorized payments ranging from $140 to $5,316 to terrorists and their families.

Michael E. Elsner and two of his colleagues at Motley Rice, C. Tab Turner of Turner & Associates, and lawyers from Osen LLC; Sayles Werbner;Stone, Bonner & Rocco; Heideman, Nudelman & Kalik; MM-Law; Kohn, Swift & Graf; Zuckerman Spaeder;  AG International Law; and Peter Raven-Hansen worked for over a decade to bring the case to trial.  In September 2014, a federal jury held Arab Bank liable. In August 2015, three days before the trial on damages was supposed to start, the parties reached a confidential settlement. This is the first case to hold a financial institution liable under the ATA. It and related cases aim to curtail the flow of money to terrorist organizations by holding financial institutions that aid them responsible.

Reckis v. Johnson and Johnson

In 2003, seven-year-old Samantha Reckis came down with a fever that her parents treated with over-the-counter Children’s Motrin, made by J&J and its subsidiary, McNeil-PPC. After two doses, she developed a rash that spread from her face to her trunk. After several more doses, Samantha’s body was covered in blisters and she was diagnosed with a potentially deadly adverse drug reaction called Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN). The affliction left Samantha legally blind and in need of a lung transplant. She suffered moderate brain damage and was left unable to bear children. When she was discharged, she weighed just 30 pounds.

Bradley M. Henry and his co-counsel at Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow, along with Robert S. Peckof the Center for Constitutional Litigation, helped the Reckis family get justice. They sued J&J, proving the company had known since the 1980s—and failed to warn customers—that Motrin and other ibuprofen-based products were causally linked to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a life-threatening skin condition, and TEN, which has a 40% mortality rate and almost always leads to blindness and other severe life-long ailments. The jury awarded Samantha and her family $63 million, which grew to $112 million over three years as J&J fruitlessly appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Public Justice honors these lawyers because of their extraordinary work fighting injustice, taking great risks (trial lawyers don’t recover any fees unless they win), and accomplishing great things. The short paragraphs above are just summaries of these teams’ incredible work. Fore more details, including the names of all the finalists, click here.

But let’s be clear. These cases exemplify what lawsuits and trial lawyers do. That’s why Corporate America and irresponsible public officials keep talking about “frivolous” lawsuits and “greedy” trial lawyers. It’s a lot easier than talking about their outrageous misconduct, their fear of liability, and their hope for immunity for their wrongdoing.

Don’t let them get away with it. Share this with others. Spread the word.

The problem isn’t “frivolous” lawsuits or “greedy” trial lawyers. The problem is the injustice we need lawsuits and trial lawyers to expose, remedy, and prevent.

This blog originally appeared on Public Justice on June 13, 20016. Reprinted with permission. 

Arthur H. Bryant, Chairman of Public Justice, has won major victories and established new precedents in several areas of the law, including constitutional law, toxic torts, civil rights, consumer protection, and mass torts. The National Law Journal has twice named him one of the 100 Most Influential Attorneys in America.

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Mindless Underfunding Of Schools Continues, Doing Harm To Kids

June 13th, 2016 | Jeff Bryant

Jeff BryantHigh school graduation season is in full bloom in many communities around the nation, but in some places, parents with children still in schools have to be worried about the conditions of the schools they’ll return to in the fall – or even if the schools will open at all.

As states wrap up their budget seasons, many lawmakers are proving they simply aren’t up to the task of adequately funding schools. State spending, which accounts for about half of most public school districts’ budgets, has been in steep decline for a number of years in most states, leaving most local taxing authorities, which provide about the other half, unable to keep up unless the populace is wealthy enough to withstand higher property taxes. (Federal spending accounts for less than 10 percent of school funding, historically.)

Many of these lawmakers say the problem with the nation’s education system is lack of accountability, but school kids and their teachers are being hurt by government officials not being accountable to adequately and equitably fund our schools.

In Chicago, the nation’s fourth largest school system, the district’s school chief announced schools may not open in the fall due to a budget impasse in the state capital. Separate funding bills in the state House and Senate have drawn the ire of conservative Republican Governor Bruce Rauner, who would prefer to inflict on schools a program of tough love that includes a $74 million cut in funding to Chicago.

It’s not as if the city’s schools are living in the lap of luxury. Inadequate budgets have driven up class sizes in every grade way beyond the point they are officially permitted. District chief Forest Claypool has already told Chicago principals they should prepare for whopping cuts of between 20 to 40 percent to their school budgets, which will drive class sizes through the roof.

The budget impasse, according to a report from the Associated Press, imperils schools across the state. According to the AP reporter. Democrats want new taxes, “but Rauner first wants pro-business and union-weakening reforms, ideas Democrats say hurt the middle class.”

In other words, no more money for schoolchildren until teachers make sacrifices.

As Rauner was defending his miserly stance, he took a swipe at Chicago schools, comparing them to “crumbling prisons.” That set off a firestorm on Twitter, where Chicago teachers defended the good things their institutions do to provide to students despite the budget cuts.

Actually, if the schools were more like prisons, they might be more apt to get a funding increase, as Rauner has proposed a substantial increase to prison spending for 2016.

Illinois isn’t the only state hell-bent on cutting money for schools.

The Wall Street Journal reports that state lawmakers across the nation, especially in the Midwest, are at seemingly intractable odds over how “to make sure the next school year can start on time.”

In Kansas, Republican Governor Sam Brownback has called a special session of the state legislature “after the state’s supreme court last month once again ruled that the state’s funding formula is inequitable and threatened to shut off funding to the schools,” according to a report from Education Week.

The court keeps telling state lawmakers the state is not funding schools based on what they deserve, according to another EdWeek report. State Republican lawmakers have considered various ways to circumnavigate the ruling, including changing the state constitution, but Democrats siding with the court forced their hand by petitioning for the special session.

Meanwhile, schools in Kansas City, Kan., where nearly 90 percent of the students are poor, “had to cut more than $50 million from its already tight budget because of state cutbacks,” according to The Hechinger Report.

The cuts are promulgated regardless of how the schools perform. In the case of Kansas City, schools had been making “double-digit” increases in some measures of achievement prior to the financial cutbacks that started in response to economic downturns in 2008.

Hechinger quotes a district administrator, “You could see the performance begin to decline as we had to cut back on people, human resources and all kinds of things to support our students.”

In Pennsylvania, state lawmakers enacted improvements to the state funding formula, a long-standing problem in the state, but left budgets mired at levels below what is needed to make the formula meaningful. Due to the inadequacy of state funding, a statewide survey of local officials finds “at least 60 percent of Pennsylvania school districts plan to raise property taxes and nearly a third expect to cut staff,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. A third of respondents said their schools will increase class sizes in the year ahead.

This time the governor, Tom Wolf, is a Democrat leading the charge for increasing school funding, but the legislature controlled by Republicans “oppose new taxes and say the state needs to cut costs and find new funding streams.”

In Michigan, Detroit public schools will be out of money and unable to make payroll by June 30, according to a report from Reuters. House Republicans narrowly passed a bill to bail out the beleaguered school system, but Democratic leaders and the city’s mayor and teachers call the proposal a wasteful stopgap that funnels more money to charter schools while leaving the district adrift.

The big problem left unaddressed is how the state continues to underfund schools throughout the system. As a blog post from a district superintendent in the state explains, education funding in Michigan is in a 20-year decline. “This makes it impossible to provide the same level of teacher staffing, instructional materials, facilities maintenance, administration and operations,” he laments.

Outside the Midwest, “natural resource-dependent states” – such as Alaska, Louisiana, Oklahoma and West Virginia – are pulling “millions from their rainy day funds,” rather than raising taxes, to fund schools, according to Education Week. In Louisiana, the budget proposal would still leave schools in the lurch financially, leading to “teacher layoffs, cuts to programs, and cuts to the state’s department of education.”

Arizona is taking generally the same course, passing new legislation that raises education funding by raiding the state’s permanent endowment that supports stable financial resources for schools.

In Trenton, New Jersey, hundreds of teachers and school supporters rallied to protest funding cuts being proposed by the state’s conservative Republican Governor Chris Christie.

In North Carolina, conservative lawmakers are bragging about new teacher raises they just passed, but the state budget cuts millions from principal training, school Internet service, after-school programs, and a scholarship program to help fill shortages in math and science teachers.

“Can [school] districts raise expectations and improve achievement on a shoestring?” asks the author of the Hechinger article cited above. “How little money is too little for schools to function well?”

Maybe instead of cutting school funding to see how low it can go, it’s time we asked instead, “How much money for education is too much?” Indeed, without any real evidence that excess funding in the system is actually harming students and taxpayers, this continued austerity in education spending is mindless.

This blog originally appeared on ourfuture.org on June 10, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Bryant is an Associate Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website. Prior to joining OurFuture.org he was one of the principal writers for Open Left. He owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C. He has written extensively about public education policy.

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