Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for May, 2003

Tax Relief Update: Lobby Days Lead to Significant Advances

Monday, May 12th, 2003

On May 6 and 7, many WF site visitors participated in our “Virtual Lobby Days” to lobby Congress on the Civil Rights Tax Relief Act (House version/Senate version). Virtual Lobby Days were held in conjunction with Lobby Days which took place in Washington, DC on the same dates, when dozens of workers affected by unfair taxes and their lawyers lobbied their members of Congress, assisted by our sister organization, the National Employment Lawyers Association. I am very pleased to report that the organized and concerted lobbying effort has had a very significant impact. Last Thursday, the day after the targeted lobbying concluded, the Senate Finance Committee, in its markup of the bill, included a portion of the CRTRA in the tax package currently under consideration by the full Senate. (See Washington Post article.) For a summary of the bill, as it was marked up by the commitee, see Technical Explanation of Provisions (the CRTRA summary is at page 187 of the document).

The CRTRA provision included in the Senate tax relief package concerns the double taxation of attorneys fee awards. Most people must hire a lawyer to bring a discrimination lawsuit in order to succeed, and the law requires that the employer must pay the attorney’s fee if you are successful. However, the amount that goes to the attorney for working on the case is taxed twice. In most parts of the country, the IRS says that both the attorney and the employee owe taxes on the same amount of money, even though the employee never sees the money. In some cases, this means that employees who win their lawsuits are left owing all their award and more to the IRS–for winning their case!

The Senate Finance provision would allow plaintiffs incurring legal fees in discrimination cases to take an “above-the-line” deduction of the legal fees. This puts attorneys fees on the same footing as other business expenses that are fully deductible (dollar-for-dollar) from income, rather than subject to various limitations that “below-the-line” miscellaneous itemized deductions face, including the alternative minimum tax, the 2% floor, and phaseouts at higher income levels–all of which often mean that only a very small amount of attorneys fees is now deductible. For more information on this topic, see WF’s fair taxes page. This means to solving the attorneys fee problem was suggested earlier this year by the National Taxpayer Advocate. In the most recent semiannual report to Congress, the Advocate identified the elimination of taxes on legal fees in nonphysical personal injury cases as the office’s top legislative priority, and urged Congress to pass a law making an above-the-line deduction available to those incurring these fees.

This is the first time that any CRTRA provision has been in a bill that has passed through a Congressional tax-writing committee, and makes the provision subject to future negotiations between the Senate and House of Representatives. On Friday (5/8), the House passed its own tax relief package, H.R. 2, which did not contain the attorneys fee provision. (See HR 2 Bill Summary for further information.) The Senate is in the process of considering the package passed by Senate Finance; however, consideration was delayed slightly by a technical error that would have made the bill ultimately more difficult to pass. (See MSNBC article.)

There is still very much an uphill battle to get this measure passed. First, the full Senate must pass the tax legislation keeping this provision intact. Once this happens, the House and Senate will attempt to reconcile their differences in a conference committee, and there is considerable disagreement between the two houses of Congress as to this bill and to tax relief generally. (See Boston Globe article.) However, the provision’s presence in the Senate’s tax package dramatically increases the likelihood that the measure could pass this year, either in this round of tax cuts or subsequent attempts to pass provisions that ultimately are dropped from the large tax cut package.

For those who have cases pending, there is one aspect of the provision that is very important for you to know about. In the Senate version, the provision, if passed, would apply to awards received after the date of enactment. This means, that until it is more clear whether or not the measure will pass this year, you may wish to delay receipt of any award you would otherwise receive while the bill is pending, if at all possible. (You may wish to consult with your attorney immediately for further information.) Otherwise, any award containing attorneys fees that you receive before the bill becomes effective would be subject to being taxed, when receiving the award later could help you avoid paying taxes on the attorneys fees. We will continue to report new developments here and on our fair taxes page, as will NELA at its web site.

Another significant development that has occurred as a result of lobby days is a number of new bill cosponsors. During the week of May 5-9, 21 new House cosponsors and 7 Senate cosponsors were added to the bill. There may be even more cosponsors added as Congressional offices which were either visited or received letters during Lobby Days review the legislation. Increasing the number of cosponsors will provide important support for the CRTRA in the days ahead, so we will continue to work to obtain more cosponsors while tax relief measures are still under consideration by Congress.

If you haven’t yet written your letters to Congress, it’s more important than ever that you do so. To get started, please go to our site’s Fair Taxes page, where you’ll find all kinds of information about this issue, including the key talking points about the bill. From there, you can select one of our two action alerts: Stop Taxing Discrimination Awards Unfairly! (for those not currently involved in a civil rights lawsuit); or our second alert especially designed for Current Plaintiffs in Civil Rights Cases. From that point, you can either send a message to your members of Congress directly from our site via e-mail, or you can use the information listed there for your talking points when you phone Congressional offices.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please also take the time to sign up for email alerts on the Civil Rights Tax Relief Act and other Workplace Fairness legislative efforts. Sign up here. You can also help us spread the word, and involve supportive friends and family members, by using our Tell-a-Friend feature.

Even if you’ve already sent a letter, it’s time to reinforce the importance of adding this measure to a tax package that is destined to be signed by the President if it moves through Congress. We’re closer than ever to restoring fairness in civil rights cases, so please act now!

Federal Funds to Discriminate: Faith-Based Proposals Proliferate

Friday, May 9th, 2003

Yesterday (May 8), the House of Representatives passed a bill known as the Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act (HR 1261). The bill is designed to renew a $6.6 billion employment training program first established in 1998, that was set to expire on Sept. 30. The House passed the bill, largely along party lines, with a vote of 220 to 204. Why is a job training program in these troubled economic times so controversial and partisan? The answer is because of a small provision that bill critics say will promote workplace discrimination.

Section 123 of the bill contains a religious exemption that would allow groups with religious affiliations that receive federal money to limit employment to those sharing their religious views. This provision would allow groups who receive federal money to conduct job training programs to use those funds to hire only those of their religious faith without being liable for religious discrimination claims. This means that an organization affiliated with members of one faith can legally hire only members of its own faith, and refuse to hire members of any other faith (or no faith at all). A Catholic organization could refuse to hire a Jew. A Protestant organization could refuse to hire a Catholic. A Mormon organization could hire only Mormons. All of these organizations could thus legally discriminate on the basis of religion.

Supporters of the provision say the provision is similar to one that already exists in Title VII, the federal antidiscrimination law, and that they were extending to religious groups the same protections offered to other organizations providing social services. (See NY Times article.) For example, Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) noted, ‘We don’t say to Planned Parenthood that if you take money from the government you have to hire somebody who is prolife.” (See AP article.) Religious groups ”have a right to hire people who share their values.” Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, (R-CO) said, “Faith-based organizations cannot be expected to sustain their religious mission without the ability to employ individuals who share in their tenets and practices. It is that very faith that motivates these people to help Americans that are in trouble.”

While Title VII does contain an exemption for religious organizations only to engage in religious discrimination by hiring only those who are members of their faith, most religiously-affiliated groups currently receiving federal funding are not created as religious organizations per se, but as separate nonprofit public welfare or educational organizations pursuant to section 501 (c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. In fact, many governmental funding programs require section 501(c)(3) status in order for groups to qualify for funding. These separate entities are not entitled to the Title VII exemption for religious organizations, and therefore cannot legally discriminate on the basis of religious affiliation or religious practices. Moreover, in order to receive specific grants, organizations may be required to sign an anti-discrimination pledge in order to receive the funds, even if those organizations might otherwise be entitled to claim the religious exception. So, it is not entirely accurate to say that this proposal is necessary to provide equivalent protections to Title VII, as the provision under consideration would allow religiously-affiliated groups who are not true religious organizations (and therefore not entitled to Title VII’s religious exemption) to simultaneously discriminate on the basis of religion and to receive federal funds for doing so.

House Democrats strongly objected to the proposal. The House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, said it was “profoundly unwise to allow the federal government to fund religious discrimination. It is bad for our churches, bad for our work force and bad for our society.” (See Pelosi press release.) As Rep. Pelosi also noted, “the legislation will overturn a federal anti-discrimination policy established more than 60 years ago. At that time, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to forbid federal contracts from discrimination based on religion, as well as race and national origin. Following in the same tradition, the current job training law prohibits religious discrimination.”

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) also decried the deletion of antidiscrimination provisions. “Don’t take people’s tax dollars and say you can only hire your own,” he said. Frank has previously objected to other similar attempts to repeal antidiscrimination provisions applicable to groups accepting federal funds. In January 2003, he joined four other House Democrats in challenging the deletion of existing civil rights protections in the new faith-based rule proposed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. (See Frank press release.) As one of the few openly gay members of Congress, Frank’s concerns with these kinds of provisions echo those by many in the gay community that these provisions will enable sexual orientation discrimination to flourish. (See Lambda’s Public Funding of Religious Groups.) One oft-cited case, in which a court decision is currently pending, involves that of a Kentucky Baptist children’s home which despite receiving two-thirds of its funding from the state, chose to discriminate against one of its employees, youth counselor Alicia Pedreira, when it learned that she was a lesbian. (See Lambda case report.) Many fear many more cases like Pedreira’s if provisions like the one currently part of HR 1261 are allowed to stand.

The Labor Department praised the passage of HR 1261. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao called the Workforce Reinvestment and Adult Education Act “a giant leap toward getting them the employment and training services they need to better provide for themselves and their families” (See DOL statement.) According to a recent report, the Labor Department is also more quietly involved in further regulatory changes benefitting religious groups. As originally reported in the Boston Globe, DOL has altered regulations for the nation’s leading job training program to allow faith-based organizations to use “sacred literature,” such as Bibles, in their federally funded programs. (See Salt Lake Tribune article.) In guidelines published April 4, the Labor Department said the job-training grants “may not be used for instruction in religion or sacred literature, worship, prayer, proselytizing or other inherently religious practices, and that “[t]he services provided under these grants must be secular and nonideological.” But in amended guidelines published in the Federal Register on April 18, the words “sacred literature” were removed, along with the sentence saying that the services provided must be secular and nonideological. So if evangelical Christian organizations want to use Bibles in their job training activities, they would be permitted to do so, as this use would not constitute an “inherently religious practice.”

President Bush has made the establishment of faith-based initiatives one of the top priorities of his administration. This issue was consistently promoted throughout his presidential campaign, and one of his first acts as President, on January 29, 2001, was to create a new “White House Office for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives” to promote the participation of faith-based and community organizations in federal social service programs. (See Establishment of White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Executive Order 13198.) These two provisions presided over by the Department of Labor are yet two additional ways that this administration continues its efforts to insinuate faith-based provisions and funding for organizations who practice discrimination into federal law.

Additional Resources on Faith-Based Initiatives:

Americans United for the Separation of Church & State

American Civil Liberties Union

A Tornado's Double Tragedy

Thursday, May 8th, 2003

Here’s a story of great personal interest to me that I hope will affect you as well. I (Paula Brantner, WF’s Program Director) work from a home office in Kansas City, Missouri, and live less than two miles from some of the areas hit most hard in Sunday’s (5/4) deadly tornadoes. (See Tornadoes Rank Among Worst in Bistate History.) Like many other Kansas City residents, I huddled in my basement wondering if my home would be destroyed, and like most, but not all, breathed a sigh of relief once the storms passed and my immediate vicinity remained unscathed. On Sunday night and Monday, like many residents, I watched television reports, read newspaper accounts and drove to see what I could of the damage. (And as I write this on Thursday, the region is under another tornado watch–the third of the week–and a severe thunderstorm warning in some areas. It looks like weather.com and I may remain very good friends for a while.)

The first place I traveled to where massive damage was readily apparent was the nearby town of Riverside, Missouri, located along the Missouri River. There I saw what appeared to have been a body shop or repair facility, but most of the large building housing the operation was gone, and trucks were strewn nearby, many completely overturned and/or demolished. The facility, I later learned, was called America’s Body Co., and was a truck-detailing facility employing 41 employees. (See 5/6 KC Star article.) One of America’s Body’s employees, Operations Manager Steve Bowles, was in the building preparing the weekly schedules when the tornado passed through on Sunday; he was one of the extremely lucky survivors featured in multiple newscasts and newspaper articles, after watching the building disintegrate around him while he huddled next to a concrete barrier (See Witness to Storm Has Reason to Respect Nature’s Power.)

On Monday (5/5), the employees of America’s Body Co. reported to work, some even wearing the company polo shirts with the ABC insignia. As noted by local columnist Barbara Shelby,

They at least looked sharp for the gawkers, whose ranks included motorists who slowed traffic along Missouri 9 [like myself!] and railroad engineers who gaped, open-mouthed, as their trains rolled by. The workers, clustered at the edge of the company’s parking lot, were gawking as much as anyone. The flat-roofed, T-shaped building just north of the Missouri River resembled a scrap heap.

(See Tornado Leaves Workers’ Jobs in Limbo.) But employees could see the handwriting on the wall:

Some employees talked about their jobs in the past tense. America’s Body Co. provided steady work at competitive pay, they said. “Looks pretty good right now,” someone mused.

“I thoroughly enjoyed working here,” said Amber Flachs, who signed on just a month ago. “What a way to be unemployed.”

Mechanics said their main concern was retrieving their tools from the building. That is their ticket to another job.

On Wednesday, storm survivor Steve Bowles had another most unenviable duty. He had to tell ABC workers that the company would not be reopening, and that their jobs were no more. (See Tornado Takes Jobs … and Hopes.) Workers were told Tuesday night that they should assemble at the business in the morning. Many wore their uniforms, in case they were going to work. When they arrived, Bowles relayed the unhappy news from company headquarters in Cleveland: The business was gone and it wasn’t coming back. Most of the 41 employees were terminated as of Monday, two days ago. Vacation time would be paid to those who had it coming. Medical insurance would expire at the end of this month.

The employees took the news hard. This is a very difficult time for anyone to be employed, and some of the workers affected are sure to have more dark days ahead. Mechanic Dennis Falk has a health condition requiring medicine costing about $6,000 a year and can’t go long without insurance. “What am I going to do?” he asks. Mechanic Joe Nichols, who lost the job he’d had for 17 years, said “I’ll start looking for a job. I gotta work,” but acknowledged “I’m 55 and there’s not a demand for older people.” No doubt there are others who will face some difficulty finding new jobs, given the current state of the economy.

Who is to say what the company should have done in these circumstances? Admittedly, the company suffered massive losses given the total destruction of the business, although much if not all of the cost may be borne by insurance. However, it seems at a minimum, given that the local office is part of a national enterprise which is still in existence, that more support could be provided for the Kansas City employees, by extending their wages and benefits longer than this week and the end of this month respectively. And while the company is under no legal obligation to rebuild, there would be disaster relief funding and strong community support here for doing so. The last few days have been filled with many instances of neighbors helping one another and the local community supporting those most affected by the quake, so we hope that someone will step up to the plate to help these 41 workers. As Shelby points out, “today’s workplace doesn’t specialize in happy endings, and theirs was not going to be the exception.” But the story has not yet ended, and the publicity drawn to their plight may ultimately result in jobs for all or most of the newly unemployed ABC workers.

Have You Hugged a State Employee Today?

Wednesday, May 7th, 2003

Unless you are a state employee in one of 19 states that officially observe the day, you may not be aware that today, May 7, is “State Employee Recognition Day.” (I just learned about the event myself.). It comes at a good time, as state legislatures nationwide are forced to address record state deficits, and employees are forced to bear the brunt of their states’ economic difficulties by facing massive layoffs and cutbacks, as well as increased workloads in many cases, as more private citizens in need turn to their states for relief.

The annual event, sponsored since 2001 by the National Association of State Personnel Executives (NASPE), is part of Public Service Recognition Week, which runs May 5-11 (so it’s not too late to celebrate). Public Service Recognition Week is, according to the organizers, “a time set aside each year to honor the men and women who serve America as federal, state and local government employees.” In the wake of the more general observance, State Employee Recognition Day creates a special focus within the existing week-long observance on the work of state employees. Some of the ways that NASPE encourages states to observe the day include: proclamations signed by the governor proclaiming a Public Employee Recognition Day, some type of ceremony recognizing long-serving employees, outstanding employees, and other employee achievements or recognitions.

In Olympia, Washington’s state capital, a public event for workers included free food, information booths with goodies and giveaways, a talent contest, awards ceremonies and speeches by a few state officials. (See The Olympian article. Washington Governor Gary Locke told the assembled crowd, “Public service is not the most glamorous or profitable line of work. But it is one of the most important. It’s a noble calling — putting others first and trying to make the world a better place, one service and one need at a time.” Washington workers needed some positive reinforcement: as is typical of the situation in many states, current Washington state budget proposals contain fairly bleak scenarios for many state workers, some of whom face layoffs and all of whom are looking at potentially another two years without even a cost-of-living pay increase. Nine-year Washington state employee Clyde Strickland acknowledged that “[t]hese are difficult times, and we all have to share in the burden. But you can focus too much on the negative, and you shouldn’t let yourself do that. This is a positive day, instead of a negative one.”

Other states holding employee recognition days include: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Festivities in participating states range from an awards ceremony in Georgia to a barbecue in Idaho to a singing contest in Washington. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) has asked local merchants to offer discounts to state employees. (See Stateline.org article.)

Protections against discrimination for state workers have also taken a huge hit over the last several years as the U.S. Supreme Court continues to hack away at antidiscrimination provisions in the name of “federalism.” While federalism is a complicated legal issue (see NOW LDEF summary for a basic explanation.), it’s very simple to describe its effects on state workers: workers who could formerly sue their states when they were discriminated against in many cases can no longer do so. By a single deciding vote, the Supreme Court has invalidated parts of a number of Congressional enactments, including several designed to protect the civil rights of women, racial and ethnic minorities, the disabled and workers over 40. They have thrown out important sections of the Violence Against Women Act, limited the reach of overtime protections for state employees, weakened gun control and environmental laws, and even diluted patent and trademark protections. Pending before the Supreme Court is the question whether state workers denied family and medical leave can sue their state employers. (See Nevada D.H.R. v. Hibbs for more information about this pending Supreme Court case.) These cases affect all of the estimated two million state workers, who in many geographic areas across the country, work for the region’s largest employers, and thus have very few remaining options when encountering on-the-job discrimination.

A day to honor state workers is very admirable. In this day and age, they need all the support they can get.

More resources on federalism:

NSCLC Federal Rights Project

NOW LDEF Project on Federalism: Latest Developments

Community Rights Counsel: “States Rights vs. Civil Rights”

May Day! May Day!

Thursday, May 1st, 2003

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the tradition, today, May 1, or May Day, is also known as International Workers Day. While the celebration of this day is much more significant in other countries than the U.S. (our September Labor Day embodies some of the May Day spirit and traditions), it is nonetheless noteworthy to observe what is happening around the world today. Some celebrations were more subdued than usual, but many still work to honor the May Day spirit and tradition.

A good introduction to May Day can be found at May Day, The Workers’ Day, which chronicles the history of May Day, as it first developed here in the United States. May Day was born out of the struggle for the eight-hour day. As noted in the article,

The movement for the eight-hour day was wedded to the date of May 1 at an 1884 convention of the three-year-old Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada_the forerunner of the American Federation of Labor….Despite the bosses’ predictions of violence, the world’s first May Day [May 1, 1886] was a massive success, involving hundreds of thousands in peaceful strikes and demonstrations. The largest demonstration was in Chicago, where 90,000 marched_ as many as 40,000 of whom were strikers. Thirty-five thousand Chicago meatpackers won the eight-hour day with no loss of pay after that strike.

However, as the May Day movement grew around the world during the early 20th century, it continued to decline in the United States, its country of origin. The AFL in 1905 disavowed the celebration of May Day, promoting instead the observance of Labor Day, first established as a federal holiday in 1894. From that time onward, May Day in the United States was organized by the left wing of the labor movement, and continues even today to be tainted by the anti-communist brush.

In Berlin, even though workers have much to protest given the state of the German economy, the day is known for its annual riots, which have occurred every year since 1987. (See Bloomberg News article.) According to the German police, rioters ravaging Berlin last night injured 175 police officers and burnt 18 cars during the traditional May Day celebrations. About 1,300 young adults also threw stones at policemen, smashed shop windows and destroyed a motorcycle. Officers were forced to disperse the troublemakers with the help of water cannons and arrested 129 people. Incredibly, this year’s riotsin Berlin were less severe than in 2002 when three policemen were seriously injured and taken to hospital. There were more peaceful observances as well, however: one million Germans throughout the country used Labor Day to peacefully protest against Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s plans to trim the welfare system. Twice as many people as last year attended the rallies and marches organized by the trade unions, the DGB federation of unions said. In a bid to reduce unemployment from a five-year high, Schroeder plans to cut jobless benefits, limit entitlement for unemployed pay, raise workers’ sick-pay outlays, reduce health care benefits and make it easier for companies to fire workers. For these efforts, Schroeder was booed by a crowed of 7,000 union members during a 15-minute speech defending his proposals at the DGB’s main rally in Neu-Anspach.

Tragedy marred the day in South Africa, where a busload of workers en route to a Workers’ Day rally crashed into a reservoir. Eighty people are feared dead, and the final death toll may be the highest ever for a single South African road crash. (See Reuters article.) A spokesman for the Confederation of South Africa Trade Unions (COSATU), South Africa’s largest trade union federation, Patrick Craven, said the bus had been taking COSATU members from the diamond mining centre of Kimberley to a May Day rally in the Qwa Qwa area. South African President Thabo Mbeki interrupted the May Day rally in Johannesburg to observe a minute’s silence and said the country was in a state of shock. (See Daily News article.)

The May Day observance was also an unhappy one in China, as officials sought to quell all public observances of the day in an effort to limit the spread of SARS. (See New York Times article.) As noted in the article, “On this most hallowed of Communist holidays, one meant to honor workers and a time for exuberant shopping and family vacations, some things in Beijing were very odd — and some things were very much the same.” Another article noted that China used the occasion to honour medical workers on the frontlines of the battle against SARS. Six medical workers from three medical institutions received the Labour Day medal for their dedication to their work, the Communist Party’s People’s Daily said. (See Star article.)

The celebration was a more positive one than usual in London, where, as one commentator noted,

The only thing missing from Mayday 2003 seemed to be the traditional blacked-up, rock-throwing brew-crew intent on hijacking international workers’ day in the name of anarchy and anti-capitalism….Turks and Kurds, Colombians and Argentinians, French and American groups all dropped their national differences and highlighted injustices in their own countries. More than 20 British unions walked behind their banners, many complaining about privatisation.

(See Guardian article.) While fears had been raised from weeks of hype – by the police and some activists – that oil companies, arms traders, government offices and anyone associated with the Iraq war or big business would be targeted, proved largely hollow.

In Belgium, with national elections less than two weeks away, one commentator observed,

[w]hoever believes Belgium is boring and politics is dead should have been at Thursday’s May Day rallies in this small, affluent country best known for its strong beers, calorific chocolates and pedophile scandals. With just more than 2 weeks to go until Belgians head to the polling booths, the divisions between right and left, working class and middle class and French-speaking Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders and were laid bare in a series of election rallies across the country.

See UPI article.) The country’s top Socialist officials gathered the faithful for “a series of tub-thumping speeches that would not have sounded out of place in Karl Marx’s era.” May Day attempts to sway the populace are more important than usual in Belgium this year, becuase “on May 18, Belgian voters will have to decide whether to stick with one of the mainstream parties of the center left and right or plump for fringe groupings like the Vlaams Blok. For many of those who have not benefited from Belgium’s recent years of growth, the choice may not be as obvious as it first appears.”

In Cuba, Fidel Castro asserted to a May Day crowd of hundreds of thousands that the United States is in the process of planning military action against Cuba–an accusation that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denied. Castro was quoted as saying “In Miami and Washington they are now discussing where, how and when Cuba will be attacked,” while Rumsfeld responded, “there are no plans for military action against Cuba.” (See AP article.) Cuba has recently come under increased attack for sending 75 dissidents to prison on charges of collaborating with U.S. diplomats to destabilize the socialist regime, and for the firing-squad executions of three men convicted of terrorism for trying to hijack a Cuban ferry full of passengers to the United States–moves which Castro claimed were necessary to halt the hijackings and stem a growing migration crisis.

The fall of communism in the former Soviet Union has diminished the size and influence of May Day in Russia and Ukraine. (See Russia Journal article.) While rallies featured a range of political messages, the vast majority of Russians stayed home or headed out of cities for a four-day weekend. Russia’s Public Opinion Foundation said that only 4 percent of Russians polled planned to participate in rallies this year.

And here in the United States, May Day observances were organized in some locations around the country. Although these events were perhaps not marked with the same attendance and fervor as others around the globe, organizers made clear that the values and traditions surrounding International Workers Day were worth remembering and commemorating. In Eureka, California, “40 self-proclaimed anarchists, communists and laborers” met to march through Eureka for the purpose of spreading happiness and fun to local workers. (See Eureka Times-Standard article.) In Olympia, Washington, about three hundred people participated in a peaceful demonstration in the streets of Olympia–down from past years. (See Seattle Post-Intelligencer article.) And in Sunnyside, Washington, May Day participants gathered to learn more about the life of Cesar Chavez, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union.

For those of us here in America who didn’t participate in any May Day events, here at least is some food for thought.

[H]ere in America, we apathetically go to the factory, the retail counter, and the cubicle, ignorant to the fact that May Day is the product of an American, radical workers’ movement that successfully agitated for the 8-hour day during the 1880’s. In these uncertain, tenuous times we have much to learn from these heroic men that braved the Billy-club and bullet to overcome economic exploitation. Distracted by war, working families are unaware the latest Bush budget slashes funding for healthcare, public education, and proven job creation techniques while the Administration showers lucrative contracts on the military-industrial complex and bankrupts the Treasury on an ill-advised, cynical tax cut for upper class constituents and campaign financiers.

These words, in a commentary entitled “Rolling Back May Day” also remind us that some battles are never over, as we continue to fight to preserve the eight-hour work day. For the most timely examples, see the blog entries of 4/29/03 and 4/10/03 to learn more about these latest threats. As the May Day commentary reminds us, “If the “comp” time bill passes, the eight-hour workday protection will be eroded since management can work employees longer for no money at all. If so, the Bush Administration will rollback the gains of 120 years of democratically won social protections in a little more than two years. The robber barons would be proud.”

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