Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for April, 2013

CEPR Report: How to Create More 'Good' Jobs

Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth Quinnell

new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) shows the country needs to increase union membership significantly, create universal health care, a universal retirement system (beyond Social Security), expand college attainment and achieve gender pay equity to create more “good” jobs in the United States.

CEPR defines a good job as one that pays at least $19 per hour, has employer-provided health insurance and has some kind of retirement plan. In previous reports, they showed there has been a significant decline in the past 30 years in the share of good jobs in the United States. The decline comes despite increases in productivity and educational attainment of the workforce.

The report notes that one of the key reasons for the decline in good jobs in recent decades is the decline in union participation. Increasing the percentage of the workforce that belongs to unions translates to an increase of good jobs of just less than 7%.

In the report, CEPR has five primary conclusions:

  1. It will take big steps to increase the number of good jobs in the economy, and none of the policies they propose would be sufficient alone.
  2. Eliminating bad jobs is easier than creating good jobs.
  3. Pursuing more than one of these policies would raise the number of good jobs more than the sum of the two policies individually.
  4. Increasing the membership of unions creates more good jobs than a comparable expansion of college attainment would, and it would do it more quickly than expanding college attainment.
  5. Gender pay equity would erase most of the good jobs gap between men and women.

Read the full report.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 29, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

 

BCTGM 'Extremely Disappointed' by Reports Hostess Brands Buyer Will Not Hire Union Members

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Jackie TortoraBakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) issued a statement today, responding to the sale of the iconic Twinkies brand.

In response to Metropoulos & Co. CEO C. Dean Metropoulos’ statement to The Wall Street Journal that the company will not hire union workers when reopening four former Hostess Brands bakeries, BCTGM International President David B. Durkee issued the following statement on behalf of all BCTGM members:

The BCTGM is pleased to see that Hostess Brands LLC, the newly formed snack cake company created by Apollo Global Management and Metropoulos & Co, has announced that it will be reopening four Hostess bakeries to produce the iconic Hostess cake brands. Those four successful cake plants were represented by the BCTGM for many years under former Hostess ownership.

However, we are extremely disappointed to see negative statements from company executives about the union status of its future employees. Ideally, we would like to see as many of our members hired as possible. We believe their combination of experience, dedication and know-how will give the new owners the chance to get high quality snack cakes back in the marketplace.

Federal labor law governing the hiring process and the obligations for the employer and the rights of the future employees in this situation is quite definitive. We expect that the new owners will respect the statutory rights of all workers during the hiring, startup and future of this new company.

The BCTGM remains focused on ensuring that the new Hostess Brands ownership understands that the snack cakes at the center of this new company are inextricably linked to the hands that make them—and have made them for generations. We know that our workers have a critical role to play in protecting and enhancing some of America’s most valuable consumer brands. We all want the same outcome: that the brands should prosper and endure. This is what the next stage of this saga is all about—implementing a new ownership and manufacturing structure worthy of the brands themselves and America’s manufacturing prowess.

Our members provide immense value to the new ownership with decades of experience, expertise and training. Not only have our members produced these quality products for consumers for generations, they know these bakeries inside and out. Our members are eager and willing to return to these snack plants and help usher in a new period of prosperity for Hostess snack cakes.

It is our sincere hope that the new owners will fully recognize the tremendous value of hiring back our members. If, however, they do not want us as part of the future of this company, we will continue to fight for our membership through other avenues.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 26, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is an blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

Hundreds of Chicago fast food and retail workers stage one-day strike, shutting some stores

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Laura ClawsonHundreds of Chicago fast food and retail workers walked out for a one-day strike Wednesday, following similar one-day strikes among New York City fast food workers earlier in April and inNovember. As in New York, the Chicago workers are calling for a wage of $15 an hour rather than the near-minimum wages most of them make, and the right to join together in unions. The Illinois minimum wage is $8.25, a dollar higher than the federal minimum wage that applies in New York, but the stories the workers tell are similar. At an organizing meeting, Micah Uetricht reports:

An African-American man approaching what’s typically thought of as retirement age told of decades working in fast food and hovering near minimum wage, while a young Urban Outfitters worker said a raise would “make the difference between living and surviving.”When explaining what a raise to $15 per hour would mean to her, Trish Kahle, a Whole Foods worker, stated simply, “I could have heat all winter.”

Dunkin Donuts worker Esly Hernandez, who is paid $8.25 an hour, told Ned Resnikoff that he’s striking for his four-year-old son, both to set an example for him and to be able to afford medically recommended nutrition for the anemic child.

Wednesday’s action in Chicago should be viewed not just in the context of the New York City fast food strikes, but of the wave of low-wage worker organizing over the past year more generally, as Josh Eidelson explains:

The strike wave’s spread to Chicago offers a hopeful sign for the New York City fast food campaign. While individual fast food stores are managed by franchisees, national CEOs are the real decision-makers in both fast food and retail. Given the financial cost and, more important, the risk of setting a precedent and emboldening a wider workforce, it’s hard to imagine executives for McDonald’s or Macy’s making any significant concessions to workers in any city unless faced with a bona fide national uprising. For that to happen, the strikes would have to go viral, big-time.The strikes aren’t spreading by accident. November New York fast food strikers told Salon that they drew inspiration from workers who walked out of Wal-Mart stores, who in turn cited the example of their Wal-Mart warehouse counterparts. Interviewed while on strike April 4, New York fast food workers said that November’s smaller walkout had made that day’s work stoppage possible. “I was waiting” during the first strike, said Brooklyn Burger King worker Christelle Lumen. “I wanted to know, would they be OK with it? Would they fire the people that went on strike?”

According to the Fight for 15 campaign, a Subway, a Sally’s Beauty Supply, and a Land’s End were shut down by the strike and a march of and in support of the strikers stretched for two city blocks.

This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on April 24, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is an editor at the Daily Kos.

Black Workers 19% More Likely to Be in Unions

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Arlene Holt Baker“The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress.”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said that in 1965, and African Americans still hear his quote ring.

A new report, Blacks in Unions: 2012, by the University of California, Berkeley, Center for Labor Research and Education, finds that black workers are 19% more likely to be in unions than non-black workers. In the nation’s 10 largest metropolitan areas, African Americans are 42% more likely than non-blacks to be in unions.

There’s a pretty good reason for this. Unions make a difference in the lives of black workers—in cold, hard cash terms, it amounts to $185 a week in median weekly earnings, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall, union members also are more likely than nonunion workers to have health care coverage from their employers and good pensions.

But I believe Dr. King spoke of more than dollars and cents. I think that as he said those words to the Illinois AFL-CIO 48 years ago, he referred to the doors unions opened to the middle class for generations of African Americans and other workers otherwise shut out. I think he had in mind the dignity that comes with having a voice on the job—a say in how to make a job and a life better. And he also honored the union movement’s long advocacy for civil and human rights and economic and social justice.

Davon Lomax, 25, a member of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 9 in Queens, N.Y., tells it this way:

Everyone knows the benefits of being in a union, no matter which one it is. I think blacks are more likely to join a union because they see the direct correlation with a decent living and a path where their kids can do better than them. Given the fact that blacks historically have had hard times locking down decent and fair paying jobs, joining a union is putting yourself in a fair playing field. A place where you won’t have to worry if someone is getting paid more, or getting better benefits, everyone is one and everyone is family.

There is no discrimination, and it is also a place where if you work hard, you can look yourself in the mirror and be proud of yourself and your union.

 

Dr. Steven Pitts, researcher and writer of the report and labor policy specialist at the UC Berkeley Labor Center, says the unemployment crisis facing the black community is regularly discussed; however, less talked about is the crisis of low-wage work, and the center wanted to use this research to highlight a solution to this issue: unions.

“[The black jobs crisis] is not just an individual problem, it’s a structural problem that can be solved by organizing,” says Pitts. “Unionization is a strategy to address the jobs crisis.”

As the AFL-CIO looks for new ways to tackle the future of the labor movement, Pitts says black unionists are an underutilized resource given the high rates of union density for African Americans. Pitts points to the lessons from the Chicago Teachers Union strike. Because the teachers had good relationships with the black community and parents, they “staved off divisions between unions and members of the community to improve the quality of life.”

“If we’re trying to look for new pathways forward, black unionists are key.”

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 24, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Arlene Holt Baker has experience as a union and grassroots organizer that spans more than 30 years. On Sept. 21, 2007, she was approved unanimously as executive vice president by the AFL-CIO Executive Council, becoming the first African American to be elected to one of the federation’s three highest offices and the highest-ranking African American woman in the union movement. In this position, Holt Baker builds on her legacy of inspiring activism and reaching out to diverse communities to support the needs and aspirations of working people.

28-Year Inspection Gap at Deadly Texas Fertilizer Plant ‘Stunning Indictment’ of OSHA’s Underfunding

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Image: Mike HallThe West, Texas, fertilizer plant, where a fire and explosion last week claimed at least 14 lives—including 11 firefighters and EMTs—and injured more than 200, was last inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1985.

In 2011, the West Fertilizer Co. filed an emergency response plan with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that said there was no risk of fire or explosion, despite the fact that as much as 54,000 pounds of flammable and toxic anhydrous ammonia could be stored on the site.

While the plant reported that it was storing up to 270 tons of highly explosive ammonium nitrate to state authorities—Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh needed just two tons to blow up the federal building and kill 168 people—it did not report that fact to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In addition, several other federal and state agencies had pieces of the regulatory responsibility to protect the workers and community. The plant was surrounded by homes, a senior citizen housing project and a nearby school. But as Bryce Covert of Think Progress writes:

Many of these agencies have previously cited and/or fined the company. But they aren’t required to coordinate with each other, and small distributors like the one that exploded are part of a system that focuses more on larger plants.

While those state and federal agencies may inspect certain segments of a plant’s operations—emissions, for example—OSHA is the agency with the broadest mandate and authority to inspect a plant’s entire operations, enforce safety and health laws and, if need be, shut it down. But as the 2012 AFL-CIO report Death on the Job notes, OSHA is so understaffed and underfunded that federal inspectors can inspect each workplace on average of one each 131 years.

There are some 2,200 OSHA inspectors for the country’s 8 million workplaces and 130 million workers. In Texas, OSHA conducted 4,448 inspections in the past fiscal year, a pace that would mean it would visit every workplace in 126 years, according to Death on the Job.

In addition, says AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario, the West Fertilizer plant had just seven employees and “these kind of workplaces are not typically inspected by OSHA.”

What people don’t understand is how limited resources are to oversee workplace safety and health.

BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director David Foster calls the 35-year gap, since the last inspection at the West Fertilizer plant, “a stunning indictment” of OSHA’s underfunding.

While the Obama administration has increased funding for OSHA after nearly a decade of cuts under the Bush administration, the Republican sequester now in place “means fewer inspectors to monitor facilities like the West Fertilizer Company,” says Keith Wrightson, worker safety and health advocate for Public Citizen.

Small budgets also make it even harder for the agency to issue new safety standards. The agency’s budget is similar to what it was several decades ago, but the size of the economy—and the number and complexity of workplaces to inspect—has grown tremendously.

Tom O’Connor, executive director of the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, says, “This tragic explosion points to the need for more resources allocated to OSHA.”

With adequate funding for more OSHA inspectors, more potentially dangerous sites— like this fertilizer manufacturing plant—can be inspected and hazards abated.

But while workplace safety advocates have pushed for stronger health and safety standards—including chemical safety standards for facilities such as West Fertilizer, Covert writes:

Even with all of the evidence that the plant fell through a variety of regulatory cracks, an industry-backed bill with ties to the Koch brothers with the support of 11 congressmen would reduce the EPA’s powers to regulate major chemical sites.

For a more detailed look at the regulatory history of the West Fertilizer plant, see this Huffington Post report by Chris Kirkham and Ben Hallman.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 23, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Boston's Low-Wage Workers Affected by City's Shutdown

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

Kenneth QuinnellWhile most attention in the Boston tragedy is rightfully focused on the victims of last Monday’s bombings at the Boston Marathon, the damage done by the terrorist attacks didn’t end with the explosions or the subsequent shootout that led to additional deaths. Much of the city shut down during the manhunt for the terror suspects; and while most salaried employees could take the day off without losing pay, low-wage workers did not have that luxury. Other workers were forced to work long hours or brave dangerous conditions to get their jobs done.

Salon took a look at the various ways that the bombings affected workers in Boston, including a fear that many businesses will not compensate low-wage workers for the time off the city’s shutdown required:

“Most low wage workers can’t afford to lose a day’s pay, and there’s no doubt this lockdown will adversely impact the city’s working poor,” said Jessica Kutch, a labor activist who co-founded the organizing site coworker.org, in an email to Salon. “I’d really like to see employers state on the record that their hourly workers will be paid for the time they were scheduled to work today—but I suspect that most employers will place the burden of this shutdown squarely on the backs of people who can least afford it.”

Salon also reported that some businesses are requiring workers to use vacation time, although some relented in the face of internal pushback.

First responders, of course, have been working extended hours, with police and medical personnel working much longer than normal days:

Steven Tolman, the president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, told Salon, “They’re doing God’s work,” he said. “They’re exhausted, they’ve been working constantly. The heroism of the people who were there and saw things that they never thought they’d see in their life is just incredible.”

“It’s justification why public employees are entitled to a decent pension and the best health care because they put so much on the line in a time of need,” he said.

Workers in some industries have been necessary for supporting law enforcement engaged in the hunt for the suspects or stranded tourists while transportation has been limited:

Brian Lang, the president of UNITE HERE Local 26, told Salon that many of the hotel workers he represents have been working double shifts with little time off, as many of the guests have been unable to leave the city. Police from out of town have completely occupied some hotels, while authorities set up a command center at the Westin downtown, just blocks from the bombing.

“Those hotels were full of people all week, so our members in there were like the second responders,” Lang said. “There were the first responders who aided the people who were directly affected by the bombings, but many of the folks who were affected were from out of town and they were staying at these hotels. They were exhausted, they were traumatized, and it was the hotel workers who comforted them, fed them, who made sure they had clean, safe rooms to say in.”

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 22, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Los Mineros’ Leader-in-Exile

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

kari-lydersenOn February 19, 2006, an explosion in a coal mine in northern Mexico known as Pasta de Conchos trapped 65 miners. The accident became a milestone in the career of Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, general secretary of the National Mining and Metal Workers Union (known as Los Mineros), who accused Grupo México—the mine’s owner—and the government of having ignored complaints about safety conditions at the mine, and of trying to cover up the tragedy. Two weeks after the explosion, Gómez fled Mexico amidst death threats and criminal charges leveled against him by the government, which labor leaders described as trumped-up. Working from Canada, he has become an increasingly prominent leader in the international solidarity and global unionism movement. He serves on the executive committee of Industri-ALL, a global union coalition representing 50 million workers.

Gómez was born in Monterrey, Mexico, an industrial city not far from the U.S. border. His father was a miner who became general secretary of the Mineros union in 1960, and was one of the country’s best-known labor leaders as well as a congressman and senator. As a boy, Gómez often tagged along with his father and developed respect for the labor movement and the miners he represented. After studying economics at Mexico’s Autonomous National University andOxford University, Gómez served for 12 years as director of the Mexican Mint, responsible for fabricating money for more than 20 different countries. He also ran unsuccessfully for governor of the state of Nuevo Leon as a candidate for Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), despite lacking the support of the corrupt PRI President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

When Gómez’s 86-year-old father could no longer continue leading the union, Gómez took overin 2000 in what was meant to be a temporary position. But his dedication to the union—at a time when other Mineros leaders proved more loyal to the companies—won over the membership, and in 2002 he was elected general secretary. In 2008 he was re-elected in exile, and he nowleads the union from Canada.

Gómez spearheaded a groundbreaking partnership between the Mineros and the United Steelworkers, initially formalized in 2005 and then expanded in 2011 and titled the North American Solidarity Alliance. Since the unions represent workers employed by many of the same companies in Canada, Mexico and the United States, they collaborate closely in bargaining situations as well as in larger strategy.

Gómez is also the author of the new book Collapse of Dignity: The Story of a Mining Tragedy and the Fight Against Greed and Corruption in Mexico (BenBella Books), which includes a foreword by United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard.

Gómez spoke recently with In These Times by phone from his home in Vancouver.

What are the main points that you want people to take away from the book?

This is a story of what we have lived in the seven years since the Pasta de Conchos explosion. Grupo México, in collusion with the government of then-president Vicente Fox, shut down the mine after only five days of trying to rescue workers. They abandoned 65 miners without knowing if they were dead or alive. So the families and the union accused the company ofindustrial homicide—what you in North America might call “corporate murder.” In response, the Mexican government launched a smear campaign against me and other leaders of Los Mineros.

Is the union still making demands regarding Pasta de Conchos?

Yes. First, to retrieve the bodies. Second, investigate what happened. Third, demand that Grupo México be sued for their criminal negligence. And fourth, that the widows and families must be compensated with dignity and justice.

During the Pasta de Conchos incident, Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) controlled the government. Have things changed at all now that PRI is back in power?

With PRI the relations are beginning to be better in terms of having at least some dialogue and communication with the government, which we lost with the right-wing governments of formerPAN Presidents Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón. In October 2012, PAN made reforms in the labor laws that went against workers’ rights, against the collective bargaining agreements. These reforms give the Mexican government much more power to act against unions, particularly democratic and independent unions, so that is why we’re still not very clear what path this new PRI government is going to follow.

How is the drug war affecting workers and the union movement in Mexico?

The drug war has created insecurity in the country, and it’s affecting some mining regions. In some cases, the drug cartels control mines, like in the north of Mexico where the coal mines are. This problem has been officially recognized by the government. So we’re trying to do as much as we can to keep out the influence of these cartels in these regions. We have succeeded in most of the cases, but in some others, yes, the labor situation has been affected by this drug war.

How is the alliance with the Steelworkers going?

The partnership is very, very strong. The Steelworkers have been very committed to supporting our struggle from the beginning. We have a lot of coordination and frequent meetings. We share ideas and experiences. This is the best way to protect workers’ rights. Globalization tends to of course diminish the power of the unions. In 2005, Leo Gerard, the president of the Steelworkers, and I signed this strategic alliance in which we say, “If the world economy is globalizing, we should also globalize our efforts, our experiences and our negotiations.”

How did you feel about all the attention given the rescue in 2010 of the Chilean miners?

In Chile it was a moral victory for the mineworkers. In Mexico it was a shame, since in Chileworkers were rescued, while in Mexico they were abandoned. Grupo México has great influence. They spend a lot of money in controlling the media, and they never want to talk about Pasta de Conchos. February 19 was the seventh anniversary of the tragedy of Pasta de Conchos and we had rallies and demonstrations in Mexico City and in more than 30 countries during the international days of action in solidarity with Los Mineros. Grupo México tried not to have this news published openly in Mexico.

How can we demand accountability from the mining industry?

Since this conflict began, I’ve been addressing members of [Mexico’s] Congress, saying that we need to pass a law that penalizes mining corporations for criminal negligence. We have got some improvements, but we still don’t have the final law that we would like to be adopted or implemented. A special commission in Congress is trying to make some reforms and introduce a bill.

Is there a role for international law?

We submitted a complaint to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C., and we submitted another complaint to the International Labor Organization (ILO). The ILO condemned the company, but we’re still waiting for the response from the Mexican government.

If Congress does pass immigration reform in the United States, how would that affect both workers and unions in Mexico?

First, it will give a measure of certainty to the migrants in the United States. But the Mexican government must also create an opportunity for Mexicans to stay in their country and work and have well-paid, permanent jobs.

How does the labor movement in Canada compare to that in the United States and Mexico?

We have studied the systems they have in organizing, in collective bargaining agreements. The labor movement in Canada is well organized and very strong, but they are not as passionate as we are. North American union leaders have learned from us that in Mexico we need stronger and better jobs at higher wages so that people stay in our country, and we can have a mutually respectful relationship with the Canadian and the American unions.

This article was originally posted on the Working In These Times on April 12, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work.

Republicans Accuse Labor Nominee of Fighting for Civil Rights

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Dave JohnsonWhere does the Republican Party put its energy? On anything that furthers the interests of the wealthiest. Tax cuts and kicking government are right at the top of that list.* Also near the top comes blocking minimum wage increases, blocking workplace safety rules and keeping lots of people unemployed so they are desperate to take any nasty, dirty, low-paying job, etc. But next to tax cuts and keeping government from operating, Republicans fight to keep unions from being able to organize because the power of working people acting together collectively begins to challenge the power of concentrated wealth that corporations represent. To this end, Republicans hate and fight the U.S. Department of Labor and, now, the new nominee for secretary of labor.

In the News

Republican “oppo” researchers issued a 63-page report on Thomas Perez, who President Obama has nominated to fill the vacancy for secretary of labor. Perez currently serves as head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The report accuses Perez of being corrupt because he fought to keep civil rights law intact by trading a case involving St. Paul landlords who were renting substandard homes in low-income areas for a case accusing St. Paul of not doing enough to help minorities win contracts.

The story is circulating today in the Washington Post, GOP Issues Critical Report of Labor Secretary Nominee Perez:

The GOP lawmakers accuse Perez of misusing his power last year to persuade the city of St. Paul, Minn., to withdraw a housing discrimination case before it could be heard by the Supreme Court. In exchange, the Justice Department agreed not to intervene in two whistleblower cases against St. Paul that could have won up to $200?million for taxpayers.

…Top Democrats on the House Oversight Committee issued a report on the investigation Sunday, writing that Perez ‘acted professionally to advance the interests of civil rights and effectively combat the scourge of housing discrimination.’ The Justice Department also defended Perez, saying litigation decisions made by the department ‘were in the best interests of the United States and were consistent with the department’s legal, ethical and professional responsibility obligations.’

The GOP report cites documents that suggest Perez’s decision frustrated and confused career lawyers at Justice who initially wanted to join the whistleblower cases against St. Paul. These lawyers described the department’s change of heart as ‘weirdness,’ ‘ridiculous’ and a case of ‘cover your head pingpong.’

 

Complicated…Perez’s deal kept the Justice Department out of one court case in exchange for keeping another from making it to the Supreme Court, which would use it to overturn important civil rights laws 5-4.

What Republicans Say Perez Did That Was Bad

The main charge against Perez (other than being brown) is that, as part of his duties in the Civil Rights Division, he brokered a deal in a housing discrimination case in St. Paul, to keep the case from reaching the Supreme Court. The St. Paul case would have enabled the Supreme Court to strike down “disparate-impact theory” in civil rights a labor law, with a 5-4 vote.

The current Roberts movement-conservative majority on the Supreme Court looks for cases that enable them to maneuver 5-4 votes to strike down laws that protect citizens from billionaires and corporations (who fund the conservative movement) in various ways. Citizens United is the best example of this. It undid campaign finance laws, enabling billionaires and giant corporations to put multiple millions into getting their candidates elected at every level. The case involving Perez is one that this court could have used to further harm citizen interests with a 5-4 vote.

The Case

In the early 2000s, a group of landlords were renting substandard (heat didn’t work, no locks, rotten floors, rat holes, bugs, broken pipes, etc.) housing to minorities in St. Paul. St. Paul cracked down with code enforcement. The landlords sued St. Paul, claiming code enforcement would violate the Fair Housing Act because minority tenants would have less access to…nasty, substandard housing with rotted floors, rats, etc.

That’s right, the slumlords sued the city arguing that if the city did code enforcement and it put them out of business, minorities wouldn’t have access to nasty, substandard housing that was infested with code violations. They claimed that code enforcement violated civil right laws by potentially decreasing minority access to nasty, substandard housing.

This is exactly the kind of case Republicans love because it turns the tables against minorities and makes the claim that the kind of businesses that scam on and prey on and take advantage of vulnerable and powerless citizens are really “performing a service.”

St. Paul’s lawyers had a duty to the city to do what they could to win for the city. They knew the Supreme Court had an interest in overturning the civil rights law that the slumlords were using to sue them, meaning they would win the case for the city. So St. Paul was taking the case to the Supreme Court even though the court would use it to strike down civil rights laws nationally.

Perez struck a deal to avoid this outcome. This is what Republicans are accusing him of.

The Other Case

The other side of the deal Perez brokered involved a suit against St. Paul claiming the city had not been using federal funds to sufficiently help minorities get contracts and jobs with the city. The case would have collapsed if the Justice Department didn’t get involved and could potentially cost the city millions if they did. So in exchange for St. Paul not taking the other case to the Supreme Court, Perez got the Justice Department to agree not to get involved.

What This Tells Us

All of this tells us that Perez understands the strategic long game that the billionaires and their giant corporations are playing, by investing in getting their people placed on the courts and Supreme Court, and how they manipulate cases to use to undermine long-standing laws that help regular people. What Perez did shows that he is there to fight for regular people, not to make a fortune by “playing along” while in a government position and then later receiving a high-paying payoff job with the corporations behind this.

Good Sources

A good source for understanding the complicated story is Adam Serwer in Mother Jones, The GOP Wants to Use This Bizarre Case to Scuttle Obama’s Most Progressive Cabinet Nominee:

The deal Perez helped cut likely prevented a landmark civil rights law from being struck down by the Roberts’ court. Perez’s civil rights division later used this law to secure record financial settlements against banks that discriminated against minority borrowers during the financial crisis. And Republicans were very angry about it.

Another source for a more conservative take on this is a series of posts by Sean Higgins in the Washington Examiner (note: you will be swarmed by pop-up ads):

A glimpse into how Thomas Perez operates.

More on the deal Thomas Perez cut with St. Paul.

How Thomas Perez might use ‘disparate impact’ theory as labor secretary.

*More from the list of where the Republican Party puts its energy: keeping people from voting, keeping objective information from reaching people, keeping entrenched “incumbent” interests like oil and coal and big pharmaceutical companies from facing serious competition, etc., etc.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 17, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Dave Johnson is a Fellow with Campaign for America’s Future and a Senior Fellow with Renew California.

Dave is founder and principal author at Seeing the Forest, and a blogger at Speak Out California. He is a frequent public speaker, talk-radio personality and a leading participant in the progressive blogging community.

 

Maine governor faces call for investigation on pressure to deny unemployment benefits

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

avatar_2563Maine Gov. Paul LePage is facing some blowback for pressuring unemployment hearing officers into denying more unemployment insurance appeals. A lawyers group is asking the federal government to investigate LePage’s actions:

LePage has violated federal laws requiring the impartial and prompt administration of unemployment insurance benefit, said David Webbert, president of the Maine Employment Lawyers Association, in a letter he sent Monday to Gay Gilbert, administrator of the federal Office of Unemployment Insurance, and Daniel Petrole, the deputy inspector general who oversees criminal investigations relating to the federal Department of Labor.Federal law mandates prompt payment of unemployment benefits, Webbert wrote, but LePage has created policies that delay payments, and he has put political pressure on hearing officers to deny payments to workers.

LePage’s Republican allies are predictably painting this as some kind of partisan—and therefore illegitimate—attack. But by the logic Republicans apply to everyone else, if LePage didn’t do anything wrong, he shouldn’t fear an investigation. And the allegations against LePage get to the heart of policy disputes between Republicans and Democrats … actually, not just Democrats, but anyone who doesn’t think business owners should automatically be favored by the government. If you lose your job, should you get a fair hearing for unemployment benefits? LePage says no. If, in saying no, he broke the law, he shouldn’t get away with it..

This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on April 16, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is an editor at the Daily Kos.

UFCW Canada and Mexico's Farm Workers Sign Historic Agreement

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Jackie TortoraThe National Farm Workers’ Confederation (CNC) and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada signed a historic agreement to ensure the rights of migrant agriculture workers are protected and defended in Mexico, Canada and the United States, reports UFCW Canada.

The agreement, which was signed last week, will result in better conditions for migrant Mexican agriculture workers in North America.

Labor rights training and proactive monitoring and advocacy also are integral to the agreement. UFCW Canada and the CNC plan to develop a comprehensive database and reports on the conditions facing migrant agriculture workers in Mexico, United States and Canada.

This research and analysis will be used also to develop programs to improve access to social programs and benefits such as health, housing and educational subsidies for the workers and members of their families.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 16, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is an blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

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