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Working People Need a Strong CFPB with a Leader Who Supports Its Existence

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created after the Great Recession of 2008 wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy, causing millions of families to lose their homes to foreclosure and forcing millions of working people onto the unemployment rolls. Its mission is to protect working people from tricks and traps in consumer financial products like home mortgages and credit cards.

The CFPB has proven extremely effective. Since its creation in 2010, the bureau has returned $12 billion to consumers wronged by lenders. Twenty-nine million consumers have received relief.

The bureau owes much of its success to strong leadership. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) originally had the idea to create the CFPB when she was a law professor at Harvard and led the bureau in its infancy. In 2012, she was succeeded by Richard Cordray, who had a strong record of pursuing wrongdoing against consumers as Ohio attorney general before his time at the CFPB.

Cordray, however, resigned last week, and President Donald Trump named Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to replace him.

There are a few problems with this. First, Mulvaney already has a job leading the Office of Management and Budget and has shown no intention of stepping down from the post. Mulvaney also has been highly critical of the CFPB, calling it a “joke…in a sick, sad way.” Finally, there are legal questions about who gets to lead the bureau when the director steps down—the deputy director or someone appointed by the president.

In addition, Mulvaney’s former chief of staff, Natalee Binkholder, left Mulvaney’s congressional staff to go to work as a lobbyist for Santander, a bank that has faced sanctions from the bureau and is reportedly facing a CFPB lawsuit alleging that it overcharged consumers for car loans.

We learned the hard way from the financial crisis in 2008 that working people need the CFPB. We need the bureau to fight to protect us from predatory lenders and, in order to be effective in doing that, it needs to be led by a strong, full-time director who believes in its mission. Consumer financial protection is a full-time job, not a side gig for someone who things it’s a “joke.”

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on November 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Heather Slavkin Corzo is the director of the AFL-CIO Office of Investment. She joined the AFL-CIO in 2007 as a research analyst and was the senior legal and policy adviser from 2007 through 2014.

Don't Pass Huge Tax Cuts for the Wealthy on the Backs of Working People

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate have proposed a job-killing tax plan that favors the super-rich and wealthy corporations over working people. We cannot afford to let this bill become law.

Here’s why this plan is a bad idea:

  • Millions of working people would pay more. People making under $40,000 would be worse off, on average, in 2021; and people making under $75,000 would be worse off, on average, in 2027.
  • The super-rich and Wall Street would make out like bandits. The richest 0.1% would get an average tax cut of more than $208,000, and 62% of the benefits of the Senate bill would go to the richest 1%. Big banks, hedge funds and other Wall Street firms would be the biggest beneficiaries of key provisions of the bill.
  • Job-killing tax breaks for outsourcing. The Republican tax plan would lower the U.S. tax rate on offshore profits to zero, giving corporations more incentive to move American jobs offshore. 
  • Working people would lose health care. Thirteen million people would lose health insurance, and health care premiums would rise 10% in the non-group market. Meanwhile, Republicans want to cut Medicaid and Medicare by $1.5 trillion—the same price tag as their tax bill.
  • Job-killing cuts to infrastructure and education. Eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes would drastically reduce state and local investment in infrastructure and lead to $350 billion in education cuts, jeopardizing the jobs of 350,000 educators.

Republican tax and budget plans would make working people pay the price for wasteful tax giveaways by sending our jobs overseas; killing jobs in infrastructure and education; raising our taxes; increasing the number of uninsured; and cutting the essential public services we depend on.

Call your senator today at 844-899-9913.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on November 27, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kelly Ross is the deputy policy director at AFLCIO. 

This is the elaborate system Congress created to protect sexual predators on Capitol Hill

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

On Tuesday, BuzzFeed reported that numerous woman on the staff of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) say the congressman repeatedly sexually harassed them. Conyers’ conduct allegedly included “requests for sexual favors…caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public.” In at least one case, a woman who rebuffed Conyers’ advances says she was fired.

Yet until last night, Conyers’ behavior was secret. Why? There is no better place to be a sexual predator than the U.S. Congress.

Congress has created an elaborate system that protects sexual predators on Capitol Hill, including members of Congress and their staff. In the private sector and elsewhere in the government, victims of sexual harassment have the option of immediately filing a lawsuit and getting their grievances heard in court. But Congress has created a much different set of rules for victims who work on Capitol Hill.

The 180-day statute of limitations to request “counseling”

In order to pursue accountability for a sitting member of Congress for an alleged incident of sexual harassment or assault, a victim must file a written notice with the Office of Compliance within 180 days of the incident. If they don’t act within 180 days, they have no ability to pursue their claims. As reporting on Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and others reveals, it can take years for victims to feel comfortable coming forward.

Furthermore, the form to file such a complaint is password protected; a victim must call the Office of Compliance to get the password to initiate the process.

The 30-day “counseling” period

After filing the complaint, the person alleging harassment or assault must participate in a 30-day counseling period. Yes, in Congress, the victims of sexual harassment must submit to counseling, as if there is something wrong with them. During this period, no one else — including the alleged harasser — is even notified the complaint has been filed.

The Office of Compliance puts a sunny face on this process, saying it “provides the employee with an opportunity to assess his/her case before deciding whether to pursue the claim(s) beyond counseling.” In other words, the process starts with a 30-day waiting period in which the victim is given the “opportunity” to consider dropping the entire matter.

The 15-day statute of limitations to request mediation

After going through the counseling process, the alleged victim has just 15 days to file a request for mediation. If they fail to do so, the claim is extinguished. The form to request mediation is also password protected and must be obtained from the Office of Compliance.

The 30-day mediation period

After the counseling process, the alleged victim is still prohibited from filing a case in court. Rather, they must enter mandatory, confidential mediation which lasts at least another 30 days. The mediation period involves “the employing office, employee, and [Office of Compliance] mediator.” The purpose of the mediation, according to the Office of Compliance, is to “resolve the dispute.”

The individual alleging harassment or assault is also required to keep this mediation secret. “All mediation shall be strictly confidential, and the Executive Director shall notify each person participating in the mediation of the confidentiality requirement and of the sanctions applicable to any person who violates the confidentiality requirement,” according to the poorly named Congressional Accountability Act, which governs the process. The alleged perpetrator may not even be involved in this process, even if the claim is settled. John Conyers, whose case was settled through mediation, claimed he was unaware of any allegations against him — although sources tell BuzzFeed he did know.

There are also indications of misconduct within the Office of Compliance. Conyers’ settlement was confidential but documents were leaked by someone to Mike Cernovich, a right-wing conspiracy theorist and professional misogynist, who shared the documents with BuzzFeed.

The taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlement

As part of the mediation process, the parties can reach a settlement to resolve the dispute. But this settlement is not paid by the person who actually conducted the sexual harassment. Rather, the settlement is paid by you, the taxpayer. “[O]nly funds which are appropriated to an account of the Office in the Treasury of the United States for the payment of awards and settlements may be used for the payment of awards and settlements under this chapter,” the Congressional Accountability Actstates. This is why Conyers did not have to pay a penny of his own money to settle claims against his alleged victims.

According to the Washington Post, the Office of Compliance has paid more than $17 million over the past two decades to settle complaints regarding violations of workplace rules, including but not limited to sexual harassment cases. But BuzzFeed’s reporting indicates this doesn’t get at the scope of the problem. At least one settlement with a woman who alleged Conyers harassed her was paid from Conyers’ office budget, not from the Office of Compliance.

The 30-day waiting period and 60-day statute of limitations for filing a complaint

After making it through counseling and mediation, the victim must wait 30 days before doing anything. It’s unclear what this waiting period is for, other than to pressure the victim to accept a settlement offer or drop the claim. The victim then has just 60 days to either file an administrative complaint with the Office of Compliance or file a case in federal district court. The form to file an administrative complaint is also password protected. If the victim does not take any action within 90 days of the end of mediation, the claim is extinguished.

The secret administrative hearing

The administrative proceeding, unlike a federal court case, is also confidential and presents another opportunity for a perpetrator to keep the allegations secret. The hearings are closed to the public. (The hearing officer is empowered to dismiss any claim without a hearing if he or she judges the claim to be “frivolous.”) The responding party is not the individual that engaged in sexual harassment, but the office that employed that person. A record of the proceedings are only made public if the victim is successful.

If the victim disagrees with the decision, he or she must appeal first to the board of the Office of Compliance. After the Office of Compliance issue their decision, the victim may appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. That means there will be no independent evaluation of the evidence, rather the appeals court simply reviews for arbitrary or capricious application of the law, a very high legal standard.

If the victim wins in the administrative hearing, the payment is made from taxpayer money. They are not entitled to receive civil penalties or punitive damages under the law. This keeps both the awards and the settlements fairly low. Over 20 years, Congress has paid $17.1 million to 264 victims, a figure that includes sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination — an average award of about $65,000.

A federal case against a congressional office, not the person engaging in sexual harassment

After all this, a victim still cannot sue a member of Congress or other staff member who engaged in sexual harassment. Rather, if a victim choses to forgo the administrative hearing, he or she can file a federal case against the office where the sexual harassment allegedly occurred. In this case, victims are still not entitled to civil penalties or punitive damages. This makes the choice to file a suit, in most cases, prohibitively expensive since even a successful case will not bring in a large award.

Whatever money is awarded still is not paid by the sexual harasser but by taxpayers.

With more recent scrutiny on the systems in place to hold accountable powerful men accused of assault and harassment, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) recently introduced legislation to reform this process. Their bill would make counseling and mediation optional. It would also require hearings to be completed within 180 days after the complaint is filed. Complaints under the new legislation could also be filed anonymously. Members of Congress who personally engage in sexual harassment would be required to pay their own settlements and awards, rather than using taxpayer funds for this purpose.

The proposed bill — called the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress Act, or ME TOO Congress — still requires an administrative complaint or civil action to be filed 180 days after the alleged incident.

Gillibrand and Speier’s bill has attracted three co-sponsors in the Senate and five in the House. All of Gillibrand’s co-sponsors are Democratic women. Speier’s co-sponsors include three Republican men.

This article was published at ThinkProgress on November 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Judd Legum is the founder and editor in chief of ThinkProgress

Republicans want to give corporations yet another tax cut and call it paid family leave

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Americans want paid family leave—something people in most nations around the world already get. So it sounds like something to cheer that there’s a paid family leave provision in the Senate Republican tax plan, right? Yeah, no. This is very much a Republican family leave proposal, which is to say it’s a giveaway to big corporations that won’t get much for working Americans. 

The bill would give companies a tax credit for a small proportion of the worker’s pay, companies only get the credit at the end of the year—so if they can’t afford to offer leave up front, they can’t take advantage of it—and it expires in 2019.

“It’s a flimflam,” said Ellen Bravo, co-director at Family Values@Work, a national coalition of paid leave advocates. “It’s pretending to say we’re giving you something new that people urgently need when, in fact, it’s a giveaway to the bigger corporations that can already afford to do it.” […]

Several conservative economists agree. This kind of tax credit would most likely be embraced by companies that already offer paid family leave, wrote Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar in economic policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

“This is only a small step forward in this debate, not a giant leap,” Mathur said. “Much more can and should be done.”

Not to mention, including something they can call paid family leave is a great Republican trick for pretending their giant tax cuts for rich people package is good for working families. And—like this flimflam proposal—it’s just not.

Call your senators now at (202) 224-3121 and urge them to vote no on this giveaway to corporations and the wealthy at the expense of working families.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on November 17, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

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

The Right Wing Has a Vast, Secret Plot to Destroy Unions for Good. Here’s How to Fight Back.

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

The vast right-wing network of Koch brother-funded “think tanks” is now plotting to finish off the public sector labor movement once and for all.

In a series of fundraising documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy of Madison, Wis., and published in the Guardian, the CEO of a cartel of 66 well-funded arch-conservative state capitol lobbying outfits promises funders a “once-in-a-lifetime chance to reverse the failed policies of the American left.”

Tracie Sharp, the leader of the States Policy Network (SPN), goes on to explain that the pathway to permanent right-wing victory is to “defund and defang” unions that rely on the legal protections of state labor law.

Though less well-known, the SPN is something of a sister organization to the American Legislative and Exchange Council (ALEC), which writes cookie cutter “model legislation” for right-wing state legislators.

SPN affiliates, like Michigan’s Mackinac Center and Ohio’s Buckeye Institute, promote ALEC’s agenda in the public sphere and attack organizations that are opposed to it. Both networks have effectively nationalized the conservative agenda in state legislatures.

The One Percent Solution

What’s fueling this drive is a combination of the vast sums of money that flow into elections in the Citizens United-era along with the gerrymandering that has helped rig elections in favor of Republicans. The result has frequently been “triple crown” GOP-led state governments that hold little accountability to voters but tremendous debts to their corporate masters.

University of Oregon professor Gordon Lafer has documented the rise of the corporate legislative agenda in all 50 states in his new book, The One Percent Solution: How Corporations Are Remaking America One State at a Time.

Lafer found that state bills pushed by ALEC and the SPN, along with more traditional business lobbyists like the Chamber of Commerce, generally fall into four broad categories.

The first, and most obvious, are efforts to constrain or destroy institutions that empower working people to fight back, such as labor unions.

Second are efforts to privatize public services. Lafer found these efforts were primarily intended to diffuse the responsibility of providing these services. “If no public authority is responsible,” he writes, “demands become customer-service issues rather than policy problems that must be addressed by democratically accountable officials.”

Third are efforts to block—or preempt—rebel cities from passing living wage or fair scheduling laws, thereby foreclosing on the ability for localities to defend and advance progressive goals.

Finally, through tax cuts for the wealthy and austerity-driven cuts to vital public services, Lafer found that this corporate agenda seeks a downward shift in what people come to expect for a basic standard of living.

In other words, the One Percent’s solution is to convince the rest of us, as the Dead Kennedys song goes, that soup is good food; that each new indignity is simply our new standard of living and that we shouldn’t expect more.

“Give yourself a raise”

If the States Policy Network does really strive for this One Percent goal outlined by Lafer, then it’s no wonder that the group has been most dogged in pursuing its union-busting agenda. SPN and ALEC have long understood what many Democratic politicians are only just beginning to realize: strong unions help keep right-wing politicians out of office while protecting the social safety net.

SPN and ALEC have aggressively pursued so-called “right-to-work” legislation as a means of bankrupting unions and knocking out a key component of their opponents’ get-out-the-vote operation. Twenty-eight states now have these anti-union laws on the books. Five of them—all former bedrocks of union power—were passed this decade as a part of the anti-union drive described in the documents released by the Center for Media and Democracy.

That’s hardly the extent of the role of these “think tanks” in busting unions. Flush with cash, they’ve begun volunteering their efforts as union avoidance consultants where no one has asked for their services.

In 2013, I was part of a drive to organize the workers at Chicago’s United Neighborhood Organization Charter School Network, under the terms of a neutrality agreement. The employer was getting rocked by a financial and insider dealing scandal that was a daily cover story in the local media. The schools’ employees joining the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (ACTS) was the only positive headline they had to look forward to when we launched the card drive.

That didn’t stop an SPN affiliate, the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI), from harvesting teachers’ email addresses and spamming UNO’s e-mail lists with condescending admonitions to “not sign any union petition or authorization card unless you are certain that you want union representation.”

These union busters seemed to assume that the “launch” of our card drive meant a bunch of beefy goons were about to descend on the schools to strong-arm teachers. In fact, the public launch of the card drive was the union organizing equivalent of a touchdown dance. The representative, democratic organizing committee we had spent weeks training, educating and empowering signed up over 90 percent of their colleagues in time for a May Day card count certification.

The Illinois Policy Institute is better prepared for the upcoming Supreme Court case, Janus vs. AFSCME. Originating from Illinois, the case is a blatant do-over of the craven attempt to turn the entire public sector labor movement “right-to-work,” previously pushed in the Friedrichs case.

Should the Supreme Court vote to make union fees voluntary, the IPI and its sister organizations are prepared to run the mother of all “open shop” drives. They will likely FOIA the names and as much contact information as possible of every union-represented public sector worker and inundate them with glossy materials encouraging them to “give yourself a raise” by quitting the union.

How to fight back

The revelation of the SPN’s nakedly partisan agenda should open every one of its affiliates to challenges over their status as tax-deductible educational charities. These challenges are worth pursuing, if only to delegitimize their role in public debates. But this won’t really affect their bottom line—their funders have so much money they hardly need the tax breaks for donating to their favorite political causes.

In preparation for the post-Janus attacks, public sector unions should behave more like Chicago ACTS and confound the SPN’s moldy old assumptions about the source of union power. To do this, we need to greatly increase members’ democratic involvement in their unions. The slick “give yourself a raise” pamphlets will do the most damage in places where members think of the union as simply a headquarters building downtown. If that’s the extent of their interaction, workers could fall for the cheap trick of blaming the union for the stagnant wages and reduction in benefits that are actually the direct result of the GOP’s corporate agenda.

But where members are involved in formulating demands and participating in protest actions, they find the true value and power of being in a union. That power—the power of an active and involved membership—is what the right-wing most fears, and is doing everything in its power to stop.

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Shaun Richman is a campaign consultant and writer with fifteen years experience as a union organizing director and representative. He is a contributing editor to In These Times magazine.

Freelancing Ain't Free

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

When is the moment in time for a freelance writer that a late payment becomes wage theft, and what do you do about it?

 For A.J. Springer, who recently moved to the District of Columbia, the line was April 27, 2017, when he went public in a Chicago Tribune news story about the $1,755 owed him at the time for pieces he wrote for the magazines Ebony and Jet.

It’s hard to step forward as a freelance writer, and publicly demand payment. “A lot of people were uneasy or afraid to speak out. There are no protections for freelancers, and a lot of people are afraid of losing future work,” Springer said.

The Establishment first broke the nonpayment story, which spurred Larry Goldbetter, president of the National Writers Union (NWU)/UAW Local 1981, to start emailing and calling writers to say his union could help.

The NWU has a long history of fighting for freelance writers, filing suit against media companies in the 1990s to win back pay for those whose works had been sold and resold to databases. (Some writers actually received checks in the mail, out of the blue. As a freelance writer at the time in Boulder, Colorado, I was one of them.)

When Goldbetter reached Springer, he immediately joined the NWU, and so did other unpaid Ebony and Jet freelance writers.

Goldbetter says the list has been growing week by week since the campaign to get Ebony and Jet to pay hit the mainstream.

Six writers had come forward in early May. After Labor Day, the NWU filed a lawsuit against Ebony Media Operations and its parent company, Clear View Group, for allegedly violating the contracts of 37 freelance writers, editors and others who are collectively owed more than $70,000. The case was filed in Cook County, Illinois.

“Oftentimes, freelancers are at the mercy of the publications they write for,” Goldbetter said. “They often lack union protections other workers have and many are afraid of being blackballed for speaking up about nonpayment.”

Earlier in August, the National Association of Black Journalists presented Ebony with its Thumbs Down award, and unpaid Ebony writers attended the conference for free.

The decision to go public has paid off, at least in part, for Springer. He received about $1,100. He’s one of the writers suing the magazines.

Early in his journalism career, when Springer was still a high school student in Las Vegas, he learned of the power of the press. He interviewed the new school superintendent, who used a racial epithet. When the story broke, the superintendent was fired.

Now, with a master’s degree and more than a decade of paid writing and radio work behind him, Springer is thoughtful about a different kind of power—the kind you build together, through communication.

“When this issue came up, I was in a position to speak loudly and boldly,” he said. And so he did. “I knew if I lost any potential work, I’d be OK. It was important to organize and to speak out.”

Ivanka Trump supports her father’s decision to stop monitoring the wage gap

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Despite her supposed support for equal pay, Ivanka Trump backed a recent White House decision to end an Obama administration rule that would have required businesses to monitor the salaries of employees of different genders, races, and ethnicities in an effort to prevent employment discrimination.

Ivanka said in a statement that the policy, which would have taken effect this spring, would “not yield the intended results.” She didn’t offer any alternatives to replace the policy or explain why monitoring employees’ salaries would not help close wage gaps.

Ivanka has made a brand out of praising women who work, selling herself as an advocate for women’s rights.In April, Ivanka praised similar legislation passed in Germany requiring companies with 200 or more workers to document pay gaps between employees. She even added that the United States should follow Germany’s example.

“I know that Chancellor Merkel, just this past March, you passed an equal pay legislation to promote transparency and to try to finally narrow that gender pay gap,” she said. “And that’s something we should all be looking at.”

The Obama-era rule would have required companies with 100 or more workers to collect and submit data on employee wages to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Neomi Rao, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, told The Wall Street Journal that the policy is “enormously burdensome…We don’t believe it would actually help us gather information about wage and employment discrimination.”

The recent move to end the employment discrimination rule is only the latest in a series of failures by Ivanka to stand up for what she claims to be right.

Ivanka — an official White House advisor — has long been regarded as a potential moderating force within the Trump administration. But that image is carefully crafted, through a series of anonymous anecdotes to the media and sound bites that don’t actually fall in line with her father’s policies.

When Trump began the process of rolling back Obama-era clean water regulations just one month into his presidency, Ivanka remained silent. Ivanka also reportedly opposed the United States withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement, but she failed to stop her father from backing out of the deal. In June, in honor of Pride Month, she tweeted that she was “proud to support my LGBTQ friends and the LGBTQ Americans who have made immense contributions to our society and economy.” She then stayed silent when her father announced he would ban transgender Americans from serving in the military. (She also hasn’t said anything about the administration’s rollback of protections for transgender students.)

In her recent book, Women Who Work, Ivanka repeatedly touts her lifelong mission as, “Inspiring and empowering women who work — at all aspects of their lives.” But she remained silent on the shortcomings of her father’s paid family leave plan, which would offer six weeks of paid maternity leave to mothers, leaving out fathers and adoptive parents and potentially creating career obstacles for the working women she claims to support.

Wage discrimination in the United States is a serious problem. While the national gender pay gap has decreased since 1980, it still stands at a whopping 17 percent, with women making 83 percent of what men earn. The racial pay gap lags closely behind. In 2015, black workers earned 75 percent as much as white workers, according to Pew Research. The racial disparity is worse for women, who also fall behind men within their own racial or ethnic group.

Inside the White House, there is a surging pay gap, the highest of any White House since 2003, according to the Washington Post. At 37 percent, the White House pay gap is more than double the national gender gap.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on August 30, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Elham Khatami is an associate editor at ThinkProgress. Previously, she worked as a grassroots organizer within the Iranian-American community. She also served as research manager, editor, and reporter during her five-year career at CQ Roll Call. Elham earned her Master of Arts in Global Communication at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and her bachelor’s degree in writing and political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

Trump’s transgender military ban met with backlash

Monday, August 28th, 2017

President Donald Trump signed a long-awaited directive Friday evening that bans transgender people from enlisting in the U.S. military and bans the Department of Defense from providing military treatment to current transgender service members. The directive follows an announcement Trump made on Twitter last month, blindsiding the defense secretary and the public more broadly — and like last time, there Trump was met with a wave of backlash.

A draft of this memorandum was reported on Wednesday, and there has been widespread criticism from trans activists, lawmakers, and current and former members of the military over the last few days.

“When I was bleeding to death in my Black Hawk helicopter after I was shot down, I didn’t care if the American troops risking their lives to save me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white, or brown,” Sen. Tammy Duckwork (D-IL) said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It would be a step in the wrong direction to force currently serving transgender individuals to leave the military solely on the basis of their gender identity rather than medical and readiness standards that should always be at the heart of Department of Defense personnel policy,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also said in a statement on Wednesday. “The Pentagon’s ongoing study on this issue should be completed before any decisions are made with regard to accession. The Senate Armed Services Committee will continue to conduct oversight on this important issue.”

Chase Strangio, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), shared an essay from his brother on the ban. “This is not about politics,” he wrote. “This is not about military readiness or cost. This is a calculated decision to discriminate against an already vulnerable group of people, one that will have devastating effects for countless Americans.”

Chelsea Manning, perhaps the military’s most famous trans service member, said Trump was “normalizing hate” and questioned its timing.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will have wide discretion on whether transgender service members can continue to serve, and he has six months to develop a plan to implement Trump’s memorandum.

As ThinkProgress reported last month, Trump’s decision to ban transgender service members from the military was about electoral politics, using transgender people as pawns after congressional infighting over funding for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The military currently spends ten times more on erectile dysfunction as it would on transgender medical care.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on August 26, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Authors: Amanda Michelle Gomez is a health policy reporter at ThinkProgressAdrienne Mahsa Varkiani is a Senior Editor at ThinkProgress. Before joining the team at ThinkProgress, she served as an editor at Muftah Magazine and worked in the Iranian American community. Varkiani received her master of science in international relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science and her bachelor’s degree in international studies from American University in Washington, D.C.

Don’t Dawdle on Economic and National Security

Monday, July 31st, 2017

The future of the American steel and aluminum industries is not a matter for dithering.

Each mill and smelter that remains operating is too vital. Each is too crucial to the economic viability of a corporation, a community, and thousands of workers and their families.

Each also is too essential to national security, which relies on American-produced metals for critical infrastructure, from bridge construction to the electrical grid, and for munitions, from fighter jets to bullet-proof vests.

There is no more time for waiting. International trade law must be enforced now. Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump pledged his support to workers and these industries. And he followed through by launching within three months of taking office as president special investigations into the effects of steel and aluminum imports on national security.

Such inquiries may take as long as a year to conclude, but the administration expedited the process. Until it didn’t. Now steel and aluminum corporations, their communities and their workers are being told to wait. It’s a delay that could kill more American mills and smelters.

The nation lost nine aluminum smelters over the past six years, leaving only five in the entire country, and most of them are now operating at reduced levels. Beginning in January 2015, steel companies laid off 14,000 workers as they closed mills and sections of mills.

For example, Allegheny Technologies shuttered a plant that made grain oriented electrical steel in 2016, leaving only one U.S. company, AK Steel, now producing this component critical to electricity transmission.

As mills and smelters disappear, the military is further restricted in its ability to secure domestically produced essential metals in time of crisis.

The primary culprit in this scary scenario is overcapacity and overproduction in China, which overwhelms the world market with illegally subsidized, grossly underpriced aluminum and steel.

China has promised repeatedly to solve this problem. On Thursday it pledged again, this time contending it wanted to work globally to deal with the issue of aluminum overcapacity – a problem Beijing created. Over the past six years, using massive government subsidies, China quickly ramped up capacity to become the largest aluminum producer in the world.

China can’t be trusted on this because it never keeps its promises. It has never cut its steelmaking capacity after announcing again and again that it would.

In negotiations two weeks ago, Trump cabinet members could not even get a specific commitment out of China to do it. There’s no evidence China will stop overproducing steel or aluminum now. Waiting is useless. And destructive to American manufacturing.

The American steel and aluminum industries have fought back, filing and winning dozens of trade cases against imports of specific products. But the resulting tariffs and other penalties imposed by the U.S. Commerce Department and U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) didn’t solve the problem.

Instead of paying U.S. tariffs, China shipped its government-supported excess of these products to other countries, artificially suppressing world prices and warping what is supposed to be a free market.

Also, this traditional process for seeking relief from unfair trade takes too long. More than a year may elapse before companies and workers get a final decision. And that will be for just one product, like aluminum extrusions, aluminum foil, welded stainless steel pressure pipe or corrosion-resistant steel, to name a tiny number of cases from recent years.

That’s part of what made the special investigations into steel and aluminum imports so attractive. If the U.S. Commerce Department determined under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 that imports of steel and aluminum jeopardized national security, then the president could impose penalties broadly to ensure the country could meet its own needs. The effort might also spur allies to join the United States in finally pressuring China sufficiently to actually reduce capacity.

Although Section 232 allows for nine months of investigation, after which the President would have three months to determine a remedy, the administration promised quick action when it announced the inquiries in April. The steel report was to be completed by June 30, with a speedy decision by the president after that.

That suggested the administration understood this was urgent.

But June 30 came and went. Now there’s an official delay. The administration told the Wall Street Journal that the steel investigation is on hold until after health care reform, tax changes and infrastructure spending are accomplished.  “We don’t want to do it at this moment,” the president said last week of the steel case.

That’s devastating. Especially because steel imports have jumped 22 percent since Jan. 1, placing additional pressure on the American industry.

The delay occurs as efforts are made by a new company to reopen at least one potline at an aluminum smelter in New Madrid, Mo., that the now-bankrupt Noranda company idled last year. Postponing the Section 232 decision makes for uncertainty for these investors.

It also occurs as a Chinese company is trying to buy Aleris, an Ohio-based manufacturer that supplies aluminum for use in vital infrastructure and military applications. That Asian firm, China Zhongwang, is accused of dodging tariffs and is under civil and criminal investigation for possible smuggling, conspiracy and wire fraud by the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security and Commerce Department.

Maybe the Aleris smelters would keep operating if China Zhongwang bought them, but at what risk to national security?

The delay occurs as companies that buy steel fear monger that tariffs or quotas would raise prices.

An expert, Stephen Koplan, chairman of the U.S. ITC under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, says that’s hogwash. “Predictions of disaster were wrong 15 years ago when I chaired the ITC, and they are wrong again today,” he wrote in an op-ed in The Hill newspaper last week.

When President George W. Bush imposed tariffs and quotas on steel imports under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, there was no price shock afterward, according to a study by the nonpartisan U.S. ITC.  Here is what Koplan, who also served as an attorney at the Small Business Administration, wrote:

“Downstream industries were not devastated by higher steel prices. Nor was the U.S. economy thrown into depression. The U.S. steel industry, however, earned a much-needed relief as the result of action taken by the president that allowed it to restructure and reinvest for the long term. In other words, the Section 201 measures worked as intended.

“We are facing similar challenges again today. . .Now, however, U.S. national security is at great risk if firm action is not taken immediately. The U.S. primary aluminum industry is on the verge of disappearing entirely, and the U.S. steel industry is not far behind.”

AK Steel Corp. CEO Roger Newport agreed with Koplan’s assessment that this is not a time for dawdling, telling the Commerce Department in his testimony on the steel case:

“High-end electrical steel is an incredibly difficult product to manufacture, as it requires a significant amount of dedicated, capital equipment and a sophisticated, well-trained workforce.

Therefore, if AK Steel were to exit the market, there would be no operational electrical steel manufacturing equipment in the United States, the specialized labor and related expertise in operations would be lost, and many of AK Steel’s talented operators and researchers would either relocate to other businesses, industries and/or foreign countries, or become unemployed.”

Workers’ and companies’ economic security is at risk. The nation’s security is at risk. Resolution of these cases should be speeded, not delayed.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on July 31, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO

As Media Focuses on Russia Collusion, Trump Is Quietly Stacking the Labor Board with Union Busters

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

It might not get as much press coverage as other Donald Trump administration calamities, but the U.S. president is set to appoint a known union buster to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), push the body to a Republican majority and reverse Obama-era protections that rankle Big Business.

On July 13, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held hearings on Trump’s two NLRB selections and his deputy labor secretary pick. All three of these men are expected to be confirmed.

William Emanuel, one of Trump’s NLRB appointees, is a management-side attorney and a member of the conservative Federalist Society. He is also a shareholder of Littler Mendelson, an infamous union busting firmthat was most recently brought in by Long Island beer distributor Clare Rose to negotiate a contract full of pay cuts.

After being selected, Emanuel disclosed 49 former clients and declared he would recuse himself for up to a year if any of the companies found themselves in front of the NLRB. The list included multiple businesses that have clashed with the labor board, including JPMorgan Chase Bank, MasTec Inc, Nissan and Uber.

Uber’s ongoing skirmishes with the NLRB have, perhaps, been the most publicized. At the end of 2016, the ride-share company battled with the NLRB after the agency sent out subpoenas aimed at gleaning information about whether Uber drivers were statutory employees.

In 2016, Emanuel authored an amicus brief that defended class-action waivers in employment contracts. Workers often depend on class actions to fight sexual and racial discrimination, and their existence is an important part of upholding wage laws. The NLRB ruled that such waivers were illegal under Obama.

Emanuel was asked about Littler Mendelson’s anti-union work by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. “You have spent your career at one of the country’s most ruthless, union-busting law firms in the country,” she said. “How can Americans trust you will protect workers’ rights when you’ve spent 40 years fighting against them?”

In response, Emanuel claimed that he would be objective whenever making decisions for the agency.

Emanuel is not the only appointee raising concern among workers’ rights advocates. Marvin Kaplan, another Trump nominee to the NLRB, is a public-sector attorney and current counsel to the commissioner for the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The Kaplan pick excites business executives and their advocates, who envisioned him helping overturn Obama-era labor regulations.

At the time of the announcement, Kristen Swearingen, chair of the anti-union group Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, declared that “Marvin Kaplan will begin to restore balance to an agency whose recent and radical decisions and disregard for long standing precedent have injected uncertainty into labor relations to the detriment of employees, employers and the economy.”

The excitement is well-founded. Kaplan served as counsel for Republicans on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. The New York Times reports, “The committee held hearings during his tenure scrutinizing prominent NLRB actions in which the witnesses skewed toward business representatives and other skeptics.” Kaplan also helped develop the The Workforce Democracy and Fairness Act, legislation that would kill a labor board rule that shortened the amount of time between when the board authorizes a workplace unionization vote and when the vote actually takes place. Since 2014, the number has been set at 11 days. But this act would increase it to at least 35, thus allowing more time for union efforts to be squashed. The legislation hasn’t passed in congress yet.

Concerns do not stop at the NLRB. Trump’s Labor Department nominee is Patrick Pizzella, a Federal Labor Relations Authority Member who was grilled by Minnesota Senator Al Franken on his ties to the infamous lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Pizzella worked with Abramoff during the 1990s to exempt the Northern Mariana Islands from federal labor regulations.

The Senate has only been in session for 10 days since the Pizzella and Kaplan nominations, and only four days since Emanuel’s. A group of civil rights and labor organizations sent the committee a letterasking for the hearings to be postponed. During her opening remarks, Sen. Patty Murray called Trump’s attempt to jam through the nominees without proper oversight “unprecedented.”

Roughly 10 workers representing the pro-labor organization Good Jobs Nation stood up during Thursday’s hearing, put blue tape over their mouths and walked out of the room in silent protest. Groups like Good Jobs Nation are concerned about a pro-business majority in the agency amidst Trump’s proposed cutsto the Labor Department.

Trump is putting the NLRB in the position to undo a number of important Obama-era labor decisions. His NLRB could potentially reverse rulings that made it easier for small groups of workers to unionize, established grad students as employees, put charter school employees under NLRB jurisdiction, and held parent companies jointly liable for with franchise operators who break labor laws. Writing about the imminent anti-union crackdown on this website in May, Shaun Richman wrote, “Unions and their allies should be convening research teams to plot out a campaign of regulatory and judicial activism. That work should begin now.”

Early in the hearing, Washington Senator Patty Murray asked Emanuel if he had ever represented a union or a worker. Emanuel explained that he worked exclusively for management for his entire career. “You just don’t do both,” he told her. “It’s not feasible.”

This piece was originally published at In These Times on July 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria

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