Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

The Advocate: North Carolina's Transgender Discrimination Bill Hurts Everyone

June 10th, 2016 | Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallThe Advocate has a piece by Catalina Velasquez, director of People For the American Way Foundation’s “Young People For” program, that explains why the recently passed transgender discrimination law in North Carolina hurts everyone, not just the direct targets of the legislation.

An excerpt:

The recent passage of House Bill 2, the North Carolina law that includes a provision preventing trans people from using the bathroom that matches their gender identity, has been met with an avalanche of protest. So far the conversation has largely centered on the devastating effect the law has on transgender North Carolinians—and rightfully so. Based on zero evidence, legislators framed trans people as predators, a smear that protects no one while harming many. One transgender woman in Greensboro, N.C., told PBS, “Being out in public now, I feel like I might have a target on me.”

A suicide prevention hotline serving transgender people reports that the number of calls has doubled since H.B. 2 became law. There’s no question that this shameful law targets trans people, and it’s impossible to overstate the harm of that dehumanization. But what has been largely missing from the discussion are the ways in which this is also about disability justice, about economic justice, about families and much more. Quite simply, this fight affects everyone.

Read the full article.

 

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

Kenneth Quinnell: I am a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, I worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  My writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.  I am the proud father of three future progressive activists, an accomplished rapper and karaoke enthusiast.

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Consumers are getting new protections from predatory lenders, and the lenders are outraged

June 9th, 2016 | Laura Clawson

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is cracking down on some of the payday lending industry’s most abusive practices, and boy are payday lenders getting whiny about it. So very whiny—and all kinds of poutraged.

“The CFPB has made eminently clear that it cares little for preserving consumers’ ability to access credit, or conducting a rulemaking process grounded in sound data,” said Jamie Fulmer, the spokesperson for lender Advance America, in a statement Wednesday.

Fulmer called the rules “a direct threat to millions of Americans’ access to affordable, transparent and reliable credit” and said that for smaller lenders, “they are a death sentence.”

Ha ha ha ha. “Affordable” credit being threatened by rules targeting payday lenders. Tell me another one! What’s the CFPB proposing that’s so awful?

The first measure requires lenders to assess if the borrower has the income to fully repay the loan when it is due without reborrowing. This idea, known as “ability to repay,” targets at the cycle of debt that unaffordable payday loans can trap people in.

The proposed rule also prohibits lenders from making more than two unsuccessful attempts to withdraw money from borrowers bank accounts. Repeated debit attempts cause consumers to be hit with overdraft fees from their banks. Such fees hit half of all online borrowers, costing an average of $185.

Additionally, there would be limits on how often the borrower could go back to the well for another loan if their financial situation hadn’t improved, which would further help prevent situations where people take out one loan after another to repay earlier loans, leading to giant pile of interest and fees after giant pile of interest and fees.

In contrast to the payday lending industry’s whines, consumer advocates called on the CFPB to go further, with the National Consumer Law Center calling it “a strong start” but saying that “the proposal has worrisome loopholes.” Allied Progress executive director Karl Frisch, meanwhile, called on members of Congress “to speak up and let us know where they stand”—a relevant question given that not only do Republicans love to go after any advance proposed by the Obama administration, but even Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz co-sponsored a bill to gut the CFBP proposal before it was even released.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on June 2, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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

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The Anti-Job-Creation Party Wants Welfare Recipients To Work

June 8th, 2016 | Isaiah J. Poole

Isaiah J. PooleHouse Speaker Paul Ryan ended up overshadowing his own efforts Tuesday to highlight the Republican Party’s proposals for overhauling aid programs for low-income people by telling reporters that he was still planning to endorse and vote for a presidential candidate that had earlier uttered what he called “the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

The Speaker of the House shredding his moral credibility – in the heart of one of Washington D.C.’s historic African-American communities, no less – to remain loyal to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump was indeed far more worthy of media attention than the ostensible purpose of his crossing the Anacostia River, which was to use a church-based substance abuse treatment center as a backdrop for his effort to rebrand the Party of the 1 Percent as the party that cares the most about the poor.

Nonetheless, the package of proposals that Ryan began unveiling this week, under the branding of “A Better Way,” should not be ignored, even though many of their tenets will be familiar to people who have followed what passes for anti-poverty policy in the conservative movement. What Ryan hopes is that at least Senate and House candidates will use the “Better Way” proposals to give the impression that the Republican Party is more than the “Party of No” and a party that thinks the solution to every economic problem is a tax cut for the wealthy.

People who are interested in a detailed rebuttal of the “Better Way” anti-poverty proposals should refer to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which has posted a series of commentaries on Ryan’s plan.

Much of the analysis is around the ways Ryan and his Republican allies try to avoid the fundamental truth contained in a statement issued Tuesday by Deborah Weinstein of the Coalition for Human Needs: “It costs money to give people the tools to escape poverty” – and Republicans just don’t want to spend that money. Weinstein notes that this year, under Ryan’s leadership, House Republicans proposed cutting low-income programs “by $3.7 trillion over 10 years, mostly in health care, but also cutting [Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits, commonly known as food stamps] by $150 billion (a 30 percent cut between 2021-2026), and cutting Pell Grants and other low-income education programs.”

There is another familiar theme that will jump out if you look at Ryan’s plan: the insistence that “our welfare system should encourage work-capable welfare recipients to work or prepare for work in exchange for benefits.”

The principle that every person who wants to work should have a job is one that progressives and conservatives could unite around – if conservatives believed that government had a role to play in helping to create the jobs that they are so adamant that people take in lieu of being “dependent on government.”

But there is nothing in the 35-page report on poverty programs and the Republican alternative that speaks to actual job creation. There is a lot of righteous hectoring about how people receiving government assistance – whether it’s the now-rare cash assistance, SNAP benefits, or housing aid. But the section of Washington Ryan chose as the setting for his news conference has an unemployment rate of 12 percent, more than two-and-a-half times the national average.

What the people in the community don’t need is to be lectured about the value of work. They need jobs. And this is where the Republican rhetoric does not match reality, since the Republican Party has dramatically cut spending on every economic development program that would support job creation, ranging from badly needed infrastructure investment to the kinds of economic development programs that enabled communities to improve themselves without the destructive, zero-sum game of gentrification.

Ryan and his party also does not believe that the federal minimum wage should eventually be raised to $15 an hour, so that people who work and raise a family can actually rise above poverty through their wages. It is the double-whammy that renders all of Ryan’s posturing about “a better way” to deal with poverty just that – election-year posturing. It’s just like his attacks on Donald Trump’s “textbook” racism – designed to project an air of moral probity to cover immoral actions.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on June 7, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah J. Poole worked at Campaign for America’s Future. He attended Pennsylvania State University and lives inWashington, DC.

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Social Security’s Enemies Are Down – But They’re Not Out

June 7th, 2016 | Richard Eskow

Not so long ago, Social Security was endangered by a “bipartisan” consensus that sought to cut its benefits – already lower than those of comparable countries – as part of a “grand bargain.” President Obama even put a slow-motion benefit cut into one of his proposed budgets, in the form of a reduction in cost-of-living increases.

And nobody talked much about raising taxes on the rich. That, they said, was “politically impossible.”

Things have changed dramatically. The Democratic president, virtually all of his party’s senators, and both its presidential candidates now say they want to expand benefits. An idea that was widely dismissed when it was proposed by Bernie Sanders is now the Democratic position. The “bipartisan” anti-Social Security army seems to be in ragged retreat, its campfires dying and its tents torn down.

But this isn’t over.

The president’s declaration is a major win for the left, as Nancy J. Altman and The Huffington Post political team explain. But the counterattack has begun.

It’s true that the anti-Social Security contingent seemed to be struggling last month at its annual convocation, the austerity-pushing “Fiscal Summit” funded by right-wing hedge fund billionaire Pete Peterson. Peterson’s been financing this movement for decades, aiding friendly politicians in both parties and backing a variety of messaging vehicles designed to disparage government’s role in the social contract.

(They include “The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget,” “Fix the Debt,” and my personal favorite, “Budgetball.”)

Peterson’s Fiscal Summits were once all the rage with luminaries on both sides of the aisle. Former President Bill Clinton’s been a frequent attendee. (Not this year, though. Wonder why?)

This year’s event wasn’t the same. Sure, some politicians showed up. But a melancholy torpor seemed to hang in the air. It didn’t get much coverage (Clinton’s absence undoubtedly hurt). Three or four bored reporters munched on sandwiches in the press room while being barraged by rock music like they were Manuel Noriega under siege, except that the song choices were relentlessly upbeat – “Beautiful Day” by U2, “Gimme Some Lovin” by the Spencer Davis Group, “Eye of the Tiger” by whoever sang that, “I’d Love to Change the World” by Ten Years After.

(I don’t think anyone at the Summit vetted that last song’s lyrics, which include the line “Tax the rich, feed the poor/until there ain’t no rich no more.”)

But Social Security’s adversaries are still out there. Republicans still embrace the economic austerity that has wounded Europe and hamstrung our own recovery. Democrats at the Summit kowtowed to their hosts’ fiscal fixations. And the media personalities in attendance (were they paid?) offered chipper testimonials – pitches, really – for deficit reduction.

“To paraphrase Mark Twain,” said Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin, “everybody talks about the deficit but nobody does anything about it.”

“You’re somebody who’s trying to do something about the debt and not just talk about it,” CNN’s Dana Bash said to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) before praising the “Simpson-Bowles” deficit reduction plan – an impractical, unpopular and ultimately failed austerity proposal from former Sen. Alan Simpson and Clinton administration official Erskine Bowles – as a “solution.”

CNBC’s John Harwood recounted a “depressing” lunch with a former aide to Sen. Mitch McConnell he approvingly quoted as saying, “We can’t (fix) Social Security” – presumably a euphemism for “cut” – until “the baby boomers retire and the crisis is upon us.”

All of this fiscal folklore has been heavily promoted by Peterson-backed outfits.

Later, predictably, The Washington Post editorial board slammed the president. Democrats want “fatter checks for the elderly,” wrote the editors, for whom increasing a grandmother’s slender stipend is apparently a form of moral obesity.

The Post drew on the above-mentioned “Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget” and another Wall Street-funded group, “Third Way,” for discredited tropes like “the government spends six times as much as seniors as it does on children.” Statements like these are designed to fuel the notion of a “war between generations,” even though Social Security cuts would hurt younger people more.

Unfortunately, a lot of people in Washington still take these fictions seriously. Social Security’s adversaries are well-funded, their myths are deeply embedded in our political culture, and they’re not giving up.

Harwood, Bash, and other journalists in the Peterson umbra will keep reporting on these issues, skewing public perception.

If the Republicans win all three branches of government, Social Security will be in immediate mortal danger.

And while the rhetorical shift among Democrats is welcome, they’ll need to be held to it. Hillary Clinton’s website says she would “expand Social Security for those who need it most and who are treated unfairly by the current system.”

That’s not enough, given the current retirement crisis. The Sanders proposal, which is detailed and covers everyone, must be written into the Democratic platform. And activists must send the message that there will be dire political consequences if it isn’t honored. Otherwise, a new “grand bargain” is still a very real possibility.

The Peterson crowd’s expressed concern about government debt rarely leads them to propose tax increases on the wealthy, and never with any conviction. They’re cutters, not builders – even when it comes to Social Security, which is forbidden by law from adding to that debt. If they were real budget hawks they might consider that fiscal proposal from Ten Years After:

“Tax the rich, feed the poor …”

Say what you will about its politics, but it wouldn’t add a penny to the deficit.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on June 7, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

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

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First Women Graduate from Fort Campbell Welding Program

June 6th, 2016 | Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth QuinnellOne of the great benefits of joining the military is the opportunity to learn skills that benefit a soldier after their service is completed. Some soldiers, such as Specialist Tanya Preddy and Sergeant Alyssa Tamayo, prepare for careers that provide good jobs while breaking ground at the same time. Preddy and Tamayo just became the first women to graduate Fort Campbell’s Veterans in Piping program in Kentucky. Veterans in Piping is a program of the United Association (UA).

Preddy said: “I was pretty excited going into this, to be honest, because I mean, who wouldn’t be excited about making stuff with fire,” she joked. “That’s awesome to me. I’d never welded before this class, ever. I just thought it would be really cool and fun.”

“I think the guys were surprised to see us [in the classroom],” Tamayo added. “A lot of people think welding is just for men and with us being the first two females at Fort Campbell ever, in the back of my mind I was thinking ‘I have to beat everybody in here.’ I just felt like I had to be perfect.”

Read the full story.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on June 4, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

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New Survey Reports Uber Drivers Are Investing Big in the Company But Get Little Stability

June 3rd, 2016 | Spencer Woodman

Don Creery had been driving for Uber in Seattle for several months when in May 2014 the clutch wore out on his Kia Soul. A former music teacher, Creery had enjoyed his work for Uber and said he made enough to live comfortably. So, anticipating much more driving in the future, he took out a $10,000 loan to purchase a brand new Soul with an automatic transmission—a smart investment, he judged, for his career as an Uber driver.

“I never go into debt,” Creery told me, “but this seemed totally logical.”

Initially, everything went according to plan. But soon, Uber would cut the rates it charges customers for rides, effectively slashing the wages of its drivers. The move triggered protests and caused Creery to suddenly second-guess the wisdom of his choice to take out the loan.

“It all of a sudden went from being a good decision to being a bad one,” Creery says. “Before that rate cut, it was a middle-class job as far as money goes, and now it’s not. It’s a lower-class job or in some instances a desperate-class job.

Creery’s experience is not entirely unique, according to a survey of hundreds of Uber Drivers across the country that is being released today. Conducted by the Partnership for Working Families and Coworker.org, an online platform meant to generate worker campaigns, the survey polled more than 300 Uber drivers between March and May of this year and found that a majority of them have, like Creery, made significant personal investments for their future with the service. Fifty-seven percent of Uber drivers have “have bought, leased, or made substantial investments in vehicles to drive for Uber,” according to the report.

Despite having taken on risk to maintain their freelance career with Uber, only 23 percent of the drivers polled see driving for the ride-hailing app as a source of stable income.

“Anecdotally both in and outside the survey, we have heard from drivers who were struggling to make payments on cars that they have purchased to drive with Uber,” says Mariah Montgomery, the Future of Work Strategist for The Partnership for Working Families. “These drivers are investing substantial funds to be able to drive.”

These results appear in tension with survey data that Uber has touted as proving that drivers most often do not rely on the service as their only source of income but see it instead as a convenient, highly flexible way to supplement their existing work. “Uber Fits Around Drivers’ Lives, Not The Other Way Around,” the company declared last year, referring to a survey that states that 88 percent of Uber drivers polled started “driving for Uber because it fits their life well, not because it was their only option.”

Today’s survey, which included drivers who had previously used coworker.org, found that the vast majority (80 percent) of drivers polled identified their wages as a top priority and support raising fares. In recent months, Uber has slashed fares in cities across the country, arguing that the fee reduction will actually benefit workers due to a resulting increase in customer demand. “This survey suggests that drivers don’t necessarily agree,” says Montgomery.

Perhaps in response to such issues, 70 percent of the surveyed Uber drivers—who are independent contractors with no shared setting to naturally meet each other—said they were interested in connecting with one another to communicate about things like maximizing earnings, sharing information and forming drivers’ associations.

In response to a request from In These Times, Uber did not comment on the study’s findings.

Today’s survey also states that it found anecdotal evidence that, after Uber’s announcement in April that it will officially condone drivers receiving tips, the freelancer respondents want the company to go further in facilitating such transactions. Namely, there is no option in the app through which customers can pay a tip via credit card. “Although the survey did not specifically ask Uber drivers about tips, many drivers wrote in that they would like an option for riders to provide tips within the app, like Lyft,” according to the report released today. “One driver wrote: ‘Please put a place [in the app] where people can tip. People want to tip me all the time but do not have cash.’”

The survey’s release coincides with a hearing today where a federal judge in San Francisco will weigh whether or not to accept a proposed settlement in one of the most high-profile legal actions drivers have brought against Uber. In April, the company agreedto pay $100 million to settle two class action lawsuits that alleged the ride-hailing service had wrongfully classified its drivers in California and Massachusetts as independent contractors and thus denied them the rights and benefits of full-employee status.

The proposed settlement infuriated some drivers and advocates, not only because of what appeared to many as a paltry sum for a company valued in the tens of billions of dollars, but also because its terms appeared to have the effect of helping cement in place Uber drivers’ status as independent contractors, the very issue many drivers have most fiercely protested.

As independent contractors, Uber drivers are responsible for paying for their own cars, vehicle repairs, tolls, gas and other inputs necessary for the job. Drivers like Creery, who also sells rides for Lyft and is a leader of an Uber driver association in Seattle, say that being on the hook for such expenses, including interest payments for auto investments, means the job hardly pays a living wage.

Drivers’ own financial borrowing to pay for their vehicles is part of what has propelled Uber’s rapid global expansion. This week, Bloomberg News published a look into Uber’s Xchange program, which offers vehicle leases at subprime rates for would-be drivers with poor credit history—people who often would not otherwise be able to drive for the company. Uber says that Xchange and other financing programs will expand its fleet by 100,000 in coming years.

The company says that Xchange offers a high degree of flexibility by allowing drivers to walk away from a lease at any point after the first month. But several Uber drivers expressed displeasure with the arrangement. One driver told Bloomberg that, like Creer, he could hardly keep up on his vehicle payments after one of Uber’s rate cuts.

“It got to the point that I would drive just to meet my payment,”the driver said. “If you were short on your payment for a week it would roll onto the payment for next week. It starts adding up.”

This blog was originally published on inthesetimes.com on June 2, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Spencer Woodman is a journalist based in New York. He has written on labor for The Nation and The Guardian. You can follow him on Twitter at@spencerwoodman and reach him via email atContactspencerwoodman@gmail.com

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Who Needs To Reach Higher For Higher Education?

June 2nd, 2016 | Jeff Bryant

Jeff BryantFirst Lady Michelle Obama is scheduled on Friday to provide a commencement address to the graduating class of 3,000 students at The City College of New York in Harlem. As the White House announcement states, her address has some additional historic significance in that CCNY was the first public higher education institution in New York City, “established as a free institution dedicated to overcoming barriers to advancement.”

It wouldn’t be at all surprising for the First Lady to mention this in her address, as she continues to emphasize in all her commencement speeches this year her theme of “reach higher.” TheReach Higher Initiative, according to the White House, “is the First Lady’s effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school.” So it would seem appropriate to recognize the monumental contribution that a free public higher education institution no doubt has had on helping multiple generations “take charge of their future.”

Unfortunately, though, CCNY hasn’t been free in 40 years. Even worse, student tuition and fees have increased dramatically in recent years, as the state continues to underfund the school since the economic downturn in 2008, while physical conditions and resources deteriorate.

As an article in The New York Times notes, at CCNY’s “handsome Gothic campus, leaking ceilings have turned hallways into obstacle courses of buckets. The bathrooms sometimes run out of toilet paper. The lectures are becoming uncomfortably overcrowded, and course selections are dwindling, because of steep budget cuts.”

The problems at City College are symptomatic of what’s happening to higher education throughout New York, where, according to the Times article, enrollment in the state’s City University system – a collection of 24 urban campuses that includes City College – has climbed by more than 12 percent over the last eight years while funding from the state has dropped by 17 percent, adjusted for inflation.

Under the current austerity imposed by the state, another Times article explains, the CUNY system has had to raise tuition by $300 in each of the last five years and will likely continue to do so for another five years. Tuition hikes come on top of a $280 annual fee, significantly raising the financial challenge to CUNY students, more than half of who report family incomes of under $30,000.

Keep in mind this austerity has been imposed under the gubernatorial administration of Andrew Cuomo – a Democrat undermining the stated goals of a Democratic Party presidential administration. Cuomo’s plan is to reduce state funding to CUNY by $485 million, according to a report in Inside Higher Education.

Why is Cuomo intent on cutting higher education and raising tuition at the very same time government leaders are exhorting young people to take their education beyond higher school?

It’s not just Cuomo. According to a new report, most states are on par with New York or even worse in cutting their commitments to higher education. A review of the report by Hechinger Reportexplains, “States are collectively investing 17 percent less in their public colleges and universities, or $1,525 less per student, since 2007.”

While funding has been slashed, public colleges have increased published tuition prices by 33 percent since 2007.

Which states are worse than New York? According to the Times article cited at the top of this post, “Arizona is spending 56 percent less, while students are paying 88 percent more. In Louisiana, students are spending 80 percent more on tuition, while state funding has been cut by 39 percent.

Students, of course, are the ones having to take the brunt of the funding crunch by taking on more college loan debt. As Hechinger notes, from 2008 and 2014, the share of students graduating with debt from a public four-year college increased from 55 to 60 percent, while the size of the average debt load rose 18 percent. In the six years before the recession, the average debt only went up by 1 percent.

College and university faculty have taken a beating from the financial austerity, too. According to recent data, faculty positions are 76 percent more apt to be filled by part-timers than they were 40 years ago. During the same time period, the number of tenured, full-time positions has dropped by 26 percent and full-time positions on a tenure track have gone down by half.

Given these circumstances, it’s understandable why college enrollments in the nation are now in decline. Part of this decline may be attributable to increased availability of jobs, but that doesn’t change the fact that young adults forgoing a chance at a degree are also lowering their potential to have higher paying jobs later in life.

Declining enrollments are also not going to get the White House anywhere closer to its stated goal of ensuring, by 2020, that America once again has the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

This Friday, Michele Obama may intend to commend City College graduates, and inspire other students, for their effort to “reach higher” in education. Let’s hope she also tells policy leaders and public officials to do the same to fund it.

This blog originally appeared on ourfuture.org on June 1, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

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

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Verizon Unions Deliver For American Middle Class

June 1st, 2016 | Dave Johnson

Dave JohnsonThe long Verizon strike has ended, and the unions won. This means that the American middle class won, too.

Verizon is an extremely profitable company. But even with massive, astonishing profits the company was demanding that its workers provide givebacks, allow employees to be separated from families for months at a time and on top of that allow the company to send more and more call center jobs out of the country. The workers are lucky enough to have unions to fight this – The Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). They voted to strike, it was a long, hard struggle, and in the end they won.

Here is a description of what Verizon’s workers achieved for all of us, from the IBEW:

Under the terms of the proposed agreement, Verizon agreed that no additional jobs will be outsourced overseas, while increasing the number of calls routed to domestic call centers. This will result in the creation of 1,300 new call center jobs with 850 in the Mid-Atlantic region and 450 in the Northeast.

“This was the major issue for my members: protecting American jobs and keeping them here at home,” said East Windsor, N.J., Local 827 Business Manager Robert Speer, who represents IBEW Verizon employees in New Jersey. “This agreement makes a lot of progress in reversing the outsourcing trend.”

Verizon also agreed to drop its demand that technicians had to be available to travel outside their home areas for up to two months at a time.

“Our members aren’t just Verizon employees, they’re moms and dads as well,” said Calvey. “We’re glad that we’re able to make sure our members are able to come home to their families every night.”

Also included in the tentative four-year agreement are:

• Wage increases of 3 percent for the first year and 2.5 each year after

• No cap on pensions and three 1 percent increases over the life of the agreement

• Retaining competitive health benefits

• Strong job security language

Why We Need Labor Unions

This shows exactly why we need labor unions.

Verizon did not need to outsource call-center work overseas. Verizon didn’t need to set up highly disruptive work schedules in which workers would be away from their families for weeks at a time. Verizon didn’t need to put a cap on worker pensions. Verizon tried to get these things from their workers anyway, because they are wealthy and powerful. If this sounds like everything you see around all of us with giant corporations trying to snatch more and more away from all of us, just because they can use their enormous wealth and power to do that, you are getting the picture.

Verizon’s workers stood up, banded together in unions, and forced the company back to the drawing board. The company had to come back with a proposal that worked for both the workers AND Verizon’s bottom line. Verizon was hoping to increase its profits even more; but over time the lower-than-hoped-for could likely be overtaken by the increased productivity of a more loyal workforce. (Depending, of course, on whether management follows up with the right strategic decisions and investments.)

This is why all of us need unions. Otherwise we are alone, on our own up against the aggregated wealth and power of giant corporations. Alone we don’t stand a chance. Verizon’s proved that the American middle class can fight back – if they join unions.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on May 31, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

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

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Vouchers Subsidizing Education Failure

May 31st, 2016 | Isaiah J. Poole

poole-60x60The false god of school vouchers has been unmasked once again, this time by a Brookings Institution study that says students in Louisiana and Indiana using vouchers to attend private and religious schools ended up doing worse on reading and math scores than their public school counterparts.

“The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large,” said the study on “The Negative Effects of School Vouchers,” written by Mark Dynarski, a fellow with Brookings’ Center on Children and Families. They also could not be explained away by the nature of the tests the children were taken or by some notion that some of the voucher children had been pulled away from above-average public schools.

Rather, the conclusion that these results point to is that “our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate,” Dynarski writes.

The facts in this report strike at a core argument behind the conservative drive to defund public schools and to promote “school choice” to parents, using taxpayer dollars to pay some or all of the costs of a private, often church-based, school. Sometimes invoking the language of the civil rights movement, these voucher programs are defended as ways to liberate students from the mediocrity of public schools and give them the opportunity to get higher quality schooling that equips them to succeed, including if they face barriers of race or class.

Here’s the reality, according to the report: “In Louisiana, a public school student who was average in math (at the 50th percentile) and began attending a private school using a voucher declined to the 34th percentile after one year. If that student was in third, fourth, or fifth grade, the decline was steeper, to the 26th percentile. Reading declined, too: a student at the 50th percentile in reading declined to about the 46th percentile. In Indiana, a student who had entered a private school with a math score at the 50th percentile declined to the 44th percentile after one year.”

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia has school voucher programs. The District’s program is unique in that it is a federally funded (and for many D.C. results, unwanted) intrusion into the city’s affairs. Vouchers have recently made news in North Carolina, where the state legislature is considering a $10 million increase each year in its $12 million budget for the program. That would in 10 years increase the school voucher budget to $135 million.

As Dynarski notes, comparisons of how well students using vouchers to attend private schools in all of these states have done to public school students “have reported mixed results on scores.” But what is remarkable about what the Brookings study saw in Louisiana and Indiana is that earlier studies have not reported “significant negative effects on test scores.”

“In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle,” Dynarski concludes. “A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction.”

But perhaps what is also being unmasked here is that the school voucher movement is not all about academic excellence, at least as education policymakers and experts think of it. Jeff Bryant exposed this several weeks ago in his extensive review of voucher programs and the instruction that gets subsidized by them. An editorial published recently in The Washington Times offers a window into what’s really driving the voucher movement, as it touts vouchers as a way for parents to avoid schools with such mandates as allowing transgender students to use the restrooms that conform to their gender identity. Instead of having to send their children to “schools which they believe promote unsafe and immoral behavior” – presumably such as respect and understanding for people who are different from themselves – the government can instead subsidize “the freedom to choose” a “morality” of intolerance.

But tax dollars should not be subsidizing ignorance of the basic facts of life – whether that ignorance is of how to solve a math equation or how to deal with children who don’t fit our false notions of a gender binary. At the very least, parents should have a fact-based debate of what we’re actually buying with school vouchers, not one argued on faith without evidence.

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on May 26, 2016, Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah Poole Worked at Campaign for America’s Future, attended Pennsylvania State University, and lives in Washington, DC.

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Stakes For All Workers Remain Huge In Verizon Strike

May 31st, 2016 | Dave Johnson

Dave JohnsonNOTE: Shortly after this article was posted, news broke of a settlement in the strike between Verizon and workers represented by the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Workers are expected to return to their jobs next week. IBEW President Lonnie R. Stephenson issued a statement saying, “This tentative contract is an important step forward in helping to end this six-week strike and keeping good Verizon jobs in America.” Verizon’s unionized workers, he said, “look forward to returning to work serving their customers, working under a strong pro-worker and pro-jobs contract.”

With the strike by unionized Verizon workers going into its seventh week, Campaign for America’s Future’s Isaiah J. Poole conducts a short interview with Sara Steffens, Secretary Treasurer of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

“The picket lines are incredibly strong,” she says in the interview. The striking workers continue to gain support because more people recognize Verizon, as she put it, is “a corporation that doesn’t need a giveback but wants it anyway.”

This is important not just to Verizon’s workers, but for all of us. The April 14 post, “Verizon Workers Strike To Keep America’s Middle Class,” explains that the union’s fight is about a lot more than just their pay, work location and hours.

This is really about the bigger fight between the corporate-dominated economy that puts workers (all of us except a few) last, entirely looking at what benefits the corporation. Work hours, pay, stability, benefits, all are sacrificed to further corporate “flexibility.” So it you are not a wealthy executive or shareholder your life just gets harder and harder, and you have fewer and fewer rights and options.

Another Verizon Strike National Day of Action is being planned for June 2. By then,

… the working families on strike at Verizon and Verizon Wireless will have gone 51 days without pay and over a month without health insurance.

Let’s show Verizon what this fight is all about – making sure the needs of working families are met and protecting good, union jobs for generations to come for all working people in this country.

Join us for a National Day of Action on June 2. Please RSVP and save the date. We’ll be back in touch about events near you and how you can support the fight online.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on May 27, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

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

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