Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Citizens United’

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.

California Working Families Beat Koch-Backed Prop. 32

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

For the third time in the past 14 years, California voters rejected an attempt—fueled by millions of out-of-state dollars—to shut working people out of the political process when they soundly defeated Proposition 32. California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski said working families:

Rejected a blatant power play by corporate special interests to silence the voice of working people. Despite weeks of misleading advertisements backing Prop. 32 paid for by billionaires and out-of-state super PACs, the margin of defeat was decisive. Prop. 32 backers spent more than $50 million in an effort to fool voters.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that $11 million of that war chest came from “a shadowy Arizona group that became entangled with the state’s Supreme Court over where it got its money.”

Ultimately, that money was traced back to two outside groups with ties to the billionaire oil tycoon brothers, David and Charles Koch, as well as to Karl Rove, the former top strategist to former President George W. Bush, whose web of super PACs and non-profit groups spread hundreds of millions of dollars in campaigns across the nation.

Prop. 32 would ban the use of voluntary payroll deductions by union members who want to contribute to their union’s political activity. It would do nothing to stop the campaign spending by secret corporate-backed PACs and the wealthy. Pulaski says:

Prop. 32 had the effect of driving millions of firefighters, electricians, nurses, teachers, plumbers and other working people to the polls today. This measure was nothing less than an attack on working people; an attack we took personally.

More than 40,000 union volunteers made more than 3 million voter contacts and distributed more than 5.1 million worksite leaflets.

As of this morning, Prop. 32 was losing by more than eight percentage points. Working families defeated similar measures in 2005 and 1998.

Working families also rallied to help pass Prop. 30 that will raise $6 billion to put the state’s education system back on track by ending cuts to schools and providing funds to rehire teachers, reduce class sizes and update textbooks. It’s paid for by asking the state’s wealthiest to pay their fair share. Learn more about Prop. 30.

This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on November 7, 2012. 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. I 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.

In Conference Call, Romney Urged Businesses To Tell Their Employees How to Vote

Friday, October 19th, 2012

In a June 6, 2012 conference call posted on the anti-union National Federation of Independent Business’s website, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney instructed employers to tell their employees how to vote in the upcoming election.

 

Romney was addressing  a group of self-described “small-business owners.” Twenty-six minutes into the call, after making a lengthy case that President Obama’s first term has been bad for business, Romney said:

I hope you make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections. And whether you agree with me or you agree with President Obama, or whatever your political view, I hope, I hope you pass those along to your employees.

The call raises the question of whether the Romney campaign is complicit in the corporate attempts to influence employees’ votes that have been recently making headlines. On Sunday, In These Times broke the news that Koch Industries mailed at least 45,000 employees a voter information packet that included a flyer endorsing Romney and a letter warning, “Many of our more than 50,000 U.S. employees and contractors may suffer the consequences [of a bad election result], including higher gasoline prices, runaway inflation, and other ills.” Last week, Gawker obtained an email in which the CEO of Westgate Resorts, Florida billionaire David Siegel, informed his 7,000 employees that an Obama victory would likely lead to layoffs at his company. This week, MSNBC’s Up with Chris Hayes unveiled an email by ASG Software Solutions CEO Arthur Allen in which he, too, warned employees that an Obama second term would spell layoffs.

In the June call, Romney went on to reassure his audience that it is perfectly legal for them to talk to their employees about how to vote:

Nothing illegal about you talking to your employees about what you believe is best for the business, because I think that will figure into their election decision, their voting decision and of course doing that with your family and your kids as well.

He’s correct that such speech is now legal for the first time ever, thanks to the Citizen United ruling, which overturned previous Federal Election Commission laws that prohibited employers from political campaigning among employees.

In the post-Citizens United era, “there is not much political protection for at-will employees in the private sector workplace,” explains University of Marquette Law Professor Paul Secunda, a pro-union labor lawyer. “It is conceivable, under the current legal regime, that an employer like Koch could actually get away with forcing his employees, on pains of termination, to campaign for a given candidate or political party.”

Romney provided his call audience with a number of talking points to relay to their employees:

I particularly think that our young kids–and when I say young, I mean college-age and high-school age–they need to understand that America runs on a strong and vibrant business [sic] … and that we need more business growing and thriving in this country. They need to understand that what the president is doing by borrowing a trillion dollars more each year than what we spend is running up a credit card that they’re going to have to pay off and that their future is very much in jeopardy by virtue of the policies that the president is putting in place. So I need you to get out there and campaign.

Beyond Romney’s statements on the call, it’s unclear whether his election operation is actively coordinating workplace campaigning by businesses. Romney press secretary Andrea Saul did not respond to In These Times’ request for comment.

However, the conference call raises troubling questions about what appears to be a growing wave of workplace political pressure unleashed by Citizens United.

This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on October 17, 2012.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.

Supreme Court Increases Regulation on Unions

Friday, June 29th, 2012

mike elkA recent Supreme Court ruling in Knox v. SEIU Local 1000 has some labor advocates howling that the Court is beginning to come after workers. The 7-2 ruling last week states that public sector employees must opt in to have their money spent on political action, instead of opting out as had been previously mandated in the case Beck v. CWA. The ruling could dramatically decrease the amount of money that public-sector unions, whose members currently compose 37 percent of all union members, have to spend on political action. Many public-sector union members are already financially strapped and may choose not to give their money to political campaigns.

The drop in the number of public employees giving money could increase dramatically if employers put pressure on public employees to not opt in to giving money to their unions’ political action funds. The recent Supreme Court ruling Citizens United eliminated protections that previously barred employers from pressuring workers on political matters. Now, combined with the Citizens United ruling, employers in the public sector could possibly pressure their employees to decline to give money to their unions’ political action funds.

“Unfortunately this decision continues the attack on the right of public-sector workers to act collectively to impact their workplace on important issues” says SEIU Local 1000 spokesperson Jim Herron Zamora, whose union was sued for imposing an assessment fee for political action on workers without first getting their consent.

“I think it’s more symbolic than anything. It’s going to be a pain for unions. Unions are going to have send in affirmative opt-in notices. The court is right in the basic principle that public employees have a right not to pay for that political work of unions and I agree with that even if it goes against the union,” says Elon University labor law professor Eric Fink. “It bothers me more for what it symbolizes, in that the court is going out of [its] way to fuck unions, and what that symbolizes in future cases”.

A few days after the decision, the Court also struck down a 1912 Montana law that limited the amount of money corporations could spend on local and state elections in Montana. Fink sees the Supreme Court setting a double standard in its increasing regulation of how unions spend political money while deregulating how corporations can spend money.

“Corporations have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders. However, unlike unions, corporations don’t have to ask their shareholders to make any political expenditure,” says Fink. “The Supreme Court doesn’t say a word about that when it comes to shareholders, but they say something about unions. It’s unions that are more democratic than any other institution [and] they want to sit down and micromanage how they spend their money.”

Unions are some of the most heavily regulated institutions in America. Under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, every union is required to file quarterly LM forms with the Department of Labor that lay out all of their expenses in detail, including salaries of officials, political action expenditures and reimbursement of expenses. These databases are searchable online at the Department of Labor’s website. Corporations, by contrast, are not required to file forms outlining all of their expenditures.

UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend says that unions must stand and be defiant of this Supreme Court decision and protest it with vigor.

“We can’t let them get away with this decision. If we let them get away with this decision, we are only another two or three court decisions away from the Court saying right-to-work is a constitutional right,” says Townsend. “It’s time for labor to fight back on this issue, and tell the Supreme Court to go to hell if needed. Has the labor movement pressed the current regime to end the intrusive and unfair regulation of unions? Of course not. Until we do, we can expect more of these attacks. Do Democrats stand up for us on this issue, even though they benefit for the most part from labor’s efforts? Of course not.”

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on June 28, 2012.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.

How to Date a Corporation: Dating Rules for a Post-Citizens United World

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

The Supreme Court recently determined that corporations are entitled to freedom of speech because they are legally persons. The ramifications of this decision, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, cannot be overstated: it introduces an entirely new and untapped population into the dating pool.

Chances are you’ve never dated a corporation before. But don’t be intimidated. This can be a fun and exciting opportunity… as long as you follow the corporation-dating rules.

1. Consider your options. There are a lot of corporations out there. Is this really the best corporation out there? Is this corporation “the one?” Or should you keep looking?
2. Don’t seem too eager to get involved. Remember, corporations are predatory by nature and enjoy a chase.
3. Do a background check. What kind of relationships has this corporation had in the past? What is the corporation’s history
4. Investigate the company the corporation keeps. Who is on its board of directors? Have any been indicted?
5. Check out the corporation’s assets and figures. How do they look? Are they appealing to you?
6. Say that you’re fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Corporations find this very sexy.
7. Make sure you wait before you give up any of your assets. Corporations lose interest when you give it up right away.
8. Don’t over invest. Nothing hurts more than giving without getting.
9. Resist the “urge to merge.” Mergers often look appealing but they tend to be messy and almost always hurt party.
10. Assume the worst. Corporations have a one track mind and they can’t wait to get their hands on your goods.
11. And last but not least…Protect yourself. Corporations can be very reckless and you never really know how many people this corporation has screwed.

*This post originally appeared in Working Life. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Katie Harper is a co-founder of Laughing Liberally, a political comedy group, with whom she performs regularly at venues including Netroots Nation (the convention formerly known as Yearly Kos). Katie blogs for Huffington Post, TakePart, 23/6, Nerve, Culture Kitchen, and Campus Progress. Katie is also an Artistic Director and Comedy Curator at The Tank, a non-profit performing arts space for emerging artists. Her award winning documentary, La memoria es vaga, about historical memory in Spain, has been screened throughout Spain and the U.S. Katie is currently developing a one-woman show and a documentary film about her summer camp, Camp Kinderland, and their “peace Olympics” games. For more information, check out http:// katiehalper.com

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