Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Warren’

The Powerful New Idea in Elizabeth Warren’s Labor Platform

Friday, October 4th, 2019

Image result for Shaun Richman

On Thursday, Elizabeth Warren released her long-awaited labor platform, titled “Empowering American Workers and Raising Wages.” The plan provides unions with a long wish list of badly needed reforms and new powers. It also makes a solid case that, like Bernie Sanders, she would be the labor movement’s biggest booster in the White House in generations.

Several other candidates, including Julián Castro, Beto O’Rourke and Amy Klobuchar, have also recently put out lengthy labor plans, which provide examples of how (and how not) to stand out from the pack when the baseline position of most Democrats in repealing the Taft-Hartley Act.

The biggest innovation in Warren’s platform is a private right of action in the federal courts against employers who violate the National Labor Relations Act.

Currently, only employers are able to take their complaints directly to the federal courts, against a union picket line, boycott action or other alleged violation of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act. Warren would enable a union or an affected employee to sue an employer who commits an unfair labor practice (say, cutting a union activists’ hours, making threats or spying on secret union meetings) and seek injunctive relief—and even compensatory damages. Such a change would even the playing field in a significant way.

Warren is also proposing some activist anti-trust strategies to empower workers who are deemed to be independent contractors to better organize—and to shut down corporate mergers that will harm employees’ pay and work rules.

In the platform, Warren also reiterates her proposal for employee representation in corporate governance. A Warren administration would aim to make billion-dollar corporations set aside 40% of their executive board seats for employee representatives. While not new to her platform, it is a surprisingly radical idea that hasn’t received enough attention.

Like Sanders, Warren calls for a new federal framework for sectoral bargaining. The goal is to give unions the tools to equalize wages and benefits across multiple firms in an industry. Since individual employer-based collective bargaining is a huge part of the self-image of members and leaders alike of what unions do, both candidates are intentionally vague about the specifics of their proposals, and they are equally clear that unions will have a strong role in shaping the final legislation.

Still, the labor proposals from Warren and Sanders each signal their preferred approach.

I read Sanders platform as an embrace of wage boards, a throwback to an early New Deal model in which tripartite industrial boards voted on wage and working standards, and imposed them on all employers across an industry. As I’ve written previously, this is a framework that could put a union in every workplace in America, but, to be clear, it is not collective bargaining as we know it.

Warren’s proposal seems to be adding an overlapping representational structure to the NLRB process. Workers at individual workplaces might still vote for union representation at their firm only and negotiate collective bargaining agreements as we currently do. Meanwhile, certified unions could utilize some new process to certify a sectoral bargaining unit that would force employers to negotiate together over a specified scope of bargaining. This change would enhance union power (and unions may prefer it), but—even with card check and beefed-up NLRB enforcement—it would remain difficult for unions to dramatically expand their reach into many new workplaces.

The biggest disappointment of Warren’s labor plan is her studious avoidance of a just cause right to your job, as Sanders has proposed. A just cause law would put the onus on an employer to justify a termination. Just cause would give workers the power to say no to requests that fall outside the bounds of their duties or propriety, and it would give unions new tools in organizing and new modes of representation.

Instead, she proposes to amend the law in at least nine sections to outlaw non-compete and forced arbitration clauses and some of the most egregious forms of gender and wage discrimination. The fact that her platform contains a ridiculously long list of categories of workers whose protections against workplace discrimination belie the notion that universal protections are not essential.

Moreover, if a Warren administration successfully passes anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ and pregnant workers, the law would still put the onus on the worker who suffered the discrimination to prove that their termination was for discriminatory reasons and not one of the many other excuses an employer will offer in defense.

In essence, this is the difference between the two most pro-labor candidates in the Democratic field. Elizabeth Warren approaches the issue of rights at work as a problem solver, and wants to enhance the institutional role of worker representation to restore a degree of macroeconomic balance. Bernie Sanders aims to radically alter the balance of power in the workplace.

Both platforms are excellent, and largely overlap on the remainder of reforms to the NLRA and other federal agencies that are supposed to protect workers from corporate exploitation, and both candidates can clearly be relied upon to prioritize workers’ rights issues once in office.

As for Castro, O’Rourke and Klobuchar, they also agree on an emerging consensus around fighting employee misclassification and overtime protection, raising the minimum wage and passing  the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would essentially overturn the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act, add card check under some circumstances and impose meaningful financial penalties for employers who violate their employees’ rights

Castro makes a major issue out of granting union rights for farm and domestic workers—racist exclusions from the NLRA that cast a pall over the New Deal. Granted, almost every other candidate also supports this, but Castro stands out in terms of emphasis.

Klobuchar, on the other hand, is demonstrably going through the motions on workers’ rights. She endorses a long list of other people’s bills with no emphasis and nothing original. This shouldn’t come as a surprise from a politician who apparently thinks it’s funny to treat her own employees poorly. For readers who are worried that the candidates are just paying lip service to unions during the primaries but won’t follow through, Amy Klobuchar is what a Democrat who really doesn’t care about workers looks like. Compare and contrast with the others.

The biggest surprise is O’Rourke, who has one of the best labor platforms in the field. Like Pete Buttigieg, O’Rourke has clearly been taking advice from some of the smartest thinkers on how to restore union power, but unlike that other centrist from central casting Buttigieg, O’Rourke embraced some of the boldest solutions. Most interestingly, on the choice between wage boards and certified sectoral bargaining, O’Rourke’s team asks, “Why choose?” Under his formula, the wage boards would address big-ticket items across entire industries and take them out of competition, while the sectoral bargaining would empower unions to negotiate over the detailed minutia that workers also want to address in a contract.  O’Rourke’s plan would give unions multiple strategies to end the corporate race to the bottom over pay and working conditions.

The “Yes and…” Labor Platform

Warren’s proposal for a private right of action in ULP cases is the biggest new addition, and should remain on unions’ reform agenda no matter who wins the nomination. But it is not without controversy. The federal courts have historically been where the most damage to workers’ rights have been inflicted, and many union attorneys will be apprehensive about losing control of strategy over marginal cases that could produce bad case law. I would argue that we’ve been fighting this anyway (and not exactly producing a stellar track record of wins), so why not cut to the chase and fight for our rights in the courts? Why let a Republican NLRB add layers of obstruction?

Beto O’Rourke’s “yes and” approach to sectoral and industry-wide worker representation should also inspire us to think about the opportunities of a new president and Congress differently. Labor activists have tended to approach previous opportunities for reform as a narrow window to win one thing, and the arguments over which ‘one thing’ will save us have been paralyzing.

But the crisis of economic inequality and its corrosive effects on our democracy require a host of reforms, and even centrist Democrats get that. We need overlapping systems of worker power, union representation and employee protections. The labor movement has now been presented with a rich collection of reform proposals. We should say yes to all of them.

This article was originally published at In These times on October 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Shaun Richman is an In These Times contributing writer and the Program Director of the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. Center for Labor Studies at SUNY Empire State College. His Twitter handle is @Ess_Dog.

Warren proposes sweeping plan for 'empowering American workers and raising wages'

Thursday, October 3rd, 2019

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has released her plan for empowering American workers and raising wages, and, like Sen. Bernie Sanders’ workplace democracy plan, there is a lot here—and the sheer scope of the changes Warren proposes again reminds us of how effective the corporate and Republican war on workers has been over the past few decades. In a country that treated workers right, there wouldn’t be this many big changes to propose.

Warren identifies five broad goals, under which she organizes dozens of specific proposals:

  • Extending labor rights to all workers
  • Strengthening organizing, collective bargaining, and the right to strike
  • Raising wages and protecting pensions
  • Increasing worker choice and control
  • Expanding worker protections, combating discrimination, and improving enforcement

Extending labor rights to all workers includes passing legislation to protect farm workers and domestic workers, who are left out of key current labor laws (because they were predominantly black workforces at the time those laws were passed); ending misclassification of workers as independent contractors, as California recently passed a law to do; defining companies like McDonald’s as joint employers of the workers in their franchise restaurants and in other ways broadening the joint employer standard; allowing graduate students and some people currently defined as supervisors to unionize; cracking down on exploitation of undocumented workers; and more.

Warren’s proposals for strengthening organizing, collective bargaining, and the right to strike include prohibiting state-level “right to work” laws; passing majority sign-up for union organizing and passing the Protecting the Right to Organize Act; cracking down on intimidation and interference by employers and by state and local officials; using antitrust laws to expand rights for gig economy workers; and expanding the National Labor Relations Board’s enforcement power. She’d protect workers’ right to strike by banning permanent replacement of strikers, protecting the right to engage in repeated short strikes (like the one-day strikes favored by Fight for $15), doing away with secondary boycott restrictions, and more.

Warren would also promote sectoral bargaining, in which workers in an industry can bargain across multiple employers. “Each individual firm may have a strong incentive to resist collective bargaining if it believes it will raise costs and put the firm in a worse position relative to its competitors,” her plan says. “But if every firm is bound by the same bargaining outcome, their relative standing remains. That creates conditions for a more successful bargaining process.”

A $15 minimum wage, including for tipped workers and workers with disabilities, is a big part of Warren’s plan to raise wages and protect pensions. But that’s not all. She would also reinstate the Obama administration plan to raise the threshold for overtime pay eligibility—the Trump administration rolled that plan back significantly while still claiming credit for having raised the overtime threshold above Bush-era levels—and, just as she pledges to use antitrust law to protect gig economy workers, she’d use federal authority to “reject mergers if they create labor market consolidation that will drive down wages.” She’d support apprenticeships and project labor agreements, key policies for the building trades, and she’d strengthen pensions. Warren also addresses a question that skeptics of Medicare for All often raise, noting that health care is often a sticking point in union contract negotiations—a sticking point that could be eliminated by Medicare for All—but pledging, “In both the transition to Medicare for All and its implementation, my administration will work closely with unions and multiemployer health insurance funds to protect the gains they have made and to draw on their experience providing quality health care to working people.”

But wait, that’s not all. In the name of increasing worker choice and control, Warren would require that “American companies with $1 billion or more in annual revenue must let employees elect no less than 40% of the company’s Board members.” She’d enable workers to move more freely between jobs by banning noncompete agreements and no-poaching clauses. She’d do away with forced arbitration and class action waivers. In the name of expanding workplace protections and combating discrimination, Warren would promote fair scheduling laws and stronger safety protections, push to knock down anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace, prohibit policies that are technically race-neutral but really discriminatory, such as allowing employers to ban workers from having dreadlocks, and press for protections for disabled and pregnant workers. But all the good policies in the world don’t help workers if they’re not enforced, so Warren would also strengthen enforcement.

Like I said, it’s a lot. Much of what Warren proposes, of course, would need to be passed through Congress, which is yet another reason we need Democrats to retake the Senate. But significant chunks of it could also be done through executive action and using the federal contracting process to move some major employers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 3, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor. Laura at Daily Kos

Elizabeth Warren heads to Essence Festival with plan to 'value the work of Black women'

Monday, July 8th, 2019

“The numbers tell the story,” Warren writes in Essence. “Black women are more likely to be breadwinners for their families and work more than almost any other set of women workers in America, including white women. Yet, Black women are paid less and they are less likely to be able to afford basic human rights like healthcare, childcare and housing.”

Because “This is no accident,” it will take intention and hard work to reverse. Warren’s plans for universal childcare, housing, and canceling student debt will help black and brown women, but she’s not stopping there. Warren pledges a series of executive actions to “boost wages for women of color and open up new pathways to the leadership positions they deserve.” That starts with a ban on new federal contracts for “Companies with a bad track record on equal pay and diversity in management.” Federal contractors will also be banned from “forcing employees to sign away their rights with forced arbitration clauses and non-compete agreements—restrictions that are particularly hurtful to women of color.”

Warren also pledges to “take executive action to make the senior ranks of the federal government look like America and strengthen enforcement against systemic discrimination.”

This is intersectional policy: Warren is clear about how her policies that aren’t tailored to black women will still help black women, but she’s also clear that systemic discrimination requires more. One-size-fits-all policy solutions won’t fix a system that’s been designed not just to elevate the wealthy but to crush some groups more than others.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 5, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

Labor Department tells senators it’s too ‘complex’ to collect sexual harassment data

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

The Labor Department told Democratic senators that it can’t collect data on sexual harassment in the workplace because it would be “complex and costly.” On Monday, Democratic senators dismissed that justification.

In January, 22 Democratic senators sent a letter to labor department officials requesting the department act on studying sexual harassment. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) signed the letter and Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and others co-signed the letter, according toBuzzFeed.

Referring to the #MeToo movement, the letter noted that “there has not been an exact accounting of the extent of this discrimination and the magnitude of its economic costs on the labor force. We therefore request your agencies work to collect this data.”

CNN was the first to obtain the Labor Department’s response, which was addressed to Gillibrand. The department’s letter read, “There are a number of steps involved in any new data collection, including consultation with experts, cognitive testing, data collection training, and test collection. Once test collection is successful, there is an extensive clearance process before data collection can begin.”

The department went on to say that employers would have difficulty providing the information they’re requesting and that requesting additional information for the Bureau of Labor Statistics survey “may have detrimental effects on survey response.”

The letter mentions “alternative sources of information on sexual harassment,” such as the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey, but senators sent a letter in response that essentially balked at that recommendation.

“…the Department is surely aware that not all sexual harassment rises to the level of a violent criminal act and therefore would not be captured by this survey,” the letter read.

Senators called the justifications for declining to work on the issue “wholly inadequate” and wrote that since they “hope that the Department would always consider rigorous methods inherent in data collection,” the department’s mention of its complexity should not justify the decision to not study sexual harassment. Senators also mentioned that the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board did this type of data collection and analysis in the ’80s and that “Surely the government’s capacity to collect this data has only become more sophisticated over the past several decades.”

Senators from both parties asked the labor secretary to take some kind of action on sexual harassment at an April Senate panel on the budget. According to Bloomberg, at the time, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta “expressed willingness to act.”

Many researchers have looked at the economic cost to harassed women themselves. Heather McLaughlin, an assistant professor of sociology at Oklahoma State University, has studied the career effects of sexual harassment and found that a lot of the women who quit jobs because of sexual harassment changed careers and chose fields where they expected less harassment. But that meant that some of those fields were female-dominated, and many female-dominated fields pay less. Some women were more interested in working by themselves after the harassment.

” … but certainly they’re being shuffled into fields that are associated with lower pay because of the harassment,” McLaughlin told Marketplace.

People who have been harassed also experience effects on their physical and mental health, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims of sexual harassment can also experience headaches, muscle aches, and high blood pressure.

Fifty-four percent of U.S. women said they received inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances from men, with 23 percent saying those advances came from men who had influence over their careers and 30 percent coming from male co-workers, according to a 2017 ABC News/Washington Post poll.

“Right now, we don’t know how many gifted workers and innovators were unable to contribute to our country because they were forced to choose between working in a harassment-free workplace and their career,” Gillibrand wrote in her January letter to the department.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on May 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Trump Administration Should Rescind Proposal That Allows Bosses to Pocket Working People's Tips

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

As we previously reported, President Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced a new proposed regulation to allow restaurant owners to pocket the tips of millions of tipped workers. This would result in an estimated $5.8 billion in lost wages for workers each year?wages that they rightfully earned.

And most of that would come from women’s pockets. Nearly 70% of tipped workers are women, and a majority of them work in the restaurant industry, which suffers from some of the highest rates of sexual harassment in the entire labor market. This rule would exacerbate sexual harassment because workers will now depend on the whims of owners to get their tips back.

In a letter to Congress, the AFL-CIO opposed the rule change in the strongest possible terms, calling for the proposal to be rescinded:

Just days before the comment period for this [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] closed, an extremely disturbing report appeared indicating that analysis of the costs and benefits in fact occurred, but was discarded. On Feb. 1, 2018, Bloomberg/BNA reported that the Department of Labor “scrubbed an unfavorable internal analysis from a new tip pooling proposal, shielding the public from estimates that potentially billions of dollars in gratuities could be transferred from workers to their employer.” Assuming these reports are correct, the Department of Labor should immediately make the underlying data (and the analyses that the Department conducted) available to the public. We call on the Department of Labor to do so immediately and to withdraw the related Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

The AFL-CIO strongly urges the Department to withdraw the proposed rule, and instead focus its energies on promoting policies that will improve economic security for people working in low-wage jobs and empower all working people with the resources they need to combat sexual harassment in their workplaces.

The Department of Labor must provide an estimate of its proposed rules’ economic impact. However, while suspiciously claiming that such an analysis was impossible, it turns out that this wasn’t true:

Senior department political officials—faced with a government analysis showing that workers could lose billions of dollars in tips as a result of the proposal—ordered staff to revise the data methodology to lessen the expected impact, several of the sources said. Although later calculations showed progressively reduced tip losses, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and his team are said to have still been uncomfortable with including the data in the proposal. The officials disagreed with assumptions in the analysis that employers would retain their employees’ gratuities, rather than redistribute the money to other hourly workers. They wound up receiving approval from the White House to publish a proposal Dec. 5 that removed the economic transfer data altogether, the sources said.

The move to drop the analysis means workers, businesses, advocacy groups and others who want to weigh in on the tip pool proposal will have to do so without seeing the government’s estimate first.

Democrats in Congress quickly responded that the rule change should be abandoned, as the new rule would authorize employers to engage in wage theft against their workers. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said:

You have been a proponent of more transparency and economic analysis in the rulemaking process. But if DOL hid a key economic analysis of this proposed rule—and if [Office of Management and Budget] officials were aware of and complicit in doing so—that would raise serious questions about the integrity of the rule itself, and about your role and the role of other OMB officials in the rulemaking.

Take action today and send a letter to Congress asking it to stop Trump’s tip theft rule.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on February 15, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Trump NLRB Appointee Behind Major Anti-Union Ruling Accused of Corruption

Thursday, January 25th, 2018

An anti-union policy decision from President Donald Trump’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) appointees appears to be tainted by a violation of ethics standards, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is joining unions in demanding answers.

The Trump policy decision came on December 14 when the NLRB reversed an Obama-era ruling in the Browning-Ferris case—a pro-worker decision from 2015 that has been loudly decried by business lobbyists and conservative Republicans. The case turned on the issue of how the NLRB would define the term “joint employer” in union organizing cases—and was broadly viewed as a blow to McDonald’s and other fast food companies that exploit the franchise business model as a tool to help defeat unions. Last month, the five-member NLRB voted 3-2 in the Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors case to reverse Browning-Ferris, with recent Trump appointee William J. Emanuel providing the margin of victory for the anti-union forces.

Emanuel now stands accused by Warren and others of violating ethical standards by voting on the case even though he appears to have a conflict of interest. The conflict is said to arise from Emanuel’s former status as part owner (or “shareholder”) of the labor law firm Littler Mendelson, a business that specializes in representing employers against their own workers. The firm represented a party in Browning-Ferris, so standard government ethics rules indicate Emanuel should have recused himself from voting, according to critics.

“It looks really bad,” says Susan Garea, a California attorney representing Teamsters Local 350. Emanuel’s violation of ethics rules taints the NLRB vote, she tells In These Times, so the decision in Hy-Brand Industrial should be voided, and the validity of Browning-Ferris evaluated in an atmosphere free of conflicts of interest. Garea detailed her charges in a Jan. 4 court filing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. “It’s clear Emanuel should not participate,” in any vote on Browning-Ferris, she says

The Teamsters have been fighting the case for years. In 2013, Local 350 tried to organize workers at a recycling center in Milpitas, Calif., that was owned and operated by Browning-Ferris. But the union found itself blocked by a legal strategy that asserted the workers were actually employees of an outside staffing agency, Garea explains. The union fought the case before the NLRB, prevailed with the Board’s 2015 pro-union decision, and has been working ever since to fend off legal attempts to overturn the ruling. Garea, of the law firm Beeson, Tayer & Bodine, proclaims the case is far from over and the union is intent on blocking Emanuel’s improper action.

Warren entered the picture when Trump nominated Emanuel for the NLRB in mid 2017. She opposed him from the start, arguing that a lawyer who has represented only bosses in a 40-year-plus legal career was a bad choice for the NLRB, which is supposed to be a fair arbiter of labor disputes. She demanded a commitment from Emanuel to recuse himself from NLRB cases involving a long list of former clients (which he agreed to do) and voted against him in the final confirmation on the Senate floor.

“Emanuel is the opposite of what Senator Warren would like to see in an NLRB member. His conflicts of interest are a mile long, and he spent decades fighting against workers’ efforts to join together and stand up for themselves,” Warren’s Deputy Press Secretary Saloni Sharma tells In These Times.

The Senate floor vote on Emanuel reflected the deep party-line divide over Trump’s nominations to the NLRB. All the Democratic Party senators present voted against Emanuel, and all the Republicans voted for him. AFL-CIO chief lobbyist Bill Samuel tells In These Times that Trump’s appointments to government labor posts have been strongly anti-union, but Emanuel is one of the most extreme. “We didn’t make a fight about Emanuel. We just didn’t have the votes,” he says. “But we are very much behind Sen. Warren in her efforts to hold them [the NLRB members] accountable.”

In a letter dated Dec. 21, Warren posed questions to Emanuel raising concerns about potential misconduct in the Hy-Brand vote. “Given that your former partners at Littler Mendelson P.C. represented a party in [Browning-Ferris] before the board, did you recuse yourself from the board’s decision to move to remand the [Browning-Ferris] case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit back to the board? If not, why not?” she writes. The letter, also signed by several other top Congressional Democrats, requests that Emanuel commit to additional recusals from pending NLRB cases in the future.

An unsigned email message stated that Emanuel “respectfully declines” a telephone interview to discuss the Warren allegations. Messages left directly with Emanuel were not returned.

Sen. Warren and other congressional Democrats are awaiting a formal response to the questions before deciding on the next step against Emanuel. Meanwhile, the White House is expected to announce it is nominating Washington, D.C., management-side attorney John Ring to fill an open seat on the five-member NLRB, as former Chairman Philip Miscimarra’s term on the Board expired just days after the Hy-Brand decision.

This article was originally published at In These Times on January 23, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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.

The Time Is Now to Stand Up for the CFPB

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Mark Feuer, the Los Angeles City Attorney who helped hold Wells Fargo accountable for creating millions of fake accounts without customers’ knowledge, now warns against efforts by the Trump administration and Congress to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“I’m appalled at the spectacle of the House attempting to dismantle or at least severely diminish the CFPB,” Feuer told CNNMoney in a recent interview. He was referring to a bill disingenuously called the CHOICE Act, which would neuter the now-independent CFPB so that it no longer serves as a watchdog against the predatory practices of financial institutions.

People’s Action is asking for signatures on a petition calling on Congress to vote “no” on the CHOICE Act, which in expected to come up for a vote in the coming weeks.

Feuer explained in the interview that the CFPB played a crucial role in investigating reports that Wells Fargo employees were fabricating accounts under pressure to meet sales quotas. Those fake accounts, in turn, showed up in financial reports that helped Wells Fargo boost its stock price and, as the stock price rose, executive earnings.

“It’s true we brought the case in the first place” in response to a 2013 Los Angeles Times exposé, Feuer said, “but our collaboration with the CFPB enabled there to be nationwide relief for Wells customers.”

That included $5 million in refunds to consumers who were assessed fees on the fake accounts and changes in sales practices at the bank. The bank also had to pay $185 million in fines, and did away with the sales quotas that led to the creation of the fake accounts.

You would think that a House of Representatives that is answerable to consumers vulnerable to what Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls the “tricks and traps” big banks, predatory lenders, and debt collectors use to take billions of dollars out of their pockets would consider the CFPB to be a hero.

But that House of Representatives does not exist. The majority of the House is instead answerable to the very tricksters who want free rein to game the system and line their pockets. Republicans love the campaign donations they get from Wall Street bankers, payday lenders, and hedge fund managers. They are literally itching to destroy the CFPB and let Wall Street go wild.

After the big banks crashed the economy in 2008, people took action and won reforms to rein in Wall Street abuses. A big part of that was establishing the CFPB, and structuring it so that it isn’t a punching bag for a Congress and White House drunk on big-bank financial contributions.

The CFPB is the first federal financial watchdog whose entire job is making sure Wall Street can’t get away with the tricks and traps that bleed millions out of our pockets. The Bureau has recovered $12 billion dollars in ill-gotten gains for over 27 million people ripped off by the predatory financial industry.

It is no wonder that gutting the CFPB has been a top priority of the Republican Congress from the beginning. And with all of the scandal now consuming Washington, it would be very easy for Congress to get away with this – unless we “stay woke.”

That’s why we have to get loud about what Congress is doing here.
We’ve derailed Wall Street’s agenda before and, if we stand together, we can stop them again. But that means we need to stop the CHOICE Act dead in its tracks.

Tell Congress: You work for us, not Wall Street. We need our government to do more to rein in payday lenders and Wall Street bankers, not give them a free pass to crash the economy again. Say no to the CHOICE Act. Say yes to an independent CFPB.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on May 22, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

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