Sick Leave and Retirement Are Not “Social Issues”

The Post has another Annapolis preview this morning, this time following the “x things to watch for” rubric. In this case, the lucky number is 7.

Pretty much what you’d expect, with Hogan/Busch relationship, Baltimore, and the eight senators and delegates running for other offices in the April primary (not sure why “more than half a dozen” is the reference, you’d think “eight” would be both more precise and use fewer words) on the list. 

No sign of Todd Eberly in this article, but one item on the list makes no sense whatsoever. Number 4 is entitled “Hogan’s response to social issues,” which would be a wonderful topic of discussion. For example, does Larry Hogan support HB16, a bill by Delegate Ric Metzgar that would allow discrimination against LGBT individuals under the guise of “religious freedom”? 

The problem is that two of the three issues Ovetta Wiggins discusses (paid sick leave and retirement plans) are not, under any rational definition, social issues. A June 30 Vanity Fair article entitled “What Will Be The G.O.P.’s New Social Issue?”by the generally annoying Michael Kinsley explicitly distinguished “social issues” from “economic” ones:

Abortion, marriage equality, gun control, drugs, prayer in the schools, affirmative action, the “War on Christmas”: these are all classified as “social issues” (as opposed to economic and foreign-policy issues) . . .

This is a common sense distinction familiar to anyone who’s followed politics for more than, say, ten minutes. Paid sick leave and retirement issues are bread and butter economic issues. They relate to the wages and benefits and conditions of employment of ALL workers. They will be heard by the House Economic Matters Committee in Annapolis, if some external indicator was needed. They may be excellent indicators of something – economic justice/inequality, for instance – but it defies explanation to cast them as “social.” It’s not even remotely a close call.

 Unless, of course, the idea is to use “social” as a signifier for “controversial,” in the hopes of giving encouragement to opponents of the proposals for paid sick leave and worker retirement accounts (“oh, well, it’s one of THOSE issues. They’re SO divisive. Sigh.” I don’t know what Ovetta Wiggins’ views on the subject are, but the Post as an entity is and has been for many years – decades, in fact – openly hostile to labor and workers’ rights. Seen in this view, what we have here – perhaps – is the subtle hand of management tweaking a subhead to disparage and denigrate an issue that is vigorously opposed by the Fred Hiatts and Charles Laneses of PostWorld (not to mention owner Jeff Bezos, but the Post’s elitist hostility to workers rights long predates his arrival, so he gets a pass for this discussion).

It’s kind of sad, but reading the newspaper has become an intelligence agency exercise in decoding the preferences of the people doing the writing. I think I liked it better when our overlords and social betters just whacked us in the head with a 2×4. At least we knew where we stood then.

As I Was Saying Just Last Night . . . 

Never let it be said that I don’t give credit where credit is due. That Dana Milbank, he’s pretty damn smart. And he nailed the Supreme Court’s blatant hypocrisy on public sector unions, seeing a political power grab for what it is. Go read the whole thing, I agree with every word, but here’s the gist.

Citizens United and other recent rulings created the modern era of super PACs and unlimited political contributions by the wealthy. Because there are fewer liberal billionaires (and those who are politically active, such as George Soros and Tom Steyer, tend to shun super PACs in favor of their own projects) the only real counterweight to Republican super PACs in this new era is union money. And the Supreme Court is about to attack that, too.

The only question is how big a loss Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association will be for the unions. It’s virtually certain to be another step toward American oligarchy. The court’s conservative majority, setting aside a professed respect for precedent and states’ authority, is putting a thumb on the scale of justice in favor of the wealthy donors who have purchased the GOP and much of the government.

In Other News Today, The Supreme Court Is Likely To Destroy Public Employee Unions

Not to be missed in all of today’s news and general Snarkstericity here at the nerve center of an imaginary organization, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in a case in which the plaintiffs don’t want to have to pay public employee unions for the benefits they get from collective bargaining (because, y’know, free speech and all that shit) but they want to keep getting them nevertheless. This newfound right to have your cake, eat it, and get someone else to bake it and pay for it is brought to by the Koch brothers. Shocking, huh? Charles Pierce is his usually happy go lucky self about the whole thing:

The Supreme Court is hearing a case today called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. If decided in favor of the plaintiff, the case likely will eviscerate the right of collective bargaining for public employees. (Having once briefly been a public employee, and being the son of a lifetime public employee, and the grandson of another, I have been watching this with some interest.) At issue is whether or not public-sector unions can collect dues from public employees who do not belong to the union. (The unions already are banned from using that money for any political activities.) In 1977, the Court allowed this practice to continue, but anyone who relies on stare decisis from this Court when it comes to anything having to do with labor unions is leaning on a pretty thin straw.

His gloomy assessment was then vindicated by the oral argument today. In a word: bad. Two words: very bad.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court left little doubt Monday where it stands on forcing teachers and government workers to contribute to public employee unions against their will: It’s ready to strike the requirement down.

The court’s more conservative justices sharply criticized the current system in which public employees in 23 states and the District of Columbia must pay for the cost of collective bargaining, even if they disagree with their unions’ demands. The problem, those justices said, is that virtually everything the unions do affects public policy and tax dollars.

“Everything that is collectively bargained with the government is within the political sphere, almost by definition,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, seen as the lone conservative who might side with the unions because of past statements.

When lawyers for California and its teachers union cited more mundane collective bargaining issues such as mileage rates and public safety, Chief Justice John Roberts objected. “It’s all money,” Roberts said. “The amount of money that’s going to be allocated to public education as opposed to public housing, welfare benefits, that’s always a public policy issue.”

Their comments and others from justices who previously have criticized the practice of compelling union fees made it clear that the court is likely to strike down its nearly 40-year-old precedent allowing unions to impose such requirements on non-members. That would make it harder for unions representing teachers, police and firefighters, and other government workers to maintain their power by affecting their pocketbooks.

When we talk about blatantly political decisions, it’s not just the overtly political ones like Bush v. Gore or Citizens United. It’s the cases that favor corporations over other interests and, as here, those that weaken labor unions. Not to be lost here is that many of the political decisions like Citizens United were defended on the basis that labor unions are treated similarly to the big corporations and rich individuals that benefit from the decision. Of course, labor,mad strong as it can be politically, doesn’t come close to matching corporate America for big spending.

But now, suddenly, poof! No more money flowing to unions means less political influence for labor, and labor favors Democrats, and all of the five justices that will rule the way they made clear today are hard core political warriors for the interests of corporate America in general and the Republican Party specifically. What they are doing is nothing less than constitutionalizing a decisive tilt to the right in American politics. Nothing like it has been seen in our history (not even the Lochner-era gilded age cases were as balata the as what we’re seeing here.

Whether it has the desired effect is another question. The demographics of the US are changing so fast it’s creating an electoral map (on the presidential level, at least) that tilts just as decidedly the other way. The big questions are whether the demographics change quickly enough, and whether the Democratic Party has the gumption to stand and fight after a 20 year period of too often looking like GOP lite.

This next 15-20 years is increasingly shaping up as a fight for the soul of this country. It’s either going to be a lot better place when the fight is over, or a lot worse. But I’m pretty sure that it’s not going to look very similar to the way things are now. Something has to give.

I know where I stand. I hope you do too.

2016 Priority: Paid Sick Leave

For several years, the Maryland General Assembly has been unsuccessful in passing a paid sick leave bill. It’s a national priority for President Obama, Montgomery County did it, and the District of Columbia did it – although Prince George’s County saw its 2015 bill squelched by Council President Mel Franklin.

With the start of the legislative session only ten days away, the Post reports today that 2015 sponsors Senator Catherine Pugh and Delegate Luke Clippinger are preparing to give it another go in 2016.

Democrats will try again in 2016 to make Maryland one of the few states in the nation that require employers to provide paid sick leave for workers.

State Senate Majority Leader Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore) and Del. Luke H. Clippinger (D-Baltimore) said last week that they will propose bills to require businesses with 10 or more employees to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work.

Both lawmakers sponsored similar legislation in 2015, but the measures stalled at the committee level. They said that they will introduce new versions of the bills within the first weeks of the 2016 legislative session, with minor changes to clarify details such as how the rules would apply to businesses that already provide paid sick leave.

“We want to present the best bill possible, but at same time we want to accommodate as many people as we can,” Pugh said.

As always, with Larry Hogan in the governor’s office, it’s about constructing a veto proof majority from the Democratic caucus.

The 141-member House needs 85 votes to overcome a veto, and the 47-member Senate needs 29; Democrats hold 33 seats in the Senate and 91 in the House.

In 2015, 77 delegates and 22 senators co-sponsored the sick-leave bills, eight and seven votes short of a veto-proof majority, respectively.

“There was a feeling last time that the first year of a governor’s term would not be the right time to put this on his desk,” said Melissa Broome, deputy director of the Job Opportunities Task Force. “At this point, there’s really no reason to wait.”

Hogan spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver Churchill did not offer a position on paid sick days but said the governor will “carefully review any bill that makes it to his desk.”

More than 140 groups have expressed support for Maryland sick-day legislation since October, including unions, businesses, faith-based organizations and public-health advocates.

This should be a party loyalty vote in both chambers. At some point, being a Democrat has to mean something more than just a label. This bill is about fairness, it’s about public health, and it’s about families. Pitch it right and get it done. 

Fred Hiatt Strikes Again

The next person who calls it the “liberal Washington Post” really needs to have his or her head examined.

Fred Hiatt, the Washington Post’s editorial page editor, has fired columnist Harold Meyerson, one of the nation’s finest journalists and perhaps the only self-proclaimed socialist to write a weekly column for a major American newspaper during the past decade or two.

At a time when America is experiencing an upsurge of progressive organizing and activism — from Occupy Wall Street, to Black Lives Matter, to the growing movement among low-wage workers demanding higher minimum wages, to Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president — we need a regular columnist who can explain what’s going on, why it’s happening, and what it means.

More than any other columnist for a major U.S. newspaper, Meyerson provided ongoing coverage and incisive analysis of the nation’s labor movement and other progressive causes as well as the changing economy and the increasing aggressiveness of big business in American politics. He was one of the few columnists in the country who knew labor leaders and grassroots activists by name, and who could write sympathetically and knowledgeably about working people’s experiences in their workplaces and communities.

Since Steve Greenhouse retired last year as the New York Times’ brilliant labor reporter, no other major paper has a reporter who covers unions and working people on a full-time basis. Now with Meyerson’s firing, there’s not one weekly columnist who understands the ins and outs of organized (and disorganized) labor.

So why did Hiatt fire Meyerson? Here’s a clue:

Yeah, it’s like I always say – if there’s one thing I hate about the national media, it’s the excessive focus on labor issues.

Meanwhile, across the op-ed page, George Will is soiling his bedclothes with verbal diarrhea like this (George doesn’t realize he’s chasing the kids off of a lawn that exists only in his demented mind. Anecdote/data fallacy, etc.). And Robert Samuelson continues to write the same anti-entitlements column over and over again.

Let’s be real here, folks: Meyerson got fired because Hiatt doesn’t believe labor is worth writing about. Period.

I’m really hoping my next Post endorsement interview is with Fred Hiatt (the one with fellow neo-con Charles Lane was a surreal hoot). Suggestion to Hiatt: wear some fire retardant clothing.

SEIU Endorses Clinton

From Politico:

The powerful union behind the fast food workers’ wage movement endorsed Hillary Clinton for president Tuesday.

The 2-million-member Service Employees International Union approved the endorsement through a vote by its executive board. “Hillary Clinton has proven she will fight, deliver and win for working families,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry in a statement. “SEIU members and working families across America are part of a growing movement to build a better future for their families, and Hillary Clinton will support and stand with them.”

Clinton now has the support of unions representing about 9.5 million union members, or nearly two-thirds of the U.S.’ 14.6 million union workers.

In a written statement, Clinton said she felt “deeply honored” and pledged to “stand with SEIU and fight alongside them—to defend workers’ right to organize and unions’ right to bargain collectively, to raise incomes for working people and the middle class, and to ensure that hardworking Americans can retire with dignity and security.”

Clinton now has the support of unions representing approximately 2/3 of all unionized workers in the country.

MCGEO vs. MCEA In 2014

In the ongoing discussion over alcohol reform, one continuing refrain is that MCGEO (the union that represents Department of Liquor Control employees within the county government) had a terrible year in 2014 in terms of endorsements, especially when compared to the teachers union (MCEA). While I’m not sure what such a comparison has to do with the alcohol question, I decided to take a look at the record. You know, actual facts. Compiled from here and here.

Legislative District 15: MCGEO endorsed David Fraser-Hidalgo for delegate, while MCEA endorsed challenger Bennett Rushkoff. Edge to MCGEO.

Legislative District 16: MCEA endorsed Hrant Jamgochian for delegate, who was not elected. MCGEO only endorsed one candidate for Delegate, Bill Frick, who was reelected. Edge to MCGEO (half point).

Legislative District 17: MCGEO endorsed Luiz Simmons for Senate, who lost to Cheryl Kagan. MCEA made no endorsement in that race. Half point to MCEA.

Legislative District 18: MCEA endorsed the four incumbents, all of whom prevailed. MCGEO endorsed against three of the incumbents. Two points to MCEA.

Legislative District 19: MCGEO endorsed Marice Morales for delegate. She won. MCEA made no endorsement. One point to MCGEO.

Legislative District 20: MCGEO endorsed Will Jawando, MCEA endorsed Will Smith. Point to MCEA.

Total margin for state legislative races: one point edge for MCEA.

County Executive: MCEA endorsed Ike Leggett. MCGEO made no endorsement. Point to MCEA.

Council District 1: MCEA endorsed Roger Berliner. MCGEO endorsed Duchy Trachtenberg. Point to MCEA.

Council District 3: Both MCEA and MCGEO endorsed Ryan Spiegel, who lost to Sid Katz. No points.

Council District 5: MCEA endorsed Chris Barclay, and later pulled the endorsement, but made no new one. MCGEO endorsed Tom Hucker, who won. Point and a half to MCGEO (MCEA missing on the second bite of the apple (pun intended) is worth a half point).

County Council At Large: MCEA endorsed Marc Elrich and Hans Riemer. MCGEO endorsed Elrich and Beth Daly. One point to MCEA.

School Board: both in 2012 and again in 2014, the teachers union choice for at large school board were defeated. In 2012, Rebecca Smondrowski defeated MCEA-endorsed Fred Evans. In 2014, Jill Ortman-Fouse defeated Shebra Evans, who had received the MCEA endorsement. MCGEO endorsed Ortman-Fouse. Primarily because school board races are central to MCEA, and just a little because they’ve now lost two in a row, I’m assigning two points to this race to MCGEO.

Total margin for county races: half point edge to MCGEO.

Total margin: half point edge to MCEA.

Conclusion: If that makes MCGEO “incredibly ineffective,” as I’ve read, then MCEA is right there as well.

Second point: I’m not beating up on either union. Both had notable hits and misses in 2014. But I support labor, which can’t be said for some of those making the arguments I’ve debunked here. I’d submit that labor is far better off working together than at cross purposes. But pitting one union against another is bad politics for both unions, for labor generally, and for progressive politics in the larger sense. Read such commentary with a critical eye.


AFL-CIO To Sit Out MD Senate Race

Just in from the Post:

One of the country’s most powerful union organizations is staying out of Maryland’s competitive Democratic Senate primary.

The Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO has decided not to endorse a candidate to replace Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D), President Fred Douglas Mason Jr. confirmed Tuesday.
Mason said a committee of several dozen executive board members and representatives from the state’s five central labor councils interviewed representatives Donna F. Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, both Democrats, as well as Republican Richard Douglas. To win support, a candidate would need the backing of two-thirds of the committee members. None of the three cleared that bar.
“It happens sometimes when there are two very good candidates,” Mason said. “They’re both good quality candidates, they’ve both represented Maryland [well] in their respective positions. . . . That’s why it was so hard.”

CWA Rally (With Bonus Track)

The Communications Workers Of America (CWA) is embroiled in a contract dispute with Verizon, primarily regarding benefits and job security. Today, they held a rally at Verizon’s Silver Spring facility off Route 29. Always willing to give voice to labor concerns, I packed up my trusty iPhone and headed over to see what was up and to lend a hand.

First, some pictures. Lots of waving at cars passing by on 29, lots of supportive honks back. And they brought their own inflatable fat cat to stand in for Verizon big shots. Well done – one hand around the neck of the worker the other with a big bag of cash.

  Andrew Platt, CWA Local 2108 President Marilyn Irwin, and Delegate Jimmy Tarlau 

Verizon makes a lot of money ($1 billion per month in profits for the last 18 months) but they want to nickel and dime their workers. Typical – but still wrong.

Next up is a video of the comments. Delegates Jimmy Tarlau, a CWA member, and Andrew Platt were there. And before you say it, yes, Tarlau gives me a nice plug, but I didn’t know he was doing it and I swear I didn’t pay him. 🙂 Appreciated, though.

Here’s the video of the program:

And just for fun here’s a short video of waving at cars set to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” ‘Cause you can never have too much Taylor Swift.