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The NLC Labor Summit and the Crumbling of New Jersey

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Congressman Donald Norcross (D-NJ) addressed the NLC Labor Summit Saturday.

By Eddie Rivera

The New Leaders Council’s Labor Summit in Edison on Saturday was a reminder of how New Jersey needs to be a beacon of hope for the labor movement and how far it has fallen. The last eight years with Chris Christie as Governor have derailed the Garden State. New Jersey has fallen behind its neighboring states in every economic measure since the Great Recession. Its credit rating has been downgraded several times. The NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development has seen its budget nearly slashed to death and belittled in integrity. The bill to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour was vetoed last summer and the legislature did not override his veto. State residents are unable to make ends meet. It’s nearly impossible to survive with a low minimum wage and high tuition costs. Imagine raising kids while working three jobs and earning an education. This is a great injustice in a state as prosperous as ours.

In addition, Trump’s presidency has only made it worse. His appointment to the Supreme Court is likely to vote in favor of weakening labor unions while a similar bill is pending in Congress. The regulatory gains made by the Obama Administration in the face opposition are being turned back. His administration is stacked with plutocrats seeking to benefits their cronies at the expense of the American people. As Congressman Donald Norcross (D-NJ) pointed out, there are a handful of individuals in the United States Congress who have been in a labor union.

This weekend’s summit was a reminder to on its laurels in the long war against Hypercapitalism when small gains are achieved. Now is the time to fight for the preservation of the Labor Movement in New Jersey and the country as a whole. We as a state cannot continue to move backward. Now is the opportunity to turn the page and move forward back to the progressive values we in the Garden State hold dear. With so much diversity, New Jersey needs to demonstrate progressivism in all areas of public policy. Each of the panelists has expressed their views on labor with much thought and deliberation.

Without labor, New Jersey cannot function. We need reform to continue robust activity within the transportation, manufacturing, health, education, and customer service sectors. Everyone should be entitled to pension and benefits in their respective fields. I urge everyone to continue the fight for a better New Jersey. Eight years of falling behind the rest of the nation has gone long enough. Let us all come together and make all our dreams come true once again.

Chicago Teachers Union and Allies Set to Strike Tomorrow

The Chicago Teachers Union and allies plan to strike tomorrow to protest economic and civil rights issues.

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and their allies plan to strike tomorrow, April 1, for one day to protest economic and civil rights issues plaguing Chicago. The CTU has been operating without a contracts for nearly a year as negotiations have dragged on with no end in sight.

Allies such as Fight for $15 which seeks to raise the minimum wage will be joining the teachers in protesting at various sites across the city. American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten plans to attend a “teach-in” at Northeastern Illinois University to highlight funding issues in higher education. Other groups will highlight civil rights issues.

CTU is a local of the American Federation of Teachers.

The strike has been declared illegal by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). But CTU members feel that since that have not been receiving their legally mandated raises, their contract is invalid.

No actions have been taken thus far to prevent the strike.

Pushed to the brink

Due to budgetary constraints, CPS has been forced to lay off thousands of teachers and make significant budgetary cuts over the last few years. Some schools operate with no regular nurse to treat ill students, programs for special needs children have been closed, and many after school programs for children have been shut down as well.

This is only the latest in a series of attacks on public sector unions across the nation. The catch here is that the union’s opponent is not a Republican in the city of Chicago, but rather Mayor Rahm Emmanuel who served as a senior aide in the Clinton Administration.

Emmanuel has been an opponent of public sector unions since first taking office in 2011. He was previously close to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (R) who attempted to push anti-labor laws through the legislature. Rauner made millions in the private equity market before entering politics.

While under attack from Emmanuel, CTU elected new leaders who have reinvigorated the union at time when many union locals suffer from similar issues.

“A lot of unions have stopped using strikes as weapons. But striking is the most powerful weapon we have. I think our strike in 2012 started to re-energize labor; I hope that continues,” said Sarah Chambers, a member of CTU’s executive board. “We have to actually energize every single union, every single workplace, so our members, the rank and file, are the ones leading these actions.

The CTU has successfully built public support in its fight against Emmanuel by embracing civil rights issues, including the most recent controversy over the shooting of Laquan McDonald 17 times by a police officer. Since the issue over McDonald’s death erupted, Emmanuel’s popularity rating has plummeted.

SCOTUS Nominee has Pro-Labor Record

Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland has had a consistently pro-labor record as a judge

President Barack Obama chose Merrick Garland, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, this week to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

At the ceremony announcing Garland’s nomination Obama declared that “I have selected a nominee who is widely recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency modesty, integrity, evenhandedness and excellence.”

While on the bench Garland has been a proponent of judicial restraint in which the judiciary should defer to the Executive Branch. Thus, he supported EPA regulations that require corporations to reduce mercury emissions, regardless of cost. By the same token, he supported 22 pro-labor decisions made by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

However, on four cases Garland shied away from his philosophy of judicial restraint in favor of pro-labor policies.

The fact that Garland is far friendlier to labor unions than Scalia ever was has serious consequences for unions. Any Supreme Court pick by Obama would likely have ruled on labor’s side when it came to the Freidrichs v. California Teachers Association case which the Supreme Court recently began hearing arguments. Had Scalia lived, the court would have reached a 5-4 ruling against public sector unions and cut off member contributions, a major source of union funds.

Now, the Supreme Court will be split on a decision 4-4 and thus the lower court’s decision in favor of unions will likely remain in place.

Who is Merrick Garland?

Garland is the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals. Educated at Harvard for both his bachelor’s and law degree, he served in the Justice Department during both the Carter and Clinton Administrations. After serving in the Justice Department, he received his appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

So he’s pretty qualified.

In choosing Garland, Obama sought a figure who would have an impeccable resume and ideally bipartisan support since he previously praised publicly by Senators such as Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who has fought against labor rights for years.

What Happens Next?

It’s going to be a rough fight. In an era of gridlock inducing issues, a Supreme Court nomination is one of the biggest. Since Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987, the opposing party has called the decisions of any nominee “too liberal or “too conservative” and many have been defeated. The process has become so dramatic they’re making a movie about it.

Prominent Democrats have already started rallying behind Garland as the first steps to confirming Garland. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, United Auto Workers (UAW) President Dennis Williams, and SEIU President Mary Kay Henry have all issued statements supporting Garland. Henry said regarding Garland that “His records shows that he believes in the duty of government to protect regular Americans, and our democracy, from being corrupted by the excesses of the super wealthy and their corporate agenda.”

Senate Republicans have already forcefully declared that any nomination made Obama would be blocked. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).have they will not even allow the Senate to consider Garland.

Unless Obama tries to build a wall on the Mexican border himself, it’s going to be nearly impossible to get Garland confirmed.

 

The Decline of American Labor

The New York Times today published an article by Steven Greenhouse describing the decline of the American Labor movement from its height as a cornerstone of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign.

The New York Times today published an article by Steven Greenhouse describing the decline of the American Labor movement from its height as a cornerstone of John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign.

The author’s main point is that unions no longer have the power to deliver the votes of the members to their preferred candidate of Hillary Clinton against Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

Support among their own rank and file would be far less of challenge to organize than defeating some of their larger foes. Clinton has been making many appearances with union leaders on the campaign trail. Persuasive pamphlets can easily be distributed to members. While many of the rank and file may support Sanders in the primary, he is far less of a threat to their power than Trump.

Turning the rank and file against Trump or any other eventual Republican nominee would only be the top of labor’s clout if it wishes to stay relevant. Even if Hillary Clinton is elected President, unions would need to continue to fight on multiple fronts at once.

The author points to the rise of the Right fueling by the Koch brothers’ money machine Americans for Prosperity as the reason labor has lost ground in Wisconsin, Michigan, and now West Virginia.

The problem for Labor is how to gain an edge at the bargaining table. Or quite simply, how it must learn to play on the battlefield of the 21st century world, which is far more global than the time period when Labor reach its zenith in the mid -20th century.

Furthermore, unions been unable to reverse their ever dwindling numbers. At its peak, one-third of the American workforce was a member of a labor union at the height of the modern industrial era.

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According to the chart above which originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the percent of union membership declined from nearly 25% in 1973 to 11.1% in 2014. Without their former numbers maintaining a financial disadvantage has taken its toll.

Labor was assailed from all sides at one point: big and small business owners fought labor in the marketplace while many social liberal interest groups fought for a voice in the Democratic Party.

Granted, labor has made some strategic alliances with all groups at one point or another. Many leaders of unions come from a variety of backgrounds and include women now. An unsound environmental project might also have poor labor standards. Academics in eastern universities often ponder many of the questions of salary and employment that unions worry.

To combat the Americans for Prosperity, labor needs to find a way to increase its support among the general public to help it at the bargaining table both with elected officials and other interest groups.

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