Archive for unions

Poll-itics: SCOTUS approvals near lowest "in 14-year trend"

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SCOTUS, SCOTUS, SCOTUS, what are we going to do with you? Well, here's an idea: Elect Progressive presidents who will replace right wing extremist Supreme Court justices (and other judges) who decide cases that are turning this country upside down.

This Supreme Court has:

  • ruled in favor of prayers in city council meetings (read: Christian prayers);
  • eliminated buffer zones around abortion and contraception medical centers in Massachusetts so that women can now be intimidated and threatened literally within an inch of their lives;
  • weakened unions by ruling that they could not force home-care workers to join them and pay dues;
  • and, of course, allowed Hobby Lobby and other family-owned businesses to decide what kind of birth control their employees could use based on their bosses' religious beliefs. Not the workers' beliefs, mind you, because apparently, corporate religion trumps that of the individual.

And don't get me started on Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions allowing corporate money to attempt to buy elections the way Willard "Mitt" Romney buys car elevators.

According to Gallup, this has affected the court's popularity. Democrats in particular are not too thrilled with this SCOTUS. If that's the case, you know what to do: Vote. In droves. Swarm the polls. Help to register other voters and get them to the ballot box, too.

gallup scotus

Gallup:

Americans remain divided in their assessments of the U.S. Supreme Court, with 47% approving of the job it is doing, and 46% disapproving. These ratings are consistent with approval last September, when 46% approved and 45% disapproved, and rank among the lowest approval ratings for the court in Gallup's 14-year trend. [...]

Republican approval of the Supreme Court is up 21 percentage points since last September, from 30% in 2013 to 51%. Independents' approval shows little change, going from 47% to 46%. Support among Democrats, on the other hand, is down [...]

Americans' current views more closely reflect the court's own ideological divisions in these two recent decisions, rather than its bipartisan unanimity.

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About that Other SCOTUS Ruling on Monday

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With so much focus on the horrific Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, we seem to have forgotten about the millions of workers who'll be screwed by the other decision handed down by the Court on Monday in Harris v Quinn. As my friend Dave Johnson wrote at OurFuture.org, 

In case you were wondering why it is so hard for regular working people to get ahead in our economy, look no further than today’s Harris v. Quinn Supreme Court decision. In the usual 5-4 pattern, the corporate-conservatives on the Supreme Court struck another blow against the rights of working people to organize and try to get ahead.

Home care workers (mostly women) in Illinois (like elsewhere) were on their own, working long hours for very low pay. They were treated poorly and did not have any job security. So they organized and a majority voted to join a union, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Health Care Illinois-Indiana (SEIU-HCII). The union then worked with the state of Illinois to forge a contract to deliver services to elderly and disabled state residents. Since they formed the union, they were able almost double their hourly wages and they get health insurance, regular professional training and representation from the union.

An anti-union organization, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTWLDF) – funded by the Koch and Walton families and others – brought the Harris v. Quinn suit against the union. This suit wound its way through the courts and finally the Supreme Court decided to rule on it.

The Court decided that a contract between the state of Illinois and Medicaid-funded home care workers cannot require the covered workers to pay a “fair-share fee” that covers the costs of benefits they receive from union representation. This “fair-share fee” (union dues) covers the costs of the union’s activities – collecting bargaining, implementing and enforcing the contract including making sure people are paid the right amounts, representing employees at grievance hearings, etc.

The Court decided that the “free speech” interests of those who object to paying for representation outweigh the right of the democratically elected majority that formed the union and the state to enter into a contract that requires home care workers to pay those costs in exchange for the services those costs bring to the employees.

Justice Samuel Alito said that “free speech” means this union cannot collect this fee, writing, “The First Amendment prohibits the collection of an agency fee from personal assistants in the Rehabilitation Program who do not wrote to join or support the union.”

The workers can still join unions. They can still collectively bargain. The union is still their sole bargaining agent. They just don’t have to pay fair-share fees because that violates their “free speech.”

As for "Justice" Alito's assertion that this ruling covers only these home care workers who, he claims,  are not the same as other state employees because they work for individuals in private homes, that will now be tested too.

The Washington Post reports

Activists behind a lawsuit pending in federal court in California say the Harris ruling has set the stage for their complaint, which challenges the constitutionality of a California requirement that public school teachers must pay union dues regardless of whether they choose to join the union.

In fact, the majority opinion criticized as “questionable” the 1977 Supreme Court decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that gave states the authority to compel public employees to pay union dues.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten joined me on the show this morning to discuss how this ruling could cripple the remaining public sector unions, noting that the private sector unions had already been decimated.  We also talked about the attacks on public education she's facing from all sided - from teacher tenure (which, she explained, is just due process - something all employees should have) and the charter school problem.

For a great explanation of the Harris v Quinn decision, including its history and ramifications, check out Harold Meyerson's "Supreme Court Rules Disadvantaged Workers Should Be Disadvantaged Some More" at the American Prospect.

Every Wednesday morning, I spend some time chatting with Susie Madrak of Crooks & Liars. Today, just as we were discussing the technical problems that plagued me all morning and her explanation being Mercury coming out of retrograde today possibly being the cause, my internet went out! Once we got past that, we talked about the insanity of these Court decisions and the burdens on the average American.

Tomorrow, we'll have our pre Fourth of July show...  compete with the No More Bullshit Minute and some fabulous female facts, and whatever the day hands us..  radio or not!

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Supremely Wrong

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The Supreme Court has now adjourned until the first Monday in October. My only wish is that they all ride off into obscurity. Or at least the five of them who insisted on being on the wrong side of everything today.

The justices decided to wait until today to render their final two opinions - one that sticks a knife through the heart of organized labor in the US, the other further eroding the separation of church and state - and underscoring the second class citizen status of women in America.

The first decision offered this morning was in Harris v. Quinn (follow the link for the full decision).  

At issue:

(1) Whether a state may, consistent with the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, compel personal care providers to accept and financially support a private organization as their exclusive representative to petition the state for greater reimbursements from its Medicaid programs; and (2) whether the lower court erred in holding that the claims of providers in the Home Based Support Services Program are not ripe for judicial review.

In plain English, what was at stake in this case:

  • Home health care workers in IL want the court to rule that public sector unions cannot collect fees from workers who aren't union members.
  • The idea behind compulsory fees for nonmembers is that the union negotiates the contract for all workers, so they all should share in the cost of that work.

The court has been hostile to unions in recent years, and today's ruling hasn't altered that. Time magazine explains the ramifications:

The Supreme Court decided Monday that public sector unions cannot collect “fair share” fees from non-union-members, in a 5-4 decision that dealt unions a sharp blow.

The much-awaited decision limits, but does not reverse, the court’s well-trodden ruling from 1977, known as Abood. In that case, the court found that requiring non-union-members to pay “fair share” fees did not violate workers’ First Amendment rights, so long as those fees do not go to advancing specifically “political or ideological” ends.

The decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, marks a loss for public sector unions, which may see their coffers and power depleted in coming years, although it’s not the worst-case scenario that many labor activists feared. The ruling stopped short of finding all “fair share” dues unconstitutional. It also does not affect all full-time public employees, but only a category called “partial public employees,” which includes a growing sector of home heath care workers.

The decision also marks a victory for the anti-union group, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, which is backed by many hardline conservatives, including the Koch family.

As if the YouTube technical difficulty we had a the top of today's show wasn't bad enough! But wait, it gets worse!

The final opinion offered was in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby (follow the link for the decision). Ahead of the actual decision being handed down, we learned that Justice Alito had authored both of them, setting the stage for bad news on both.

Needless to say, the court ruled that

the government can’t require closely held corporations with religious owners to provide contraception coverage, though the government may provide alternative ways to obtain or access coverage.

Mother Jones quickly digested Ruth Bader Ginsberg's "blistering dissent" and offers the 8 best lines from it:

•  Ginsburg wrote that her five male colleagues, "in a decision of startling breadth," would allow corporations to opt out of almost any law that they find "incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."

•  "The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers' beliefs access to contraceptive coverage"

•  "Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community."

•  "Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby's or Conestoga's plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman's autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults."

•  "It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage."

•  "Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today's decision."

•  "Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be 'perceived as favoring one religion over another,' the very 'risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude."

•  "The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield."

To help put this decision in perspective, I was joined today by Greg Lipper, senior litigation counsel at Americans United for Separation of Church & State, who agreed that the recent decisions, including  Town of Greece v. Galloway are heading toward erasing that precarious line separating church and state.

In the first hour, after dealing with those pesky technical issues while digesting the Supremely fucked up decisions, I spoke with Howie Klein of Down With Tyranny and the Blue America PAC about the relentless fundraising spam over the past few days (that will only get worse today!), and the Human Rights Campaign's horrendous endorsement of Susan Collins over the awesome Shenna Bellows.

Tomorrow, we'll delve a bit more deeply into some of the Supreme Court's recent attacks on women's rights with RHRealityCheck's Jessica Mason Plieko, and we'll lighten things up a bit with GottaLaff too... radio or not!

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Chicago Shakman 'Patronage' Decrees Lifted, To the Delight of Mayor Rahm

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Chicago

On the tap-shoe heels of Hot Rod Blagojevich (was that scandale really before we fully knew that we loved Obama?!?) and his incarceration-worthy gubernatorial cabaret, one wouldn't have thought Illinois would start deregulating their oversight on what Republicans deplore about Chicago politics.

One would be wrong. According to the New York Times earlier this week, it's only going to get easier to maintain the decades of Democratic leadership unique to the 'nuanced' political practices in the Windy Cit-ay. The old 'patronage' oversight has been lifted.

The so called Shakman decrees, that lashing out of the GOP at what they saw as the runaway union led embrace of Democrats that is ongoing to this day - despite Shakman's best efforts in 1969.

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It's fitting for Rahm Emmanuel to be handed back the freedoms and original #UniteBlue spirit that were stolen away via that debacle. And to restore some dignity after Blago up there.

The judge said at a court hearing that the administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel has taken proper steps to prove that it has complied with a decades-old accord, known as the Shakman decrees, named after the lawyer, Michael Shakman, who successfully took a stand against the Chicago political machine in a lawsuit in 1969.

Rahm Emmanuel taking the reins from the Irish Machine, the dynastic brotherhood of political dedication that brought the best of Old and New world corruption and consensus knowledge together … that was a transition worth noting.

The Daley family sacrificed a great deal in the name of public service to benefit Democrats and the Unions that the City of Big Shoulders was raised up by - but the power that clan held in return needed hands as strong as those of an Emmanuel brother to carry it safely forward.

The Times unpacked the decision's import going forward.

Mr. Shakman, now 71, supported the lifting of the decree and said in an interview on Monday that he had not anticipated how long it would take.

“Patronage is a cultural problem, and cultural reform is difficult,” he said. “I think it reflects the progress that’s been made.”

Now this is where a mental picture of a happy as hell Rahm Emmanuel comes in handy. Oh, here you go.

Image, Washington Post

Image, Washington Post

The decision was gleefully welcomed by Mr. Emanuel, who is eager for Chicago to shed its image as a place where political favoritism rules. Mr. Emanuel testified on Monday, telling the judge that the end of the Shakman decrees would point “the way to Chicago’s future.”

This is a victory for the People. Clans, tribes, unions, organized communities … all those scary-to-Fux-Nation groups that aren't corporations.

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Decades of research show that teachers are not the problem. #Vergara got it wrong.

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Vergara
I’ve covered the Vergara trial pretty extensively, thanks to and with the help of my contacts who attended. But unfortunately, there's a sad ending: The judge sided with the billionaires over the public school teachers.

For those of us who paid attention to the trial, it was pretty clear that this was never about how to improve education. If it were, they would have focused on trivial little things that actually matter to, you know, student outcomes and achievement.

Nowhere in the decision does the judge mention important matters like poverty, segregation, unequal funding or the consequences of high-stakes testing. The decision actually reads like like it was written by, you should excuse the expression, a Michelle Rhee-ish "reformer."

What’s amazing is that there was evidence presented by the best education experts that said the “reformers” are wrong. Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond and Harvard’s Susan Moore Johnson are considered the best in the field of education. The judge completely ignored what they had to say. Berkeley’s Jesse Rothstein completely refuted Chetty and Kane, noting that using student test scores to judge teachers just doesn’t work.

AFT president Randi Weingarten really got it right. Here's her this statement:

"It's surprising that the court, which used its bully pulpit when it came to criticizing teacher protections, did not spend one second discussing funding inequities, school segregation, high poverty or any other out-of-school or in-school factors that are proven to affect student achievement and our children.  We must lift up solutions that speak to these factors—solutions like wraparound services, early childhood education and project-based learning.”

BUT... there are some rays of hope. First, this was only a superior court judge. Which means it will be appealed. And this is a pretty darned thin decision without much reasoning. Why, it's almost as if the judge said “I don’t like teachers unions, so I’m going to side with the other guys.”

Even one ed reformer pointed out that there are problems with this decision. So let's keep our fingers and toes crossed that this will be overturned on appeal.

Second, CA Superintendent of Public Education Tom Torlakson came out against the decision. He’s doing a fantastic job, which is why hedge funds and ed deformers are funding his challenger, Marshall Tuck, a guy who has never taught.

"All children deserve great teachers. Attracting, training, and nurturing talented and dedicated educators are among the most important tasks facing every school district, tasks that require the right mix of tools, resources, and expertise. Today's ruling may inadvertently make this critical work even more challenging than it already is.

"While I have no direct jurisdiction over the statutes challenged in this case, I am always ready to assist the Legislature and Governor in their work to provide high-quality teachers for all of our students. Teachers are not the problem in our schools, they are the solution."

For those of us who really care about crazy things like equity and preserving a public education system that serves all kids, regardless of their zip code, the take away should be this: the privatizers will do anything to create headlines that pits teachers against students.

That is sad.  We have to continue to show that teachers and students are on the same side. When you attack a teacher, you hurt a student. I know that, having taught in public schools for years. Attacks like Vergara must stop.

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Soros is no Koch brother

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Soros is no Koch brother, close up

Those on the right love to compare the Kochtopus to George Soros. Yes, both the Koch brothers (scroll) and George Soros are wealthy individuals who donate to the party and candidates of their choice. They're allowed to by law, even more so under the most recent (and terrible) Supreme Court decision.  But that's where the comparison should end.

Which brings us to today's Los Angeles Times letter to the editor about the difference between these "big spenders":

Re "Big spenders," Letters, April 8

One letter writer asserts that exposing the Koch brothers' financial involvement in various conservative causes is mudslinging. He claims their political spending is no different than that of major Democratic donors such as George Soros and unions.

What the writer fails to acknowledge is that the Kochs fund a web of foundations and organizations created by and for themselves to promote their own views. Their political groups are given populist-sounding names — such as Americans for Prosperity — that distract from their real purpose, which is to protect the Kochs' extraordinary personal fortune.

And, but for their wealth, many of these organizations would either cease to exist or lack real political clout.

In comparison, when Soros and unions make political donations, they do not take extraordinary lengths to hide their involvement. We know to whom they gave and how much. The same cannot be said for the Kochs.

That is the difference.

Robert J. Switzer

West Hollywood

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Billionaires and Supreme Court undermine our "1st Amendment right not to be drowned out"

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citizens united check republic billionaires Koch brothers dark money

Today Michael Hiltzik gets a twofer at TPC, this time regarding the appalling Supreme Court decision that favors billionaires, the decision that extends the influence of big money on elections... brought to us by SCOTUS's previous Citizens United ruling.

Via a New York Times email alert:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a major campaign finance decision, striking down limits on federal campaign contributions for the first time. The ruling, issued near the start of a campaign season, will change and probably increase the role money plays in American politics.

The decision, by a 5-to-4 votes along ideological lines, was a sort of sequel to Citizens United, the 2010 decision that struck down limits on independent campaign spending by corporations and unions. But that ruling did nothing to disturb the other main form of campaign finance regulation: caps on direct contributions to candidates and political parties.

I'm beyond furious, way past frustrated, and drowning in worry over turning on enormous spigots of money that will drown out the majority of ordinary (aka 99% of us) political donors. Our voices will no longer be heard (are they now?) over the deafening ka-chings and the triumphant stomping all over our rights and campaign finance reform efforts.

We are being silenced by five Supreme Court Justices and the powerful entities with gigantic bank accounts to which they genuflect. Money talks, we're just audience members. But we are not applauding.

booo

Think it was bad before? You ain't seen nothin' yet. You thought Sheldon Adelson and the ass-kissing at Jewish Mingle were obscene? Billionaires like him are just getting started. Super PACs are morphing into Super Duper PACs, Mingles will become orgies, and the kajillions of TV ads will turn into mini-series sponsored by Deep Pockets, Inc.

Anyone still wondering why the GOP is trying to kill labor unions? If so, here's why: They tend to support Democrats, and those very few union sources for campaign cash are dwindling:

chart maddow unions v corps campaign spending smaller

Hiltzik:

The notion that an unrelenting torrent of money can suborn the entire political process doesn't seem to occur to Chief Roberts.

Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the minority, didn't accept this charade. [...]

It's not only the 1st Amendment right to be heard, but also the 1st Amendment right not to be drowned out that are at issue, he wrote:

"The First Amendment advances not only the individual’s right to engage in political speech, but also the public’s interest in preserving a democratic order in which collective speech matters.... Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard."

For proof, he needed to go no further than the majority opinion.

So what do we do? Vote in droves. It's time to stop the endless obstruction by the GOP: Obstruction to voting rights, civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, and constitutional rights. Get. Out. The. Vote. We can do this.

Please read the entire piece by Hiltzik here.

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