It won’t be formal until next Tuesday (thanks to a five-day delay requirement for bills passed by both Houses), but the Michigan legislature has indeed approved “right-to-work” legislation in a lame-duck session blitzkrieg of enormous audacity. There were no hearings, no public debate, and virtually no warning before the famously pro-labor state joined the Greater South in declaring itself union-unfriendly territory, as Gov. Rick Snyder abruptly reversed his prior opposition to consideration of such legislation. That very day the hammer came down in a series of votes.
One of the right-to-work bills (the one affecting public-sector workers) passed the Michigan House by a 58-52 margin, just one vote below the number of Republicans who will serve in the next session. This reinforces the impression that GOpers feared they wouldn’t have to votes to enact right-to-work had they utilized the normal legislative process and waited until representatives elected on November 6 were in place.
The panic-stricken nature of the GOP coup wasn’t much reflected in the bland and empty public rationales offered for it by Snyder:
In an interview with The Associated Press, Snyder said he had kept the issue at arm’s length while pursuing other programs to bolster the state economy. But he said circumstances had pushed the matter to the forefront.
“It is a divisive issue,” he acknowledged. “But it was already being divisive over the past few weeks, so let’s get this resolved. Let’s reach a conclusion that’s in the best interests of all.”
Also influencing his decision, he said, were reports that some 90 companies had decided to locate in Indiana since that state adopted right-to-work legislation. “That’s thousands of jobs, and we want to have that kind of success in Michigan,” he said.
OMG, Indiana’s screwing its workers, so Michigan has to do the same right now! This is very literally a “race to the bottom” if ever there has been one.
Because Republican legislators shrewdly attached an appropriation to the bill, it will not be subject to reversal by initiative. Looks like November 2014 will be the first opportunity for some accountability, when the entire legislature is up for re-election, along with Snyder.
The Michigan Senate’s Democratic Leader, Gretchen Whitmer, had a tart description of the entire manuever:
“These guys have lied to us all along the way,” she said. “They are pushing through the most divisive legislation they could come up with in the dark of night, at the end of a lame-duck session and then they’re going to hightail it out of town. It’s cowardly.”
And a fine “happy holidays” to Michigan workers, too.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 7, 2012
“Michigan, A Right-to-Work State?”: Purely Political, Motivated By A Desire To Punish Supporters Of The Democratic Party
Labor never ruled Michigan as such. It may have been home to the best and biggest American union, the United Auto Workers, but even at the height of their power, the UAW could seldom elect its candidates to Detroit city government. Still, the UAW dominated the state’s Democratic Party and much of state politics for decades—at least, until the auto industry radically downsized.
Just how downsized union power has become is apparent from the decision of the state’s Republican governor, Rick Snyder, to support a right-to-work bill that began speeding its way through the state’s lame-duck GOP-controlled legislature on Thursday. Should the bill become law—and given Republican control of state government, it’s hard to envision how it won’t—Michigan would join historically more conservative Indiana as the second state from the industrial Midwest to move to right-to-work status. Until last year, when Indiana enacted its statute, right-to-work states were confined to the South, the Plains states and the Mountain West—states devoid of a major union presence. That such laws are now coming to the industrial Midwest is just more evidence of the continual weakening of industrial unions—the unions that have taken the most direct hit from offshoring and mechanization.
But why enact such laws when most unions are no longer big enough to take any bite out of company profits? In fact, the pressure for such laws isn’t coming from companies like Ford or GM, which can how hire new union workers for half of what they pay their more veteran workers. It’s purely political. Weakened though they be in the economic arena, unions still punch well above their weight at election time. That’s one reason why President Obama carried every state in the industrial Midwest save (almost) perpetually Republican Indiana.
And if anyone doubts that politics lies behind the Michigan Republicans’ decision to enact a right-to-work bill, consider one of the bill’s particulars: the only unions it exempts from the bill’s coverage, the Wall Street Journal is reporting, are police and firefighter unions. Snyder said that the GOP had carved out that exception because their jobs needed protection from labor strife.
Think about that for a moment. The effect of the Republicans’ exemption would be to ensure police and firefighters have the strongest unions in the state, the ones most capable of taking job actions when they sought to better their pay and working conditions. Elsewhere across the U.S. today, states and cities are trying to scale back pensions and other benefits of their employees, and police and firefighters are often targeted because their pay and benefits exceed those of other public workers. Moreover, historically, governors and mayors have been wary of the power of such unions—Republican governors and mayors in particular. Massachusetts Gov. Calvin Coolidge first came to the nation’s attention by breaking a Boston police strike in 1919—“There is no right to strike against the public safety,” he proclaimed. It was his strikebreaking that won him a place on the 1920 Republican ticket.
Now, however, Snyder, like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, has created a police-and-firefighter carve out. The reason is purely political—in Michigan, as in Wisconsin, the police and firefighter unions often support Republicans for state and local office, and Republicans want to make sure that they’ll continue to do so with undiminished clout. The carve-out, said Michigan House Democratic leader Tim Greimel, “makes it very clear that this is not about sound economic policy. It’s motivated by a desire to punish supporters of the Democratic Party.”
By: Harold Meyerson, Editor-at-Large, The American Prospect, December 7, 2012
Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate underscores the central question posed by this campaign: Should cold selfishness become the template for our society, or do we still believe in community?
Romney wanted the election to be seen as a referendum on the success or failure of President Obama’s economic policies. Instead, he has revealed that the campaign is really a choice between two starkly different philosophies. One could be summed up as: “We’re all in this together.” The other: “I’ve got mine.”
This is not about free enterprise, and it’s not about personal liberty; those fundamental principles are unquestioned. But for at least the past 100 years, we have understood capitalism and freedom to exist within a larger context — a complicated, real-world, human context. Some people begin life at a disadvantage, and it’s in the national interest to open doors of opportunity for them. Some people make mistakes, and it’s in the national interest to create second chances. Some people are too young, too old or too infirm to care for themselves, and it’s in the national interest to secure their welfare.
This sense of the balance between individualism and community fueled the American Century. Romney and Ryan apparently don’t believe in it.
It is well known that Ryan, at least for most of his career, has been enamored of the ideas of Ayn Rand, the novelist (“Atlas Shrugged,” “The Fountainhead”) whose interminable books tout self-interest as the highest, noblest human calling and equate capitalist success with moral virtue. Ryan now disavows Rand’s worldview, primarily because she was an atheist, but he lavishly praised her ideas as recently as 2009.
What about Romney? While he has never pledged allegiance to the Cult of Rand, his view of society seems basically the same.
At least three times in recent days, as part of his response to President Obama’s “You didn’t build that” peroration, Romney has told campaign audiences variations of the following: “When a young person makes the honor roll, I know he took a school bus to get to the school, but I don’t give the bus driver credit for the honor roll.”
When he delivered that line in Manassas on Saturday with Ryan in tow, Romney drew wild applause. He went on to say that a person who gets a promotion and raise at work, and who commutes to the office by car, doesn’t owe anything to the clerk at the motor vehicles department who processes driver’s licenses.
What I hear Romney saying, and I suspect many others will also hear, is that the little people don’t contribute and don’t count.
I don’t know whether Romney’s sons ever rode the bus to school. I do know that for most parents, it matters greatly who picks up their children in the morning and drops them off in the afternoon.
It may not be the driver’s job to help with algebra homework, but he or she bears enormous responsibility for safely handling the most precious cargo imaginable. A good bus driver gets to know the children, maintains order and discipline, deals with harassment and bullying. Romney may not realize it, but a good driver plays an important role in ensuring a child’s physical and emotional well-being — and may, in fact, be the first adult to whom the child proudly displays a report card with all A’s.
School bus drivers don’t make a lot of money. Nor, for that matter, do the clerks who help keep unqualified drivers and unsafe vehicles off the streets. But these workers are not mere cogs in a machine designed to service those who make more money. They are part of a community.
The same is true of teachers, police officers, firefighters and others whom Romney and Ryan dismiss as minions of “big government” rather than public servants.
And what do the Republicans offer their supposed heroes, the entrepreneurs who start small businesses? The few who succeed wildly would be rewarded with tax cuts so huge that they, like Romney, might one day have a dressage horse competing in the Olympics. Most of those who just manage to scrape by, or whose businesses fail, could look forward to only as much health care in their senior years as they are able to afford, and not one bit more.
This is a campaign Democrats should relish. The United States became the world’s dominant economic, political and military power by recognizing that we are all in this together. School bus drivers, too.
By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 13, 2012
“The GOP’s Favorite Government Jobs”: Republicans Didn’t Realize Government Budget Cuts Result In Layoffs
Politico’s Austin Wright has a crazy little story about a spat between congressional Republicans and the Labor Department that hinges on the possibility of mass defense contractor layoffs.
The fight is over whether defense contractors are required to send out notices warning their workers of layoffs that would kick in as a result of the large defense spending cuts due Jan. 1 — aka”sequestration.”
Republicans say yes, citing the WARN Act, which requires large employers to give 60 days’ notice of possible layoffs. The GOP has been chortling in glee at the prospect of such notices going out to every single employee of the largest defense contractors, because the 60-day countdown just happens to arrive four days before Election Day. Because, you know, layoffs are bad, even if they mean Big Government is shrinking.
But the Labor Department says no! Labor’s main argument is based on the reasoning that sequestration is not inevitable — Democrats and Republicans still have time to come to a budget deal that would avoid sharp defense cuts. (Indeed the whole point of sequestration was that the prospect of such cuts was supposedly so drastic that it would force a compromise.)
According to Politico’s Wright, congressional Republicans consider the Labor Department’s decision a “political stunt.” That accusation has a high likelihood of being true, but it seems just a little bit hypocritical coming from Republicans who are hoping that layoff notices timed to be delivered just before Election Day will help their own electoral chances.
And that’s hardly the tip of the hypocrisy iceberg. Buried beneath the surface of this latest example of Washington dysfunction is a basic truth: Government budget cuts result in layoffs. That’s not good during a period of very slow economic growth. And yet, Republicans seem to have little problem when the newly unemployed are teachers or firefighters. But when defense’s ox is getting gored, then it becomes a big deal, and then the layoffs are presumed to be Obama’s fault and thus embarrassing to the White House.
By: Andrew Leonard, Salon, August 6, 2012
Remember that time when Congress almost defaulted on our debt? It may seem like a distant nightmare, but we’re still living with repercussions from the debt ceiling showdown. In order to get Congress to lift the ceiling a year ago, President Obama struck a deal that will cut $2.4 trillion in spending over ten years and formed a Congressional committee that was supposed to recommend ways to cut another $1.5 trillion from the deficit. If the committee failed to come up with the cuts, sequestration would kick into gear, with $1 trillion in cuts evenly split between defense and non-defense spending come January 2. The latter never came to fruition, so we’re now on a collision course with the former.
These automatic cuts, known as sequestration, have (unsurprisingly) become a political hot potato. They’ve even trickled into the campaign trail. But if the cuts move forward, the pain won’t just be political. They’ll hurt everyday Americans—but not across the board. Women are going to shoulder a disproportionate amount of the burden. While the defense lobby has been loudly pushing back on the $500 million to be slashed from its budgets, the $500 million cuts from domestic programs could be devastating, especially for women.
Education will take a big hit, which impacts women in more ways than one. Immediately of concern will be the fact that 100,000 children could get bumped from Head Start’s rolls, out of a total of 962,000. That’s because the automatic cuts will take a $590 million chunk out of federal spending on the program. That comes on top of a huge decline in state financing for the program over the past decade or so—it fell 45 percent, or $122 million. While there have been concerns raised about whether Head Start’s effects actually stay with enrollees, working mothers need more childcare options when they head to their jobs, not fewer. Less than 60 percent of 3-to-5-year-olds are enrolled in an organized childcare or early education program, and just about half of low-income children are. Those numbers can only go down after these cuts take effect.
Speaking of childcare, working mothers who rely on options other than Head Start will also suffer. Assistance for 80,000 kids will dry up after the cuts take effect. The recession has already hammered this spending at the state level. While federal funds had flowed in to support these programs through the stimulus, by the end of 2010 the money had dried up. That meant that thirty-seven states pulled back on assistance in one form or another last year, making families worse off than a decade ago, according to analysis by the National Women’s Law Center.
Women will also, of course, share some of the pain from cuts to other programs like AIDS drug assistance and substance abuse treatment programs. And while these cuts sound bad now, they could actually get worse down the road. While there’s now a “firewall” between defense and non-defense spending to make sure both are equally cut, that disappears after two years. NWLC has warned that this could mean a bigger share of the cuts fall on the non-security programs at that point.
The spending cuts will trickle down in other ways. It’s not just mothers who will find their struggles increasing. Women are the majority of the public sector workforce—and they’ve lost more than their share of those jobs as federal and state spending has been slashed during the recovery. These cuts will only push that trend along. Cuts to Head Start alone will eliminate 30,000 teacher, aide and administrative positions.
Other public sector workers could be hit. If (and when) federal spending is cut from state and local budgets, many may have to eye even more government layoffs. Just after the debt ceiling deal was announced, mayors and governors were already bracing for the cuts to impact their budgets. Budget restrictions at the federal level also mean many agencies will likely have to turn to furloughs, hiring freezes and layoffs.
The sequestration cuts may have morphed into an election-year football, but they have real consequences for Americans who are already struggling to get by. And women, who have really suffered from the sluggish recovery, are going to be hit fastest and hardest. While figures in the millions and billions are hurled like insults from side of the aisle to the other, it’s worth keeping in mind how drastic the real-life consequences will be and who will feel them.
By: Bryce Covert, The Nation, July 30, 2012