It’s Labor Day, but some of us are still working, like yours truly and the president:
President Obama rallied union workers here Monday, announcing a new executive order that will require federal contractors to offer employees up to seven paid sick days a year, a move that the White House said could benefit more than 300,000 workers.
Obama made the announcement during a Labor Day speech as he continues a year-long effort to pressure Congress to approve legislation that would provide similar benefits for millions of private-sector workers. The president highlighted a Massachusetts law, approved by voters in November, that provides employees with up to 40 hours of sick leave per year. That law went into effect in July.
My guess is that Republicans will just ignore this latest action, not because they aren’t opposed to it but because there’s little they have to gain by making a fuss about it. Because it’s limited to federal contractors, most of whom do quite well suckling at government’s teat, they aren’t going to hear a whole lot of complaining from employers about it. And mandating paid sick leave is spectacularly popular: in a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, 85 percent of those surveyed said they supported it, including 77 percent of Republicans.
Like other actions Obama has taken on labor rules, this is a limited version of a policy he’d like to see adopted nationally. Obama has advocated a national law mandating that workers get paid sick leave, and there is such a bill in Congress that Democrats have introduced, called the Healthy Families Act. But Republicans have no intention of allowing it to come to a vote. While there’s nothing much Obama can do about that, he is allowed to set rules for federal contractors, a power he has employed before. Because these are executive orders, a future Republican president could undo them, though there’s no guarantee he or she would; on one hand, the GOP is opposed to pretty much any expansion of worker rights, while on the other hand, they might decide rolling these rules back isn’t worth the bad publicity.
There are two basic questions at play here, one more philosophical and one more practical. The first is whether government has any role at all to play in setting the terms of the relationship between employers and employees. While few conservatives would say outright that the answer to that question is no, in practice they oppose almost every regulation of that relationship that exists. For instance, many conservatives don’t just oppose raising the minimum wage; they also say there should be no minimum wage at all, because the free market should set wage levels. If there’s an employer who wants to pay somebody a dollar an hour to do some job, and there’s someone willing to do it for that little, why should government get in their way?
You might think I’m caricaturing conservative views, but there is an entire movement in conservative legal circles seeking to return to a turn-of-the-century conception of government’s ability to regulate the workplace, one that prevailed before we had laws on things such as overtime, workplace safety and child labor (Brian Beutler recently profiled this movement).
The second question is, if we accept that government can set some work rules, what should they be? Even the most liberal advocate wouldn’t argue that any expansion of worker rights is necessarily a good idea; nobody’s suggesting that we set the minimum wage at $100 an hour or force all employers to wash their employees’ cars. But the kind of thing that’s on the table now, like paid sick leave, would only bring us in line with the rest of the industrialized world, where basic worker protections aren’t so controversial. As Democrats always mention, the United States is the only developed country with no legally mandated paid sick leave.
And just like on the minimum wage, where there’s little or no action at the federal level, states and cities are stepping in. As of now there are four states that mandate some form of paid sick leave — California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Connecticut — in addition to a number of big and small cities, including New York, Philadelphia, the District of Columbia and Seattle. As long as there’s no federal sick leave law, activists and liberal legislators will keep pushing for it in more and more places, and given its popularity, they’ll probably succeed more often than they’ll fail.
Most everything on the Democratic agenda for workplaces — a higher minimum wage, expanded overtime, paid sick leave — is extremely popular, which is one of the reasons Republicans would rather focus on something else. And they’re smart enough to know that if they don’t come out in thunderous opposition, the proposals will get a lot less media attention, which means they’re less likely to play a significant role in voters’ decision-making. But when the question “What exactly do you want to do for workers?” gets asked in the presidential campaign, as it surely will, at least the Democrats have an answer.
By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, September 7, 2015
“The GOP Is Trying To Repeal The 20th Century”: The Right’s Crusade Against Overtime Pay, Why They Despise Worker Rights
Silly me: President Obama’s executive order to expand opportunities for overtime pay Thursday seemed like a win-win. Currently, if you make more than $23,000, you can’t necessarily receive overtime; the president’s order would raise that cap, and also make it harder for employers to classify people with almost no supervisory duties as “supervisors” and thus exempt.
Where’s the downside? Newly qualified workers currently being forced to work overtime without pay will now get higher wages. Or, if their employer doesn’t want to spring for the overtime pay (traditionally time and a half), they will have to expand their workforce to get the work done. Higher wages and/or more jobs: Sounds good, right?
Not to Republicans, of course. The backlash to the president’s overtime-pay expansion just makes clear what we’ve known for a long time: They oppose every attempt by government to reward hard work and protect the rights of workers – unless it applies to the very wealthy.
Speaker John Boehner sounded unusually befuddled opposing Obama’s move. “If you don’t have a job, you don’t qualify for overtime. So what do you get out of it? You get nothing,” he told the Washington Post. “The president’s policies are making it difficult for employers to expand employment. And until the president’s policies get out of the way, employers are going to continue to sit on their hands.”
The president’s policies are in fact making it harder for employers to exploit their workers. That’s all. As Jared Bernstein told the New York Times. “I think a potential side effect is that you may see more hiring in order to avoid overtime costs, which would be an awfully good thing right about now.”
Or you’ll see higher wages, which would also be an awfully good thing. One of the major causes of rising income inequality is that back in the 1970s, rising productivity suddenly became detached from rising wages. For decades — since the labor-rights reforms and social welfare advances of the ’30s and ’40s — the two lines climbed in tandem, with higher productivity translating into higher paychecks. The two came apart, in what’s become known as “the great divergence,” at the same time as income inequality began to climb. There are many reasons for the productivity-wage split, including a stagnant minimum wage, declining union membership, and weaker labor rights overall – including less compensated overtime.
Republicans no longer accept that it was government intervention in the economy, first in the Progressive era and then, more forcefully, after the Great Depression, that created the greatest economic boom and the biggest middle class in history. The 40-hour work week. The weekend. Vacations. Child labor laws. The minimum wage. Social Security. Health and safety protection. All of these represented government intervention on the side of working people, to balance the playing field with exploitive employers, and to carve out a realm of family and personal life that could be protected from ceaseless labor. Progressive public policy essentially created childhood, as a time when kids who weren’t wealthy might be educated and protected from labor abuse.
These became bipartisan values, with some debating around the margins, through Richard Nixon’s administration. But then a pro-business backlash put all of those gains back on the table. Republicans are now trying to repeal the 20th century.
“The federal government, in particular, shouldn’t be involved in labor markets in any way, shape or form,” says Jeffrey Miron, economic studies director at the Cato Institute. Cato is a libertarian think tank, but Miron’s once-radical point of view is now the GOP mainstream.
We’ve seen Republicans, like friend-of-the-poor Paul Ryan, fiercely oppose even modest increases in the minimum wage – even though earlier hikes always had a decent amount of bipartisan support. In fact, more Republicans today are openly insisting there shouldn’t even be a minimum wage, from formerly sensible Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his home state ally Rep. Joe Barton. GOP Senate candidates in North Carolina and Iowa have made abolishing the minimum wage a pillar of their campaigns.
We already know Republicans hate unions, whether public or private sector. One of the hottest CPAC sessions last week focused on “the Wisconsin model” of public sector union busting, but we also saw how hard GOP elected officials in Tennessee fought a union drive among Volkswagen workers there.
Some on the right have even clamored to bring back child labor. Newt Gingrich suggested poor kids should work as janitors to earn their school lunches, in order to fight the “culture” of poverty. (Like Paul Ryan, he doesn’t seem to see that food is the best answer for hunger.) Utah’s Tea Party Sen. Mike Lee has declared federal child labor laws “unconstitutional,” while up in Maine, wingnut Gov. Paul LePage would like to lower the legal working age from 16 to 12.
I’ve never understood why Republicans believe rich people need more money to ensure they’ll work harder, but the non-rich don’t deserve such incentives. From skyrocketing CEO pay to lower tax rates, the GOP defends putting more money in the hands of rich folks as a good thing. Giving more money to working people, by contrast, only encourages slackers and moochers. The president can’t wait for Republicans to join the 21st century while they’re busy repealing the 20th. He’s right to do whatever he can to boost workers’ wages on his own.
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, March 14, 2014
There’s a basic, historical misunderstanding at the root of modern Republican philosophy. A little fact that seems to get overlooked. It’s not their insistence that the road to fascism begins with good health care. It’s not even the pretense that President Obama somehow masterminded an economic collapse, bank bailout, and massive deficit weeks, months or years before he came into office. No, the incident that the GOP has let slip is a little more basic.
The South lost.
See, Republicans seem to have mistaken “wage slavery” for … that other kind of slavery. They must have, because anyone who understood that workers are employees, and not property, would recognize that workers have rights. Not just some rights, not a neatly restricted little subset of rights, but the same rights as the people who employ them. They would recognize that the rights of an employer do not include the ability to abridge the rights of an employee.
Only they don’t. When you see Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum or John Boehner railing against government overstep on religion, conscience, what-have-you, you can be 100 percent certain that their concern is that somewhere, somehow an employer might have to allow his employees to do something that, you know, miffs them. That millions of employees might be forced to do without needed health care … doesn’t enter into the equation.
It’s easy to see how employers might be confused, considering all the love being lavished on them by both parties, and with the paeans being sung to them as magical “job creators.” And hey, we already pretty much handed over that fourth amendment to them, what with peeing in a cup or being able to fire people because of an old photo on Facebook. Republicans have been busy reinforcing that lesson by insisting that anyone who collects so much as an unemployment check should be subject to any rules they want to set. It’s no wonder that the line between handing someone a paycheck, and holding someone’s title, should have gotten blurred.
So consider this a primer to the confused American business owners and executives who might have listened just a little to long to all that sweet praise.
As an employer, you have the absolute right to religious freedom. Attend any church, temple, synagogue or reading room you like. Give as you feel obligated. Worship as you please. Place on yourself any restriction in diet, activity or anything else that you feel is in keeping with your beliefs … but only on yourself. You don’t get to impose these restrictions on your employees.
Your employees are separate from you. Not only that, they are equal to you in rights, no matter how unequal you may be in income. You do not get to tell them who to vote for. You do not get to tell them who they can love. You do not get to use your religious beliefs as an excuse to limit their health care.
No matter how strong your personal faith, your employees are not obligated to live according to those beliefs, expressly because they are personal. You may find it frustrating, but your employees have just as much right to their own beliefs as you do to yours, and whether you pay them pittance on an assembly line or six figures as a manager, you have zero right to carve off a slice of their freedom. The direction of the pay arrow has no effect on who gets to dictate to who.
If the government was telling you, as an individual, that you had to use birth control, that would be a violation of your rights. That’s not happening. They’re just saying that you don’t get to make that decision for the people who work for your company. Because, really, you don’t own them.
If you’re still mad; if you’re upset that healthcare has to be funneled through employers at all … there’s a cure for that. It’s called “single payer.”
By: Mark Sumner, Daily Kos, February 19, 2012
Gov. Jan Brewer is pushing a radical anti-union bill that makes Wisconsin’s law look lax.
Not content to let Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich get all the fame (and recall elections, and ballot referenda) for their attempts to curtail union workers’ rights, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators have jumped into the fray and proposed their own anti-union bills in recent weeks.
Along with South Carolina’s Nikki Haley and Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, Arizona’s Jan Brewer, not content with making her state the least friendly to immigrants and people of color, has decided to get in on the union-busting action as well, introducing a bill that makes Walker’s and Kasich’s attacks on public workers look mild.
Brewer, the Republican left in charge of the state after President Obama tapped Janet Napolitano to be his secretary of Homeland Security, has been planning anti-union moves since last spring with the backing of the Goldwater Institute. (Named for Barry Goldwater, the think tank pushes for “freedom” and “prosperity” — as long as it’s not the freedom or prosperity of state workers.)
It’s not just Arizona’s right-wingers who are pushing Brewer to beat up on unions – John Nichols at the Nation notes that Walker may have had a hand in helping push an anti-labor agenda, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is involved. In a speech to the right-wing policy shop behind many of these anti-union bills last year, Brewer complained about her inability to fire government employees and supervisors’ difficulty “disciplining” workers.
This week, the Republicans in the state Legislature introduced moves that would make collective bargaining for public workers completely illegal. Here, we break down what you need to know about Brewer and the GOP’s anti-worker agenda.
1. The bill would go further than Wisconsin’s, making collective bargaining completely illegal for government workers.
SB 1485, the first of the bills to take on union rights, declares that no state agency can recognize any union as a bargaining agent for any public officer or worker, collectively bargain with any union, or meet and confer with any union for the purpose of discussing bargaining.
While Wisconsin’s law bans public employees from bargaining over everything but very small wage increases, Arizona’s bill bans collective bargaining outright and refuses to recognize any union as a bargaining unit. Existing contracts with unions will be honored, but not be renewed if this bill passes.
2. Arizona includes police and firefighters in its ban.
Scott Walker famously exempted public safety workers — police officers and firefighters — from his attacks on union workers, but many of them joined the protests anyway. In Ohio, John Kasich’s bill, overturned by his constituents this past November, included the police and firefighters in its elimination of bargaining rights. Now Brewer and her legislative compatriots have decided that police and firefighters should lose their bargaining rights as well.
Arizona, as Dave Dayen at FireDogLake noted, “is changing to a purple state because of an extreme legislature which first demonized immigrants, in what could start a backlash among the Hispanic community. Now, flush with that success, the legislature will demonize police and firefighters. It’s not exactly a textbook strategy for a lasting majority.”
Walker’s attempt to divide and conquer public sector unions by attacking some and not others didn’t work; perhaps that’s why later attempts at similar bills didn’t bother giving special treatment to public safety workers. But as we saw in Ohio, the support of the traditionally conservative police and firefighters’ unions helped unite the state’s voters and bring out record numbers to vote down the bill. Arizona seems to be asking for trouble by targeting police and firefighters with this bill.
3. The state would ban government employers from deducting union dues automatically from a worker’s paycheck.
Not content with banning bargaining, the Arizona legislature is also out to make sure unions can’t collect any money for the work they do. SB 1487 inserts language into existing law that says “This state and any county, municipality, school district or other political subdivision of this state may not withhold or divert any portion of an employee’s wages to pay for labor organization dues.”
This move obviously is aimed to hit unions right in their wallets — taking away the funding they need in order to do more organizing, and carry out political activity.
4. Arizona would ban the government from allowing employees to do union work on company time.
Laura Clawson at Daily Kos notes that in addition to the other measures, Arizona’s Republicans also want to eliminate “release time,” a practice “in which union stewards and other representatives are allowed to spend work time on certain union functions, such as contract negotiations or handling grievances.”
Union stewards and representatives are full-time employees who take on additional responsibilities on top of their jobs—a move like this makes it harder for them to carry out those responsibilities to their fellow workers without fear of facing sanctions from their bosses. Specifically banned by the bill, SB 1486, are “activities that are performed by a union, union members or representatives that relate to advocating the interests of member employees in wages, benefits, terms and conditions of employment.”
5. Brewer also wants to eliminate any job protections for workers, buying them off with pay raises.
Brewer plans to offer public workers their first pay raise in years, a 5 percent increase. The tradeoff? They have to opt out of job protections some of them currently enjoy, including the right to appeal demotions and protection from being fired without cause – they have to become at-will employees.
Like most “merit pay” arrangements, this one sounds good at first — hard-working people will get raises! — but workers see right through it. Odalys Hinds, who works in the state health lab, told the Arizona Republic, “No way will I do it. I won’t take it — it basically would take away our rights. My retirement’s gone up. My insurance has gone up. There’s going to come a day when I’m going to have to pay the state to work.”
6. Arizona is already a “right-to-work” state
The kicker to all this? Arizona workers already enjoy fewer protections than those in Ohio and Wisconsin. Arizona is a so-called right-to-work state, where unions cannot collect a fair share of the direct costs of representation from workers who opt out of joining the union — even though the union is compelled to represent all workers.
This means that unlike the Midwestern states, Arizona has few union members already and that means there are fewer people who are likely to be outraged and moved to protest by attacks on collective bargaining. Yet Brewer, the Goldwater Institute and the Republicans in the Legislature aren’t content with what they have and are moving to make public sector unions all but irrelevant, by making it nearly impossible for them to do their jobs.
Arizona now has a strong Republican majority in the Legislature, and so barring a change of heart by a handful of GOPers, the anti-union measures are likely to pass. But if Brewer continues to antagonize working people in her state, John Nichols notes, Arizona does have something else in common with Wisconsin — provisions that allow for the recall of the governor and state legislators, provisions that were used just last year to remove Russell Pearce, the state senator responsible for the state’s hideous anti-immigrant law, from office.