Thousands of Furloughed Federal Workers File for Unemployment Benefits

From today’s New York Times:

On the second day of the year, Danielle Miller gave up on the federal government.

Furloughed from her Internal Revenue Service job near Cincinnati and fearful of running out of money during the partial government shutdown, she filed for unemployment benefits: $414 a week, about $200 less than usual.

“Once Christmas came and went, after New Year’s, I was like, I can’t go on,” said Ms. Miller, a single mother who has worked for the I.R.S. for almost 14 years. She spent part of this week calculating when her first unemployment check would arrive. “It’s disappointing, and it’s frustrating,” she said. “I have a job.”

The shutdown, the longest on record, is prompting tens of thousands of federal employees to seek jobless benefits. As the impasse meanders through its fourth week and more bills come due, their numbers have been growing.

On Thursday, two days after the White House doubled its projections and warned that the shutdown was reducing quarterly economic growth by 0.13 percentage points per week, the Labor Department reported 10,454 initial claims by federal workers for the week that ended Jan. 5, doubling the previous week’s figure. Thousands more have applied since, state officials said.

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New York legislature passes major overhaul of outdated voting laws

From today’s edition of The Hill:

New York’s state legislature on Monday passed a package of election and voting reform measures aimed at overhauling one of the most restrictive regimes in the country. The measures, planned by Democrats who reclaimed control of all levers of state government for the first time in modern memory, would allow voters to cast their ballots early or by mail for the first time in state history. They would also allow voters to register and vote on the same day, and it would require the state to hold state and federal primaries on the same day. 

“Easing access to voting and having New Yorkers exercise their Constitutional right to have their voices heard shouldn’t be partisan or controversial,” said state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D). “Other states have taken the lead on issues like early voting, same-day registration, pre-registration and no-excuse absentee voting. It is time for New York State to catch up, so we can once again lead the way forward,” she added. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has signaled he will sign the package of bills. Nine Republicans in the state Senate voted with Democrats to expand voting access. “It’s really significant advance towards bringing NY’s elections into the 21st century,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, which advocated for the overhauls.  

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First teachers’ strike in 30 years leaves half a million L.A. students in limbo

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

With umbrellas in one hand and picket signs in the other, Los Angeles teachers braved cold, drizzly weather Monday morning as they walked off the job in their first strike in 30 years to demand smaller class sizes, more support staff at schools and better pay.

L.A. teachers go on strike

“Let’s be clear, educators don’t want to strike,” United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said to a crowd of supporters during a morning news conference at John Marshall High School in Los Feliz. “We don’t want to miss time with our students. We don’t want to have less money for the car payment or less money for the school supplies that we always end up buying ourselves.”

The strike became inevitable when negotiations broke off late Friday afternoon between the L.A. Unified School District and the teachers union after more than 20 months of bargaining.

Schools are open during the strike, but it’s not clear how many students will head to classes in the nation’s second-largest school system. Staffers at some schools said attendance appeared to be low Monday, but official numbers were not immediately available.

During the last teachers’ strike, about half of the district’s students went to school. The plan at many schools for this strike is to gather students into large groups so they can be supervised by fewer adults. It’s not clear how much learning will be going on outside of the real-time civics lessons happening on the sidewalks.

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Interactive Map: Government Shutdown Is Affecting Federal Workers in All States

From today’s New York Times:

About 800,000 federal workers are furloughed or working without pay across the country because of the government shutdown, many of them concentrated in the West.

Over all, federal workers account for about 1.5 percent of the country’s labor force, with a fifth of them in the Washington metro area. But the shutdown has hit some agencies — and states — harder than others.

Outside the capital, states with large numbers of workers for the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior are more likely to feel the shutdown’s effects. And nearly the entire staff of the Environmental Protection Agency is furloughed, including hundreds of workers in North Carolina and Illinois.

A budget agreement to end the shutdown remains the subject of a fierce partisan fight in Congress, with federal workers caught in the middle. Some senators who count these workers among their constituents are pushing for an end to the impasse, but federal employment does not appear to have a clear relationship to lawmakers’ positions on the shutdown.

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No agreement to avert L.A. teachers’ strike after a long day of bargaining

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

A last-ditch bargaining effort to avert a Los Angeles teachers’ strike fell short Monday, although the two sides have agreed to meet again on Wednesday morning, the day before a strike is scheduled to begin.

No agreement to avert L.A. teachers’ strike after a long day of bargaining

Whether the strike starts on schedule could depend more, however, on legal maneuvers that will play out on Tuesday.

In a twist, it is the union that is going to Los Angeles Superior Court over whether it followed the rules. The union’s goal is to preempt the district from going to court on the same issue after a strike begins. Were that to happen, a judge could shut down the strike for several days, killing its momentum and perhaps making union leaders look — to the public and their members — inept.

UTLA is expected to argue that it has provided ample notice of its intent to strike. The union publicly announced its Jan. 10 strike date on Dec. 19.

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Pence and Cabinet Members Are Due a Raise, as Federal Workers Go Unpaid

From today’s New York Times

Vice President Mike Pence, members of the cabinet and other high-ranking political appointees in the Trump administration are positioned to receive a pay bump of about $10,000 a year even as 800,000 federal employees are entering their third week without paychecks.

The increases are the result of Congress’s failure to renew a longstanding freeze on raises for high-ranking officials and political appointees. An extension of the freeze was included in the spending bills funding multiple government agencies that were not acted on before the expiration of the 115th Congress on Thursday.

That has created an unexpected optics issue for the Trump administration: While correctional officers, Transportation Security Administration agents, and other federal employees work without pay during the government shutdown, Mr. Pence’s annual salary could jump to $243,500 from $230,700. Cabinet secretaries who are paid $199,700 a year could see their annual pay rise to $210,700.

The administration appeared to be aware of the perception problem, and hoped to avoid it. Asked at his news conference on Friday if he would freeze the raises during the shutdown, President Trump said he “might consider that.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, later explained that the administration was “exploring options to prevent this from being implemented while some federal workers are furloughed” and described the situation as “another unnecessary byproduct of the shutdown” that she said could be remedied by Congress.

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L.A. teachers set to strike Jan. 10. Union says it has no plans for more negotiating

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

A labor agreement is not the only thing dividing the Los Angeles Unified School District and its teachers. One missing element crucial to coming together on a contract deal — and averting a strike — is trust.

L.A. teachers set to strike Jan. 10. Union says it has no plans for more negotiating

On Wednesday, the union representing Los Angeles teachers announced that its 31,000 members will walk out Jan. 10 and that it has no plans to return to the negotiating table.

The union announcement came one day after L.A. schools Supt. Austin Beutner portrayed his side as the reasonable party in the dispute and said he was willing to negotiate around the clock.

The two sides appear to agree on very little.

Union leaders seem certain that those running L.A. Unified have a secret plan to dismantle traditional public education in Los Angeles. District officials seem just as certain that the union has always been determined to strike, even before negotiations began.

The district declares itself in financial straits too dire to meet many union demands. The union says there is money available.

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Senate votes to overturn Trump’s IRS disclosure rule allowing “dark money”

From today’s Politico Online:

The Senate passed legislation Wednesday to reverse a Trump administration policy limiting donor disclosure requirements for political nonprofits in a rare rebuke to the White House.

In a 50-49 vote, the Senate approved a resolution from Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) that would block the recent Treasury Department change to IRS forms allowing political nonprofits to avoid listing some donors.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) joined every Democrat in support of the measure, which required only a simple majority to pass under the Congressional Review Act.

“The Trump administration’s dark money rule makes it easier for foreigners and special interests to corrupt and interfere in our elections,” said Wyden, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee in a Senate floor speech.

Tester had also been optimistic earlier this week about the resolution’s prospects.

“I think it’s gonna be close but I think we’ve got the votes,” he said Tuesday.

Prior to the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the resolution was an “attempt by some of our Democratic colleagues to undo a pro-privacy reform. … In a climate that is increasingly hostile to certain kinds of political expression and open debate, the last thing Washington needs to do is to chill the exercise of free speech and add to the sense of intimidation.”

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First Wisconsin, now Michigan GOP moves to strip Democrats’ power

From today’s MSNBC News:

Republicans who control Michigan’s Legislature voted Wednesday to advance a measure that strips campaign-finance oversight power from the Democratic secretary of state-elect, and they were poised to give lawmakers authority to stand up for GOP-backed laws if they think the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general are not adequately defending the state’s interests.

The lame-duck moves followed within hours of similar efforts in Wisconsin, where lawmakers voted earlier Wednesday to shift clout to the Republican-controlled Legislature and weaken the Democrat replacing the GOP governor.

Michigan Democrats in January will jointly hold the governor, attorney general and secretary offices for the first time in 28 years, but the Legislature will continue to be controlled by Republicans.

A day after GOP lawmakers finalized an unprecedented maneuver to gut minimum wage and paid sick leave laws, a Senate panel passed legislation that would create the Fair Political Practices Commission to enforce the campaign-finance law rather than Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson, who ran in part on a pledge to advocate for election transparency.

Democrats called the bill a blatant power grab that would fly in the face of voters.

Read the complete article here.

WI Republicans Approve Bills Stripping Power From Incoming Dem. Governor

From today’s New York Times:

After a rancorous, sleepless night of debate, Republican lawmakers early Wednesday pushed through a sweeping set of bills that will limit the power of Wisconsin’s newly elected Democrats, including the incoming governor and attorney general.

The legislation, which Democrats vehemently opposed and protesters chanted their anger over, passed through the Republican-held State Legislature after hours of closed-door meetings and some amendments. The votes fell largely along party lines; no Democrats supported the measures.

“That’s what this is about: power-hungry politicians using their grubby hands in their last-ditch effort to desperately cling to power,” said State Representative Katrina Shankland, a Democrat, before the vote Wednesday morning. “All we’ve seen demonstrated today and over the past few days is a contempt for the public.”

The fight over power in Madison came after Republicans, who have controlled the state for the last eight years, lost the offices of governor and attorney general during the midterm elections. Tony Evers, a Democrat, defeated Scott Walker, a two-term governor who drew national attention with a brief run for president.

Read the complete article here.