Voting rights bill “For the People Act” advances in Senate over GOP objections

From today’s CBS News Online:

The Senate on Tuesday advanced S. 1, the For the People Act, setting up a floor vote for the controversial bill. Senators clashed over voting rights and election procedures for hours in a contentious committee meeting to consider amendments for the massive bill.

Democrats claim the legislation is necessary to counter new voting restrictions being considered by multiple states. But Republicans argued that the bill is a naked power grab, and voted down an amendment that would have made several changes to the legislation based on feedback from state and local election officials.

The committee deadlocked 9-9 along party lines on whether to approve the bill. The committee can’t report it out, but Senate rules allow Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to bring the bill to the floor. All nine Republicans voted against the bill, even though some amendments proposed by GOP senators had been adopted.

The House approved the For the People Act by a vote of 220 to 210 in March, with one Democrat joining all Republicans in voting against it. The bill would overhaul government ethics and campaign finance laws, and seek to strengthen voting rights by creating automatic voter registration and expanding access to early and absentee voting. It also includes some measures that would require states to overhaul their registration systems, limit states’ ability to remove people from voter rolls, increase federal funds for election security and reform the redistricting process.

In a sign of how critical the issue is for both parties, Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell both appeared at the “markup” session before the Senate Rules Committee, a rarity for committee meetings to consider bills.

In his statement, Schumer argued that there was a reactionary effort by states to limit voting rights, “led by one party and compelled by the most dishonest president in American history.” Several Republican-controlled states have recently passed or are considering legislation to restrict voting rights, in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s electoral loss and a rise in mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic. Opponents argue such bills disproportionately affect minority and poorer voters, who tend to support the Democratic Party.

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U.S. unions lodge first Mexico labor grievance under new NAFTA

From today’s Reuters Online:

U.S. unions on Monday filed the first labor rights petition against Mexico under a new regional trade pact, vying to bring a complaint against an auto parts company on the border that they say has denied workers the right to independent representation.

The petition – filed by the biggest U.S. labor federation, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) – states that workers at Tridonex in Matamoros, across from Texas, were blocked from electing a union of their choice.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) that replaced NAFTA last year, enshrines that right as part of its aim to give more power to workers to demand better salaries. It was also meant to prevent low labor costs from leeching more U.S. jobs.

Since the 1994 NAFTA, which had few enforcement tools for labor rules, wages in Mexico have stagnated and now rank as the lowest in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a club of 37 industrialized nations.

Reuters reported last week that hundreds of workers had sought to be represented by a new union led by activist-attorney Susana Prieto since 2019, yet state labor officials never scheduled an election. Prieto said 600 of her supporters at Tridonex last year were fired, in what some workers described as retaliation for their efforts to switch unions. read more

Tridonex’s parent is Philadelphia-based Cardone Industries, which is controlled by Canadian company Brookfield Asset Management (BAMa.TO).

Cardone said it did not agree with the AFL-CIO’s assertions, but would address any concerns that could arise in the complaint process.

“We do not believe that the allegations in the complaint are accurate and welcome a full inquiry so that the facts can be disclosed,” the company said in a statement, without detailing which elements it disputed.

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Health Advocate or Big Brother? Companies Weigh Requiring Vaccines

From today’s New York Times:

As American companies prepare to bring large numbers of workers back to the office in the coming months, executives are facing one of their most delicate pandemic-related decisions: Should they require employees to be vaccinated?

Take the case of United Airlines. In January, the chief executive, Scott Kirby, indicated at a company town hall that he wanted to require all of his roughly 96,000 employees to get coronavirus vaccines once they became widely available.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Mr. Kirby said, before urging other corporations to follow suit.

It has been four months. No major airlines have made a similar pledge — and United Airlines is waffling.

“It’s still something we are considering, but no final decisions have been made,” a spokeswoman, Leslie Scott, said.

For the country’s largest companies, mandatory vaccinations would protect service workers and lower the anxiety for returning office employees. That includes those who have been vaccinated but may be reluctant to return without knowing whether their colleagues have as well. And there is a public service element: The goal of herd immunity has slipped as the pace of vaccinations has slowed.

But making vaccinations mandatory could risk a backlash, and perhaps even litigation, from those who view it as an invasion of privacy and a Big Brother-like move to control the lives of employees.

In polls, executives show a willingness to require vaccinations. In a survey of 1,339 employers conducted by Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, 44 percent of U.S. respondents said they planned to mandate vaccinations for their companies. In a separate poll of 446 employers conducted by Willis Towers Watson, a risk-management firm, 23 percent of respondents said they were “planning or considering requiring employees to get vaccinated for them to return to the worksite.”

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Texas House Approves GOP-Backed Voting Restrictions Bill

From today’s NPR News Online:

Texas legislators approved new, more restrictive state election rules aftera session that lasted from Thursday night into the early hours of Friday. The GOP-backed state Senate bill passed the House at 3 a.m. (4 a.m. ET) after hours of debate over amendments proposed by Democrats.

The House version of the legislation, which differs significantly from what passed the state Senate, will now go to a conference committee to resolve the differences.

The measure would make it a felony to provide voters with an application to vote by mail if they hadn’t requested one, or to use any public funds to facilitate the third-party distribution of mail-in voting applications.

The ability for polling place “watchers” to be present throughout the day of the election is also expanded under the bill. It sets a high bar for when such observers can be taken out of a polling place. The bill states they can be removed “only if the watcher engages in activity that would constitute an offense related to the conduct of the election.”

But the version the House passed early Friday also stripped out some of the more contentious provisions seen in earlier iterations, such as a ban on drive-thru voting and restrictions on early voting schedules.

The legislation was criticized by Democrats, progressive groups and voting rights advocates as a “voter suppression bill.” Republicans such as state Rep. Jeff Leach view it as “sensible election integrity legislation that ensures and protects full access to the ballot box.” The bill, he tweeted shortly after 4:30 a.m. (5:30 a.m. ET), cracks down on “illegal activity” undermining elections, echoing the false claims that elections in November were not secure.

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Biden administration blocks Trump-era rule affecting gig workers’ employment

From today’s Reuters News Service:

The Biden administration on Wednesday blocked a Trump-era rule that would have made it easier to classify gig workers who work for companies like Uber and Lyft as independent contractors instead of employees, signaling a potential policy shift toward greater worker protections.

Shares of companies that employ gig labor such as Uber, Lyft and DoorDash immediately pared gains. At 2.15 p.m. ET (1815 GMT) Uber shares traded down 3.2%, Lyft was down 5.8% and DoorDash fell 5%.

“By withdrawing the independent contractor rule, we will help preserve essential worker rights and stop the erosion of worker protections that would have occurred had the rule gone into effect,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said in a statement.

“Too often, workers lose important wage and related protections when employers misclassify them as independent contractors,” he said.

Walsh told Reuters in an interview last week that a lot of U.S. gig workers should be classified as “employees” who deserve work benefits. His comments hurt stocks of companies that employ gig labor.

Walsh said in the interview that his department would have conversations in coming months with companies that employ gig labor to make sure workers have access to consistent wages, sick time, healthcare and “all of the things that an average employee in America can access.”

An Uber spokesman acknowledged on Wednesday the current employment system is outdated.

“It forces a binary choice upon workers: to either be an employee with more benefits but less flexibility, or an independent contractor with more flexibility but limited protections.”

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Labor Secretary Says Gig Workers Should Be Converted to Employees

From today’s Forbes Magazine:

President Joe Biden positioned himself as the champion of the American worker during his campaign, as well as an ardent proponent of unions. On Thursday, Biden’s Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh, told Reuters that gig workers should be treated as employees.

This simple statement could become an existential threat to app-based technology companies, such as Uber, Lyft, Instacart, DoorDash and dozens of others that heavily rely upon gig-economy workers.

The tech companies are basically built on the backs of contract workers. However, these gig workers are not classified as employees. Without the designation, contractors don’t qualify for traditional benefits, rights and privileges that are afforded to full-time permanent employees.

This sector represents a significant part of the economy. About 55 million Americans work in the gig economy, comprising around 36% of the workforce. If the Biden administration decides to take action based upon Walsh’s plan, it could have devastating consequences. 

Walsh seeks to rectify the situation by reclassifying contract workers as “employees.” The labor secretary said, “We are looking at it, but in a lot of cases, gig workers should be classified as employees…in some cases they are treated respectfully and in some cases they are not and I think it has to be consistent across the board.” Based upon this news, shares of Uber fell as much as 8%, while Lyft took a dive by 12%. Doordash fell nearly 9% and Grubhub was down 3.3%.

There are concerns raised by opponents of the gig-economy structure who say, similar to Walsh, it doesn’t seem fair to workers. Venture capitalists, institutions and wealthy individuals have flooded capital into this sector. When the tech companies went public, the investors, CEOs and top executives reaped vast fortunes. Contractors serve as cheap labor. If they acquiesce to critics like Walsh, they risk losing multimillions or billions of dollars. 

While many people earn a livelihood driving cars, delivering food and offering creative services through on-demand companies, there is a dark side. The contractors work long, hard hours for little pay and no real benefits. Near-monopolies have been created that crush or drive out the competition. Look at what happened to the once-ubiquitous yellow taxi cabs when Uber came to New York City. 

Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Grubhub and other similar gig-based companies are highly dependent upon independent contractors. They have a financial self-interest in classifying drivers or workers as contractors. This model enables corporations to avoid paying payroll taxes, FICA (Social Security and Medicare), disability, federal and state-level unemployment and health insurance benefits. They are not required to comply with minimum-wage laws nor offer vacation days. 

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Arizona near top of states for bills aimed at limiting voting rights

From today’s ABC 15 News Arizona:

Arizona lawmakers, who began the year with one of the highest number of voting restriction bills in the nation, are winding down a legislative session in which it appears only a few of those bills will survive.

But that doesn’t mean voting rights activists are happy.

Ryan Snow, associate counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, called it a “death by a million cuts.”

“Officials … have taken to erecting a litany of barriers that any one of which might sound on its face that it’s not that big of a deal,” Snow said. “But when you take them together, it creates a restrictive process that disproportionately affects voters of color, low-wealth voters, young voters and other politically disabled voters.”

Supporters of the bills disagree and say that the state – coming off the divisive 2020 election and in the midst of a contentious audit of Maricopa County’s returns – needs to restore faith in the election process and “ensure Arizona’s elections are fair and transparent.”

“In order to maintain voter trust in our elections, it is important to provide the necessary safeguards so that voters can be confident in casting their ballots,” said Noah Weinrich, press secretary for Heritage Action, in an emailed statement.

Arizona Republican lawmakers introduced the third-highest number of voting restriction bills this year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which said the state’s 23 bills trailed only Texas, with 49, and Georgia, with 25. Nationwide, 361 such bills were introduced, it said.

Read the complete article here.

Why Michigan Republicans’ Attack on Voting Rights is Grossly Anti-democratic

From today’s The Guardian:

On the surface, the Republican effort to roll back voting rights in Michigan looks similar to what’s happening in states around the country: after Donald Trump narrowly lost a key battleground state where there was record turnout, Republicans are moving swiftly to implement sweeping restrictions to curtail access to the ballot box.

But the effort is raising unique concerns. Even though the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, is likely to veto a package of dozens of pending bills to curb voter access, Republicans are already hinting they will use a loophole to implement the measures anyway. They can take advantage of a quirk in Michigan’s law allowing voters to send a bill to the legislature if just over 340,000 voters sign a petition asking them to take it up. These kinds of bills cannot be vetoed by the governor.

“This effort is particularly anti-democratic, not just in substance, but in procedure,” said the Michigan secretary of state, Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who serves as the state’s top election official.

The proposals include measures that are breathtakingly restrictive, even when held up in comparison to other measures states are considering. One bill bans Michigan’s secretary of state not only from mailing out absentee ballot applications to all voters, but also blocks her from even providing a link on a state website to a mail-in ballot application. Another proposal does not allow voters to use absentee ballot drop boxes after 5pm the day before election day. A different measure would require voters to make a photocopy of their ID and mail it in to vote by mail.

The effort is being closely monitored in a state known for razor-thin elections and where Donald Trump and allies tried to overturn the result in 2020. Republicans are moving aggressively to put the new voting restrictions in place ahead of the 2022 elections, when there are races for governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Michigan also has several key swing congressional districts that will help determine who controls the US House of Representatives in Washington.

The new restrictions are also urgent for Republicans because they are about to lose one of their most powerful advantages in the state legislature. A decade ago, Republicans manipulated the boundaries of electoral districts in such a way that virtually guaranteed they would hold a majority of seats. That manipulation, called gerrymandering, has allowed Republicans to control the legislature since 2011.Advertisement

But in 2018, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to strip lawmakers of their ability to draw districts, giving the power to an independent commission. With the commission set to draw new districts later this year, the new restrictions may be Republicans’ last-ditch attempt to distort voting rules to give them an edge in elections.

“Everything from January 6 forward is about 2022 and ultimately 2024. I believe we should plan for and anticipate that the very forces that emerged in 2020 to try to undermine democracy will be back in full force, potentially stronger, in more positions of authority, to try again in 2024,” Benson said.

Read the complete article here.

Break down employment barriers with training, education programs

From today’s CalMatters Online:

“You can’t have just one job in America,” says a gig worker in Los Angeles County, and “you could get replaced like this. ‘Say one wrong thing to me? You’re fired …There is a line outside the door who wants your job.’”

That is one of several perspectives from struggling workers in California captured in a new report by the Institute for the Future, which interviewed a cross-section of Californians paid less than $15 an hour last fall. The report, released March 24, explores troubling trends that preceded the pandemic but now are worsening. 

And it comes on the heels of another report by the state’s Future of Work Commission that calls for a new social compact for workers based on some staggering statistics. For example, nearly one-third of all  workers in California make less than $15 per hour, and a majority are over age 30. Women and people of color also are paid, disproportionately, the lowest wages in our state.

Beyond wages, fewer than half of workers in California report having a “quality job,” which the Future of Work Commission describes as “a living wage, stable and predictable pay, control over scheduling, access to benefits, a safe and dignified work environment, and opportunities for training and career advancement.”

The commission also notes how a decrease in worker power and organizing relates to job quality, inequality and violations of workers’ rights. The percentage of Californians in a labor union has dropped from 24% in 1980 to 15% in 2018, and membership in a union reduces the likelihood of low-wage employment more so than a college degree (39% versus 33%).

The futurists at the Institute for the Future outline how COVID-19 has accelerated instability and insecurity for workers. This is now an all-hands on deck moment, requiring consensus and collaboration across sectors – government, business, labor, education, workforce development, philanthropy and community organizations. This is difficult, complicated, and even expensive work, but it is essential if we are to make the California Dream real and attainable for all.

Despite collaborative efforts, we need more employers and labor organizations at the table. Industry has a critical role, and they must be closely involved every step of the way, not as an afterthought.     

The good news is that some promising efforts are underway. If passed, Assembly Bill 628, introduced by Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, a Democrat from Coachella, will build upon the Breaking Barriers to Employment Initiative by assisting individuals in obtaining the skills necessary to prepare for jobs in high-demand industries. The program would support individuals who face systemic barriers to employment with training and education programs aligned with regional labor market needs.

Read the complete article here.

Target, Google and others are under pressure to dump the Chamber of Commerce over voting rights

From today’s CNN Online:

Progressive activists are calling on Ford, Target, Google, Bank of America and other major companies that have pledged to support voting rights to cut ties with the US Chamber of Commerce, CNN Business has learned.

At issue is the Chamber of Commerce’s fierce opposition to the Democrats’ sweeping voting bill known as the For the People Act, which advocates say would counter efforts by Georgia and other states to impose new voting restrictions.

The Chamber of Commerce has slammed the legislation, which last month was approved by the US House of Representatives, as “extremely problematic” in part because of new curbs on political advocacy by companies and associations.

The Chamber is one of the most powerful trade groups in the nation. In 2020 alone, the organization spent $81.9 million trying to influence government policy, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The only organization that spent more was the National Association of Realtors.

Accountable.US, a progressive watchdog group, sent letters Wednesday to 25 companies that have a relationship with the Chamber of Commerce even though they signed last week’s statement in the New York Times vowing to oppose discriminatory voting legislation.

The campaign from activists underscores the enormous pressure companies are under to follow up their verbal support for voting rights with concrete action.Enter your email to receive CNN’s nightcap newsletter.close dialog

“By ignoring the Chamber’s opposition to a bill that protects an essential right in our democracy, these executives are violating their commitment and siding against the millions of Americans — including many of their own employees — fighting racist voter suppression tactics,” Kyle Herrig, president of Accountable.US, told CNN Business.

Read the complete article here.