California pays homage today to another American hero with a complex legacy

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Let me tell you about an American hero whom the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education might find, um, troublesome.

Cesar Chavez stands surrounded by reporters.

He opposed undocumented immigrants to the point of urging his followers to report them to la migra. He accepted an all-expenses-paid trip from a repressive government and gladly received an award from its ruthless dictator despite pleas from activists not to do so.

He paid his staff next to nothing. Undercut his organization with an authoritarian style that pushed away dozens of talented staffers and contrasted sharply with the people-power principles he publicly espoused. And left behind a conflicted legacy nowhere near pure enough for today’s woke warriors.

A long-dead white man? A titan of the business world? Perhaps a local politician?

Try Cesar Chavez. The United Farm Workers founder is the first person I always think about whenever there’s talk about canceling people from the past. He’s on my mind again, and not just because this Wednesday is his birthday, an official California holiday.

On Jan. 27, the San Francisco school board voted to rename 44 schools that it felt honored people who didn’t deserve the homage. Some of the condemned make sense — Father Junipero Serra, for instance, or Commodore John Sloat, the Navy officer who conquered California in the name of Manifest Destiny. Others are worthy of debate. Should we really champion Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence who also fathered multiple children with his slave, Sally Hemings? Or John Muir, the beloved naturalist who didn’t think much of Black and Indigenous people?

The board’s move was rightfully met with disbelief and derision. In a year when parents are clamoring for schools to reopen, this is what board members spent their time on? And are kids really harmed if they attend a school named after Robert Louis Stevenson or Paul Revere?

Which brings us back to Chavez, the revered labor leader whose bust President Biden recently put on prominent display behind his desk in the Oval Office. On Wednesday, First Lady Jill Biden will travel to Delano, Calif., to celebrate the state holiday with the Cesar Chavez and United Farm Workers foundations, her office announced over the weekend.

Read the complete article here.

Georgia’s shameful new voting laws are a product of GOP desperation

From today’s Washington Post:

The tableau of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signing a new elections law said it all: six White legislators flanking the Republican governor, his pen poised above a gleaming wood table. Behind them, a painting of the white-columned Callaway Plantation.

Not shown: the enslaved people who once picked cotton and raised livestock on the 3,000-acre plantation.

Not shown, either: Black state legislator Park Cannon, arrested by White state troopers after she knocked repeatedly to gain entrance to the bill-signing. Among other things, the new law makes it a crime — yes, a crime — to provide water or food to people waiting in line to vote.

Lawyers Criticize Arrest of Georgia Rep. Park Cannon

Welcome to 2021, where Republicans have embarked on a national effort to suppress the vote at all costs. And, not to avoid the obvious, to suppress Black votes, because those ballots would not be cast to Republican advantage.

“Un-American,” President Biden called it at his news conference Thursday, and he was right. “It’s sick. It’s sick.”

It’s also a product of GOP desperation to retain or regain power. Alice O’Lenick, chairwoman of the Gwinnett County election board, didn’t mince words about the need to tighten up voting rules in Georgia. After the “terrible elections cycle” in 2020, when Republicans lost both Georgia Senate seats and Biden won the state’s electoral votes, “I’m like a dog with a bone,” she told fellow Republicans in January. “I will not let them end this session without changing some of these laws. They don’t have to change all of them, but they’ve got to change the major parts so that we at least have a shot at winning.”

Conservative lawyer Michael Carvin, representing the Republican National Committee in an Arizona voting rights case before the Supreme Court earlier this month, was equally transparent — and transactional. When Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked why the RNC was involved in the case — in particular, why it had an interest in preventing people from having their votes counted if they were cast in the wrong precinct — Carvin didn’t bother to pretend this was about anything other than partisan politics.

“Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats,” he said. “Politics is a zero-sum game, and every extra vote they get through unlawful interpretations of [the Voting Rights Act] hurts us.”

A shot at winning. Politics as zero-sum game. Proof positive that this isn’t about the phantom menace of voter fraud. It’s about making it as hard as possible for voters who aren’t inclined in Republicans’ favor to have their ballots cast or counted. You can debate whether the impact on voters of color is an intended feature or a problematic bug, but it’s an undeniable reality.

The new Georgia law stands as Exhibit A in the 2021 campaign to curtail voting rights but will not be the year’s last. Its final form was not quite as repulsive as initial proposals. Provisions to end early voting on Sundays — which happen to be “souls to the polls” turnout days at Black churches — were dropped. Weekend voting hours were expanded instead.

Read the complete article here.

The Republican Party’s Irrational War on the Voting Rights of Americans

From today’s The Atlantic:

In February, Arizona state senators tried to have the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors thrown in jail.

The legislators had demanded that the county officials hand over documents relating to the 2020 presidential election in the state, which Democrat Joe Biden won by fewer than 11,000 votes. Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, had already audited its results and found no evidence of fraud. The board argued that it was not legally allowed to hand over the ballots themselves.

“The two audits they have are a joke,” Senator Warren Petersen said. “They’re not going to find anything. They’re not meant to find anything, even if there is fraud.”

Senators tried to hold the board in contempt, which would have allowed its five members to be arrested. The motion failed, by a single vote, and supporters promptly tried to retaliate against the swing voter, tanking a pet bill of his.

Perhaps this sounds like just another skirmish in the vicious partisan battle over voting between Democrats and Republicans. But although the senators who wanted to lock up the county board are Republicans, so are four of the five members of the board. And the rogue senator who blocked the effort? He’s a Republican too. (The legislation that was punitively killed was a school-voucher bill—a top GOP goal.)

Republican legislators insist that they’re merely responding to the righteous indignation of their voters as they pursue a raft of new rules that would make voting more difficult. “When you have this many constituents that are emailing us and calling us and demanding that their questions be answered, it always should be a top priority,” Karen Fann, the president of the state Senate, told the Los Angeles Times. “If that’s what’s important to our voters, we take care of it.”

In the intramural Maricopa melee, that indignation has pitted the people actually conducting elections, who see the legislature’s interventions as counterproductive and possibly illegal, against superfans of former President Donald Trump who are demanding action to deal with nonexistent fraud. Around the country, indignation has driven Republicans to propose new restrictions on voting rights. Some of these are likely unconstitutional. Some appear to target particular constituencies. But one of the most striking features of these proposals as a whole is their incoherence.

In their eagerness to demonstrate their loyalty to Trump, Republican legislators are rushing to apply scattershot solutions to an imagined set of problems. And although they seem unmoved by warnings that these laws will disproportionately affect minority voters, they may well discover that they have actually disenfranchised many of their own supporters, even as their push to pass restrictive rules energizes their opponents.

Read the complete article here.

The Unionization Vote at Amazon

From today’s New York Times:

The most closely watched union election in recent history is underway in Alabama, where almost 6,000 workers at an Amazon warehouse near Birmingham are voting on whether they want to form a union. The election has attracted attention from President Biden, N.F.L. players and Hollywood actors, making it a high-stakes test of whether a union has a role in one of the country’s biggest employers.

The unionization effort, which began last summer, is the largest and most viable organizing campaign among Amazon workers in the United States. Here is what you need to know about it.

The unionization push came from a group of largely Black workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., which is just outside Birmingham. Late last summer, they approached a local branch of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has grown in the South, particularly in poultry, an industry with traditionally dangerous jobs and many Black employees.

The union deployed organizers who worked at nearby warehouses and poultry farms to focus full time on talking to workers at the Amazon warehouse. By late December, more than 2,000 workers signed cards indicating they wanted an election, the union said. The National Labor Relations Board determined that those signatures signaled “sufficient” interest in holding a vote.

Two big forces have helped drive the unionization effort: the pandemic’s focus on essential workers and the racial reckoning brought on by Black Lives Matter protests.

Amazon opened the Bessemer warehouse in March 2020, just as the coronavirus was taking hold in America. The pandemic made clear the critical role essential workers, many of whom were Black and paid hourly, played in serving customers and the economy broadly. Amazon had extraordinary growth last year, as people turned to online shopping instead of venturing into stores. It went on a huge hiring spree, ending the year with 1.3 million employees and $386 billion in sales.

In early summer, George Floyd’s killing prompted calls for racial justice, and the union has focused its organizing on issues of racial equality and empowerment. It has a decades-long history of working on civil rights and labor issues in the region. Around the same time, Amazon ended the extra pay it had given workers earlier in the pandemic. The workers who started the organizing said their pay was not commensurate with the risks they took and the productivity they must maintain.

Read the complete article here.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam restores voting rights for ex-felons

From today’s Axios Online:

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) restored the voting rights of 69,000 former felons on Tuesday through executive action, the governor’s office announced in a statement.

Why it matters: Northam’s move to expand voting rights comes amidst a wider push across the country to restrict voting rights. As of mid-February, 43 states have introduced more than 250 bills that include voting restrictions, according to CNN.

  • Last year, Florida introduced new rules to limit some ex-felons’ voting rights, even after the state voted to restore voting rights to former convicts in 2018.

The big picture: Northam also reformed Virginia’s restoration of rights process using new eligibility criteria similar to those proposed in a possible amendment to the state’s constitution. In the future, any citizen will qualify to have their civil rights restored to them upon completing their prison term, “even if they remain on community supervision.”

  • Current laws in Virginia state that “anyone convicted of a felony in Virginia loses their civil rights, including the right to vote, serve on a jury, run for office, become a public notary, and carry a firearm,” the statement notes.
  • The law also gives the governor the sole discretion to restore such rights.

What they’re saying: “Too many of our laws were written during a time of open racism and discrimination, and they still bear the traces of inequity,” Northam said in the statement.

  • “If we want people to return to our communities and participate in society, we must welcome them back fully—and this policy does just that,” he added.

What’s next: Earlier this year the state’s General Assembly approved a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore a person’s civil rights upon the completion of their prison sentence.

  • The amendment must be passed again by the GA in 2022 before moving to a voter referendum.

Read the complete article here.

Progressive groups launch $30 million effort to push voting rights legislation

From CNN Online:

Two left-leaning groups are teaming up to pour $30 million into an effort to persuade US senators to pass a sweeping voting rights bill that would counter efforts by state GOP lawmakers to restrict voting access.

The plan from End Citizens United/Let America Vote and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee is to spend $20 million on a television and digital advertising campaign and $10 million on a grassroots effort to try to get the legislation passed.

“Our goal is to get support to pass this bill and to show members of the Senate that their constituents believe this is a bill that just has to pass,” said Adam Bozzi, vice president of communications for End Citizens United/Let America Vote.

The bill, which passed the Democrat-led House earlier this month, would expand voting access as well as improve transparency and accountability in Washington. But it comes as GOP-led state legislatures across the country have introduced efforts to curtail voting rights.

The legislation’s fate has also become entangled with the fate of the filibuster in the US Senate. Bozzi said the groups’ efforts will target Democrats as well as Republicans, but he reiterated that their end goal is to ensure the bill is passed whether or not it garners bipartisan support.

“We’re going to make a run at Republicans,” Bozzi said, but “whether it’s with 60 votes or some procedural change, we need to put this bill in a position to be passed.”

The ad campaign is expected to roll out initially in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Maine and Pennsylvania, and will eventually expand to 12 to 15 states. It was previously reported by The New York Times.

Read the complete article here.

Senators who voted against $15 minimum wage represent three-quarters of workers who would benefit

From today’s Business Insider:

Of the 32 million workers who would receive a raise under a $15 minimum wage, 24 million are in states where senators voted against it, according to a new report from the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

That works out to 75% of all the workers who would benefit from a higher federal minimum. The 32 million workers who would be impacted represent 21% of the overall workforce, according to the report.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ push to include a provision for raising the wage to $15 by 2025 was voted down on Friday. Seven Democrats — including the moderates Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema — joined Republicans in voting down the measure. Also voting against was independent Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with the Democrats.

The EPI report found that increasing the minimum wage to $15 by 2025 would also benefit America’s essential and frontline workers. It would be a wage hike for 19 million of them, around 60% of all workers impacted. 

As Insider’s Grace Dean previously reported, almost a third of Black workers would get a raise under the policy; EPI also found that 26% of Hispanic workers would benefit from the bump.

A $15 minimum wage has broad support. In an Insider poll, over 60% of respondents said they would definitely or probably support a $15 minimum wage. Respondents were more split on when an increase should come into effect: 39% said that, were the increase to go into effect, a “$15 minimum wage should be implemented immediately.” Conversely, 50% would “prefer a phased rollout, gradually raising the minimum wage annually to $15 in 2025.”

Sanders’ Raise the Wage Act would have raised the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2025. Even that schedule wasn’t quick enough for some minimum wage workers.

Cynthia Murray, a Walmart associate and member of United for Respect, testified at a Senate budget committee hearing on the proposed increase

Read the complete article here.

In Biden, Labor Leaders See a President Who ‘Is Not Playing’ Games

From today’s New York Times:

As Richard Trumka stepped out of the Oval Office last month after meeting with President Biden and a group of his fellow labor leaders, he had an unfamiliar feeling.

“He got it,” Trumka, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said of Biden.

“Many times you go into meetings like that and you have to start with the basics about why collective bargaining is important, and then you get to the end, and they still really don’t get it,” Trumka, whose organization represents the largest federation of labor unions in the United States, said in a phone interview today. “None of that was necessary with him. He already had that going in. So we talked about solutions.”

As the Biden administration kicks into gear, it is putting organized labor at the heart of its push to rebuild the economy to a greater degree than any president — Democrat or Republican — in well over half a century.

The administration has indicated that a sweeping infrastructure bill is likely to be its next major focus, after Biden signs the $1.9 trillion relief package that appears on its way to passage in Congress. The president has repeatedly said that “good-paying union jobs” will be at the core of his infrastructure plan, a commitment that he reiterated during his meeting with labor leaders last month. He has also thrown his support behind the PRO Act, which would represent the most comprehensive piece of federal labor reform in a century.

And last week Biden turned heads when he released a short video announcing his support for Amazon workers’ push to unionize in Bessemer, Ala. He did not name Amazon, but he expressed support for “workers in Alabama,” and insisted that the right to unionize was essential to a healthy work force throughout the country.

“That’s something very new: No president since Harry Truman has made a statement as forcefully in favor of unions,” Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former labor secretary under President Bill Clinton, said in an interview.

Biden “didn’t just say workers have a right to unionize — he went beyond that,” Reich said. “He reiterated that the National Labor Relations Act puts responsibilities on employers not to interfere in an election, not to intimidate, and he went through a list of employer responsibilities. And that really struck a new note.”

Certainly the Biden administration is facing headwinds as it pushes against longstanding trends. Labor union membership has eroded across the country since the middle of the 20th century, when one-third of the private-sector work force was unionized. Nowadays, that number is well below one in 10. And even within Biden’s administration, there are officials with close ties to corporate interests who have a history of fighting to keep organized labor out of emerging industrial sectors as Big Tech revolutionizes the job market.

And last week Biden turned heads when he released a short video announcing his support for Amazon workers’ push to unionize in Bessemer, Ala. He did not name Amazon, but he expressed support for “workers in Alabama,” and insisted that the right to unionize was essential to a healthy work force throughout the country.

“That’s something very new: No president since Harry Truman has made a statement as forcefully in favor of unions,” Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former labor secretary under President Bill Clinton, said in an interview.

Biden “didn’t just say workers have a right to unionize — he went beyond that,” Reich said. “He reiterated that the National Labor Relations Act puts responsibilities on employers not to interfere in an election, not to intimidate, and he went through a list of employer responsibilities. And that really struck a new note.”

Certainly the Biden administration is facing headwinds as it pushes against longstanding trends. Labor union membership has eroded across the country since the middle of the 20th century, when one-third of the private-sector work force was unionized. Nowadays, that number is well below one in 10. And even within Biden’s administration, there are officials with close ties to corporate interests who have a history of fighting to keep organized labor out of emerging industrial sectors as Big Tech revolutionizes the job market.

Read the complete article here.

SCOTUS questions need for restrictive voting laws in Voting Rights Act case

From NBC News Online:

Supreme Court justices asked skeptical questions Tuesday about Arizona election laws in a case that has emerged as an important test of the Voting Rights Act.

The case is about whether two state laws violate Section 2 of the act: One blocks the counting of ballots cast in the wrong precinct, and another prohibits anyone other than a family member or caregiver from collecting and delivering a voter’s absentee ballot.

On one side is the state of Arizona and Republicans, who want to keep the strict laws on the books and argue they prevent fraud. And on the other side are Democrats, who want the laws stricken and argue the rules prevent voters, particularly minorities, from accessing the ballot.

The voting restrictions are being fought in a state where Republicans have dominated local and national races for generations but where recently Democrats have gained traction and won both U.S. Senate seats and the presidential contest last year. The outcome of the case could have far-reaching implications for voting laws in other states, too.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Amy Coney Barrett, two Republican appointees and potentially pivotal votes in the case, appeared to be wrestling with the arguments as they asked tough questions of lawyers on both sides.

Roberts asked the Arizona GOP lawyer, who is defending the laws, why it’s “a bad thing” for election procedures to seek “racial proportionality.”

Later, he pressed the Democrats’ lawyer to define what it would take in their opinion to make a law unacceptable. “What if the provision results in a 1 percent decline in participation by minority voters — is that substantial enough?” he asked.

Barrett told Arizona’s state lawyer that there were “some contradictions” in his argument and that his task was to show why the changes in laws preserved equal “opportunity” for white and nonwhite voters.

But later, she appeared torn about whether Arizona’s laws cross the line. “There’s a difficulty that the statutory language and its lack of clarity presents in trying to figure out when something crosses from an inconvenience to a burden,” Barrett said.

Read the complete article here.