Local News: Why Santa Monica is fighting the California Voting Rights Act

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

By Ted Winterer (Santa Monica Mayor) and Gleam Davis (City Council Rep),

The city of Santa Monica received a letter from a Malibu law firm in late 2015 claiming that its at-large election system — in which all voters choose the whole city council — discriminated against Latino residents. We were both on the City Council at the time and found it surprising, not least because the then-mayor was Mexican American.

Still, the letter threatened a lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act if the council did not immediately agree to change to district-based elections. It turns out Santa Monica wasn’t alone. Dozens of cities have received similar demand letters — many from the same lawyer — and many have altered their election systems in response.

Santa Monica, however, has decided to fight this lawsuit. Why? Because making electoral changes based on lawsuits instead of the will of voters diminishes rather than enhances voting rights. Equally important, the facts in Santa Monica and the experience of cities elsewhere show that carving the city into districts will not meaningfully enhance local Latino political representation.

The Pico neighborhood is the focus of the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, but the 13% of Santa Monica voters who are Latino live in every part the city. Under our existing at-large election system, Latino candidates have won seats on all of the city’s governing bodies, including two currently serving on the seven-member City Council. As the Los Angeles Times reported, in this kind of racially integrated landscape, a change to district-based elections is unlikely to increase Latino representation.

GrassrootsLab, a consulting firm that specializes in local government politics, studied the electoral outcomes in 22 cities that switched to district elections because of a California Voting Rights Act legal threat. Only seven of the 22 cities saw any increase in Latino elected officials. Indeed, some people are trying to make the case that district elections create their own set of problems. The former mayor of Poway, for instance, in October filed a federal lawsuitarguing that forcing district elections ultimately violates the constitutional rights of other voters.

Santa Monica voters have twice rejected proposals to move to district-based elections, in 1975 and 2002. A district system may work well in larger cities like Los Angeles, but dividing up our 8.3-square-mile community will pit neighborhood against neighborhood, increasing balkanization and encouraging legislative deal-making to serve the interests of individual districts rather than the city as a whole.

Read the complete article here.

Further Thoughts on a Job Guarantee

From today’s New York Times “Opinion” Section by Paul Krugman:

As I wrote the other day, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may call herself a socialist and represent the left wing of the Democratic party, but her policy ideas are pretty reasonable. In fact, Medicare for All is totally reasonable; any arguments against it are essentially political rather than economic.

A federal jobs guarantee is more problematic, and a number of progressive economists with significant platforms have argued against it: Josh BivensDean BakerLarry Summers. (Yes, Larry Summers: whatever you think of his role in the Clinton and Obama administrations, he’s a daring, unconventional thinker when not in office, with a strongly progressive lean.) And I myself don’t think it’s the best way to deal with the problem of low pay and inadequate employment; like Bivens and his colleagues at EPI, I’d go for a more targeted set of policies.

But I’m fine with candidates like AOC (can we start abbreviating?) proposing the jobs guarantee, for a couple of reasons. One is that realistically, a blanket jobs guarantee is unlikely to happen, so proposing one is more about highlighting the very real problems of wages and employment than about the specifics of a solution. Beyond that, some of the critiques are, I think, off base.

Here’s the way some of the critiques seem to run: a large share of the U.S. work force – Baker says 25 percent, but it looks like around a third to me – makes less than $15 an hour. So offering these workers a higher wage would bring a huge rush into public employment, implying a very expensive program.

What’s wrong with this argument? The key point is that all those sub-$15 workers aren’t just sitting around collecting paychecks: they’re producing goods and (mostly) services that the public wants. The public will still want those services even if the government guarantees alternative employment, so the firms providing those services won’t go away; they’ll just have to raise wages enough to hold on to their employees, who would now have an alternative.

Now, that doesn’t mean zero job loss. Employers might replace some workers with machines; they would have to raise prices, meaning that they would sell less; so private employment might go down.

But all this is true about increases in the minimum wage, too. And we have a lot of evidence on what minimum wage increases do, because we get a natural experiment every time a state raises its minimum wage but neighboring states don’t. What this evidence shows is that minimum wage hikes have very little effect on employment.

So if we think of a job guarantee as a minimum wage hike backstopped by a public option for employment, we should not expect a mass migration of workers from private to public jobs.

Read the complete article here.

 

Trump’s SCOTUS nominee favors corporations over working Americans

Today’s Press Release from the AFL-CIO:

Working people expect the Supreme Court to be the most fair and independent branch of government in America, yet recent decisions have protected the privileged and powerful at the expense of working people. Decisions by the Court, often by the narrowest of margins, have a dramatic impact on our lives as we recently saw in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 and reinforce the importance of choosing who sits on the Court.

Share this graphic and reject Judge Brett Kavanaugh because we simply cannot have another Justice on the Court who sides with corporations over America’s working families.

We have thoroughly reviewed the record of Judge Kavanaugh on cases of importance to working families and are compelled to oppose his nomination.

Judge Kavanaugh routinely rules against working families, regularly rejects the right of employees to receive employer-provided health care in the workplace, too often sides with employers in denying employees relief from discrimination in the workplace and promotes overturning well-established U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

Any Supreme Court nominee must be fair, independent and committed to protecting the rights, freedoms and legal safeguards that protect every one of us. Judge Kavanaugh does not meet this standard.The next justice confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the Court will play a pivotal role in new cases addressing health care, worker safety issues and collective bargaining rights for generations to come.

This current Supreme Court has shown that it will side with greedy corporations over working people whenever given the chance, and this nominee will only skew that further. The Senate should reject this nomination and demand a nominee who will protect the rights of working people and uphold our constitutional values of liberty, equality and justice for all.

Across the country, working people are organizing and taking collective action as we haven’t seen in years and won’t stand for any politician who supports justices who put our rights at risk.

Share this graphic and reject Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

Our fight for better wages and benefits and a voice on the job will continue on. The rich and powerful won’t dictate the American story. We will pave our own path, populate the halls of power with allies of working people and secure a brighter economic future.

In Solidarity,

Richard Trumka

——

Richard Trumka

President, AFL-CIO

Supreme Court delivers blow to organized labor in fees dispute

From Reuter’s News Service:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday dealt a big blow to organized labor, ruling that non-members cannot be forced in certain states to pay fees to unions representing public employees such as teachers and police, shutting off a key union revenue source.

The 5-4 ruling overturned a 1977 Supreme Court precedent that had permitted these so-called agency fees, which have been collected from millions of workers who opt not to join unions in lieu of union dues to fund non-political activities such as collective bargaining. The court’s conservative justices were in the majority, with the liberal justices dissenting.

Forcing non-members to pay these fees to unions whose views they may oppose violates their rights to free speech and free association under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, the court said in the ruling authored by Justice Samuel Alito.

“States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from non-consenting employees,” Alito wrote. In a dissent, Justice Elena Kagan accused the court’s conservatives of “weaponizing the First Amendment” to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.

“This case was nothing more than a blatant political attack to further rig our economy and democracy against everyday Americans in favor of the wealthy and powerful,” public-sector unions including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union directly involved in the case, said in a statement.

Two dozen states had required agency fees. The ruling means that the estimated 5 million non-union workers for state and local governments who have paid them can stop. Agency fees do not involve federal or private-sector employees.

The decision represented a major victory for conservative activists who long have sought to curb the influence of public-sector unions, which often support the Democratic Party and liberal causes.

With the U.S. organized labor movement already in a diminished state compared to past decades, the ruling now deprives unions of a vital revenue stream, undercuts their ability to attract new members and retain current members, and undermines their ability to spend in political races.

Republican President Donald Trump, whose administration backed the challenge to the fees, welcomed the ruling, writing on Twitter, “Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!”

Read the complete article here.

Robots or Job Training: Manufacturers Struggle to Improve Economic Fortunes

From today’s New York Times:

For Anthony Nighswander, rock-bottom unemployment is both a headache and an opportunity. For businesses and workers, it could be the key to reversing one of the country’s most vexing economic problems: slow productivity growth.

Mr. Nighswander is president of APT Manufacturing Solutions, which builds and installs robotic equipment to help other manufacturers automate their assembly lines. Lately, business has been booming: With the unemployment rate now below 4 percent, he says he gets calls every day from companies looking for robots to help ease their labor crunch.

The problem is that Mr. Nighswander faces a hiring challenge in his own business, especially because, in this town of fewer than 4,000 people near the Indiana border, the pool of skilled workers is shallow. But rather than turn to robots himself, he has adopted a lower-tech solution: training. APT has begun offering apprenticeships, covering the cost of college for its workers, and three years ago it started teaching manufacturing skills to high school students.

 “I never thought that I would be training high school students in our facilities,” Mr. Nighswander said. “What I knew was that I was in survival mode. I knew the orders for robots and for automation were coming in faster than I could get the jobs out.”
That kind of urgency could prove to be a powerful economic force. The investments in training and automation by Mr. Nighswander and his customers should, over time, make their companies more productive. Multiplied across thousands of companies, those decisions could have benefits for companies and workers that endure even after today’s hot economy inevitably cools.
Productivity — how much value the economy generates in an average hour of work — gets less public attention than more intuitive economic concepts such as employment and wages, but it may be even more fundamental.
Rising productivity — whether through better technology, more educated workers or smarter business strategies — is why people’s economic fortunes, on average, improve over time. When productivity growth is strong, companies can afford to pay workers more without eating into their own profit margins, letting a rising tide lift all boats.
Since the end of the Great Recession, however — and, to a lesser extent, even during the stronger economic times that preceded it — productivity growth has been confoundingly weak, forcing business owners and workers to compete over a relatively meager sliver of economic growth. There have been peaks and valleys, but not since the dot-com boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s has the American economy consistently delivered productivity growth above 2 percent a year.
Now some economists think a rebound could be on the way. For most of the recovery, wage growth has been anemic, suggesting companies faced relatively little pressure to invest in automation or to find other ways to squeeze more production out of workers. But as the labor market tightens, companies’ incentives could be changing.

Read the complete article here.

White House proposes merging Labor and Education into one agency

From today’s Washington Post:

The White House on Thursday will propose merging the Education and Labor departments into one federal agency, the centerpiece of a plan to remake a bureaucracy that President Trump and his supporters consider too big and bloated, according to an administration official familiar with the plan.

The long-awaited proposal to reorganize federal agencies would shrink some and augment the missions of others. It is the result of a directive that Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget, issued to federal leaders 14 months ago. He urged them to find ways to merge overlapping, duplicative offices and programs and eliminate those the administration views as unnecessary.

The plan also is expected to include major changes to the way the government provides benefits for low-income Americans, an area that conservatives have long targeted as excessive, by consolidating safety-net programs that are administered through multiple agencies.

The reorganization plan also is likely to revamp the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to shrink its role as the department responsible for employee background checks, retirement claims, benefits and federal workforce policy, two sources with knowledge of the proposal said.

The plan to consolidate the Labor and Education departments, which first surfaced in Education Week and was later confirmed by other news outlets, would allow the Trump administration to focus its efforts to train students in vocational skills in one place.

Republicans have long expressed an interest in eliminating the Education Department since it was created by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have shown similar leanings.

In 1995, the House introduced legislation to merge the agencies to put K-12 schools and job training together, but the measure failed.

The Education Department is the smallest Cabinet agency in number of employees, with just under 4,000, and a $68 billion budget. It oversees federal student loans, distributes K-12 education funding, and enforces federal civil rights laws at public schools and colleges.

The Labor Department, with about 15,000 employees and a $13 billion budget, has a broad portfolio that includes programs to train workers, enforcement of minimum-wage laws, the Bureau of Labor Statistics — which produces economic data — and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Under Republican presidents, the department has tended to have a lower profile than under Democratic administrations.

Read the complete article here.

SCOTUS defers gerrymandering ruling

From today’s New York Times:

The Supreme Court declined on Monday to address the central questions in two closely watched challenges to partisan gerrymandering, putting off for another time a ruling on the constitutionality of voting districts designed by legislatures to amplify one party’s political power.

In a challenge to a redistricting plan devised by the Republican Legislature in Wisconsin, the court unanimously said that the plaintiffs had not proved that they had suffered the sort of direct injury that would give them standing to sue. The justices sent the case back to a trial court to allow the plaintiffs to try again to prove that their voting power had been directly affected by the way state lawmakers drew voting districts for the State Assembly.

In the second case, the court unanimously ruled against the Republican challengers to a Democratic plan to redraw a Maryland congressional district. In a brief unsigned opinion, the court said the challengers had waited too long to seek an injunction blocking the district, which was drawn in 2011.

Both cases had the potential to deliver a reckoning on a practice that dates to the early days of the Republic and got its name from one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Elbridge Gerry. The court instead kicked the can down the road, leaving the door open to further challenges.

But the decisions were a setback for critics of gerrymandering, who had hoped that the Supreme Court would transform American democracy by subjecting to close judicial scrutiny the way districts have been redrawn to accommodate the preferences of the party in power. When the dust settled Monday, the status quo remained in place.

Read the complete article here.

In parts of America, Department of Labor hasn’t updated “prevailing wage” for taxpayer-funded work in decades

From Bloomberg News Network:

Thanks to a web of loopholes and limits, the federal government has been green-lighting hourly pay of just $7.25 for some construction workers laboring on taxpayer-funded projects, despite decades-old laws that promise them the “prevailing wage.”

Over the past year, the U.S. Department of Labor has formally given approval for contractors to pay $7.25 for specific government-funded projects in six Texas counties, according to letters reviewed by Bloomberg. Those counties are among dozens around the nation where the government-calculated prevailing wage listed for certain work—such as by some carpenters in North Carolina, bulldozer operators in Kansas and cement masons in Nebraska—is just the minimum wage.

That’s in part because, according to publicly available data from the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division, the agency is relying on wage survey data in more than 50 jurisdictions that’s from the 1980s or earlier. Experts said that’s a far cry from what Congress intended when, starting with the Depression-era Davis Bacon Act, it passed a series of laws meant to ensure that private companies contracted for government-backed projects pay their workers at least in the vicinity of what others get for the same work in the same geographic area.

In an emailed statement, the Labor Department didn’t address whether the decades-old data is a problem.

“The Wage and Hour Division carefully plans where to survey on an annual basis to ensure that prevailing wage rates reflect the reality of construction pay practices in a locality. The division identifies potential survey areas based on a number of criteria, including where available data on active construction projects in an area reveal changes in local pay practices such that a survey is necessary,” the department said.

Because government contracts are often required to go to the “lowest responsible bidder,” supporters say prevailing wage rules prevent a “race to the bottom” in which exploitative companies who pay workers less outbid safer, higher-quality firms, and in turn drive down industry standards to pocket more taxpayer dollars. Opponents of prevailing wage rules counter that they’re intrusive mandates that waste money, inflating construction costs in order to help unionized firms beat non-union competitors.

In recent years, the opposition—largely Republicans and industry groups—scored a series of wins, successfully pressing state governments in Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky and West Virginia to repeal their own “little Davis Bacon” rules. By contrast, the federal statutes remain in place, despite the efforts of Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, who said last year  that “no one can claim to be a fiscal conservative if they think the federal government needs to inflate the cost of wages.”

Read the complete article here.

Supreme Court Sides With Colorado Baker Who Turned Away Gay Couple

From today’s New York Times:

The Supreme Court sided with a Colorado baker on Monday in a closely watched case pitting gay rights against claims of religious freedom.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in the 7-2 decision, relied on narrow grounds, saying a state commission had violated the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom in ruling against the baker, Jack Phillips, who had refused to create a custom wedding cake for a gay couple.

“The neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised here,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “The Civil Rights Commission’s treatment of his case has some elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated his objection.”

The Supreme Court’s decision, which turned on the commission’s asserted hostility to religion, strongly reaffirmed protections for gay rights and left open the possibility that other cases raising similar issues could be decided differently.

“The outcome of cases like this in other circumstances must await further elaboration in the courts,” Justice Kennedy wrote, “all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Elena Kagan and Neil M. Gorsuch joined the majority opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas voted with the majority but would have adopted broader reasons.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissented.

Read the complete article here.

Trump pardons Dinesh D’Souza on felony campaign contribution violation

From today’s CNBC “Politics” site:

Conservative commentator and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza revealed on Friday what he said President Donald Trump told him about why he was getting a pardon.

On Fox News, D’Souza said he didn’t know he was going to get it. “I was just in my office working away. And an operator came on the line and said, ‘Is this Dinesh D’Souza?’ Yes. ‘Hold the line for the president of the United States.’ And there was Trump.”

He said Trump said: “”You’ve been a great voice for freedom. I’ve got to tell you man to man, you’ve been screwed.’ He goes, ‘I’ve been looking at the case. I knew from the beginning that it was fishy.'”

D’Souza, who was convicted in 2014 of making an illegal campaign contribution, said, “[Trump] said upon reviewing it, he felt a great injustice had been done. And using his power, he was going to rectify it, sort of clear the slate. And he said he just wanted me to be out there and be a bigger voice than ever defending the principles that I believe in.”

A day earlier, Trump announced on Twitter his decision to pardon D’Souza, an outspoken critic of Democratic former President Barack Obama. D’Souza was prosecuted by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, an Obama appointee who was later fired by Trump.

Read the complete article here.