Biden throws support behind Amazon workers holding milestone union vote

From today’s CNN Online:

President Joe Biden on Sunday night lent his support to Amazon workers who are pushing to unionize — and appeared to warn Amazon (AMZN) not to deter them.

In a video posted on Twitter, Biden didn’t mention the company by name, but he did reference workers in Alabama, where a milestone union election is underway at an Amazon facility in Bessemer. Eligible workers at the facility are currently voting by mail to decide whether to form Amazon’s first US-based union.”Today and over the next few days and weeks, workers in Alabama, and all across America, are voting on whether to organize a union in their workplace,” Biden said in the video.

“There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” Biden continued. “No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences. You know, every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice.”

Biden’s remarks reflect the high profile of the Amazon vote, which has garnered national attention and support from prominent Democrats including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as well as Stacey Abrams. A group of 50 Congresspeople sent a letter last month urging Amazon’s outgoing CEO, Jeff Bezos, to “treat your employees as the critical asset they are, not as a threat to be neutralized or a cost to be minimized.”

Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is conducting the union drive for Amazon workers at the Bessemer facility, thanked Biden “for sending a clear message of support” for the workers.

“As President Biden points out, the best way for working people to protect themselves and their families is by organizing into unions. And that is why so many working women and men are fighting for a union at the Amazon facility in Bessemer, Alabama,” Appelbaum said in a statement.

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CFPB, muzzled under Trump, prepares to renew tough industry oversight

From today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog created after the 2008 financial meltdown and largely muzzled in the Trump era, is poised to start barking again.

The agency will focus first on enforcing legal protections for distressed renters, student borrowers, and others facing growing debt that its previous leadership has been lax about during the pandemic.

But the CFPB — which President Joe Biden has tapped 38-year-old Rohit Chopra, a Wharton School grad, to lead — is also likely to take an unprecedentedly tough line against industry giants it finds engaging in abusive practices, former agency officials advising the Biden team say.

“It’s a matter of ramping back up,” said Richard Cordray, the CFPB’s first director, who stepped down in late 2017. The agency under Trump was “picking at odds and ends. They ramped down, and it’s a matter of changing direction.”

That will mark a dramatic turn. Just last year, consumer complaints to the agency rose by 60% over 2019, agency data show, setting a new record as the economic crisis wiped out millions of jobs and pushed lower-income Americans to the brink.

Yet the relief the agency secured for consumers topped out at less than $700 million, a fraction of the $5.6 billion it collected in 2015, its high watermark. Kathy Kraninger, a Trump appointee who resigned as director of the agency last week at Biden’s request, signaled the outcome at the start of the pandemic. She said in late March that financial companies would not face penalties for violating consumer protections in the Cares Act if they made “good-faith” efforts to comply.

The approach continued the agency’s more hands-off approach to corporate interests under Trump appointees. Over the course of the Trump presidency, the agency wrangled $2.3 billion in consumer relief, a steep drop from the $10.7 billion during its first five full years in operation under the Obama administration. And the agency shifted its crosshairs notably — from big-money actions against major companies including American Express, Citibank, Corinthian Colleges, JPMorgan Chase, Sprint, and Wells Fargo, to smaller-dollar rulings against more fringe firms.

“When you’re only going after last-dollar scammers and small, fly-by-night companies, you’re not sending a message to the big banks, big debt collectors, and big credit bureaus that there’s a sheriff in town,” said Ed Mierzwinski, senior director of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s federal consumer program. “As soon as he’s confirmed, Rohit will bring a renewed sense of urgency.”

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Biden to sign executive orders boosting workers’ rights and pushing for $15 minimum wage for federal staff

From today’s Business Insider Online:

President Joe Biden has planned a series of actions aimed at raising the minimum wage for federal staff to $15 and boosting workers’ rights, Brian Deese, his National Economic Council director, told reporters on Thursday.

This includes two executive orders Biden is set to sign on Friday. With one order, the Department of Labor would be asked to clarify that people seeking employment can continue to claim jobless benefits if they turn down a job because it puts their health at risk.

White House officials said the order would provide workers “a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health, and if they do so, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance,” The New York Times reported.

Biden is set to ask agencies to review which federal workers make less than $15 an hour and to develop recommendations to boost them to that wage. That order would overturn three executive orders that President Donald Trump signed in 2018 that limited job protections for federal employees and weakened their labor unions.

Biden has asked his team to prepare another executive order to ensure that federal contractors offer a $15 minimum wage alongside emergency paid leave. Biden plans to sign this order in his first 100 days in office, Deese said.

The two executive orders Biden is set to sign on Friday also include measures to bolster food aid for people struggling with hunger during the coronavirus pandemic and to push for improved delivery of stimulus checks.

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Fox News cuts away from Kayleigh McEnany news conference after she alleges vote fraud with no evidence

From today’s Washington Post:

Fox News cut away from White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany’s remarks at a news conference Monday evening because she claimed without evidence that Democrats were inviting fraud and illegal voting.

“There is only one party in America trying to keep observers out of the count room, and that party, my friends, is the Democrat Party,” she said, adding, “You don’t oppose an audit of the vote because you want an accurate count. … You take these positions because you are welcoming fraud and you are welcoming illegal voting.”

From the Fox News studio, anchor Neil Cavuto cut in to end Fox’s broadcast of the video feed from the Republican National Committee headquarters. “Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he said. “I just think we have to be very clear that she’s charging the other side as welcoming fraud and welcoming illegal voting. Unless she has more details to back that up, I can’t in good countenance continue showing you this.”

He continued: “I want to make sure that maybe they do have something to back that up, but that’s an explosive charge to make, that the other side is effectively rigging and cheating. If she does bring proof of that, of course we’ll take you back. So far she has started saying right at the outset — welcoming fraud, welcoming illegal voting. Not so fast.”

The decision to cut away was Cavuto’s, not an edict from Fox’s top brass, according to people familiar with the show’s decision.

Fox has occasionally cut away from McEnany briefings in the past but notably did not do so even during the lengthiest of President Trump’s coronavirus task force briefings, when Trump took the lectern and veered away from information about the pandemic and straight into political messaging.

The move Monday came amid heightened attention on Fox News, whose decision desk was the first to call the state of Arizona for former vice president Joe Biden on election night, incurring the wrath of the president. The close relationship the network has long enjoyed with the president has cooled in the weeks since Rupert Murdoch, whose family controls Fox News, started telling associates that he predicted Trump would lose the election.”

McEnany would go on to say at Monday’s news conference that Republican poll watchers were barred from observing the counting, an allegation that Fox News reporter Eric Shawn, who had been reporting from Philadelphia during the counting, refuted on air numerous times last week, including at one point showing a photograph of the view a poll watcher could see. “That’s not true,” Shawn told host Dana Perino on air about such an allegation by Trump. “That’s not true. That’s just not true.”

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