Worker rights are shaping up a key issue in 2020. Who has the best ideas?

From today’s New York Magazine:

Never before have I seen Democratic candidates do so much to woo workers and win over union leaders. Elizabeth Warren kicked off her campaign at the site of the famous 1912 Bread and Roses textile strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Julián Castro marched in Durham, North Carolina, with fast-food workers demanding a $15 wage, while Pete Buttigieg spoke outside Uber headquarters in San Francisco alongside drivers demanding to be considered employees. Joe Biden held his first official campaign event at a Teamsters union hall in Pittsburgh. Kamala Harris has called for a raise averaging $13,500 for the nation’s schoolteachers, while Bernie Sanders has bolstered labor’s cause by using his email lists to urge supporters to join union picket lines.

Why all this sudden attention and affection for workers and unions — far more than I’ve ever seen during my nearly 25 years of writing about labor? Part of it is that this year’s Democratic candidates are doing what any smart politician would do when the field is so large — court one of the party’s largest constituencies, i.e., unions and their members. Part of it is that the candidates see that something is seriously broken in our economy: that income inequality, corporate profits, and the stock market have all been soaring while wages have largely stagnated for decades. Also, Democrats realize that a big reason Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 was that she didn’t show enough love to labor. The field seems to recognize that if a Democrat is going to win the presidency in 2020, the surest route is to win back the three longtime union strongholds — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that were key to Donald Trump’s victory. So the candidates have loosed a flood of pro-worker ideas, not just to make it easier to unionize, but to extend paid sick days and family leave to all workers, provide protections to pregnant workers, and safeguard LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination on the job.

Four of them — Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rouke, Pete Buttigieg, and Cory Booker — have put forward remarkably detailed platforms of pro-worker and pro-union proposals, while Elizabeth Warren’s elaborate plan on trade goes far beyond what many union leaders have called for. Andrew Yang says his universal basic income will be a boon for workers, providing a lifeline to those who lose their jobs because of artificial intelligence and robots. Biden has been vague so far on labor matters, calling himself a union man and saying he supports a $15 minimum. Booker has introduced a fairly radical bill, the Worker Dividend Act, which would require corporations that do stock buybacks to pay out to their employees a sizable chunk of the money going to the buyback.

Considering how many candidates there are and how many proposals and speeches they’ve made, it’s hard to keep track of who stands for what — and which plans are substantively the most pro-labor. Below, I give grades to the Democratic front-runners, based not just on the positions they’ve espoused during the campaign, but also on their track records. (Some candidates seem to have discovered the cause of workers only after announcing that they were running for the presidency.)

Read the complete article here.

Obama and Democrats must work harder for real economic fairness

President Obama’s speech yesterday promising a renewed effort to turn the economy around and make prosperity work for all Americans is long overdue.

Democrats must develop a more responsible economic policy that abandons the centrist consensus on business and regulation that it shares with Republicans. Since the days of President Clinton with his model of smaller more responsive government for facilitating economic growth, the once-upon-a-time party of the working classes has increasingly become indistinguishable from the hear-and-now party of big business and deregulation.

Over the last 20 years the debate between liberal and centrist Democrats has been about foreign policy, nation building, and balancing the war on terrorism with the civil liberties of their constituents. The failure of yesterday’s close vote in the House to prohibit the NSA from collecting and mining the phone calls of Americans highlights the drift of the Democrats’ vision for such a balanced policy. Most of them voted against President Obama to prohibit the blatantly anti-democratic actions of our intelligence agencies to spy on citizens without reasonable suspicion or due process. Yet, they remain behind the President’s floundering economic policy to reward risk-taking at the cost of massive and growing inequality between the wealthy and everyone else.

Luckily that is starting to change with push back from liberals like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who is renewing the debate about the purpose of a market economy and its role in the shared prosperity of a nation. Not only is Sen. Warren pushing to renew the Glass-Steagall Act, which regulates investment and commercial banking from engaging in the kinds of risky financial practices that started the Great Recession, she is quickly becoming the champion of corporate oversight. Last week she refused to vote with her party on its student loan interest legislation because it does too little to address the gravity of the problem.

Warren’s call to action on financial regulation and consumer protection highlights the growing need to return to matters of economic fairness. The truth is in the numbers. While the jobless recovery has stalled improvements for middle class Americans and the poor, it has fueled larger than ever gains by the top income earners. The rich are getting richer, while the rest of America is floundering. Without adequate employment opportunities, out-of-reach education, and unaffordable health care costs, social mobility for college graduates and younger generations is quickly becoming a Horatio Alger tale of the past.

The new edition of Fortune magazine has a revealing expose on the world’s billionaires that captures the behemoth problem of rising income inequality. The expose lists the world’s billionaires by country, and represents them as colored circles on a map. The U.S. has more combined wealth than all of the countries of the E.U. put together. What is more, the size of its circle compared to developing nations is like a giant star to a pin dot. The massive inequality of wealth, income, and resources highlights the problem of an economic policy driven by the laisser-faire myth that no regulation is better for market performance in the long run.

Consider the contrast of desperate job seekers and billionaires. In the last year the unemployment rate decline by .06 of a percent. Millions of Americans remain out of work, or without adequate compensation to address their needs. By contrast, this country added 56 new billionaires in that same year, from 515 to 571. That is not a system built on economic fairness that will last for much longer.