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Barak Obama: We Need to Follow John Lewis’ Example and Fight for Democracy

From today’s USA Today:

When I spoke at John Lewis’ memorial service two years ago, I emphasized a truth John knew better than just about anyone. Our democracy isn’t a given. It isn’t self-executing. We, as citizens, have to nurture and tend it. We have to work at it. And in that task, we have to vigilantly preserve and protect our most basic tool of self-government, which is the right to vote.

At the time, various state legislators across the country had already passed a variety of laws designed to make voting harder. It was an attack on everything John Lewis fought for, and a challenge to our most fundamental democratic freedoms.

Since then, things have only gotten worse.

Slow unraveling of basic democratic principles

While the American people turned out to vote at the highest rate in a century in the last presidential election, members of one of our two major political parties – spurred on by the then-sitting president – denied the results of that election and spun conspiracy theories that drove a violent mob to attack our Capitol.

Although initially rejected by many Republicans, those claims continued to be amplified by conservative media outlets, and have since been embraced by a sizable portion of Republican voters – not to mention GOP elected officials who do, or at least should, know better. Those Republican officials and conservative thought leaders who have courageously stood their ground and rejected such anti-democratic efforts have found themselves ostracized, threatened and subjected to primary challenges.

Read the complete story here.

Sen. Kristen Sinema deals fatal blow to Democrats’ fight for voting rights law

From today’s CNN Online:

Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona reiterated from the Senate floor Thursday that she is not backing off her position to uphold the filibuster, less than an hour before President Joe Biden arrived on Capitol Hill to pitch Democrats on eradicating it. She said removing the filibuster would not guarantee “that we prevent demagogues from being elected” and that getting rid of it would merely be treating the “symptom” of partisanship and not the underlying problem.

Sinema said while she continues to strongly back Democrats’ elections legislation she will not support “separate actions that worsen the underlying disease of division infecting our country … There’s no need for me to restate my long-standing support for the 60-vote threshold to pass legislation.”

“When one party need only negotiate with itself, policy will inextricably be pushed from the middle towards the extremes,” she added, noting that she does not support that outcome, and she knows “Arizonans do not either.”

Sinema’s position has been consistent throughout recent negotiations on voting rights but is a fatal blow to her party as they tried to strike a unified tone in backing legislation on the issue, ahead of a self-imposed deadline Monday to act.

Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego called out Sinema by name for supporting the filibuster over the wishes of Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other progressive Democrats. Gallego has not ruled out running against Sinema in the 2024 Senate primary.

Read the complete story here.

Colorado Public Sector Workers on the Verge of Winning Right to Unionize

From today’s Jacobin Magazine:

he Colorado legislature will soon consider a bill that would establish collective bargaining rights for the hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in the state who are currently without such a framework. The legislation’s primary sponsors are the majority leaders in both chambers — Democrats Daneya Esgar in the House and Stephen Fenberg in the Senate — and the AFL-CIO and the Colorado Education Association (CEA) are backing the bill too.

Jacobin’s Alex N. Press spoke to workers from Communication Workers of America (CWA) Local 7799, which is helping lead the charge for the legislation: Alex Wolf-Root, an adjunct lecturer in the philosophy department at the University of Colorado Boulder and a founding member and current vice president of CWA Local 7799; Jacob OldeFest, a paramedic for Denver Health and a member of the Denver Health Workers United union; and Rachel Godby, a registered nurse at UCHealth Memorial North and Central hospitals and a member of UCHealth Workers United. They discussed the obstacles they face without collective bargaining rights, the wave of workers leaving health care, and where legislation fits into building worker power.


ANP: So, you’re part of a coalition pushing to expand collective bargaining rights for public sector workers in Colorado. What are your rights now, and how will the bill change them?

AWR: It’s important that we start by stating that we have the right to organize and unionize regardless of what state labor law says about collective bargaining. However, because we’re public workers, our right to collectively bargain and force recognition with our bosses is different than in the private sector. In the private sector, employees’ right to organize is codified through the National Labor Relations Board. Those rules and regulations don’t apply to public workers, whose organizing rights are determined state by state.

In Colorado, the law is silent on the rights of the vast majority of public workers. We recently passed a bill for state workers, which created a union that represents them. But with respect to all other public workers, be they health care workers, higher ed, K-12, firefighters, or municipal workers, the state has no legal framework for us to get to the table. Some local jurisdictions have passed ordinances or laws to change things, but this bill will provide a legal framework for all public workers to have our unions recognized by our bosses and collectively bargain.

ANP: What specifically is in the draft of the bill?

AWR: There are two avenues for recognition: the standard 30 percent of workers signing cards and holding an election route, and then card check, i.e., 50 percent plus one, which is important because of what the boss can do between when elections are called and when they happen. The bill also has strong protections against employee interference — retaliation, intimidation, and discouraging unionization — both once there’s a recognized union and beforehand.

It is very open around what can be on the table. We’re firm believers in a wide scope of bargaining so that we can bargain for the common good: for class sizes, for staffing ratios, etc. Additionally, there is no restriction on our right to strike, because we know that a collective bargaining agreement is only as strong as the power we bring, and the right to strike is the biggest flex of that power. If that gets chopped off at the knee, we lose a lot more power than we would gain through a collective bargaining agreement.

Read the complete interview here.

Biden and Harris Call for Voting Rights Laws and Senate Reform in Georgia

From today’s New York Times:

President Biden will endorse changing Senate rules to pass new voting rights protections during a speech in Atlanta on Tuesday, the most significant step he will have taken to pressure lawmakers to act on an issue he has called the biggest test of America’s democracy since the Civil War.

Mr. Biden will not go so far as to call for full-scale elimination of the filibuster, a Senate tradition that allows the minority party to block legislation that fails to garner 60 votes, according to a senior administration official who previewed the speech. But Mr. Biden will say he supports a filibuster “carve-out” in the case of voting rights, the official said. Either endeavor has slim chances of winning support from all 50 Senate Democrats, who are already facing threats of retaliation from Republicans in the chamber.

Mr. Biden, citing “repeated obstruction” by Republicans, will endorse changing the Senate rules and contend that the filibuster has protected “extreme attacks on the most basic constitutional right.”

“This is one of those defining moments,” Mr. Biden told reporters on Tuesday, before departing for Georgia. “People are going to be judged, where were they before and where were they after the vote. History is going to judge this. And so the risk is making sure people understand just how important this is.”

Mr. Biden’s visit to Georgia is intended to invigorate a Democratic-led effort to pass new voting rights protections in the 50-50 Senate in the coming days, although chances are slim that he will be able to rally the necessary votes. Yet even with his new call for a filibuster carve-out, changing the Senate rules would require the support of all 50 Democrats and the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris to break a tie. Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both Democrats, have expressed strong public opposition to changing filibuster rules.

Read the complete story here.

Non-citizens’ Right to Vote in Local Elections Becomes Law in New York City

From today’s New York Times:

Mayor Eric Adams, setting aside prior misgivings, allowed a bill to become law on Sunday that would grant more than 800,000 noncitizens the right to vote in municipal elections.

“I believe that New Yorkers should have a say in their government, which is why I have and will continue to support this important legislation,” the mayor said in a statement.

“I look forward to bringing millions more into the democratic process,” he added.

The measure applies to legal residents, including those with green cards, and so-called Dreamers who were brought to the country illegally as children but were allowed to remain under a federal program known as DACA. Although the City Council approved the bill last month, New York law provides the mayor the opportunity to veto it within 30 days. Without any action, the bill passes into law automatically, as happened with this measure.

Because of the new law, an estimated 808,000 adults will be eligible to vote beginning Jan. 9, 2023, according to the City Council. They will be able to vote in primary and general elections for citywide contests, like those for mayor and public advocate, as well as in local races, like those for City Council and borough presidents. The law does not allow noncitizens to vote in state or federal elections.

On Monday, the Republican National Committee filed a lawsuit against the mayor, City Council and the city Board of Elections, challenging the law as unconstitutional.

In a statement, Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, accused Democrats of attempting to subvert elections by allowing noncitizens to vote, adding: “American elections should be decided by American citizens.”

New York is not the first city to implement such a measure — similar policies exist in Vermont and Maryland, and are under consideration in Illinois, Maine and Massachusetts — but it is the largest to do so.

The measure stands in sharp contrast to other efforts nationwide to limit the right to vote. In August, Texas passed a bill limiting the use of absentee voting and drop boxes, and empowering partisan poll watchers. That measure has been challenged by the Justice Department, which contended that the law disenfranchised older, disabled and non-English-speaking voters.

Read the complete story here.

Whole Foods Claims Right to Prohibit Workers’ ‘Black Lives Matter’ Masks

From today’s Yahoo Finance:

U.S. labor board prosecutors are trying to violate Whole Foods Market’s copyright and constitutional rights by forcing it to let employees wear “Black Lives Matter” masks at work, the Amazon.com Inc. subsidiary claims.

In a Dec. 17 filing with the National Labor Relations Board, Whole Foods denied the agency general counsel’s allegations that the company violated federal labor law by banning employees from wearing “Black Lives Matter” insignia and punishing staff around the country who did. The filing is a response to the labor board’s accusation that by prohibiting Black Lives Matter messages at work, the company interfered with employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act to engage “in concerted activities for their mutual aid and protection.”

Whole Foods counters that it’s the one whose rights are being violated. The company’s filing, obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request, accuses the labor board’s general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, of trying to unconstitutionally “compel” speech by Whole Foods in violation of its First Amendment rights. The upscale grocer also accuses her of “unlawfully infringing upon and/or diluting WFM’s protected trademarks” by trying to mandate that it allow the display of a “political message in conjunction with” its trademarked uniforms and logos.

Whole Foods contends that Section 7 of the NLRA, which protects employees’ right to take collective action related to working conditions, doesn’t extend to workers’ BLM messages, which it calls “political and/or social justice speech.” The company’s filing argues that “BLM” and related phrases “are not objectively understood to relate to workplace issues or improving working conditions at WFM’s retail grocery stores” or employment terms and conditions in general. “Employees do not have a protected right under Section 7 of the Act to display the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘BLM’ in the workplace,” the company’s attorneys wrote.

A Whole Foods spokesperson declined to comment Friday on the filing. The company said last month that its dress code policy doesn’t single out specific slogans but prohibits any messages unrelated to its business. The case is slated to be heard by an agency judge at a trial in March.

Read the complete story here.

WI Disenfranchisement Laws Deny Voting Rights After Convicts Serve Time

From today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Under the buzz of hair clippers, men sitting in Much Better barbershop didn’t ponder New Year’s Eve plans or talk shop on the Bucks or the Packers.

The usual banter found at this north side business centered on a weightier topic — taxation without representation for more than 63,000 Wisconsin residents who cannot vote because of felony disenfranchisement laws.

Ventae Parrow Bey, 44, is one of them.

He was released from the Wisconsin prison system in 2001, but has spent the last 13 years “on paper.” 

In Wisconsin, individuals who are “on paper” — on parole, probation or extended supervision — lose their right to vote until they complete their post-incarceration sentence.

There’s now an effort underway to restore those rights for them.

“When you think about this, you are taxing me, but you are telling me I can’t vote,” Bey said.

He expects to be off paper this year and plans to register to vote.

“It’s like an oxymoron…. How is it fair to tax someone that you are not going to allow to have a representation?” he asked. “If I can’t have representation, then you need to stop taxing me. You need to leave my money alone.”

Ramiah Whiteside was released in 2019, but will not be off paper until 2042 before he is eligible to vote. He’s now a prison inreach coordinator with EXPO, an advocacy organization supporting system-involved individuals.

Whiteside said voting would allow him to have a connection with the government or hold elected officials accountable.

Read the complete story here.

Senate Dems may punt spending bill in favor of voting rights legislation

From today’s Business Insider:

Senate Democrats’ chances to pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better economic agenda by Christmas were in renewed jeopardy on Wednesday, reflecting a brewing dispute between Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and the White House about its true price tag. They may attempt to revive a stalled push on voting rights to salvage what’s left of their legislating this year.

NBC News reported Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning on punting the $2 trillion social spending and climate package into 2022, and may instead pursue a final push to pass voting rights legislation. His office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Senate Democratic leaders and the White House appear in a stalemate with Manchin, a key swing vote needed to pass the bill. All 50 Democratic senators must coalesce around the plan to clear it and sidestep fierce Republican opposition.

Manchin is opposed to large swaths of the bill, like a one-year extension of the bulked-up child tax credit. A source familiar with his thinking told Insider that its estimated $1.4 trillion cost over ten years ran up to Manchin’s red-line on new federal spending.

Senate Democrats’ chances to pass President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better economic agenda by Christmas were in renewed jeopardy on Wednesday, reflecting a brewing dispute between Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and the White House about its true price tag. They may attempt to revive a stalled push on voting rights to salvage what’s left of their legislating this year.

NBC News reported Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is planning on punting the $2 trillion social spending and climate package into 2022, and may instead pursue a final push to pass voting rights legislation. His office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Senate Democratic leaders and the White House appear in a stalemate with Manchin, a key swing vote needed to pass the bill. All 50 Democratic senators must coalesce around the plan to clear it and sidestep fierce Republican opposition.

Manchin is opposed to large swaths of the bill, like a one-year extension of the bulked-up child tax credit. A source familiar with his thinking told Insider that its estimated $1.4 trillion cost over ten years ran up to Manchin’s red-line on new federal spending.

Read the complete story here.

Europe Pushes New Rules Turning Gig Workers Into Employees

From today’s New York Times:

In one of the biggest challenges yet to the labor practices at popular ride-hailing and food-delivery services, the European Commission took a major step on Thursday toward requiring companies like Uber to consider their drivers and couriers as employees entitled to a minimum wage and legal protections.

The commission proposed rules that, if enacted, would affect up to an estimated 4.1 million people and give the European Union some of the world’s strictest rules for the so-called gig economy. The policy would remake the relationship that ride services, food delivery companies and other platforms have with workers in the 27-nation bloc.

Labor unions and other supporters hailed the proposal, which has strong political support, as a breakthrough in the global effort to change the business practices of companies that they say depend on exploiting workers with low pay and weak labor protections.

Uber and other companies are expected to lobby against the rules, which must go through several legislative steps before becoming law. The companies have long classified workers as independent contractors to hold down costs and limit legal liabilities. The model provided new conveniences for traveling across town and ordering takeout, and gave millions of people a flexible new way to work when they want.

But in Europe, where worker protection laws are traditionally more robust than in the United States, there has been growing momentum for change, particularly as the pandemic highlighted the fragile nature of gig work when food couriers and others continued to work even amid lockdowns and rising Covid-19 cases.

While there have been some important legal victories and laws passed in some countries targeting Uber and others, the policy released by the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, is the most far-reaching legislative attempt to regulate companies to date.

The rules would affect drivers, couriers, home cleaners, home health care aides, fitness coaches and others who use apps and online platforms to find work. As employees, they would be entitled to a minimum wage, holiday pay, unemployment and health benefits, and other legal protections depending on the country where they worked.

Read the complete story here.

Uber Must Overhaul Business Model in U.K. after High Court’s Ruling

From today’s The Guardian:

Uber will be forced to change its business model in London to contract directly with passengers who book, after a high court ruling that will affect all private hire operators in the capital.

The judgment was hailed by unions for giving both drivers and passengers more protection, by underscoring previous legal rulings that drivers are workers with rights, and making firms responsible once bookings are accepted.

The ruling could indirectly lead to a price rise, with Uber and others now liable for VAT, which could add up to 20% more to the cost of a trip.

The high court case was brought by Uber after supreme court judges suggested, in the case this year where it ruled that drivers were workers and not contractors, that Uber could not be viewed simply as an agent.

Uber sought clarification on the point, hoping to retain its existing model, but in a ruling on Monday, the judges said the law required a contractual obligation between operators and passengers once a booking is made, adding: “To interpret the act in this way gives effect to the statutory purpose of ensuring public safety.

“If the passenger’s only contractual relationship is with a driver he or she has never heard of and who is in any event unlikely to be worth claiming against, any claim is likely to be practically worthless.”

Transport for London has written to the larger operators to review their contracts to ensure compliance. A TfL spokesperson said: “All operators will need to carefully consider the court’s judgment and take steps to ensure that they comply with it, including considering whether any changes to their way of working are required.”

Others said it was a “damning” verdict for TfL, as well as Uber. Sian Berry, a Green party London assembly member, said TfL had, since Uber emerged, been “failing properly to use the powers it has to regulate and protect London’s private hire operators and drivers”.

She added: “In the interests of passenger safety, they must now follow the court ruling and make sure all operators are compliant with the correct legislation without delay.”

The GMB union said the ruling confirms London private hire drivers are legally classed as workers and should be treated as such under law, adding: “It means TfL’s guidance is now incorrect and it means most operators are acting illegally and must get their house in order.”

Read the complete article here.