Low-wage federal workers walked off the job Tuesday morning across Washington, DC, to demand an executive order for higher wages—building on a successful push earlier this year to raise the wage of federal contract workers to $10.10.
President Obama announced during this year’s State of the Union address that he would indeed raise the wage of federal contract workers, after a lengthy pressure campaign—but Good Jobs Nation, a group leading the earlier strikes, now believes $10.10 isn’t high enough. Over 200 workers planned to walk off the job on Tuesday at a variety of workplaces that contract with the federal government, and they want Obama to go even higher.
At Union Station, Washington’s central train hub and a federally owned building with many restaurants and retail outlets, striking workers were joined by several members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, as well as some faith leaders.
“I don’t believe that any federal contractor who doesn’t want to pay people a livable wage should have a federal contract,” Representative Keith Ellison, a co-chair of the CPC, told the crowd. “There’s enough federal contractors who want to be fair and do good by their workers. We don’t have to keep with the crooked ones.”
“If we’re paying companies with taxpayer dollars, they should take care of their workers,” said Representative Barbara Lee. Lee and Ellison were joined by Representatives Sheila Jackson-Lee and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting member who represents DC.
Erica Gayles, who works at a Dunkin’ Donuts inside the Pentagon, has helped lead the strike and spoke with The Nation on Monday afternoon. She described how she attended the University of the District of Columbia for three years, before her mother fell ill. Gayles was forced to drop out and find work immediately.
“Yes it wasn’t the best job, but little pay is better than no pay at all. And I’m kind of stuck because I’m tired of working this tiring job for a little bit of money,” she said. “I’d also like to go back to school and obtain my degree in criminal justice.”
In the meantime, she wants Obama to step up again for low-wage workers. “I’m involved with this movement because a lot of workers are afraid to speak up for what’s right, but I’m here because I want to be the voice of those who are afraid because there shouldn’t be fear,” she said. “You should have no fear in speaking up for what’s right. It’s not like you’re doing anything illegal. We need this to survive, everybody else is surviving and getting benefits, getting paid good, and we work hard.”
According to the National Employment Law Project, when they interviewed 500 federal workers last year in service industry jobs, they found that 70 percent made less than $10 per hour. Most federal contracts have yet to be affected by the earlier executive order, which for legal reasons can only apply to newly signed contracts.
Last February, The Nation, with support from the Investigative Fund, published a broad look into the many failures of America’s lobbying disclosure system. Among several revelations in the piece, we reported that major aspects of lobbying law have gone completely unenforced. The Department of Justice, we found, has never brought an enforcement action against an individual or firm for failing to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The only LDA enforcement actions to date have been from individuals who do register but fall behind in their paperwork. But for the thousands of influence peddlers in Washington, DC, who go about their trade without registration and disclosure, law enforcement has turned a blind eye.
That may be changing.
According to a story posted on Friday by The Hill, “the Office of Congressional Ethics has for the first time accused an entity of lobbying Congress illegally. The complaint has been referred to the Justice Department, which enforces the Lobbying Disclosure Act, but few other details are available.”
Notably, the first law firm to receive notice of this referral was Covington & Burling, Attorney General Eric Holder’s previous employer. Covington’s Robert Kelner wrote:
For several years, we have been warning clients and others that it was only a matter of time before we would see criminal referrals against lobbyists who fail to register under the federal Lobbying Disclosure Act (“LDA”). Until now, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia has focused exclusively—and rarely—on bringing cases against registered lobbyists who fail to timely file reports. This week, however, the Office of Congressional Ethics (“OCE”) of the U.S. House of Representatives mentioned in its quarterly report that during the second quarter of this year, “OCE voted to refer one entity to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for failure to register under the Lobbying Disclosure Act.” This is big news.
It’s not clear yet which “shadow lobbyist” is being targeted for investigation. But just the fact that the DOJ is finally taking a look into this problem, which includes prominent members of both parties, is indeed big news.
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This post was originally published at RepublicReport.org.
Among visitors to Freedom Fest, a libertarian convention in Las Vegas, you might miss the aging Don Blankenship amid other middle-aged attendees and a swarm of college students in three-piece suits. Blankenship, wearing a bowling shirt and tan slacks, moves from panel to panel carrying a tote bag filled with free schwag—of which there was a lot to choose from, including this “water bottle” from the Charles Koch Institute—like anyone else. The former CEO of Massey Energy became the most feared man in West Virginia for his ruthless control over his mines and for busting unions throughout Appalachia. Now, he might be the most hated, after a 2010 blast at his company’s Upper Big Branch mine killed twenty-nine workers in one of the worst mining disasters in American history.
Blankenship, who retired from Massey after the tragedy at UBB, is now a political activist, and he’s in Nevada for several reasons. For one thing, he was there to attend the Heartland Institute’s conference on global warming denial, which preceded Freedom Fest. And in any case, he now resides in Sin City for tax purposes.
It’s the first time Blankenship has attended either event, he tells me, but he’s eager to gather intellectual fodder for a movie he’s creating on the US economy. “I’m basically looking for information and fresh ideas,” Blankenship says. “We’re in a reg-cecession,” he explains, which is a term he created for “a recession caused by excessive regulation, including many based on global warming.”
At the height of his power, shortly before the blast, Blankenship was already a powerful political player and served on the board of the US Chamber of Commerce, arguably the most influential business lobbying group in the world. After the mine tragedy, the Chamber and other coal-connected political groups successfully defeated congressional efforts to update the laws governing mine safety. Republic Report obtained a financial disclosure form that shows that under Blankenship his coal company donated $100,000 to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank that penned an op-ed after the mine collapse to warn against letting the tragedy be used by “anti-mining activists” for new regulations.
“Most people excuse their lack of involvement in politics as politics being dirty and politics causing problems,” says Blankenship, “but the only way to have good government is to have better candidates and elect better people and it’s why we have $17 trillion in debt and an economy that’s declining.”
Blankenship concedes that he is not as active in the political realm as he used to be, though he still gives an occasional phone call to his former colleagues. “I’ve spoken to the US Chamber and I’ve spoken to the coal associations. You can not just immediately have your hand out to compromise, you’ve got to have belief and you have to stand up for what’s right, not what’s politically correct.”
After listening to Blankenship’s short diatribe against the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, I asked Blankenship what should be done about these environmental groups. “You’ve got to fight them at every step,” he replies. “The environmental movement isn’t a great cause, it’s a great business.”
To Blankenship, the EPA’s coal power plant regulations and the mine safety crowd all represent the same ideology. “The actual UBB explosion was partially the result of the war on coal,” he says.
A minute later, after mentioning that he is going to be late to meet his date for lunch, he makes the connection even more explicit. “UBB is just another example of how willing the far left is to outright lie and of course when I was CEO of Massey I was coached to say ‘untruthful,’ but really it’s a lie. The reason you know they will lie about the science of global warming is because they lied about the very science of UBB. Their willingness to lie about that solidifies in my mind their willingness to lie about the science of global warming.”
Over the last year, Blankenship has tried to clear his name over the UBB mine disaster. He created a short video and has told almost any reporter willing to listen that the disaster was a freak accident relating to the buildup of natural gas. Reports from workers and subsequent investigations have made clear that Massey Energy’s mines had skirted safety rules and were infamous for allowing a dangerous build-up of methane and other flammable gas. A study from the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University showed that Massey’s corner-cutting had led to the worst safety record of any coal mining company for ten years prior to the disaster.
Blankenship continues to expound on his worldview. “Here’s where I get into answers that are very unpopular.” A wry grin creeps Blankenship’s otherwise expressionless face. “You’re basically seeing, well, I don’t want to use the word, but the way I describe fascism is the control of people’s lives by the combined efforts of big business and big government.” He rattles off several examples: GE’s getting sweetheart deals from the Obama administration, the bank bailouts, Warren Buffet. Publicly traded companies are increasingly making their money overseas, so they don’t have to comply with domestic regulations, Blankenship says. That’s why they support the Obama administration.
Before he has to go, he reminds me that his movie on regulation will come out on Labor Day. Its argument, he claims will even sell with union workers, who have been duped by their bosses into supporting anti-mining politicians like Obama and Joe Biden.
Who would better lead our country?
“I love Ted Cruz’s courage with the Obamacare filibuster,” he says. “I don’t like Rand Paul as much as father Ron Paul. Like what Rubio’s been saying. Ben Carson.” If he had his druthers, who would he pick for the White House? “I’d reincarnate Ronald Reagan.”
With that, he smiled for the second time in the conference, waddled into his seat and disappeared into a crowd of other libertarian activists.
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With so many wars and crises now exploding across the globe, New York Times media columnist David Carr looks at how social media are changing how the public and journalists themselves experience violence and tragedy. How is news digested when it’s new down to the second? Does the immediacy of the reporting from Gaza or Ukraine or Syria make us more involved, or does the onslaught of information result in more war fatigue, disaster fatigue, or any of the other fatigues rampant in a busy consumer society like ours?
“Bearing witness is the oldest and perhaps most valuable tool in the journalist’s arsenal,” Carr writes,
but it becomes something different delivered in the crucible of real time, without pause for reflection. It is unedited, distributed rapidly and globally, and immediately responded to by the people formerly known as the audience .
It has made for a more visceral, more emotional approach to reporting. War correspondents arriving in a hot zone now provide an on-the-spot moral and physical inventory that seems different from times past. That emotional content, so noticeable when Anderson Cooper was reporting from the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, has now become routine, part of the real-time picture all over the web. …
The public has developed an expectation that it will know exactly what a reporter knows every single second, and news organizations are increasingly urging their correspondents to use social media to tell their stories—and to extend their brand. (Unless the reporter says something dumb. Then, not so much.)
Carr quotes Susan Sontag from a 2002 New Yorker essay on “the perennial seductiveness of war.”
“Making suffering loom larger, by globalizing it, may spur people to feel they ought to ‘care’ more,” she wrote. “It also invites them to feel that the sufferings and misfortunes are too vast, too irrevocable, too epic to be much changed by any local, political intervention.”
So now that war comes to us in real time, do we feel helpless or empowered? Do we care more, or will the ubiquity of images and information desensitize us to the point where human suffering loses meaning when it is part of a scroll that includes a video of your niece twerking ? Oh, we say as our index finger navigates to the next item, another one of those .
Of course, it’s not an either/or. One person can both care and be emotionally numb within a day or a second. Either way, as Carr writes, “When a trigger gets pulled or bombs explode, real people are often on the wrong end of it. And bearing witness to the consequences gives meaning to what we see.”
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For years, the American labor movement has been on the defensive as it has become harder and harder for workers to join or maintain a union. But some House Democrats are planning a dramatic counter-offensive: a bill that would make union organizing a civil right.
Representatives Keith Ellison and John Lewis plan to introduce a bill Wednesday that would make labor organizing a basic freedom no different than freedom from racial discrimination. That sounds like a nice talking point—but this isn’t just another messaging bill.
The Ellison-Lewis legislation would amend the National Labor Relations Act to include protections found under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include labor organizing as a fundamental right. That would give workers a broader range of legal options if they feel discriminated against for trying to form a union.
Currently, their only redress is through a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board—an important process, but one that workers and labor analysts frequently criticize as both too slow and often too lenient on offending employers.
If the NLRA were amended, however, after 180 days a worker could take his or her labor complaint from the NLRB to a federal court. This is how the law works now for civil rights complaints, which gives workers the option, after 180 days, to step outside the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission process.
Then, workers would have sole discretion on whether to push a complaint, as opposed to relying on a decision by the NLRB on whether to forge ahead. Workers could also move the process along much faster than the NLRB handles complaints, which can often take years.
Ellison told The Nation that the legislation would also help workers recover more money—the NLRB will award back pay to a grieved worker minus whatever they earned while awaiting a decision, which can often amount to basically nothing. “[The NLRB] remedy, though useful and very important, and nothing in our legislation changes that, that remedy is considered slow and somewhat inadequate. For some of these union-busting law firms, [they] will say ‘so do it and we’ll just pay.’”
Ellison said he believes the labor movement needs to get back on the offensive. “With the Supreme Court in here, and what they just did in Harris v. Quinn and all the things they wrote about Abood, it’s insane to hope for the best,” he said, referring to the recent decision involving non-union public workers and their fee arrangements with unions. “I mean this Supreme Court is openly hostile to racial justice and worker justice simultaneously. So we better be moving out on both fronts.”
Ellison told MSNBC, which first reported the bill, that he got the idea from a book by Century Foundation fellows Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit, titled Why Union Organizing Should Be a Civil Right. They argue that the First Amendment’s right to free association should clearly include one of the most crucial forms of association—banding together to push back against unfair treatment from employers.
Marvit told The Nation he thinks treating labor organizing as a civil right is not only constitutionally appropriate but also much more appealing to the general public. “Civil rights is something that Americans really understand, and has a legitimacy that is sort of beyond reproach,” he said. “So when you put it in civil rights terms, it’s something that really speaks to people.” (In the interest of full disclosure, Marvit has written for The Nation in the past.)
“Frankly, I think Republicans have been saying it on the other side. That’s been the message of the National Right to Work Committee for sixty years, that workers have a civil right not to join a union,” Marvit continued. “And I think that’s been a successful argument for them. It taps into this notion of your freedom to choose.”
The Nation has learned that when Ellison and Lewis introduce the bill on Wednesday morning, they will boast eleven other original co-sponsors: Representatives Jerrold Nadler, John Conyers, Marcia Fudge, Barbara Lee, Mark Takano, Rush Holt, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Karen Bass, Danny Davis, Albio Sires and Janice Hahn. All of the co-sponsors are Democrats.
Major unions will also be on board. Both the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win coalition will back the bill, along with The United Food and Commercial Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Joseph Geevarghese, deputy director of Change to Win, told The Nation that his union was joining the push “because union organizing has been maligned. Unions have been maligned in our society. There is a value in re-defining what all of these tens of thousands of brave workers are doing as, “We have a fundamental right to stand up and speak out about injustice in this country.’”
Read Next: Why are postal workers boycotting Staples?
You might not consider your local post office to be a hotbed of political foment. But last Tuesday, the nation’s window clerks and other mail service staff assembled in Chicago to declare that, despite efforts in Washington to privatize and downsize the Postal Service, nothing would keep these workers from their appointed rounds.
Rallying with the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) under the banner of “The US Mail is Not For Sale,” post office workers marched to protest recent moves by the office superstore Staples. The chain is at the center of a highly controversial “public-private partnership” deal to turn its store counters into quasi-post offices. At the APWU convention, the union amped up its call for a nationwide boycott of Staples to oppose plans to pilot the so-called “Retail Expansion Plan” at eighty-two stores in California, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, and potentially expand nationwide.
Following weeks of postal workers’ campaigning, with support from the AFL-CIO and numerous public and private service-worker unions, Staples has apparently pulled back and announced that the expansion plan would be ended and incorporated into the existing “Approved Shipper” program, which more generally allows private retailers to market certain postal products. In an e-mail to The Nation, Staples states the company has ended the pilot for now, but “will continue to explore and test products and services that meet our customers’ needs.”
Calling the move a “ruse”—merely a name-change to deflect bad publicity—union leaders vowed to keep up the resistance. They remain wary of the potential expansion of the Approved Shipper program, seeing it as part of the USPS administration’s agenda of selling out postal infrastructure and union jobs to the Big Box retail industry.
In theory, the union supports making postal services more available—just not when those services come at the cost of the postal workforce. In analysis of the Staples plan published in April, APWU President Mark Dimondstein stated, “The APWU favors expanding service. But postal services must be provided by highly-trained uniformed employees of the U.S. Postal Service—whether it’s at the Post Office or Staples.”
Though many details of the plan were not disclosed publicly, internal and business documents indicate that the Retail Expansion Plan extended a trend toward commercialization by expanding privately managed postal access points and using Staples employees to take on traditional “window duties.” This would go far beyond offering products like stamps and boxes over the counter—a service that is already available at tens of thousands of private businesses nationwide—to actually replace postal jobs.
The USPS has already privatized a chunk of its retail and delivery infrastructure. Thousands of privately contracted postal outlets nationwide currently work under a special public-private revenue sharing arrangement. The USPS’s corporate delivery deals have gained more public attention, ceding critical market share through partnerships with logistics giants like Fed Ex, UPS and, recently, Amazon.
The potential impact of the Staples retail partnership was illustrated in San Francisco, where, according to the APWU, service cuts have coincided with the expansion of services at nearby Staples stores. In a May statement, following cuts to customer service hours at over half of local post office stations, San Francisco Local president Geoffray Dumaguit said, “They’re shutting the doors at 5pm and posting signs sending people to private locations—including Staples—to conduct postal business. This will inconvenience and irritate our customers, who often need to visit a post office after work.”
Postal workers raise concerns about both job and service quality. The APWU cites information on the deal revealed in a recent National Labor Relations Board hearing (along with a heavily redacted agreement) showing that “packages dropped off at Staples stores will be placed in unsecured containers” and not “considered ‘mail’” until received by the USPS, meaning that it lacks a level of federal protection. It also notes that the Staples employees would receive only a fraction of the amount of training that official postal clerks undergo, without completing the same background checks and would not be bound by a postal oath of duty. Staples retail associates might make as little as $9 per hour, compared to $25 per hour for a typical postal worker. The company could also purchase USPS products at a discount and resell them retail at full price, for a hefty profit.
Advocates have also challenged the USPS’s argument that expanding access to postal services via Staples would improve overall access. According to an analysis on Savethepostoffice.org by Steve Hutkins, “There are over 1,200 post offices within two miles of a Staples store”—a sign that additional outlets at Staples could be redundant. Unless, of course, the clandestine aim was to close “redundant” post office branches and allow Staples to corporatize postal retail work.
Hutkins tells The Nation via e-mail: “The fact [is] that the leadership of the Postal Service—along with many in Congress and the mailing industry—would like the USPS to get out of the retail end of the postal business. The Staples idea was just the latest attempt.”
In light of past public statements by the USPS suggesting parallels between the Retail Expansion Plan and the more explicitly privatized Contract Postal Units, the program appears to reflect the agenda laid out in a 2012 internal memo describing an “Approved Shipper Plus” program: that plan’s stated purpose was to help “determine if lower costs can be realized with retail partner labor instead of the labor traditionally associated with retail windows at Post Offices.”
The Staples initiative grew out of a longstanding push for postal privatization that began in the 1970s and intensified in the Reagan era, as Washington pushed to replace government functions with “free enterprise” solutions. In recent years, the USPS’s financial turmoil—driven in large part by pension funding gaps that many see as the artificial product of budget manipulation—postal officials have schemed of programs to consolidate postal outlets and incrementally shrink the (allegedly overpaid and bloated) workforce.
In its 2013 report to Congress, the USPS boasted, “To improve efficiency and reduce costs, we consolidated 143 mail-processing facilities, eliminated 1,847 delivery routes, and…reduced the size of our career workforce by more than 37,400 employees during the year” through attrition, and at the same time, “the Approved Shipper program increased its annual revenue by 57 percent.” Closures of government-run post offices have numbered about 100 annually in the past four decades.
Mark Jamison, a former postmaster and now postal labor activist, says via e-mail about a combination of eroding retail operations and contracting out critical functions, “Privatization is coming through a thousand little nudges and cuts, not through a grand gesture—it will sneak in, is sneaking in through the back door.”
The response to creeping privatization has been clamorous labor mobilization. The Staples boycott campaign draws on the USPS’s legacy of providing a relatively equitable, meritocratic labor structure to marginalized groups, particularly black workers, due to early adoption of non-discrimination employment practices. The APWU also appealed to customers who see their post offices as pillars of their communities. As an institution and civil service, postal labor still holds considerable political leverage.
The American Federation of Teachers, representing another embattled public professional workforce, also recently voted to join the boycott. So educators across the country could potentially deny Staples of a major chunk of its back-to-school supply business.
Meanwhile, Staples faces financial troubles as well, even shuttering an estimated 225 of its own stores. Perhaps from a business standpoint, the corporation’s recent walkback on the partnership points to growing fear that, with a boycott, the program might hurt its bottom line more than it helps.
So, even if free-market forces threaten to ravage the postal service, your neighborhood postal clerk can still compete on brand. “The postal network is useful and essential infrastructure,” Jamison argues, and in the long run, “the current efforts are akin to privatizing the highway system, or eliminating any oversight over utilities.”
In recent years, communities have turned out to defend their local post offices from closures, with grassroots petitions and protests to preserve one of the last pillars of our communications infrastructure that truly belongs to the public. The solidarity between community and labor suggests that, on top of concerns about losing the social services of a highly trusted institution, both customers and workers see value in a public organization that offers a living wage and a strong union. The civic investment embodied in the postal seal still delivers a moral dividend that no corporation can match.
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Did Hillary Clinton just throw in with the neoconservatives and the Israel lobby on the key sticking point in the Iran-P5+1 talks—namely, whether and how much Iran may enrich uranium on its own soil? In her appearance yesterday on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS program on CNN, it sure looks like it. Unless she misspoke, she said explicitly that she favors the idea of “so little enrichment or no enrichment,” a view that outright contradicts the position of the White House and the State Department, who’ve long ago agreed that Iran can maintain a civilian enrichment program to produce fuel for its current nuclear reactors and for a planned expansion of its nuclear program in the future.
In the interview, Zakaria notes that Iran argues that it has “the right to enrich just like every country that has a peaceful nuclear program,” and he then adds: “The Israeli position, as I understand it, is no, zero enrichment.” (Unfortunately, Zakaria doesn’t make clear that Iran, the United States and the P5+1 have all agreed that Iran may indeed continue to enrich uranium under the terms of whatever final accord is reached.) Clinton responds that she “worked very hard and led our efforts to get the sanctions” on Iran, and she adds:
I believe strongly that it’s really important for there to be so little enrichment or no enrichment, at least for a long period of time.
Since the talks have long ago passed the point at which “no enrichment” is part of the discussion, Clinton’s comments are confusing at best, besides being provocative and counterproductive. The main sticking point in the talks, whose first round concluded on July 20 and which have now been extended for four more months, concerns Iran’s civilian program and how many centrifuges, of what kind, with what capacity and producing how great a stockpile of low-enriched, non-weapons-grade uranium Iran may produce. By all accounts, concluding an agreement that satisfied both Iran and all of the P5+1’s members (the five members of the UN Security Council, including United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and the plus-one, Germany) is within reach.
On July 22, the State Department released a detailed summary of what’s been agreed to so far and what’s been accomplished already in the talks. In it, the State Department notes that already Iran “has carried out the very significant commitments it made, and has taken steps to address the international community’s greatest concerns.” In case you haven’t been following the talks closely, here’s the lengthy list of what’s already occurred as part of the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) agreed to in January. Iran, says the State Department, has already:
Halted production of near-20 percent enriched uranium and disabled the configuration of the centrifuge cascades Iran had been using to produce it; completed the dilution of half of its near-20 percent enriched uranium stockpile that was in hexafluoride form, and the conversion of the rest to an oxide form not suitable for further enrichment; capped its stockpile of 5 percent enriched uranium; has not enriched uranium in roughly half of installed centrifuges at Natanz, including all next generation centrifuges, and three-quarters of installed centrifuges at Fordow; limited its centrifuge production to those needed to replace damaged machines, so Iran was not able to use the six-month JPOA period to stockpile centrifuges; did not construct additional enrichment facilities; did not go beyond its enrichment R&D practices that were in place at the start of the JPOA.
In addition, says the State Department, Iran has taken significant steps to resolve the conflict over its light-water reactor at Arak, and it has avoided taking steps to build facilities for reconverting neutralized, 20 percent enriched uranium back into a form that might be further enriched. All of this represents positive accomplishments and signs of good will for the future talks.
Clinton’s unfortunate decision to associate herself with the no-enrichment idea is likely pure politics, designed to insulate herself from criticism from Republican and neoconservative hawks in preparation for her presidential bid. Needless to say, by the time she’s inaugurated in 2017, the Iran-P5+1 talks will be long concluded, and barring an unexpected reversal Iran and the United States may have reached a parallel accord to re-establish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies in Washington and Tehran. And the onerous sanctions on Iran will be in the process of gradually being phased out in concert with Iran’s implementation of whatever final accord is struck. However, by parroting the hawks and, as Zakaria notes, Israel’s view, Clinton will only strengthen the clamor in Congress and elsewhere in opposition to the Obama administration’s deal-making.
On Capitol Hill, various members of Congress are competing with each other to design monkey wrenches to throw into the machinery of the talks. None are likely to be successful. None of these measures is likely to get though the Senate, and were one to do so, President Obama will certainly veto it. But that’s not stopping the hawks, including several Democrats, from posturing. As reported by Al Monitor, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) is one of several senators demanding that Congress get the right to approve (read: vote down) a final agreement, while Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) is backing legislation that would make it difficult or impossible for the United States to relax its sanctions regime as part of a deal. And Mr. Shutdown, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), has a bill requiring “immediate re-implementation of sanctions, additional enforcement mechanisms, and an end to the failed negotiations.”
Despite trumpeting from the elephants in the peanut gallery, virtually the entire American establishment and nearly all media outlets (such as USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and even The Washington Post) support the extension of the talks, although The Wall Street Journal predictably joins the hawks.
But, as Secretary of State John Kerry said last week in announcing the extension of the talks:
We do so mindful not just of where we hope to arrive, but of how far we have come. One year ago, few would have predicted that Iran would have kept all its commitments under a first step nuclear agreement, and that we would be actively negotiating a long-term comprehensive agreement. Now we have four additional months to determine the next miles of this difficult diplomatic journey. Let’s all commit to seize this moment, and to use the additional time to make the fundamental choices necessary to conclude a comprehensive agreement that makes the entire world a safer place.
After noting the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and declaring that it was concern for the emperor which, as a consequence of the crime, “first makes appeal,” The Nation allowed several weeks to pass without comment about the political fallout of the deed. Lead editorials instead focused on the situations in Mexico, Haiti and Albania (ultimately connected to broader European conflict, but perhaps not obviously so just yet). With what now appears mordant irony, a scholar named H.W. Horwill—later known for his Dictionary of Modern American Usage—mused, in a laconic dispatch from London dated July 10, on the difficulties of prediction in politics. “Wars and rumors of wars,” Horwill wrote, “afford abundant opportunity for lucky and unlucky shots, metaphorically as well as literally.”
By the issue dated July 30, however, prediction was no longer the name of the game, and The Nation could no longer ignore the conflict already threatening to tear Europe apart—disturbingly suddenly, if along predictable seams.
On July 23 the Austrian ambassador to Serbia submitted the Dual Monarchy’s ultimatum: Serbia must crack down on the nationalist networks responsible for the archduke’s assassination, as well as allow an unprecedented level of meddling by Austria in Serbia’s internal affairs. The terms were impossible for Serbia to accept, and were designed to be so; militaristic elements in the Austrian government had long desired a conflict with Serbia, and the primary proponent of peace in that government, the archduke, was now dead. Serbia rejected the ultimatum. Austria rejected British offers to negotiate a resolution and, on July 28, declared war.
“A crisis of extreme gravity has developed in the European situation,” the first sentence of The Nation’s July 30 issue solemnly observed. A subsequent note picked up the thread:
A few pages later readers found the magazine’s full editorial on the subject, written (without a byline, as most articles were then) by Rollo Ogden, the same editor of The Nation’s then-parent publication, The New York Evening-Post, who had previously written about Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. The editorial gives an incredible sense of Americans in July 1914 looking in horror at the precipitate escalation of tensions on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
(Bishop Joseph Butler, for the record, was a widely read eighteenth-century English theologian and philosopher who influenced David Hume and Adam Smith. In a late essay, Matthew Arnold praised Butler’s “sacred horror at men’s frivolity.”)
As if in apology for having not kept its readers updated on the developing story for the last four weeks, The Nation’s editorial continued:
The editorial concludes with an unmistakable allusion to the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence:
Back Issues is following this magazine’s coverage of the “Great War”—in real time, a century later.
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The recent reports of moms getting arrested for leaving their kids unattended while they work or go to a job interview shows the reality of “work-life balance” when you’re living paycheck to paycheck. The burden for many low-wage hourly workers isn’t seeking balance, it’s walking a tightrope. Millions of workers have nonstandard schedules, irregular shifts or on-call jobs without set hours, so they scramble from shift to shift, from daycare to night classes, or anxiously call in each day in hopes of getting a few hours of work. Having no control over your work schedule means your boss controls not only how much you’re paid but how much time you spend with your kids.
Labor advocates are calling for workplace policies that give workers more stable schedules and more control over their hours. Now Washington may step in with legislation to check the volatility of the daily grind.
The “Schedules that Work” bill (introduced by Representatives George Miller and Rosa DeLauro and Senators Tom Harkin and Elizabeth Warren) is the proletarian answer to the workplace “flex” policies that are common in corporate offices. After all, poor parents need flexibility more than anyone, as they cope with the chaos of economic hardship and work unstable jobs with few benefits..
The bill provides workers a so-called “right to request,” or the ability to engage in a dialogue with their boss about a schedule change ahead of time, without fear of retaliation. In some cases, the employer would be mandated to accommodate a family or medical issue. Shift and on-call workers in some low-wage industries would also gain protections against arbitrary schedule changes.
Middle-class professionals may regularly negotiate work time through flexible work arrangements, generous paid leave time and telecommuting options. But in industries like retail chains or fast food, where “just in time” production systems require round-the-clock processing and sales, part-time and shift workers struggle between not getting enough hours to earn a living wage, and having to work whatever shift their manager dumps on them at any hour. Survey data shows that about half of hourly wage workers lack control over their work schedules.
Unless they can persuade their boss to accommodate their needs, a volatile schedule can destabilize their family lives. Parents struggle to find last-minute babysitting arrangements to take a shift, or they may be unable to enroll in a regular daycare that requires up-front monthly payments, since their income varies week to week.
A punishing work schedule derailed Tiffany Beroid’s whole career path. She was trying to hold down a full-time position as a customer service manager at a Walmart in Maryland, while studying to be a nurse. But when she asked for a schedule change to allow her to juggle her school and work duties, she tells The Nation, the management was less than family friendly: “[Walmart] retaliated by cutting my hours. So even though I was full-time in the system, I was receiving nineteen or twenty-five hours some weeks, maybe forty hours if I was lucky, once a month.”
Her situation was further complicated by her pregnancy, which caused blood pressure problems that prompted her to request light duty at work—on her doctor’s advice. Then, she says, the management abruptly forced her to take unpaid leave, and the strain on her family eventually forced her to drop out of school.
Under the Schedules that Work Act, workers like Beroid would be entitled to a schedule change if their request related to health, family caregiving duties, another job they are working or an educational or training program. The employer could refuse for “bona fide business reasons,” according to an analysis by think tank Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), but they would in any case have to consult with the employee “in a timely, interactive process.”
Workers in certain industries where shift work is prevalent—restaurants, retail and building cleaning—would be entitled to least two weeks advance notice of their schedule. Employers would pay an hour’s wages for each shift change without twenty-four hours’ notice. If a worker shows up for a shift and is sent home early—say, because business is slow—she can get compensated for at least four hours of wages. On-call workers, who are required to check in to confirm their schedules, also get an hour’s pay if they call-in but get no work.
But as with many labor protections geared toward low-wage workers, enforcement is a sticking point. Labor advocates say workers may face retaliation for merely requesting a schedule change.
After Beroid dropped out of school, for example, Walmart dropped her. She had become involved with OUR Walmart, a national union-backed organization that advocates for a fairer and more family-focused scheduling policies. Following months of campaigning, the company reformed its workplace policies in March to provide greater accommodations, including light duty, to women with pregnancy complications. But Beroid barely had a chance to savor the victory before she suddenly lost her job—she suspects, because of her activism. (Beroid says she has filed a complaint of unlawful dismissal with the National Labor Relations Board. Walmart, which has denied previous charges of retaliation against activist employees, states via e-mail that she “was dismissed from the company because she didn’t always show up for work when she was scheduled”).
Beyond Walmart, Beroid says, the federal legislation would give workers a mechanism so employers can be held to account. “Even though Walmart has made these changes for the public’s eyes, if they’re not enforcing them, I know if the bill was actually to take effect, then they would have to follow these rules and enforce these policies.”
CLASP policy analyst Liz Ben-Ishai says via e-mail that since enforcement is generally driven by individual workers’ complaints, taking legal action against a boss would be hard for “low-wage workers without support or resources, who fear retaliation.” But the Labor Department could “proactively enforce” fair-scheduling policies, by undertaking “targeted investigations of companies that are, for example, known to violate other laws and therefore more likely to be in violation of this one.”
The legislation parallels “right to request” policies that have already passed in San Francisco and Vermont. San Francisco workers. And several states, including New York and California, have “reporting time” laws that guarantee a certain minimum pay for shift workers if their hours are suddenly cut. Some companies have individually instituted flexible scheduling practices, as studies have shown this can improve workplace productivity and limit turnover.
Research by Susan Lambert of the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration shows that among early-career workers, aged 26 to 32, overall nearly 40 percent “know their work schedule one week or less in advance.” Workers of color are more likely to work on such short notice. About three in four hourly workers reported experiencing unstable schedules in the past month, and “[p]art-time employees, skilled tradesmen, and workers in low-status occupations are particularly likely to know their schedule at most a week in advance.” And lost time is lost income: hourly workers with unstable schedules reported that “their hours vary by what amounts to about 50 percent on average of their usual work hours.”
There are many other legislative solutions that advocates are pushing to make wage work more family friendly and sustainable for poor households. Paid sick days policies, which have been introduced or enacted in several states and cities, allow workers to attend to medical needs without losing wages. Stronger social support programs, such as public childcare and pre-kindergarten, along with a higher minimum wage, would also provide more financial bandwidth to cope with precarious jobs.
But regardless of how much they make per hour, scheduling stability is key to economic stability, especially for the growing number workers who work insecure jobs, lack basic benefits like healthcare or do not have a union to represent them.
Beroid still campaigns with OUR Walmart to make sure it upholds its new policies. “There’s a lot of associates in the store who are afraid to speak out,” she says, despite the reforms. “So there’s a lot of women, whether they’re single or married, that are trying to provide for their children, trying to work with the way Walmart gives them schedules, of going to work late at night, being back to work early in the morning, not able to provide childcare.”
As her daughter nears her second birthday, Beroid plans to go back to school. And she’d like to return to Walmart, too, once her boss is ready to offer a real work-life balance—one that lets her set her own priorities.
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