BEN NELSON’S GIFT TO AMERICANS: The Senate might hail itself as “the world’s greatest deliberative body,” but like all democratic institutions, it has a mixed history, from the momentous achievement of the Civil Rights Act to the moral failure of the Iraq War. If you can say anything about the tenure of Democratic Senator Ben Nelson—who announced his retirement on December 27—it’s that he embodied the worst of the Senate during his two terms in office.
Under President Bush, in addition to his support for the Iraq War, Nelson voted to restrict marriage rights for gay couples and to make it harder for women to get reproductive care. He voted against increasing Pell Grants and in favor of the 2005 bill to make bankruptcy proceedings more difficult for ordinary Americans. He voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act and voted in support of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. He voted against comprehensive immigration reform and voted to make English the country’s official language.
Under President Obama, Nelson turned his loathsome behavior up to eleven, obstructing the stimulus bill and working with Republicans like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to needlessly strike tens of billions in aid to the states. As a marginal vote in the Democratic caucus, Nelson was key to the passage of healthcare reform in the face of unified GOP opposition, a power he used to extract absurd concessions from Obama, nearly scuttling the bill in the process. Since then, he has done everything he can to under-mine liberals in Congress, coming out against provisions in financial reform, dragging his feet on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal and urging Obama to ignore unemployment and sluggish growth in favor of austerity. Nelson’s retirement is a good thing for Congress and a good thing for the country. JAMELLE BOUIE
NEW RULES: On December 21 the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finally passed a rule change that will reduce delays for workers seeking unionization. As University of Oregon professor Gordon Lafer recently wrote in these pages [“A Change Unions Need,” October 10], the proposed changes were modest but would still “make workplace elections more democratic.” That was before the board’s Democratic appointees, acting to allay objections from GOP member Brian Hayes, further watered down the reform. Hayes went so far as to threaten to resign from the board—an unprecedented move that would have in effect shuttered the agency by depriving it of a quorum—but ultimately backed down.
Under the new rules, once workers file a petition seeking an NLRB election, most voter eligibility challenges will be resolved after the election rather than before. This will undercut employers’ capacity to stall using frivolous objections and will shrink the window for anti-union campaigns. But despite right-wing warnings about “ambush elections,” employers retain ample time to discourage unionization. On a December conference call, the anti-union Labor Relations Institute advised employers to expect union elections within twenty-four days of an election filing, and to hold five anti-union meetings in those days. Under the new rules, employers can still hold such mandatory “captive audience” meetings, during which employees can be made to listen silently to dire predictions about the consequences of unionizing. Such tactics have helped drive some unions to abandon NLRB elections.
House Republicans already passed legislation designed to reverse the new rules. After one of President Obama’s NLRB recess appointments expired December 31, news broke January 4 that Obama will make new recess appointments to restore the Labor Board’s quorum and prevent paralysis.. JOSH EIDELSON
VIRGINIA TO ALEC: SCRAM: A new study by the advocacy group ProgressVA examines the influence of the notorious American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Virginia, drawing upon “ALEC Exposed,” the award-winning joint exposé by The Nation and the Center for Media and Democracy.
“In recent years, Virginia legislators have proposed bills that would legalize the use of deadly force in defending your home, call for companies that hire illegal immigrants to be shut down and give businesses tax credits to fund private school tuition for needy students,” the Washington Post reported in an article about the study. “All of those bills—and more than 50 others—have been pushed by [ALEC].” The study also found that 115 current or former members of the state General Assembly have ties to ALEC and that more than $230,000 was spent in the past decade to send lawmakers to ALEC meetings.
“Our legislators were elected to represent Virginia families, not corporate bottom lines,” says ProgressVA. A petition urging Virginia pols to reject ALEC is at progressva.org.