Daily Archive: 01/22/2014

Jan 22 2014

The Case That Threatens Labor Unions

Arguments in a case that threatens the ability of labor unions for public employees to organize, were heard before the Supreme Court this week.

For more than a half-century, the Supreme Court has upheld requirements that non-union workers pay a part of usual union dues assessed by a labor organization (which has a legal duty to represent them, too).  That began with private-sector workers, and was then extended to public employees, when union organizing is allowed in that sector.   But the extension of that approach to public workers is being challenged directly in a new case the Supreme Court has agreed to decide.

For public employee unions, the most important and enduring precedent in favor of shared financial responsibility for a union’s collective bargaining activity is the Court’s 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.  A group of home-care providers in Illinois, who do not want to belong to a union or to pay dues, and do not want a union to speak for them, have asked the Court to overrule the Abood decision if it means they must yield in their opposition.

When a union is named as the bargaining agent for a group of workers, it is under a legal duty to represent all the workers, including those who refuse to join.  Under what is called the “agency shop” theory, all workers are not required to join the union, but they are required to pay through their dues a “fair share” of the union’s costs in representing them in bargaining over benefits and working conditions.

The Supreme Court has made clear, though, that the non-union members cannot be required to pay any part of a dues assessment that would cover the union’s political or ideological activity, to which those workers may (and often do) object.  Forcing them to do so, the Court has said, would violate their First Amendment rights.

During the arguments, the justices were divided along some unusual lines:

The mood of the Court’s more liberal members was one of obvious trepidation, and that of its more conservative members – except for Justice Scalia – was of apparent eagerness to reach anew the core constitutionality of compulsory union support among public workers. [..]

The hearing Tuesday had only gone for  couple of minutes when a lawyer for the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, William L. Messenger, was urging the Court to overrule Abood, and thus drawing heavy questioning from more liberal Justices, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, and, soon, Justice Elena Kagan.

What would turn out to be potentially decisive, though, was the Justice Scalia appeared determined to take away from Messenger his basic argument that public employee union activity is more about shaping public policy – with implications for the First Amendment – than about the traditional union role of seeking to improve the working conditions of those it represents. [..]

The home-care workers, their lawyer contended, were being coerced into financial support for a public employee union that wants to “petition the government” in their place, but in ways that some of those workers might well oppose.

That argument, though, would quickly gain the energetic support of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who repeatedly made an effort to push the whole argument up to the highest level of constitutional philosophy about protecting the diversity of views about what government policy should be.  [..]

The trend of the argument with Messenger at the lectern appeared to have alarmed Justice Kagan, who said that what was being discussed was “a radical restructuring of the way workplaces are run” throughout the country.  She noted the “passion and heat” now spreading across the country – as, for example – in Wisconsin, over the role of public employee unions.  She wondered if it was “fair” to suggest that Messenger was actually arguing that a “right-to-work law [that is, no compulsory union support) is constitutionally compelled.” [..]

The questioning – explicit and implicit – of the Abood precedent was interrupted from time to time by questions from Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., who seemed to be focused primarily on whether or not this case involved who decides the pay scales of home-care workers – state officials or federal managers of the Medicaid program for the poor and disabled.  It was not clear where Roberts would be on the more basic question of public employee representation.

George Washington University Professor Jonathan Turley discusses with Alex Wagner, host of MSNBC’s “Now,” the case, which could destroy a union cornerstone: the ability to negotiate higher pay and benefits.

In his Washington Post opinion, Harold Meyerson sees the potential for the court to further align itself against the have-nots and the consequences for unions and workers:

If workers can benefit from contracts without paying even what it costs the unions to secure those contracts, those unions would suffer revenue declines that could render them toothless. Once their unions lost power, home-care givers – a group that is overwhelmingly female, disproportionately minority and almost universally poor – would be highly unlikely to get any more raises. Turnover rates within the care-provider workforce would surely rise.

Such a reconsideration could be of even greater consequence if Alito & Co. go further and rule that no member of a public-employee union should be required to pay the dues that go to securing his or her contract. With the decline of private-sector unions, ­public-employee unions have become the preeminent organizers of voter mobilization campaigns in working-class and minority communities, the leading advocates of immigration reform, the foremost lobby for raising the minimum wage and the all-around linchpin of the modern Democratic Party. A sweeping, party-line ruling by the five conservative justices in Harris could significantly damage the Democrats.

Whatever its effect on the nation’s partisan balance, a ruling that neuters the organizations that poor, working women have joined to win a few dollars an hour more would put a judicial seal of approval on the United States’ towering economic inequality. Well into the New Deal, the Supreme Court consistently overturned laws that enabled workers to win higher wages, helping to delay the advent of the middle-class majority that emerged after World War II. It now has the option to speed that middle class’s demise.

Jan 22 2014

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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Rachel Maddow: Democracy needs dogged local journalism

If you type “Shawn Boburg” into your Web browser address bar, a strange thing happens. Boburg is a reporter for The Record newspaper, in Bergen County, N.J. But ShawnBoburg.com sends visitors to The Record’s rival, Newark’s Star-Ledger.

The man who bought the rights to Boburg’s online name – and who presumably engineered the nasty little redirect – is David Wildstein, who last week became the country’s most high-profile political appointee. After his high school classmate Chris Christie was elected governor of New Jersey in 2009, Wildstein was appointed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for a highly paid position that, conveniently, had no job description. [..]

Most of the time, national news happens out loud: at news conferences, on the floor of Congress, in splashy indictments or court rulings. But sometimes, the most important news starts somewhere more interesting, and it has to be dug up. Our democracy depends on local journalism, whether it’s a beat reporter slogging through yet another underattended local commission meeting, or a state political reporter with enough of an ear to the ground to know where the governor might be when he isn’t where he says he is, or a traffic columnist who’s nobody’s fool.

Media Benjamin: Should Syria’s Future Be Decided by Men With Guns?

Just days before the Syria peace talks known as Geneva II are scheduled to begin on January 22, 2014, in Montreux, Switzerland, Syria’s main political opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), has agreed to attend. They will be joined by various officials of the Syrian government, UN officials and representatives from 35 countries. Swiss President Didier Burkhalter will deliver the opening remarks, followed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Then, Russian Foreign Ministry Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry will address the assembly on behalf of the forum’s initiators. But one voice will be notably underrepresented-that of Syrian women, especially the non-violent, pro-democracy activists who represent civil society. “When we talk about women at the table, the men see them as the tablecloth,” said Hibaaq Osman, an NGO leader who has been working with Syrian women and pushing for their inclusion. “The future of Syria should not exclusively be decided by those who carry guns. [..]

The Syrian women and their global allies understand that the Syria crisis is so deep and complex that it will take a long time to end the fighting and even longer to rebuild, but they see no other option. “We are lawyers, engineers and professors; we are housewives, nurses and other medical professionals; we are 50 percent of society and we are determined to stop the war,” said Rafif Jouejati, director of FREE-Syria (the Foundation to Restore Equality and Education in Syria). “If Geneva II fails, then we will keep going to make Geneva III, IV or V work. We will keep pushing the men who are making war until they make peace.”

Danielle Dreilinger: 7,000 New Orleans teachers, laid off after Katrina, win court ruling

In a lawsuit that some say could bankrupt the Orleans Parish public school system, an appeals court has decided that the School Board wrongly terminated more than 7,000 teachers after Hurricane Katrina. Those teachers were not given due process, and many teachers had the right to be rehired as jobs opened up in the first years after the storm, the court said in a unanimous opinion. [..]

The decision validates the anger felt by former teachers who lost their jobs. It says they should have been given top consideration for jobs in the new education system that emerged in New Orleans in the years after the storm.

Beyond the individual employees who were put out, the mass layoff has been a lingering source of pain for those who say school system jobs were an important component in maintaining the city’s black middle class. New Orleans’ teaching force has changed noticeably since then. More young, white teachers have come from outside through groups such as Teach for America. And charter school operators often offer private retirement plans instead of the state pension fund, which can discourage veteran teachers who have years invested in the state plan.

Ana Marie Cox: Who should we fear more with our data: the government or companies?

The masters of modern spycraft have learned the science of predicting human behavior from the masters of marketing

If civil libertarians who are disappointed with the [proposals Obama outlined last week v] had to write a wish list for what kind of restraints they’d like to see on National Security Agency data-gathering, what might that include? Here’s an educated guess:

Individual Control: The right to exercise control over what personal data organizations collect from them and how they use it.

Transparency: The right to easily understandable information about privacy and security practices.

Focused Collection: The right to reasonable limits on the personal data that organizations collect and retain.

Accountability: The right to have personal data handled by organizations with appropriate measures in place to assure they adhere to the Bill of Rights.

Nevermind that the Obama administration has endorsed all of those rights. Almost two years ago, actually. What’s more, they got Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL to agree to observe them. The bad news: these rights apply only to web-browsing data gathered by companies that deploy “behavior-based marketing”. You know, the kind of tracking that means a search for “white wedding” will serve of ads for The Knot (even if you were looking for Billy Idol).

Katrina vanden Heuvel: ‘We can’t wait’ for Congress

“I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” President Obama told his Cabinet, announcing that he wouldn’t just be “waiting for legislation” from the obstructionist Congress to push his agenda. The announcement buoyed progressives, who have long urged the president to act boldly on his own authority, and provided new fuel for right-wing fulminations about “dictatorship” and “tyranny.”

Obama’s pledge echoes his “We Can’t Wait” campaign leading into the 2012 elections, in which the president similarly announced a range of executive initiatives. That effort mostly demonstrated how difficult it is for any executive action to gain public attention. [..]

Presidents often have no choice but to act on their authority. Too often, secret and aggressive bureaucracies, such as the National Security Agency, drive their actions. Obama’s pledge to use his pen and his phone could help the president to lead more forcefully in areas vital to the country and popular with the people.

Kathy Kelly: For Whom the Bell Tolls

This month, from Atlanta, GA, the King Center announced its “Choose Nonviolence” campaign, a call on people to incorporate the symbolism of bell-ringing into their Martin Luther King Holiday observance, as a means of showing their commitment to Dr. King’s value of nonviolence in resolving terrible issues of inequality, discrimination and poverty here at home.  The call was heard in Kabul, Afghanistan.   [..]

My young friends, ever inspired by Dr. King’s message, prepared a Dr. King Day observance as they shared bread and tea for breakfast. They talked about the futility of war and the predictable cycles of revenge that are caused every time someone is killed.  Then they made a poster listing each of the killings they had learned of in the previous seven days.

They didn’t have a bell, and they didn’t have the money to buy one. So Zekerullah set to work with a bucket, a spoon and a rope, and made something approximating a bell.  In the APV courtyard, an enlarged vinyl poster of Dr. King covers half of one wall, opposite another poster of Gandhi and Khan Abdul Gaffir Khan, the “Muslim Gandhi” who led Pathan tribes in the nonviolent Khudai Khidmatgar colonial independence movement to resist the British Empire. Zekerullah’s makeshift “bell’ was suspended next to King’s poster.  Several dozen friends joined the APVs as we listened to rattles rather than pealing bells. The poster listing the week’s death toll was held aloft and read aloud.

Jan 22 2014

On This Day In History January 22

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

January 22 is the 22nd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 343 days remaining until the end of the year (344 in leap years).

On this day in 1968, the NBC-TV show, “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In”, debuted “from beautiful downtown Burbank” on this night. The weekly show, produced by George Schlatter and Ed Friendly, then Paul Keyes, used 260 pages of jokes in each hour-long episode. The first 14 shows earned “Laugh-In” (as it was commonly called) 4 Emmys. And “you bet your bippy”, Nielsen rated it #1 for two seasons. Thanks to an ever-changing cast of regulars including the likes of Dan Rowan, Dick Martin, Arte Johnson, Goldie Hawn, Ruth Buzzi, JoAnne Worley, Gary Owens, Alan Sues, Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, Richard Dawson, Judy Carne, President Richard Nixon (“Go ahead, sock it to me!”), the show became the highest-rated comedy series in TV history.

Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In ran for 140 episodes from January 22, 1968, to May 14, 1973. It was hosted by comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin and was broadcast over NBC. It originally aired as a one-time special on September 9, 1967 and was such a success that it was brought back as a series, replacing The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on Mondays at 8 pm (EST).

The title, Laugh-In, came out of events of the 1960s hippie culture, such as “love-ins” or “be-ins.” These were terms that were, in turn, derived from “sit-ins”, common in protests associated with civil rights and anti-war demonstrations of the time.

The show was characterized by a rapid-fire series of gags and sketches, many of which conveyed sexual innuendo or were politically charged. The co-hosts continued the exasperated straight man (Rowan) and “dumb” guy (Martin) act which they had established as nightclub comics. This was a continuation of the “dumb Dora” acts of vaudeville, best popularized by Burns and Allen. Rowan and Martin had a similar tag line, “Say goodnight, Dick”.

Laugh-In had its roots in the humor of vaudeville and burlesque, but its most direct influences were from the comedy of Olsen and Johnson (specifically, their free-form Broadway revue Hellzapoppin’), the innovative television works of Ernie Kovacs, and the topical satire of That Was The Week That Was.