Right-to-Work Equals Less Unions

 New Orleans               Rarely do we see the evidence of plain and simple attacks on unions any clearer than in the reports quoted by Steve Greenhouse in today’s New York Times.   In an article about the impending fight in Indiana where the Republican union haters and labor baiters are mounting an effort to impose so-called “right-to-work” laws allowing workers (“free riders”) covered under collective bargaining agreements to pay neither dues nor servicing fees for the legally mandated and contractually enforceable representation by the union, he cited some compellingly studies:

“Many studies have assessed the impact of right-to-work legislation, although much of the research is from years ago, when right-to-work was a hotter issue.

Henry Farber, a labor economist at Princeton, said right-to-work laws, by allowing “free riders,” shrink union treasuries. One study found that the portion of free riders in right-to-work states ranged from 9 percent in Georgia to 39 percent in South Dakota.

In another study, David T. Ellwood, the dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and Glenn A. Fine, a former Justice Department official, found that in the five years after states enacted such legislation, the number of unionization drives dropped by 28 percent, and in the following five years by an added 12 percent. Organizing wins fell by 46 percent in the first five years and 30 percent the next five. Over all, they found, right-to-work laws, beyond other factors, caused union membership to drop 5 percent to 10 percent.”

If anyone needs help with this, essentially if you weaken the resources of unions, then there is corresponding reduction in the amount of organizing, which is part of the point of such laws, and, furthermore, when workers see that the unions have been weakened in this way, they respond significantly by not voting in favor of union representation at their jobs.  Business manages to slice the heart of labor on both of the sharp ends of this sword by reducing organizing by more than one-third and sending the message that when unions do manage to organize, they have the strong hand, thereby enticing workers to vote NO more than half of the time.

This is how class war works at the legislative level.  No question that the Republicans are committed to that course when they “occupy” a state capitol.


Toil Index and Tax Credits for Home Ownership

Robert Schiller from Yale gave props to Richard Green of USC for his recommendation that there be a targeted tax credit to encourage homeownership.  Green and Andrew Reschovsky of Wisconsin have studied the data closely are clear that the real benefit of existing tax policy allowing a standard deduction for interest on mortgages is for more wealthy homeowners who itemize their taxes.  They have concluded that this primarily encourages them to build bigger houses, rather than distributing the benefits as real incentives to home ownership.  The multi-billion dollar tax loss of interest deductions is the largest US investment in citizen wealth, and despite the fact that this investment has created homes as the single largest source of citizen wealth for many working families, the recent recession has now wiped out wealth for such families and destroyed confidence without offering an alternative for low-and-moderate income families to create wealth.  I’m not sure that these professors are right, but at least it is a way to go until we can right-size solutions to our current predicament and the emerging future.

Robert Frank of Cornell helped defined challenge to the middle class by creating what he called a “toil index” to puzzle out a problem he had recognized from Elizabeth Warren and her daughter’s book about the “two income trap.”  That problem was essentially that middle income families were being pushed into buying houses past their means in order to secure good schooling for their children.  He notes that, “The increase in the toil index has been spectacular.  From a postwar low of 41 hours a month in 1970, it rose to more than 100 hours in 2005.”

If a family is lucky, and it takes a lot of luck these days, to have two breadwinners working fulltime 100 hours of work would still be almost one-third of their income going to put a roof over their heads.  That doesn’t work under any calculation either for a family or for the entire economy which despite the failures of HAMP, Treasury, and the Obama Administration to address, is still very important to the US economy and the recovery from neighborhood to neighborhood around the country.


Egyptian Military Crackdown on Government Funded Civic Groups

New Orleans        There seems little argument left that the Egyptian military is aggressively pursuing a counter revolutionary program.  The latest evidence was shocking in its boldness when a coordinated shutdown three U.S. Government funded civic and democracy groups, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, and Freedom House, as well as a similar civic support German funded civic training foundation and a non-profit, the Egyptian Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, whose mission is to study the Egyptian military budget and expenditures, making them invaluable but wildly controversial these days.

Other than the Observatory, the other groups are all funded either 100% or close to 100% by the U.S. Government or the German Government.  A U.S. Congress funding deal apportions money (and therefore patronage, jobs, travel, and so forth) to both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party to ostensibly run nonpartisan civic training and support programs, which would teach citizens in foreign countries how to make democracy and government work just like back home.  I will ignore the obvious contradiction that the way our government is now working is a challenged model at best in many foreign lands.  Similarly in Germany their international aid money is distributed through foundations that are run by each of the political parties receiving a threshold share of the parliamentary vote qualifying their stifung to initiate civic and training programs in other countries.  To call any of these non-governmental organizations is a stretch since virtually all of their money is funneled directly from either the US or German government depending on the entity.

So when the Egyptian military seizes offices and operations of such organizations there is no way to understand this other than as direct, premeditated slap at the governments in question.  This may seem like a shot across the bow, but it is more a missile fired close enough for powder burns and medic calls.

When the Organizers’ Forum delegation visited Cairo several months ago, our “political” committee met with an NDI representative, so we were pretty well briefed on their program.  Until the revolution it had been tiny and below the radar because it was hardly a program at all.  Since the revolution given the election activity they had added extensive staff, but we got no impression that any were organizers or folks that one could claim could cause the military many problems.  Freedom House had inelegantly tried to take perhaps too much credit for some training they had organized for activists in recent years.  When we met with young revolutionaries who had been key spokesmen for the Tahrir Square protests, they thought some of the training was valuable, but they had sent lower echelon people to participate, not having time themselves or a whole lot of interest from what we could determine.

The Egyptian military likely presumes that they can get away with some of this outrage because of the ham handed way the State Department and the U.S. Ambassador handled some of this after the revolution with announcements of multi-million dollar funds available to support “democracy building” projects that let to large lines around the embassy of folks desperate for the money, repelling any serious groups from being able to get near such support.  The Ambassador did everything but erect a giant neon sign saying that they intended to interfere in as many ways as possible, thereby making involvement or support by the US Government toxic to any of the activists or revolutionaries.

We met with numerous legitimate NGOs and there is no question that any NGO without a local base or registration is operating in very tenuous circumstances.  Without revealing more, the stories of the gyrations and contortions that allowed them to operate in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt were as innovative and startling as they were admirable.

The military seems to have pointedly sent a drastic and unsettling message to other world governments as they continue to try to divert attention from their own tragic mishandling of recent protests and the blood on their hands from almost 100 deaths in recent weeks.  We can only hope that as chilling as this will be to the rest of the non-profit community in Egypt that the military will be content with its international muscle flex rather than initiating a wave to even more drastic and draconian attacks on the human and civil rights of its citizens.  Without doubt there are many we visited with only short months ago who are now lying low, backing up hard drives, and staying with friends and family as they prepare for what could be worse to come.  Our hopes and prayers are with them.


Driving Down Ed-cost with E-Education

Detroit                        It is very depressing to read about the inability to make advances in the equity and achievement of all levels of education despite the technological advantages and increasing availability of internet access.  Costs continue to soar at both public and private educational institutions.  E-education options now seem beleaguered by low standards, scams, and reputational issues, even as they should have been developing as real options and opportunities for millions both domestically and globally.  There has to be a way to break through this mess.

I’ve read that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in a final semi-deathbed conversation agreed that they had been surprised that the advent and growth of computers had in fact NOT contributed more to educational progress and attainment.  I was struck by that failure.  I remember when computers were heralded as the new day for education and the question of whether or not classrooms had computer access was sent as a benchmark of progress.  WTF?!?

I read a long, frightening profile on Peter Thiel, one of the rich-as-Croesus Pay Pal co-founders and tech investors, in the New Yorker on the plane the other day.  He had looked into beginning a high-tech, electronic higher educational institution but abandoned the notion even with his big bucks when he reckoned with the huge status pull of elite institutions like Stanford, Harvard, etc, and realized he couldn’t compete.

I find that discouraging, because it is hard to imagine replacing brick-and-mortar with more equitable and affordable electronic access to education with other configurations of the social and public space in communities substituting for “campus life.” if the argument to teachers, students, and, most importantly, future employers about high, demonstrable, and replicable standards are not present and provable.   Teaching to the test doesn’t work, and I’m intrigued by the notions of “education as apprenticeships” to employment opportunities that I’ve seen recently in Cairo and in practice on a lot of union jobsites, but we need a mass model that works and can stand up in the debate.

I was intrigued by a piece several weeks ago in the Times that made the case for e-lectures becoming more popular, but some a lecture has a lot of growing to do in order to shape a curriculum, and the commitment of professors to both the process and the students would have to also be significant to offer an alternatives.

I’m coming up short.  I hope some mega-domes are working hard to solve this problem, and the word just hasn’t trickled down yet to folks like me.


Good News, Bad News for Home Health and Home Day Care Workers

 Detroit                        News reports and political developments brought both smiles and frowns to home-based health and daycare workers across the country.   President Obama announced that he was implementing coverage for home health care workers under the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which is good news for 2 million such workers, though few get full time hours much less overtime.  On the other hand reports from around the states in USA Today documented the cutbacks coming for home based day care and similar workers because of the terrible budget situations in state after state.

All of this is important, not simply because these are lower waged workers who need and deserve a break, but also because these types of workers have been the single most important organizing success for our generation of labor organizers, enrolling probably between 500,000 and 750,000 new members from these new job classifications in recent decades.  The outstanding success story of SEIU’s Illinois based local 880 growing from zero members 25 years ago to a 70,000 member powerhouse is one of the best examples along with the over 125,000 home care local in Los Angeles.  Unfortunately, Illinois is one of the states that seems poised to cutback on financing for home day care workers, where it has been a leader in both coverage and unionization.

Labor undeniably was a primary voice in lobbying the White House for this expansion of coverage, so props are in order.  Now the harder, unsung fights will be in state legislature after state legislature trying to hold onto these jobs in the face of fiscal assaults.

The irony was clear in the USA Today story.  We are in the heart of the recession still, and lower waged workers depend on this child care support to allow them to access and retain their jobs.  Now when most needed, the waiting lists (more than 10,000 in Louisiana alone for example!) are swelling for such family support.

Hard to catch a break!


Bringing Down Occupy NOLA

New Orleans               Front page headlines in the Times-Picayune had trumpeted the curious court battle around the removal of Occupy NOLA from Duncan Plaza across from City Hall to parts unknown.  Mayor Mitch Landrieu had summarily pulled up the encampment only to have his hands slapped by a federal court judge ruling it was illegal and giving Occupy NOLA a surprising legal reprieve and allowing them to relocate for an additional seven (7) days while he considered whether they could come or go.

We went by the General Assembly to hear the news Tuesday night.  The 40 or so folks left were sitting or lying on a small mound of grass in the Plaza listening to the legal team report on the judge’s decision, which, predictably, was grim and go.  In a short order Judge Lance Africk simply wrote with no elaboration that “…the Court finds that plaintiffs have not carried their burden of establishing a substantial likelihood of success on the merits….”  Mark Gonzales, one of the volunteer lawyers, told them plainly that more detail from the Judge was not going to provide better news.

There was concern about goods and property lost by the police’s illegal eviction and whether there would be any compensation.

There were offers of new locations.  Empty lots in the lower 9th ward, still devastated and 80% vacant since Katrina, was one suggestion.  Another speaker suggested an Episcopal Church that seemed to be closing on Canal Street.  People drifted around the meeting.  Others listened carefully.  There was calm.  Two people had decided to be arrested at 10 PM when the police were scheduled.  Some would watch from across the street and down the block as witnesses.

This was dénouement.   Ground conceded.  Point long made.  Future uncertain.