Tag Archives: Biden administration

On the Job Training Doesn’t Work in Government

March 24, 2021

 Atlanta      President Biden is having a good honeymoon in his first 100 days in office, and, fortunately for America, we have something to show for it besides sweet nothings whispered in our ears or shouted at us on Twitter from the last guy living in the White House. This won’t last. Popularity and the polls go up and down, but there are some real lessons emerging from the early days of his administration. One is simple. Experience actually counts. It turns out it matters quite a good deal in actually running something as huge and complicated as the US government, our economy, our foreign relations, and the whole shebang. Ambition, ego, and desire turn out to not really be relevant in making all the pieces come together to make government work again. It now seems possible that you can move fast and not break things.

Biden and his team are good reminders that people can someday go to the theater or movies if they want to see drama, but they don’t necessarily want it in their daily diet from their government. We have whole days where we don’t even think about what Biden might be doing. That’s a change from the last guy. We can loosen our seatbelts on this ride. Appointments get made. Polices get enacted. Decisions are announced. When people die on our soil, they are mourned. Lower income people are not derided as crooks, and in fact people who aren’t rich turn out to also be important. Healthcare is extended. Vaccines actually get rolled out. Do we want more? Sure, always! But, it turns out to be very important that someone knows how government and legislation works and can make things happen.

I’m not saying that everyone who runs and is elected as president needs fifty years of experience, but I think we are all clear that the office of president is absolutely not the place for on-the-job training. Being a face on a TV show is not the same as running the country. Who knew? Everyone, it turns out!

My point is broader than former president Trump. When people talked about the esteemed Stacy Abrams as a contender for vice-president, I argued that it would be a mistake to go from a state legislature to the White House behind a 78-year-old president. There’s time for her. She knows it. Experience is important. Take Andrew Yang running for Mayor of New York City. Really? I interviewed Yang a couple of years ago about his guaranteed annual income proposal. This is not really GAI as we want it. This is a dressed-up block grant proposal where existing welfare and support payments would be mashed into a $1000 per month payment. We are dusting off the concept of cash transfers again and support for lower income families, so who wants to go backwards? My old boss at welfare rights George Wiley’s daughter Maya is also running and could probably explain that to him as well. Yang’s is a conservative proposal with a new twist, but either way some time in business and not in government doesn’t qualify anyone to run New York City either. In New Orleans, we lived through that with former businessman mayor Ray Nagin, but he’s in jail now. I could go on and on.

Government is not just big business. It’s big, but it’s different. It turns out you need to know what you are doing to actually serve the people. Ambition is not a qualification. Experience actually has value. To serve us well, you have to have more than ideas. You need to know how government works. Please!


President Biden Says, “Join the Union!”

biden union president workers rights america

March 2, 2021

New Orleans      John Lewis of the United Mineworkers Union and one of the founders of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, the CIO behind the hyphen in the AFL-CIO, famously had scores of organizers signing up tens of thousands after the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt claiming that “The President says join the union!”.

It’s taken almost eighty years but this time it was Joe, not John, and President Biden came close in a video message — ironically on Twitter — to inferring the same thing, since neither really said those words. As importantly, he pointed out that this is not just his administration’s policy and program, but is a fundamental part of the National Labor Relations Act, and therefore the policy of the entire federal government. That’s not just his opinion, that’s a fact.

The occasion may have been triggered by the mail balloting beginning for Amazon workers at the almost 6000-strong Bessemer, Alabama plant, but his clarifying call for workers to join and support unions speaks directly to the entire working class.  He doesn’t mention Amazon, and that’s a good thing, because this applies to everyone whose shoulder is on the wheel, when he says,

Unions put power in the hands of workers. They level the playing field. They give you a stronger voice for your health, your safety, higher wages, protections from racial discrimination and sexual harassment. Unions lift up workers, both union and nonunion, but especially Black and Brown workers.

That was the heart of his message to workers, but he also has a message for employers as well, saying…

There should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda. No supervisor should confront employees about their union preferences. Every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice. And it’s your right, not that of an employer, it’s your right.

His message here is interesting, and just might speak to a new set of understandings for union organizing. No intimidation, coercion, or threats are all subjects for a charge before the NLRB. Anti-union propaganda is a fair game now, and should be outlawed or at least restrained, because such boss-messages do intimidate, coerce, and threaten. Pointing out that joining a union is a workers’ right and choice, and not that of the employer, is also an important twist. Too often current interpretations of US labor law, pretend that this is an even fight, when the employer controls the workplace, most communications, and the resources in a campaign that dwarf what the union can assemble in an election.

Biden’s emphasis on the union’s ability to protect against racial discrimination on the job and sexual harassment is also very significant, even though all unions may not be quite as ready to embrace this responsibility as he claims. He’s not hiding behind the long delays and toothlessness of the EEOC. He’s speaking to his base and the critical base his party wants to build and maintain. He’s also sending a message to construction and building trades that they better step up their game. He’s close to them, but he recognizes in this statement that many of them were way too transactional and cozy when playing footsie with former president Trump.

The media is talking about the fact that this is the most pro-union statement by a president since Harry Truman was in the office. One columnist quotes a Harvard professor claiming that presidents Carter and Clinton were anti-union. That’s not true at all, but to the degree they embraced neoliberalism, it too often ended up much the same and created a false sense of countervailing power that doesn’t exist in the workplace. Biden seems to be issuing a clarion call that curtseying before the altar of neoliberalism is also dead, and that’s also calling up the tune for a happy dance for all of us as well.