Ballot Measures Reveal a Kinder and Gentler America

New Orleans    The headline may be that the Senate is increasingly Republican, seeming to have picked up a couple of seats, and the House has seen the Democrats take control, picking up at least twenty-six seats, but that’s only part of the story.  When we move from the partisan divisions to look at some of the marquee ballot propositions, there’s an argument to be made that the majority is kinder and gentler than many in the parties and more progressive as well.

In blood red Louisiana, voters solidly ditched the requirement for unanimous juries that dated back 120 years to the Jim Crow racism that allowed 10 of 12 jurors to convict in a felony trial.  The top of the ballot may have been disappointing, though history was almost made in Florida, but on the ballot proposition voters restored the ability to vote to felons, which could be huge in that state in future elections.

Minimum wages measures reported thus far indicate that Arkansas and Missouri solidly approved significant increases in the minimum wage in both of those states.  It’s worth noting that we have not had an increase in the federal minimum wage since the end of George W Bush’s stint in the White House.  That’s ten long years, but there has not been a statewide ballot initiative on minimum wage that has lost since 1996!  What does that tell you about the deep support for a living wage across the map?  The results are still coming in and they aren’t all positive, but anti-gerrymandering measures have been approved in several places as well as climate change measures.  No matter what the president claims, the majority of Americans, when given a fair choice want to see everyone do better.  There’s love in the ballot propositions no matter how much hate there is in our politicians.

We also saw something else in the balloting in the midterms:  voting access matters.  At this minute Georgia has not been finally established, but the shenanigans by the secretary of state and now likely governor in that state were huge in the results.   Given the closeness of the race in Florida, it hard not to see the denial of ballot access as anything other than significant there.

On the bright side, voters pushed out two of the most militant vote suppressors and anti-poor people in the country.  Only two years ago Scott Walker in Wisconsin was arguing that his anti-union, anti-people program in that state was the ticket to the future.  He’s now on the unemployment line, and in a rich irony a former superintendent of education is going to be governor.  There can’t be a much more Republican state than Kansas, but Kris Kobach who has made a national reputation out of immigrant bashing and voter suppression in that state and others, even as secretary of state in Kansas, is now also hoping Trump gives him some kind of low-level job somewhere, because a female, Democratic legislator beat him for governor.

I don’t want any of us to be quick to judgement.  There’s a lot to learn from how people voted, and we need to look at ballot measures and candidates who speak to these lessons.

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How and When Did Scrooge McDuck Take Over Disneyland?

New Orleans    My dad was born and raised in Orange County, California, first in Tustin, then Santa Ana, and finally Orange itself where he lived until he finished high school. My grandfather was a foreman on an orange grove ranch until he couldn’t be, and then he worked as the janitor at the Lutheran Church, next to the parochial school that my dad, his brother and three sisters all attended at various times.  My dad used to tell us about delivering papers on his bicycle before dawn along the hills covered with orange groves that are now all occupied by one housing development after another.

We used to drive out to visit my grandparents in California every five years after we moved to New Orleans.  Of his two weeks of his vacation, we would spend three days driving out and three driving back, leaving at 4 AM in the morning to beat the humidity of the Gulf Coast and then the aridity of the desert until we arrived.  Once we went by his cousin’s carpet store to watch them build the Angels stadium in Anaheim.  We once went to Knott’s Berry Farm.  Twice we went to Disneyland.

I was shocked to read in an old copy of the New York Times that 85% of the 17,000 Disneyland unionized workers make less than $15 per hour, and that’s in California where the minimum wage is over $10 per hour, not $7.25, and on its way to $15 by 2022.  Furthermore, that’s in Orange County, not Sunflower County, Mississippi where my mother was raised.  Living costs are in another dimension in California.  The Times references a California Budget & Policy Center that calculates that a single adult would need to make $33,000 to meet a basic monthly budget, which is about $16 per hour at full-time work.  The story followed several Disney workers around as they slept in their cars, brushed their teeth at Starbucks, and tried to make it on their less than full-time shifts.

What’s going on here?

Disney is the largest employer in Orange County.  In 2017, the company made almost $9 billion in profits.  In the 3rd quarter of 2017, the parks and recreation segment of Disney, which includes Disneyland and Disneyworld in Florida, was the only major division that beat expectations with $1.2 billion operating income in that quarter alone.  No question, Disney has the money.

And, these workers have a union now and forevermore.  Walt Disney built the place union, and it was been union since it opened in California.  Even Disneyworld in Orlando is union in anti-union Florida.  The unions are organized in various trades councils where in theory every union and craft are part of the bargaining and representation from the skilled trades in maintenance to the large number of service workers in the hotels that are part of UNITE HERE.

Usually, we would think this is a great thing, but what’s gone wrong in Orange County that is allowing Disney to be Scrooge McDuck in dealing with its workers?  This should be Neverland, not Frontierland.  The Times story was triggered by a union-backed survey that indicated that 75% of the responding workers said they “do not earn enough money to pay for their basic monthly expenses, and one in 10 said that they had been homeless in the past two years.”  Clearly, we must demand that the unions stand up to Disney to force this rich company to pay living wages or make sure that visitors stop allowing their children to witness this daily hypocrisy in the name of profits.

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