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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“Justice Will Be Served” for Nail Salon Workers as Opportunity Knocks

New Orleans    A week long jury trial in federal court gave five nail salon worker employed by a Korean-owned chain in Long Island almost $250,000 in back pay and overtime for Fair Labor Standard Act violations for underpayment below minimum wages.  The case for these marginal, often ignored service workers was brought forward by a coalition of organizations who are part of the “Justice Will Be Served” Campaign, spearheaded by the well known Chinatown Restaurant Workers in New York City.

A visit to the campaign’s website proves quickly that this has been a long time fight to organize marginal service workers by an independent group of organizations working in the New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey area, mostly employing a strategy of winning compliance with FLSA standards on wages.  The charge, complaint, and enforcement strategy to build confidence in the workers inspiring more organizing, is a tedious and determined road for the campaign, but seemingly a sure one.  The nail salon case dates back to 2009.  Other accomplishments on the website date as far back as 2003.  This is hard, patient work in the vineyards for service workers that need organization, but fall outside of the usual parameters of most institutional labor unions.

Organizers quoted in the New York papers yesterday hope that this inspires a wave of organizing among nail salon workers.  That will probably not be the case, but what this victory may do is eventually provide some resources and deepen the commitment and interest in future organizing by the campaign and its member organizations, many of whom are likely supported now more by private resources than membership dues.

A strategy to move among marginal service workers has to be applauded.  Victories on FLSA might create partnerships between organizations and law firms gaining more confidence in moving towards class actions for such workers and being able to fund the organizing through potential cy pres monies.

One can hear the organizing opportunity knocking loudly if anyone is still attuned to the sound.

Justice needs to be served for such workers!

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