N.Y. Grants Farm Workers Labor Rights

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

To cheers from farm workers, their advocates and the state AFL-CIO, New York joined California enacting a wide-ranging law giving farm workers labor rights. The legislation passed in late June.

“Farm workers are finally getting basic labor rights including the right to organize a union, a mandatory day of rest, and the right to overtime pay. Organizing rights include absolute employer neutrality and binding interest arbitration,” said state AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento.

New York’s new law also sets up a state farm worker wage board to set both minimum wages and to mandate overtime pay for farm workers, said United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero.

“Tens of thousands of lives will improve immediately and future generations of farm workers will also benefit for years to come,” Cilento said.  

“Today is the culmination of a decades-long fight centered upon one simple premise: That farmworkers deserve fairness, equality and justice. Today, justice was finally served.”

The New York legislation is important because – despite its image as an urban state – New York has a large agricultural industry, from the Hudson Valley on upstate. And many of its farms, such as in Orange County’s nationally known “black dirt” onion-growing country, depend on migrant farm workers.

Those workers, like other farm workers nationwide, are historically exploited by growers and sometimes by overseers who bring them to farms up and down the East Coast, including New York.

After lobbying by the United Farm Workers several decades ago, California established its own Agricultural Labor Relations Board to regulate wages, working conditions and the right of farm workers in the nation’s largest agricultural state to unionize. UFW and other unions lobbied for similar protections in the Empire State.

On the state level, New York and California fill a gap in federal labor law. It does not cover farm workers, a relic of when FDR needed Southern racist senators’ votes to help pass the National Labor Relations Act in 1935. The Southerners’ price was to exclude occupations that were majority-African American, such as housekeepers and domestic workers, and majority-Latino, such as farm workers.


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What’s good for Wall Street is often bad for American workers and manufacturing

Robert E. Scott

Robert E. Scott Senior Economist and Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Research, EPI

A strong dollar is hurting American workers and main street manufacturers, as I explained last week in the New York Times. I discussed what can be done about it, which builds on a crucial plank of Elizabeth Warren’s American Jobs plan.

In order to rebalance U.S. trade, the dollar needs to fall 25–30 percent, especially against the currencies of countries with large, persistent trade surpluses such as China, Japan, and the European Union. This would help to address the trade deficits that have eliminated nearly 5 million good-paying American manufacturing jobs over the past two decades and some 90,000 factories. In fact, trade with low-wage countries has pulled down the incomes of 100 million non-college educated workers by roughly $2,000 per year.

This week, Ruchir Sharma of Morgan Stanley trotted out a bunch of very shaggy dogs in defense of a strong currency. But he never mentioned the real reason Wall Street loves a strong dollar. An overvalued greenback has enabled the cheap imports that fuel the massive profits of American giants ranging from Apple and Amazon to Costco and Walmart. And multinational corporations have used offshoring, and the threat of moving more plants abroad, to drive down U.S. wages and benefits, and to weaken domestic labor unions.

Sharma claims growing trade deficits bring great benefits to the United States. And he praises the financing of our budget deficits through the sale of Treasury securities to foolish foreigners who are willing to hold them—with Wall Street bond traders brokering all of those sales for hefty fees. However, there are vast amounts of excess savings available in the United States and around the world, and there are no signs of a capital shortage, as evidenced by short- and long-term interest rates that are at historic lows across developed countries. The real issue, therefore, isn’t attracting capital, but rather the loss of American jobs and productive capacity that comes from growing trade deficits.

Sharma also claims that America’s ability to sell Treasury bills abroad depends, in part, on the dollar’s status as a “reserve currency …a perk of imperial might,” as though America were some powerful kingdom, with a throne in New York. In fact, as Dean Baker points out, the “dollar is not ‘the’ reserve currency,” it is simply one among many. Baker notes that central banks also hold euros, yen, British pounds, and Swiss francs, and can easily switch from one to another. And in today’s modern global economy, there is very little need to hold costly currency reserves. For example, in January 2019, the United States held only $115 billion in total foreign exchange reserves, which was equal to less than two weeks worth of total goods and services imports.

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Is Bernie Sanders Right that 3 Billionaires Have more Wealth than Half of America?

Chuck Collins Director the Program on Inequality and the Common Good , Institute for Policy Studies

And in addition to the 3 billionaires Bernie mentioned, we should also be worried about the expanding fortunes of multi-generational wealth dynasties.

The wealthiest 3 billionaires in the U.S. –Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — now have as much wealth as the bottom half of the U.S. population combined.

Those were the first words spoken at last night’s 2020 Democratic Debate, citing a wealth inequality study by the Institute for Policy Studies.

In fact, Sen. Bernie Sanders mentioned the study, Billionaire Bonanza, several times during the debate.

Fact checkers at The New York Timesthe Washington Post and CNNverified Sen. Sanders’ claims.

These extreme levels of wealth inequality are possible, in part, because the bottom fifth of U.S. households are underwater, with zero or negative net worth. And the next fifth has so few assets to fall back on that they live in fear of destitution.

“We’re developing into a plutocracy,” said former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

Another powerful IPS statistic: One troubling indicator that we are drifting toward a society governed by the wealthy is the expanding fortunes of multi-generational wealth dynasties.

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Bernie’s Right: 3 Billionaires Really Do Have More Wealth Than Half of America

Chuck Collins Director, Program on Inequality and the Common Good , Institute for Policy Studies

The wealthiest 3 billionaires in the U.S. – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett — now have as much wealth as the bottom half of the U.S. population combined.

Those were the first words spoken at last week’s 2020 Democratic Debate, citing a wealth inequality study by the Institute for Policy Studies.

In fact, Sen. Bernie Sanders mentioned the study, Billionaire Bonanza, several times during the debate.

Fact checkers at The New York Timesthe Washington Post and CNN verified Sen. Sanders’ claims.

These extreme levels of wealth inequality are possible, in part, because the bottom fifth of U.S. households are underwater, with zero or negative net worth. And the next fifth has so few assets to fall back on that they live in fear of destitution.

“We’re developing into a plutocracy,” said former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker.

Some more powerful IPS statistics from our latest edition of Billionaire Bonanza: One troubling indicator that we are drifting toward a society governed by the wealthy is the expanding fortunes of multi-generational wealth dynasties.

The three wealthiest U.S. families are the Walton’s of Walmart, the Mars candy family, and the Koch brothers, heirs to the country’s second largest private company, the energy conglomerate Koch Industries. These are all enterprises built by the grandparents and parents of today’s wealthy heirs and heiresses.

These three families own a combined fortune of $348.7 billion, which is four million times the median wealth of a U.S. family.

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Pro-Worker Dems Bargain With Trump Trade Rep About Worker Rights and the ‘New NAFTA’

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

A coalition of pro-worker House Democrats, led by veteran Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., opened talks on June 25 with GOP President Donald Trump’s trade negotiator about writing strong and specific worker rights straight into Trump’s “new NAFTA,” rather than just into U.S. legislation to implement the controversial “free trade” pact.

“We have made it clear from Day One there must be changes in the agreement” itself, DeLauro said in an interview after a Capitol Hill press conference that day with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, other union reps and other pro-worker lawmakers.

Trumka called the confab to present more than 200,000 names on “National Day Of Action” petitions demanding Congress not even consider, much less approve, legislation implementing the ‘new NAFTA’ – formally called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement -- unless there are strong and enforceable worker rights sections.

With such strictures, Mexican wages would increase, unions and workers say. “If Mexican wages are not allowed to increase, they” – corporations – “will continue to suck jobs out of the U.S.,” Trumka warned. 

One reason the lawmakers and unions want the pro-worker requirements written into the trade pact’s text itself is they don’t trust Trump, or U.S. multinationals, to follow any law implementing the new agreement.

“Go back to 1992-93, when NAFTA passed,” said Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., an Electrical Worker and former head of the South Jersey Building Trades Council. NAFTA proponents “promised we’d get more and better-paying jobs, but if you were a worker, you got royally screwed.”

“So the idea of ‘Trust me again and somehow it’ll be different’ isn’t going to do it.”

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New York Points A New Way Forward For The Nation

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

What happens at America’s state level can sometimes reverse the political momentum of the entire nation. We experienced just such a reversal in 1978, when California conservatives pushed our country to the right. We may be poised to take a new direction, thanks to important victories in New York State for progressives.

Back then, on a calm June day, conservatives engineered a California earthquake. They won nearly two-to-one voter support for a ballot initiative that wrote a cap on local property taxes into the state constitution. This “Prop 13” initiative would in short order crater funding for California’s world-class public services.

For business interests, meanwhile, Prop 13 would prove to be a gift that keeps on giving. Before 1978, corporate property owners footed two-thirds of the state’s property tax bill, homeowners one-third. After 1978, that ratio flipped, leaving the homeowner share at two-thirds.

But Prop 13’s most lasting impact would be political. Prop 13 gave America’s cheerleaders for grand private fortune a simple winning formula for electoral success: Make elections about cutting taxes. Always.

Conservative pols would follow that formula. In the immediate wake of Prop 13, over a dozen other states enacted similar tax caps. In the 1980 presidential election, Ronald Reagan would then ride this tax-cut wave into the White House. Once in office, his administration quickly set about rewriting America’s economic rules — to privilege the rich and the corporations that make them richer.

Today, four decades later, we’re still living amid the extreme inequality Prop 13 did so much to create. But now, in a state a continent away from California, the surprise outcome of another titanic political battle may well signal the dawning of a new and far more egalitarian epoch.

New York has just enacted — over fierce billionaire opposition — legislation that takes a giant step toward defining decent, secure housing as a basic human right.

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OPINION: Trump Is Right on China Trade, But So Far Has Little to Show For It.

Scott Paul

Scott Paul Director, AAM

President Donald Trump is shortly flying to Japan to represent the United States at a G20 summit. While there he’ll meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the gathering’s sidelines to restart trade talks, dormant since the White House accused China of backsliding from already negotiated commitments.

The stakes are appropriately high. These are bilateral talks between the world’s largest economies, after all, and securing a better deal for American industry than what his predecessors could achieve was one of Trump’s most emblematic 2016 campaign promises. Whether he’s successful will surely affect his 2020 reelection.

His administration was right to push back against China’s unfair trade practices. China for years has used these tools to benefit its homegrown industries over those of other nations, but previous White Houses and the multilateral approach they endorsed did very little to curtail them.

Now at least the parties have come to the table, even if they are temporarily standing away from it. The image of a tough negotiator that Trump cultivated for years – from The Art of the Deal to the Celebrity Apprentice to McDonald's commercials – has been buoyed by some real-world heft: Thanks in part to a forceful negotiating strategy led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and billions of dollars of tariffs raised on Chinese imports (not to mention the justified threat of billions more), the Trump administration has Beijing’s attention.

But we still don’t have a deal, and Trump doesn’t seem any closer to get us a good one. This agreement must rebalance a lopsided bilateral trade relationship, grant the U.S. industrial base the time to recover lost ground, immediately halt state-sponsored intellectual property theft, and address persistent overcapacity in export-oriented Chinese industries.

Few of us think about the impact of these Chinese policies on our nation. But it’s time to tune in.

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Warren’s brilliant plan to neutralize Republican voter suppression

Ian Millhiser

Ian Millhiser Senior Constitutional Policy Analyst, Think Progress

Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released a “plan to strengthen our democracy” on Tuesday.

Much of Warren’s plan tracks the For the People Act of 2019, the legislation commonly referred to as “H.R. 1,” which House Democrats passed last March. What sets Warren’s plan apart is the sophisticated mechanisms she uses to insulate voting reforms from state officials hostile to voting rights.

Warren’s plan is not a perfect solution to the problem of anti-democratic state officials, and, like nearly all laws, it is defenseless against a rogue Supreme Court that is determined to give an electoral advantage to Republicans. Nevertheless, it’s a thoughtful effort at least, to mitigate red states’ ability to sabotage pro-democratic reforms.

The Warren plan includes many of the same reforms included in H.R. 1, a bill which represents the consensus among congressional Democrats and voting rights groups. Like H.R. 1, Warren pushes for enhanced election security, automatic voter registration, early voting at least 15 days before the election, and independent redistricting commissions to thwart gerrymandering, among other things.

Yet, what makes Warren’s plan interesting is the safeguards she layers onto H.R. 1 in order to work around a constitutional quirk that limits Congress’ power to regulate elections.

The Constitution permits states to determine the “times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives,” but it also permits Congress to “at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators.” Thus, for congressional elections, Congress has virtually unlimited power to tell states how to run elections, so long as Congress does not violate some other provision of the Constitution.

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Immigration enforcement is funded at a much higher rate than labor standards enforcement—and the gap is widening

Daniel Costa

Daniel Costa Director of Immigration Law and Policy, EPI

One clear way to understand the priorities of a government is to look at how it spends money. If it’s true as they say that “budgets are moral documents,” then this Congress and administration do not place much value on worker rights or working conditions. A comparative analysis of 2018 federal budget data reveals that detaining, deporting, and prosecuting migrants, and keeping them from entering the country, is the top law enforcement priority of the United States—but protecting workers in the U.S. labor market and ensuring that their workplaces are safe and that they get paid for every cent their earn is barely an afterthought.

In 2013, the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) made headlines with a report that highlighted the fact that appropriations for immigration enforcement agencies exceeded funding for the five main U.S. law enforcement agencies combined by 24 percent. A recent report from MPI updated the numbers, showing that after six years of skyrocketing spending, immigration enforcement agencies received $24 billion in 2018, or $4.4 billion more than they did in 2012 (in constant 2018 dollars). This amounts to “34 percent more than the $17.9 billion allocated for all other principal federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined,” which includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.

With $24 billion in federal spending and climbing, immigration enforcement has undoubtedly become the top law enforcement priority of the U.S. government and the Trump administration. Where do labor standards and worker rights fit in?

My analysis of federal budget data reveals that spending on immigration enforcement in 2018 was an astonishing 11 times greater than spending to enforce labor standards—despite the mandate labor agencies have to protect 146 million workers employed at 10 million workplaces. Labor standards enforcement across the federal government received $2.2 billion in 2012, and that amount has decreased since then. In 2018, the budget for labor standards enforcement was only $2.0 billion, a $200 million decrease in real terms. (See Figure A.)

Congress is currently working on legislation to spend billions more on emergency appropriations for immigration enforcement while the Trump administration is proposing deep cuts to funding for labor agencies. As both of these line items continue to move in the wrong direction, we see an increasingly disparate investment pattern with serious consequences for all working people across the country.

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Let’s decode Trump’s Afta-Nafta trade deal

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower Author, Commentator, America’s Number One Populist

In a very weird twist in his chaotic 2016 presidential campaign, Candidate Trump started sounding like a genuine, workaday populist, fuming at his rallies about the devastating effects of Nafta and other international trade deals, and how they’ve shafted America’s blue-collar workers. He was right, and The Donald promised his mad-as-hell working class he would not stand for it. Of course, the pampered son of privilege never meant it. And, sure enough, as president, Trump promptly sold out workaday Americans to his real base: The global corporate elite.

He’s now delivered to Congress his New! Improved! Nafta! It is a piece of Trumpscam that he rebranded–Ta-dah!–the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA). This issue of The Lowdown is sounding the alarm about the extraordinary level of corporate avarice and malevolence that is baked into it. We’re urging all Lowdowners to pay attention, spread the alarm, and act while there is still time to fix it–possibly turning Trump’s raw deal into a good deal.

The pitch

“Keep your eye on the ball” is not only a core principle for baseball players, but also for us commoners trying to assess exactly what the spinmeisters of global trade are hurling at us. Their deals are and always have been large-scale hustles, filled with hypocrisy, deceit, and greed. Promoted as fair and good for all, they’re invariably rigged with profiteering schemes that lock into law advantages for corporations over the common good of consumers, the environment, labor, independent businesses, governments, and all other democratic forces.

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