NLRB attacking worker rights

If you look at recent headlines, it appears workers are finally making progress.  

The 11-day strike strike by 25,000 Chicago teachers–hailed as the “longest in decades”–was framed as a fight to decrease the gap in services between rich and poor neighborhoods. The city will be hiring hundreds more social workers, nurses, and librarians; spending millions on reducing class sizes; and increasing teacher salaries 16 percent over the coming five years.  

After 40 days the 47,000 United Auto Workers at GM plants got a contract that gave most a six percent in wage increases, two lump sum payments, and great health insurance during the next four years. The lower wage-scale for workers hired after 2007 is being phased out–and General Motors is to invest $9 billion in its U.S. plants, upping workers’ job security.

Building on successful strikes by teachers in four states last April, the gains seem signs of a growing movement, the kind that “raises all boats.”  

A 30-page report issued in mid-October by the Economic Policy Institute, however, suggests they may instead be a “last hurrah.”  

The EPI itemizes changes in the National Labor Relations Board that threaten to end effective collective action by workers.  

The Board itself consists of five members and a general counsel. In addition there are 26 regional, plus 19 smaller, field offices. Usually, employers and unions take cases to a field office; the Board examines them for merit; and the general counsel presents them to a court. 

But that’s changing. Three board members and the general counsel–all Trump appointees–are former corporate lawyers experienced in representing employers. 

Now, if they don’t agree with court decisions, they formulate new rules themselves.  

One issue–allowing groups of employees with a “community of interest” to form a bargaining unit–had been upheld by courts of appeals eight times. 

Without seeking any public input, the Trump majority on the NLRB overturned the decisions.

It’s not done overnight–these men are lawyers–but they are working on major changes. 

The Board is narrowing those who may form unions. Uber drivers don’t qualify because they’re being classified as “independent contractors,” like the repairman that fixed your furnace last winter.  Students who work, as well as study, at private universities may not form unions either–but those at public universities may.   

The Board is cutting off communication methods for union advocates. Workers can be punished for discussing grievances in company lunchrooms and parking lots or through company email.  

Companies are getting broader rights. Walmart may retaliate against strikers who didn’t have a plan formalized by a bargaining organization which Walmart hasn’t allowed to exist. Companies may punish workers for some offenses without union interference. They may also change some contract provisions without notice. And, when a contract expires, they may change all provisions instead of honoring the old contract during ongoing negotiations.    

In addition, the NLRB general counsel is pushing the board to rule that if the majority of workers form a bargaining unit, it must represent all employees without requiring any payment in lieu of dues–basically, it’d be a national “right to work law” investigated and passed by three millionaires. 

(For more details on the report, visit epi.org and click the word “Unprecedented.”)

I imagine many Idahoans don’t care much about the elimination of rights they’ve never had. Today, after three decades as a right-to-work state, only one in every 20 Idaho workers belongs to a union. 

But life here is better because one in five workers in Washington gets union wages and benefits. Idaho employers compete to keep good workers. 

We may see that end.         

Don’t let aid for victims disappear

She was beautiful in the witness box and spoke with all the worldliness and innocence of a 19-year-old. 

She’d asked to get out of the car and he’d sped up.  She’d turned the wheel, hard, into a parking lot. They’d argued. 

At one time, he’d hit her hard enough to knock her unconscious. 

He was still hitting her when she woke up. She’d caught his hand and bit hard. She’d opened the door and stepped out.  

He’d backed up, catching her between car’s door and the frame. Off-balance, she’d fallen to her knees and been drug into the road.  

Afterward, her sister asked me if she’d broken down in court or been strong.  

Yes.  And yes. 

A friend who’d fought for battered women asked more questions. 

Yes, a woman started meeting with the girl while she was still in the hospital and had accompanied her to court, explained the proceedings, and kept his friends from approaching her.

This child had the support she needed to be brave.

Thank you, Violence against Women Act.  Thank you, all the advocacy groups that fought for VAWA.  And thanks to all who’ve worked to build–and link–resources for battered persons. 

During the past 25 years VAWA has funded 18 different grant programs to help local governments deal with domestic abuse. Some have funded court training and assistants for victims; safe havens and transitional housing; even databases and research. Others have targeted rural areas, college campuses, and public housing developments.  

In 2000 a renewal extended services to the disabled and elderly; in 2005, to American Indians and Alaskan Natives.  In 2013 Congress extended services to all survivors of Gender Based Violence “regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”  

It’s not just about women and children any more.  

The National Network to End Domestic Violence found that 72,245 individuals had received services for shelter, transportation, legal assistance, education and counseling during a single day in September 2017.  

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month 

It is also the seventh month the Senate has failed to take action to renew the Violence against Women Act.  The previous version expired in February, but programs were funded through September. The House passed a new version, H.R. 1585, by a vote of 263-158 in April.

Word is that Republicans oppose the House bill because it calls for taking gun rights away from men convicted of abusing their girlfriends. They feel women will make up accusations just to get men’s guns taken away.  

That says a lot about how they see human relations: women will lie in order to hurt their men. 

 It says even more about how they see voters.  

Apparently, we’re not supposed to know that the Senate can amend bills from the House. Or that they can even write their own bills. 

The House would accept some Senate changes rather than abandon victim services. 

A more believable reason is that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is deeply afraid of splits in his ranks. 

Thirty-three Republicans in the House opposed their leadership and voted to fund victim services.  Earlier this month, 129 House Republicans–two out of every three–opposed President Trump’s “disastrous” abandonment of our Kurdish allies.  

But the Republicans hold such a slim majority in the Senate that even three defections would pass bills that McConnell opposes.

So the Senate won’t be voting on bills to limit oil drilling in coastal waters, to protect voting rights, to promote energy efficiency, to strengthen Congressional ethics–or to help the abused to be heard.

And Sen. Risch can hide behind McConnell’s shield.  

A Republican’s Republican needs replaced

I imagine President expected praise for getting 1,000 American troops out of the way of a Turkish attack into Syria. It looked so good, he didn’t ask generals–or Republican leaders–what they thought.   

He seemed unaware that he’d agreed to a Turkish massacre of the Kurds the U.S. was counting on to guard 11,000 ISIS prisoners–and that Russians were waiting to occupy our major military bases.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the President he strongly disagreed with his actions; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called it the worst decision of Trump’s presidency. 

And 129 Republicans in the U.S. House, including Idaho’s Mike Simpson, voted for a joint resolution opposing the troop pullback and asking the White House for a plan for “an enduring defeat” of ISIS.

Idaho’s First District Congressman Russ Fulcher voted no.  At a town hall in Lewiston, he said he felt “angst” over the situation, but agreed with the President’s decision to get out.  

I hadn’t paid much attention to Rep. Fulcher. I imagined that, like other Republicans representing Idaho’s First District, he was a standard cookie-cutter party man. 

Fulcher’s website seems to bear this out. It cites the deficit as a major danger, but calls for more tax cuts. “The deficit is caused by a spending problem, not a problem of taxing too little.”  

It claims 10 “patient-centric alternatives” will provide better health insurance than the Affordable Care Act.  Yet, many are items, like Health Savings Accounts and wellness programs, which are already available.

And, of course, it mentions that he is against gun regulation and abortion.  

According to Politico, Fulcher has voted with Republican leadership 92.9 Elephant, Cartoon, Sittingpercent of the time. He voted with them to oppose the Violence against Women and the Paycheck Fairness acts. He voted against them mainly when they supported increasing the debt ceiling. (That’s not uncommon when a Republican is president. 

But Fulcher had made headlines by opposing leadership during his first month in Congress.

With the President hinting at abandoning NATO, the House passed a resolution stating that the U.S. should remain a “member in good standing” of NATO. It passed 357-22. 

Fulcher cast the first no vote. He felt that pledging to pay our dues would limit the President’s options.

Fulcher is definitely a Republican’s Republican.  

Yet, there are times when he goes a step farther and insults the intelligence of Idaho voters  

Recently, Fulcher told a Lewiston audience that China provides the lead in their pencils. But the “lead” in pencils is actually carbon. Besides, the U.S. meets much of its lead needs through recycling–plus we’re the world’s third largest lead producer.  

 Fulcher has repeatedly stated that individual health insurance premiums in Idaho were $1,915 “prior to Obamacare” and have since reached $5,267.

A quick check reveals that in 1999, more than 10 years “prior to Obamacare,” the average U.S. premium was nearly $2,200.  It was $5,500 in 2010 when Congress passed Obamacare.  

Now,some may believe Idaho is “behind the times,” but 70 percent cheaper?   

And Fulcher has pleaded for repeal of the estate tax because family farms can’t pay it and survive.  But the tax only applies to estates over $11 million and “family farms” incorporate long before becoming worth that. 

Three Democrats have announced they’re running in Idaho’s  2020 Senate election. Would someone please step to run in our First Congressional District?  

Hagibis ends search for a positive topic

By Judy Ferro

I started this week looking for something to write about other than impeachment. 

I soon was hunting for something to write about other than impeachment and abandoning our allies the Kurds.  

Then it was impeachment, abandoning the Kurds, causing the release of 1100 ISIS fighters who’d been prisoners of the Kurds,and sending troops to Saudi Arabia. 

From the Guardian and the news website Sludge I learned that U.S. Senators and their spouses have $28 to $96 million invested in corporate stocks. (Reporting is by wide ranges.) Senators who will be deciding whether Amazon gets a $10 billion defense contract own between $423,000 and $1.3 million of its stock. 

From Newsweek I learned that under Secretary Betsy Devos, the U.S. Department of Education has attempted to collect loans from 160,000 victims of “predatory student lending” in spite of a court ruling in June 2018 that a 2016 order had cancelled those debts.  

From the newsletter of Rep. Matt Erpelding I learned that “Idaho Atty. Gen. Lawrence Wasden submitted a brief asking the Supreme Court to rule against individuals” who were fired for being LGBTQ. 

That wasn’t as bad as District 11 Rep. Tammy Nichols denouncing the Model U.N. activity for students as  “indoctrination,” but it does hurt some hardworking individuals and invite economic retaliation.   

I was still searching for something positive, maybe even uplifting.  

Then, Hagibis. 

When I first read that Typhoon Hagibis was expected to reach Japan on Saturday, I was worried about two friends who were visiting there. Later, I learned that thousands of people have friends there. Japan was hosting both the Rugby World Cup and the Japanese Grand Prix last weekend.  

Obviously, I wasn’t going to find a positive theme this week.   

Imagine waiting, waiting and watching for a storm beyond imagination, a storm larger than Japan itself  with a 55-mile wide eye and wind gusts up to 120 mph. Imagine knowing that government agencies had ordered a million people to evacuate their homes and advised ten million more to do so.

Games were cancelled. 

Planes were grounded, then trains. 

People hurried to safer ground. 

Store shelves emptied before noon. Streets were deserted. 

Then, millions waited–and hoped the storm would veer.  

Hagibis hit Tokyo about 7 p.m. and dropped eight inches of rain.  Elsewhere, in the island nation the rains reached two feet– even three.

A 5.3-magnitude earthquake added to the number of mudslides and broken levees. 

More than 430,000 people were left without electricity.    

 I expect “Hagibis” will be a movie one day. 

Unless a bigger storm hits next year–or the year after that.

I wonder how many million minds thought “climate crisis”–and how many resented major polluters like the United States for worrying more about coal and oil billionaires than about humanity itself. 

Hagibis makes our weather anomalies seem trivial.  

That intense September storm in Montana brought bitter cold, winds of 30-35 mph, and four feet of snow in mountain areas. 

The dry Santa Ana winds brought Southern California wind gusts up to 60 mph and temperatures up to 85 degrees.  

And last week’s snowstorm in Spokane dropped 3.3 inches of snow and cut power to more than 20,000 people.  Tree limbs, breaking under the weight of freezing snow on leaves still green, littered the streets. Schools closed

And much of Idaho remained sheltered from even these weather events.  

Today, give thanks. Think of the people in Japan. Cut your energy use. And demand that our leaders do more to cut pollution. 

Idaho teachers

Idaho is facing a teacher shortage.
And it’s bound to get worse.  A report from the Economic Policy Institute says the United States was short 110,000 teachers in 2018 and that may shoot up to 200,000 by 2025.
That’s serious–two decades of research indicate good teachers make a major difference in the classroom.
It’s not that Idaho legislators have been ignoring the problem.
Beginning teacher pay has increased $10,000 in less than a decade.
Stipends for teachers who do more–coach kids, work on committees, mentor other teachers–are better funded.
Twelve hundred teachers received $4,000 Master Teacher Premiums this month.  And funding the third rung of the career ladder salary program made the shortlist of recommendations by Gov. Brad Little’s K-12 education task force.
Is this enough to end the perennial shortage of qualified teachers in Idaho?
Not likely. We’re basically keeping up with actions other states are taking–and Idaho is starting with teacher pay more than $10,000 below the national average. And housing prices nearly doubling in recent years means we can no longer imagine that a lower cost of living is enough to make up the difference.
According to the State Board of Education, our problem is retention. Idaho issues enough teacher certificates to have a surplus of educators, but one-third never teach in this state. And 10 percent of out teachers each year quit each year, substantially more than the national average of eight percent.
Peter Green of Forbes magazine is emphatic that the  problem is teacher pay. “If I can’t buy a Porsche for $1.98, that doesn’t mean there’s an automobile shortage.”
Yet, he does note other factors of importance. “…over the past couple of decades teachers have also suffered a steady drumbeat of disrespect, the repeated refrain that US schools are failing and terrible, an accountability movement that is more about threats than support.”
An 18-year-old report from the ASCD, a professional learning community for teachers, helps us understand how harmful this is.  “…New teachers enter teaching primarily for its intrinsic or psychological rewards—that is, the opportunity to engage in meaningful work, the pleasure of working with children, and love of a particular subject area—rather than extrinsic rewards such as salary or public respect.”
Nobody chooses teaching for the pay. Good teachers want to make a difference in their students’ lives.
Class size matters. Teachers need time to listen to each student, acknowledge their interests, and make them feel valued. The Boise School District, with its ample tax base, has an average class size of 22 to 24. Teachers elsewhere may be dealing with 32 to 35; for secondary teachers, it can mean 150 or more students.
Student behavior matters. Theoretically, Idaho teachers may remove any student who prevents others from learning from their classroom. In reality, though, too many administrators may see a student in the office as a sign the teacher is failing.
Paul Boyce of the Foundation of Economic Education points out one more thing that matters–teacher autonomy.
Teachers thrive on using their own creativity and imagination to meet the needs of students. Students have less respect and are less motivated if they feel they are getting a canned course.
And education is being increasingly dominated by those who want teachers to be their robots. They want testing and accountability and control.
They don’t understand intrinsic rewards. They think teachers won’t work their hardest unless someone is telling them how bad they are.
And, when their changes haven’t worked, they’ve sought more control.
We must listen to Boyce, “In order to improve the quality of teachers, we must first empower the ones we already have.”

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019