Interfaith Worker Justice

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February 2017 Archive:

Right to work fails in New Hampshire House

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From the Concord Monitor:

by Allie Morris

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu says he is “deeply disappointed” the House voted to kill a proposed right-to-work bill.

Sununu set the policy as a priority of his first term and met with representatives before the vote to try and ensure its passage. 

“While it is clear that some House members did not understand this opportunity to unleash the untapped potential of our economy, I know that we can continue to work collaboratively on initiatives that will drive new business into the state,” he said in a statement. 

Other Republican leaders might not be happy with the outcome, but are relieved the fight is over. 

“To put it behind us and move forward is what’s best for the Republican caucus,” said House Speaker Shawn Jasper. He had backed the bill, but warned on Wednesday it could fail due to the opposition of some Republican members.  “We have to start moving forward, there has got to be some healing.” 

Top state Republicans had spent the days before the vote trying to sway opinions toward right-to-work. On Wednesday, leaders at the GOP state party suggested they may not help Republicans who oppose the bill in the next election cycle. 

The last-minute lobbying, however, proved fruitless.

“It’s a good day for New Hampshire,” said Rich Gulla, who heads the largest union of state employees. “We’re ready to get down to business now that this is behind us.” 

Read more from the Concord Monitor.

N.Y. Labor Groups Join Forces to Attack President Trump's Anti-Worker Policies

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SEIU Janitors Protest Firing by JPMorgan Chase


From NY Daily News:

By Chauncey Alcorn

Some of New York’s largest labor organizations announced Friday they are joining forces in an early attack on what they say are President Trump’s anti-worker policies.

The gathering — which included community activists and leaders — specifically targeted some of Trump’s corporate allies, who are “trying to take advantage of the political moment to decimate workers’ rights,” the coalition said.

Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, a union that was a driving force in New York’s successful Fight for $15 campaign, said labor is pushing for a more progressive agenda — first in the White House, but also in Albany.

“We are witnessing not only an administration populated by billionaires (who don’t) have workers’ interest at heart — we are beginning to see the consolidation and expansion of workers’ exploitation that we thought were gone,” the labor leader said.

He stood with Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and several other groups as they criticized the influence of so-called “gig” tech companies in Albany.

The corporations are banding together to push for legislation that favors them, the group said.

“For a long time, Uber has cloaked itself in a lot of liberal rhetoric as if to say, ‘We are the progressive voice in our industry,’” Desai said at the meeting Friday.

“(But) it’s the drivers that are the progressive force in this movement, not the $64 billion Wall Street darling,” she added.

Saru Jayaraman, executive director of a coalition of New York restaurant workers, said they’re not covered by the state’s new $15 minimum wage law — and they’re being left behind economically as a result.

“Four hundred thousand restaurant workers saw their wages decline when everybody else’s wages went up,” she said.

Read more from NY Daily News.

Chicago’s lax enforcement of minimum wage hike leaves workers in the lurch

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Scott Olson/Getty Images

From The Chicago Reporter:

by Melissa Sanchez

Sabrina Jackson looked forward to a raise last summer at her job as a crossing guard near her children’s Englewood school.

Chicago’s minimum wage was slated to increase from $10 to $10.50 per hour under a city ordinance, providing a small but welcome boost to Jackson’s paycheck.

But when the new school year rolled around, Jackson discovered, “I didn’t get a raise.” Chicago Public Schools refused to pay the higher wage for the 1,300 crossing guards, telling nonprofit groups that run the program that the district had budget problems and claiming the workers were exempt. The district never explained why it considered the workers an exception.

The underpayment of Safe Passage workers is just one example of how the city’s minimum wage ordinance has fallen short since it took effect in July 2015. A Reporter analysis estimates that thousands of workers have been left behind because of exceptions in the law, which will raise the city’s minimum hourly wage to $13 by 2019.

Meanwhile, the city department responsible for enforcement has investigated just a quarter of 454 wage complaints, recovered lost pay for only a few dozen people and has yet to fine a single company for violating the ordinance. Following repeated questioning by The Chicago Reporter about the department’s lax enforcement, city officials now say they will levy fines. Also following the Reporter’s inquiries, CPS reversed course and said it would cover the wage increase, as well as back pay, to its crossing guards. “CPS is committed to meeting the city’s minimum wage ordinance, and we have begun the process of guaranteeing that all Safe Passage workers will be properly compensated this year,” said district spokesman Michael Passman in a statement in late January.

Other cities that have passed higher minimum wage laws, like San Francisco and Seattle, have had much greater success with more rigorous enforcement.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) agreed that Chicago needs to consider ramping up its oversight of the law. He recalled intervening last year to resolve a wage dispute in his ward between the owner of an Albany Park warehouse and a worker, who was undocumented.

“I’m happy to use that leverage,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “But ultimately we need to make sure there are better enforcement opportunities. It’s extremely important that the City of Chicago put teeth behind its existing ordinances. And if what we’re doing is inadequate, we need to get serious about having the right resources and enforcement mechanisms in place.”

For Jackson, who continues to look for higher-paying work and depends on food stamps and a public housing subsidy to support her four children, even a small pay increase is significant.

“It will help out a lot. That 50 cents does add up,” she said. “Maybe it’ll be an extra bill that you don’t have to worry about, extra things I can now get for my kids.”

How Chicago raised pay—for some workers

In the months leading up to his re-election campaign in 2014, Mayor Rahm Emanuel formed a task force to look at raising the city’s minimum wage. Community groups, including those involved in the national Fight for $15 fast food workers’ wage campaign, lobbied for $15 an hour. Business groups pushed back, warning that small businesses would close down or cut workers.

While cities such as Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles adopted a $15 minimum, Chicago City Council approved a $13 minimum in December 2014. The task force acknowledged that $13 fell far short of a living wage, given the city’s high housing costs. (The Living Wage Calculator, a project developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sets the amount at $24.91 per hour for a single adult with one child in Cook County.)

Still, Emanuel touted the increase as a way to lift working families out of poverty, and supporters viewed it as just a first step. “It’s a big part of the puzzle for people to be upwardly mobile, to start getting paid fairly and have a better way to make ends meet,” said John Bouman, president of the Chicago-based Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, who co-chaired the task force. (Since Chicago’s ordinance, Cook County passed a $13 minimum wage in 2016. State legislators are considering a proposal to raise the Illinois minimum to $11 an hour.)

City officials estimate that more than 270,000 low-wage workers have benefited from the increase. Yet the Reporter’s analysis found that more than 20,000 workers are exempt, in part because the ordinance incorporated a number of exceptions in state law. The list of exemptions includes certain younger workers, such as those in the city’s One Summer Chicago program, other teens under 18, and student workers at public colleges and universities; disabled workers; workers in transitional employment programs, such as those for the homeless and former-inmates; new employees in their first 90 days on the job; workers for certain small businesses and other groups.

Bouman called that a “tactical decision” to avoid a bigger battle over the ordinance itself. Neither the city nor the task force came up with its own estimates of exempt workers. “The idea was it was going to be hard enough to get a substantial increase in the minimum wage, that it would fracture and get more and more complicated the more of the exemptions and sub-provisions were included in the debate,” Bouman said.

Yet advocates for several groups called on the city to use the ordinance as a chance to level the playing field for all workers.

The exemptions make it “more difficult for people with disabilities to contribute to the workforce and live independently,” said Gary Arnold, spokesman for Access Living, a disability rights group.

Other groups, including those that help place youth in the One Summer Chicago program, were surprised to learn of the exemptions after the ordinance took effect.

“They should be getting paid the minimum, especially those youth who were placed in businesses where there are other employees getting the minimum wage,” said Juliet de Jesus Alejandre, youth program director for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. “It was a disproportionate number of young people of color, who applied to many different places and this opportunity was the only one that called them back.”

Alejandre sees this as an issue of equity, as white youth from higher-income families tend to have more connections and job opportunities in their neighborhoods. In fact, she recalled that one of the few white participants in the program last summer ultimately turned down a slot after her mother helped her find a higher-paying internship elsewhere.

Once the ordinance passed, the mayor formed a Working Families Task Force to analyze other issues, including sick leave policies and worker scheduling practices. That group heard from fast food workers whose hours were cut as their hourly pay rose. They were workers like Aiesha Meadows McLaurin, who works at three Burger King restaurants to make ends meet. “They cut back on a lot of our workers’ hours,” she said. “Now I’m running between three jobs and still relying on public assistance.”

The city’s 2016 ordinance mandating paid sick leave for workers was recommended by the Working Families group. But the task force decided to table recommendations to improve scheduling, citing the need for more study.

“You can get a huge increase in your hourly rate, but what happens if the hours you work get cut?” said Robert Bruno, director of the labor education program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a task force member. “The honest answer is nobody knows what the impact of the higher minimum wage has been. Nobody has done a good, statistically comprehensive assessment.”

The university’s Project for Middle Class Renewal will analyze the impact of the higher wage on working hours, scheduling and earnings as part of a larger study on low-wage work.

Chicago enforcement spotty

As more cities enact measures to raise the local minimum wage or guarantee sick pay, some have created specialized departments to police the new labor laws. Chicago has not. Instead, the city dumped oversight of three labor ordinances — minimum wage, paid sick leave and a 2014 measure that guards against wage theft — onto the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection without hiring additional employees.

“The scope of this department has changed and expanded, and yet the resourcing and supports and restructuring of that agency that will be necessary has not happened,” said Adam Kader, who directs the worker center at the nonprofit Arise Chicago. Wary of the city department’s capacity, labor activists like Kader often encourage aggrieved workers to consider negotiating with employers or taking other action to resolve pay issues, or even to file lawsuits in particularly egregious cases.

The department declined to provide copies of the minimum wage complaints or files from its investigations, or to allow the Reporter to inspect the documents, which would provide more details and identify the businesses involved. The department claimed this would be “unduly burdensome” and that all files are kept on paper, scattered across different departments.

But data obtained by the Reporter through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the department received 454 complaints from July 2015 (when the ordinance took effect) to December 2016.  So far, only 112 complaints, or about 1 in 4, have led to investigations, mostly because workers don’t submit the required affidavits.

Yet the department’s procedures appear to discourage workers from doing so. The department sends employers a copy of the affidavit, which activists say creates a fear of retaliation among workers (especially undocumented immigrants). Other cities, like San Francisco and Seattle, keep worker affidavits confidential and allow employees to give information over the phone without having to fill out the paperwork.

Department spokesperson Angel Hawthorne said the city doesn’t hesitate to take action. “When we receive complaints we fully investigate them and take action when necessary,” she said in a statement. “We have recovered tens of thousands of dollars in wages owed to workers and stand ready to shut down any business found to be violating wage theft laws.”

City officials told the Reporter that the department recovered wages for 51 workers. The total amount recovered: $82,000.

However, the city has not issued a single fine to or revoked the license of any of the companies found in violation of the ordinance, which states that businesses “shall be subject to fines of $500 to $1,000 per day.

Read more from The Chicago Reporter.

Fort Smith Sen. Jake Files' construction company avoiding $10,000 payment to subcontractor

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From the Arkansas Times:

by David Koon

The Northwest Arkansas Worker's Justice Center, which is representing a subcontractor from Northwest Arkansas, claims that Arkansas Sen. Jake Files (R- Fort Smith) owes the subcontractor they represent almost $10,000 for roofing work done for Files' construction company, FFH Construction. After many attempts to reach Files, they say, he still hasn't paid. 

Files is the chairman of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee, and has been in the Senate since 2011. 

Alex Canales, who owns roofing and construction company RG Construction, claims to have subcontracted with FFH to roof a building. Canales claims that himself and a crew of four workers spent roughly a month on the job, using materials purchased by FFH. Canales claims Files did pay him $2,090 for the job in the last week of November, but says FFH still owes him around $10,000. Canales said he's been trying to reach Files since November, and that Files has stopped taking his calls. 

The Northwest Arkansas Worker's Justice Center, a Springdale-based non-profit which lobbies and provides assistance on behalf of low-income and immigrant workers, reached out Files to see if they could help resolve the issue. When that didn't produce results, the group came to the Arkansas State Capitol with Canales in tow a few weeks back to see if they could locate and speak to Files during the session. 

Fernando Garcia, a caseworker with the Worker's Justice Center. said that during that trip to the Capitol, they tried to have Files paged in the Senate and sent notes for Files into the Senate chamber twice, but he never came out to speak with them. When they checked back later, Garcia said, they were told that Files had left for the day. 

Garcia said they had previously sent a letter to FFH Construction, and had been in touch with a person who identified himself as a general manager with the company. As of Friday, Feb. 3, Garcia said Canales hadn't received payment or been contacted by either Files or a representative of FFH to talk about the issue. 

Contacted by Arkansas Times, Files said he didn't know anyone named Alex Canales, and didn't recall receiving notes from anyone by that name during the session. Files said he has a subcontractor who has hired roofing crews for FFH jobs in the past. 

"It's a little strange," Files said. "I don't even know. It sounds like a misunderstanding and I don't know that it's newsworthy. I get that you've got things to print but I don't know anything about it. So I'll do some digging to see what I can find out." 

A short while later, Files called back to say that an employee he worked with had hired roofing crews in the past. though Files himself "didn't even interface with them." Files said the subcontractor he contacted had "used a guy named Alex before, but he didn't know his last name and I've never seen the name. So I don't know what the end of it is. I'll try to get a number and try to get in touch with him and go from there. As far as I know, I don't owe him any money." 

"I may have written checks to some but a lot of them I wrote to [the FFH subcontractor] and he paid them on from there," Files said. "I have heard the name RG Construction but I didn't know who it is associated with and I didn't know that we possibly owed them any money." 

Garcia said that number one issue the NWA Worker's Justice Center receives complaints about is wage theft.  "In the construction industry, it's very common," he said. "I think it's because there's a lot of confusion between the General Contractor, who can hire a subcontractor, who might hire another subcontractor along the way as well. What we've heard is: 'Well, I can't pay because I haven't been paid by the person who hired me.' Then we talk to them, and it's: 'I already paid them. I don't know why they're not paying you.' It can get a little confusing when there's a lot of subcontracting going on." 

Asked if he believes Files is actively dodging Canales to avoid paying him, Garcia said: "I'm sure his general manager told him what was going on. We've sent a letter to the company and we've had a little contact with the general manager. It wouldn't surprise me if he passed on the info to the Senator." 

Read more from the Arkansas Times.

State Investigates Wage Theft Claim at Luxury Downtown Apartment Project

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Edward Gonzalez found out he was getting paid about half as much per hour as his co-workers.

From WCPO Cincinnati:

By Lucy May, Dan Monk, Craig Cheatham 

CINCINNATI -- Edward Gonzalez felt fortunate to be earning the best wages of his life when R & R Steel hired him to work on the 8th and Sycamore development Downtown.

But his attitude changed when, six months into the job, Gonzalez found out he was getting paid about half as much per hour as his co-workers.

Gonzalez and two other Hispanic ironworkers -- all of whom are entitled to protections under state and federal labor laws -- claim R & R underpaid them by thousands of dollars and took advantage of Hispanic workers.

Their complaints have prompted investigations of the company by the city of Cincinnati, the Ohio Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The 8th and Sycamore development is a "prevailing wage" project where non-union construction workers are required to be paid the same rate as union workers.

As a ironworker, Gonzalez learned, he was supposed to be earning $46 per hour. Instead, R & R Steel hired him at a wage of $19 an hour. He got a raise that took him up to $26.80 before he found out what he was supposed to be making.

"I was angry," said Gonzalez, the father of four young children. "I do the hardest work out there. How is that guy making more than me?"

He began asking questions and said he believes he got fewer hours of work as a result. He left the job in June and sought help from the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center.

R & R Steel's president maintains the problems with pay were a misunderstanding that he has rectified.

Read more from WCPO Cincinnati.

Right to Work is Wrong for Your Family - Whether You are Union or Not. Here’s Why

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Anti-right-to-work sign being held by worker.

From Medium:

By Jesse Isbell

I spent 36 years working at the Bridgestone Tire Plant in Oklahoma City. The work was hard but rewarding, it afforded me the opportunity to provide for my family, always ensure there was enough food at the table and that my kids were afforded every modest opportunity to grow up in a household that was stable, secure and free from worry. That all changed suddenly in 2006, five years after Oklahoma passed a so-called “right to work” law that was billed by politicians as a job-creator. For the 1,400 men and women who worked at the plant, Right to Work didn’t work as advertised. Not only did the plant close, but the effects of the closing and the chilling effect that Right to Work has on a state’s economy were felt by everyone.

What is Right to Work anyway?

“Right to Work” is a dangerous and divisive bill that politicians use to intervene in the rights of people like you and me to negotiate with our bosses as we see fit. The bill is championed by big companies, the same ones that ship jobs overseas, by taking away our rights to organize and negotiate for fair paychecks and safety standards on the job. These companies argue that this will make states more competitive and attract jobs, but, in reality, that doesn’t happen.

So then, what does happen?

All evidence, actual facts, from non-partisan sources show that “Right to Work” doesn’t create jobs and actually has a negative effect on state’s economies. We saw this in Oklahoma. In the wake of Right to Work, the number of new companies relocating to our state has decreased by one-third and the number of manufacturing jobs has also fallen by a third. That’s according to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics. That same thing is happening in other right to work states as well, seven of the top ten states with the highest unemployment are “Right to Work” states. Worse, the jobs that stay in “Right to Work” states are lower paid. On average, workers in “Right to Work” states make about $5,000 less a year than in other states.
That means that everyone has less money to spend in the community.
That’s the thing that supporters of this bill don’t want you to know. This law takes money out of EVERYONE’s pockets. It means that you will be paid less, that you will have less to spend on groceries, in pharmacies, on going out to dinner or to the movies, on your hobbies and home improvement projects. It means that everyone that you PERSONALLY interact with on a daily basis has less to spend, spends less and then can’t spend on other things…it’s a vicious cycle.

WORSE, Right to Work means that our communities will be less safe.

Another thing that supporters of “Right to Work” don’t tell you is that Nurses, Teachers, Firefighters and Police Officers come together collectively to negotiate with politicians over the critical equipment they need to keep our communities safe. Nurses negotiate to ensure there are enough on staff working humane hours to respond when our life is in danger in a hospital emergency rooms. Firefighters negotiate for the equipment they need to safely and quickly put out fires. Police Officers negotiate for new equipment to respond to violent emergencies. Teachers negotiate over class sizes. All of these critical negotiations by folks who know how to keep our community safe get threatened by the consequences of this bill.

Read more from Medium.

Gov. Eric Greitens Signs Missouri Right-To-Work Bill, but Unions File to Overturn It

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Gov. Eric Greitens held multiple signing ceremonies Monday for right-to-work legislation, the last inside the Capitol in Jefferson City.

From The Kansas City Star:

By Jason Hancock

 In an abandoned warehouse in Springfield, Gov. Eric Greitens on Monday signed legislation making Missouri the country’s 28th right-to-work state.

Hours later, organized labor struck back by filing a rarely used referendum petition seeking to freeze the law and put it before voters in 2018.

Greitens’ signature was thought to be the final step in a decades-long push by Republicans and business groups to enact a right-to-work law in Missouri. But if the law’s opponents gather enough signatures, the battle will carry on.

In right-to-work states, such as Kansas, employees in unionized workplaces can opt out of paying unions for the cost of being represented.

Proponents of right-to-work argue it will bolster Missouri’s economy by making the state more hospitable to businesses.

Unions vehemently oppose right-to-work laws, arguing that the real motivation is political: Republicans want to weaken a political nemesis by allowing some workers to benefit from the contracts labor unions negotiate without having to contribute to covering the costs of those negotiations.

By signing the bill, Greitens fulfilled one of his major campaign pledges. Labor unions spent heavily to defeat Greitens last year based largely on his promise to enact right-to-work legislation. He also mentioned the idea in his State of the State address last month, saying that “Missouri has to become a right-to-work state.” 

Greitens held multiple signing ceremonies for the bill Monday, the first being held in Springfield at an abandoned warehouse that Parker Briden, the governor’s press secretary, called in a press release “a far too familiar sight for many towns across Missouri.”

The owner of the warehouse, Gary Newkirk, told the Springfield News-Leader that his company went out of business five months ago, but that lack of a right-to-work law wasn’t to blame. While Newkirk said he supports the legislation, he told the newspaper that offshore competition was the real culprit.

Monday afternoon, Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis and Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel filed a petition for referendum with the secretary of state’s office. They have until Aug. 28 — the day the right-to-work measure is scheduled to go into effect — to collect enough signatures to place the law on the ballot. If they succeed, right to work won’t take effect until Missourians get the chance to have their say in 2018.

A “yes” vote would mean right to work becomes law, while a “no” means it doesn’t.

Citizens may call a referendum on a measure approved by the General Assembly and not vetoed by the governor as long as they collect signatures totaling 5 percent of the voters from two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts. That would appear to be roughly 90,000 signatures.

Although the referendum petition was regularly used in Missouri during the early 20th century, the last time it was used was 1982.

Of the 26 times a referendum has been placed on the ballot, voters have rejected actions by the General Assembly all but twice.

Read more from The Kansas City Star.

California Unions Playing Defense as Trump Presidency Begins

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SEIU Protest.


From KQED News:

By Katie Orr

Labor unions in California helped push successful efforts for increasing the minimum wage, mandatory paid sick leave and expanding overtime rules for farmworkers in the state. But the Trump administration has unions playing defense, even in labor-friendly California.

The new administration worries Belinda Beeks-Malone. She’s a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). She says her biggest concern is actually very basic.

“One is if we’re even going to have a union,” she says. “Is it going to be a right-to-work-state here in California? So that’s one of the things I’m concerned about is our collective bargaining rights.”

In California, union representation continues to grow. But nationally it’s on the decline. Over half the states in the country are right-to-work states. That means employees cannot be compelled to join unions. Sylvia Allegretto is a labor economist with the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at UC Berkeley. She says it will be telling to see how the federal Department of Labor will act on workplace policies under Trump.

“Do they believe in expanding paid leave? Instituting better scheduling practices, especially for part-time workers?” she asks. “What will they do with the overtime the Obama administration wanted to expand and pass?”

Allegretto says early signs indicate the administration won’t be very helpful to union workers. She points to Trump’s pick of Andy Puzder to be labor secretary. Puzder is chief executive of a company that franchises fast food restaurants. He has criticized minimum wage increases and paid sick leave. And Allegretto says the U.S. Supreme Court will likely revisit a case that could expand those right-to-work laws, which many regard as anti-union.

Still, California labor groups are trying to stay positive. Laphonza Butler, president of California’s Service Employees International Union (SEIU) State Council, says many of Trump’s campaign promises actually align with union goals.

“Trump has said to the American people that he was going to be a jobs creator,” she says. “He was going to bring manufacturing back. And he was going to keep auto plants thriving in our nation. And those are union jobs.”

Butler says SEIU wants to focus on protecting the Affordable Care Act and protecting immigrants. But she doesn’t believe California’s strong labor laws can shield unions from changing federal policies.

Steve Smith is with the California Labor Federation. He acknowledges unions are under siege.

“But we also look at this as an unprecedented opportunity to organize, to talk to workers about the value of having a union, to talk to workers about being able to stand together to demand fair treatment from their employers,” he says. “We don’t want to just play defense for four years, we want to go on offense.”

Read more from KQED News.

Andy Puzder Is an Indefensible Nominee Who Can and Must Be Stopped

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Andrew Puzder speaking at an event in Las Vegas, Nevada.

From The Nation:

By John Nichols

 Donald Trump’s cabinet picks are greedheads and grifters, blank-stare ideologues and full-on neocons, Koch brothers mandarins and campaign donors who have bought their way into the White House. But the rigid partisanship of Republican senators and the wobbly responses of some Senate Democrats have moved nominee after nominee into positions of immense authority.

 They are stepping into those positions with insufficient scrutiny and in the face of scandals that should disqualify them. Yet a collapse of the system of checks and balances holds out the prospect that most will be approved—as became all too evident last week, when Republican-controlled Senate committees endorsed inadequately scrutinized and scandal-plagued nominees such as attorney-general pick Jeff Sessions, Treasury-secretary pick Steve Mnuchin, and Department of Health and Human Services secretary pick Tom Price. Even Betsy DeVos, the administration’s shockingly inept nominee for secretary of education, won committee approval and—despite the principled objections of two Republican senators, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski—was being propped up by rubber-stamp Republicans in the Senate and Vice President Mike Pence.

With Republican committee chairs ripping up the rules (and holding votes without Democratic senators present), with partisan lines being drawn ever more deeply in the sand, can any of Trump’s nominee be stopped? Yes. 

 The confirmation process should continue to be a focus of Americans who object to Trump’s assembling of a wrecking-crew cabinet—even as the resistance focuses energy on the fight over the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the US Supreme Court seat that Republicans denied Judge Merrick Garland. That focus should target the worst of the nominees, including the atrocious Andy Puzder—Trump’s pick for secretary of labor.

The Department of Labor is powerful, with a budget in excess of $12 billion, more than 17,000 employees, and a charge to protect the rights of more than 125 million workers and to assure than 10 million employers respect those rights. And it is a defining agency that sets not just the specific standards of regulations and mandates but a societal standard that is, at best, an extension of the vision former labor secretary Frances Perkins outlined when she said, “The people are what matter to government [and] a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.”

“Being Secretary of Labor is about making sure working men and women of this country are treated with decency,” says Congressman Mark Pocan, the Wisconsin Democrat who is a key player on labor issues in the House: 

The nomination of Andy Puzder is another broken promise to the American people. President Trump likes to talk and tweet about putting hard-working Americans first, but at the end of the day, he wants to make sure only big business and special interests have seats at the table.

 Pocan’s comments highlight why the fight against Puzder is vital. 

 It is also winnable. 

 Puzder’s nomination is on shaky ground. On Monday night, the wealthy businessman acknowledged that he had for many years employed an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper — admitting to engaging in the sort of wrongdoing that derailed the nomination of George W. Bush’s pick for Labor Secretary, along with the nomination of Bill Clinton’s choice to serve as Attorney General.

Last week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Puzder’s nomination was delayed for a fourth time, with a committee aide telling The Washington Post that a new hearing will not be set until the fast-food company CEO provides the Senate with necessary paperwork—including Puzder’s financial disclosures and his plan for avoiding conflicts of interest.

“There are also reports that Puzder is considering dropping out of the running for the position,” notes AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who says, “The pressure we’re putting on our senators is working, but we need to keep it up. They need to hear us loud and clear: Puzder would be a disaster for working families.” 

 Trumka says that Puzder’s anti-worker record could fill a book: 

He’s railed against increasing the minimum wage and expanding overtime. He’s shortchanged workers at his Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants and even refused to pay managers overtime they earned. He’s talked about replacing working people with machines.

 Trumka has plenty of company in opposing the Puzder pick. This week, 105 farm and food-safety groups, including Friends of the Earth to Food & Agriculture Watch, Organic Consumers Association, and National Family Farm Coalition, wrote senators to argue that the Puzder nomination “betrays [Trump’s] promise to improve the lives of working people.”

Arguing that the fast-food CEO’s record proves he would be miserable Labor Secretary for fast-food workers, the groups explained in their letter opposing the Puzder nomination that, 

Contrary to what Puzder and other corporate leaders at the National Restaurant Association say about good working conditions in the restaurant sector, the majority of restaurant workers are women and people of color, making as little as $2.13 per hour and rely on tips to survive. These workers face disproportionate rates of poverty, discrimination, and sexual harassment and deserve a Labor Secretary who believes that, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “All labor has dignity.” Instead, with the National Restaurant Association’s champion heading the Department of Labor, workers will have to rely on vocal opponents of labor regulations to protect their basic workplace rights.

Read more from The Nation

Exploiting Black Labor After the Abolition of Slavery

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African-American, Slavery, Man, Woman, Black, Family, America

From The Conversation:

By  Kathy Roberts Forde and Bryan Bowman

The U.S. criminal justice system is riven by racial disparity.

The Obama administration pursued a plan to reform it. An entire news organization, The Marshall Project, was launched in late 2014 to cover it. Organizations like Black Lives Matter and The Sentencing Project are dedicated to unmaking a system that unjustly targets people of color.

But how did we get this system in the first place? Our ongoing historical research project investigates the relationship between the press and convict labor. While that story is still unfolding, we have learned what few Americans, especially white Americans, know: the dark history that produced our current criminal justice system.

If anything is to change – if we are ever to "end this racial nightmare, and achieve our country," as James Baldwin put it – we must confront this system and the blighted history that created it. 

During Reconstruction, the 12 years following the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, former slaves made meaningful political, social and economic gains. Black men voted and even held public office across the South. Biracial experiments in governance flowered. Black literacy surged, surpassing those of whites in some cities. Black schools, churches and social institutions thrived.

As the prominent historian Eric Foner writes in his masterwork on Reconstruction, "Black participation in Southern public life after 1867 was the most radical development of the Reconstruction years, a massive experiment in interracial democracy without precedent in the history of this or any other country that abolished slavery in the nineteenth century."

But this moment was short-lived.

As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, the "slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery."

History is made by human actors and the choices they make.

According to Douglas Blackmon, author of "Slavery by Another Name," the choices made by Southern white supremacists after abolition, and the rest of the country's accommodation, "explain more about the current state of American life, black and white, than the antebellum slavery that preceded."

Designed to reverse black advances, Redemption was an organized effort by white merchants, planters, businessmen and politicians that followed Reconstruction. "Redeemers" employed vicious racial violence and state legislation as tools to prevent black citizenship and equality promised under the 14th and 15th amendments.

By the early 1900s, nearly every southern state had barred black citizens not only from voting but also from serving in public office, on juries and in the administration of the justice system.

The South's new racial caste system was not merely political and social. It was thoroughly economic. Slavery had made the South's agriculture-based economy the most powerful force in the global cotton market, but the Civil War devastated this economy.

How to build a new one?

Ironically, white leaders found a solution in the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery in the United States in 1865. By exploiting the provision allowing "slavery" and "involuntary servitude" to continue as "a punishment for crime," they took advantage of a penal system predating the Civil War and used even during Reconstruction.

A New Form of Control

With the help of profiteering industrialists they found yet a new way to build wealth on the bound labor of black Americans: the convict lease system.

Here's how it worked. Black men – and sometimes women and children – were arrested and convicted for crimes enumerated in the Black Codes, state laws criminalizing petty offenses and aimed at keeping freed people tied to their former owners' plantations and farms. The most sinister crime was vagrancy – the "crime" of being unemployed – which brought a large fine that few blacks could afford to pay.

Black convicts were leased to private companies, typically industries profiteering from the region's untapped natural resources. As many as 200,000 black Americans were forced into back-breaking labor in coal mines, turpentine factories and lumber camps. They lived in squalid conditions, chained, starved, beaten, flogged and sexually violated. They died by the thousands from injury, disease and torture.

For both the state and private corporations, the opportunities for profit were enormous. For the state, convict lease generated revenue and provided a powerful tool to subjugate African-Americans and intimidate them into behaving in accordance with the new social order. It also greatly reduced state expenses in housing and caring for convicts. For the corporations, convict lease provided droves of cheap, disposable laborers who could be worked to the extremes of human cruelty.

Every southern state leased convicts, and at least nine-tenths of all leased convicts were black. In reports of the period, the terms "convicts" and "negroes" are used interchangeably.

Of those black Americans caught in the convict lease system, a few were men like Henry Nisbet, who murdered nine other black men in Georgia. But the vast majority were like Green Cottenham, the central figure in Blackmon's book, who was snatched into the system after being charged with vagrancy.

A principal difference between antebellum slavery and convict leasing was that, in the latter, the laborers were only the temporary property of their "masters." On one hand, this meant that after their fines had been paid off, they would potentially be let free. On the other, it meant the companies leasing convicts often absolved themselves of concerns about workers' longevity. Such convicts were viewed as disposable and frequently worked beyond human endurance.

The living conditions of leased convicts are documented in dozens of detailed, firsthand reports spanning decades and covering many states. In 1883, Blackmon writes, Alabama prison inspector Reginald Dawson described leased convicts in one mine being held on trivial charges, in "desperate," "miserable" conditions, poorly fed, clothed, and "unnecessarily chained and shackled." He described the "appalling number of deaths" and "appalling numbers of maimed and disabled men" held by various forced-labor entrepreneurs spanning the entire state.

Dawson's reports had no perceptible impact on Alabama's convict leasing system.

The exploitation of black convict labor by the penal system and industrialists was central to southern politics and economics of the era. It was a carefully crafted answer to black progress during Reconstruction – highly visible and widely known. The system benefited the national economy, too. The federal government passed up one opportunity after another to intervene.

Convict lease ended at different times across the early 20th century, only to be replaced in many states by another racialized and brutal method of convict labor: the chain gang.

Convict labor, debt peonage, lynching – and the white supremacist ideologies of Jim Crow that supported them all – produced a bleak social landscape across the South for African-Americans.

Black Americans developed multiple resistance strategies and gained major victories through the civil rights movement, including Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Jim Crow fell, and America moved closer than ever to fulfilling its democratic promise of equality and opportunity for all.

But in the decades that followed, a "tough on crime" politics with racist undertones produced, among other things, harsh drug and mandatory minimum sentencing laws that were applied in racially disparate ways. The mass incarceration system exploded, with the rate of imprisonment quadrupling between the 1970s and today.

Michelle Alexander famously calls it "The New Jim Crow" in her book of the same name.

Read more from The Conversation

The People Prepping Produce for Your Fast Food Aren't Too Happy With Their Working Conditions

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Taylor Farms workers striking.

From Mother Jones:

By Josh Harkinson

If you've ever purchased pre-cut produce at Costco or Safeway, or eaten at fast-food restaurants such as McDonalds or Chipotle, chances are that your food was handled by workers at Taylor Farms. As one of the world's largest fresh-cut produce companies, it employs hundreds of low-wage workers in several warehouses in and around California's Central Valley. These are the people who dice the lettuce in your burger and mince the cilantro in your burrito.

Fresh-cut produce suppliers allow restaurant chains to reduce labor costs and ensure that their foods are prepared under sterile conditions. In response to E. coli outbreaks in 2015, Chipotle announced that it would stop dicing tomatoes in its restaurants; like many other fast-food chains, it now sources some of that prep work from Taylor Farms.

But these massive warehouses carry risks of their own. To prevent E. coli and salmonella outbreaks, fresh-cut produce firms treat their vegetables with chlorine and use other cleaning chemicals that sometimes can pose hazards to workers.

Since 2012, two separate chemical accidents at a Taylor Farms plant in California have sent some 40 workers to the hospital. During that time, California's Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the company 55 violations and fined it more than $100,000 for problems that included failure to monitor workers' chemical exposures, failure to notify workers of what they may be exposed to on the job, and failure to train workers properly. Inspectors found that Taylor Farms repeatedly "failed to control production area employee exposure to chlorine so as to prevent harmful effects such as significant eye, nose, and lung irritation, vomiting, nose bleeds, and fainting." Taylor Farms is contesting these violations and many of the others.

Partly in response to the persistent safety problems, workers at Taylor Farms' plant in Tracy are trying to unionize. But the company has fought back aggressively. The National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Taylor Farms, citing dozens of alleged violations of federal labor law, including spying on, threatening, and firing pro-union workers. (The company and its contractors, without admitting fault, settled the case for $267,000.)

Last August, Taylor Farms workers protested outside Albertsons grocery stories, holding signs that said, "Taylor Farms Makes Bad Salads." A group of workers from the Tracy plant also traveled to San Francisco to hold a protest outside a Chipotle restaurant. Among them was Maria Leon, then a 32-year-old mother of four who worked chopping vegetables. Leon, who was pregnant at the time of the incident, told me the following story, which I've corroborated with other workers and edited for length and clarity:

I work at a conveyor belt—they call it the prep line. The vegetables arrive whole. We cut the bell peppers in half and take out the seeds. We take the rubber bands off of cilantro and green onions. We take off the roots, we take off the tips. We cut them and we pack them. For all of this we just use knives.

It's very cold—like 33 or 34 degrees. To stay warm, we wear three or four sweaters or very heavy coats. The broccoli and green lettuce comes packed in ice and we have to take it out. We put on three gloves, one of plastic, one of fabric, and one made of metal. But it's still cold.

They use the chemicals in the water to sterilize the vegetables and to wash the machines. The air everywhere in the plant has the smell. This is one of the worst things about the job. There's one chemical that reacts with our eyes. They don't use it on the prep line, but they do use it in other areas where practically every day people come into contact with it.

On October 15, I punched in and entered the production room where I work. I smelled a very strong odor. I arrived at my line and told the crew leader, "I'm going to leave." I went across the room. About four minutes later, he came over and suggested that I try wearing a paper mask and return to the line. Because I was pregnant, I'd sometimes had nausea and vomiting, so I didn't know if that was why I was feeling bad. So I put on the mask and I went to work.

It bothered me to go in there. It hurt too much. But none of my coworkers were saying anything. Then people started getting sick. After about 10 minutes, a crew leader opened a door and said, "Please go outside. Go outside."

There weren't alarms that sounded, they didn't say leave immediately. The only people who even remotely knew what was going on were the crew leaders, who carry radios with earpieces. The crew leaders told people what to do, but there were many people who couldn't hear them, who work alone. In the beginning, they had no way to know that it was an emergency and they should leave.

I felt dizzy and nauseous. Others were coughing. Others had blood coming out of their noses. It was maybe 25 minutes before the ambulances arrived.

The paramedics told me I had too many chemicals on me and they took off all my clothes. When I arrived at the hospital, the doctors ordered me to bathe. They washed me off because they said I smelled too strongly of chemicals. I think they did this as a precaution because I was pregnant.

I asked the doctor about my baby. We still don't know what will happen. I did the studies with the doctor and everything is fine up until now, but she could develop asthma or respiratory problems. I hope nothing will happen. [Update: The baby was born healthy and so far hasn't experienced any significant problems.]

I don't know much about the chemicals they use. I'm not responsible for that. Sometimes the odor is a little stronger, sometimes it's less. People are afraid of breathing it, but they don't protest. They will say you don't have papers. That's what the workers think. Everybody is afraid. 

People often ask me, "What are you doing there?" But I need to work because I am a single mother. I have three other girls: eight, nine, and 13 years old.

We don't have set hours. My line begins at 5:20 a.m. We could be finished at one, or at three, or at five. There's no normal day. If they want to, they can keep you for more than 12 hours.

Right now they pay $10.50 an hour, 50 cents more than minimum wage. It depends on the hours, but in a typical week we might make $470. It's difficult at this wage. It's good that the father of my children is helping me with the girls, because otherwise what I earn at Taylor wouldn't be enough.

I don't think people who shop at Chipotle or Costco would do so if they knew what was going on. The working people, at this wage, they say what does it matter if the product goes out well? If you don't take an interest in us, then we could care less about you.

If we had a union, maybe they would pay us better and create a plan so that we aren't breathing chemicals. We hope that they can stop thinking of us like we are machines. The chemicals don't hurt the machines but they do hurt us. Machines can work without a decent wage, but we can't.

Respect above all is what we need.

Read more from Mother Jones.

Trump Aides Considering a Major Change to the President's Maternity Leave Plan

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Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

From The Washington Post:

By Danielle Paquette

When Donald Trump pitched his plan to extend paid leave to all new mothers in September, his campaign insisted the benefit would cover only women.

But after critics called the proposal unconstitutional and said it would encourage employers to discriminate against women, the Trump administration might be considering a change of course.

Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar in economic policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning research group, said she spoke in December to a “lower-level” member of Trump’s transition team about the president’s idea. Staffers were considering one key revision, she said: turning maternity leave into parental leave — a benefit that fathers, too, could access.

“They didn’t want to just focus on mothers,” she said. “They were thinking about making it gender-neutral.”

A White House spokesperson would not confirm whether the president’s policy had changed but said, “It’s a top priority of his. The president has expressed a need for a comprehensive maternity plan.”

The United States does not guarantee any paid time off for new parents. During his campaign, Trump proposed offering six weeks of paid time off to biological mothers through the country’s unemployment insurance, which currently floats cash to workers who are laid off. The proposal received backlash from both Republicans and Democrats: Those on the right said the measure would bloat public assistance, creating a larger bill for taxpayers, while those on the left said it discriminated against fathers and adoptive mothers.

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have said the government should find a way to better support families. In 2015, for example, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida became the first GOP presidential contender to release a paid family leave plan, proposing a new tax break for companies that cover at least a four-week break for new parents. Democrats, meanwhile, have long advocated a national program, similar to the safety nets in European countries.

Mathur, who wrote a 2015 report suggesting parental leave should be funded through a tax credit, said including fathers in Trump’s plan probably wouldn’t make it significantly more costly, considering American men rarely take paternity leave, even when it’s fully funded through an employer.  

Fewer than a third of new dads who work use more than 10 days of leave after the birth of a child, according to Labor Department data. Fewer than 1 in 7, meanwhile, receive pay for those days.

Mathur said it was unclear whether Trump was considering offering the aid to adoptive parents.

The Trump administration, she said, did not want to stray far from the original blueprint, though. The average weekly benefit, according to a campaign document, would be $300. Trump said he would pay for it by eliminating fraud in the unemployment insurance system. (Economists have said fraud payments constitute a tiny fraction of the overall program.)

“Providing the benefit through UI — paid for through program savings — will not be financially onerous to small businesses when compared with mandating paid leave,” the Trump team noted in a report. “The Trump plan for paid maternity leave will advance the interests of disadvantaged mothers without raising taxes.”

Carrie Lukas, director of policy for the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative nonprofit group, said she heard from a Trump aide a few weeks after the election. They chatted about the maternity leave proposal — specifically, the logistics of rolling it out on the state level. Lukas said gender didn’t come up in their conversation.

“They’re doing their homework,” she said. “They’re trying to talk to people and not just rush out with something.”

Hillary Clinton, for comparison, had proposed providing new parents — mothers and fathers, biological and adoptive — 12 weeks of parental leave at two-thirds of their wages, funded through a tax increase on the wealthy. Trump said his plan was influenced by his older daughter, Ivanka, who encouraged her father to become the first Republican presidential nominee to unveil a maternity leave proposal.

Back in November, Ellen Bravo, executive director of the national advocacy group Family Values at Work, said barring men from a paid leave program would be a blow to gender equality.

“This looks like a policy from someone who sees child-rearing as solely the responsibility of women and doesn’t understand American families,” Bravo said. “It assumes only women take care of kids.”

Read more from The Washington Post

Andrew Puzder Will Be a Disaster for Workers. I Know: He Was for Me.

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Man holding a sign protesting Puzder,

Scott Olson/Getty Images

From The Washington Post:

By JoAnn Wise

In 1984, I was hired as a cashier at Hardee’s in Columbia, S.C., making $4.25 an hour. By 2005, 21 years later, my pay was only at $8 an hour. That’s a $3.75 raise for a lifetime of work. Adjusted for inflation, it’s only a 2-cent raise.

Andrew Puzder, the chief executive since 2000 of CKE — which owns Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., and other fast-food companies — is now in line to become the country’s next labor secretary. The headlines ponder what this may mean for working people in America, but I already know.

I already know what Trump/Puzder economics look like because I’m living it every day. Despite giving everything I had to Puzder’s company for 21 years, I left without a penny of savings, with no health care and no pension. Now, while I live in poverty, Trump, who promised to fix the rigged economy, has chosen for labor secretary someone who wants to rig it up even more. He’s chosen the chief executive of a company who recently made more than $10 million in a year, while I’m scraping by on Supplemental Security payments.

When I began at Hardee’s, I was hopeful. I liked the work and received a promotion to shift manager after only a month. But the pay remained low, and even with my husband’s salary as the head cook at Fort Jackson, we relied on food stamps and Medicaid. We were two full-time-employed adults; we shouldn’t have had to turn to the government, but we had kids to raise, and so we were left with no other choice.

Low pay wasn’t the only reason my family struggled: It was the lack of benefits and respect, too. I remember once my manager came to my house on a day off and demanded I go into work. I remember trudging through Hurricane Katrina to get to the store. I remember being denied a raise multiple times.

In 2005, I was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and had to stop working. After more than two decades at Hardee’s, I left without any savings, a 401(k), pension or health benefits. That’s Puzder’s America.

The cooks and cashiers at Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. are the reason Puzder can take home more than $10 million in a single year and live in a plush mansion with movie star neighbors — while his workers like me skip meals to pay our rent and are forced to live in homeless shelters.

We are their corporate strategy: Pay us as little as legally allowed, steal from our meager paychecks as needed and force us onto public assistance to get by. Sadly, that’s the America Trump and Puzder believe in: an America where workers give everything to an employer, and in return, receive nothing. Their America means that an older woman in retirement fighting a chronic illness has to rely on Supplemental Security Income to survive.

But the story doesn’t end with me. About four years ago, my son Terrence — who lives in Kansas City, Mo., and works for McDonald’s, became involved in the Fight for $15, the movement to raise minimum pay to $15 an hour and strengthen working Americans’ right to join a union. With Puzder’s nomination as labor secretary, it’s hard not to believe these next four years won’t find working Americans under attack. But Terrence and his colleagues in the Fight for $15 movement have filled me with a sense of hope I never would have thought possible when I left Hardee’s in 2005.

Read more from The Washington Post.

Can Trump's Labor Nominee Survive?

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Trump and Puzder, juxtaposed.

From Politico:

By Burgess Everett and Marianne LeVine

Andrew Puzder has faced allegations of beating his wife, apprenticed to a notorious mob lawyer early in his career, and just admitted to hiring an undocumented immigrant and failing to pay taxes on her employment.

Yet somehow, Donald Trump’s Labor secretary nominee is still standing.

Republican leaders are intent on pushing the fast-food executive through, and are preparing finally to schedule his confirmation hearing after four delays related to problems with his ethics paperwork. But a number of GOP senators said that before pressing forward, they want to know more about the latest revelation that Puzder for five years employed — he says unknowingly — an undocumented immigrant.

GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine, who just voted against Betsy DeVos for education secretary, each said they need more information and time to review Puzder’s nomination. And Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) who has signaled support for Puzder in the past, says he is undecided and is “considering all the factors.”

“You’ve got to consider everything in context of the total package, not just one thing,” Isakson said. On the immigration issue, he said: “That’s something you’ve got to consider. I don’t want to make a declaration until I’ve made a decision.”

Murkowski, Collins and Isakson all sit on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, which will hold Puzder’s confirmation hearing. If all Democrats vote against Puzder, he could afford to lose only two Republican votes and still win confirmation. Democrats are largely lining up against confirmation.

The GOP has already faced allega`tions of unpaid taxes related to Office of Management and Budget hopeful Mick Mulvaney, and Commerce Department nominee Wilbur Ross fired an undocumented immigrant employee prior to his confirmation hearing. During the Obama administration, former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination to be Health and Human Services secretary over thousands of dollars in unpaid taxes.

Political scandals surrounding the employment of undocumented domestic employees, or failure to pay employment taxes on household workers, date to the Clinton administration. In 1993, these issues sank two consecutive nominees for attorney general — Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood — in what became known as Nannygate.

When George W. Bush was president, Linda Chavez withdrew her nomination for Labor secretary after it was revealed she'd given money to an undocumented immigrant (though Chavez said she had not employed that person).

Asked whether there was any point at which a Trump nominee could have too much baggage to win confirmation, HELP Committee member Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said, “Sure.” But he couldn’t say whether Puzder has reached that point.

“We’ll see what happens,” Scott said. “I need to do more research.”

Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), said he is prepared to vote for Puzder “unless there’s something else new that I learn.” A Democratic aide said more negative stories about Puzder are likely to surface ahead of his confirmation hearing.

Republican aides said they’re being careful not to schedule Puzder’s hearing before all his paperwork is in, hoping to avoid the row over DeVos that stemmed from moving forward with her nomination before all of her documentation had arrived. According to George Thompson, a spokesman for Puzder, the delay was prompted by Puzder’s need to divest financial holdings that the Office of Government Ethics judged a conflict of interest. Puzder is chairman of CKE Restaurants, which owns Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., and the fast-food industry is a top enforcement target of the Labor Department.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the HELP Committee, is standing by Puzder. “He’s a very talented individual,” he said. “For me, [the immigrant issue] doesn’t disqualify him from being a Cabinet member. He discovered the mistake, he took responsibility for the mistake, he corrected the mistake, and he reported the mistake. That’s all you can do.”

According to Thompson, Puzder terminated the housekeeper “about five years ago” on learning of her undocumented status “and offered to help get her legal status.” But The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Puzder didn’t pay back employment taxes on the housekeeper until after his nomination.

Puzder’s allies in the business lobby apparently are standing by him. “I do not think his nomination is in trouble,” said Steve Danon, senior vice president of communications at the National Restaurant Association. Regarding the domestic-abuse allegations, Danon said, “His wife has recanted this on a number of occasions. That was a personal issue during an ugly divorce.”

Puzder’s ex-wife Lisa Fierstein, for whom Thompson is also acting as spokesman, retracted her allegations of physical abuse initially as part of a 1990 child-custody agreement. She has repeated variations on that retraction many times, most recently in a letter to the Senate HELP Committee.

In the HELP Committee letter, Fierstein addressed for the first time publicly her decision, sometime around 1990, to air her allegations against Puzder on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” as first reported last month by Politico. “I was hesitant,” Fierstein said, “but encouraged by friends and became caught up in the notion of a free trip to Chicago and being a champion of women and women’s issues. I regret my decision to appear on that show.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said it “continues to be supportive of the nomination.”

But a prominent business lobbyist, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “Based on past standards, he has a high hill to climb. … How much more can one take and still survive?”

Puzder's most vigorous opposition is from the left, which criticizes him for, among other things, tolerating frequent labor law violations at franchisee restaurants; televising raunchy advertisements featuring scantily clad models mimicking sexual arousal while eating Carl's Jr. burgers; and opposing expanded overtime coverage or any significant increase in the minimum wage. 

Read more from Politico

Puzder Paid Taxes on Undocumented Employee After Labor Secretary Nomination

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Getty Images

From The Wall Street Journal:

by Eric Morath and Kristina Peterson

Andy Puzder didn’t pay taxes for an undocumented worker he employed as housekeeper for several years until after President Donald Trump nominated him for labor secretary, a spokesman for the fast-food executive said Tuesday.

The “taxes were paid recently, since the nomination,” said George Thompson, spokesman for Mr. Puzder.

Mr. Puzder wasn’t aware of the housekeeper’s immigration status during the four to five years she worked for his family. The woman was terminated after Mr. Puzder discovered she was an illegal immigrant, and offered assistance in obtaining legal status.

“Andy admitted the mistake and has paid all related taxes,” Mr. Thompson said. “He has taken all available steps to remediate it.”

The spokesman clarified Tuesday taxes were only paid after Mr. Trump made his pick in early December. The employment of the housekeeper and a related tax issue were disclosed Monday. The housekeeper worked part time for the Puzder household.

The status of Mr. Puzder’s former housekeeper further complicates his slow-moving confirmation process. The Labor Department oversees how U.S. labor laws, including wage-and-hour rules, apply to immigrant workers.

Read more from The Wall Street Journal.

About 20 Rabbis Arrested During Protest Over Trump Travel Ban

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Alex Wroblewski/The New York Times

From The New York Times:

by Colin Moynihan

About 20 rabbis affiliated with a liberal Jewish group were arrested on Monday night after blocking the street near the Trump International Hotel and Tower at Columbus Circle in Manhattan to protest an executive order that banned travel to the United States from seven majority-Muslim nations.

Although the hotel has been a site of numerous protests since President Trump’s election, few, if any, have involved the arrest of a group of clerics.

A crowd of about 200 people assembled at 88th Street and Broadway about 7 p.m. and then marched toward the hotel, brandishing signs with messages like “welcome refugees” while hitting drums and tambourines.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the executive director of T’ruah, a rabbinical group that organized the protest, said it was meant to show that many Jews opposed the ban.

“We remember our history, and we remember that the borders of this country closed to us in 1924 with very catastrophic consequences during the Holocaust,” Rabbi Jacobs said. “We know that some of the language that’s being used now to stop Muslims from coming in is the same language that was used to stop Jewish refugees from coming.”

When the protesters reached the hotel, about 8 p.m., several members of the group announced that they would take symbolic actions to be arrested. A few moments later, a group of men and women walked onto Central Park West and sat down across the avenue, blocking cars and trucks. A police announcement sounded through a loudspeaker: “If you remain in the roadway and refuse to utilize the sidewalk, you will be arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.”

Soon afterward, police officers approached and led the seated protesters away. As they departed in handcuffs, the rest of the marchers clapped and shouted in approval.

Read more from The New York Times.

For Andrew Puzder, Labor Nominee, Fighting for Owners’ Interests Began Early

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Hilary Swift/New York Times

From The New York Times:

by Ross Buettner and Noam Scheiber

Decades before President Trump nominated him to be labor secretary, Andrew Puzder went to battle with federal labor regulators in a Las Vegas courtroom.

The year was 1983, and Mr. Puzder was working at a law firm owned by a famous mob lawyer and casino owner whom the Labor Department accused of squandering $25 million from his union workers’ pension funds on sham investments.

It fell to Mr. Puzder to lead the defense, which he framed in aggressively antigovernment terms. In his opening statement, Mr. Puzder told the jury it was not his boss’s fault for not paying back the money — it was overzealous regulators in Washington who had killed off a good business deal by intervening before his investments could succeed, he said.

“We should not be required to pay for the mistakes of the Department of Labor” and the union, Mr. Puzder said, according to The Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The jury did not buy it. Mr. Puzder’s boss, Morris A. Shenker, was hit with a $34 million judgment and filed for bankruptcy.

More than three decades later, the lawyers who represented the Labor Department in the case recall Mr. Puzder as bright and capable, but they still marvel that he blamed government regulators.

“I personally find there is some irony in him being nominated to be the secretary of labor,” said Daly D. E. Temchine, the lead lawyer in the case for the Department of Labor. “Back then, he represented a guy who thought it was O.K. to screw his employees.”

As it turned out, Mr. Puzder’s arguments in the case foreshadowed positions he would take after leaving the practice of law to become chief executive of a fast-food company. He has repeatedly argued that labor regulations stifle economic growth. He has indicated his preference for machines over people because they do not take time off or file lawsuits. And a recording recently surfaced of him referring to his employees as “the best of the worst.”

Because he was a lawyer representing a client, the positions that Mr. Puzder took in the case do not necessarily represent his personal views. But Mr. Shenker was more than just a client: He was also Mr. Puzder’s first boss, one he chose to work for, an associate said, specifically because it gave him the chance to litigate this case and a second similar one.

Mr. Puzder declined to comment for this article, but upon nominating him in December, Mr. Trump said Mr. Puzder would “fight to make American workers safer” and “save small businesses from the crushing burdens of unnecessary regulations that are stunting job growth.”

Worker advocates have opposed Mr. Puzder’s nomination, citing lawsuits that workers filed against CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, as well as wage violations at those restaurants. Mr. Puzder is chief executive of CKE.

His confirmation hearing before a Senate committee has been delayed four times. His spokesman said Mr. Puzder, 66, was working to divest from his company.

“He doesn’t view laws and regulations as things that help protect the most vulnerable from exploitation. He looks at them as things that hinder him from doing what he wants to do,” said Judy Conti, who oversees federal advocacy for the National Employment Law Project. “That’s antithetical to the mission of the Department of Labor.”

Mr. Shenker led a life fit for the movies. A Jew, he fled Russia as an orphaned teenager in the 1920s to join his older brothers in St. Louis. He went on to become one of the best-connected lawyers in America.

He was also a mob lawyer. In his thick accent, Mr. Shenker sometimes said he would rather see a guilty man go free than an innocent man go to jail. But his work on behalf of organized crime figures went beyond the courtroom.

Through one of his most notorious clients, the former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, Mr. Shenker gained influence in the mid-1960s over the Teamsters’ enormous Central States pension fund. According to an investigation by Life magazine, Mr. Shenker built a fortune from fees he was paid to fast-track loans from the fund to businesses. In 1973, he took control of the Dunes Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and a resort in California.

Married and supporting two children, Mr. Puzder began working at the Shenker law firm while a full-time student at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, finding it more attractive than the construction work he had been doing to earn money.

Mr. Puzder joined the firm full time after graduating in 1978, a career choice that bewildered some who knew him. The firm was fading in relevance, with its famous principal spending much of his time in Las Vegas.

But Peter Sadowski, who worked part time at the firm with Mr. Puzder while both were in law school, said Mr. Shenker had enticed Mr. Puzder with the chance to handle the high-profile lawsuit already underway in Las Vegas.

“Shenker wanted him to lead the defense,” said Mr. Sadowski, now an executive vice president at Fidelity National Financial, a major seller of title insurance. Politico recently reported on Mr. Puzder’s work for Mr. Shenker.

Mr. Shenker’s fortunes had changed quickly after Congress passed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, which, among other things, protects worker pensions from being raided by their employers.

The next year, the Teamsters pension fund backed out of a $40 million loan that Mr. Shenker wanted for an expansion of the Dunes. Mr. Shenker sued, and the Labor Department joined the case with the pension fund.

In 1980, after a federal judge summarily dismissed the case halfway through the trial, Mr. Puzder presented the appeal at the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, arguing, in part, that the loan was promised before the new law took effect.

In court filings, Labor Department lawyers described Mr. Puzder’s efforts as “a vigorous but futile attempt to backpedal, sidestep, and otherwise avoid the absolute barriers” of the pension protection act known as Erisa. The appellate judges denied Mr. Puzder’s appeal.

By then, another spigot of union pension money had gone dry.

The pension fund for the culinary workers union in Las Vegas had been extending loans to Mr. Shenker with no restrictions since 1973. A new pension fund chairman — Richard P. Crane, a former federal prosecutor — was appointed in 1976 and concluded that the Shenker loans were “a total rip-off.” He insisted on all but shutting down the flow of money.

“Shenker went nuts,” Mr. Crane recalled.

In 1977, the Labor Department sued Mr. Shenker, accusing him of failing to repay the $24.9 million it said he had illegally borrowed from the Southern Nevada Culinary and Bartenders Pension Trust. The total represented more than half of the trust’s assets.

The case proceeded slowly. During a 1982 hearing of the Senate committee that oversees labor, Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, accused the Labor Department of “blatantly coddling” Mr. Shenker for years.

Labor officials saw the case as an early test of using Erisa to rid unions of corruption. Seven lawyers were sent to Las Vegas from Washington. For Mr. Shenker, repaying the money would have threatened his financial survival.

Mr. Puzder, then 32, and a colleague from the Shenker firm, E. Michael Murphy, left St. Louis for Las Vegas. As he stood to make a point in the trial’s opening days, the months of grueling preparation caught up with Mr. Puzder: He promptly collapsed to the floor, fainting in front of judge and jury.

After regaining his composure, he attacked government regulators, claiming they had a “vendetta” against his boss. “Some people in the Department of Labor were more concerned with pursuing Shenker than they were with recovering the trust’s money,” Mr. Puzder said, according to The Las Vegas Sun.

He argued that Mr. Shenker was financially harmed when the pension fund stopped making payments on a loan extension in 1977. He said the Shenker investments had been well on their way to becoming successful.

The federal judge, Roger D. Foley, was unimpressed, at one point saying that the money appeared to have gone down “a rathole.”

The specter of organized crime hung over the trial. Tapes of a 1979 meeting between Mr. Shenker and two mob figures — Joey (The Clown) Lombardo and Allen Dorfman, a well-known liaison between the mob and Hoffa’s Teamsters union — revealed Mr. Dorfman complaining that Mr. Shenker had failed to pay him kickbacks on millions in loans that Mr. Shenker had procured from the Teamsters. Newspapers covering Mr. Lombardo’s 1983 sentencing hearing splashed the incriminating transcripts across their pages.

The government was determined to reduce the Shenker case to its most basic elements. “In my opening statement to the jury, I said, ‘You may hear a lot from the defense about how complicated this is, but it’s simple,’” Mr. Temchine said. “‘He borrowed a thousand bucks from each member and promised to give it back, with interest. He didn’t.’”

The jurors agreed. After the five-month trial, Mr. Shenker was required to repay all the money he had borrowed, plus interest, for a total of $34 million.

“I think he’s too good a con man for me to mix with,” one juror told The Las Vegas Sun. “I’d be like the pension fund. I’d lose on the deal.”

Months later, Mr. Shenker filed for bankruptcy, citing $184 million in obligations. About that time, Mr. Puzder and Mr. Murphy left his firm, which limped along until Mr. Shenker was indicted on bankruptcy and tax fraud charges in 1989. He died later that year.

During the bankruptcy case, government lawyers were able to extract $26 million for the pension fund, Mr. Temchine said.

At least one time as a lawyer, Mr. Puzder was on the other side of such a case, helping to represent the interests of a police pension fund that had been defrauded by its investment managers. His team argued that the managers were essentially stealing from the widows of police officers.

At his labor secretary confirmation hearing, one challenge senators may choose to take up is determining whether Mr. Puzder ultimately favors protecting workers, or executives like himself and his old boss.

In a surprising turn, that confirmation hearing could place Mr. Puzder face to face with Mr. Hatch, the senator who once said the Labor Department had been going soft on Mr. Shenker at the same time Mr. Puzder claimed the department had been unfairly tough.

Read more from The New York Times.

Missouri governor signs right to work law

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From The Hill:

by Reid Wilson

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) on Monday signed legislation that will allow workers to opt out of joining a union, the latest victory for business groups in their nationwide war with labor unions.

Greitens, in office just a few weeks, signed the so-called right-to-work bill at an abandoned warehouse in Springfield, Mo., Monday morning. He plans ceremonial signings in Poplar Bluff and Jefferson City later today.

Labor groups protested at the state capitol last week, after the Republican-led state legislature passed right-to-work legislation. But Greitens kept his promise made on the campaign trail to sign the bill into law.

“The states that have passed [right-to-work laws] in the last few years have shown unemployment drop considerably, so I think this is a big deal for all Missouri working families,” said state Rep. Holly Rehder (R), the bill’s lead sponsor. “I think that it’s not a silver bullet, but it’s definitely a tool in our tool box now, and we can move on to some other things to make Missouri even more business-friendly.”

The new law is the culmination of decades of work by business groups and Missouri Republicans. Though the GOP has controlled the state legislature for years, efforts to pass right-to-work legislation were thwarted by former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat who vetoed several versions. 

Nixon faced term limits this year, and Greitens came from behind to beat his Democratic rival in November.

Union groups plan to use a ballot measure to reverse the new law. The state AFL-CIO filed several petitions with the secretary of state’s office in December for a possible amendment to the state constitution that would allow unions to require workers to pay dues.

“Missouri is on a path that is dangerous to the well-being of working families and our neighborhoods as a whole, and for what? To fulfill the agenda of out-of-state corporations that are putting unnecessary profits above the human needs of the neighborhoods where they do business,” Missouri AFL-CIO president Mike Louis told a union news service.

Read more from The Hill.

Brighton Company Sued for Alleged Fast Food Wage Theft

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Taco Bell logo. Brighton Company Sundance owns several of these fast food restaurants.

Mike Mozart/Flickr

From Detroit Free Press:

By Laura Colvin

A Livingston County company used various policies to avoid paying employees for time worked, a federal lawsuit alleges.

A complaint filed in U.S District Court in Detroit claims Brighton-based Sundance Inc., which owns more than 170 Taco Bell locations in Michigan and five other states, willfully violated the Fair Labor Standards Act with regard to misclassification, overtime and wage theft.

“Numerous lawsuits citing similar violations of the FLSA have been filed against Taco Bell franchises throughout the country going back 15 years or more,” said attorney Megan Bonanni, co-counsel for four Michigan workers who brought the lawsuit, in a press release.

Jolene Flanagan and Travis Pietrykowski, of China, Mich., Michelle Wilkins of Shelby Twp. and Denise Wood of Casco worked at various metro Detroit Taco Bell locations are named in the suit and are seeking back pay and other damages. The lawsuit was filed in October.

Court documents state Sundance did not pay employees for all hours worked; misclassified employees as exempt – thus not entitled to overtime pay — and did not pay hourly employees overtime when weekly totals exceeded 40 hours.

Sundance Operations Manager Molly Trosko did not return a message left seeking comment Tuesday.

Scott C. Fanning, a Chicago-based attorney representing the company, was reportedly in court and not immediately available for comment Tuesday. However, in a court filing, Sundance denied any wrongdoing and stated the company does not believe any employees are entitled to recover any relief under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Among the allegations:

• Managerial employees were classified as exempt, but did not have managerial authority — such as hiring, firing or disciplining other employees — but often worked 60-80 hours per week, spending the majority of working hours performing the same duties as other crew members.

• Because of the exempt status and excessive hours, those with manager titles often received an effective hourly rate lower than a regular crew member.

• Some managers reportedly slept at the restaurant after it closed at 3 a.m., as they were required to be onsite when the business reopened at 6 a.m.

• Employees were at times required to clock out, but continue working.

“The plaintiffs reported that they and other hourly workers at these Taco Bell outlets were regularly instructed by managers to clock out and continue working,” said Jennifer MacManus, co-counsel for the workers. “Each restaurant has a labor budget and managers are under a lot of pressure to limit the number of hours paid, no matter how much time employees actually work.”

Read more from Detroit Free Press.

Pope Francis: You Can't Defend Christianity by Being 'Against Refugees and Other Religions'

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Pope Francis met with media.

Catholic Church England and Wales/Flickr

From the Catholic Herald:

By Catholic News Service

Meeting a pilgrimage of Catholics and Lutherans from Germany, Pope Francis said he does not like “the contradiction of those who want to defend Christianity in the West, and, on the other hand, are against refugees and other religions.”

“This is not something I’ve read in books, but I see in the newspapers and on television every day,” Pope Francis said.

Answering questions from young people in the group this morning, the pope said, “the sickness or, you can say the sin, that Jesus condemns most is hypocrisy,” which is precisely what is happening when someone claims to be a Christian but does not live according to the teaching of Christ.

“You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian,” he said. “You cannot be a Christian without practicing the Beatitudes. You cannot be a Christian without doing what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 25.” This is a reference to Christ’s injunction to help the needy by such works of mercy as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and welcoming the stranger.

“It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help,” he said. “If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.”

Asked what he thought of the Reformation, Pope Francis said the Christian community is called to continual growth and maturity, and its entire history has been marked by reform movements “small and not so small,” some of which were healthy and holy, others which went awry because of human sin.

“The greatest reformers of the church are the saints, those men and women who follow the word of God and practice it,” he told the pilgrims, most of whom came from Martin Luther’s home region of Saxony-Anhalt.

In his formal talk to the group, Pope Francis said Christians must praise God that, in the past 50 years, Catholics and Lutherans have moved “from conflict to communion. We already have traveled an important part of the road together.”

Noting that he would go to Lund, Sweden, at the end of the month to participate with Lutheran leaders in opening commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Pope Francis said an important part of the commemoration would be a joint commitment to working together in a world “thirsting for God and his mercy.”

Read more from the Catholic Herald.