Tag Archives: Labor

President Obama, Debate Senator Warren on the Trans Pacific Partnership

11 May

In the debate over the Trans Pacific Partnership, we are witnessing something uncommon: progressives are putting a Democratic president on the defensive.

This is only a good thing.

The Republican base does this to their elected officials constantly.  Their base is so feared that respectable politicians even kowtow to bonkers right-wing conspiracy theories.  Democratic politicians rarely show any deference to the base and certainly don’t show much fear of that base.

"The President said what?!"

“The President said what?!”

That’s what we are witnessing with President Obama’s public tussle with Senator Elizabeth Warren.  He is fearing a coherent and informed critique from the left.

This is only a good thing.

Issues of trade and finance are seemingly impossible for progressives to get any traction on, no matter who is elected president.  Whichever party is in power, you can bet money that someone from Goldman Sachs will be heading up Treasury.  And when it comes to “free trade” agreements that end up hurting American and foreign workers while making global corporations richer and richer — well, it was Bill Clinton who got us NAFTA and it’s President Obama who is pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership.

The President’s call to fast track the TPP is supported wholeheartedly by right-wing Republicans, while his own party has slowly woken up to forcefully opposing the deal. Enter Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who heave been the most visible opponents of the TPP.

President Obama has seemed particularly rankled by the Senator from Massachusetts. After giving a pro-TPP speech at Nike the President said in an interview with Yahoo news that Senator Warren is “absolutely wrong” when she says the pact would be another bonanza for Wall Street.

(And, by the way, exactly how tone deaf are the president’s advisers on this issue — Nike, seriously? The corporation synonymous with global sweatshops–that’s where you go to hail the newest free trade pact?  If a Democrat ever disagrees that our side tends to dump on its base while the other coddles theirs — remind them of this: The President gave a speech. At Nike.)

Senator Warren shot back this morning in The Washington Post:

THE PLUM LINE: What’s your response to the latest from President Obama?

SENATOR WARREN: The president said in his Nike speech that he’s confident that when people read the agreement for themselves, that they’ll see it’s a great deal. But the president won’t actually let people read the agreement for themselves. It’s classified.

PLUM LINE: But don’t you get 60 days to review it after the deal is finalized, with the authority to revoke fast track?

WARREN: The president has committed only to letting the public see this deal after Congress votes to authorize fast track. At that point it will be impossible for us to amend the agreement or to block any part of it without tanking the whole TPP. The TPP is basically done. If the president is so confident it’s a good deal, he should declassify the text and let people see it before asking Congress to tie its hands on fixing it.

If only there were some way to get Senator Warren’s ideas and President Obama’s exposed to the whole country so we all can decide who to believe.

Well, this past Saturday, consumer advocate and erstwhile presidential candidate Ralph Nader presented a modest proposal for via The New York Times:

[T]he president ought to debate Ms. Warren in person, much as Al Gore, then vice president, did with Ross Perot over Nafta in 1993. “A president can get away with his soliloquies when he stays on his throne,” Mr. Nader said by telephone. But if he is going to go after critics, he said, “then I think he is obligated to engage in a public debate that will inform the American people.”

That sounds like a fine idea.  Mr. President, I voted for you twice and support this administration on many fronts, but on this we disagree.  Do your base a favor and – instead of taking pot shots at us and the handful of leaders willing to represent our views — go toe to toe with Senator Warren, on national television.  Hell, I’d even settle for the Clinton route and send Uncle Joe out to debate the Senator.  It’s all good.  Nothing to fear about an honest debate, no?

Let’s woman up and take Senator Warren’s ideas seriously.  Debate her.

This would only be a good thing.

The Insanity of the “Wage Market”, or Income Inequality at the Capitol

4 May

This is a great story about the insane juxtapositions of our time.  While DC lawmakers now talk about income inequality as a national problem, they work in a Capitol building where those who serve them food work for poverty wages:

Income inequality is more than a political sound bite to workers in the Capitol. It’s their life.

Many of the Capitol’s food servers, who make the meals, bus the tables and run the cash registers in the restaurants and carryouts that serve lawmakers, earn less than $11 an hour. Some make nothing at all when Congress is in recess.

Members of the House and Senate collect their $174,000 annual salaries whether Congress is making laws, taking a break or causing a partial government shutdown.

“This is the most important building in the world,” said Sontia Bailey, who works the cash register and stocks the shelves at the “Refectory” takeout on the Capitol’s Senate side. “You’d think our wages would be better.”

You’d think.

These jobs were privatized sometime ago.  It is a quote from the subcontractor who employs these workers that I found instructive:

In a statement, the contractor said it “takes pride in paying above-market competitive wages.” 

Here’s the thing: the contractor is not that wrong.  The market on wages is so skewed that an employer who pays people wages that keep them in poverty can actually claim to be keeping pace “with the market” or be “above-market” and think they are sounding reasonable.

I am constantly reminded of the disconnect between lawmakers and people who work in the “real world.”  Back when the minimum wage was being debated in Minnesota, Democratic lawmakers in the Senate were heard saying “Ten dollars seems high to me.”  Too high for what?

When I hear things like that, I am filled with questions.  Do you know anyone who works for that amount of money?  When is the last time you worked for minimum wage?  Can you at least do the math on how much that is a year before dismissing the amount so easily? Do you even understand that when we are debating the minimum wage, we are literally talking about the floor, about the bare minimum we as a society think a person should make while working?  Is it your core belief that someone working full-time should live below the poverty level?

We hear similar reactions not just from lawmakers but others reacting to fast food workers’ demand of “15 and a union.”  “Fifteen for flipping burgers?!?”  I’ve heard both friends and family say things like that.  I have the same questions for these folks.  Do the math.  The demand for 15 is actually not that aspirational.

The rich get richer while progressives debate the floor.

The rich get richer while progressives debate the floor.

I was thinking about this recently and thought, what if we quantified all of the things that US workers used to be able to take for granted and put them out as our demand for workers.  “I’d like to be able to own my home. I’d like to be able to send my kids to college and not have them saddled with debt afterwards. I’d like to be able to retire and be ok.”  I think if unions and other advocates actually listed the things workers used to take for granted not that long ago and called them demands — many policymakers and certainly the media would react with a “well who the hell do you think you are?”

And it’s not that the country isn’t as wealthy as it was back when this kind of quality of life as assumed.  In fact, as a whole the country is much richer.  It’s just that income is going overwhelmingly to the top income tiers while the rest are being left behind.  Things have become so skewed that the progressive movement is subsumed with debating the floor on wages while making demands that do not even come close to what we used to assume.

Just who the hell do we think we are, indeed.

Interview with Chipsterlife

13 Jul
Chipsterlife

Chipsterlife

Chipsterlife – which, by the way, is the best name for a Latino podcast, ever – interviewed me this week. Filiberto is another recovering academic doing social justice work, and his podcast is pretty cool. You can listen to the podcast here.  His synopsis:

Based in Minneapolis, SEIU Local 26 under the leadership of Javier Morillo-Alicea has been at the center of the fight to defend low wage workers against increasing wage disparities in our economy and society. Most recently Mr. Morillo-Alicea was arrested at the Minneapolis Airport,

“13 people, including leaders in the disability rights community, community activists, and SEIU Local 26 President Javier Morillo-Alicea were arrested today at the Minneapolis-St. Paul  (MSP) International Airport in an act of peaceful civil disobedience. The arrestees were highlighting the poor conditions facing passengers with disabilities and elderly travelers, a consequence of the poverty wages and lack of resources provided to the workers sub-contracted by Delta Airlines to provide wheelchair and electric cart service.”
http://seiumn.org/2014/06/16/disability-rights-advocates-among-13-arrested-in-civil-disobedience-at-msp-airport/

Our conversation was a wide ranging one discussing Mr. Morillo-Alicea’s vision for change and the relationship between SEIU and low wage worker center CTUL and the role in general of worker centers in the fight for a better economy. We also discuss his flooded office, as Mr Morillo Alicea describes in his own words, “The river has flooded into the basement at Local 26. Bring your bathing suits everyone!”


He also participates in a podcast, “Wrong About Everything is a fun, irreverent and bipartisan podcast focused on Minnesota politics. “