Today’s News & Commentary — May 17, 2017

At the New York Times, Gary Rivlin discusses the question of free college, and suggests that the first two years of college should be free for anyone attending a public school (i.e. community college or the first two years of a four-year state school).  The idea comes from Professor Sara Goldrick-Rab, who first laid out her theory in a 2014 paper co-written with Professor Nancy Kendall.  In it, Goldrick-Rab and Kendall proposed the following: “If you complete a high-school degree, you can obtain a 13th and 14th year of education for free in exchange for a modest amount of work while attending school.” The authors pinpointed large sums of federal money, including billions of dollars in Pell grants that have ended up going to for-profit colleges, that could be used to fund their plan.  The proposal is not without its critics, and as Rivlin puts it, “Two years of free college is not a panacea.” However, it “would give more people hope, at least, in an economy that now pretty much requires skills well beyond the ones taught in high school.”

WNYC reports that Rodney Frelinghuysen, the most powerful congressman in New Jersey, wrote a fundraising letter to a board member of a local bank in which he warned the board member about the political activities of one of the bank’s employees. The letter asked Frelinghuysen’s supporters to donate to his next election because he is under attack, and included a handwritten asterisk positing that “One of the ringleaders [of the groups attacking Frelinghuysen] works in your bank!”  Attached to the letter was also a news article quoting the employee, Saily Avelenda, who was later confronted by her boss with both the letter and the article.  According to Avelenda, “I had to write a statement to my CEO, and at my level as an assistant general counsel and a senior vice president, at this employer it was not something that I expected.”  Coverage is also available at the Washington PostNPRand Slate.

Moreover, as a result of Frelinghuysen’s actions, the Campaign for Accountability has filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics.  According to The Hill, the Campaign for Accountability “noted that that the House Ethics Committee has warned lawmakers that communicating with private businesses could be construed as ‘pressure to take action in order to please the Member.’ ”

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To Tweet or Not to Tweet? Public Employee Rights During Free Time

Since President Trump took office, public participation in mass forms of civic participation has increased dramatically. The Women’s March, in Washington, D.C. and sister cities across the country, was the largest march in U.S. history. Thousands gathered at airports to protest the Muslim Ban. Activism generated more protests, like “A Day Without Immigrants,” “A Day Without Women,” and to come, a March for Science. But what role can employees working for the federal government have in speaking out? Mounting public pressure against employees highlights the need to educate public employees on their rights to engage in civic discussion and protect their interest in political speech.

A Park Ranger Started the Movement

The first display of public employee participation in civic discussion around Trump administration actions and policies began on January 20th, when the National Park Service (NPS) retweeted a side-by-side comparison of 2009 and 2017 inauguration crowds. The NPS later deleted the retweet and spokesman Thomas Crosson apologized for “mistaken RT’s.” In the first week of his presidency, President Trump instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interior Department, which oversees the NPS, to cease communicating through social media. But on January 24th, the Badlands National Park, tweeted a series of climate change data, including “Burning one gallon of gasoline puts nearly 20 lbs of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. #climate.” By nightfall, the posts were deleted and a NPS official said that the posts were improperly posted by a former employee.

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The Union Household Vote Revisited

Jake Rosenfeld is Associate Professor of Sociology at Washington University-St. Louis and an OnLabor Senior Contributor.  Patrick Denice is a postdoctoral researcher in the sociology department at Washington University in St. Louis.  He received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Washington (Seattle) in 2016.  His research examines stratification in education and the labor market.

A spate of labor-related election postmortems converged on one key theme: Donald Trump managed to cleave significant union support away from the Democrats.  “Donald Trump Got Reagan-Like Support from Union Households,” ran one typical headline; “It Looks Like Donald Trump Did Really Well With Union Households,” declared another.  But what if these prognoses have it wrong?  Could it be that instead of Trump’s unique appeal to union household voters, the election results really suggest sagging enthusiasm among union households for the Democratic candidate?

It is true that the Democratic-Republican vote split among union households was narrower in 2016 than in any time since, well, Ronald Reagan’s re-election.  In 2016, exit polls indicate that voters in union households supported the Democratic over the Republican candidate by only 8 points.  In 2012, by contrast, the Democratic advantage among members of union households was a yawning 18 points.  And 2016’s gap looks positively miniscule compared to the Democratic vote advantage among union households Bill Clinton enjoyed.  In 1992, exit polls suggest that members of union households preferred Clinton to George H.W. Bush by over 30 points.

Below we display exit poll results from every presidential race dating back to Ronald Reagan’s defeat of Jimmy Carter in 1980.[1]  The figure shows the Democratic candidate advantage over the Republican candidate in the union household vote.  In Reagan’s first victory, there was hardly any Democratic advantage: In 1980, Reagan managed 45% of the union household vote, compared to 48% for Jimmy Carter (the rest went largely to the 3rd party candidate in that race, John Anderson).

 

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Based on this figure alone it sure appears that the postmortems have it right. In 2016 the partisan split among union households was smaller than at any time since Ronald Reagan’s re-election in 1984.

But there is another way of investigating the issue.  Continue reading

Workplace Discrimination Against Muslims

It’s a difficult time to be a Muslim in America.  Since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, Muslim Americans have faced greater scrutiny, with recent global events triggering further anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States and abroad.  According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, 39% of Americans and 49% of Republicans believe that Muslims in America should be subject to more scrutiny than people of other religions.

Anti-Muslim sentiment has translated into a serious issue of anti-Muslim discrimination in the workplace.  After September 11th, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) saw a 250% increase in cases of religion-based discrimination against Muslims.  Since 2002, Muslims continue to make up a disproportionate amount of the commission’s religion-based discrimination charges, hovering over 20%.

While in office, President Obama spoke out against Muslim discrimination on several occasions.  Last July, seen as a response to the growing anti-Muslim rhetoric of then candidate Trump’s campaign, President Obama called discriminatory policies against Muslims an insult to the “values that already make our nation great.”

The EEOC looked poised to further take on discrimination against Muslims in the workplace under President Obama.  Last September, the commission adopted its strategic enforcement plan for 2017 to 2021.  Among other things, the plan added the “emerging issue” of anti-Muslim discrimination to its list of priorities.  Specifically, the plan called for a focus on “backlash discrimination against those who are Muslim or Sikh, or persons of Arab, Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, as well as persons perceived to be members of these groups, as tragic events in the United States and abroad have increased the likelihood of discrimination against these communities.”

It’s not clear how anti-Muslim workplace discrimination will evolve under President Trump’s administration.  The President appointed Commissioner Victoria Lipnic as the acting chair of the EEOC shortly after taking office.  Lipnic, a Republican, voted against the strategic enforcement plan that called for an increased focus on discrimination against Muslims and is expected to move the commission in a conservative direction.

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Today’s News & Commentary — September 21, 2016

On Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing on Wells Fargo’s sham account case.  As the New York Times reports, Wells Fargo employees created nearly two million fake accounts to pad their sales numbers.  At the hearing, senators noted that top executives had faced no real consequences, while the bank’s lowest-paid workers had “borne the brunt of the punishment.”  As Senator Elizabeth Warren put it to John G. Stumpf, Wells Fargo’s chief executive, “Your definition of accountability is to push this on your low-level employees. This is gutless leadership.”

Forbes reports that 21 states have filed a lawsuit against the Department of Labor to block its new overtime rule.  The suit, filed in the Eastern District of Texas, alleges that the rule is in contravention of the Tenth Amendment and the APA.  Most of the states party to the lawsuit have also joined lawsuits seeking to block other Obama administration rules, including the challenge to DACA, the Clean Water Rule, and the Clean Power Plan.

According to Politico, the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. has served as a catalyst for state legislation protecting pregnant workers from workplace discrimination.  In Young, the Court held in favor of a pregnant UPS worker who alleged that she had been denied pregnancy-related accommodations as required by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.  Although the holding was a narrow one, it seems to have prompted legislative action.  Emily Martin, general counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, explained that since the decision, “we’ve seen even more bipartisan support for the notion that pregnant workers … should be entitled to very reasonable accommodations at work.”

A Thai court has found a British labor activist, Andy Hall, guilty of criminal defamation and violating cyber crimes law.  The charges came in connection with his work on a 2013 report accusing Natural Fruit, a Thai-based company, of violating its workers’ rights.  Hall was originally sentenced to three years in prison and fined $4,300, but the judge suspended his sentence.  Still, human rights advocates are worried that the case will seriously hinder efforts to investigate and monitor workers’ rights abuses in Thailand.  Coverage is available at the New York Times, Human Rights Watch, and Jurist.

Weekend News & Commentary — July 23-24, 2016

Hillary Clinton has selected Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate.  The choice has drawn a mixed reaction from liberals.  While some labor groups — including the AFL-CIO and the SEIU — have shown support for Clinton’s VP pick, lauding Kaine for his “strong record on workers’ issues,” others have expressed skepticism.  The Nation writes that Kaine has “a history of breaking with labor and progressives on economic issues,” throwing his support behind the TPP, looser banking regulations, and right-to-work laws.

While Kaine will have the chance to assuage supporters at the upcoming Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, he might have to share the spotlight with striking workers.  Workers at the Philadelphia airport have announced their intention to strike next week, promising to “cause as much disruption as possible” in order to draw attention to their fight for higher wages.

Also at the upcoming convention, Clinton is expected to voice her support for President Obama’s executive actions on immigration — making clear her opposition to Donald Trump’s aggressive anti-immigration stance.  Politico takes a look at this “deep partisan split” over immigration, arguing that it will make reform more difficult.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles is one step closer to “banning the box,” according to The Atlantic.  “The Fair Chance Initiative” — an ordinance prohibiting employers from asking job applicants about their criminal record — is expected to be considered in the coming months.  If it passes, L.A. will become the second-largest city in the country to embrace the ban-the-box movement (after New York), making it easier for former inmates to find work.

 

Friedrichs Rehearing Petition Denied

Months after reaching a 4-4 tie in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the Supreme Court has denied the petitioners’ request for a rehearing. The Court waited until its final conference of the Term to vote on the petition, after postponing its decision eight times since April. No opinion was included with the Court’s denial.

While today’s announcement effectively brings the case to a close, the questions presented by Friedrichs — (1) whether Abood v. Detroit Board of Education should be overruled and public-sector “fair share” arrangements invalidated under the First Amendment, and (2) whether it violates the First Amendment to require that public employees affirmatively opt out of subsidizing nonchargeable speech by public-sector unions — may be litigated again and brought back before a (presumably full) Court in the future.