News & Commentary

August 1, 2019

Tuesday night’s Democratic primary debate featuredvigorous exchange over whether union members would abandon the Democrats if the party endorsed Medicare for All.  Representative Tim Ryan said that such a plan “will tell the union members that give away wages in order to get good health care that they will lose their health care because Washington is going to come in and tell them they have a better plan.”  But as Paul Blest writes for Splinter News: “If unions did not have to fight for health insurance benefits . . . , that would be one less thing on the docket, and one more opportunity to fight for things . . . that workers have to currently cede ground on to get better healthcare, or just to keep the healthcare they currently have.”  Speaking to Bloomberg, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry expressed frustration at the idea that just because unions have been able to bargain better plans, we should not figure out how to extend those benefits to more Americans.  AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said that the labor federation supported both universal health care and “a role for employer-bargained plans.”  Meanwhile, Vox explains that the debate featured little actual talk of raising wages or reforming labor law.

Last night’s debate similarly lacked an in-depth discussion of workers’ issues.  Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro briefly called attention to the fast food workers’ fight for a $15 minimum wage, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the Democrats had “to be the party of labor unions,” and Washington Governor Jay Inslee touted his plan to create green union jobs and expressed pride that his state had seen increases in union membership.  After the debate, SEIU President Mary Kay Henry tweeted “2 nights & 5 hours of debate, no discussion of the best way to ensure you get paid enough to provide for your family: unions.  We need more candidates to explain their plan to help workers unite in unions, and we need it now.”

The Hill reports that labor unions are hoping to highlight President Trump’s likely nomination of Eugene Scalia to be the next Secretary of Labor as a way to win over union members and working-class voters in 2020.  Scalia is expected to be far less cautious in advancing deregulation than former Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta, which unions and labor supporters think will help mobilize the rank-and-file against the current administration.  Still, some predict that Trump’s base will care more about his stance on issues like border security than the actions of his Labor Department.

Senators Bill Cassidy and Kyrsten Sinema introduced a so-called paid leave proposal this week that would give new parents the option to advance up to $5,000 of their future child tax credits to use as income during leave time.  Parents would pay the advancement back with $500 annual deductions from their tax credit over the course of 10 years. Low-income families could use their credit benefit to receive 12 weeks of full wage replacement that would then be paid over the course of 15 years.  Sarah Fleisch Fink from the National Partnership for Women & Families argued that the proposal was “not in the space of paid leave solutions” since parents would have already received the money at a later time in the course of child-rearing.

A state appeals court in Missouri held that graduate student workers at the University of Missouri are employees with the right to unionize under state labor law.  The lower court will now consider whether the election, in which 84 percent of voters supported unionization, was conducted in accordance with required procedures.

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