News & Commentary

June 21, 2019

This week, Democratic Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders floated support for decriminalizing sex work, joining Cory Booker, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and long-shot candidate Mike Gravel, who even lists decriminalization as a platform priority on his website (or, at least, the Gravel teens did). In March, Senator Harris announced support for the “Nordic model,” which would remove criminal penalties from sex workers but crack down on customers—which sex work advocates consider less than true decriminalization. The candidates’ statements, while generally light on details, mark a rapid shift in the politics of sex work. Last April, Congress overwhelmingly passed FOSTA-SESTA, a pair of bills aimed at sex trafficking but which also made websites liable for posts that sex workers used to screen clients, warn other sex workers about dangerous clients, and online tools that sex workers used to stay safe. Every candidate in Congress (like nearly every member of Congress) voted for FOSTA-SESTA despite alams raised by sex workers—but the bills sparked resurgent sex-worker organizing, and increased attention from the media and politicians. This year, Democrats in the New York legislature announced a ground-breaking decriminalization package; Warren and Sanders floated support for decriminalization after backing District Attorney Candidate Tiffany Cabán, who is campaigning on a commitment not to prosecute sex workers. Melissa Gira Grant, who has written about sex worker organizing for over a decade, pointed out that as the campaign continues, candidates may be pressed for specifics on their willingness to repeal SESTA, repealing state laws that criminalize consensual selling and buying of sex, criminal records relief for sex workers and human-trafficking survivors, and ending ICE raids against immigrant sex workers.

This week, the United Steel Workers filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that Tesla illegally surveilled and fired union supporters in its factory in Buffalo, N.Y. Tesla told Bloomberg, which broke the story, that they deny the charges of coercively retaliating against union supporters. The charge comes in the midst of USW’s campaign to unionize the factory and follows similar allegations by the United Auto Workers, which filed an unfair labor practice charge in 2017 in the midst of a campaign to unionize a California plant.

House Democrats are closing in on the votes they need to pass a $15 federal minimum wage bill, with a vote expected after Congress returns from the 4th of July recess. Politico reported yesterday that House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said in a closed door meeting that “roughly 213” Democrats are secured yes-votes on the bill — which would need 218 vote to pass the House. Over recent weeks, high-profile Democrats and sponsor Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) have lobbied moderates to vote for the $15 minimum wage legislation with district-by-district numbers showing how many constituents would see a wage increase. Leaders of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition flipped to support the bill after securing an amendment requiring the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study on the economic effects of the wage increase. The vote comes during the longest period in history without Congress increasing the federal minimum wage, which has remained flat $7.25 and effectively declined due to inflation. The $15 minimum wage legislation is dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Last year, Arkansas imposed work requirements on Medicaid, requiring all recipients to spend 80 hours per month either working, in school, or volunteering to maintain health benefits. Recipients were required them to log hours online (creating obvious barriers for people who did not have access to a computer). The Trump Administration, which approved Arkansas’ work requirements, argued that the threat of losing Medicaid coverage would push recipients to work. But the first empirical study of work requirements found that following Arkansas’ adoption, Medicaid enrollment fell, the uninsured rate rose, but there was little to no effect on employment. Over 95% of recipients appeared to qualify for an exemption (for example, because of disability), yet many lost Medicaid because of confusing new reporting requirements and lack of awareness about the policy.

Fight for 15 has made raise-the-wage protests “regular campaign stop” for 2020 Democratic contenders — especially the McDonalds’ picket line, putting America’s “second-largest  private employer in an uncomfortable spotlight.”

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