The United States could “plunge into an immediate recession,” according to one analysis released Tuesday by Moody’s Analytics, if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling this fall. The debt ceiling, first established in 1917 and raised more than 100 times since then, is a legislative cap on the amount of money that the U.S. Treasury Department can borrow in order to fund federal spending that has already been approved. It was suspended by bipartisan legislation in 2019 — GOP lawmakers voted to suspend it three times during Trump’s Presidency — but the most recent of these expired early last month, and experts predict that the Treasury is likely to exhaust its cash reserves sometime next month. Accordingly, if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling in the coming weeks — a process in which Senate Republicans have refused to participate– the U.S. government would be forced to default on its debt obligations — a first in U.S. history. In Tuesday’s report, Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, wrote that, even if resolved quickly, shutting the government down would be “a catastrophic blow” that could cost as many as six million jobs, destroy as much as $15 trillion in household wealth, and send the unemployment rate spiraling to nine percent — all against the backdrop of an economy that still has millions of fewer jobs than in the months preceding the pandemic.
In entertainment news, leaders of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), representing more than 150,000 workers in the entertainment industry, announced on Monday that they were asking tens of thousands of their members to approve a strike authorization vote. The statement comes after months of negotiations over a new contract have deteriorated between IATSE and major film studios, including Netflix, Amazon, Warner Bros, and Walt Disney — some of the wealthiest corporations on the planet. In recent months, anonymous online testimonies detailing the grueling working conditions endured by workers laboring on film and TV sets have gone viral, with many describing fifteen-hour work days and chaotic, dangerous worksites. IATSE leaders have been pushing for longer rest periods and improved wages, but they report that these major producers refused to respond to their latest proposals and allowed the previous contract to expire earlier this month. “The failure to continue negotiating can only be interpreted one way,” the IATSE negotiating committed proclaimed in a statement released on Monday, “we will now proceed with a nationwide strike authorization vote to demonstrate our commitment to achieving the change that is long overdue in this industry.” A strike in the entertainment industry has the potential to be historic — the last major strike in Hollywood was nearly eight decades ago. The 60,000 members affected by the now-expired contract could be asked to cast their votes as soon as October 1st, and the union would require approval from 75% of all ballots received to authorize the strike.
As the ideological tug-of-war over the Senate Democrats’ “big, bold” budget blueprint persists, POLITICO reported on Tuesday that major unions are “lobbying fiercely” and “spending liberally” in favor of the massive social services package, eager not only for the high-quality jobs that the bill would create for their members, but also to see enacted into law the handful of “below-the-radar provisions” included in the bill that would facilitate labor organizing. Most notably, the budget bill would empower the National Labor Relations Board to levy substantial fines on employers who violate labor law (the Board currently lacks the authority to penalize employers who interfere in unionization efforts) and permit the Board to conduct union elections online, which labor leaders have favored for years. These provisions, both included in the PRO Act, are unlikely to radically transform labor relations, but, if passed into law, they could represent the most major pro-worker shift in U.S. labor law in nearly a century. Furthermore, the reconciliation bill would expand OSHA and Wage and Hour Division penalties and provide hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding for the NLRB. These provisions, which were drafted with the help of union lobbyists, “will absolutely make a difference,” according to Celine McNicholas, the Economic Policy Institute’s (EPI) labor counsel.
National unions have been pouring millions of dollars into advertisements promoting the bill — NEA, for example, has spent seven figures on an ad campaign, and SEIU recently announced that they’ll spend $7 million on TV and digital ads. “Labor is not only all over supporting [the budget bill],” explained American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, “it has helped craft it.” For a quick update on the status of the legislation, the latest jab in the ongoing ideological boxing match in the Democratic Congressional Caucus came last week, when Progressive members of the House of Representatives, which returned to the chamber on Monday for a crucial two-week legislative session, signaled that they intend to block the bipartisan infrastructure bill already passed by the Senate if the $3.5 trillion budget resolution fails to advance.
In the Midwest, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) announced on Monday that his administration has reached an agreement with Laborers International Union of North America-Illinois State Employees Association, Local 2002, to require vaccines for the union’s approximately 260 members, who are supervisory employees at the Illinois Department of Corrections. Pritzker mandated vaccinations for the state’s healthcare workers, school personnel, and employees at government-operated congregate facilities last month, and this agreement, though limited in scale, is the first between Pritzker’s administration and the state’s public unions and it could serve as a blueprint to pave the way for vaccine mandates to move forward for thousands of government employees in other state offices, including the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Under the terms of the agreement, employees will be given a day off, compensated at their regular rate of pay, to receive the jab, and those who fail to be fully-inoculated by November will be subject to disciplinary measures that could ultimately result in discharge. In recent weeks, the legality of vaccine mandates on unionized employees has been contested, and many, though certainly not all, unions have opposed forced inoculations of their members. The State Police Association of Massachusetts, for example, which represents 1,800 police officers in the state, filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth just this past Monday “to enjoin and prohibit [the Baker Administration] from implementing a mandatory vaccination policy without first bargaining over the impact of its decision on the State Police Association of Massachusetts.”
In unionization news, five workers at a Dollar General in Connecticut are unionizing with The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), nearly 300 workers at the Minnesota Historical Society filed paperwork to organize a wall-to-wall union on Monday, and workers at The University of Pittsburgh have launched a campaign to unionize thousands of staff members — those employed by the University who aren’t faculty or graduate students — at all five of the university’s campuses.
Finally, several thousand workers at the twenty-third largest airport in the country, the Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), will be getting a raise next year. Last Friday, Mayor Jim Kenney (D) signed a bill into law raising the minimum wage for workers at PHL to $15.60 an hour — most service workers at the airport currently earn around $12-13 an hour. The law applies to all workers who are employed by airlines or airline subcontractors operating under a lease with the city, numbering in the several thousand and including airplane cabin cleaners, baggage handlers, food service staff, and security personnel, among other positions. “The bill represents economic justice for those workers who have put their lives on the front line working during the health pandemic,” declared Philadelphia City Council member Kenyatta Johnson (D), the main sponsor of the bill. The new law also secures an additional $4.54 hourly wage supplement toward health insurance and up to 56 hours of paid sick leave for the airport’s workers. The law was supported by SEIU Local 32BJ, which represents thousands of service workers at PHL, and Unite Here Local 274, which represents approximately 1,200 food workers at the airport.