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Hilda Solis to be next Secretary of Labor?

In Political world on December 18, 2008 at 7:57 pm

Two Bloomberg reporters, Kim Chipman and Julianna Goldman, are reporting that President-Elect Obama’s pick for Labor Secretary is Representative Hilda Solis.

California Representative Hilda Solis

California Representative Hilda Solis

Solis, 51, is a four-term member of Congress with an extensive record on environmental issues. Her legislative accomplishments include spearheading a bill to provide workers with training for “green-collar” employment. Such initiatives are a hallmark of Obama’s plan to address the country’s energy needs and create new jobs.

Obama has promised to press an ambitious labor agenda to strengthen unions, protect jobs and bolster the middle class. The president-elect is set to announce the Solis appointment tomorrow in Chicago, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Solis, who grew up in a union household in Los Angeles County, is a favorite of labor groups, including the Service Employees International Union.

“We’re thrilled,” said SEIU President Andy Stern, who canvassed door-to-door with Solis when she first ran as a state senator. “She’s been as strong a voice for justice for SEIU workers like our janitors and homecare workers as we’ve ever had.”

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Thank you, Maine Initiatives

In Fundraising on December 17, 2008 at 4:39 pm

We’ve launched our 2008 membership drive (have you joined up?) and would like to give a shout out to our friends at Maine Initiatives, our fiscal sponsors.

Maine Initiatives

If you become a member and make a contribution to The Frances Perkins Center, that donation — which goes through Maine Initiatives — is tax deductible. This makes it possible for us to raise funds while we’re in the process of filling for our own 501(c)3 status from the IRS.

In addition to this, Maine Initiatives featured The Frances Perkins Center in its most recent newsletter with a very nice article about Frances Perkins and the Center. And on the last page, they featured this wonderful FP quote:

Frances Perkins Quote

The creative economy and the New New Deal

In Programs on December 15, 2008 at 11:25 am

FDR’s New Deal didn’t immediately end the Great Depression. What it did do is give people hope that things would get better. In many different ways, the New Deal breathed life back into a nation mired in the depths of despair.

Understanding human psychology, what we might call Social Intelligence or Emotional Intelligence today, is an important component of leadership. When Frances Perkins’s daughter, Susanna, suggested that artists were worthy of the same sort of relief that other workers were receiving, Frances brought the idea up with the president, who immediately saw the value of such a program. As Frances describes in her memoir of Roosevelt:

Projects to give work to unemployed teachers, artists, and theatrical people needed enlightened understanding and courage to be endorsed and developed. The President hadn’t realized, as perhaps none of us had, the degree to which professional people and artists failed to sustain themselves when the national income had shrunk to the lowest level. People out of work do not give music or dancing lessons to their children nor buy tickets to the theater, The President had a keen feeling for the sensibilities of recipients of this relief. (The Roosevelt I Knew by Frances Perkins. Viking, 1046)

She goes on to say about FDR:

He liked people to have a good time in their own ways.

Having a good time was a key ingredient in American life that had been lacking for too long. FDR’s support for this simple idea, along with his gleeful smile and obvious sense of fun, lifted the spirits of Americans and helped them bear the continuing economic distress. The works commissioned by the Works Progress Administration brought beauty to many communities ravaged by poverty.

Rockville, MD, Post Office mural

Rockville, MD, Post Office mural

Today, the arts add richness to our lives in many ways. In addition to the joy of seeing a good play or hearing a wonderful concert, we know that the arts are a significant part of our economy. For example, here are some statistics compiled by ArtsUSA.org:

Economic Impact of the Nonprofit Arts Industry

Total Economic Activity      $166.2 Billion
Total Spending by Nonprofit Arts Organizations  $63.1 Billion
Total Spending by Nonprofit Arts Audiences  $103.1 Billion

Total Full-Time Equivalent Jobs Supported  5.7 Million

Total Tax Revenue Generated     $29.6 Billion
Federal Income Tax Revenue     $12.6 Billion
State Government Revenue     $9.1 Billion
Local Government Revenue     $7.9 Billion

Total Household Income Generated   $104.2 Billion

So, in a severe economic downturn, how should government sustain the artistic community? In a humorous essay in yesterday’s New York Time Book Review, Paul Greenberg proposes a bail out for writers, based on FDR’s Agricultural Adjustment Administration, which eliminated overcapacity in the nation’s farms — in other words, paid farmers not to plant crops. He jestingly offers a plan to pay writers not to write.

As funny as the piece is, what’s happening in the publishing world isn’t funny in the least. As the economy tanks, our creative economy will feel the pain, just as it did in the 1930s. As unemployment rises, audiences shrink. Nonprofit arts organizations are already feeling the pinch.

A program to support and sustain the arts could help both creators and their audiences. Artists of all types could be helped by a significant increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and state arts commissions. And to raise our flagging spirits today? Make sure that some of that funding is earmarked for ticket subsidies — so the price of attending arts performances is within reach of all.

The New New Deal and the 21st Century Workforce

In Legislation Today on December 6, 2008 at 10:00 am

The Frances Perkins Center is working on the agenda for a conference May 2nd at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast, Maine. (Email bburt@francesperkinscenter.org to get on the list for information.) Yesterday, I met with Maine’s Commissioner of Labor, Laura Fortman, and Deputy Commissioner of Labor, Jane Gilbert, to discuss potential conference topics. Our ideas centered around what’s being called the “New New Deal,” focusing specifically on the changes in the U.S. workforce since 1933 and how this new version of a works progress program would affect workers who didn’t fit the 1933 profile.

Today, President-elect Obama released a YouTube and radio address that speaks directly about what he’s considering in this 2009 stimulus package:

To recap what President-elect Obama says, there are the three major pieces of the package at this point:

a massive effort to make public buildings more energy-efficient.

the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s.

a sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen. As we renew our schools and highways, we’ll also renew our information superhighway.

Those are important goals. But as we look at the kinds of jobs they’ll create and the workers who will benefit from those jobs, we need to ask ourselves, “Who is being left out?” Will part-time workers benefit? Will women workers be fully represented? Will “contract” workers get any help? How can we make sure that the benefits of a stimulus package reach the broadest possible spectrum of workers?

That’s what we’ll be considering on May 2nd.

Employment is really tanking

In Economics on December 5, 2008 at 8:00 pm

Robert Reich explains the free fall:

It’s health care, stupid

In Political world on December 5, 2008 at 5:14 pm

I had the opportunity to listen to about two hours of the House hearings on the big three auto bailout as I drove to Augusta today. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t hear one word about a major issue that’s driving these companies into the ditch.

National health care was the unfinished piece of Frances Perkins’s agenda. By the 1940s, the country was gearing up for war-time production. There was a labor shortage, and employers started offering health insurance as an enticement to attract workers. National health care seemed less necessary. Unfortunately, when unemployment rates are high, employers no longer need to compete for workers, and benefits seen as “extras” fall by the wayside.

Today, there seems to be a sense in the country that auto workers make way too much money. And when you hear statistics such as this quoted in the NY Times, you can understand where that resentment comes from:

Currently, the average U.A.W. member costs G.M. about $74 an hour in a combination of wages, health care and the value of future benefits, like pensions. Toyota, by comparison, spends the equivalent of about $45 an hour for each of its employees in the United States.

But the article in the Times goes on to clarify:

Base wages between the Big Three and the foreign companies are roughly comparable, with a veteran U.A.W. member earning $28 an hour at the Big Three compared to about $25 an hour at Toyota’s plant in Georgetown, Ky. (Toyota pays less at its other American factories.)

But the gap in labor costs becomes larger when health care, particularly for thousands of retirees and surviving spouses, and job security provisions are considered.

The UAW has offered major concessions. For example, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said that

the union would agree to delay the multibillion-dollar payments to a new retiree health care fund that the automakers were scheduled to start making next year.

The Detroit companies will remove billions of dollars in financial obligations from their books when the U.A.W. health care trust takes over responsibility for the medical bills of retirees in 2010. But delaying payments to the trust by the companies is a more pressing concern for the automakers.

G.M., for example, is scheduled to make a payment of $7 billion to the health care trust before the end of next year. The U.A.W.’s offer to delay that payment will significantly help G.M.’s cash flow as it tries to recover.

Clearly, the cost of health care insurance places a tremendous burden on the car companies.

“Taking retiree health care off the books will save the companies billions and billions of dollars,” said Mr. Shaiken [professor of labor studies at U.C. Berkeley]. “By not paying into the trust next year, it won’t postpone the trust, but it will save G.M. and the others a lot of money for now.” At the U.A.W. meeting in Detroit, union officials described their members as extremely anxious about the prospect of more concessions but at the same time afraid of what would happen if the union did not aid the automakers.

But those workers have negotiated for benefits that should be available to all people. Health care is a human right — it’s not an “extra” benefit to use in competing for employees. It’s time to de-link health care and employment. Employer-based health insurance was a stopgap measure in the 1940s — and now we know for sure that it just doesn’t work.

Who will be the next secretary of labor?

In Political world on December 3, 2008 at 1:47 pm

While President-Elect Obama has named a number of cabinet secretaries with alacrity, the post of labor secretary still is open. Rumors are swirling around several prospects: Governor Jennifer Grandholm of Michigan, who says she’s not being vetted; Governor Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas; and Mary Beth Maxwell.

Union activist Mary Beth Maxwell

Union activist Mary Beth Maxwell

Mary Beth Maxwell? You may not recognize that name. She’s an openly gay union activist who founded American Rights at Work, a nonprofit advocacy group that promotes efforts to strengthen unions. Check out their list of board members — it’s an all-star group. And she has a great reputation among many labor leaders. Here’s an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article about her from yesterday:

Maxwell already had the strong backing of former Rep. David Bonior, who despite repeated attempts to get his name removed from consideration continues to be on the short list of potential labor secretaries. Bonior, 63 years old, says it is time for his generation to turn over power to a new generation, and Maxwell, whose labor-backed organization pushes for expanded collective bargaining rights, is his pick.

Some labor leaders from both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, a splinter union group led by the Service Employees International Union, back her as a consensus choice, citing her efforts on behalf of legislation to allow unionization at workplaces with the signing of cards, not secret balloting.

Since Frances Perkins’s day, there have been many women secretaries of labor — from both parties. But to pick someone who’s an open union activist — now that would be a breath of fresh air.

If you read the WSJ article, be sure to catch the posted comments.

“Consumers have gone on strike”

In Economics on December 2, 2008 at 4:46 pm

Robert Reich, on his blog yesterday, made the above statement. And he went on to say:

Consumers have gone on strike because their earnings haven’t kept up. The recovery that officially ended December, 2007 (the National Bureau of Economic Research now tells us) was the first on record in which median earnings declined, adjusted for inflation. Since then, many people have also lost their jobs or are working part time when they’d rather be working full time, or else know they’re in danger of losing their jobs.

We are pleased to name Professor Reich as one of the advisors for the Frances Perkins Center. As a former secretary of labor himself (1993 – 1997), he honors the work of Frances Perkins and shares her passion for social justice.

Here’s his official portrait from the Department of Labor:

The official portrait of former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

The official portrait of former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.

From our photo album

In Biography on December 2, 2008 at 4:00 pm
FDR signs Social Security into law as Frances Perkins looks over his shoulder.

FDR signs Social Security into law as Frances Perkins looks over his shoulder.

JFK and FP

JFK and FP

Frances could make FDR laugh.

Frances could make FDR laugh.

Bush strips federal employees’ collective bargaining rights

In Political world on December 2, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Tip of the hat to The Progress Report, which points out that President Bush signed an executive order yesterday, Exclusions from the Federal Labor-Management Relations Program. According to the New York Times today, the order:

denies collective bargaining rights to about 8,600 federal employees who work in law enforcement, intelligence and other agencies responsible for national security.

Not surprisingly, President Bush cited national security concerns as the reason for the change. Union officials have a different view, as quoted in the Times article:

Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said that employees at the alcohol, tobacco and firearms agency had just “had their collective bargaining rights stripped away for no justifiable reason.”

The union said it represented 1,600 employees at the agency. Those employees have had collective bargaining rights for more than 30 years, with no indication that the rights interfered with the agency’s mission, Ms. Kelley said.

The Progress Report also points out that:

The executive order is just one of Bush’s many last-minute regulations, orders, and proposed rule changes, many of which reduce the power of organized labor. New rules make it harder for employees to take time off, require labor unions to file extensive financial reports, and make it harder to regulate toxic substances on the job. For more on Bush’s 11th hour rules, check out The Progress Report’s report: “Bush’s Backward Sprint To The Finish.”