Bernie Sanders to reintroduce the PRO Act into the Senate / by Press Associates

Sen. Bernie Sanders will reintroduce the PRO Act into the Senate this session. | David Becker/AP

Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., the new chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, will reintroduce the Protect The Right To Organize (PRO) Act. He should use it to really throw the book at corporate crooks.

Sanders will be able to push it through his panel, via a one-vote majority there. If all 49 Democrats and two Democratic-leaning independents hang together to outvote the chamber’s corporate puppets, also known as Republicans, there’ll actually be a debate on it in the Senate.

Unfortunately, the Senate filibuster rule or the Republican-run and equally ideologically polarized House Education and the Workforce (not “Labor”) Committee will then kill the bill.

So let’s take a leaf out of the Republican playbook and make the PRO Act even tougher on corporate crooks and their aiders and abetters, like union-busters, than it is. You’ve heard of “messaging” bills? Make the PRO Act a real message to that criminal class and to the rest of the country: Abuse, exploit, and break the law against your workers and you’ll pay a huge price.

As you know, the PRO Act, as written by Sanders and then-House E&L Chair Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., plus labor’s legislative representatives, would make gaining union recognition easier and ban many obstacles—such as captive audience meetings which feature illegal intimidation, lies, and threats bosses now use to thwart organizing drives.

Bosses who don’t bargain after workers vote union would face mandatory arbitration. Card-check recognition would be explicitly in federal law. Delay tactics bosses use to postpone elections would go. Joint employers would be jointly responsible for obeying or breaking labor law. Illegally fired workers would be reinstated as soon as they win a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge’s order in their favor, rather than being forced to wait through interminable delays, first at the board and then in the courts.

The PRO Act would empower the NLRB to easily seek court injunctions against flagrant labor law-breakers, such as Starbucks and Walmart. And instead of forking over only net back pay to harmed workers, Sanders proposed firms would face civil fines of $50,000 for a first offense and $100,000 for subsequent ones.

But the new version of the PRO Act we envision is a messaging bill, remember? So let’s really clobber criminal companies and their honchos where it hurts. Here are the additions we’d make:

High fines, maybe on a sliding scale varying by corporate size. The basic idea is “hit ‘em in the wallet, hard.” One way: Add a “0” to the end of those fines above, making them $500,000 for a first offense and $1 million for each following offense. And each instance of labor law-breaking would cover one worker, not dozens. The numbers add up.

Let’s see, the first 101 workers Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz illegally fired for trying to unionize would cost him $500,000 for worker #1 and $1 million each for numbers 2-101. Even Schultz couldn’t just shrug off $100,500,000 in fines. Nor could his board of directors. And if they, and his union-busters, aided, abetted, or condoned the lawbreaking, they’d be fined, too.

Further, if individual Chapter 7 bankrupts can’t avoid paying “debts for certain criminal restitution orders,” according to the legal website Findlaw, outlaw that escape hatch for firms.

Commit the crime, do the time. Corporate pooh-bahs shrug off fines, which are civil penalties. But crime is crime, even—maybe especially—among executive suits in executive suites. Make labor law-breaking, formally called unfair labor practices, a criminal offense.

South Korea does. In December 2019, Samsung Electronics Board Chairman Lee Sang-hoon was sentenced to 18 months in jail “for sabotaging labor union activities” by illegal spying and illegally stalling bargaining. Six other Samsung senior honchos joined their boss in doing perp walks in handcuffs. Nineteen more received suspended sentences in Seoul District Court. A higher court later tossed his sentence, but the others stood.

“We humbly accept that how the company perceived labor unions didn’t meet citizen’s eye-level and society’s expectations,” Samsung said. “We will establish a forward-looking and healthy labor union culture that is based on the spirit of respect for our employees.” A higher court overturned Lee’s conviction, but the other verdicts stood.

Extend criminal penalties. The Protect The Right To Organize Act made more offenses–such as captive audience meetings—labor law-breaking. We’d go even further and make more people, besides line managers, CEOs, company directors, and other top executives, guilty of labor law-breaking. Extend criminal penalties to, to use the Nixonian phrase, currently “unindicted co-conspirators,” also known as union-busters. They’re as guilty as their clients.

No more letting firms off the hook when a contract is reached. This one’s prompted by the story we just posted about the settlement of the 175-day strike which Ingredion forced on its 120 workers, members of Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 100-G. Ingredion also brought in scabs to run the plant.

Undoubtedly as part of bargaining, the local withdrew its complaints of labor law-breaking—bad-faith bargaining, illegal spying, direct dealing with workers, and Ingredion’s refusal to recognize the union as their representative. With the settlement and the union’s withdrawal of its complaints, the NLRB closed the cases. It’s a common practice.

Why? Why should a labor law-breaker get away with what is in essence a plea bargain? Prosecutors use plea bargains to save the costs of criminal trials and obtain convictions. But where the crook is known, the crime is known and the impact on workers is enormous, there should be little plea-bargaining, and preferably none at all.

Ban hiring scabs. In 1938, the Supreme Court legalized letting firms hire “permanent replacements” for economic strikers. Letting firms do so undercuts the clout of workers’ most-powerful weapon of last resort, boss-forced strikes. And firms have no incentives to settle. Indeed, they frequently contract with scabs beforehand, anticipating pushing their workers out.

There’s no constitutional justification that we can see for letting firms hire scabs. End it.

Put all this in the PRO Act and you might get corporate chieftains and their lackeys to really think twice before combating their workers through illegal spying, threats, firing, and worse.

Just imagine everyone from an anti-union Starbucks manager on up to Starbucks CEO Schultz, plus his union-buster, getting hauled off to the hoosegow. Or the whole Walton family trundled off to Leavenworth after forking over $288 million for accumulated labor law-breaking against their workers over the years, as documented by Cornell Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner.

The PRO Act may be a “messaging” bill in this Congress, but what a delicious prospect with additions like these. Let’s use it to really send a message to the criminal corporate class.


Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.

People’s World, February 3, 2023, https://www.peoplesworld.org/

How Zoomers Organized the First Chipotle Union / by Jonah Furman

None of the members of the organizing committee at the Lansing Chipotle have any direct union experience. They relied on friends who had organized at Starbucks and at a local library for advice on their campaign. Photo: Atulya Dora-Laskey

Originally published in Labor Notes, August 31, 2022

Chipotle workers in Lansing, Michigan, formed the fast food chain’s first recognized union in the U.S., voting 11-3 on August 25 to join Teamsters Local 243. It’s the latest in a string of new organizing breakthroughs at prominent national brands, from Starbucks to Apple to Trader Joe’s to REI.

Of all the employers that have seen union drives over the past year, Chipotle—with 100,000 employees across 3,000 stores, and long-term plans to double its footprint in North America—is the most similar to Starbucks. They’re both outliers in fast food: their stores are primarily corporate-owned, rather than franchised out to smaller operators.

Though chains like Subway and McDonald’s have more total locations, Starbucks and Chipotle are two of just four fast food chains with more than 1,000 company-operated locations. (The others are Panda Express and Arby’s.)

Harper McNamara has worked at Chipotle for two years; the average Chipotle worker stays about four months, he estimates. For him, the reasons to unionize were simple: “pay, scheduling, and treatment from managers.”

McNamara started at $10.15 an hour, 50 cents above Michigan’s state minimum wage. Now he’s up to $13.60, after Chipotle raised wages during the pandemic. That raise, which brought the company’s minimum pay to $11 an hour and its average to $15, was partly a response to workers organizing in New York City with SEIU 32BJ, as Alex Press reported for Jacobin.

SEIU’s campaign emphasized scheduling, too. Ultimately Chipotle agreed to a $20 million settlement for routinely breaking a 2017 New York City law that mandates regular schedules, two weeks’ notice, and premium pay for changes or “clopenings.” (That’s when a worker has a late night closing shift followed by an early morning opening shift.) It was the largest ever settlement for “fair workweek” violations.

LET THEM EAT CAKE

At the Lansing store, the scheduling issues intensified in the ramp-up to the store’s general manager being promoted to “restaurateur” status.

Chipotle uses this designation for a very limited number of managers; it comes with a much-touted six-figure salary, and limited raises for all workers in the location. But to achieve it, local management had to put on a show for corporate.

They cut hours in the days before the inspection, so they could over-staff on that day—without exceeding their weekly average labor hours—to make a good impression. They even put up a fake schedule in the back, to make it look like this was standard procedure.

“The really radicalizing thing that happened that day,” says Atulya Dora-Laskey, another organizing committee member, “is they brought all the crew members out and took a photo in front of a huge cake with balloons with ‘R’ on them. Then the managers all ate the cake and the crew members were sent to the back.”

As they were washing up after the photo op, one of the crew members remarked, “I thought ‘R’ was going to be for ‘raise.’”

“That really set people off,” says Dora-Laskey, “So after that we started looking into the union stuff more.”

ORGANIZED BY THE BOOK

Unlike the Chipotle workers organizing in New York City, the Lansing workers filed for a union election.

None of the members of the organizing committee have any direct union experience. They relied on friends from the Democratic Socialists of America: Rikki Reynolds, a member of the Michigan Education Association; Angelo Moreno, who unionized his public library job with the UAW; and Grace Norris, who organized her Starbucks. They read the Labor Notes book Secrets of a Successful Organizer together. The committee made a list of their co-workers and started having one-on-one conversations to see what people thought of the idea of a union.

Dora-Laskey would ask co-workers, “What do you think would happen if you asked for a pay raise? You’d get in trouble. What do you think would happen if everybody asked for a pay raise?”

They made up their own system to assess people’s responses, using a one to 10 scale. “Five was neutral. Anything three or below was like, ‘They’re going to snitch on us.’ Eight would be, they’re on board. Nine would be, they’re willing to do extra work for it. Ten was, they’re on the organizing committee.”

If people were on board, they would get added to a group chat on Snapchat. The chat became a place to vent, to swap shifts, to share the schedule when it came out, and to pass around articles on Chipotle corporate. It also became a place to schedule union meetings.

CHOOSING THE TEAMSTERS

Before they talked with any unions about affiliating, the Chipotle workers in Lansing started holding union meetings. They’d have one in the morning and the evening, so both shifts could attend. They’d have an agenda plotted out, and they would take votes on important issues.

One of the votes was on whether or not to tell the managers they were organizing. Others were on whether certain co-workers should be asked to join the next meeting.

One of the most consequential votes was on which union to affiliate with.

Once they had assessed that 40-50 percent of their co-workers were pro-union, McNamara and Dora-Laskey went in search of a union. They researched different unions both locally and nationally and reached out where they could. Some never called back; some said it was out of their geography or jurisdiction.

“One thing that wasn’t expected for either of us was we actually got turned down, or left on ‘read,’” says Dora-Laskey. “It was actually really frustrating for a while. We were, like, wondering what was wrong with us.”

So they put it to a vote. At an organizing meeting in March, they put together a list of nine unions, and included an option to go independent. On the latter option, the organizing committee was skeptical, primarily because members thought they’d need a lawyer to help navigate the NLRB.

“We were like, if you guys want to do this, I guess Harper, Sam, and I will start, like, reading up on National Labor Relations Board law and stuff,” Dora-Laskey laughs.

They also had an interesting call with the Industrial Workers of the World, who advised them to skip the Board and the contract process, and focus instead on shop floor action.

“Teamsters wasn’t really high on our list,” says Dora-Laskey. “[But] my roommate was in the living room and was like, ‘Oh yeah, Teamsters is a fighting union.’”

So he decided to stop by their union hall “on a whim” one day before work. The difference was “remarkable,” Dora-Laskey says. “They really took us very seriously and were really enthusiastic, and they gave us union cards to start signing immediately.”

The Teamsters staff organizers were surprised to learn that the Chipotle workers had already made a list, assessed their co-workers, and were holding meetings. The workers didn’t know it was unusual. In March, they voted to go with Teamsters Local 243 and began signing cards.

SCARE TACTICS FIZZLE

But they weren’t the first Chipotle store to file for an election. On June 22, workers at a Chipotle in Augusta, Maine, had petitioned the NLRB for a union vote as Chipotle United, an independent union. A week earlier, they had walked off the job in protest of chronic understaffing.

On July 19, the same day an NLRB hearing was being held to determine the election process, Chipotle permanently closed the Augusta store, claiming the ongoing staffing issues made it impossible to continue to operate. Workers there called it “union busting 101.” The union has filed charges at the Labor Board alleging the closure was illegal retaliation against their campaign.

The Maine closing was an obvious problem for the union in Lansing. “If there was bad news, we wanted to be the first people to share that information with people,” says Samantha Smith, another organizing committee member, “so we didn’t seem like we were trying to lie and hide things.”

At first, the workers tried to understand why Chipotle wouldn’t close their store as well. They researched and found that Chipotle had only closed about a dozen stores over the previous year; closing two unionizing stores would be too suspicious. They also reasoned that the new “restaurateur” status meant the store was profitable enough to keep open.

“But then we kind of shifted gears,” says Dora-Laskey. “The better inoculation was more like, ‘OK, so what if Chipotle closes down?’ They were like, ‘Oh I’d just get a job at Qdoba, they’re hiring for $14 an hour.’ I think it’s a tight labor market that is giving people a lot of power right now.”

Part of it, say Smith and Dora-Laskey, is also generational. “Everything that’s happened politically, like abortion being criminalized, and then inflation but nobody’s getting paid any more, people can’t afford things—that is a real push,” says Smith.

“Zoomers are looking around and we’re like, ‘This shit is over.’ Everything is coming to an end in, like, quite a spectacular fashion,” says Dora-Laskey. “And it really is like, ‘Okay, I might get fired from this job for organizing. Okay.’”

DUES FOR LIFE?

Chipotle did not threaten to close the Lansing store. But the company did make a concerted union-busting effort.

Managers held extended one-on-one meetings with nearly all 18 workers. They brought in a union-busting consultant who presented herself as a “non-biased educator,” but with a clear anti-union slant.

“Towards the end she got more blatant with her lies,” says Dora-Laskey. “She started saying that we would have to be paying dues for life if we joined a union—even if you leave Chipotle.”

In one-on-one meetings, the consultant would say different things to different people, saving the worst rhetoric for non-native English speakers. But after the meetings, workers would compare notes and identify inconsistencies.

“Eventually,” says Dora-Laskey, “we got people to see that she gets hired by companies to come in. Companies don’t like unions.” They would ask their co-workers, “Do you think she has more or less job security if we unionize? What do you think her incentives are?”

UNEXPECTEDLY POSSIBLE

The Chipotle workers in Lansing know that winning their union vote is a breakthrough but not the end of the line. More stores will have to organize, and at some point, they’ll need to win a union contract.

“Chipotle is such a big corporation that it would be kind of hard if it was just us against all of Chipotle,” says Dora-Laskey.

But last week’s win was further than he had hoped to get. “I kind of wanted to see why union organizing drives don’t work. Because I figured since it had never been done before there was, like, a reason, and I wanted to explore that,” he says. “We have not found that yet.”


Jonah Furman is a staff writer and organizer for Labor Notes.jonah@labornotes.org

NLRB: Unionizing petitions up 57% in last six months / by Mark Gruenberg

Kaiser Permanente workers on strike | Ted Soqui/Sipa via AP

WASHINGTON —“Striketober” turned out to be the proverbial “canary in the coal mine,” when it came to unionization petitions, too.

The National Labor Relations Board reported a 57% increase in petitions for union recognition votes in the first half of fiscal 2022, which ended March 31. There were 1,174 election petitions in those six months, compared to 748 in the equivalent six months, Oct. 1, 2020-March 31, 2021, the fiscal year before.

Bosses responded, the NLRB added, by—among other tactics—breaking labor law more often. Workers, unions and members of the public may file labor law-breaking charges, formally called unfair labor practices.

Those numbers increased from 7,255 in the first six months of fiscal 2021 to 8,254 in the October 2021-March 31, 2022 period. That’s a 14% increase, the agency reported.

“While much has changed” since the Haymarket bombing, arrests and frame-up of pro-worker activists in Chicago in 1886, “several core dysfunctions of that older economic system persist,” the Economic Policy Institute says.

They feature “vast inequality, precarious low-wage labor, corporate concentration and soaring profits, wages barely keeping up with prices, widespread employer hostility to worker organizing, and pernicious forms of xenophobia and racism deployed to divide workers against each other.”

But there also “emerging upticks in worker organizing and growing interest in labor unions, after decades of declining union density driven by anti-worker economic policies and increasingly weak labor laws,” EPI reported.

One more uptick: The number of workers either locked out or forced to strike, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 16 major lockouts or employer-forced strikes in calendar 2021, each involving at least 1,000 workers, BLS said.

BLS doesn’t distinguish between strikes, which employers usually force on unions, and lockouts, which employers formally impose. It lumps the two together. But those 16 big strikes and lockouts involved 80,700 workers, with 45,000 (56%) involving health care workers.

Some 40,000 of them were in the one-day forced strike by four unions, including the Service Employees, the California Nurses Association and the United Health Care Workers-West, against Kaiser Permanente last November. Warrior Met’s lockout, which started last April 1 and continues, has cost 1,100 United Mine Workers members the most days lost from their jobs, 205,700 last year, and counting.

The BLS numbers are incomplete, however. The agency doesn’t count lockouts and forced strikes involving fewer than 1,000 workers. In 2021, many of those smaller struggles were at hospitals and nursing homes over lack of protection from the coronavirus.

Mark Gruenberg, an award-winning journalist, is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners

People’s World, May 4, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/

Union wins at Staten Island Amazon, too close to call in Alabama / by Mark Gruenberg

Amazon Labor Union organizers are celebrating first-ever Amazon warehouse union election victory. Photo: Luis Feliz Leon

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—Workers at the Staten Island Amazon warehouse scored a historic victory today by winning their vote to unionize with the independent Amazon Labor Union.

Meanwhile, the vote at the Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse is too close to call because of the large number of challenged ballots.

The NLRB Brooklyn office covers elections at Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island. There, the independent Amazon Labor Union aimed to win among approximately 5,000 workers. ALU tweets showed the union’s margin steadily grew through the afternoon of March 31. The NLRB also has ordered a vote for or against ALU at another Staten Island warehouse, date to be set.

The final numbers: yes (for union) 2654, no 2131, challenged 67, eligible voters 8325.

The Amazon elections are important for workers for a variety of reasons. Both unions aimed to overcome rampant hostility and expensive union-busting tactics by Amazon. Jeff Bezos, one of the nation’s three richest people, created the rapidly growing and highly exploitative retail warehouser, distributor, and monster. It employs 1.1 million workers.

RWDSU’s try, its second in Bessemer, also symbolizes organized labor’s attempt to break through government and corporate hate in the nastily anti-union South. It shows, too, the weakness of U.S. labor law, which workers are campaigning in Congress to strengthen.

The NLRB ordered the Bessemer rerun, which occurred a year after rampant company labor law-breaking skewed the first vote and made a fair decision impossible. The board ordered Amazon not to interfere with RWDSU’s second organizing drive.

But NLRB didn’t ban a big law-breaking tactic the firm used in Bessemer. Amazon again placed a mailbox for ballots in the warehouse parking lot. But it had to move the mailbox away from the main entrance. The first time, its presence at the front door, under an Amazon logo and company cameras, gave workers the impression that Amazon, not the NLRB, ran the vote.

And the NLRB can’t ban Amazon from hiring union-busters, which it did in both plants.

In Bessemer, Amazon also tried replacement workers, especially due to the 150% worker turnover. Appelbaum noted that between the time the NLRB set the rerun date and the actual vote, hundreds of workers quit. “They voted with their feet” against corporate exploitation, he said.

One “replacement” who spoke, Braxton Wright, is one of 1,100 locked-out United Mine Workers from Alabama’s nearby Warrior Met coal mine. “I saw what they go through” at Bessemer, he said. “The union-busters avoided me like the plague.”

Conditions changed in Bessemer the second time around. Worker-organizer Jennifer Bates said in-plant “captive audience” meetings this time saw Bessemer workers don RWDSU t-shirts, hats, and buttons and bluntly challenge Amazon’s bosses and its union-busters.

“I’ve been in those meetings. They’re designed to manipulate and intimidate” the workers, she added. “We’re going to continue to fight.”

Amazon Labor Union’s campaign to win a majority of votes at JFK8 on Staten Island is notable for another reason. ALU is an independent union from the grass-roots up and the workers there are younger. Young workers aged 16-24 are the least-unionized age cohort of the labor force, Labor Department data shows.

And by not affiliating with an international union, ALU’s team could maneuver inside the warehouse for weeks before officially unveiling their organizing drive.

Appelbaum cited other key differences between the two campaigns, besides ALU’s independence. “I’m absolutely thrilled” by ALU’s lead in the Staten Island count, he said. “And I have to give a lot of credit to ALU President Chris Smalls.”

Two other differences helped ALU, Appelbaum added. One is geography: “New York City is a union town, and…Alabama is a right-to-work state” and union-hostile. The other is the difference between mail-in balloting and in-person voting.

Pandemic played a part too

The coronavirus pandemic played a part, too, he noted. In the first campaign, in 2020 and early 2021, the virus’s lockdowns prevented RWDSU organizers from going door-to-door to talk with workers one-on-one and field their questions. This time, with the pandemic receding and his organizers—and many workers—vaccinated, they could.

RWDSU also benefited, Appelbaum said, from vocal and actual support, via organizers and members, from other unions nationwide. “They realize Amazon can’t become the model” for the future of work in the U.S., he explained. So they came down to door-knock, too.

Younger workers, like those in ALU, are also the moving force behind recent organizing drives in low-paying industries, not just Amazon. They grabbed the reins, later with Workers United aid, in organizing another retail monster, Starbucks, store by store, and eye others.

And unlike established unions—including RWDSU, a semi-independent United Food and Commercial Workers sector—the Amazon Labor Union stays out of politics, shunning endorsements and ties, even in heavily unionized New York City.

The Starbucks workers, also from the grassroots, have won five out of six recognition elections at stores in Buffalo, N.Y., another in Boston, and one in Mesa, Ariz., so far. Now they’re unionizing in Portland, Ore., and in Memphis, Tenn.

Besides hiring union-busters in Bessemer, Amazon enlisted prominent pro-Democratic pollster GSG to create anti-union videos and flyers for Staten Island. That may cost it business among Dem candidates. GSG operatives attended mandatory “captive audience” meetings in Staten Island. There, too, company honchos harangued the workers and spread disinformation about the grass-roots union—and hit opposition from vocal and unafraid workers.

And on March 7, Amazon had police arrest Amazon Labor Union President Christian Smalls and two other organizers who were delivering chicken and pasta lunches to workers inside JFK8. They charged the three with trespassing. Amazon illegally fired Smalls in 2020 for leading a lunchtime walkout of JFK8 workers over lax precautions against the coronavirus.

Company labor law-breaking isn’t the only problem the Amazon Bessemer workers face. On March 25, RWDSU reported what workers first thought was a fire on the third floor of the four-story warehouse, which is the size of five football fields. But it was a malfunctioning compressor, spraying vaporized oil into an air vent and clouding the floor.

At 1:30 pm, the third floor’s workers were ordered to clock out and evacuate, robbing them of paid hours, RWDSU said. The workers on the other floors weren’t told about the threat at all, even after the vapor cloud spread to the first floor three hours later.

They learned of the hazard by talking, worker to worker, and finally leaving at 5:45 p.m. The cloud was still hovering in the Bessemer warehouse when the evening shift arrived at 7 p.m. They weren’t told either. Amazon workers later notified the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about the hazard.

“At first, I thought my glasses were just smudged, but then the air got thicker, and my co-worker said he thought it was smoke and we should leave,” worker Isaiah Thomas told RWDSU. “Everyone was very confused, and the lack of information made us feel very unsafe.

“I was shocked why they would have the rest of us keep working, and why there was no notification or alarm sounded for all those hours. I don’t know what I was breathing in for that long, and I don’t know if it’s still in the air at work today either. I feel very unsafe and I wish management would treat us like humans and care about our safety in a real way.”

“Amazon deliberately put the health of their Bessemer, Ala., workers at risk! Their conduct is unacceptable!” RWDSU’s Appelbaum tweeted.

“Why is my health less important than a package getting shipped? Yesterday (March 25) was the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire” which killed more than 140 immigrant woman workers at a lower Manhattan sweatshop in 1911, Thomas added. “In 2022 workers shouldn’t have to fear dying in a fire at work.”

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

People’s World, April 1, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/

Biden budget: Hike the military, defuse protests by taxing the rich / by Mark Gruenberg

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, center, along with other lawmakers, talks with reporters. Jayapal is joined by from left, Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-New York. Susan Walsh | AP

WASHINGTON—Tax the rich to reduce the nation’s yearly budget deficit but give the military more than ever.

Taxing the rich and making corporations pay more, not padding the military, is the big takeaway Democratic President Joe Biden wants voters—and some centrist lawmakers—to get from his proposed $5.8 trillion spending plan for the fiscal year starting October 1.

But there’s a big problem in Biden’s budget, as far as progressives are concerned: The record amount of money for the military and its dependent war corporate contractors: $813 billion, counting some extra defense spending hidden elsewhere than in the Pentagon’s own budget line.

“Right now, billionaires pay an average rate of 8% on their total income. Eight—that’s the average they pay,” the president declared when he unveiled the budget blueprint on March 28.

“If you make a billion bucks, great. Just pay your fair share. Pay a little bit. A firefighter and a teacher pay more than double the tax rate that a billionaire pays. That’s not right. That’s not fair.”

But on spending, Biden’s numbers contradict his words. As he drums up support for the war in Ukraine and paying for the weapons he is pumping in there, he increases defense spending by $31 billion and reduces non-defense spending—for education, labor, health, fighting the coronavirus, and other “discretionary” programs—by $13 billion, to $915 billion. The president attributed that decline to winding down and ending anti-pandemic aid. He said nothing about whether the budget could allow revival, in whole or in part, of his Build Back Better agenda killed by Democratic Party conservatives led by West Virginia’s Joe Manchin.

And he justified the Pentagon dollar hike by claiming the military needs more money so it can help Ukraine. And even if the Ukraine war is not enough of an excuse to fatten the military budget, he raised the alleged threat the nation faces down the line from China to justify the increase. “We’re once again facing increased competition from other nation states—China and Russia,” he declared.

That analysis irks critics of war spending and gladdens the hearts of the military contractors who dine and drink at the Pentagon’s table.

“At a time when we are already spending more on the military than the next 11 countries combined, no we do not need a massive increase in the defense budget,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., said in advance of his panel’s March 30 hearing on Biden’s budget blueprint.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. AP

“Appropriators and advocates” must always defend spending “to expand access to health care” while cutting its costs to workers and families, to build affordable housing, to fight climate change, and to combat the coronavirus pandemic, said Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., former chair Mark Pocan, D-Wash., and longtime anti-war Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., in a joint press conference.

“But such concerns evaporate when it comes to the Pentagon’s endlessly growing, unaudited budget. We will continue to vigorously advocate against this military spending proposal, as we have in years past,” the three promised.

Biden preferred to concentrate on hammering the rich.

“My budget contains a ‘billionaire minimum tax’” of 20%, he said. The top “one-hundredth of 1% of the Americans will pay this tax. The billionaire minimum tax is fair, and it raises $360 billion that can be used to lower costs for families and cut the deficit.”

And Biden would raise the top tax rate on the highest end of income of all the superrich to 39.6%–its level before the GOP-Trump tax cut four years ago for corporations and the rich. The corporate tax rate would rise from the current 21% to a proposed 28%. It was 35% before the Trump-GOP cut.

Biden also would eliminate the “carried interest” deduction, a bonanza which lets hedge fund Wall Streeters pay on their gains at lower tax rates. Killing that tax break alone would raise $406 billion in fiscal 2023, the budget tables show. Biden also would increase estate taxes on the rich—rolling back part of the Trump-GOP giveaway—by $48 billion.

What Biden did not say was hedge fund vultures who claim “carried interest” use the windfall to grab loans to buy and destroy companies, notably newspapers, and lives, all in the name of corporate greed.

Instead, “My budget also ensures corporations pay their fair share. In 2020, there were 50 Fortune 500 companies that made $40 billion in profit combined but didn’t pay a single, solitary cent in federal taxes. My budget raises the corporate tax rate to 28%, far lower than the rate it was between World War II and 2017 when it was lowered,” he said.

Overall, all of Biden’s tax hikes on corporations and the rich, if enacted, and that’s in doubt, would raise $2.5 trillion. But that sum stretches over a decade.

So, for example, the billionaire minimum tax doesn’t kick in—if Congress approves it—until fiscal 2024, which starts Oct. 1, 2023. And it raises only 10% of its $3.6 trillion decade-long total in that fiscal year.

One revenue raiser not in Biden’s budget: The increased money that would come into the Treasury from higher fines and the wider reach of those fines—to corporate honchos and covering more offenses—for company labor law-breaking. The new basic fine for a first-time law-breaker would be $50,000, rather than net back pay to illegally hurt workers. Corporate repeat offenders would pay $100,000 per abuse.

Those higher fines and related provisions, taken from the Protect The Right To Organize Act, labor’s #1 legislative priority, were in Biden’s Build Back Better budget “reconciliation” bill for this fiscal year. They’re not in his budget blueprint.

The Democratic-run House passed BBB on party lines. The evenly split Senate didn’t even debate it. The revenue raisers from BBB carried into Biden’s budget were the corporate and individual income tax hikes and elimination of $45 billion in tax breaks for fossil fuel firms. Those companies benefit in other ways not contained in the budget: Gaining European market share as sanctions hit against Ukraine.

Biden’s budget, like any other presidential spending blueprint, is a political document, intended to set out priorities. “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value,” the president said. So here are some other Biden values:

More money for schools, especially those whose teachers have classes full of low-income kids.

Funds for that program, called Title I, would double, which cheered Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten, one of the earliest union commenters on the budget plan.

“It includes $1 billion to help schools hire additional counselors, school psychologists, and other health professionals to address the mental health crisis,” she added—a crisis the coronavirus pandemic illuminated. And Biden adds $400 million “for the Education Department’s Full-Service Community Schools Program, which aims to bring healthcare and other social service programs onto school campuses.” Adding such wraparound services in schools is a longtime AFT aim.

“It’s clear Biden is making important investments in helping our public schools meet the needs of every child and provide more opportunities for students to recover and thrive after two years of disruption,” Weingarten said.

More money for pro-worker enforcement programs. Biden again seeks $319.4 million for the National Labor Relations Board. That’s $45 million more than this year—and the figure the House OKd before the Senate eliminated that hike, leaving NLRB at $274 million,

And the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would get a record $704 million, which would let it hire 330 more staffers, rising to 2,346. The budget envisions a 7.6% increase in OSHA inspections, from 31,400 to 33,790. That doesn’t count state OSHA inspections.

The NLRB’s staff union welcomed that agency’s hike with “Yes, but…” tweets. The first one noted the NLRB budget stalled at $274 million yearly in 2014. “While this proposal is encouraging, the agency needs these resources now,” the staff union said.

“If the NLRB’s 2014 budget had merely been increased to match inflation, our budget would stand at $328 million this year…We need these resources in FY2022”—the current fiscal year—”to adequately carry out our agency’s mission of enforcing federal labor law.” Its current year total: $274 million, again.

The comparison between military money and domestic spending led to political fireworks when Biden Budget Director Shalanda Young testified on March 29 before the Senate Budget Committee. Chairman Bernie Sanders is labor’s longest-tenured supporter in Congress. He also hates growing the military, especially when the Pentagon outspends the next 11 nations’ military budgets, combined.

“At a time when corporations are making obscene profits by charging outrageously high prices for gas, food, and rent, we need a budget that takes on the unprecedented corporate greed that is taking place in America today by enacting a windfall profits tax and preventing corporations from ripping off working families,” Sanders added.

“At a time when over 700 billionaires in America became nearly $2 trillion richer during the pandemic while tens of millions continue to struggle, we need a budget that demands that the wealthiest Americans pay their fair share of taxes and substantially improves the lives of working families with children, the elderly, the sick and the poor.”

Flak also came from the right. Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who will take over the panel if the GOP wins control in November, slammed Biden’s budget, too…for not spending enough on war. “The Biden budget fails once again to fund our national defense at adequate levels,” was one Graham complaint.

Award winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.

People’s World, March 30, 2022, https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/biden-budget-hike-the-military-defuse-protests-by-taxing-the-rich/