Labor advances make news in Maryland and nationally -- Progressive News You Can Use

not_bluffing.jpgBiden and Harris visit Upper Marlboro to strengthen workers' organizing clout around the nation. Plus, fighting eviction, wasting taxpayer money on bad financial advice, harsher sentencing vs. harm reduction. These and other news accounts give us all an edge against isolation in workplace and community. Share the news and use it to fight back.



 

Last Friday, Capital News Service (via Maryland Matters) reported “Construction workers and unions will enjoy new protections on major federally contracted construction projects after President Biden signed an executive order in Upper Marlboro on Friday.

“The order would affect an estimated 200,000 workers by requiring federal construction contracts worth over $35 million to use project labor agreements, according to the White House.”

Biden’s executive order makes mandatory an Obama-era EO that “encouraged” executive agencies to require such PLAs for federally funded projects.

It’s not the bogged-down PRO Act (making it easier for workers to organize) but it is a good trend. A strengthened National Labor Relations Board should be able to do its job of backing workers when companies spend millions to fight organizing drives or decertify existing unions. Biden has replaced a conservative-leaning appointee with one who is likely to back workers, as well as an activist general counsel for the outfit.

 

Maryland makes evictions easy and cheap -- Maryland has lower eviction filing fees than surrounding states — and Attorney General Brian E. Frosh wants lawmakers to raise those fees to deter “serial eviction filings” in the state.

Senate Bill 223, sponsored by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) on behalf of Frosh (D), would raise eviction filing fees and summary ejectment surcharges. The bill would increase surcharges associated with filing an eviction to $73 from $8 in failure to pay rent cases and to $73 from $18 in other types of eviction cases.

Frosh told members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Thursday that Maryland has a higher eviction filing rate — and lower filing fees — than other states.

Why evict? A chance to raise the rent. The Washington Post reports, “Rents are up more than 30 percent in some cities, forcing millions to find another place to live” and “Eleven million households, or 1 in 4 renters, spend more than half of their monthly income on rent, according to an analysis of 2018 census data by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, though experts say that figure is likely even higher now.” (thanks to Megan E at People’s Action)

 

Speaking of serious money – Maryland taxpayers shell out about three quarters of a billion dollars for investment advice on pension funds – advice that doesn’t get significantly better returns than, say, flipping a quarter. An investment scholar at Johns Hopkins University wrote in the WaPo wondering if the state could not do better for less. The money goes to “a small army of outside money managers,” says opinion writer Jeff Hooke, and “This drainage damages the financial security of public workers in Maryland and other states, and it forces greater taxpayer contributions to the plans. The ongoing situation has a secondary effect as well: The massive wealth transfer — from public workers and average taxpayers — to a small coterie of Wall Street money managers fosters a new plutocracy, successful at obscuring the problem and blocking reform.” Our Progressive Maryland board chair Sean Dobson spotted this expose and tipped us over the weekend but it’s hot enough to have made the Maryland Reporter’s roundup this morning.

Pushback to Hogan’s ‘State of State’ talk -- In a “prebuttal” to Larry Hogan’s State of the State talk last week, Maryland Democrats (as recounted by Josh Kurtz in Maryland Matters) said Hogan “has badly mismanaged the response to the COVID pandemic, proposed slashing funding for schools and public safety, and is facing a series of escalating scandals,” Maryland Democratic Chair Yvette Lewis said in a statement. “At every turn, Hogan has used his position to try and benefit himself and push the agenda of his Republican Party. Marylanders deserve better.” In another response, “Senate Judicial Proceedings Chair William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) did get some good whacks in, blaming Hogan for the breakdown of the state’s unemployment system during the worst of the COVID economic downturn, “botched transit investments,” and “core functions of the government” that have failed under the governor’s watch. He was especially withering about Hogan’s lack of “engaged, energetic and collaborative leadership.” That’s one of the great untold stories of Hogan’s tenure, since he has rarely bothered to push his initiatives in the legislature and instead prefers social media, interviews with friendly radio hosts and showy news conferences to the extent that he works his agenda at all,” Kurtz observed.

Hogan’s lock-‘em-up talk gets Dem “wraparound” response -- Maryland's Democratic Senators unveiled their four-part crime package on the heels of Governor Hogan touting his anti-violent crime package Wednesday night in his final State of the State address, WYPR’s Joel McCord reported.

The Democrats’ package centered on what they called prevention, intervention, transparency and rehabilitation. Senate President Bill Ferguson said it isn’t about a single bill, but an all-encompassing effort to reduce violence. “What we need is a coordinated plan at all levels of government,” he said. Baltimore County Police Chief Andre Davis, who took part in the Democrats’ press conference, said afterward Maryland needs a “wraparound package” to deal with increasing crime, including elimination of untraceable “ghost” guns, “efforts to improve behavioral health and children’s mental health services and beef up the division of Parole and Probation. It would provide risk assessments for parolees, better record keeping, raises and apprentice programs to try to fill the nearly 150 vacancies in the department.”

In the General Assembly: here are important hearings coming up this week per our PM legislative trackers:  Time to Care (Senate hearing 2/10), Commission on Universal Health Care (Senate hearing 2/9), Energy & Low-Income Housing (House hearing 2/10), Corporate Tax Fairness Act (Senate hearing 2/9) -- crosscheck these with this week's tool from the Maryland Legislative Coalition for navigating the Assembly and making your voice heard on important bills: eviction protection, police accountability, climate, immigrant protection, fair auto insurance and more. For a longer look here is the two-week calendar with notes about how testifying at Senate hearings will change soon.

 

ON THE NATIONAL SCENE: We noted Biden and Harris’s visit to Upper Marlboro Friday to exec-order Project Labor Agreements in federal projects. POLITICO Playbook reports today (Feb. 7) “The White House Taskbailout_sig.jpg Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment is releasing its first report of recommendations to “promote worker organizing and collective bargaining for federal employees, and for workers employed by public and private-sector employers.” The task force led by Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh was created by Biden last April to find ways the administration could strengthen the power of unions.the administration sees the growth of union interest around the country as part of a revitalization in an area that has seen declining membership and attention. Politically, it’s also a chance for Democrats to work to preserve a constituency that’s been historically friendly to the party.

The report’s nearly 70 recommendations include ensuring federal contract dollars aren’t spent on anti-union campaigns for the Labor Department, OMB, Defense and HHS. The White House says Biden has already accepted the recommendations and that in six months the group is expected to send another report to the Oval Office on how action items are being implemented.

Megan Essaheb at our national affiliate People’s Action highlighted that “The House passed the America Competes Act on Friday aimed at “increasing U.S. semiconductor manufacturing and boosting American competitiveness with China.” The bill is different from the Senate-passed bill, “the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act” and the two will have to be reconciled. Justice is Global sent a letter to Democratic Congressional leadership outlining their concerns with the Senate bill.” We note that this was the first serious attempt at rational industrial policy since the Reagan gang eliminated the Office of Technology Assessment, an independent House think tank that kept Congress up on the next steps beyond steam power. That move took the US out of the innovation lane and guess who breezed through and lapped us? 

Asks from People’s Action: TOMORROW: February 8th: The White House is encouraging a day of action to spread the word about the CTC/EITC benefits. Outreach is needed for people who are not required to file taxes but would get these benefits from doing so. More information is available here and continued education and outreach is needed beyond the 8th.

Starting TODAY, National Educators United will be launching a WEEK OF ACTION! This action connects to and expands on our National Letter: Science, Supplies, and Safety (please sign & share) and our COVID Safety & Schools Panel with leading health experts (click here for YouTube video).

Educators from across the nation will join together to call Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to tell our collective stories about what teaching during the pandemic is REALLY like.