Kevin Drum - January 2009

Union Organizing 101

| Wed Jan. 21, 2009 12:03 PM EST

UNION ORGANIZING 101....Over at the Washington Monthly, T.A. Frank tells the story of workers at a Rite-Aid distribution center in the Antelope Valley, about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. At first, things were great. Then new management came in, conditions went from bad to worse, and finally the center's workers decided to unionize:

The Rite Aid organizers filed their union authorization cards with the NLRB, setting the ground for an election. And then things got ugly—and illegal, too....Eventually, the NLRB racked up so many complaints that it planned to take Rite Aid to trial on forty-nine violations of federal labor law. In the summer of 2007, though, Rite Aid chose to settle instead, agreeing to rehire two fired union supporters with back pay and to post a notice in a common area promising not to engage in thirteen types of illegal anti-union activity.

....[ILWU] won the March election, becoming the sole bargaining representative of the warehouse employees. And yet, the day after, things got worse....By August, thirty-nine more employees had been dismissed....Today, nine months later, Rite Aid and the ILWU have not yet come up with a contract. At meetings, Rite Aid has been pushing aside contract negotiations in order to discuss other things. Legally, Rite Aid is supposed to bargain "in good faith," but such terms are highly subjective and difficult to litigate. Work conditions for the warehouse workers remain much as before, perhaps even worse. And that works to Rite Aid's advantage — for when a union fails to deliver, its members may lose faith in it and vote it out.

The whole thing is worth reading to get some insight into how unionization drives really work as opposed to the civics class version of how they work. In the end, Tom argues that "card check," which allows unions to organize merely by getting 50% of a site's workers to sign authorization cards, may be the least important of card check legislation. The more important parts of the Employee Free Choice Act, he says, are the provisions that simply put teeth into existing labor law, levying serious fines for misbehavior and demanding that management bargain in good faith once a union wins an election.

I'm not so sure about that, but as an anecdotal point, it's true that anti-EFCA attorney Peter Kirsanow, a former Bush appointee to the NLRB and now a frequent blogger at The Corner, usually seems more agitated about the forced bargaining provisions of EFCA than he does about the card check provisions per se. So maybe there's something to Tom's argument. Refusing to seriously bargain with a union even after they've won an election is a routine maneuver for anti-labor companies, and EFCA does away with that by allowing an arbitrator to set terms for a contract if management stalls for more than 120 days.

I still wouldn't give up on card check, myself, but it's true that aggressive enforcement of existing law, all by itself, would go a long way toward improving the lot of labor in America. Read the entire piece for more.

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Military Commissions on Hold

| Wed Jan. 21, 2009 12:53 AM EST

MILITARY COMMISSIONS ON HOLD....I'm sure the usual executive orders changing our abortion policies will be signed on Wednesday, but for those keeping score at home it looks like Obama's first major act has already taken place:

In one of its first actions, the Obama administration instructed military prosecutors late Tuesday to seek a 120-day suspension of legal proceedings involving detainees at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — a clear break with the approach of the outgoing Bush administration.

The instruction came in a motion filed late Tuesday with a military court handling the case of five defendants accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States....The legal maneuver appears designed to provide the Obama administration time to refashion the prosecution system and potentially treat detainees as criminal defendants in federal court or to have them face war-crimes charges in military courts-martial. It is also possible that the administration could re-form and relocate the military commissions before resuming trials.

This only gets two cheers until we see what the current procedure gets replaced with, but it's a good start.

Joe-Mentum

| Wed Jan. 21, 2009 12:36 AM EST

JOE-MENTUM....Cornerite Yuval Levin passes along this tidbit from the inauguration:

This was, understandably, a very partisan crowd in which I was badly out of place. The loudest boos, to my surprise, were not for Bush and Cheney, who got plenty, but for Joe Lieberman when he was shown on the huge television screens — more than one voice could be heard shouting "traitor" around where I was standing....

Poor Joe. In certain enlightend precincts, anyway, he's more hated than even Dick Cheney. How many people can say that?

Google Woes

| Tue Jan. 20, 2009 9:33 PM EST

GOOGLE WOES....What's going on with Google? Anyone know? It used to be that the search page came up instantly when I clicked on it, but then a while back it suddenly slowed down. Not a lot, but enough to be annoying. Maybe a second or two.

And YouTube has slowed down too. I can't remember the last time I played a YouTube video all the way through without interruption. These days I'm lucky for videos to play 20 seconds before they stop to rebuffer.

And Google Alerts used to be great too. It was a perfect tool for getting notified whenever someone responded to a blog post I'd written. But now? About 80% of the alerts I get are for posts from blogs where I just happen to be on the blogroll.

All this stuff started a couple of months ago or so. Is it just me? Has anyone else noticed the same thing? What happened? And can Barack Obama fix it?

Inauguration 7

| Tue Jan. 20, 2009 6:03 PM EST

INAUGURATION 7....I'm pretty much aligned with conventional wisdom on Obama's inauguration speech: It was OK, but not great. The somberness wasn't the problem. For the most part, that was appropriate. But with a few exceptions, it struck me as a little bit too utilitarian and themeless, sort of a stripped down State of the Union, or even a campaign stump speech. There was nothing badly wrong with it, but neither was it very memorable.

The thing that struck me the most as I was listening to it, though, was the number of shout outs he gave to conservatives. The main thrust of the speech was liberal — building roads, providing healthcare, rejuvenating global alliances, etc. — but there were quite a few spots that seemed specifically crafted to appeal to conservative ears. For example:

For us, they fought and died in places Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works....Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.

We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense. And for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that, "Our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken. You cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history.

I don't know how long it will last, but so far Obama has spared no opportunity to reach out to conservatives in ways cultural, rhetorical, and political — which shouldn't be a surprise. After all, it's exactly what he said he was going to do during the campaign. I wish him luck on this.

Then, after the speech, there was the inaugural poem: Elizabeth Alexander's "Praise Song for the Day." Adam Kirsch calls it a perfect specimen of "bureaucratic verse," and I can't argue with that. I thought it felt forced and self-conscious throughout. But even worse, it felt like a poem meant to be read, not spoken. The age of thunderous civic verse is long gone, of course, but still: an occasional poem is meant to be heard, not merely studied on a page. This one wasn't.

Auto Bailout Watch

| Tue Jan. 20, 2009 1:39 PM EST

AUTO BAILOUT WATCH....The French government plans to bail out Renault and Peugeot-Citroen to the tune of $7-8 billion or so. By the time this is all over, will there be a car company in the world that hasn't hoovered up a few billion taxpayer dollars?

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Quote of the Day - 01.20.09

| Tue Jan. 20, 2009 1:06 PM EST

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Barack Obama, signing the papers to put himself on the government payroll:

"I'm a lefty. Get used to it."

That's for my sister. Though, honestly, after 20 years of lefties in the past 28 years there's not much to get used to, is there?

Inauguration 6

| Tue Jan. 20, 2009 12:58 PM EST

INAUGURATION 6....I know this isn't quite in keeping with our shiny new postpartisan spirit, but watching Marine Executive One take off almost brought tears to my eyes.

Inauguration 5

| Tue Jan. 20, 2009 12:28 PM EST

INAUGURATION 5....Light glints off Barack Obama's lapel pin as he delivers his inaugural address.

Inauguration 3

| Tue Jan. 20, 2009 11:50 AM EST

INAUGURATION 3....In Washington DC, Barack Obama takes the stage. In Irvine, California, I watch on my TV.