Saturday, September 28, 2019

"Democrats should now realize that it does not matter whom they run against Trump. He will seek to discredit any opponent not through campaigning, but through the corrupt abuse of his official powers."

“…The detention camps weren’t enough. The policy of deliberate child torture was insufficient. The neglect of Americans displaced by natural disasters didn’t pass muster. The hush money shelled out to the president’s former mistresses in violation of federal law was too small a crime. The president using his office to enrich himself wasn’t sufficient. Deflecting blame from a foreign government’s effort to elect the president while seeking financial gain from that government, and then attempting to obstruct the investigation, was deemed too complicated to pursue.

“But when the president attempted to use his authority to extort a foreign leader into implicating one of his political rivals, a former vice president and longtime Democratic senator, in criminal activity, the leadership of the Democratic Party seemed to suddenly recognize what it was facing. Millions of Americans wake up every day worried that Donald Trump’s actions will hurt someone they love, but until he used his authority to go after someone beloved by the Democratic establishment, party leaders didn’t quite grasp the urgency. If Trump could do this to Joe Biden, after all, he could do it to any of them. That’s often how it works in a democracy: People do the right thing for self-interested reasons.

“In fairness to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the events that moved her to support impeachment after months of dismissing the left wing of her caucus are exactly what the Framers had in mind when they crafted the impeachment clause, which was to prevent a corrupt chief executive from using his official powers to keep himself in office. That precisely describes Trump’s use of his official powers to strong-arm a foreign government into implicating his political rivals. The Framers forced the chief executive to face election every four years in order to prevent the president from becoming a king, but they recognized that a corrupt president might use his powers to keep himself in office in perpetuity, and that impeachment was needed as a last resort. Yet Trump is only the most vulgar expression of the anti-democratic streak spreading in the Republican Party, and the forces that propelled his candidacy are the same ones that may shield him from accountability... 

“[T]his not only amounts to an act of extortion by the president, but turns hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into the payoff for a bribe designed to compel a foreign power to criminalize a political rival.

“Democrats should now realize that it does not matter whom they run against Trump. He will seek to discredit any opponent not through campaigning, but through the corrupt abuse of his official powers. The fact that Justice Department prosecutors saw no ‘thing of value’ being exchanged with Ukraine that could provide a predicate for criminal prosecution, that it helped suppress the whistle-blower report, and that Barr—at least in the president’s mind—would be a party to a corrupt scheme to damage a political opponent suggest that federal law enforcement will not stand in the way when the time comes...

“This is one reason that perceptions among Democrats shifted so fast. In a republic, the people are sovereign. The president used his authority to criminalize or suppress his political rivals, in violation of the people’s right to choose their leadership. His acts exemplify the scenario the Framers feared when they contemplated a corrupt president using executive power to keep himself in office, unaccountable to the people who elected him. Trump’s conduct here is not just impeachable; it is why the impeachment clause exists.

“What the Framers may not have contemplated, however, is the extent to which a demagogue is capable of convincing his supporters that the president and the people are one and the same, and therefore, the president is incapable of betraying the people, because he is their purest expression made flesh. Trump is but a crass distillation of this anti-democratic idea, but if it were not deeply rooted in the Republican Party, he could never have ascended to its leadership.

“Already, Republicans have sought to dismiss Trump’s explicit attempt to extort a foreign leader into criminalizing a political rival by denying that the summary of the call shows what it shows. Republican legislators believe there is nothing the president could do to lose the support of the people who put them in office, and so there is no political benefit to acknowledging his misconduct, even though they would immediately demand the impeachment or resignation of any Democratic president who did the same thing. In the 1990s, Republicans impeached Bill Clinton over his false denials of sexual impropriety; they would not hesitate to impeach a Democratic president who withheld foreign aid to extract a smear of his Republican rivals.

“But behind this unfailing submission to Trump also lie more troubling influences. As the parties have become more racially polarized, and the Republican Party has become more exclusively white and Christian, Republicans have begun to think of themselves as the only genuinely legitimate actors in the polity. This is why Republicans draw districts that hand them more offices even when they fail to win a majority of the votes; it is why Republican legislatures strip Democratic executives of their powers when the electorate foils their efforts to rig elections in their favor; it is why the Trump administration attempted a fraudulent scheme to use the census to diminish the influence of minority voters relative to white voters; it is why Republicans seek to pass laws intended to suppress minority votes; it is why every night on Fox News, viewers hear one host after another outline deranged conspiracies about how Democrats want to steal America from its rightful white owners through demographic change.

“Attempts to strip minorities of their rightful place in the polity are a bipartisan American tradition. They emerge whenever one party becomes beholden to an ethnically diverse constituency, and the other answers almost exclusively to white Christians. The contest between the universalist principles espoused by the Founders and their sectarian application in practice has been the principal conflict of American democracy since the beginning.

“The peaceful transition of power is fundamental to democracy, but many Republicans have concluded that it is not possible for that to occur legitimately. Without such transitions, democracy is a dead letter. But if your political enemies are inherently illegitimate, then depriving them of power by any means necessary is not effacing democracy; it is defending it. The southern Democrats who stripped black Americans of the franchise at the end of Reconstruction using a battery of literacy tests, property requirements, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses saw themselves not as crippling democracy but as strengthening it, by limiting the ballot to those who were worthy of participating.

“The Republican belief that their opposition is inherently illegitimate is one reason it does not matter to many Republicans that Trump’s allegations that Biden sought to get a Ukrainian prosecutor fired to prevent his son from being investigated are baseless...

“Attempting to use one’s official powers for private gain is the most basic definition of corruption. Yet because the base of the Republican Party believes itself to be the only legitimate expression of popular will, whether or not its members constitute an actual majority of the electorate, it does not matter what Trump’s motives are. Much of the Republican base believes, as Trump does, that loyalty to the country and loyalty to himself are one and the same. Therefore, nothing Trump could do is corrupt, and even using his official powers for personal gain is an act of selfless patriotism. In this warped view, attempting to extort foreign countries into attacking his political rivals is not a betrayal of his responsibilities as president; it is the fullest expression of them.

Unless Republican support for Trump craters, Republican legislators will not turn against him. And Republican support for Trump cannot crater as long as many Republicans view their political rivals as illegitimate political actors rather than fellow citizens.

“This is daunting, but it makes the Democratic leadership’s decision to commit to an impeachment inquiry all the more vital. Democrats may not prevail in removing Trump through impeachment, or by the ballot. But democracy cannot function as a single-party institution in which the authority of the state is a mere instrument for one faction to maintain power in perpetuity. Legislators have a moral obligation, outlined by the Framers themselves, to protect American democracy from such an assault. They may fail, but failing to try would be an unforgivable disgrace.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Global Climate Protest in Naperville

After attending the rally, I have a few questions regarding ascribing moral value to the ecosystem: How does one hold that he or she has any sort of rights or entitlements? How is this type of claim justified? In other words, how do we justify ascribed moral values that are used to validate claims? Who is obligated to provide whatever is entitled by the right to clean air and water? Is there a difference between moral and legal rights? Surely we have seen how a dangerously ignorant and greedy man in the White House can deregulate previous policies. We have also seen how lobbyists can buy our legislators. Now also consider the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how difficult it is to enforce its 30 articles. If “it’s a moral issue," then solidarity means unified action and the demand for our moral values to become enforceable, irrevocable laws in this country and elsewhere in the world. How do we make that a reality?

Sunday, September 15, 2019

What Makes a Good Teacher by Rob Jenkins

“…When I say ‘best teachers,’ I’m not just talking about the ones I liked best. I mean the teachers who had the greatest influence on me — the ones whose names I still remember to this day, even though in some cases it’s been more than 40 years since I sat in their classrooms. They are people I’ve tried to emulate in my own teaching.
“What made them good teachers? I can’t offer any empirical answers to that question, but I do know that personality was a key factor in all of them. Perhaps we can measure effectiveness in the classroom, to some extent, but how do we really determine quality? It seems to me that we’ve been trying for years, through various evaluation metrics, without a whole lot of success. I’ve known some bad teachers who were able to manipulate the metrics, and some good ones whose excellence wasn’t immediately apparent on paper.
“In any case, the following observations are based entirely on my own experiences as a student, professor, and former mid-level administrator who has seen many good teachers (and a few bad ones) practice their craft. My hope is that, even if this list is somewhat subjective — not to mention incomplete — it won’t seem entirely unfamiliar.
“They are good-natured. The best teachers tend to be approachable, as opposed to sour and forbidding. Grouchy, short-tempered, misanthropic curmudgeons can sometimes make effective teachers, too, if for no other reason than that they prepare us for grouchy, short-tempered, misanthropic bosses. I had some grouchy teachers myself, especially in graduate school, and learning to cope with them was a valuable experience I would not wish to deny anyone. But most of my very best teachers were pretty easy to get along with — as long as I paid attention in class and did my work.
“They are professional without being aloof. Most academics tend to keep students at arm’s length — the obvious message being, ‘I’m your teacher, not your friend.’ Clearly, professionalism requires a certain amount of boundary-setting, which can be difficult, especially when dealing with older students, where the age gap is often not all that wide and, under different circumstances, they might actually be your friends. My best teachers always seemed to effortlessly walk that very fine line between being an authority figure and being someone I felt I could talk to. I didn’t even understand what they were doing — or how difficult it was — until I had to do it myself years later.
“They have a good sense of humor. They may or may not be ready for the Improv, but they don’t take themselves or their subject matter too seriously. Few things are more off-putting than faculty members who think they’re much smarter than anyone else in the room (or any room) — unless it’s those who think their subject is the most important of all and expect students to feel the same way, other classes be damned. My best teachers not only understood that their course was just one of several we were taking, but also had a great, self-deprecating wit, often making jokes at their own expense and even sometimes making light of their subject. Funny how an ounce of humor can sometimes help students grasp the material better than a pound of gravitas.
“They seem to enjoy what they do. Some faculty members don’t really like students. They are the academics who constantly whine about their workload and complain about how rude or unprepared their students are. I’ve often wondered: Why are such people even in this profession? What did they expect? The teachers I remember as the very best were those who clearly loved teaching and got a kick out of associating with students every day. After all, no one wants to feel like a nuisance, which is exactly how some teachers make their students feel.
“They are demanding without being unkind. Some academics take great pride in being disliked, wearing their unpopularity like a badge of honor. They naturally assume it’s because they’re so ‘tough’ and ‘rigorous,’ reasoning that lazy students dislike rigor and transfer their dislike to the people who demand it. In my experience, however, most students want to be challenged; they don’t mind if a lot is expected of them. They just don’t want their professors to be jerks or insufferable know-it-alls. My best teachers were demanding without being mean-spirited.
“They seem comfortable in their own skin. Perhaps one reason students tend to like these faculty is that they like themselves, without being in love with the sound of their own voices. This is related to not taking themselves too seriously, but it goes beyond that. The root cause of bad teaching is a fundamental lack of self-confidence, leading teachers to overcompensate by being unreasonably demanding, aloof, or condescending to students. Paradoxically, professors who appear arrogant and narcissistic are often trying to cover up what they perceive as profound deficiencies in their own personalities and abilities. The best teachers are confident without being arrogant, authoritative without being condescending.
“They are tremendously creative. They are always willing to entertain new ideas or try new things — sometimes even on the fly. ‘Innovation’ is a buzzword nowadays, but the term seems applied almost exclusively to the use of technology. My best teachers, though, were truly innovative, coming up with creative ways — sometimes on the spur of the moment — to help us understand, internalize, and remember what they were trying to teach. What made those teachers innovative was not tools or technology but their minds.
“They make teaching look easy. We all know it isn’t. Ultimately, great teachers are like great athletes, dancers, or musicians. We may know, cognitively, that what they do isn’t easy, but they seem to do it so effortlessly that we’re lulled into thinking it’s no big deal — until we try it ourselves. Then we learn quickly just how difficult it is to play a sport or an instrument — or teach — at a very high level. I didn’t fully appreciate that until I became a teacher myself and discovered how easy it is to fall short in the classroom.
“Most of these things I’ve mentioned here are personality facets. We can’t control whether or not we have them or to what degree. No doubt, there is some truth to the idea that certain people are just born teachers because they happen to be blessed with these traits in abundance. At the same time, even if we are not ‘born teachers,’ we can work to develop the qualities of those teachers in ourselves. We may never be as funny, approachable, or creative as our favorite teachers. But simply by recognizing those traits as desirable, by acknowledging that we don’t possess them to the degree we would like, and by committing ourselves to working on those areas, we can become more approachable, creative, and, yes, funnier than we would be otherwise. It’s the journey of self-improvement that makes the difference.”

Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English at Perimeter College of Georgia State University and author of Building a Career in America’s Community Colleges. He writes monthly for our community-college column and blogs for Vitae. The opinions expressed here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer. You can follow Rob on Twitter @HigherEdSpeak.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The origin of ‘right-to-work’ is a sad tale of money, racism, bigotry and hatred designed to shackle workers and their unions by Shannon Duffy

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’d like to ask readers to be aware of two things in this article: First, notice the tactical similarities between those used by Vance Muse and those employed by the corporate demagogues that we face today. There are many – beginning with the use of branding. Muse repeatedly wrapped his vitriol in patriotic-sounding and religious-sounding names to shroud his hate-filled screeds in a cloak of respectability.
Second, be aware that there is some raw language in this article. Including such language was not made without a lot of thought. But these are direct quotations, and I believe important for readers to understand the true mindset of the person who said them. This article’s opening Muse quote occurred before a U.S. Senate investigative hearing in 1939 that was featured in a front-page story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on April 14 of that year.
“A white supremacist, an anti-Semite and a communist baiter, a man who beat on labor unions not on behalf of working people, as he said, but because he was paid to do so.”
This is a description of the man who is called “The father of “right-to-work” — Vance Muse (1890-1950) by his own grandson.

By all accounts, Muse was a real son of a bitch. He spent his life planning and directing a series of campaigns to defeat legislative and social efforts to improve the lives of everyday Americans. He did all this not because of some misguided ideology but because he liked the money.
Muse, from north Texas, was working for the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce in 1916 when the Adamson Act gave the eight-hour workday to railroad employees. Muse had worked tirelessly against that piece of federal legislation, and although the bill passed, timber and railroad magnate John Henry Kirby noticed his efforts.
Thus began a lifelong relationship with Kirby and his cronies.
During this time Muse also fought against women’s suffrage as well as the elimination of child labor laws. But Muse wasn’t just anti-women and anti-children; he also hated Jews and was active in the Committee for the Americanization of the Supreme Court, a group that formed because a Vienna-born Jew, Felix Frankfurter, was appointed to the Supreme Court.
Every Muse campaign, by the way, was chock full of vitriol, and when it came to the rights of workers, the man was a walking hate crime.
Muse’s words went well beyond the pale, and his barbs were not just hurtful, they were meant to ostracize, anger and inflame. Like other despots, those who knew him socially claimed that he could be quite charming. But it has been written that a great deal of how he portrayed himself in polite society was all a ruse – like his exaggerated southern drawl and his 10-gallon hat, both of which he wore only when he traveled up “Nawth” on his fundraising trips.
In 1934, Muse and Kirby tried to deny Franklin Roosevelt’s upcoming re-nomination by forming the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution. The committee claimed that Roosevelt’s New Deal threatened the South’s racial order.
Time Magazine reported that the Southern Committee to Uphold the Constitution distributed “cheap pamphlets containing blurred photographs of the Roosevelt’s consorting with Negroes” accompanied by “blatant text proclaiming them ardent Negrophiles.”
Muse later justified his actions, saying: “I am a Southerner and for white supremacy …It was a picture of Mrs. Roosevelt going to some n------ meeting with two escorts, n------, on each arm.” (Author’s note: For the record, it was a photograph of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt being escorted by two African-American ROTC officers on her way to address the Women’s Faculty Club at Washington’s Howard University.)
Such hate mongering brought Muse national attention and even more wealthy industrialists as clients and sponsors.
Following the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which gave Americans the federally protected right to form unions in their workplace, Muse’s wealthy clients began to feel the heat almost immediately.
In 1936, one year after the passage of the NLRA, Muse started what would become the lobbying front against unions in the United States: The Christian American Association, Inc. (Author’s note: Nice trick, eh? Operating under that name meant they could spew their garbage and, at the same time, claim that Jesus was on their side! Also, by extension, it portrayed whatever they opposed, like unions, as anti-Christian.)
In a short time the Christian Americans were up and running and fueled by some wealthy northern industrialist brothers. (Author’s note: Back then it was Lammot, Irenee and Pierre du Pont … but that’s another similarity to today; billionaires and corporate bosses are still bankrolling legislation aimed at keeping wages low and workers inability to organize).
The Christian Americans wasted no time targeting unions as enemies of the state; they told some whoppers about how terrible unions were – warning everyone about the terrible people they attracted – Jews, Catholics, Negroes and Communists.
The Christian Americans were masters at scare tactics. They claimed that unions were controlled by followers of Jewish Marxism, and warned of a modern-day Jewish Sanhedrin – a council of Jewish elders that would replace our secular American laws (Author’s note: Sound familiar? How many neighbors or relatives can you think of that believe those stories the “alt media” plants on the web about Sharia Law? The fear-mongering that occurs today is nothing new; the rich and powerful have always used fear to divide the working class so that they don’t have to share their wealth and their power).
Now before we go any further, it’s important to understand that before the National Labor Relations Act became law in 1935, labor unions represented about 10 percent of the American workforce and enjoyed very little legal protection. But after the NLRA became law, union membership exploded and, nationally, increased in sheer numbers more than fivefold by 1945.
Prior to 1955, there were two labor organizations in the United States: the American Federation of Labor (AFL), which was a coalition comprised mostly of craft unions, and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which was a coalition of unions that organized “industrially” (Author’s note: That is to say, they took everyone in an industry, regardless of skill or license).
The AFL concerned itself mostly with negotiating wage increases and could be called the conservative wing of the Labor Movement, while the CIO was the more progressive labor coalition and saw itself fighting for a better way of life for its members both on and off the job.
Like industrial unions today, the CIO organized many low-wage workers and, in the 1930s and ‘40s, they took dead aim at the South. During that time, the CIO initiated campaigns to eliminate poll taxes so prevalent in southern states, and opposed Jim Crow laws – in fact, the organization issued public proclamations demanding an end to segregation.
To Muse, in the late 1930s, as he watched unions scoring victory after victory, it meant only one thing: unions had to be destroyed. This was the pivotal moment in history when the so-called “right-to-work” movement was born – and it must be understood that “right-to-work” did NOT originate for workers to have the “liberty” to pay or not pay dues.
“Right-to-work” originated as a means to maintain Jim Crow labor relations in the South because union organizing remains among the most effective means of dismantling systemic racism.
Anyone who wishes to argue “right-to-work’s” racist origins should first do a little research and read all those fliers and pamphlets produced by the “Christian” Americans that spelled out their racist and bigoted case for the law – and then get back to me.

Interestingly enough, the idea behind “right-to-work” did not originate with Muse. It came from a Dallas Morning News editorial on Labor Day, 1941. On that day, editorial writer William Ruggles called for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the closed, or union, shop.
It wasn’t long before Muse called on Ruggles and received his blessing for the Christian Americans to use Ruggles’ idea to try to outlaw contracts that required union membership after a union had been voted in by a majority of employees. Ruggles, a newspaperman who understood the power of words, even suggested the name for such legislation – “right-to-work.”
Up until that point, much of Muse’s anti-union efforts involved getting laws passed that were designed to outlaw strikes, pickets and demonstrations (also called “anti-violence bills”) to ensure uninterrupted industrial production (Author’s note: Another similarity to today’s attempts to stop people from exercising their First Amendment right to demonstrate. The right to push back against those in power was written into law by our founders. But that never stops corporate-controlled legislators from trying to shut us out or shut us up.)
Muse’s earlier “anti-violence” laws held strikers (but never strikebreakers or management) criminally liable for any violence that occurred on a picket line. But a “right-to-work” law was a new idea, and it called for a new type of campaign to sell it.
Muse and his Christian Americans traveled throughout the South spreading their gospel of “right-to-work” and presenting it as a way to keep the racial order. They used segregationist views as their argument against unions.
The quotation that was widely used – and for which Muse is famously known – warned that having a union meant: “From now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”
In 1944, in Arkansas and Florida, Muse and his followers ran a campaign that equated union growth with race mixing and communism. Sadly, their efforts were successful and led to the passage of the nation’s first “right-to-work” laws that same year.
Other southern states followed quickly and by 1947, when conservatives in Congress passed Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act enshrining the right of states to pass laws that allow workers to receive union benefits without joining a union, 14 states had already voted for it.
After a while, Muse was getting mixed press but he always doubled down. Responding to criticism in 1945, he said: “They call me anti-Jew and anti-n------ Listen, we like the n------ – in his place. Our (“right-to-work”) amendment helps the n------; it does not discriminate against him. Good n------, not those Communist n------ Jews! Why some of my best friends are Jews. Good Jews.”
Vance Muse died in 1950 at his home in Houston. At the time of his death, he was working on a “right-to-work” amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Over time, racism and ignorance had their way, and “right-to-work” laws became the law of the land in our southern states. Still, to this day there exist pockets of enlightenment and resistance where people understand how the economic system is rigged against them and band together for mutual aid and protection (Author’s note: My own union activist training began in the 1980s in the RTW state of Alabama).
The fire down South does not burn as bright as it once did, but it has not gone out. Those states have had courageous and inspiring leaders emerge along the way that remained true to their values and championed the unions’ cause.

Of all those, none said it better than the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said: “In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right-to-work.’ It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and our job rights. Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining by which unions have improved wages and working conditions of everyone … Wherever these laws have been passed, wages are lower, job opportunities are fewer and there are no civil rights.”
So – the “right-to-work” movement was designed to weaken unions in order to keep the South segregated. It has racist origins.
Am I saying, then, that anyone today who is in favor of “right-to-work” is a racist? No, I am not saying that. But I do think that it’s important to know, as you set out on a path, just who it was that paved that path and in whose footsteps you’re walking.
It’s important to know how and why things came about and to be smart enough not to fall for some false argument just because it uses high-sounding words like “freedom” or “liberty.” Those are wonderful words, to be sure. But we should always understand and think about the real meaning of words and what is often lurking behind them.
Finally, it’s important to ask yourself who actually profits from “right-to-work?” Sure, if you opt out of the union at your workplace, you might save a few bucks – for a while, anyway.
But you could wind up losing a lot more than that once the union goes away.


Imagine how the RTW model would work in another setting. Pretend for a moment that you own a restaurant and the law says you have to allow everyone into your restaurant and let everyone order something off the menu. You also have to allow everyone to eat but, when the time comes to pay the bill, you’re not allowed to collect any money that an individual owes for his or her meal unless that person who ate the meal chooses to pay. How profitable do you think your restaurant would be? How long do you think your restaurant would remain in business? So, you see, it shouldn’t be any mystery what “right-to-work” laws were actually designed to do. It’s never been about having a choice. It’s always been about kneecapping unions and their members.

The people who reap the profits from the phony “right-to-work” are the owners of the business where you work, those who control the factories and hotels and media chains and fast-food restaurants, etc. They don’t want you joining together with your co-workers and building power. They want you to be isolated and on your own because, that way, you’re easier to control. 
Don’t be easy to control. Resist! Fight back!
How do we fight back?
For starters, unions should understand that there are many in our midst that have no idea about the good that unions bring about. And these people will vote on the “right-to-work” referendum... I already hear Labor leaders planning how we should frame the issue with our members, and that’s great, but what I don’t hear is how we intend to talk to the other 91 percent of the workers in our state who aren’t in a union – and it seems to me that we need to get busy.
Someone needs to enlighten them about all the positives that come from banding together for mutual aid and protection because if we don’t tell them about unions the other side will. And our message can’t just be a bunch of slick commercials and radio spots with uplifting music because the other side will have its own slick commercials and radio spots with uplifting music. All the competing noise may just cause voters to tune out.
We must talk to people face-to-face.
Ours is a powerful message, and it needs to be conveyed in a powerful way. And, while we do this, we should keep in mind that some perceive unions as exclusive or elitist. We should be acutely aware of racial injustice and racial insensitivity and have intentional conversations around the issue of race that challenge us and push us out of our comfort zones.
For some of our unions, particularly those with few minority members, this might not be easy – success seldom is – but our organizations will be better for it. And we shouldn’t limit our community outreach. We need to think strategically about involving ALL the communities that don’t live like – or look like – we do.
Our message should point out that for those seeking equity, a union contract offers the best form of protection against all forms of bias and bigotry – be it race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or sexual identity.
We can’t merely offer lip service or perform some empty gesture in an attempt to win votes – we need to build real relationships. And in doing so, we will build real power.
So don’t be fooled by clever wordplay; be aware of what this issue is really about and what is actually at stake for your future.
Join with us and become part of something that’s bigger than just yourself; something that goes back generations – centuries even – and something noble and true. And if, in the past, you had an axe to grind about unions because you felt they don’t always look like you, please take time to learn more about us.
Truly good work is being done to increase opportunities for those formerly overlooked. Unions now target training and apprenticeship programs to women and minorities, and as an example, created the BUD (Building Union Diversity) Program in the building trades. One needs only to look at the incredible outreach being performed by the Eastern Missouri Laborer’s District Council and the Painters District Council 58 to realize that Labor has, indeed, turned a corner.
Am I saying that unions are perfect? No, but organizations run by humans seldom are.
You might also be interested to know that some of the more exciting and progressive leaders emerging in our Labor Movement are members of minority communities. And, lest you think that your job is one that couldn’t be organized, you should be aware that most of our growth in recent years has been in industries not traditionally associated with unions.
Today’s job landscape is drastically changing; the typical worker is no longer “Joe Sixpack.” It’s “Juanita Sixjobs.”
And make no mistake – just like back in the days of Vance Muse, workers are still being exploited. The need for unions is every bit as great today as it was 80 years ago. Some things never change!
So pay attention to the power structure in your workplace and try to understand what steps you can take to improve your lot. Strive to become the best provider you possibly can for your family and loved ones. Stand up for yourself and for your co-workers; have each other’s back.
And remember that we are always strongest when we stand together.
(Shannon Duffy is the business representative for the United Media Guild/TNG-CWA. He can be contacted via email at

For the article, click here.

Friday, September 6, 2019

"There’s no getting around it: We need a pension amendment" (Crain’s Chicago Business, September 6, 2019)

No, we don't. Creating and passing any bill that diminishes a constitutionally-guaranteed earned benefit, such as the compounded COLA that is already in place for retired and current teachers (Remember: they have acquired a “vested” right when they enter the pension system and are guaranteed this benefit by Illinois statute and the Illinois Supreme Court) is illegal.

Most Illinois citizens recognize the incessant schemes of the Civic Federation, Civic Committee, Illinois Policy Institute, Crain's Chicago Business, and their minions in the Illinois General Assembly (and governor and mayor) that blame public employees and retirees for the chronic Illinois budget crisis and unfunded liability.

Most Illinois citizens also recognize that some politicians, who lack moral sensibility and legal understanding, have no qualms about amending the Pension Protection Clause, stealing money from the public pension funds, and ignoring the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling against any form of unconstitutional public pension theft.

Public employees and retirees know about the vast resources of money and influence the Civic Federation, Civic Committee, Illinois Policy Institute, Crain's Chicago Business, and their minions in the Illinois General Assembly (and governor and mayor) have committed to reforming public employees' and retirees' rights and benefits.

Public employees and retirees know about unethical and incompetent politicians and their wealthy benefactors who continue to choose and ignore the legal court precedents, the essential history and necessity of the Pension Protection Clause, and what it means to uphold the Illinois and U.S. Constitutions.

Public employees and retirees know that to amend the Pension Protection Clause is to attack future public employees’ rights to a constitutionally-guaranteed compensation, and that this can never be legally or morally justified, especially when Illinois politicians have never fully funded the public pension plans for several decades.

Public employees and retirees know there are no equal rights when resolutions and proposals are made to underpin and to sustain the fortunes of a few at the expense and victimization of the state’s public employees and retirees.

Public employees and retirees know that to possess a right to a promised deferred compensation, such as a defined-benefit pension, is to assert a legitimate claim with all Illinois legislators to protect that right, and that fulfilling a contract is a legal and moral obligation justified by trust among elected officials and their constituents.

Public employees and retirees know the Pension Protection Clause is a binding legal commitment and requirement of justice, and that justice demands we keep our covenants with one another: for when legislators swear an oath to uphold the State and U.S. Constitutions, then citizens of Illinois have also acquired the right to expect that they will uphold that pledge. This is a matter of important legal and moral concern for all citizens of Illinois, for all legal claims are validated by a moral framework since the concept of justice is grounded in ethics and legality. 

According to Eric M. Madiar, former Parliamentarian to Illinois Senate President John Cullerton in 2015, the last attempt at pension reform [Public Act 98­0599 or the senate bill that attempted to diminish and impair Article XIII, Section 5 in December 2013] "was not a response to an unknown or unforeseeable problem, but rather a response to a crisis for which the General Assembly is largely responsible. The court further found that the Act was not the least restrictive means the State could have used to address the problem, but ‘an expedient to break a political stalemate.’ In addition, the court indicated that the Act was tantamount to a taking of private property because the Act failed to distribute the burdens of pension funding evenly among Illinoisans let alone the State’s contract partners. The court explained that the U.S. Constitution ‘bar[s] Government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole.’ In short, whether under a Contract Clause or Takings theory, the same arguments that prevailed in the Pension Reform decision against Public Act 98­0599 would equally apply to the… proposed amendment. As a result, the proposal amendment does not offer a plausible path to unilaterally reduce the fiscal burden of State and local pension obligations…” (Read Amending Article XIII, Section 5 (The Pension Protection Clause) of the Illinois Constitution). 

Moreover, any attempt to amend the Pension Protection Clause will not reduce the state systems’ current $130+ billion unfunded liability that was largely caused by past Illinois General Assemblies and Illinois governors, [or the Chicago pension unfunded liability of $30+ billion]. Amending the Pension Protection Clause will not address the real fiscal issue triggered by the state’s out-sized pension debt—in other words, how to amortize the $130+ billion [and Chicago’s $30+ billion] debt owed to its retirement system in a feasible way. It would also take three-fifths of the members elected to each house of the General Assembly.

To anyone attempting to amend the Pension Protection Clause: my response to you is read Article XIII, Section 5: “Pension and Retirement Rights” of the Illinois Constitution. Read Article 1, Section 16: “Ex Post Facto Laws and Impairing Contracts” of the Illinois Constitution. Read Article I, Section 15: “Right of Eminent Domain” (the Takings Clause) of the Illinois Constitution.  Read Article I, Section 2: “Due Process and Equal Protection” of the Illinois Constitution. Read Article 1, Section 10 of the United States Constitution: “No State shall… pass any… ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts…” Read Amendment V, Section 1 of the United States Constitution: “No person shall be... deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Read Amendment XIV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution: “Due Process and Equal Protection.” To ignore the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and change laws that protect one group of people is to ignore due process and equal protection of the laws that guarantee contractual agreements as well. Finally, read the Illinois Supreme Court ruling: docket number 118585, filed on May 8, 2015!   

It is shameful that a few policymakers, the Illinois Policy Institute, Crain's Chicago Business, the Chicago Tribune, et al. are still willing to renege on a guaranteed constitutional contract when it's the state legislators who are the debtors. It is legally and morally wrong to modify public employees’ contractual rights and benefits prospectively and retroactively when there are legal and ethical ways to address the pension debt problem, such as through debt and revenue restructuring. Legal and moral sense dictates that all members of the Illinois General Assembly must align with the U.S. and State Constitutions and sanction the vested rights of its middle-class public employees and retirees.

Attempting to amend the Pension Protection Clause is unethical, duplicitous, and illegal. It would not only destroy the public employees’ and retirees’ financial security, but it would also destroy the Illinois teaching profession; damage the communities that these people support, serve and protect; and ultimately the state's economy.

—Glen Brown

“ProPublica’s investigation found Amazon escapes responsibility for its role in deaths and serious injuries even though the company keeps a tight grip on how third-party delivery drivers do their jobs”

“WHEN SHE ADDED GABRIELLE’S NAME to the chart in her kitchen, Judy Kennedy could picture the annual ritual. At birthdays she would ask her newest grandchild to stand up straight, heels against the door frame, so she could mark Gabrielle’s height beside that of her other granddaughter in the Maine house the family has lived in since the 1800s. But there are no lines for Gabrielle.

“In January, the 9-month-old was killed when a driver delivering packages crashed a 26-foot rented box truck into the back of her mother’s Jeep. The baby was strapped into a car seat in the back. The delivery driver, a subcontractor ferrying pallets of Amazon boxes from suburban Boston to five locations in Maine, said in an interview that he was running late and failed to spot the Jeep in time to avoid the crash. If Gabrielle’s parents, who have hired lawyers, try to hold Amazon accountable, they will confront a company that shields itself from liability for accidents involving the drivers who deliver its billions of packages a year.

“In its relentless push for e-commerce dominance, Amazon has built a huge logistics operation in recent years to get more goods to customers’ homes in less and less time. As it moves to reduce its reliance on legacy carriers like United Parcel Service, the retailer has created a network of contractors across the country that allows the company to expand and shrink the delivery force as needed, while avoiding the costs of taking on permanent employees.

“But Amazon’s promise of speedy delivery has come at a price, one largely hidden from public view. An investigation by ProPublica identified more than 60 accidents since June 2015 involving Amazon delivery contractors that resulted in serious injuries, including 10 deaths. That tally is most likely a fraction of the accidents that have occurred: Many people don’t sue, and those who do can’t always tell when Amazon is involved, court records, police reports and news accounts show.

“Even as Amazon argues that it bears no legal responsibility for the human toll, it maintains a tight grip on how the delivery drivers do their jobs. Their paychecks are signed by hundreds of companies, but often Amazon directs, through an app, the order of the deliveries and the route to each destination. Amazon software tracks drivers’ progress, and a dispatcher in an Amazon warehouse can call them if they fall behind schedule. Amazon requires that 999 out of 1,000 deliveries arrive on time, according to work orders obtained from contractors with drivers in eight states.

“Amazon has repeatedly said in court that it is not responsible for the actions of its contractors, citing agreements that require them, as one puts it, to ‘defend, indemnify and hold harmless Amazon.’ Just last week, an operations manager for Amazon testified in Chicago that it signs such agreements with all its ‘delivery service partners,’ who assume the liability and the responsibility for legal costs. The agreements cover ‘all loss or damage to personal property or bodily harm including death.’

“Amazon vigilantly enforces the terms of those agreements. In New Jersey, when a contractor’s insurer failed to pay Amazon’s legal bills in a suit brought by a physician injured in a crash, Amazon sued to force the insurer to pick up the tab. In California, the company sued contractors, telling courts that any damages arising from crashes there should be billed to the delivery companies…

“Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, is famously secretive about details of its operations, including the scale of its delivery network. In many of the accidents involving its contractors, drivers were using cars, trucks and cargo vans that bore no hint of Amazon’s corporate logo. The truck involved in Gabrielle Kennedy’s death, for example, was marked only Penske Truck Rental.

“Amazon declined to answer questions about the demands it places on drivers, the anonymity of delivery vehicles or any requirement that these contractors indemnify Amazon. The company said that even one serious incident was too many, but would not disclose how many people had been killed or seriously injured by drivers shuttling Amazon packages from warehouses to customers’ homes — the final leg of the journey, which the company calls the last mile…”

For the entire article, The Deadly Race: How Amazon Hooked America on Fast Delivery While Avoiding Responsibility for Crashes by Patricia Callahan (September 5, 2019), click here.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. This story was co-published with The New York Times.