Joe Kenehan Center

Thursday, December 05, 2002
Conservatives and Federalism: the Hypocrisy of It All

One of the least-essential myths in politics today is that conservatives favor a less active federal government.

They don’t, of course. The right is perfectly willing to use federal power to advance the goals of corporate special interests, regardless of whether it means trampling over the rights of the states that conservatives claim to hold sacrosanct.

Striking example du jour: New York State recently passed a law that bars health care institutions from diverting tax dollars to pay for campaigns against employees’ efforts to organize a union. But the Bush Administration is moving to stop New York from making this reform.

Virtually all American health care employers are dependent on state and federal funding in the form of Medicaid and Medicare. Currently, just about everyone in the health care sector agrees that there aren’t enough of those tax dollars to go around. Yet when health care workers try to form a union so they can have a stronger voice about how our tax dollars get used, employers routinely waste some of that money to hire hugely expensive outside consultants who run a campaign against the pro-union staffers.

The New York legislature decided that taxpayers deserved to know that their resources were being devoted to patients and health care, not to campaigns against nurses and caregivers.

Now, the Bush Labor Department is warning New York that this new law could be illegal, supposedly because it’s a deviation from the federal National Labor Relations Act. But really it’s because in this particular case a state’s action threatens powerful special interests—and therefore it’s okay to use federal power to defend those interests.

Here’s an excerpt from a November 26 Albany Times Union story (which I can’t find online):

Federal officials raise flag on bar to use of state funds to encourage or discourage union activity

by James M. Odanto

Federal labor officials have "serious concerns" with a new state law that muzzles employers during union organizing drives because it could infringe on free speech.

The law was strongly desired by influential unions and signed into law shortly before this year's election by Gov. George Pataki. It bars employers from the right to "freely discuss labor relations issues," according to an Oct. 30 letter from the National Labor Relations Board staff.

In the letter, a federal lawyer tells state Labor Commissioner Linda Angello that the National Labor Relations Act probably pre-empts the state's "labor neutrality" law.

Of course, if a state wants to weaken the protections the National Labor Relations Act extends to working people, then conservatives are all in favor of doing that.

Example: “Right To Work” laws, which allow states to deviate from the federal law and ban workers from negotiating an agreement with their employers that sets up a requirement that everybody covered by the contract has to pay their fair share of maintaining the union.

The Union Press

Here’s a spate of stories about unrest in the nation’s newsrooms:

The BeLo Corporation threatens to fire any Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise employees who dare to keep a pro-union e-mail in their inboxes. (It's unlikely BeLo could be punished for this. Keep that in mind the next time a conservative bloviates on about how labor law prevents companies from "defending themselves against the unions.")

Dow Jones’ CEO gets flustered when Wall Street Journal employees at a company “town hall” meeting angrily ask why their co-workers get fired because of budget belt-tightening while he gets a $80,000 raise. His answer: feeble, unconvincing platitudes about the nature of capitalism.

The suburban D.C. Journal Newspapers Inc. fires staffers just a few days before a union election.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002
Read the Letter

It’s hard to imagine that Ron Suskind’s upcoming Esquire piece can be much better than John DiIulio’s scalding letter discussing the day-to-day operations at the Bush White House. If you haven’t read the letter yet, it’s here.

Sunday, December 01, 2002
Why Johnny Can’t Organize

Within the labor movement, the crisis of figuring out how to organize a stronger, larger union movement has been a topic of discussion, concern, and alarm for so long that it sometimes seems like there’s not much more new to say.

That’s why it’s so important to take a look at this Labor Notes article by Stephen Lerner, the director of the SEIU Justice for Janitors campaign.

Progressive union members and leaders have long blamed our own unions for not doing more to reach out to nonunion employees. Lerner takes this analysis a big step further, arguing that the very structure of today’s labor movement discourages the creation of effective unions.

Joe Kenehan Center Christmas Gift Tips

If you decide to give some historic photos as gifts this year, make sure you don’t pay the New York Times for what you already own.

The Times’ e-commerce division offers pricey selections from the Times archives. Most of the images are their photos, so they can name their price.

What’s irritating is that the Times will also sell you photos that are public property, for a huge markup. Roughly 600 percent for this classic 1936 Dorthea Lange photo of a migrant farmworker and her children in California.

Dorothea Lange took the photo while she was working for the New Deal’s Farm Security Administration. That means the photograph was and is owned by the American public.

You can see Lange's photo and thousands of other amazing photos from New Deal art projects at this web site, part of the Library of Congress’ American Memory project.

The Times wants $195 for an 11x14 print of the photo. The Library of Congress will let you have it for the cost of reproduction -- about $25.