We’re pleased to see that President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Labor is Thomas Perez, whose qualifications for the position are solid. He’s a good pick not just because of his views, but because it shows how strongly connected his current job and his likely future job are.
Perez is currently an Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, and one of his main responsibilities is dealing with protecting the right to vote. Before that, he served as the state Secretary of Labor in Maryland. It’s a good sign that, for Perez, economic justice and participatory democracy aren’t two separate issues. They’re inextricably connected.
At the Justice Department, Perez fought against state laws that threw hurdles in the paths of voters and reduced access to early voting. These laws hit economically vulnerable voters the hardest. And as Secretary of Labor, Perez will be tasked with ensuring democracy and civil rights in the workplace—from protecting the freedom to organize to fighting against pay discrimination. President Obama identified those key issues when he nominated Perez on Monday. You can’t have a thriving democracy unless people can get a fair share of the value they create, and you can’t have a thriving democracy unless people have a voice and some basic rights at the workplace where they spend a big part of almost every day.
Throughout his career, Perez has fought to level the playing field and create opportunities for working people, whether in the workplace, the marketplace or the voting booth…At a time when our politics tilts so heavily toward corporations and the very wealthy, our country needs leaders like Tom Perez to champion the cause of ordinary working people. And working families need and deserve a strong advocate as their Secretary of Labor — one who will vigorously enforce job safety standards, wage laws, and anti-discrimination rules, and who will speak out forcefully for working families and their workplace rights, including their right to join together to improve their lives and working conditions.
Of course, Perez still has to get past a Senate confirmation vote—and some Republicans are already signaling that they’re going to try and filibuster, based on utterly bogus reasons. But as reporters like Alex Seitz-Wald and Brian Beutler have written, they’re likely to embarrass themselves in the process.
We’re looking forward to seeing what Perez does as Secretary of Labor, and hope that he has a high profile in the administration.
Wisconsin is one of nine states that allow voters to register at their polling place on the day of the election, and that’s often credited with helping make Wisconsin’s voting rate one of the highest in the country. Since the Nov. 6 election, both Walker and incoming Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) have said they’re considering ending the practice, which goes back to 1976 in the state.
And what reason would Gov. Walker, who also pushed through a voter suppression ID law in 2010, have for ending the successful practice of same-day registration?
“States across the country that have same-day registration have real problems because the vast majority of their states have poll workers who are wonderful volunteers, who work 13-hour days and who in most cases are retirees,” Walker said at the library, responding to a question from an audience member about election safeguards. “It’s difficult for them to handle the volume of people who come at the last minute. It’d be much better if registration was done in advance of election day. It’d be easier for our clerks to handle that. All that needs to be done.”
So. Gov. Walker is saying that because he feels bad for the overworked poll workers many of whom are retirees, no one should be able to register to vote at the polls.
Excuse us for our disbelief that Gov. Walker supports this policy because he’s interested in helping workers. No state executive in the country, or even in recent memory, has been more committed to attacking workers’ rights and collective bargaining, not to mention the wages, benefits, and pensions of public employees.
Here’s the real reason Walker is seeking to end the 36-year practice: it helps people vote. Wisconsin has the third-highest turnout rate in the country: in part because of the state’s strong civic tradition, but also because same-day registration helps transient Wisconsinites (like students, young people, minorities, and low-income workers) exercise their rights. Two weeks ago, 48,000 voters took advantage of same-day registration in Milwaukee, helping boost turnout in that city to 87 percent.
If the 2012 election proved anything, pro-worker candidates succeed when more people turn out to vote. Walker knows this, so he has a consistent standard operating procedure when it comes to voting rights: restrict at all costs. Act 23, Walker’s voter ID law that was found unconstitutional in April, would have cost the state’s DMV an extra $6 million, despite his frequent protestations that the state is “broke.”
We have a better idea. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Chris Coons (D-DE) have introduced the FAST Voting Act in the Senate, which would provide states resources to address election reform. In the House, Rep. George Miller (D-CA) has introduced the SIMPLE Voting Act, which would require all states to institute 15 days of early voting, and ensure that each precinct sufficient poll workers.
Those policies would benefit the overworked poll workers Walker is pretending to care about. But his true agenda is and has always been restricting voting rights. He also doesn’t have a history of listening to ideas that are not his.
Apart from the elections for President, U.S. Senate, U.S. Congress, and local races, Michigan voters have opportunities on the non-partisan section of the ballot that might trump all others: making two key changes to their state constitution. Voting No on Proposal 1 would the new law that allows the Governor to appoint “emergency managers” that have the power to override local governments by removing locally-elected officials. Voting Yes on Proposal 2 would enshrine the right of workers to bargain collectively in the state constitution, protecting Michigan workers from the anti-worker attacks we’ve seen in this state and across the country.
No on Proposal 1. When the Republican-controlled Michigan legislature passed “Public Act 4” in 2011, one commentator called it “the most radical thing in American politics in this fairly radical year.” Under the guise of “fiscal responsibility” Governor Rick Snyder gained the ability to appoint “emergency managers” (EMs) to take control of local governments.
Under the new law, these EMs can unilaterally seize and sell city assets, outsource public jobs to private and/or out of state companies, lay off thousands of employees, change or terminate contracts, suspend contracts and collective bargaining agreements, and even dissolve or merge whole cities, towns, and school districts.
The abuses of these EMs have been numerous. In Benton Harbor, a majority African-American community in Southwestern Michigan, an EM dissolved the entire town council. Public workers in Pontiac saw their union contract invalidated. EM Roy Roberts closed 15 schools in Detroit and fired thousands of teachers, and those who remained had a bad contract imposed on them.
The EM law isn’t just undemocratic and unfair; it’s also been a failure. Flint, Pontiac, Benton Harbor, and other communities are not better off because of any action by EMs. These communities weren’t in trouble because of mismanagement, they were in trouble because they are manufacturing centers at a time when manufacturing is in a decline; their infrastructure is in need of repair; and their citizens aren’t doing well enough to create a stable tax base.
These problems require attention, but the solution must match the problem. These cities need to be built back up – there is no cause for dissolving local democratic rule. That is, and we use the term carefully, un-American. Vote No on Proposal 1.
Yes on Proposal 2. With the attacks on workers’ rights of 2011 – Senate Bill 5 in Ohio and Governor Walker in Wisconsin, for example – Michigan workers decided to take action. Proposal 2 does not change current rights for union or non-union workers, it simply guarantees the current right for all Michigan workers to Collectively Bargain by adding it to the state Constitution. This proactive measure will stop so-called “right to work” laws and other measures that threaten the right to organize.
In 1989, the average Michigan worker earned over $52,000 a year. In 2010, that number had dropped 11 percent, even though according to the Economic Policy Institute, average productivity has increased 30 percent. That shift can be tied directly into the loss of collective bargaining and the attacks on union rights in that time period.
Although Prop 2 would not make any major changes to existing law, it has been subject to an incredible smear campaign of over $20 million. So let’s get some things straight: Prop 2 would not force anyone to join a union, which is illegal under federal law. Prop 2 will not raise your health care premiums. Prop 2 will not, as one ad claims, allow teachers to get away with inappropriate behavior in the classroom. That’s ridiculous, and no amount of money from the Koch Brothers, Michelle Rhee, or right-wing think tanks will make it true.
But there are real, dangerous consequences to so-called “right to work” laws, which Prop 2 prevents. Eight of the 12 states with the highest unemployment rates are “right to work” states. In a “right to work” state, wages and benefits are lower, and workplace accidents and injuries are more common.
When workers have their rights protected, everyone wins. States with higher levels of collective bargaining have lower poverty levels, high average incomes, higher educational outcomes, and better health insurance coverage for all workers, not just union workers.
Okay, Ohio, we know. We spent most of 2011 urging you to vote No on Issue 2, which repealed the union-busting Senate Bill 5. But in 2012, we urge you to vote Yes on 2, the Ohio Redistricting Amendment.
They key argument for Issue 2 is the current Ohio Congressional Map. Drawn behind closed doors by politicians and special interests, the current map was created with one goal: protecting those who drew the map in political power. That means taking our voice in who should be representing us, and replacing it with politicians’.
Unfortunately, that means the districts defy geography, geometry, common interest, and common sense! Summit County is now divided into five different districts; neighbors across the street from each other in Akron might be voting for two separate representatives, one from Cleveland and another from Youngstown. The 15th District includes Wilmington and Athens, 109 miles apart, and also slivers of Columbus. “Live around Avon, Ohio?” Seth wrote earlier this year, “Depending on the street you’re on, you might share a district with people living in nearby Medina County, or nearly two hours away in Toledo, or all the way in St. Mary’s, practically at the Indiana border.” No wonder the Toledo Blade calls its new home, the 9th District, an “abomination.”
But it’s about more than geography. We want our elected officials to be as accountable as possible for their actions in Washington, and we also want them to work together, regardless of party. So when members of Congress only have to please one side of the aisle, because their district is 70 percent Republican or 80 percent Democratic, we get the same name-calling and obstructionism that has plagued our politics and stymied our economic recovery. Further, fairer and competitive districts mean that officials will need to run on the substance of their own ideas, not political affiliations, a welcome idea.
Issue 2 would create a 12-person “Citizens Commission” to draw legislative and congressional district maps. Any member of the public can submit a plan for consideration. The whole process: meetings, communications records, and draft plans must be available to the public. The new map, which would go into effect in 2014, would reflect the division of towns, cities, and counties, not just the political leanings of their inhabitants. No more “abominations” like the snaking 9th District.
The Citizens Commission would also include equal numbers of Republicans, Democrats, and independents. Even if you are a Democrat who dislikes the current map, there’s no reason that Democrats should be able to re-rig the map in their favor if they happen to be in power in the legislature.
There’s no reason we should have 16 “safe” districts in a politically competitive state like Ohio; and there’s a reason over 430,000 Ohio citizensacross the political spectrum signed their name to put Issue 2 on the ballot. For accountability, transparency, and districts that reflect our communities rather than our politics, we urge all Ohioans to vote Yes on Issue 2. Plan your vote now.
Working America activist Vince Neal and field canvass members Kevin Cabiness and Pat Jones joined labor allies in assisting disenfranchised voters at the My Vote, My Right event held outside the PennDOT office in Pittsburgh. We were joined by AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker who offered words of encouragement to voters, “Our elected officials shouldn’t make it this hard on us. It is your right, your vote!”
These words rang clear as Jean Foreman of Pittsburgh took the stage to discuss her journey. Mrs. Foreman was born in 1932 at a segregated hospital that did not print birth certificates for African-American newborns. This has made her path to getting a state ID to vote much more difficult. Fortunately, a lawyer from the United Steelworkers assisted her through the process and Jean Foreman walked out of PennDOT with her voter ID card saying, “It is a struggle to be alive 80 years and have to deal with this after 30 years of voting.”
It is not just seniors who are struggling to track down the proper documents for a voter ID. Kizuwanda Raines approached volunteers this morning with a smile from ear to ear as she told us, “I turned 18 today and all I want for my birthday is a photo ID.” She was armed with her social security card, her Duquesne University ID, and two proofs of residency. Unfortunately, she had no birth certificate. After two trips and one missed class, she was told to wait until next week when her birth certificate would arrive in the mail.
When the civil rights violations of Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law came to light, Working America’s Community Action Team set an ambitious goal to reach and educate 1 million voters throughout the state about the new restrictions. Every day, our members discuss this law and its effects with neighbors, coworkers, fellow bus riders, friends, and family.
Vince Neal is one of these motivated members. He has found that the majority of folks in his community are now more likely to vote this November, and when they do, they will be voting against officials who support laws which disenfranchise so many Pennsylvanians. At the event yesterday, Vince told me, “I love seeing so many people helping one another in their community. When I see this kind of compassion, I know that no one can stop our vote.”
Besides educating the public, the Team is collecting information about how this law is affecting Pennsylvanians. Through their conversations, they have found that close to 75 percent of those asked do not completely understand the law, and some folks did not even know the law was already in place. Furthermore, the most important statistic we have found is that 1 in 20 people our members talked to did not have the proper ID for voting this November. It is estimated that 750,000 voters across the state could be turned away from the polls due to lack of the required ID.
Pennsylvanians are frustrated by the thought of losing their vote. Thankfully, Working America’s Community Action Team is here to help! To date, we have reached out to 332,832 Pennsylvanians about the voter ID law.
In August, a lower court refused to issue an injunction against the voter ID law that some estimate could disenfranchise nearly one in 10 eligible voters—mostly people of color, students, seniors and low-income voters.
Pennsylvania is one of several states where Republican lawmakers have issued new laws that voting rights advocates say are designed to suppress voter turnout.
The bill mirrors other voter suppression laws Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed in recent years based on model legislation from the extremist American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Read more about voter suppression efforts in the South and Ohio.
After previously trying to restrict early voting, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) today reversed course on his decision to block county boards of elections from setting their own early voting hours in the days leading up to the November election.
Last month, Husted and Ohio Republicans led an effort to limit early voting hours in Democratic counties, including those with major cities like Columbus and Cleveland, while expanding early voting in Republican counties. After the ensuing uproar, Husted moved to restrict voting hours across the state, only to have his cuts to early voting restored by a federal court.
For now, Ohio counties can set their own early voting hours. That’s especially helpful for those counties with large minority communities, like Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County; in 2008, over 93,000 Ohioans voted in the last three days before election day, a significant number of them African-American. Those final three days have been the subject of a drawn out battle between Secretary of State Husted, local elections officials, and voting rights advocates.
However, don’t pop the champagne yet. Husted appealed the district court decision that allowed those final three days of voting to the 6th Circuit Court. If that court rules in his favor, those final three days of early voting are – and we’re using a complex legal term – toast.
We’ll be watching this closely. We are hoping ultimately that justice - and access to the polls comparable to 2008 and 2010 – will prevail.
This is the latest in a long fight over voting rights in Ohio. Here’s a quick rundown:
In 2008, early voting on the three days before Election Day – the weekend when many working people have time to get the polls – was a game-changer. In those three days, 930,000 Ohioans cast their vote, including an enormous number of African-Americans. In Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located, African-Americans accounted for a whopping 56 percent of early votes. Overall, African-Americans made up 31 of the early vote and 21 percent of votes overall.
Early voting days were part of an attempt to mitigate the long lines and confusion of the 2004 election. It was meant to favor all voters, and make the process go smoother. So when the Ohio legislature passed restrictions on early voting, most observers saw it as an attempt to suppress the votes of minorities, working class, seniors, and students who for many reasons (transportation, work, pulling double-shifts, church organization) were more likely to vote on the weekends. Seriously, what other reason could there be? Did Republicans legislators enjoy the long lines at the polls?
The Obama campaign felt the same way, which is why they sued Ohio’s Secretary of State over these restrictions. The Romney campaign seized on this action, claiming that the Obama campaign was trying to suppress the rights of military voters, who were exempt from the early voting restrictions.
In our opinion, letting more people vote and making it easier to participate in democracy, particularly for 913,000 Ohio veterans, is part of what our servicemembers are fighting for – but never underestimate the Romney campaign’s lack of shame when twisting the truth.
“On balance, the right of Ohio voters to vote in person during the last three days prior to Election Day — a right previously conferred to all voters by the State — outweighs the State’s interest in setting the 6 p.m. Friday deadline,” ruled the court. “The burden on Ohio voters’ right to participate in the national and statewide election is great, as evidenced by the statistical analysis offered by Plaintiffs and not disputed by Defendants. Moreover, the State fails to articulate a precise, compelling interest in establishing the 6 p.m. Friday deadline as applied to non-UOCAVA [Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act] voters and has failed to evidence any commitment to the ‘exception’ it rhetorically extended to UOCAVA voters.”
One Ohio election official said he frankly doesn’t care if the state’s attempt to curtail weekend early voting hours suppresses voting by minority and low-income voters. Meanwhile, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted suspended and will try to fire two county election officials who had the audacity to oppose his voter suppression tactics.
The end of weekend voting will hit minority communities the hardest. For example, many African American churches sponsor “Souls to the Polls” drives on the final election weekend. In 2008, an estimated 93,000 votes were cast in Ohio during just the last three days of early voting that will now be banned, along with other weekend hours.
But Doug Preisse, chairman of the Republican Party in Franklin County who also sits on the county election board, told The Columbus Dispatch:
I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban—read African-American—voter-turnout machine.
When asked if that was unfair to voters, as many have charged, Preisse called that “Bullshit. Quote me!”
On Friday, Dennis Lieberman and Tom Ritchie Sr., members of the Montgomery County Board of Elections, made motion to continue weekend voting hours in response to Husted’s earlier directive ending weekend early voting across the state. First Husted ordered the pair to rescind the motion. They refused.
But then he took the unprecedented step in suspending Lieberman and Ritchie. Lieberman told the Dayton Daily News:
I believe that this is so critical to our freedom in America, and to individual rights to vote, that I am doing what I think is right, and I cannot vote to rescind this motion. In 10 years, I’ve never received a threat that if I don’t do what they want me to do, I could be fired. I find this reprehensible.
Ritchie said Husted’s action is part of a “continued attempt to suppress Americans from exercising their right to vote.”
Ohio AFL-CIO is protesting outside Husted’s office today. They will march from Husted’s office to the Franklin County Board of Elections for its meeting at 3 p.m. For more photos of the protest and updates, visit Ohio AFL-CIO’s Facebook page here.
A federal judge last week blocked Florida’s move to restrict early voting. But a Pennsylvania judge upheld that state’s voter suppression law that Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R) said “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
Overall, 16 states have passed restrictive voting laws. At least 180 bills restricting votinghave been introduced in 41 state legislatures since the beginning of 2011, after the 2010 elections shifted control of 20 state legislative houses from Democrat to Republican.Thirty-fourstates introduced voter ID requirements that would effectively disenfranchise more than 21 million eligible voters who don’t have the required IDs—mostly people of color, low-income voters, students, seniors and people with disabilities.