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In order to formulate good public policy, we have to first take a look at basic philosophy. And the main rule of thumb has to be that nothing can be absolute unless it is universally applicable to everyone. In other words, we can't legalize the right to steal, because it would destroy its own basis for existence -- there would be no more stealing because everything would turn into a free for all. But what we can do is create laws and policies that are based on love and justice -- two things that can be universalized. What we must work for, therefore, is a universal human brotherhood in which everybody benefits.

In order to accomplish this goal, what we have to do is talk to the stakeholders involved. For example, two days ago, I wrote about what a progressive GLBT agenda might look like. Groups like Human Rights Watch are resources for us because they represent the interests of the GLBT communities and allow us to learn about the issues that directly affect them.

Now, the question becomes, what happens when there are two groups with diametrically opposed agendas? Let's use the AFL-CIO and the US Chamber of Commerce as an example of two organizations that have different interests. These two organizations are as different as night and day. The Chamber of Commerce pushes a pro-corporate agenda that they think is good for businesses, while the AFL-CIO pushes an agenda that is good for workers. The result is two mutually exclusive sets of policies. The question therefore becomes, how do we manage things in a way in which everyone benefits?

In that case, the goal is to reconcile the two positions as much as possible. For instance, the safe, legal, and rare position on abortion, along with a plan for comprehensive sexual education in the schools is a plan to reconcile the anti-abortion and pro-choice positions. That is because not only will women have the freedom of choice to make personal medical decisions with their doctors, the number of abortions in this country will be reduced because studies have shown that when people have access to information about STD's and pregnancy, they will make better reproductive choices.

But I would caution at this point that there is only so much we can do sometimes. Since our goal is to create a society in which everybody benefits, we have to be careful what groups we try to make use of. For instance, the National Right to Life would not be a good resource, because they are a group that exists for the purpose of taking away rights from other people. Exodus International is not a good resource for gay issues because they exist for the purpose of taking away the rights of gays and treating it as a disease. My rule of thumb for creating a coalition is that assholes, bigots, and purity trolls are not welcome -- everyone else is.

So, using the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce as examples, let's examine what policies we can use and what policies we can't use. At the outset, I would point out that our system is a system of checks and balances -- our system of government functions at its best when we can prevent abuse of power. Thus, the minimum wage, the 40-hour workweek, and other such laws are designed to prevent corporate abuse of power. Unions are another form of check against corporate abuse of power. This is important because our Constitutional system is set up so that everyone has the right to live their lives the way that they see fit, provided that they don't infringe on other peoples' rights to do the same. The problem comes when corporations deprive workers of their freedom to live independent lives outside of the workplace by overworking, paying inadequate wages, and outsourcing.

And sadly, when workers exercise the Constitutionally-protected right to freedom of assembly, that is exactly what happens:

Cornell University scholar Kate Bronfenbrenner studied hundreds of organizing campaigns and found that:

Ninety-two percent of private-sector employers, when faced with employees who want to join together in a union, force employees to attend closed-door meetings to hear anti-union propaganda; 80 percent require supervisors to attend training sessions on attacking unions; and 78 percent require that supervisors deliver anti-union messages to workers they oversee.

Seventy-five percent hire outside consultants to run anti-union campaigns, often based on mass psychology and distorting the law.

Half of employers threaten to shut down partially or totally if employees join together in a union.

In 25 percent of organizing campaigns, private-sector employers illegally fire workers because they want to form a union.

Even after workers successfully form a union, in one-third of the instances, employers do not negotiate a contract.

Therefore, this is why we need the Employee Free Choice Act:

Why is majority sign-up a better way to protect employees’ free choice?

Majority sign-up minimizes workplace conflict. This process avoids coercion and harassment of employees and eliminates some of the delays that frustrate workers’
efforts to form unions. Majority sign-up has been shown to reduce conflict, coercion and harassment as well as the delays, business disruptions and legal costs associated with the NLRB "election" process.
Majority sign-up is a proven approach. Many responsible major companies such as Cingular Wireless have agreed to recognize a union when a majority of employees signs up. They have found majority sign-up to be a free and fair way to assess workers’ choice—and
it results in less conflict between employers and employees.
Majority sign-up is democratic. Under majority sign-up, a union is formed only if a majority of all employees signs written authorization forms. Employees vote to have the union represent them by signing the forms. Any employee who does not sign a written authorization form is presumed not to support union representation.

Are workers are more likely to be coerced to sign cards under majority sign-up, as opponents say?

No. In fact, academic studies1 show that workers who organize under majority sign-up feel less pressure from co-workers to support the union than workers who
organize under the NLRB election process. Workers who vote by majority sign-up also report far less pressure or coercion from management to oppose the union than workers who go through NLRB elections. In addition, it is illegal for anyone to coerce employees to sign a union authorization card. Any person who breaks the law will be subject to penalties under the Employee Free Choice Act.

Once a majority of workers indicates they want a union by signing cards, the company should not be able to drag the process out for months as they can under a management-controlled election process. The will of the majority should be recognized.

Here are some of the other issues that the AFL-CIO is concerned with:

Jobs/Economy:

Here's our working family agenda:

Anyone who wants to work should have a job with a living wage.
Workers are proud of their work and should have the chance to do it right.
All workers and our families should be able to live in dignity with health care and retirement security.
Every worker should enjoy the freedom to form a union and bargain collectively.
Workers want to contribute to, and share in, building a world-class economy.

Trade Agreements with strong workplace protections.

Universal Healthcare.

Reform the flaws in No Child Left Behind.

Now, let's look at the Chamber of Commerce positions:

Attract, empower, and educate American workers.

If American companies are to compete and win in a worldwide economy, they need well-educated and well-trained workers.
The U.S. Chamber believes that the best foundation for a competitive economy starts with an education and training system that gives American workers the skills they need for the jobs of the 21st Century.

OK so far.

America needs a quality education program that prepares students for the challenges—and jobs—of today and tomorrow. But our nation’s education system is falling short.
-30% of U.S. students fail to graduate from high school in four years—and the dropout
rate is more than 50% for African-Americans and Hispanics (U.S. Department of
Education).
-Many of those who do graduate from high school need remedial education—and many
students are often unprepared for postsecondary education or the modern workforce.

OK. But now:

That’s why the No Child Left Behind Act, which holds schools accountable, should be strengthened and reauthorized.

The problem is that No Child Left Behind was a bad bill to start with. Recall the key phrase -- "Everybody benefits!" But the problem is that schools were not involved in the process of creating this bill; therefore, it has huge problems. The main problem is that it sets impossibly high standards for schools to meet; they will be shut down if they do not meet those standards. We all agree on accountability. And testing can be a good way to measure school-wide progress if done right. But the problem with No Child Left Behind is that it is little more than a backdoor attempt to get vouchers passed -- the reasoning goes that our schools are failing our children; therefore, we need vouchers. It was passed without consulting one of the main parties involved, and as a result, it has serious flaws.

Regarding some of their other issues:

-- The problem with merit pay is that it is based on a completely subjective judgment by the administrator on who is a good teacher and who is not. In other words, it would be easy for administrators and school boards to fire teachers because of personality conflicts rather than work performance issues.

The bureaucratic culture that stifles learning in too many public schools should be replaced with a spirit of innovation through programs such as expanded learning time, early enrollment of high schoolers in college-level courses, online learning programs, and more charter schools.

Many schools are already going to expanded learning time on their own. Many schools are already enrolling students in dual-credit courses and using online and distance learning programs; the government can and should provide more money for those. But the problem with charter schools is that they are based on trial and error. So, it is hardly surprising that the American Federation of Teachers has found that they routinely trail public schools in student achievement. And there is a larger issue involved here as well -- every dollar that goes to charter schools or vouchers is a dollar that is taken away from public schools. Why not adequately fund our schools equally?

Education does not end upon graduation, and workers of all ages who receive ongoing training will be productive and successful. The Chamber supports legislation to double the number of graduating scientists and engineers within 10 years.

Agreed.

Energy:

The AFL-CIO and the Chamber are in broad agreement on energy; they both support an All of the Above approach. This means support for wind, solar, geothermal, "clean" coal, and nuclear. This is also the position of both parties as well, once we cut through the rhetoric. But in this instance, we have to involve environmental interests as well because modern science teaches that we must reduce greenhouse gasses by 80% by 2050 in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. The problem is that the Republicans have constantly created a false choice between the environment and the economy so that politicians are forced to follow All of the Above.

But the whole point of pushing wind and solar is that the two policies are not mutually exclusive. Not only do wind and solar reduce our carbon footprint, we also create millions of jobs in the process. It would add millions of dollars to local schools and governments; by contrast, if we accept the recommendations of the nuclear industry and built another 400 plants in this country, it would create 144,000 jobs. This assumes this figure of 360 permanent jobs per plant built.

That means that pushing for wind and solar is:
--Good for the environment;
--Good for workers;
--Good for business because of the boost to local economies from new workers.

Infrastructure:

We covered energy above; we are actually in broad agreement with the Chamber on the rest of these issues:

- Transportation: 1/3 of major roads are in poor or mediocre condition (American Society for Civil Engineers), and 1/4 of bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete (Federal Highway Administration). - Telecommunications: Information traveling on our nation’s information superhighway is expected to increase 50-fold by 2015, requiring broadband service providers to invest more than $100 billion in network infrastructure over the next five years (Progress & Freedom Foundation).
Through its multimillion-dollar, nationwide Let’s Rebuild America initiative, the U.S. Chamber advocates for the need to modernize and expand our nation’s transportation, energy, and telecommunications infrastructure. Without proper investment and attention to these networks, our nation’s economic health, competitive advantage, and quality of life are at risk.

I would add that we need to build more rail systems and mass transit systems as a way of reducing our carbon footprint and easing the pressure on our infrastructure. On their support for streamlining the appeals process for energy projects, I would qualify it by saying that the energy company must be able to prove that their project is environmentally sound. I would also qualify it by saying that local communities must be consulted; for instance, many communities simply don't want to live near a coal plant. We must have as much local control of these projects as possible, since they are the ones who have to live near these projects.

Lawsuit abuse:

Here, the Chamber is way out in left field, straight out of Rush Limbaugh's talking points. The court system already has fair and adequate safeguards against frivilous lawsuits. The courts are designed to be a check against corporate abuse of power; it should be a matter of simple common sense to protect one's self against lawsuits -- for instance, if the customer is not satisfied with their product, give them their money back or don't charge them for the product in the first place. And too many times, "lawsuit abuse" is a code word for the protection of corporations against legitimate lawsuits over wage suppression or violations of federal law. In other words, this is dog whistle politics, not a legitimate effort to reform the court system.

If there is a problem with the court system, it is the fact that the courts are tied up with lawsuits of people having trouble paying their credit card or medical bills -- at least where I live. I would argue that 90% of the civil cases here are lawsuits of that nature. But reform of the court system from a business standpoint has to involve all of the parties involved -- consumer groups, judges, and lawyers. The Chamber's approach is too one-sided because it only considers one point of view. And furthermore, their website, "I am lawsuit abuse" is not persuasive. Two of the cases seemed like legitimate lawsuits because the customer wanted their money back because they were not satisfied with their product, and one was dismissed -- meaning that the court system worked eactly the way it was designed. Only one case seemed like it was a legit case of lawsuit abuse.

Healthcare:

Most unions and progressives support universal healthcare; the Chamber opposes. They agree that there is a serious problem with spiraling healthcare costs; however, they claim that corporations are the driving force behind healthcare reform. Next, they support something called "uniform federal regulatory system." However, that takes away the ability of states to have strong universal healthcare laws. If such a system were to pass, it would mean the end of such programs such as Massachusetts' universal healthcare system, the first in the nation. And then, they push the debunked claim that lawsuits drive up the cost of healthcare even though the insurance companies have publicly stated that they would not lower their rates even in the event of tort reform.

Some of their proposals make good sense. Among them are such ideas as more electronic medical records, more emphasis on prevention and wellness, and more transparency.

Anti-Union policies:

This is one of the biggest problems with the Chamber's agenda -- it is filled with attacks against unions in this section.

An emboldened labor movement is pushing an aggressive activist agenda that would impose new and costly regulations on businesses, disrupt the way businesses are run, and stifle the U.S. economy. This agenda may be good for union bosses and the grab for power, but it's bad for U.S. competitiveness, bad for our economy, and bad for American workers.

This sort of thuggish tone dominates this section. Unions are evil. They are nothing but a bunch of power grabbers who are not interested in the well-being of workers. Unions want to overregulate the American workplace (such as how?). Unions want to smear well-run companies (again, how?). Unions want to fight for control of corporate boardrooms (good for them). Unions support trade isolationism (wrong -- they support the same kind of protections for other country as there are for American workers). Unions support tax increases (false -- Obama's tax plan would reduce taxes for 95% of Americans). Unions believe in massive government intervention of healthcare (good for them).

They use the fact that the Employee Free Choice Act would do away with private ballots as a scare tactic, claiming that it does away with choice in the workplace. In fact, that would do away with the very kind of overregulation that the Chamber says they are against -- it would get the government out of the business of union formation and would turn it over to the corporation and the union and the workers. It benefits all three parties. It benefits the corporation because it would create a less hostile work environment and more productivity. It benefits the union, because then there would be a free and fair process for forming unions in this country -- if you don't want to join a union, don't sign the card. It benefits the worker for the same reason it benefits the corporation -- it creates a less hostile work environment; furthermore, it would protect the worker against being saturated from employer scare tactics. These scare tactics that the Chamber is using is merely the tip of the iceberg to what goes on in the workplace when a union tries to organize.

What we have to do in the case of conflict between organizations is to figure out a policy that is best for tall parties -- even if they don't necessarily recognize it. Our elected officials are the representatives of the people -- they have to be able to listen to peoples' representations. But when there is disagreement involved, then they have to be able to figure out what is in the best interests of all parties.

Originally posted to Stop the Police State! on Fri Nov 07, 2008 at 10:11 AM PST.

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