Kalena Thomhave

Kalena Thomhave is a writing fellow at the Prospect.

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Recent Articles

The Coming Progressive Agenda for Workers’ Rights

Fixing the National Labor Relations Act is a must—but only a start.

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky Marleine Bastien marches in support of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Miami trickle-downers_35.jpg W ith Democrats looking primed to retake the House, there could be a new—and rare—opportunity to rethink labor laws in the next session of Congress. Numerous policy proposals are already making the rounds, but as progressive Democrats shop around for new labor reforms, where will they turn? Last week, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a 15-point policy agenda to reverse the decades-long erosion of workers’ rights in the U.S. Celine McNicholas, director of labor law and policy at EPI and one of the coauthors of the agenda, says that instead of the “magic bullet” reform that lawmakers might be searching for, there is no quick-fix solution. Getting decent wages back into the pockets of workers and giving workers more power at the bargaining table will take a comprehensive reform package, she says. Workers, she explains, suffer from a “systemic...

Baltimore Reckons with Its Racist Past—and Present

The vestiges of hundreds of years of racist policies still affect black families in Baltimore. New legislation would start repairs in city government itself.

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) Demonstrators protest outside of the courthouse in Baltimore after a mistrial was declared in the manslaughter trial of Officer William Porter, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray, on December 16, 2015. J ust over a century ago, in 1911, the Baltimore city council adopted the first residential segregation law in the country, forbidding black people from living in predominantly white neighborhoods. Though the Supreme Court ruled such policies unconstitutional seven years later, the consequences of the law, as well as the consequences of subsequent racist policies and practices like redlining , the displacement of black families, and mass incarceration remain. Today, Baltimore is one of the most segregated cities in the nation, where black residents make up a majority of the population but do worse than the average black American—and far worse than the average white Baltimore resident—on almost every...

Sorry, Sarah Sanders: Black Job Creation Doesn't Excuse Racism

Besides, the administration is pushing policies that would only further hurt black workers.

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders steps away from the podium following the daily press briefing at the White House on August 15, 2018. T his week, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders touted false unemployment statistics for black workers—in order to defend President Trump against charges of racism. Sanders told reporters at a press briefing, "When President Obama left after eight years in office—eight years in office—he had only created 195,000 jobs for African Americans. President Trump in his first year and a half has already tripled what President Obama did in eight years." This was, of course, incorrect. The Council of Economic Advisors tweeted out corrected information and took responsibility for the error. The truth is that, over the eight years that Obama was president, about three million jobs were created for black workers. Sanders then apologized in a tweet, while adding she had “no apologies for the 700,000 jobs for...

Federal Employee Union Begins ‘Shame on HHS’ Campaign

The Trump administration’s targeting of federal employee unions is unsurprising, considering its transparent disdain for labor. But this Friday, a major federal union plans to fight back with a union-wide campaign.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers in 31 agencies, recently filed a grievance against the Department of Health and Human Services over “bad faith bargaining tactics.” In the grievance, NTEU says that HHS negotiators broke a number of bargaining rules during a negotiation over the union contract. HHS plans to eliminate telework and alternative-schedule options as well as public transportation subsidies and other benefits.

NTEU claims that HHS negotiators refused to explain the Trump administration’s proposals, and demanded counterproposals within three days. According to a statement from NTEU Chapter 254, after just one full day of bargaining, the department invited a mediator into negotiations—an “obvious effort to check that box so it can move forward to the Federal Service Impasse Panel.” Such a move would essentially declare that the two sides came to an impasse and could force the contract to move to the jurisdiction of the presidentially appointed panel.

Just one day later, HHS ended bargaining and submitted its final offer. According to the NTEU grievance, ground rules state that the bargaining schedule is 18 weeks.

The Trump administration’s contract proposals also include requiring union officials to pay rent for their offices, even though those on-site premises have been a part of federal union contracts for years. According to NTEU, the new language that HHS has offered is “almost word-for-word” the language in the illegal contract forced upon workers within the Department of Education in March, when, after negotiations with the American Federation of Government Employees union fell apart, the department announced a new “collective bargaining agreement” with widespread changes and reduced benefits—changes the union said it had not agreed to.

This Friday, NTEU is encouraging all members (not just HHS employees) to use the social media hashtags #SHAMEOnHHS and #UnionStrong, as well as to wear NTEU shirts and stickers bearing the hashtag.

Also on Friday, NTEU President Tony Reardon will deliver a petition to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, signed by nearly 5,000 HHS workers, asking the HHS negotiators to withdraw the proposals that target employee benefits.

“Today it is HHS,” reads a blog post on the NTEU website calling for union-wide solidarity. “Tomorrow it could be your agency.”

With executive orders aimed at curbing the power of federal unions, and attacks on benefits in both the Departments of Education and Agriculture, that may not be hyperbole.

 

Q&A: We All Benefit from Welfare. Most of Us Just Don’t Realize It.

Americans benefit from government social programs more than ever. They also hate government more than ever.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) A Tea Party rally at the U.S. Capitol on July 19, 2013 I n recent decades, Americans have become increasingly angry at the federal government, anger that helped propel Donald Trump to the White House. And yet, more Americans than ever are benefiting from government social programs, many of which the Trump administration is actively working to destroy. Political scientist Suzanne Mettler calls this paradox “the government-citizen disconnect.” Such is the title of Mettler’s new book , which draws on original survey data to explore how the use of 21 federal social policies is connected to Americans’ attitudes about government. She finds that 96 percent of Americans have used at least one of these policies. But partly because of policy design—which makes means-tested programs for the poor more visible than policies for the rich hidden in the tax code—many Americans don’t recognize the value of government social programs. Critically, wealthier Americans—who...

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