How Family Leave Laws Left Out Low-Income Workers

Source: Ann O’Leary, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Vol. 28 no. 1, 2007

Recent media attention has focused on professional women who have “opted out” of the paid labor market to care for their children. By contrast, the media has paid less attention to low-income women who have been required to “opt in” to the workforce over the past ten years as a result of the nation’s overhaul of the welfare system. As women’s overall workforce participation has increased, low-wage working women have become much less likely to have access to pregnancy and family leave than their professional counterparts. This article examines the historical and legal development of this disparity.

The 2006 Massachusetts Health Care Reform Law

Source: Victoria Pulos, Clearinghouse Review, Vol. 40 nos. 11-12, March-April, 2007
(subscription required)

Massachusetts last year passed legislation designed to ensure universal health coverage for all its residents. Tens of thousands who were previously uninsured now have coverage, but the impact of the law’s individual mandate remains to be seen. Other states have taken notice, although Massachusetts’ relatively generous Medicaid program and highly regulated insurance market could make Massachusetts’ approach difficult to replicate. The intensive involvement of advocates in both the legislative and implementation efforts has been critical to shaping the health reform law to meet the needs of low-income residents.

Work in Progress: The State of the Unions Two Years after the AFL-CIO Split

Source: Jim McNeill, Dissent, Spring 2007

So how should we gauge the performance of the two federations since the split? Mere survival has to be seen as an achievement for the AFL-CIO, which had to cut a quarter of its 420-person staff in 2005. And the old federation has done more than survive. It’s made important progress in the fight to improve the country’s terrible labor laws, and several AFL-CIO unions are doing some solid organizing. It shows signs of life that are worth exploring. The real pressure is on CTW to justify the breakup. The upstart federation made some bold promises when it bolted the AFL-CIO. As its two-year anniversary approaches, it’s not unreasonable to ask whether progress is being made. Has CTW got a realistic plan to revive America’s unions or is it squandering precious resources on a miracle cure?

Labor and the New Congress: A Strategy for Winning

Source: Nelson Lichtenstein, Dissent, Spring 2007

A labor victory in the new Congress depends on the definition of what it means to win. Labor’s broad agenda is passable in almost inverse relationship to that agenda’s capacity to strengthen the institutional and political power of trade unionism itself. This has been true for more than forty years, ever since the mid-1960s, when, during the second of the two great surges of liberal legislation in the last century (the mid-1930s is the other one) civil rights, Medicare, immigration reform, and aid to education passed with relative ease, while the repeal of 14b, which allowed Southern and Western states to pass and maintain right-to-work laws had no chance in a Congress dominated by ostensible liberals.

Today’s Congress is far less liberal than that of forty-two years ago, and of course there is a right-wing Republican in the White House, but the dynamic is much the same. Those elements of labor’s agenda that are the least attached to the institutional needs of trade unionism per se have the best chance of passage. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and it provides some guidance for labor strategists.

The 2007 US Trade Policy Template: Opportunities and Risks for Workers’ Rights

Source: Human Rights Watch, Number 2, June 2007

On May 10, 2007, congressional leaders and the US Trade Representative (USTR) reached an historic agreement on a “new trade policy template” (template) that has the potential to be an important step towards ensuring that workers’ rights are better protected in US trade accords.1 The template applies to the US-Panama and US-Peru Free Trade Agreements and could also apply to other pending and future US free trade accords. Human Rights Watch is concerned, however, that ambiguities in the template could prevent it from reaching its full potential.

Human Rights Watch believes that the template could lead to major improvements in the workers’ rights protections contained in US free trade accords and commends those who have worked diligently on its provisions towards this goal. Nonetheless, we fear that failure to resolve the template’s troubling ambiguities with strong, clarifying labor rights language could leave labor provisions in pending and future free trade agreements vulnerable to narrow interpretation, to the detriment of workers’ human rights and contrary to the spirit of the template.

REAL Nightmare

Source: Ellen Perlman, Governing, Vol. 20 no. 9, June 2007

States are on the hook to turn driver’s licenses into secure ID cards. The size of the job is scaring them.

For the past five years, clerks at the Colorado Department of Motor Vehicles have been enforcing new rules for getting a driver’s license. It hasn’t been pleasant. As the new system has been put in place — a new requirement here, followed by another one there — DMV employees have been dressed down, yelled at, spat on and cursed by those in line.

This is not the usual situation at today’s DMVs, because states have gone to great efforts in the past decade to make license renewal a friendlier, more convenient experience — letting drivers renew online or by mail; putting small DMV offices in local shopping malls. But there’s a reason why Colorado clerks are under fire: The new rules, which have to do with creating a more secure license, have brought back long lines and frustrating misunderstandings about just exactly what documents drivers need to bring in and how long it will take the DMV to verify those papers. That’s why Colorado, which established its own rules for securing licenses, may be the best place to look to see what it’s going to be like when the REAL ID Act, the 2005 federal law that calls for a higher level of security for driver’s licenses, starts going into effect next year.

AHRQ’S Annual State Snapshots Highlight States’ Gains and Lags in Health Care Quality

Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, June 11, 2007

AHRQ released new State Snapshots that show States have made promising gains in health care quality while identifying needed improvements in areas ranging from cancer screening to treatments of heart attack patients. The 51 State Snapshots—every State plus Washington, D.C.—are based on 129 quality measures, each of which evaluates a different segment of health care performance. While the measures are the products of complex statistical formulas, they are expressed on the Web site as simple, five-color “performance meter” illustrations. AHRQ’s annual State Snapshots is based on data drawn from more than 30 sources, including government surveys, health care facilities, and health care organizations.

U.S. Labor 2006: Strategic Developments across the Divide

Source: Richard W. Hurd, Journal of Labor Research, Volume 28, Number 2, Spring 2007

The AFL-CIO and Change to Win have learned to co-exist without debilitating acrimony. The AFL-CIO has established Industry Coordinating Committees to facilitate cooperative bargaining and organizing ventures. On the political front, the AFL-CIO took the lead in labor’s 2006 electoral operations and conducted an extensive, efficient, and unified campaign. Change to Win unions worked together to build strategies for a growth agenda. The success of UNITE-HERE’s Hotel Workers Rising Campaign indicates the potential of this approach. Difficult challenges remain, but the strategic developments show signs of life and offer hope that labor may find a path to the future.

The AFL-CIO Split: Does It Really Matter?

Source: Gary Chaison, Journal of Labor Research, Volume 28, Number 2, Spring 2007

In 2005, the AFL-CIO split and the Change to Win Coalition (CtW) was founded because of the personal ambition of dissident union leaders and their frustration with the severe and continuing decline in union membership. The CtW was build on a shared faith that only a fresh start could lead the unions out of their crisis. But a convincing case has not been made that the seceding unions would be more successful outside of AFL-CIO. When it is seen against the backdrop of the crisis in the labor movement and the enormity of the task of union organizing and revival, the AFL-CIO split does not really matter.

Civil Service Reform, At-Will Employment, and George Santayana: Are We Condemned to Repeat the Past?

Source: Russell L. Williams, Ph.D. and James S. Bowman, Ph.D., Public Personnel Management, Volume 36, No. 1, Spring 2007
(subscription required)

The competing values found in private and public sector models of personnel management animate today’s civil service reform debate. Unfortunately, the antagonists frequently produce as much heat as light as their positions become entrenched and genuine dialogue suffers. In such situations, insights from another time and place can provide a perspective on issues and events. A case in point is philosopher and poet George Santayana who observed in 1905 that, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Drawing upon his work, this critique of civil service reform first briefly reviews the origins of the merit system and the objectives of contemporary changes. Then, a case study in the trendsetting “megastate” of Florida is analyzed. The conclusion speculates on the future of radical reform.