How Bad Could it Get (Legally)?

Source: Benjamin Sachs, OnLabor blog, May 26, 2017

It’s a good moment to think creatively and expansively about how to revitalize the U.S. labor movement. This important work is underway, with contributions from academics, labor lawyers, union organizers, and others. Substantive debates about the future of labor law and labor organizing now populate the pages of publications ranging from the Yale Law Journal to Boston Review. Much of this writing evidences an appropriate degree of optimism – the pieces assume a future in which, for example, progressive law reform might be possible, or in which workers can regain power through increased use of strikes even in the absence of law reform, or in which fundamental aspects of U.S. political economy (and political ideology) might be transformed. This kind of optimism is necessary to visionary thinking, and it’s badly needed today.

But, I thought it might also be worth writing from the opposite perspective and asking how bad it might really/plausibly get over the next handful of years. Most of us know much of this already, so you might wonder what the point of such a morose exercise would be. The idea is not to wallow. To the contrary, the idea is that putting in one place the major pieces of what could go wrong (legally) over the next few years could help as we continue to imagine and build a better future for the labor movement. As Van Jones put it recently, “hope for the best but expect and prepare for the worst.”

Some caveats. One, and most important, what follows are not predictions, and I do not mean to suggest that these things are likely. Instead, these are thoughts about the kinds of negative developments that seem within the realm of the possible (even though, with respect to every one, I think the better arguments are on the other side). Two, given the limits of my expertise, I focus exclusively on how bad labor law could get, leaving to others the question of how bad things could get on other fronts. Three, I may be wrong in two directions: omitting other possible problems and including things that aren’t plausible. For that reason, we invite follow-on posts that offer either kind of corrective. Four, and finally, it might be worth saying that this exercise goes against my own nature, which, for better or worse, skews optimistic (as I’ve been critiqued for being).

All that said, here’s what seems within the realm of the plausible: ….

The Entire Public Sector Is About to Be Put on Trial

Source: Naomi Walker, In These Times, Views, May 25, 2017

The Right’s assault on public-sector workers is an assault on the public sector itself.

Within the next year, the Supreme Court is likely to rule on the latest existential threat to workers and their unions: Janus v. AFSCME. Like last year’s Friedrichs v. CTA—a bullet dodged with Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death—the Janus case is a blatant attack on working people by right-wing, moneyed special interests who want to take away workers’ freedom to come together and negotiate for a better life.
For years, the Right has been hammering through state-level “right-to-work” laws in an effort to kill public sector unionism; it would see victory in the Janus case as the coup de grace. ….

Workers Need a Bill of Rights

Source: Andrew Strom, OnLabor blog, May 24, 2017

Except for about a month in the summer of 2009 when the Democrats had 60 votes in the Senate, for the entire twenty-first century any proposal to substantially increase workers’ rights at the national level has had to be prefaced by the comment that, “of course, this is not politically feasible now.” But rather than just spending the next four years fending off misguided Republican legislation, I think it’s time to step back and focus on principles that should guide workplace legislation. Toward that end, here are some thoughts on a potential workplace bill of rights.

There might be some other rights that should be included in this list, and maybe folks have ideas about better ways to phrase the various rights. But, I think it would be helpful for the labor movement, worker advocates, and the Democratic party to start talking about this bill of rights in order to refocus our discussion about jobs. The measure of a good job, whether it is in manufacturing or the service sector, should be whether it provides these rights to workers. In addition, we should be thinking about what changes we need to see in our laws to ensure that all workers enjoy these basic rights on the job. Some of these issues can be addressed at the state level, although of course, that would mean that these rights would exist in only a handful of states. Here’s my proposed worker bill of rights – let the debate begin…..

Rainy Day Funds and State Credit Ratings: How well-designed policies and timely use can protect against downgrades

Source: Pew Charitable Trusts, May 2017

From the overview:

…. States generally react to the warnings of S&P and similar agencies in order to protect or enhance their ratings. The higher a state’s credit rating, the lower the cost to repay bonds the state sells to investors to finance construction and renovation of roads, schools, airports, prisons, parks, water projects, and other infrastructure.

Yet research by Pew has found that even in states with the agencies’ highest rating (triple-A), policymakers often are unsure about how best to manage their rainy day funds to earn or keep high credit ratings. As a result, some state officials are reluctant to tap reserves even during recessions for fear of a ratings downgrade.

To offer policymakers advice and insight into the relationship between budget reserves and credit ratings decisions, Pew studied documents and data on state ratings from the three major rating agencies—S&P Global Ratings, Moody’s Investors Service, and Fitch Ratings—and interviewed policymakers, rating agency analysts, and others. The study is part of Pew’s ongoing look at how states are managing their finances since the Great Recession of 2007-09. In previous reports, beginning with Managing Uncertainty: How State Budgeting Can Smooth Revenue Volatility, Pew has offered recommendations on how policymakers can strengthen their state’s financial stability, including prudent design of rainy day funds…..

2016 Annual Survey of Public Pensions

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, May 25, 2017

From the press release:
Employer pension contributions made by state and local governments increased by 6.5 percent or $8.5 billion while earnings on investments dropped by $105.7 billion to $49.9 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s newly released report.

“The 2016 Annual Survey of Public Pensions found that total contributions were $191.6 billion in 2016, increasing 6.6 percent from $179.7 billion in 2015. Government contributions accounted for the bulk of them, $140.6 billion in 2016, increasing 6.5 percent from $132.0 billion in 2015, with employee contributions at $51.0 billion in 2016, climbing 7.1 percent from $47.7 billion in 2015,” according to Phillip Vidal, chief, Pension Statistics Branch.

The other component of total revenue — earnings on investments — declined 67.9 percent to $49.9 billion in 2016, from $155.5 billion in 2015. Earnings on investments include both realized and unrealized gains, and therefore reflect market fluctuations.

In 2016, the total number of beneficiaries of state and local government pensions increased
3.3 percent to 10.3 million people, (from 10.0 million in 2015 and 9.9 million people in 2014). The benefits they received rose 5.4 percent to $282.9 billion in 2016, from $268.5 billion in 2015.
Meanwhile, total assets decreased 1.6 percent to $3.7 trillion in 2016, from $3.8 trillion in 2015.
The Annual Survey of Public Pensions provides a comprehensive look at the financial activity of the nation’s state and locally-administered defined benefit pension systems, including cash and investment holdings, receipts, payments, pension obligations and membership information. Statistics are available at the national level and for individual states. State and Locally Administered Defined Benefits data will also be released on May 25, 2017.

Making your dollars count - Top 9 states: public-sector retirees' benefits for total contributions

What we know and don’t know about declining labor force participation: A review

Source: Eleanor Krause and Isabel V. Sawhill, Brookings Institution, May 2017

From the summary:

For decades, the portion of prime-age men (ages 25 to 54) in the labor force has been in decline. More recently, the labor force participation rate of prime-age women has stagnated and also declined. This paper addresses the consequences of, and reasons for, these declines, especially among men. A subsequent effort will address appropriate policy responses.

Women’s increasing workforce participation through the late 1990s largely masked the precipitous decline in male participation rates. Men’s rates have fallen about 8 percentage points over the past 60 years. On both fronts, the U.S. is also falling behind other advanced economies. U.S. prime-age female participation fell from 6th to 17th of 22 OECD member countries between 1990 and 2010. Over the same period, the decline in the prime-age male participation rate was the second most severe of the OECD countries, and is now the third lowest among the 34 member countries. The U.S. trends are particularly pronounced for non-Hispanic black men and less-skilled adults. There is now an 11 percentage point gap in participation rates between men with a college degree and those with a high school degree or less—whereas 50 years ago, the two rates were very similar.

Explanations for these trends tend to focus either on the demand for workers or the supply of labor. Trade and technology have reduced the demand for certain types of work, particularly less-skilled labor in fields like manufacturing. Of the two, most economists believe that automation has played the larger role. Manufacturing’s share of GDP has remained relatively stable but, thanks in part to productivity improvements, the sector now employs only two-thirds as many people as it did 30 years ago. Technological change has widened the wage gap between skill levels. While a man with a high school degree earned about three-quarters of the wages of his college-educated counterpart in 1980, he now earns about half as much. At the same time that technology has made certain jobs obsolete, new jobs are being created in other areas (both high-wage managerial and technical jobs and low-wage service sector jobs), but these new jobs often require different skills or pay lower wages…..

Budget of the U.S. Government – Fiscal Year 2018

Source: Office of Management and Budget, May 2017

A New Foundation for American Greatness – President’s Budget FY 2018

Major Savings and Reforms

America First – A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again

Analytical Perspectives
Appendix
Historical Tables
Supplemental Materials
Fact Sheets
Supplementals, Amendments, and Releases
Past President’s Budgets

Related:
Greenstein: Trump Budget Proposes Path to a New Gilded Age
Source: Robert Greenstein, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, CBPP Statement, May 22, 2017

President Trump’s new budget should lay to rest any belief that he’s looking out for the millions of people the economy has left behind.

President Trump’s Budget Includes a $2 Trillion Math Mistake
Source: Ryan Teague Beckwith, Time, May 23, 2017

President Trump’s budget includes simple accounting error that adds up to a $2 trillion oversight.

Trump releases budget hitting his own voters hardest
Source: Andrew Restuccia , Matthew Nussbaum and Sarah Ferris, Politico, Updated: May 23, 2017

The president’s proposal for next year’s federal spending calls for more than $1 trillion in cuts to social programs, including farm aid.

What Trump’s budget cuts from the social safety net
Source: Denise Lu and Kim Soffen, Washington Post, Updated May 23, 2017

On Tuesday, President Trump released his 2018 budget proposal. It makes deep cuts across many anti-poverty programs, slashing food stamps by more than a quarter and children’s health insurance by 19 percent.

Trump budget slashes money for federal lands, needy and health care
Source: Thomas Burr, The Salt Lake Tribune, May 23 2017

President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 fiscal budget would hit Utah’s needy and disabled, cut block grants to communities, slash funding for public lands and public transit projects and could hurt rural airport services.

How the Trump Budget Undermines Economic Security for Working Families
Source: Rebecca Vallas, Harry Stein, Eliza Schultz, Neil Campbell, Kate Bahn, Regina Willensky, Kevin DeGood, Antoinette Flores, Ethan Gurwitz, Alexandra Thornton, and Angela Hanks, Center for American Progress, May 23, 2017

With an administration chock full of self-serving millionaires and billionaires, it comes as little surprise that President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would be an enormous windfall for the wealthiest Americans. But the degree to which it privileges the 1 percent at the expense of nearly everyone else—breaking Trump’s campaign promises to restore prosperity to everyday Americans—is staggering. Notably, by calling for cuts to Social Security, the budget violates one of Trump’s most significant promises.

Indeed, his proposed repeal of the estate tax alone—a tax that only affects the wealthiest 0.2 percent of estates—would cost the same as feeding more than 6 million seniors for a year through Meals on Wheels, a program facing deep cuts under the Trump budget.

And that is just one of several massive giveaways to the wealthy that President Trump calls for in this budget proposal while slashing critical investments in education, infrastructure, jobs, and more that make it possible for workers and families to get ahead. Here are seven ways that President Trump’s budget proposal threatens to do them serious damage.

Trump’s Budget Would Hit These States the Hardest
Source: Sam Petulla, NBC News, May 23, 2017

The Trump administration unveiled a budget for 2018 on Tuesday that seeks to overhaul many of the country’s safety-net programs for low-income and struggling Americans. Though these cuts are popular among Republican lawmakers, they affect programs that are actually more commonly used in Republican-leaning states than in Democratic ones, and that in many cases benefit white voters without college degrees — a demographic group that strongly supported President Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
The programs experiencing the deepest cuts provide assistance for health care services to children, the poor and disabled, and that supplement food and housing for those with low incomes. Most of the programs were created decades ago by Democratic presidents.