An ongoing debate over whether the city of Duluth should mandate paid sick leave is moving forward with the city council-appointed task force hearing from groups that would be impacted by earned sick and safe time.
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Duluth Earned Sick & Safe Time Task Force Opens Conversation
The task force is three months into a year-long process studying the issue, and after gathering background, they’re opening up the conversation to the community.
Dozens from the Northland Human Resource Association filled a meeting room Tuesday afternoon. Task Force member Arik Forsman said that’s evidence the debate matters.
“It’s a topic that inspires a lot of passion on both sides, there’s good arguments to be made on both sides,” Forsman said. “We are just so happy to see all these people here.”
An earned sick and safe time benefit would cover being absent from work due to either illness or critical safety issues, including domestic violence. Local human resources professions are uniquely invested in what a citywide policy would look like.
“These are the people that are administering these plans, it’s a great opportunity to learn more,” Patricia Stolee with the Northland Human Resources Association said. “We really wanted to educate the community about some of the implications — what are the benefits but what are the implications for the employers.”
Advocates who want to bring a policy mandate to Duluth said that right now, five out of six people in the lowest income bracket don’t have access to earned sick and safe time. That’s people making less than $35,000 a year.
“The people that actually need to have a paid day off the most are the folks that don’t have access,” Shawnu Ksicinski said. “It’s typically occupations that women and folks of color and indigenous folks in our community hold, so then we’re looking at issues of racial and gender equity in our community.”
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Cities’ sick leave, other employer mandates targeted by Minnesota GOP lawmakers
New paid sick leave mandates scheduled to take effect this year in St. Paul and Minneapolis face a potential new challenge: the state of Minnesota.
A House job growth committee heard lengthy testimony Thursday from dozens of business and labor advocates on either side of a bill that would strip Minnesota cities of the ability to impose citywide wage and benefit mandates in excess of state law. The bill passed the majority-Republican committee 13-9 along party lines.
The four-hour evening hearing packed in a sometimes-testy audience of workers and advocates associated with the faith-based anti-poverty group ISAIAH, the AFL-CIO, the CTUL fast food workers and janitorial union, TakeAction Minnesota and other progressive action groups. The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and retail, grocery, construction, trucking and staffing associations were largely represented by lobbyists.
Advocates have pointed to the importance of uniformity in state labor law.
“There are 854 cities in the state of Minnesota,” said committee chair Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, the bill’s lead House sponsor. “It is unrealistic and unproductive to have 854 different labor standards.”
The DFLers on the committee called the bill an about-face for Republicans, who have supported local rule-making.
“With a flip of a moment, we are trying to take away the power of local government,” said state Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul. “This is really shameful. I can’t believe this is coming from your party — that you are trying to take away local control from communities.”
Speaking for the opposition, Rose Roach, executive director of the Minnesota Nurses Association, said she spent months co-chairing an “earned sick and safe time” committee in St. Paul last year, which resulted in worker protections that were unanimously adopted by the St. Paul City Council. “And it now appears outside corporate interests are interested in doing an end-run around the will of the people,” she said.
Garofalo’s so-called “pre-emption” bill would block four types of potential local regulations related to minimum wage rules, mandatory paid leave, employee scheduling ordinances and minimum benefits or working conditions. It does not pre-empt city government salaries or contracts.
Opponents said the legislation would eliminate important worker safeguards that the state has failed to provide. Several Minneapolis City Council members have advocated for a new citywide minimum wage that would exceed the state floor of $7.75 for small businesses and $9.50 for larger employers, though the conversation is less far along in St. Paul.
Last year, St. Paul and Minneapolis individually hammered out paid sick leave mandates that will apply to private employers throughout their respective cities. Both sets of rules are scheduled to take effect later this year and could be overturned by the proposed legislation.
“I have a 6-year-old son,” said McDonald’s restaurant worker Guillermo Lindsay, a member of CTUL, while addressing the committee. “You’re telling me if you take away my sick time, I won’t be able to take my son to the doctor.”
“I’m lucky to have access to paid sick time in my workplace, but in St. Paul there are 72,000 workers who don’t,” said Associate Pastor Javen Swanson of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul.
Statewide preemption: The most dangerous bill you’ve never heard of
Minnesota Business Owners Urge Lawmakers to Keep Affordable Care Act
A group of Minnesota small business owners gathered in Minneapolis Monday to urge lawmakers to keep the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
They believe the current health care system has allowed them to afford insurance for themselves and their employees.
“The ACA was successful through two prongs by expanding and strengthening our public health care programs and by ending some of the worst insurance company abuses and private insurance,” said David Zaffrann with Take Action Minnesota.
Organizations challenge plans to cut health care for 2.4 million Minnesotans
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – As Republican congressional leaders plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act in January, grassroots leaders from four top Minnesota community groups and two prominent unions held actions at the offices of two Republican congressmen, to let the lawmakers know they oppose cuts in health care in the state.
Representatives from the State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the Minnesota Nurses Association, the community religious group Isaiah, TakeAction Minnesota, the Land Stewardship Project and the Main Street Alliance of Minnesota descended on Reps. Erik Paulsen and Tom Emmer, voicing concerns about the future of health care in the state.
The unions and their allies are primarily responding to the imminent threat facing the Affordable Care Act, which has helped millions of Americans gain access to health insurance for the first time, extended health care to adult children until they are 26 years old and offered protections and access to healthcare to millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions.
They took the firm stance that if any change is to be made, it should improve and strengthen the policies, not bankrupt the entire American health care system while padding the pockets of insurance companies and big business.
Similar groups are planning similar actions nationwide to protect the ACA. But Congress’ ruling Republicans and the incoming Republican Trump administration show few signs of paying attention.
Even before Trump took over the Oval Office, GOP leaders introduced a budget “reconciliation” bill to order congressional committees—under the guise of fixing the federal budget—to take the first steps to repeal the ACA.
And they’re doing so without anything to replace it.
In the Minnesota lawmakers’ offices, the faith communities, business owners, nurses, farmers and the like gathered with signs saying “DON’T TAKE MY HEALTH CARE” and “DON’T TAKE MY MEDICAID AND MEDICARE” as well as personal signs sharing what losing healthcare would mean for their families.
They also brought letters to their congressmen, giving their own stories as to how programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Affordable Care Act, and MNsure have been lifesaving policies. And they emphasized that demise of these programs will have devastating and life-threatening consequences for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans and millions of people across the country.
The organizations’ members invited their congressmen to schedule meetings with them to further discuss ways that they can better represent their constituents.
Terry Johnson, a leader of Isaiah, has both a son and granddaughter that have distinct, chronic health issues that require both expensive and consistent care.
“It is only because of the Affordable Care Act that my baby granddaughter is alive,” the Brooklyn Park resident. “She would not still be here if it weren’t for her treatments and they’d never be affordable without ACA. Likewise, it is only because of Medicaid that my son has his lifesaving coverage. He works every day and still couldn’t afford [healthcare]. It is because of these policies that they are both still here so am gravely concerned and disappointed that there are plans to repeal a policy that has saved so many lives.”
“What I deeply care about is that people can go and get their health care needs met of at a price that they can afford. Nothing is perfect. But people are very, very afraid that they will lose access to help and livelihood,” said the Rev. Paul Slack of New Creation Church, Isaiah’s board president. “This plan to revoke a lifeline to millions of people is unethical and immoral.”
The group said accessible health care is also important to job creation and helping families thrive.
Federal and foundation data show 380,000 people could lose health insurance and Minnesota could lose $16.4 billion in federal funding with the repeal of the ACA. There are 912,000 people on Medicare and over 1 million people on Medicaid in Minnesota.
20 Years of Community-Focused Dialogue
2016 marks the 20th anniversary of Hamline’s Commitment to Community (C2C), a university-wide diversity initiatives committee of students, faculty, and staff, whose mission is to foster diversity awareness, knowledge, and understanding through discussion, dialogue, and community building. C2C was founded by two Hamline undergraduate students, Dan McGrath ‘99 and Grant Anderson ‘97, who have continued their inclusive and community-focused work in their lives and careers after Hamline.
While at Hamline, McGrath majored in English and political science, was vice-president of the Hamline Undergraduate Student Congress (HUSC), and played soccer, captaining the team his senior year. Two life-changing relationships that McGrath made at Hamline were with Teresa Olson, a fellow Hamline student-athlete who is now his wife, and Grant Anderson, who he helped in creating a new movement on campus known as “Campaign of Acceptance,” which evolved into Commitment to Community.
Anderson majored in sociology, was a Resident Advisor (RA), and was heavily involved in HUSC. He started reaching out to the people in his circle about trying to do something big to respond to bias incidents in the community and more importantly, bring communities of justice together. With support from sociology professor Dr. M Sheridan Embser-Herbert and former Dean of Students Marilyn Deppe, Anderson teamed up with McGrath, he says because of their “friendship and shared values,” and created the program in October of 1997.
“I think what stands out about this program was how many people were invested in its success,”Anderson said. “There were more than a dozen faculty, many staff, and a number of students who helped organize and facilitate events, reached out to communities on and off campus, and made this possible. I am not sure Dan or I could have been more proud of what had happened, and we also realized it took countless people in order to be a reality.”
McGrath agreed, mentioning a few specific individuals who he credits for helping to start C2C. They include Phillip Minor, a Hamline administrator at the time, who thought of the name “Commitment to Community,” Marilyn Deppe, numerous faculty including Embser-Herbert and Stephen Kellert (philosophy), and of course, Grant Anderson.
Their first keynote speaker was Dr. Cornel West, whose work primarily focuses on the role of race, gender, and class in American society and the means by which people act and react to their “radical conditionedness.” Anderson and McGrath worked with first-year seminar (FYSem) faculty to make the experience a requirement for first year students, a stipulation that still holds true today. Dr. West presented an hour-long speech to a packed audience at Hamline Methodist Church.
“The audience was hanging on his every word and was electric with applause when he was done,” Anderson recalls.
Anderson says that to this day he considers C2C as one of the most important things he has been a part of, and what helped him determine a career path in higher education. He went on to study at Colorado State University where he received his Master of Science in Student Affairs in Higher Education. He worked at Ohio State University and the University of Vermont before landing his current position of Assistant Director of Residential Life at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in 2003.
McGrath attributes C2C to many milestones in his life including, an independent study entitled My Commitment to My Community, an internship with the Hamline Midway Coalition, and his honor’s thesis on university-community partnerships. Immediately after graduating, he started his career as a community organizer. Today, he runs one of the most respected and nationally- recognized community organizing groups in Minnesota, TakeAction Minnesota, which he founded ten years ago. TakeAction MN is network of people and organizations that that works for social, racial and economic justice.
TakeAction Minnesota new member meeting overflowed
Executive director Dan McGrath reached out to interested supporters of TakeAction Minnesota the day after the election, inviting them to roll up their progressive sleeves and get involved.
Two weeks later, on Nov. 21, more than 150 people (photo left) showed up at the organization’s Hamline-Midway headquarters. They came in response to McGrath’s call to action, charged up and hoping to find a place in the recently changed political landscape. The meeting had to be moved next door to Avalon High School, a larger space that could hold the overflow crowd.
TakeAction Minnesota is a broad network of people working to realize racial and economic equity across the state. Their initiatives connect people and organizations to each other: turning someone’s individual desire for change—to pass a more progressive policy or law, to improve an institution, or to influence a harmful idea or perception—into public action.
Chris Conry, strategic campaigns director, said, “We were caught off guard by the turnout. We haven’t done an impromptu style of meeting like this before—one that required only two emails and very little planning. “
“The organization’s priorities,” according to Conry, “are fighting for positive change in health care, climate-related issues, criminal justice reform, and economic policies such as minimum wage and paid sick time.”
Healthcare rate hike may heavily impact farmers
Minnesota, Iowa and many other states will experience sharp increases in health insurance premiums for individual plans.
Rate increases are expected to range from 35 percent to 66 percent, a decision made by the insurance companies.
It’s a difficult situation for farmers because they often purchase insurance on their own. They are among the 300,000 Minnesota residents who don’t obtain insurance through an employer.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota has left the individual market, leaving people to scramble for options.
Many Minnesotans are concerned about the impacts of the existing healthcare model. Paul Sobocinski of the Land Stewardship Project is working to inform farmers of what’s going on and decide what to do.
“Before you get to the exact solution, you have to get people to recognize there is a serious problem,” he said. “Profit is driving the model rather than people’s health. We need a system that’s centered around people. We need much better insight and digging apart of this problem by the Minnesota Legislature.”
Ryan and Tiffany Batalden, farmers based in Lamberton, have been directly affected by the healthcare turmoil. Ryan has Type 1 diabetes and was covered through MCHA before it dissolved. The Bataldens switched to BCBS to allow them to continue seeing the same doctors.
“We were only on our new plans for about six or so months when we were informed that our premiums would be increasing 49 percent,” Tiffany Batalden said. “We chose to stay with Blue Cross because they were the only provider that allowed us to keep similar benefits with our same doctors.
“And then, in July I received emails that both of our plans are being terminated Jan. 1, 2017. I am frustrated to say the least. I know that I have to find new coverage but I am not confident it will be comparable, or that we will be able to keep our doctors who have great knowledge of our health history. The proposed rate increases announced today are outrageous and unsustainable.”
Sobocinski said rate increases will hit all farmers at a time when crop prices are down and things are tough. Having to use more income to cover health insurance, he said, will have a negative impact on their bottom line.
“For some people, they and their family will qualify for MinnesotaCare if their income is low enough; they will be in good shape, but for a third of the people who have sufficient income or are in a better financial situation, they will see a drastic increase in premiums, which is not good for farmers,” Sobocinski said. “It won’t leave them dollars to reinvest in their businesses — buying machinery, equipment, things that are part of their farming operation.”
Meanwhile, Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap said he wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from the rate increases, but that the BCBS decision to leave the individual market was an immediate concern, as the Bataldens experienced.
“Some people have gotten notice that they will no longer be eligible for insurance under their policy,” Paap said. “It’s a significant problem, and we have more questions than answers.”
Sobocinski said while the ACA affects the entire country, the federal law does allow states to work on their own solutions. He said one solution could be to raise the income level eligibility for MinnesotaCare.
“Right now it’s at 200 percent of poverty level,” Sobocinski said. “If we increased it to 275 percent, it would cover more people in crisis.”
In the end, however, the biggest need, he said, is public oversight over the insurance companies at the corporate level.
The Land Stewardship Project, Minnesota Nurses Association and TakeAction Minnesota issued a statement Sept. 1:
“Today we are reminded once again of the need for an ongoing discussion about the state of health care coverage in Minnesota and how to ensure that all Minnesotans have quality, affordable health care.”
St. Paul approves citywide sick-leave ordinance
In a move city leaders said would protect St. Paul’s most vulnerable workers, the City Council approved an ordinance Wednesday requiring private businesses to provide sick leave to employees.
The unanimous vote by the City Council makes St. Paul the second Minnesota city to approve a sick-leave ordinance, joining more than two dozen cities nationwide that mandate sick leave. The crowd packed into the council chambers erupted in applause and cheers after the 7-0 vote.
Now, worker advocates and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said, it’s time for the state to “follow our lead.”
“At the end of the day, the important thing is for there to be a statewide policy,” Coleman said after the vote. “This should be a nationwide policy.”
Said Council Member Jane Prince: “I hope this sends a message to the state for a statewide law.”
The City Council’s short discussion and vote Wednesday followed months of debate and emotional testimony at public hearings, and came amid ongoing objections from the St. Paul Chamber of Commerce and members of the business community.
Minneapolis was the first Minnesota city to approve a sick leave ordinance — in May — and Duluth also is exploring a sick-leave ordinance.
The St. Paul rules would apply to businesses and organizations of all sizes. Workers could earn up to 48 hours of sick time per year and carry over hours, with the ability to accrue up to 80 hours at a time. Employees could take time off to care for themselves or family members in case of illness or another emergency, such as stalking or domestic violence.
Minneapolis’ ordinance allows for the same amount of sick time but exempts businesses with five or fewer employees from paying for sick time.
The St. Paul ordinance goes into effect July 1, 2017, for businesses with at least 24 employees. Smaller businesses will have to comply beginning Jan. 1, 2018.
St. Paul also included a provision allowing workers to sue their employer if they felt they had been retaliated against for using sick leave or reporting a sick leave violation.
Support from workers
The worker-friendly ordinance has drawn support from advocacy groups and a coalition of faith leaders.
Tecara Monn, an organizer for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, said she has lost multiple jobs over the years because she has needed to leave work to take care of sick children. Parents shouldn’t be forced to decide between keeping a job or caring for an ill child, she said.
Now, she said, they won’t have to.
“This is great,” she said. “This is a big move here for St. Paul.”
The ordinances approved by the state’s two largest cities will level the playing field and give low-income workers much-needed flexibility in their lives, Monn said. In turn, she said she believes employers will also see a benefit, as workers’ lives become more stable.
“It will cut down on turnover,” she said of workers having to change jobs over and over again. “It will keep them energized.”
Javen Swanson, a pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Highland Park and a leader of the social justice group Isaiah, said the vote “represents a big victory for human dignity.”
He praised the City Council for listening throughout the process — from advocates to those, primarily employers, who are concerned about the ordinance’s impact on small businesses. Forming a task force made up of diverse voices from across the city was “a smart move by the council,” he said. It ensured that many viewpoints were heard, he said.
Like Prince and Coleman, Swanson said the state should take the next step.
“It’s time for the state Legislature to act on this,” Swanson said.
St. Paul approves earned sick leave mandate
St. Paul became the second city in Minnesota to mandate that most employers offer their workers paid sick leave with a vote by the city council Wednesday.
To heavy applause, the St. Paul City Council voted 7-0 on to approve an “earned sick and safe time” mandate that will extend to most workplaces in the city.
Estimates vary, but advocates believe some 64,000 to 72,000 workers could be affected by the new mandate.
The ordinance, which takes effect July 1, 2017, requires employers to allot their workers an hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 80 hours in a two-year period.
That time can be used to care for a sick family member or in the case of domestic assault or stalking. State and federal employers are exempt. Unlike Minneapolis, which passed a similar ordinance in May, the St. Paul rules do not exempt “micro” businesses with fewer than six employees.
Advocates called the St. Paul ordinance the strongest in the country.
“It is a win for Minnesota that means the drumbeat for statewide and, ultimately, nationwide standards grows even stronger,” said the National Partnership for Women and Families, a national advocacy organization, in a written statement.
Organizations such as TakeAction Minnesota, the Main Street Alliance of Minnesota and Isaiah had pressed for citywide sick leave. But many business advocates — including the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce — warned that it would open the door to frivolous lawsuits and create costly and time-consuming record-keeping demands for even the smallest of employers.
The ordinance came together with input from a 29-member city task force staffed by the city’s Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Commission.
“I don’t remember a time when we’ve gotten more public involvement and staff time being used toward crafting something this extensive,” said Council Member Chris Tolbert.
Council Member Dai Thao, another early advocate for earned sick leave, said he was equally satisfied.
“The council, I think we heard both sides,” Thao said. “We heard from business … and we heard from community activists. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is right for us.”
August Was a Huge Month for Berniecrats
Now that the bright lights of the Democratic convention have dimmed, the Sanders army is slowly but surely deploying down-ballot.
Fourteen states held primaries in August. According to the volunteer-run site Berniecrats.net, 210 candidates—a figure that includes local, state and congressional bids—were “Berniecrats,” meaning they endorsed Bernie Sanders and a similar progressive platform. Roughly half claimed victory. Since the primary season began March 1, Berniecrats have won 238 of 379 races, or 62.8 percent.
The Bernie effect was on strong display in Vermont’s August 9 primaries. Thirty-six of the 40 Berniecrats won.
Some, like David Zuckerman, pulled off decisive, groundbreaking victories. A straight-shooting, tractor-driving organic farmer and state legislator, Zuckerman won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Zuckerman was up against two opponents, including House Speaker Shap Smith, a Democratic establishment darling. Rights and Democracy, a local progressive advocacy group, called Zuckerman’s victory a “progressive earthquake to Vermont’s political establishment.”
Zuckerman got involved in electoral politics in 1992, while a student at the University of Vermont. Two years earlier, Bernie Sanders had won Vermont’s single U.S. House seat as an Independent. “I was cynical about the two-party system of our electoral arena,” says Zuckerman, “and it was Bernie who actually inspired me to engage in the political process.”
In early August, Sanders endorsed Zuckerman for the No. 2 seat in the state. “David is one of the outstanding members of the legislature,” said Sanders, adding that Zuckerman “has earned a reputation as a fighter who is not afraid to stand up to the big money interests.” Like Sanders—and unlike his two opponents—Zuckerman refused to take corporate campaign contributions.
One of the most-heralded Berniecrat victories came August 2, when Washington state voters decisively picked Pramila Jayapal in the primary race for Washington’s 7th Congressional District (see “Ms. Jayapal Goes to Washington,” page 38). She’s expected to handily win the general election.
Jayapal was among 15 Senate and House candidates across 12 states, as well as eight state legislature candidates across seven states, who received financial backing from the Sanders campaign. Not all sailed to victory—House candidate Eric Kingson of New York and Lucy Flores of Nevada lost their June primaries, and Florida’s challenger to Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Tim Canova, lost on August 30. But August was a good month overall for high-profile Sanders endorsees. Russ Feingold won the Democratic nod for one of Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate seats, and Paul Clements won the Democratic primary for Michigan’s 6th Congressional District.
You betcha, Minnesota
A former refugee from Somalia made history in Minneapolis-St. Paul when she beat out a long-serving legislator in the state’s August 9 primary. Ilhan Omar, 33, ably defeated incumbent Phyllis Kahn, who has represented the district for 44 years. The historic victory made Omar the first Somali Muslim-American woman to win a state primary in Minnesota. Favored to win in November, she is on the brink of becoming the nation’s first Somali-American lawmaker.
Sanders did not formally endorse Omar until after the primaries, but she still benefited from a Bernie boost, says her campaign manager, Daniel Anton Cox. The precincts Omar won had especially high turnout compared to 2014, which Cox attributes in part to the fact that “so many people, especially young people, caucused [for Bernie] for the first time.”
“Ilhan waged a campaign that isn’t typical,” says Cox. “She built bridges between communities, and did things that aren’t part of the conventional wisdom of what is possible.”
Omar has been an advocate and organizer in Minneapolis for years in a district that includes East African immigrants, college students and long-term residents. She helped to win paid parental leave for City of Minneapolis employees, pass a city ordinance extending business hours during Ramadan and ban environmentally toxic containers, according to her campaign. On June 20, she walked a picket line with the Minnesota Nurses Association (MNA).
MNA was one of a number of local unions and progressive organizations to endorse Omar, along with AFSCME Local 8, the Minnesota Young Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, and Outfront Minnesota. At the forefront was Take Action Minnesota, which turned out more than 140 volunteer shifts to help elect Omar.
The economic and racial justice organization has become a power player in Minnesota elections over the past decade. Dan McGrath, Take Action’s executive director, is hopeful that the momentum from the Sanders campaign can spur change, but stresses the need for infrastructure that lasts beyond the election season: “The question for Bernie is, how’s it going to endure? In the case of Ilhan’s race, because TakeAction is a permanent year-around organization, we know the activists that connected with our campaign are going to stay involved. … We want to pass legislation for paid sick days to [benefit] 1 million workers in our state, as well as to restore voting rights for all people on probation and parole—some 47,000 people.”
Ilhan Omar is best prepared to unite diverse District 60B
Contrary to the Star Tribune Editorial Board’s endorsement of Mohamud Noor in the District 60B DFL primary, Ilhan Omar is the coalition-builder we need to represent this diverse district at the State Capitol.
Before Ilhan’s campaign, it was unusual for longtime residents, new Americans and students in the district to talk to one another, much less to work together for a common goal. Ilhan’s campaign has built solidarity among these groups and is a promise of what our district can become: a united community that leads the way in advancing our shared progressive values.
Ilhan believes that the diversity in this district is our greatest strength. As our state representative, she will bring all voices to the table to build a more prosperous and equitable Minnesota for everyone.
Ilhan has a unique understanding of the issues that matter to District 60B as a result of the extensive conversations she has had with community members in all neighborhoods. An ability to listen deeply and build collaborative relationships between people of different backgrounds is characteristic of her leadership and is a critical skill in a district as diverse as ours and a Legislature as fractured as Minnesota’s.
She demonstrated this type of leadership in her work as senior policy aide to Minneapolis City Council Member Andrew Johnson, when she held multiple listening sessions and forums to build support for paid sick leave. In addition, while working for the Minnesota Department of Education, she collaborated with both rural and urban school districts to implement after-school meal programs.
Ilhan brings passion and a strong sense of urgency to the most pressing issues that face us as a district and a state. She will act to eliminate Minnesota’s staggering racial and economic disparities. Ilhan will advocate for wraparound services in our schools so that all children can succeed. She will fight for working families so they have access to affordable child-care options. She will collaborate with college students to develop legislative solutions to manage college debt and reduce tuition costs.
Ilhan is the only candidate calling for complete divestment from fossil fuels, and she will bring a global perspective to environmental legislation. These policies will be effective, because Ilhan will work with community members to develop them. This commitment to co-governance earned Ilhan the support of 55 percent of the delegates at the District 60 convention.
In addition to a broad coalition of community support, Ilhan has a strong list of endorsements. Not only does she have the support of former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, she’s also been endorsed by state Sens. Patricia Torres Ray and Scott Dibble, as well as by Johnson and his Minneapolis City Council colleagues Alondra Cano and Lisa Bender. Ilhan also has earned the support of the Minnesota Nurses Association, TakeAction Minnesota, OutFront Minnesota Action, and the Somali-American, Feminist and African-American DFL caucuses.
District 60B is one of the most diverse in the state, and we can’t wait for a more equitable future. The median household income in our district is only $24,000, compared with the state average of $60,000. Nearly 60 percent of the East African community lives below the poverty line. The fact that these inequities persist is indicative of the need for a strong new voice at the Capitol.
Teacher Unions Are ‘Bargaining for the Common Good’
This week, the Los Angeles school board voted to approve a new bargaining agreement with UTLA, the city’s teachers union. Local community organizations—like Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, InnerCity Struggle, and the Advancement Project—hailed the “groundbreaking” agreement for directing more resources towards students in high-needs schools. Some specific items UTLA bargained for included hiring a Pupil Services and Attendance counselor for high-poverty high schools, and hiring a new teacher for the 55 most needy elementary schools in order to reduce class size. Union members voted overwhelmingly in support of this new contract a week earlier.
“We commend UTLA’s innovative leadership in leveraging its bargaining power to deliver real and impactful investments for low income communities of color,” said John Kim, the Advancement Project’s executive director, in a statement.
UTLA’s president, Alex Caputo-Pearl, said in an interview that his union sees collective bargaining as an important tool available to fight for equity and justice. “A lot of people consider teacher union contract negotiations to be about narrower issues like salaries, benefits, and work rules—and all of those are important and we deal with those—but we’re using these agreements to expand what the union goes to the table for.” Caputo-Pearl says UTLA can ultimately be a vehicle to push for collaborative policy alongside community organizations. “We’re bargaining for the common good,” he declared.
This idea of “bargaining for the common good”—and working in partnership with local allies—is not a new idea for labor unions, but its potential has never been fully realized, and past efforts have not gone deep enough. One major obstacle has been that labor law tries to limit unions to bargaining just over issues of wages and benefits.
“Unions have been significantly hobbled by the legal regime, and a lack of imagination to challenge it,” says Stephen Lerner, a longtime labor organizer.
But now, partly because of the historic action the Chicago Teachers Union took in 2012, when its members went on strike not just for themselves, but also for increased public services for the broader community, more and more unions have started to reconsider their fundamental roles and responsibilities. By expanding their bargaining demands beyond wages and benefits, unions are recognizing that they can more fully support, and engage their community partners—and get those community groups to support them in return.
“I think there’s a growing feeling that if you operate within the confines of the law, you restrict the things that potentially give you power,” says Lerner. “We have to be willing to go beyond what the law allows.”
In 2014, leaders from public sector unions and community organizations gathered at Georgetown University for a national conference, entitled “Bargaining for the Common Good,” aimed at charting this new path forward. Writing in Dissent, Joseph A. McCartin, the director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown, said that three distinct priorities emerged from the proceedings: using the bargaining process as a way to challenge the relationships between government and the private-sector; working with community allies to create new, shared goals that help advance both worker and citizen power; and recognizing militancy and collective action will likely be necessary if workers and citizens are to reduce inequality and strengthen democracy.
The time had come, in sum, to politicize bargaining.
A burst of activity followed the Georgetown conference. “It’s been amazing to see how many unions, community groups, and people have adopted the ‘bargaining for common good’ frame and language,” says Lerner.
This past December in Minneapolis, a coalition of unions and community groups brought 2,000 people together to craft a collective agenda for social justice. “Participants highlighted the immense control wielded by a dozen huge corporations, including U.S. Bank, Target, and Wells Fargo, over Minnesota’s economy,” wrote McCartin, and “agreed to collaborate on an array of interlocking campaigns and direct actions in 2016.” Since then, the groups have already successfully pushed for paid sick leave in Minneapolis, and similar ordinances are on the horizon in Saint Paul and Duluth. Groups that can endorse candidates are also working together “with an eye toward building independent political power and wielding greater influence in state elections,” says Dan McGrath ofTakeAction Minnesota.
Business groups and GOP push for state law to override cities’ sick, wage rules
Minnesota business groups and Republican legislative leaders are pressing for a new state law as they try to undercut a growing number of cities adopting paid-leave regulations.
The issue is a newly emerging wrinkle in negotiations for a special legislative session, as Republicans have added it as a condition for returning to St. Paul to approve unfinished funding for transportation and construction projects.
“It’s a top priority for our members,” said Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership, which includes many of the state’s Fortune 500 companies. “It feels like they’re making it as difficult as they can for businesses large and small to do business in this state.”
The proposed statewide law would undo Minneapolis’ new regulations requiring companies to provide paid leave and thwart St. Paul as its leaders work toward a similar measure.
The effort puts business leaders squarely at odds with community advocates and labor activists, who have focused on passing these changes at the city level, along with more favorable overtime guidelines for workers and a higher minimum wage.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said the issue is too controversial to be dealt with in what is supposed to be a brief special session. He said he’d be open to considering the proposal next year, but only if it came with a guarantee of more paid leave for all state workers.
“If that were combined with something like family leave, it might be negotiable in a regular legislative session when there’s time to have that discussion,” Dayton said.
House Republicans have unsuccessfully tried since early 2015 to pass a measure that would prohibit cities or other municipalities from imposing labor rules that are more stringent than state or federal law.
The pressures of election-year politics are also at play, with all 201 legislative seats on the ballot. Business advocates say that if DFLers win control of the House and hold the Senate in November, the measure has no chance of becoming law in the near future.
Weaver said his group is also preparing to file a lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis over its new sick-leave ordinance.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, disputed Dayton’s view that the legislation is controversial.
Daudt referred to a 2015 Chamber of Commerce dinner where House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, were asked their positions on efforts to raise the minimum wage at the city level.
Both said they opposed those efforts, with Bakk saying a patchwork of wage laws puts border cities at a competitive disadvantage.
Thissen said in an interview that he opposes the new effort by business groups. “We shouldn’t be interfering if a community and those elected officials want to make a decision to improve workers’ rights,” he said.
Bakk said in a statement that the GOP proposal “simply doesn’t have enough support in our caucus to pass.”
Seeking uniform rules
Business groups and many GOP legislators say a patchwork of labor laws would drive up costs for consumers and, ultimately, hurt workers.
“We think having uniform rules to play by is an important part of having a healthy economy for all Minnesotans,” said Cam Winton, lobbyist with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Differing labor ordinances would create an administrative headache and sharply increase compliance costs, he said.
Mike Hickey, Minnesota state director of the National Federal of Independent Business, pointed to a company such as Holiday gas stations, which has stores throughout the state.
“Think of what they would have to deal with — 20 different benefit laws across the state,” Hickey said.
Cities take on big issues
Advocates who have pressed for the changes at the city level are concerned that business groups are trying to overrule local officials.
Liz Doyle, the associate director for TakeAction Minnesota and the chairwoman of the Workplace Partnership Group that spent months coming up with recommendations for Minneapolis’ sick-leave ordinance, said the state law would amount to a direct attempt to undermine the city’s carefully constructed policy.
The council’s vote to approve citywide sick leave followed months of discussion in dozens of public listening sessions and meetings of the council and the Workplace Partnership Group, an appointed panel.
Doyle said gridlock in state and national government is contributing to a trend of cities taking on big topics.
“What we’re seeing is urgent issues that need to be solved and a lack of progress on the national level on these issues,” she said. “I think there’s interest in local communities on moving forward in solving these problems.”
The GOP’s War on Voting Is Working
On April 5, the day of Wisconsin’s presidential primary, Anita Johnson picked up Dennis Hatten at his new apartment in West Milwaukee and took him to the polls. “We’re going to complete your journey and make sure you vote today,” Johnson told him.
Simply being able to vote in Wisconsin was no small feat for Hatten, a 53-year-old former Marine. He’d met Johnson, a 70-year-old Wisconsin coordinator for VoteRiders, in August 2015, as the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Hatten was living in temporary housing for homeless veterans across the street from Milwaukee’s VA hospital. Wisconsin’s strict new voter-ID law would be going into effect in 2016, and Johnson was part of the effort to help 300,000 registered voters without an acceptable government-issued ID obtain one—9 percent of the electorate.
Hatten had relocated to Wisconsin from Illinois in 2013. His Illinois driver’s license and veterans’ ID card were not accepted as valid voter IDs in Wisconsin, so he asked Johnson for assistance getting a photo-ID card from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. “I grew up in the 1960s in the segregated South, and I remember what my parents and grandparents had to go through to vote,” Hatten says. “As soon as I became of age to vote, I voted in every election and urged others to vote, too.”
It took Johnson six months to get Hatten a state photo ID because, like many African Americans born in the Jim Crow South, he didn’t have a birth certificate, and the DMV rejected his initial application. He took his new ID to the polls, but the address on it didn’t match his new address, which the poll workers needed to register him at the site (Wisconsin is one of 14 states with Election Day registration). While Hatten conferred with the poll worker, another man who tried to register with his veterans’ ID was turned away.
After a lengthy conversation with election officials, Hatten went back to his apartment and retrieved a utility bill with his new address. After waiting patiently in line while Johnson looked on nervously, he was finally able to cast a ballot. “I’ve never had any problems voting until I came to Wisconsin,” Hatten said, holding up his “I Voted” sticker. “If someone didn’t know the law like I did, they would’ve walked away from the voting booth.”
In fact, many Wisconsinites who didn’t have Johnson’s help or Hatten’s perseverance were blocked from the polls. Their experiences offered a striking rejoinder to Governor Scott Walker’s contention that the state’s voter-ID law “works just fine.” Eddie Lee Holloway Jr., a 58-year-old African American who had moved from Illinois to Milwaukee, brought his expired Illinois photo ID, birth certificate, and Social Security card to get a photo ID for voting, but the DMV rejected his application because his birth certificate read “Eddie Junior Holloway,” the result of a clerical error. Holloway spent $200 on a bus ticket to Illinois to try to amend his birth certificate and made seven trips to government agencies in two different states, but he still couldn’t vote in the Wisconsin primary. To date, the state’s DMV has rejected nearly a fifth of all applicants for a voter ID, 85 percent of whom were African American, Latino, or Native American.
“This is the worst election I’ve ever seen in Wisconsin,” said Johnson, who’s lived in Milwaukee her whole life. “I go to bed thinking we’ve settled something, and I wake up and there’s something else.”
In addition to the voter-ID law, since 2011, Wisconsin’s GOP-controlled legislature has cut the early-voting window from 30 days to 12, eliminated night and weekend voting, banned straight-ticket voting, made it more difficult both to register to vote and to cast an absentee ballot, and tightened residency requirements. It has also disbanded the widely respected nonpartisan agency that oversees state elections and was supposed to educate the public about the voter-ID law. University of Wisconsin political scientist Barry Burden calls it “death by a thousand cuts.”
Many GOP-controlled states have restricted access to the ballot following Barack Obama’s election, but Wisconsin is especially notable because, unlike Alabama or Texas, it has a long history of high voter turnout, pioneering election reforms, and commitment to good governance.
Indeed, in 2008 and 2012, Wisconsin trailed only one state—Minnesota—in voter turnout. The two states are practically twins, with nearly identical demographics, geography, and cultural history. Both states have a long-standing progressive tradition dating back more than a century, from Wisconsin Governor Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette to Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. In the 1970s, they were also the first states to allow Election Day registration, which has significantly boosted turnout. “Demographers call it the ‘civic-responsibility belt,’” says Craig Gilbert, Washington bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
But the two states have clashed sharply in recent years, becoming case studies in the difference between Democratic and Republican rule. Whereas Wisconsin elected Walker and a GOP legislature in 2010, Minnesota narrowly elected Mark Dayton, and two years later a Democratic legislature. Minnesota raised taxes on the wealthy, invested in public education, expanded health care, and boosted unions, while Wisconsin did the opposite. Now Minnesota is winning the border war, with faster job growth, higher wages, and lower unemployment.
Nowhere is this difference starker than in the states’ approaches to voting. In contrast to Wisconsin, Minnesota defeated a high-profile voter-ID ballot initiative in 2012; recently passed legislation switching from a caucus system to a presidential primary, which is more inclusive; and is considering new reforms, such as restoring voting rights to 47,000 people on probation or parole. “Wisconsin is heading toward Alabama and Mississippi status,” says Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, “while Minnesota is leading the nation on expanding voting rights.”
The divide illustrates how the United States is fast becoming a two-tiered democracy, a country where it’s harder to vote in Republican-controlled states and easier to vote in Democratic ones. There are some notable exceptions—New York, a blue state, ranked 47th in the Pew Charitable Trust’s 2012 Elections Performance Index, while North Dakota, a red state, ranked No. 1—but the trend is unmistakable. Of the 22 states that have passed new voting restrictions since 2010, more than 80 percent were under Republican control, while the states, such as Oregon and California, that have recently passed ambitious reforms like automatic voter registration are overwhelmingly Democratic.
With the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, the country committed itself to ensuring voting rights for all Americans, regardless of race, party, or region. Now this consensus has been shattered, with ruthless partisanship undermining the most basic of democratic rights.
* * *
Todd Allbaugh became a Republican in 1980, when he was in the fifth grade, after meeting his local GOP chairman. He still has a Ronald Reagan poster with the slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again.” Allbaugh worked for Representative Steve Gunderson, the first openly gay Republican in Congress, and then became chief of staff for State Senator Dale Schultz, whom the Madison Capital Times called “the last remaining moderate Republican in the state legislature.”
“In the 1980s and ’90s, when I went to Republican conventions, I heard about the need to create a bigger tent, to bring new people into the party,” Allbaugh says. Republicans controlled the state government during much of that time but never passed laws limiting the ability to vote.
He received a rude awakening when he attended a closed-door meeting of the State Senate’s Republican caucus in 2011. It was considering the new voter-ID bill, a top priority for Wisconsin Republicans since the 2000 and ’04 presidential elections, which the GOP lost by less than 1 percent. The party blamed the losses (without evidence) on voter fraud by Democrats in Milwaukee, along with a high turnout among black and young voters.
“We’ve got to think about what this could mean for the neighborhoods around Milwaukee and the college campuses around the state,” said State Senator Mary Lazich. Seventy percent of Wisconsin’s black population, which voted for Obama over Mitt Romney 94 to 6 percent, lives in Milwaukee, while 18- to 24-year-olds favored Obama over Romney by 26 points.
Schultz asked his colleagues to consider not whether the bill would help the GOP, but how it would impact the voting rights of Wisconsinites. Then-State Senator Glenn Grothman cut him off: “What I’m concerned about is winning. We better get this done while we have the opportunity.” (When asked during the state’s April 5 primary why Republicans would carry Wisconsin in 2016, Grothman, who had since been elected to the US Congress, replied: “Now we have photo ID.”) In a federal voting-rights case, Allbaugh named two other GOP senators who were “giddy” and “politically frothing at the mouth” over the bill.
“It made me physically ill,” Allbaugh says. “It was like a gut punch. I never thought, after all the years of dedicating my life to helping advance the Republican Party, that I would sit in a meeting of Republican officials and hear them openly plotting to impede another citizen’s voting rights.”
Schultz voted for the bill reluctantly, but his concern grew when Republicans passed another law in 2014 eliminating early voting at night and on weekends; some 250,000 Wisconsinites had voted early in 2012, favoring Obama over Romney by 58 to 41 percent.
Grothman, the author of the bill, said he wanted to “nip” early voting “in the bud” before it spread from Democratic strongholds like Madison and Milwaukee. The county clerk of Waukesha County, a Milwaukee suburb that is 95 percent white and staunchly conservative, insisted that early voting gave “too much access” to voters in Milwaukee and Madison.
Schultz asked Allbaugh to find three documented cases of voter fraud in the state. But Allbaugh could only find two instances of double voting—both, ironically, committed by Republicans. Neither case would have been stopped by a voter-ID law or was related to early voting.
Schultz sharply criticized his party’s voting restrictions before retiring from the legislature in 2014. “We should be pitching, as political parties, our ideas for improving things in the future rather than mucking around in the mechanics and making it more confrontational at our voting sites and trying to suppress the vote,” he said. Allbaugh quit politics and opened a coffee shop in Madison. He decided to go public when a young employee from California couldn’t vote in Wisconsin’s primary because his California driver’s license wasn’t an acceptable form of voter ID and his birth certificate was in California.
The GOP’s past support for voting rights can be exaggerated—only two Republicans in the state legislature voted for Election Day registration in 1975, for example—but it’s also a key part of Wisconsin’s progressive history. In the early 1900s, Governor La Follette supported women’s suffrage and the direct election of presidential nominees, rather than their selection by party bosses. More recently, GOP Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner led the effort to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act in 2006; he’s one of the few Republicans working to restore the law after the Supreme Court gutted it in 2013. “I would rather lose my job than suppress votes to keep it,” Sensenbrenner wrote in The New York Times in March.
Only 14 congressional Republicans have cosponsored Sensenbrenner’s Voting Rights Amendment Act. The aggressive gerrymandering in Wisconsin helps explain the party’s increasingly radical conservatism. Unlike in Minnesota, where a court drew a map fair to both parties because of divided government, Republicans controlled Wisconsin’s redistricting process for the first time in 50 years and, in 2010, cunningly manipulated boundaries to maintain their power for the next decade and beyond. In 2012, Obama carried the state by seven points, yet Republicans won more than half of Wisconsin’s House, State Senate, and State Assembly districts. Just 10 percent of legislative seats are now considered competitive, giving the GOP a seemingly airtight majority.
* * *
In the spring of 2011, Minnesota’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a strict voter-ID bill much like Wisconsin’s. Governor Dayton, who noted that his predecessors had refused to sign any election-law changes that didn’t have bipartisan support, vetoed it. Republicans responded by putting a constitutional amendment requiring photo ID on the 2012 ballot.
Initial polling showed that 80 percent of Minnesotans supported the law, including 64 percent of Democrats. “I would say [80 percent] is probably as close to certainty as you may hope to get in regards to the passage of a constitutional amendment,” said the bill’s author, Representative Mary Kiffmeyer.
Dan McGrath, executive director of TakeAction Minnesota, was given the unenviable task of defeating the ballot initiative. McGrath grew up in Wausau, Wisconsin, before moving to the Twin Cities for college, and he knew that Minnesota was perilously close to emulating Walker’s Wisconsin. “Nearly everyone in the state believed a photo ID was the most common-sense solution to the problem of voter fraud,” McGrath says. “We needed to reframe the issue. We decided to never say the word ‘fraud’; instead we would only talk about the cost, complications, and consequences of the amendment.”
Eighty groups representing 1 million members, from the AARP to the AFL-CIO to the League of Women Voters, formed a massive coalition—Our Vote, Our Future—to defeat the amendment. They highlighted the stories of the 250,000 voters who could be disenfranchised by the law: not just young people and minorities, but also seniors and members of the military. One TV ad featured a young Iraq War vet, Alex Erickson, saying: “The voter-restriction amendment might seem like a good idea, but when the legislature put it on the ballot, they screwed it up. To them, military IDs aren’t valid IDs. Which means that this amendment takes away a basic freedom from those who gave a whole lot.”
The coalition also stressed how the law would cost up to $40 million, endanger the state’s very popular Election Day registration system, and make it harder for rural voters to cast a ballot—arguments that appealed to independents and moderates.
One defining TV spot featured Dayton and former governor Arne Carlson, a Republican, standing in front of the state capitol. “This voter-restriction amendment is way too costly,” Carlson said. “And it will keep thousands of seniors from voting,” Dayton added. “If you’re a Democrat, Republican, or independent, please vote no—this is not good for Minnesota,” Carlson said in closing. Such an ad would be inconceivable in Wisconsin.
In addition to the voter-ID amendment, Republicans put an amendment on the ballot to ban same-sex marriage, which rallied progressive voters against both initiatives under the slogan “Minnesota Nice: Vote No Twice.” “At every marriage-equality rally, we talked about voting,” recalls Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison. “At every voting rally, we talked about marriage equality.”
Our Vote, Our Future contacted more than 400,000 people about the amendment and changed the minds of nearly 1 million voters—an incredible organizing feat. On Election Day, 54 percent of Minnesotans opposed the voter-ID amendment, a wider margin than the one for Obama or against the same-sex marriage ban. It was the first time that a voter-ID law had been defeated at the ballot box.
There wasn’t one single reason why the amendment was defeated, but the general consensus was that making it harder to vote would imperil all of the qualities that had long made Minnesota, like Wisconsin in the days before Walker, a laboratory for progressive government. “When we treat democracy as its own discrete issue area, we’re bound to lose,” McGrath says. “When we connect a functioning democracy as an essential means to a greater end—higher wages, racial equality, income equality—that’s when it becomes an inspiring fight.”
The defeat of the voter-ID amendment ended the voting wars in Minnesota, at least for now. “The debate has been more or less settled here,” says Secretary of State Steve Simon. “Having lived through this 2012 upheaval, I’d hope that some people have learned their lesson about rash attacks on the right to vote.” The defeat also made it easier to pass progressive policies in many other areas. “There’s just no way that Minnesota would have made the advances it has if voter ID had passed,” McGrath says. “Expanding public health care, raising the minimum wage, banning the criminal-history box for job applicants, raising taxes in a progressive way—they would not have happened, because the political voice of those people directly impacted would all but have been eliminated. It’s hard to overstate the importance of that.” Finally, the amendment’s resounding defeat offers a road map for combating similar measures in other states, like Missouri. “It’s important that people who believe in voting rights know that you can win,” Ellison says.
Between Hell’s Kitchen and God’s Bathroom Floor: Lack of housing for ex-offenders is set-up for failure
Today, Robert Jackson has dreams as vibrant as his personality. And he’s making them happen. He’s been clean and sober since Oct. 15, 2014. With the help of RS EDEN’s rehabilitation program, Alliance Housing, and his recovery community, he’s got an unmistakable brightness in his eyes.
But he hasn’t always been so optimistic about his life journey. The jovial 51-year-old St. Paul native had an arguably normal childhood, attended both Augsburg College and the University of Minnesota, and by all accounts, was forging a path towards a successful life.
But life threw him a couple curve balls.
“I acquired a drug habit in 1988, which unfortunately sent me to prison,” Jackson said.
After a couple stints in prison, the Department of Corrections released him into the world with few resources.
“They paroled me to the Salvation Army because I had no address. No housing, no nothing.” He shrugs. “Basically, I was on my own. No help.”
“I couldn’t land a job because I had a criminal record. Then I couldn’t find housing because I had no money for deposits and I had a felony,” Jackson explained. “So I’ve been living with people, girlfriends and drug addicts, for the past 20 years, basically.”
Jackson’s experience epitomizes the predicament that ex-offenders face.
On Jan. 1, 2014, the ‘Ban the Box’ law went into effect in Minnesota, restricting employers from asking about criminal histories in initial phases of an application process. The law is aimed at giving ex-offenders a fair shake at employment.
Currently, ‘Ban the Box’ isn’t the only nationwide initiative attempting to level the playing field for ex-offenders. On April 4, 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a federal guideline, warning landlords that umbrella policies aimed at denying housing to ex-offenders may be discrimination.
It cites that the disproportionate rates of arrest and incarceration leave minority candidates more likely to be denied on applications. And because of most rental screening policies, they don’t even have a chance to plead their case.
“People are their own best advocate,” said Christopher Lowe, Veterans’ Justice Advocate at Amicus, a nonprofit organization aimed at helping inmates and ex-offenders successfully reintegrate.
“It gives [people] a chance to sell themselves,” Lowe said.
But all the frothy declarations of discrimination and legal half-measures don’t translate to a new abundance of felon-friendly housing and decent job opportunities. And having both housing and a job is more than a necessity; the absence of one or the other can spell danger for many.
Back to the block
Faced with little options, some ex-offenders resort to living in illegitimate or sketchy housing situations. Going back to “old familiar,” as Jackson puts it, can come with consequences that lead them on a fast track back to prison. Old habits can die hard, especially when it comes to illegal activities and criminal lifestyles that once grew out of necessity or with its own advantages.
Lauri Woodard, a volunteer for Justice 4 All at TakeAction Minnesota, elaborates.
“If they can’t provide a legitimate address or change addresses without notice, they can get violated,” she said. Then it’s off the block and back into the slammer.
Justin Terrell, Program Manager for Justice 4 All at TakeAction Minnesota, is one of the change makers building a multiracial movement to address racial, gender, economic and social equity in Minnesota. Together with his colleagues and volunteers like Woodard, they are involved in everything from restoring voting rights to preventing the opening of a private prison in Appleton. Next year, they hope to help ban private prisons throughout the state. They are no strangers to the issues of housing problems.
“I get phone calls pretty much everyday from people facing barriers to housing and wondering why ‘Ban the Box’ doesn’t apply to landlords,” Terrell said.
Contrary to popular perception, prison populations aren’t dominated by sex offenders and murderers, but with folks serving time for lesser crimes. But the stigma of felony convictions and incarceration follow every ex-offender around, no matter the severity of the crime or time elapsed since the offense.
For the majority of ex-felons facing reentry, if given the support and opportunities to do better, they will do better. This is not consistently the case now. CBS News and the StarTribune report around 40 percent of inmates on supervised release in Minnesota are re-incarcerated within three years. The violations that send them back include anything from dirty urine analysis tests to new criminal charges to simple technicalities, such as failure to find employment or housing.
So it’s no wonder that after prison time or completing a treatment program, the struggle to find housing sends many folks right back down the rabbit hole. Minnesota is plagued with housing inequity. The state sorely lacks enough transitional housing, and those that do exist struggle with interminable bottlenecks and waiting lists. The funding simply isn’t there to meet the demand. For Jackson, it took almost two years on a waiting list to get into Alliance Apartments, where he now lives. Even shelters have lotteries, leaving many to compete for overnight beds. Other options, such as halfway houses and sober living environments, are great options but have shared sleeping quarters and are meant to be more short term—a year or less.
The vast majority of landlords who dominate the rental market in the Twin Cities, such as KRC Apartments and Mint Properties, still won’t even consider renting to people with felony records. At all. To date, the discrimination guideline put forth by HUD seems to have little effect on housing application denials. Landlords just find more creative ways to deny potential renters. Discrimination is hard to prove, and accessible legal resources don’t really exist.
Landlords do have some legitimate concerns. People with criminal histories, as Woodard puts it, “have a history of making bad decisions.”
Landlords fear that if that person goes back to making their old bad decisions, they will endanger the safety and security of their other tenants, Woodard said. And the process of evicting someone is expensive and time-consuming. So they’d just rather not take the chance.
Compass: Appleton Prison
The issue of whether or not to reopen the Appleton Prison will be the topic. Swift County Administrator Mike Pogge-Weaver and TakeAction Minnesota’s Executive Director Dan McGrath will contribute to an in-studio discussion facilitated by Pioneer General Manager Les Heen for the half-hour program.
Advocates call for paid sick leave in Duluth
Nearly half of the workers in Duluth never get a paid sick day.
Debra Smith’s job at a temp agency supplied her with full-time work at up to $12 an hour, but no benefits. If she got sick, or if she needed to stay home to care for her daughter, who has asthma, it came out of her paycheck.
“I couldn’t take time off work — or felt that if I did, I would be paid less,” Smith said Monday at a news conference organized by Take Action Minnesota, a nonprofit focused on racial and economic equity. “That would affect my ability to pay the rent, or purchase groceries.”
Smith, who now works a job with better benefits, was one of nearly 20,000 Duluth workers who do not get paid sick leave. Roughly 46 percent of the city’s workforce has no paid leave, according to a new survey by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
Duluth is now joining a growing number of Minnesota cities looking to implement paid sick leave regulations for businesses. Minneapolis, where an estimated 42 percent of the workforce lacks paid sick leave, is working on a plan to require businesses with four or more employees to offer that benefit. St. Paul is studying the idea of mandatory sick leave benefits as well.
Researchers studied census and National Institutes of Health data to determine how many Duluth workers had access to paid time off when they were sick. In 2014, a statewide survey found that Duluth and St. Louis County had the lowest rate of sick leave coverage in Minnesota. The 2016 follow-up found that workers with the smallest paychecks were also the least likely to have access to benefits such as sick days.
Part-time workers and employees who earn less than $35,000 a year were least likely to have access to paid time off when they or a family member fall ill. By contrast, almost all employees in the top salary tiers, the ones earning more than $65,000 a year, had paid sick leave.
Four states — California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon — require employers to offer sick leave. Twenty-three cities have also instituted their own mandatory requirements.
Minneapolis passes paid sick leave mandate
Thousands of Minneapolis workers will be eligible for paid sick time starting next summer.
The City Council on Friday unanimously agreed to give full-time, part-time and temporary employees one hour of paid sick or safe time for every 30 hours they work.
Employees can accrue up to 48 hours per year, although they can’t carry more than 80 hours total without prior approval.
“Today, Minneapolis has recognized that no one should have to choose between being healthy and being paid,” Mayor Betsy Hodges said in a statement. “This is a landmark day for Minneapolis.”
Minneapolis Workers Win Paid Sick Leave in Momentous Vote
Workers in Minneapolis had a momentous win Friday as the city became the first in the midwest to pass a paid sick leave ordinance. This comes after a year of organizing from numerous organizations, including Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) and the Main Street Alliance, in a worker-led campaign.
“Today’s vote is a tremendous [victory] for low-wage workers of color who fought for, demanded, and won better workplace protections. Addressing economic inequality is crucial to solving Minnesota’s persistent racial disparities. Earned sick and safe time for Minneapolis workers is an important step in the right direction,” said Anthony Newby, Executive Director of NOC, via press release.
The ordinance was passed 13-0 by the Minneapolis City Council, in front of a standing-room only crowd, and has the strong support of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges who proposed paid sick leave in 2015 as part of her Working Families Agenda.
“Minneapolis has recognized that no one should have to choose between getting well and getting paid. This is a landmark day for Minneapolis” said Hodges.
Other groups lobbying for the ordinance included CTUL, SEIU, Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, and TakeAction Minnesota.
Minneapolis City Council weighs new mandatory sick leave policy
Minneapolis began considering a new mandatory sick leave proposal Thursday, after months of debate about expanding worker protections in the city.
The City Council officially introduced the proposed ordinance during a morning committee meeting. It would cover most employees who work at least 80 hours a year in the city, with exceptions for independent contractors and “casual workers” who are typically on call.
Employers would be required to offer an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee worked, up to 48 hours a year, although they could offer more. The mandate would require employers to allow their workers to accrue up 80 hours of sick time.
The leave could be used for mental or physical illness, care or treatment, diagnosis, and preventive care. It also allows leave for victims of domestic abuse, sex assault or stalking.
“It’s just wonderful to see us get to this point, where we have such a balanced policy in front of us, and that we have the pieces in place to really make this successful,” said Ward 12 council member Andrew Johnson. “And I’m very excited about it and I look forward to the public hearing.”
The city has scheduled a public hearing on the ordinance on May 18, and a vote by the full council on May 27.
Some city officials said they want a hearing and final vote on the matter in the next four weeks.
“We are on the verge of enacting a policy that will improve public health for everyone and provide greater opportunity for low-income families, and listening and collaborating has gotten us there,” said Mayor Betsy Hodges.
A study last year found that more than 41 percent of Minneapolis residents, nearly 62,000 people, lacked paid sick leave. The measure is part of a series of worker protection efforts that Minneapolis officials have been weighing, including higher minimum wages and a sweeping scheduling mandate. The scheduling proposal was tabled last October. Opponents have said that the mandate could be open to manipulation and abuse.
City officials say more than 300,000 people working in the city of Minneapolis. About 25 percent are Minneapolis residents, the remaining 75 percent come to work there from outside the city.
A 15-member working group developed the proposal following 14 listening sessions and comments from more than 500 people.
Minneapolis set to become first city in Minnesota to require paid sick leave
The Minneapolis City Council has set up a series of hearings and meetings this month that will end with a May 27 vote on whether to adopt a mandatory paid leave ordinance for private and nonprofit employees who work in Minneapolis.
But during a staff briefing on the proposed ordinance Thursday, council members left little doubt of the outcome. Minneapolis is poised to become the first city in the state to require paid sick leave.
“The level of details of the questions we’re asking today I think indicates the high level of consensus that we have on the big directions of this policy,” said Council Member Lisa Bender, who credited the work of the city’s Workplace Partnership Group, a 15-member committee that met from December through March to study the issue.
A public hearing on the proposal has been set for May 18 at 3 p.m. in council chambers. That will be followed by a meeting at noon on May 26 to consider, amend and vote on an ordinance. The regular council will consider final passage on May 27 at 9:30 a.m.
How it would work
The proposed ordinance, sponsored by Council President Barbara Johnson, mostly reflects the recommendation of the workplace group, which included appointees from business, labor, employer groups and workers. If adopted in current form, the law would take effect on July 1, 2017.
Workplace Partnership Group member Ron Harris said Thursday morning the final report was itself a compromise, taking into account concerns raised by businesses and other during a series of “listening sessions” throughout the city.
“This is not the Cadillac version that we need to whittle down from,” Harris said. “It’s a pretty accurate reflection of the process that we worked really really hard on.”
Estimates are that 42 percent of those who work in the city currently lack paid leave, with many of those employees being women and people of color working in lower income jobs.
In most cases under the proposed ordinance, employees in workplaces with six or more workers would be allowed to accumulate one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, topping out at 48 hours of accrual each year. The workers could rollover unused sick leave from one year to the next until they accumulate 80 hours. That leave could be taken when the worker or the worker’s family members are sick; for physical and mental illnesses or injuries; and for medical appointments. In cases of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking, time could be taken for treatment, counseling, relocation or legal proceedings.
An employer would not have to be based in Minneapolis to be subject to the ordinance, nor does the law only cover workers who have a regular workplace in the city. A repair person who is dispatched from a location outside the city, for example, would accumulate paid leave for each hour worked within the city, as long as he or she works at least 80 hours a year within the city boundaries.
The ordinance wouldn’t allow employers to make an employee’s use of the leave conditional on the working finding a replacement for themselves, or on the employee arranging to trade shifts with another worker. But it would allow employers to require documentation for use of three consecutive leave days.
Employers who already offer paid leave in excess of what is required under the ordinance would not have to offer additional days. Policies that exceed the minimum standards in the ordinance would be considered to be in compliance.
The city’s civil rights department would enforce the ordinance and handle complaints, which could be brought by a worker or anyone else. Employers would be required to maintain employment records for three years and would be deemed to be in violation of the ordinance for refusing to make those records available to investigators.
First offenses in the first year of implementation, from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, would not carry financial penalties other than reinstatement of improperly withheld leave pay. Second offenses in the first year — as well as any offenses in the second and subsequent years — could result in fines and penalties.
Who isn’t covered?
Many of the questions posed by council members Thursday were about the exemptions in the proposed ordinance. City workers — including the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board employees — would be covered. But the city’s attorneys said Minneapolis does not have the authority to regulate employees of other federal, state and local governments who work in the city.
Also not included would be independent contractors, construction workers covered by state prevailing wage and benefit laws, and health care workers who are considered “casual” employees: those without regular employment status but who work when and if they are needed.
The proposed ordinance won support from groups such as Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Take Action Minnesota and the SEIU Minnesota. Continuing to oppose are some business organizations, including the Minneapolis Downtown Council and the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce. Steve Cramer, president of the downtown council, was the sole no vote on the work group, and he submitted a minority report suggesting a voluntary program “based on building a community partnership, an approach that encourages and lifts employers up in an effort to expand worker access to sick and safe time.”
“In the weeks ahead, we hope our elected leaders will keep an open mind as they hear input on this important topic,” he said in a prepared statement issued Thursday.
Since March, a task force created by the City of St. Paul has also been studying the issue. The group is set to submit a report to St. Paul’s human right commission by May 17.
The Long March of Bernie’s Army
ow that Bernie Sanders has lost most of the once-industrial Midwest to Hillary Clinton, now that it’s vanishingly likely that he’ll become the Democratic nominee, the most important period of the Sanders insurgency has finally begun. The senator from Vermont has astonished both his fiercest critics and his (relatively few) longtime fellow socialists by mobilizing millions of voters, becoming a hero to the young, and being on track, by the time this year’s primaries are done, to capture roughly 40 percent of the Democratic vote—all while running as a democratic socialist and scourge of Wall Street in this most capitalist of countries.
But Sanders’s is not a campaign that history will judge by the number of votes he won. Like only a handful of predecessor campaigns, like no presidential campaign since Barry Goldwater’s, his will be judged by whether it sparked a movement that transformed America. That’s the metric by which Sanders himself measures his success: Whether his campaign can build what he calls a revolution, inspiring his supporters (and some of Hillary Clinton’s, too), once this year’s campaign is done, to build the political power and social movements that can break the hold that wealth exerts on politics and policy, and thereby re-create the mass prosperity that was once America’s calling card to the world.
Problem is, electoral campaigns don’t create enduring organizations, much less social movements. Though Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign likely mobilized more volunteers and donors than any that came before, the organization through which it sought to keep its activists active once Obama became president—Obama for America—lacked all autonomy or organizational life; it failed even to exert any pressure on Democratic members of Congress who were cool to Obama’s agenda. Democracy for America, which sprang from the wreckage of Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential bid, has never been more than a liberal pressure group of modest scale. Out of the more ideologically defined presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson in the 1980s, the Rainbow Coalition emerged, but the Rainbow’s goals were so consistently subordinated to Jackson’s own political needs that progressive activists soon abandoned it.
This spring, however, leaders and activists from all manner of progressive movements and organizations are rolling this stone up the hill one more time. They can recite all the reasons why Obama for America never got off the ground; some of them even worked for the Rainbow until they realized there were better places to make social change. Most of them are painfully familiar with the tragic-comic history of the American left, a largely marginal tendency in American politics that has often squandered its moments of opportunity with displays of purity and rigidity that have only left it more marginal.
And yet, many progressives believe this time may be different. It’s not that the Sanders campaign itself has incubated some kind of permanent left formation. “Bernie hasn’t built an organization; he’s built a campaign,” says one left leader. “That isn’t something that endures.” The task of building that enduring something, they understand, falls to them—though Sanders himself can help them along.
Leaders of unions, community-organizing groups, minority organizations and student groups, prominent environmentalists and Sanders activists, precinct walkers and online campaigners—some longtime allies, some total strangers to one another—are “all in one large, shifting conversation,” in the words of one such leader, to figure out how to build the Revolution once the Sanders campaign is done.
Some are planning national conclaves, like the “People’s Summit” in Chicago in mid-June, where the disparate groups in the Sanders universe will gather to lay out a common agenda. Some are planning how to prod the delegates at the Democratic Convention (including some pledged to Clinton) to shift the party well to the left. More fundamentally, they are debating ideas on how to create something—organizations, coalitions, networks, local, state, national—that can capture and build on the energy and politics that the Sanders campaign has unleashed.
The challenge of creating an enduring left out of Sanders’s young supporters, who have brought the passion, energy, and numbers to his campaign, is particularly daunting. “Presidential elections generate excitement unlike any other,” says a veteran union leader. “They ignite a level of energy and self-activity that’s hard to capture and transfer. We can’t assume that 100,000 young people who have self-organized in the campaign are going to respond to being told, ‘Here’s the next big thing.’ They won’t come over if it’s presented that way.”
Will they come over at all? Are all these experienced activists even right in hoping that this time will be different, that this time a powerful social democratic left might just take root in America’s political soil?
I think they are. Chiefly because Bernie Sanders’s campaign didn’t create a new American left. It revealed it.
IN 1906, GERMAN SOCIOLOGIST Werner Sombart wrote an essay entitled “Why Is There No Socialism in the United States?” Sombart was just the first of numerous commentators—among them Daniel Bell and Seymour Martin Lipset—who sought to explain why the United States, alone among industrialized democracies, never developed a major socialist movement. (Sombart’s answer to this conundrum was that the upward mobility and higher living standards that European immigrants found here meant that socialism in America was stillborn.)
In the wake of the Sanders campaign, however, we suddenly need to pose quite a different question: Why are there socialists in the United States? Who are all these people who now not only flock to Bernie’s banner but deem themselves socialists? What do they even mean by socialism?
The numbers astonish. In a Des Moines Register poll on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, 43 percent of likely Democratic caucus attendees said they were socialists. In a Boston Globe poll on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, 31 percent of New Hampshire Democratic voters called themselves socialists; among voters under 35, just over half did. And in late February, a Bloomberg poll of likely voters in the Democratic primary in South Carolina—South Carolina!—showed that 39 percent described themselves as socialists.
Favorable views of socialism aren’t limited to Sanders supporters. The 39 percent of South Carolina Democrats who call themselves socialists exceeded by 13 percentage points the number who actually voted for Sanders. In a New York Times poll last November, 56 percent of Democrats—including 52 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters—said they held a favorable view of socialism.
Nor was this sway toward socialism triggered by Sanders’s candidacy. In 2012, a Gallup Poll showed that 53 percent of Democrats had a positive image of socialism, as did 62 percent of liberals. One year earlier, a Pew poll revealed that fully 49 percent of Americans (not just Democrats) under 30 had a positive view of socialism, while just 47 percent had a favorable opinion of capitalism. In 2011, the percentage of Americans under 30 who could have picked Sanders out of a police lineup was probably in the low single digits.
This is something new under the political sun. At no time in U.S. history have so many Americans supported a socialist presidential candidate, much less called themselves socialists. The apogee of socialists’ electoral performance came in 1912, when Eugene V. Debs won 6 percent of the vote running for president on the Socialist Party ticket. What’s more, the mystery of this socialist emergence is deepened by the fact that there is no visible organization in the United States that is recruiting people to socialism. The Democratic Socialists of America (of which I’m a vice-chair) has just several thousand members, and is almost entirely absent from many American cities. At first glance, this new socialist presence just seems to have sprung up, unsummoned, unannounced.
And yet, it clearly has been building for years. Its emergence was foretold by Occupy Wall Street, and the polls that showed most Americans looked positively upon its message—that the 1 percent has flourished at the expense of the 99 percent—if not on the protesters themselves. It was foretold by the surprising rise to bestseller status of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by the success of the Fight for 15 movement in prompting cities and states to raise the minimum wage, and by two movements (in themselves, non-socialist, but nonetheless radicalizing) of the minority young: the Dreamers, demanding citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and Black Lives Matter, demanding an end to discriminatory criminal justice. More broadly, it was foretold by the rise of a distinct civic left: With millennials and minorities reshaping urban America, 27 of the nation’s 30 largest cities now have Democratic mayors—the greatest urban partisan imbalance in the nation’s history. Many of those cities have enacted groundbreaking progressive legislation—instituting and raising the minimum wage, mandating paid sick days, forbidding their police forces from cooperating with federal immigration authorities, giving collective-bargaining rights to independent contractors.
What’s the substance of the new American socialism? I know of no surveys asking this newly hatched brood to define what they mean when they call themselves socialists, but we can
make some educated guesses. First and foremost, they don’t counterpose socialism to a militant liberalism. Indeed, the rising number of people who identify as socialists coincides with a rise in the number who call themselves liberals. Whereas in 2000, only 27 percent of Democrats told Pew they were liberal, by 2015 that figure had risen to 42 percent, and among millennials it had increased from 37 percent in 2004 to 49 percent today. In Bloomberg’s poll of South Carolina Democrats, while 39 percent described themselves as socialist, 74 percent called themselves progressive, and 68 percent liberal: They weren’t asked to pick just one.
That suggests one key to Americans’ embrace of socialism: They’ve not been asked to choose among left-of-center political identities. By running as a Democrat rather than as a third-party alternative, Sanders has made it possible for progressives to back socialists and to call themselves socialist without worrying that they’re voting for a Naderesque spoiler or marginalizing themselves from political life. As well, it’s likely that when Americans call themselves socialist, they mainly have in mind the social democratic policies—a decent welfare state, more power for workers, and diminished devotion to the gods of the market—of Western European nations.
While this mass self-identification as socialists is new, the substantive conflation of social democracy with American liberalism is not. In his 1972 book Socialism, Michael Harrington, the brilliant American socialist leader, called the American labor movement “an invisible social democracy”—the functional equivalent of openly social democratic Europe, sharing many of the same beliefs and goals (once the European social democratic parties had abandoned their commitment to nationalizing the means of production). To be sure, the U.S. unions were constrained to advancing social democratic policies within the Democratic Party, and only occasionally did they prevail. And it was precisely those occasions that were viewed as the high points, not of American socialism, but of American liberalism: Social Security and Medicare, and the Wagner Act, which legalized collective bargaining.
For its part, the American right always alleged that these were really socialist programs—and last November, Bernie Sanders said that the right was right. In a speech at Georgetown University in which he offered his definition of socialism, Sanders said it was precisely those policies, advanced by two liberal presidents, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, which illustrated his vision of socialism. Indeed, there’s little in Sanders’s own program that hasn’t been supported by many liberals who aren’t Sanders supporters. While only six Democratic House members have endorsed Sanders, more than 60 favor single-payer health insurance.
Still, Americans on the left have almost always overwhelmingly preferred the liberal to the socialist label. Why, then, this sudden shift? One reason is the collapse of Soviet communism, that ferocious pretender to the socialist throne, has allowed younger Americans to identify socialism with the social democratic policies of Western Europe.
But the prime mover of millions of Americans into the socialist column has been the near complete dysfunctionality of contemporary American capitalism as it affects all but the top. Where once the regulated, unionized, and semi-socialized capitalism of the mid-20th century produced a vibrant middle-class majority, the deregulated, deunionized, and financialized capitalism of the past 35 years has produced record levels of inequality, insecurity, a shrinking middle class, and scant economic opportunities (along with record economic burdens) for the young. A recent study published in The Guardian revealed that the share of millennials describing themselves as middle class has fallen steadily since the turn of the century: from 45.6 percent in 2002 to a record low 34.8 percent in 2014, when 56.5 percent said they were working class, and 8 percent lower class.
Therein lies what’s new: The young women who are backing Sanders, for instance, are probably as feminist as their pro-Clinton elders, but their daily grievances against capitalism are as deep as those they hold against patriarchy, unlike many of their elders. In earlier times, many who backed programs such as those Sanders champions identified as liberal; but today, by calling yourself a socialist, you signal a break with and critique of an economic and political order that is rigged against you.
“On the reefs of roast beef and apple pie,” Werner Sombart wrote in 1906, all socialist utopias run aground. To the immigrants who formed America’s industrial working class, he argued, the living standards they found here so exceeded those they had left behind that going socialist became unnecessary. There are many other reasons why a mass socialist movement never came to America, but if, as Sombart contended, the reality and expectation of rising economic conditions, and the sense that this was a nation that rewarded work, was the key to socialism’s absence, then the reality and expectation of today’s declining economic conditions, and the sense that this is a nation that rewards only the rich, is the key to socialism’s—or, more accurately, socialists’—surprising presence.
In 1967, as the ranks of the anti-war movement swelled both within and without the Democratic Party, a liberal activist named Allard Lowenstein took as his mission finding a prominent Democrat who would challenge Lyndon Johnson for the presidency the following year. Robert Kennedy kept putting him off, so eventually Lowenstein persuaded Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy to run.
If there’s a Lowenstein in the Sanders saga, it’s two left activists, Charles Lenchner and Winnie Wong. Both were in Zuccotti Park on the first day Occupy Wall Street was formed. Both were digital activists—Lenchner putting his digital-organizing chops at the service of unions and other progressive groups, Wong using hers to build the Occupy movement. With a group of Occupy alumni, Lenchner founded Ready for Warren, building a nationwide organization to persuade Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren to run for president. “We wanted an alternative candidate even if we didn’t yet have a candidate who wanted to run,” Lenchner says, echoing a sentiment that Lowenstein once could have voiced. “It became a real force, but Ready for Warren didn’t entice her.”
Sanders, however, was interested. Lenchner and Wong transferred their energy to preparing a digital platform, People For Bernie Sanders, independent of Sanders’s campaign, through which progressives could organize their own pro-Sanders activities. “We launched the day he declared,” Lenchner says. Wong came up with a hashtag: #FeelTheBern.
They were not the only self-activating Sanderistas. The Sanders campaign’s decision to focus its early organizing on the first four caucus and primary states left his supporters in other states to find their own way to help his candidacy. In Chicago, a progressive municipal coalition that had been organizing against police violence and for racial and economic justice issues, Reclaim Chicago, hosted the city’s Sanders debate parties. In Seattle, says longtime labor activist Paul Bigman, the tens of thousands who flocked to a Sanders rally last fall were “not springing up from nowhere. There are a lot of strong movements here which naturally gravitated to Bernie, which we saw back in 1999 at the WTO demonstrations. The movement was already here.” It simply hadn’t had a presidential candidate to call its own.
Just as the anti-war movement preceded and shaped the insurgent presidential candidacies of 1968 and 1972, so a diverse movement for a range of progressive causes—economic justice most centrally—preceded and shaped Bernie Sanders’s campaign. “This was somebody’s base to have and to grow, from Occupy to Ready for Warren to Bernie,” says George Goehl, the director of National People’s Action, a nationwide organization of local working-class groups, with which Reclaim Chicago is affiliated. “Now Bernie’s taken it to a whole new level.”
The trajectory of the young people who came out of the anti-war movement and worked for the presidential candidacies of McCarthy, Kennedy, and George McGovern offers one template for where Sanders’s supporters might end up. Many stayed active in Democratic politics, spearheading changes in party rules (most importantly, requiring delegates to be elected in primaries or caucuses rather than appointed by party bosses), forming organizations that favored a less militaristic foreign policy in the wake of Vietnam, winning over the Democratic Party to their position (over the opposition of the more hardline cold warriors in the party’s ranks), and in time taking over much of the Democratic Party themselves.
It requires no imaginative leap to see the Sanders generation taking a similar course—fighting to change Democratic Party rules and positions, working to marginalize the sway that Wall Street has held in party councils. Larry Cohen, the former president of the Communications Workers of America who founded Labor for Bernie, is building support among delegates to this summer’s convention for a resolution that would condemn the practice of Democratic candidates taking super PAC funds in future party primaries or caucuses. “Philadelphia has to make clear that this is now a populist party, not a finance-led party,” Cohen says.
But the forces that Sanders’s candidacy has nourished face a more fundamental challenge than the anti-war young of the 1960s confronted: transforming not just a party or a foreign policy, but the economic and political order of the past four decades. The Sanders campaign has called the young to the barricades, but what will they do when it ends? “All these people who are starting to question capitalism and the role of the superrich,” wonders Stephen Lerner, who led the campaign that successfully organized thousands of big-city janitors in the 1990s, “how do they dig into campaigns that substantively address those problems?”
Some in the Sanders generation will surely turn to electoral politics. “Environmental justice activists will run candidates for city council,” Wong predicts. “Housing activists will do the same; so will racial justice activists. That’s all going to happen in the next four years. This is a guarantee.”
Can they count on Sanders supporters to help them into office? Sanders’s campaign has amassed a list of millions of donors and volunteers. Yet candidates almost invariably husband their lists. Characteristically, they refuse to share them when their campaigns are over and tightly control the uses to which their lists are put. Given Sanders’s commitment to a revolution, and given the likelihood that he’ll not run a national campaign again, the hope throughout progressive circles is that this will be yet another convention that Sanders will shatter.
“The list is on everybody’s mind,” says one leader of an organization that’s endorsed Sanders. “There’s not a great history of this sort of thing working out. We’re all curious to see how willing Bernie will be to say that there are a range of vehicles, groups, and campaigns that will carry on the revolution, or whether he will just form his own thing,” which would monopolize the list.
“If all we end up with when the campaign is over is Bernie for America,” says a leader of another pro-Sanders group, “I’ll shoot myself.”
THE GROUP THAT’S HAD THE MOST SUCCESS in building a vibrant left electoral force is the Working Families Party, which recruits, trains, and runs campaigns for hundreds of progressive candidates at the state and local level. Its name notwithstanding, the WFP-backed candidates generally run in Democratic primaries, frequently against more centrist opponents. While well established in New York, where it dominates New York City government, the WFP is only active in ten states. National People’s Action, another group that mobilizes working-class voters for progressive candidates and causes, also has a presence in multiple states, though it has yet to develop a WFP-level of electoral expertise.
“Networks like the Working Families Party and People’s Action can be a home for some of the folks coming out of the Sanders campaign,” says Dan McGrath of Take Action Minnesota, a People’s Action affiliate that has waged successful local and statewide electoral campaigns. “But they are not all going to move to one place. It will require state-by-state negotiations to capture what Bernie has built.”
Some of the most vibrant and important organizations on the left today—Black Lives Matter, the Dream Defenders—either don’t have a history of electoral involvement or see their work as entirely separate from electoral activity. Stephen Lerner, whose organizing preferences run to the non-electoral, believes that Sanders’s electoral activists may nonetheless find some direct-action campaigns that address their particular needs. “The young Bernie supporters could take all the skills they used in the campaign,” he posits, “to build a list of five million student debt holders who would demand to bargain with the Department of Education and the banks over the debt or else refuse to pay.”
The leaders and activists of People For Bernie have no trouble, obviously, with electoral activity, but aren’t that keen on traditional organizational forms. “Nobody can centralize the energy” that young people have exhibited on Sanders’s behalf, says Wong. Adds Lenchner, her colleague, “These people’s inclination is not to ask whom should I join, but what should my friends and I do? There’s a move away from formal structures; it’s a marriage between technology and the needs of this generation.”
Will St. Paul be pressured to follow Minneapolis’ lead on mandatory paid leave?
With a work group in Minneapolis just completing its examination of paid leave — and a similar effort in St. Paul just getting underway — it appears both cities could adopt mandatory leave policies for local businessess this year.
But as the state’s two largest cities — home to an estimated labor force of 485,000 — move toward requiring employers to provide paid leave, a bigger question is emerging for those who employ people in both cities: will the rules be similar enough to make the administration of the law easier, if not exactly easy? After all, business owners who employ workers in and outside the city of Minneapolis have already complained about the potential headaches of having some employees accruing sick leave under the law while others don’t.
There is also an even more complicated possibility. Employers who have workers in Minneapolis, in St. Paul, and elsewhere in the metro could essentially have three categories of workers — those accruing leave under a policy in Minneapolis, those accruing leave under different rules in St. Paul, and those not accruing at all.
A tale of two cities’ policies
Enacting identical rules might seem like the logical solution, but it may be easier said than done. It would require St. Paul to duplicate the work of Minneapolis, which could adopt an ordinance before the St. Paul taskforce reports its own findings, something that might rankle the capital city’s sense of independence.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said he didn’t want to get ahead of the city’s Earned Sick and Safe Time Task Force, which met for the first time Tuesday, and is scheduled to deliver a report to the city’s Human Rights Commission by mid-May. “The point of the task force is to have all voices be heard and really understand the issue and how we can address it,” Coleman said. “If at some point there’s a way for us to be in some conformity with Minneapolis, that would be a logical thing to look at. But I don’t want to presuppose because I don’t know for sure what Minneapolis is going to do or where we’re going to go with that.”
According to an analysis of Census data and the National Health Interview Survey, St. Paul has similar gaps in paid leave coverage as Minneapolis, and the rest of the state. Among all workers, 58 percent have access to paid sick time, with Hispanic workers less likely to have coverage than other racial and ethnic groups, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The same analysis reported that service workers are the least likely occupation group to have paid sick leave.
Matt Kramer, the president and CEO of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, is a co-chair of the St. Paul task force. The business group has been skeptical about the city creating its own paid leave ordinance, thinking it should be a state issue. But Kramer said that if the city ends up imposing mandatory paid leave, it should have similar rules to those in Minneapolis.
“If we’re going to move forward it would be extraordinarily beneficial if they synced up,” Kramer said. He cited the example of a delivery truck driver who moves into and out of local government jurisdictions many times a day. That creates challenges for an employer, challenges that would multiply if the two largest cities had different accrual rates, for example, or different waiting periods before sick time could be claimed. Having different rules “opens up business to compliance violations.”
“We should provide business with the easiest way to do business,” Kramer said. While the St. Paul task force will look at how other cities have set up policies, he said he will raise the question of conformity. “Let’s have a discussion about making it easier to comply with.”
Brian Elliott, the executive director of the state council of the Service Employees International Union, has spent the last three months on the Minneapolis Workplace Partnership Group, which will make its recommendations to the city council Wednesday. Elliott agreed that having similar rules in both cities is a good thing. But he also said he thinks the issue will take care of itself. “There are 11 million people in the U.S. with paid leave,” Elliott said. “The policies are very very similar. New Jersey has 10-plus jurisdictions and they are nearly the same if not identical to each other.”
That happens because each city that looks at the issue looks at existing ordinances from other municipalities. The Minneapolis group, for example, benefitted from large spreadsheets prepared by city staff showing in detail how other cities have made the rules. “Our work mirrors other cities,” Elliott said. ”I wouldn’t say St. Paul will do exactly what Minneapolis did. It is its own jurisdiction. But it is fair to say both jurisdictions will do what are the best practices across the country.”
Bruce Nustad, the president of the Minnesota Retailers Association, which has members in both cities is an alternate member of the Minneapolis task force, said it is important for the rules to be the same. Doing things differently would lead to confusion for workers and difficulty for employers. But he said he thinks St. Paul will take its own path and that to reconcile the two will require conversations between the two cities. Given the timing, it could require Minneapolis to change some of its rules.
That potential is a reason why Minneapolis should have a longer implementation period for whatever ordinance it adopts — perhaps up to a year, Nustad said.
But Minneapolis work group chair Liz Doyle said while it might be helpful to have identical rules, it isn’t necessary. “There are certainly some advantages to having similarities,” Doyle said. “But it will be up to elected officials in St. Paul and their work group to decide. They may opt for something different. I think that’s fine. Maybe there are reasons why that makes sense for the workforce in St. Paul.”
Video Replay: Town Hall On Sentencing Reform And Appleton Prison
Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-Minneapolis) hosts a town hall meeting with Reps. Tim Miller (R-Prinsburg), Kathy Lohmer (R-Stillwater), Abigail Whelan (R-Anoka), Matt Dean (R-Dellwood), and Jeff Backer (R-Browns Valley) on realigning sentencing and the Appleton Prison. They will be joined by Justin Terrell from Justice 4 All and Jamil Jackson from TakeAction Minnesota.
The community discussion focused on the impacts of mass incarceration and the proposed reopening of Correction Corporation of America’s Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton.
TakeAction Minnesota to host discussion in Northfield
From 5-7 p.m. on May 5, “Aging Together: A Conversation about Care and Caregiving” will be hosted by TakeAction Minnesota at Northfield Community Action Center, 1651 Jefferson Pkwy.
The event is free and open to the public, and will feature a free dinner at 5 p.m. followed by the program and discussion.
Reopen prison in Appleton, and Minnesotans will lose
Social change in Minnesota is about two things: race and place. We are a state that, geographically speaking, is big. And we are people who are increasingly diverse, especially in terms of race and ethnicity. Each of us experiences life differently based on where we live and the color of our skin.
But there is far more that we share in common. The debate over whether or not to reopen a private prison in southwestern Minnesota threatens to divide rural whites against people of color and Native Americans. And if it does, it’s the owners of that private prison — not our communities — who will profit.
Appleton is a small city in western Minnesota, about 20 miles from the South Dakota border. Incorporated in 1881, it served as a major trade hub, sustained by a booming farm economy for decades. In the early 1990s, the city built a prison, hopeful that it could generate income and jobs, but the gamble didn’t pay off. In 1996, Appleton sold its prison to the largest for-profit prison venture in the country, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The prison was open for several years before closing in 2010.
Now with state prisons and county jails over capacity, there is a proposal to reopen the Prairie Correctional Facility.
This proposal would only add to Minnesota’s worst-in-the-nation racial disparities, because Minnesota — like every other state — incarcerates a vastly disproportionate number of people of color and American Indians compared with its overall population.
The economic struggle of the people of Appleton — most of whom are white — is not unique or new, but it is very real and very serious. Appleton, like many smaller towns throughout Greater Minnesota and the rural Midwest, is losing population as more and more residents look for economic opportunity in larger cities. Today, just more than 1,400 Minnesotans call Appleton home, down from nearly 3,000 in 2000.
Rural white people, people of color and American Indians all face dire economic circumstances, and they can plainly see how major corporations can strip their communities of wealth and leave little behind.
And that’s where Corrections Corporation of America comes in.
CCA earned a combined $500 million in profit in 2013 and 2014. Its president makes millions of dollars annually. Because its business model is to lock people up for profit, it spends heavily on lobbying state governments to privatize their corrections systems. In 2014, CCA spent more than $1.3 million on lobbying in nine states, including Minnesota. And, because providing quality correctional supervision costs more money and CCA wants to turn a healthy profit, its inmates suffer. Instances of violence and high levels of sexual assault at CCA facilities have been well-documented.
Legislators should be debating how best to address the economic crisis faced by rural communities and communities of color — and the profound structural racism of our corrections system. Adopting the guidelines of the Sentencing Reform Commission, expanding health care coverage, and passing earned sick and paid family leave for all workers would have an immediate positive impact on these communities. But instead, the lobbyists of CCA and their Republican legislative allies have pitted these communities against one another.
CCA and its allies in the Legislature argue that by reopening the prison, the local economy in Appleton will grow. Research says otherwise. As for communities of color, CCA’s business model speaks for itself.
Corporate conservatives like CCA have to divide us if they are going to get our public dollars to lock people up. And the wedges they use are about race and place, making us believe that the only way we can get ahead is if we compete with one another.
Thoughtful process, engaged community: Workplace Regulations Partnership Group
Over the past three months, the Workplace Regulations Partnership Group (WPG), which was tasked with recommending an earned sick time ordinance for the City of Minneapolis, has brought a diverse group of stakeholders to the table. Fifteen individuals, each with a unique perspective, came together to study the impact of policies related to earned sick time and paid time off. Our work together culminated in a final proposal presented to the Minneapolis City Council earlier this month.
The City Council established the WPG last year and appointed members to include representation from a range of stakeholder groups including employees, low-wage employees, organized labor, large employers, small employers, immigrant-owned businesses and representatives of business groups and associations. The WPG held eleven productive meetings to exchange ideas and draft language.
The group engaged the community to hear as many Minneapolis voices on the issue as possible. Through listening sessions and comment cards, we heard from more than 550 of the individuals most likely to be affected by this law, from across the city and from different economic, cultural and racial backgrounds.
The WPG worked to strike a compromise that allows enough sick time to be meaningful to employees and less burdensome for employers to implement. The recommended policy would allow employees to earn sick time through an accrual system at the start of employment, resulting in about six days of sick time for most employees annually.
To take into account the varying size of employers, businesses with one to three employees should allow employees to take necessary time off, but the set amount of paid time is up to the employer’s discretion. Employers with fewer than 24 employees would, under the proposal, be able to delay implementation so that they can adjust to the new policy.
It is our hope that the City Council will take the months of community engagement, as well as the experience and expertise of the members of the WPG, into account as they consider a paid sick leave proposal. As with any compromise there was give and take, and not all members agree with every detail. However, we have presented a set of recommendationsa that reflected the common ground the group was able to reach.
Minneapolis Inches Closer To Comprehensive Paid Sick Leave
The city of Minneapolis is one step closer to implementing the most sweeping paid sick leave policy in the state.
The proposal, which advanced Wednesday out of a city council committee, would require employers to provide 48 hours a year paid sick leave to almost all employees working in the city.
The only employers who would be exempt would be those with three or fewer employees. But not everyone is on board.
Supporters of paid sick leave spoke with reporters before Wednesday’s meeting. Chris Pennock did not have paid sick time when he worked as a carpet cleaner.
“If you had, you know, a temperature … if you had the flu, it didn’t matter what it was,” Pennock said. “They would take out $100 or more our of your paycheck every day you called in sick.”
The proposal would mandate that employees who did not use their sick leave would be able to bank or carry over up to 80 hours into the next calendar year.
New sick-leave plan would affect nearly all Minneapolis businesses
A proposal that would require all businesses with at least four employees working in Minneapolis to provide paid sick leave is now in the hands of the Minneapolis City Council.
The issue has been under discussion at City Hall for nearly a year, and focused most recently through a 19-member group of workers, business owners and representatives of business and labor organizations. After three months of work — including 14 public listening sessions — that group presented its recommendation in a council committee meeting Wednesday.
Council members will now spend time studying the details of the plan, which would cover employees who work at least 80 hours in the city each year. Workers would earn one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, with a maximum of 48 hours per year. Time could be carried over from year to year, allowing workers to “bank” up to 80 hours of sick leave.
Earned leave could be used when employees or their family members are ill, or as “safe leave” — time off to deal with abuse, stalking or other issues. Employers at all businesses would be prohibited from retaliating against employees who take earned sick time. The ordinance would apply to businesses based in Minneapolis and outside of the city, if they have workers in Minneapolis.
It’s not clear how much time the council will take before voting on an ordinance, but Council Member Elizabeth Glidden said there will likely be a vote Friday to direct city officials on the “next steps” for the proposal.
Members of the Workplace Partnership Group told the council they worked hard to balance the many concerns voiced by workers, business owners and community members. They said they found a substantial need for such a policy, with an estimated 42 percent of Minneapolis workers — more than 100,000 people — lacking access to paid sick time.
Liz Doyle, the group’s chairwoman, said many people spoke about working while sick because a day without pay could mean going without food. She said children often go to school while sick because their parents can’t afford to take unpaid time off, among other public health concerns.
“It really painted a picture of the implications for the city … the economic vitality of the city really extends beyond the individual who needs time off,” she said.