Week Ending July 13, 2018

President Trump appoints new Supreme Court Justice as Senate rushes to start the approval process.

  • Trump Nominates Kavanaugh for Supreme Court
  • Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Funding Bill Approved
  • House Passes Bill to Attack Job, Health and Safety Protections
  • Democratic Senators Hold Hearing on Dark Money
  • Senate Panel Explores Need for Paid Family Leave

Trump Nominates Kavanaugh for Supreme Court

President Donald Trump named federal appeals Judge Brett Kavanaugh to be the next justice of the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh is widely seen as even more conservative than both recently appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch and retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, both who ruled against AFSCME in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31. Kavanaugh served previously in the administrations of George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush. He also worked for Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, who investigated President Bill Clinton. The reaction to Kavanaugh was swift and decisive as many Democrats immediately came out in opposition. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said Democrats are determined to vigorously oppose Kavanaugh.

The Senate confirmation battle is expected to last several months or more, possibly leading up to November’s midterm elections. Senate Republicans hold a razor thin 51 to 49 majority in the Senate, where a simple majority vote is needed for approval after Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) changed Senate rules to do away with the traditional filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. Hearings are expected to take place as early as late August, but only after Democrats are satisfied that a full record has been compiled including material from Kavanaugh’s extensive writings, past service on the lower court bench and in White House staff positions. Democrats are particularly interested in Kavanaugh’s writings regarding “exempting a president while in office from criminal prosecution and investigation.” 

What You Need to Know:  AFSCME President Lee Saunders, in a statement opposing the nomination, said the court has become a tool for “the rich, powerful and well-connected to trample on the rights and freedoms of working families.” He said further, “(I)f confirmed to the Supreme Court, President Trump’s pick for the bench, Brett Kavanaugh, will join Neil Gorsuch in tipping the scales of the court even further in favor of a handful of wealthy special interests and against working people for decades to come. … Judge Kavanaugh’s record shows that he is not capable of being an independent justice who will uphold the rights of all Americans.”  

Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Funding Bill Approved 

The House Appropriations Committee met and approved the $177.1 billion fiscal year 2019 spending bill for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS). Republicans once again underfunded this important bill, withholding any new funding from the $18 billion increase agreed to the budget deal from earlier this year. Yet, the LHHS bill accounts for nearly one-third of domestic spending and is essential to state and local governments.

The package was approved by a party-line vote of 30 to 22. During debate, over 50 amendments were offered, including many by Democrats related to immigration and family separation that were rejected by the majority. Committee Democrats also offered dozens of amendments that championed AFSCME concerns, including reinstating requirements for registered apprenticeships to meet established criteria, protecting student borrowers, and requiring the Dept. of HHS to make billions in “risk adjustment payments” by the early fall to prevent a spike in health care premiums. These and other proposed funding increases for labor, health and education programs spanning job training, worker protection, Pell grants, substance abuse, and Head Start were also rejected.

Instead, Republicans voted to cut Dept. of Labor (DOL) programs by $88.8 million, a decrease from the current funding level that expires Sept. 30, including a 2 percent cut to the Employment and Training Administration. The bill also directs the DOL to work to reduce improper payments of unemployment insurance and cuts $7 million from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) funding shrinks by $12.8 million to $261.3 million. The bill includes multiple poison pill riders that target workers, including an unfair carve-out that exempts tribal governments from NLRB authority. If enacted, workers at those government-owned businesses, such as casinos, wouldn’t have the right to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act.

The bill provides a very small increase for the Dept. of Education, flat funding critical state formula programs, including Title I for disadvantaged students, Title II for educator training and class size reduction, and 21st Century Learning to support before and after care for low-income students. IDEA received a $50 million increase.

What You Need to KnowThe House has completed committee work for all appropriations bills except Homeland Security, and the Senate has completed committee work for all bills. The next step for LHHS could be on the Senate floor in late July and possibly pairing it with the Defense bill. 

House Passes Bill to Attack Job, Health and Safety Protections 

By a vote of 230 to 168, mostly along party lines, the House passed the Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act of 2017 (H.R. 50), which would give wealthy CEOs even more advantages to bend administrative rules and federal legislation in their favor and against working families. The bill creates a new procedural tool to thwart nearly any legislative requirement to the private sector that allocates budgetary expenses. This tool could be wielded to block a range of legislative requirements from lifting the minimum wage to increasing nurse staffing levels in hospitals to lowering prescription drug prices set by drug corporations. If this bill had been law, it could have blocked the protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions in the Affordable Care Act. The bill also creates additional needless grounds for judicial review of administrative regulations and gives more power to CEOs to influence those rules before they are drafted. AFSCME opposes the bill as it would threaten current and future fundamental workplace, health, safety and environmental protections.

What You Need to Know:  The House GOP leadership is working overtime to beef up their ability to dismantle existing workplace, health and safety protections and threaten efforts to improve standards for working families and their communities. AFSCME will press the Senate to reject this legislation.

Democratic Senators Hold Hearing on Dark Money 

Senate Democratic members held a hearing, “After Janus v. AFSCME: Why Teachers and Workers are Fighting Back Against the Secret Money Campaign to Take Away Their Rights.” Chaired by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and attended by many other senators, testimony was heard from four witnesses about how wealthy and powerful individuals are spending big to take away the freedom of Americans to join a union. The witnesses also confirmed that despite attacks on the right to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions, public employees have been sticking with their unions.

What You Need to Know: After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Janus, the ultra-wealthy, anti-worker interests who bankrolled the case hoped for the end of public sector unions in the United States. They spent millions of untraceable dollars to urge workers to give up their voice at the workplace. Many AFSCME members and other public employees are rejecting those efforts. House and Senate Democratic leaders introduced the Public-Sector Freedom to Negotiate Act (H.R. 6238, S. 3151), which guarantees that public employees have the right to organize and bargain collectively in all states. Working families and our allies will keep fighting back against the dark money forces that seek to radically alter the rules of our democracy. 

Senate Panel Explores Need for Paid Family Leave 

A Senate Finance subcommittee heard bipartisan support that the lack of paid family leave hurts working families and our nation’s economy. Working families lose roughly $20.6 billion in wages each year because of inadequate or no paid leave. In fact, the vast majority of the workforce, more than 100 million workers, have no paid family leave. For the moment, however, there is no consensus on the path forward to a social insurance program that covers paid family medical leave. 

What You Need to Know:  Some Republican senators advanced a proposal that would have workers use their retirement security to fund paid time off for parental leave. AFSCME opposes this proposal because it forces working parents to rob their own Social Security retirement to be able to care for loved ones now.

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