Supreme Obstruction: Senate Leaders Want a Constitutional Shutdown

This article by LeeAnn Hall and Fred Azcarate was originally published in The Hill.

Which of our elected officials truly believe in constitutional government – and which of them don’t? The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is putting senators to the test on this question – and the right wing is failing that test at a time when there’s a growing call for a more inclusive, more responsive democracy in our country.

The United States Constitution, the basis of our government, lays out a clear process for filling a vacancy such as that created by Scalia’s death: the president nominates a candidate and the Senate advises.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that the Senate should obstruct the appointment of a ninth justice to the Court, and his colleagues on the right followed suit.
What they’re proposing is nothing short of another government shutdown—this time of constitutional proportions.

It’s a point made by some of their Senate colleagues. “When the hard right doesn’t get its way,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday, “their immediate reaction is to shut [government] down.”

We’ve seen the consequences of government shutdowns when right-wing members of Congress decide they do not want to do the job of governing: furloughed employees, shuttered public buildings and parks, delayed veterans’ death benefits, Main Street businesses cut off from loans, and billions of dollars lost to the economy.

Shutdowns harm real people because government is an important force in our lives and our communities. But none of that matters to the right-wing obstructionists in Congress.

Yet, while Schumer’s statement certainly reflects current dynamics in Congress, his statement doesn’t go far enough.

Obstructionism is more than a tactic the right wing uses when it doesn’t get its way. Obstructionism also expresses the right’s ideology about the role of government in our lives.

From their perspective, government should serve individual and corporate property rights and national defense. They call this “small government,” but it’s not about size. It’s about who government works for and whose interests it serves.

The fight over the Supreme Court comes when an increasing share of the public is demanding a government that responds to the needs of all of us – not just a few. Yet the right wing wants a more exclusive government, as best exemplified by their recent attacks on voting rights – the most virulent attacks since Jim Crow.

Many cases now pending before the Supreme Court – cases the right-wing wants to shut down – have a bearing on our creation of that more inclusive, more responsive democracy so many are clamoring for. Without nine members, it cannot issue definitive rulings.

Employees who want dignity in their workplaces, including the right to unionize and the right to overtime pay, will have to wait until 2017 for a decision on those rights.

Women will have wait for an answer on their right to abortion and contraception. People with cases in the criminal justice system will have to wait for an answer on their right to a jury free of racial bias.

Immigrant parents will have to wait for an answer on their right to remain with their children, and to live at peace in their communities.

With more than 300 days left in President Obama’s term, there’s plenty of time for Senate hearings. Justice Scalia himself was confirmed after 85 days. What’s unprecedented is not the timeframe for review but the fact that the right wing still has not adjusted to the reality of a black president.

They’d do best to adapt. Our country is looking more and more like the president. It’s also looking more like those calling for their rightful place in our democracy: women, people of color and immigrants. Failure to recognize these voices will hurt at the ballot box.

The Constitution is for the entire country, as should be remembered by senators who keep copies of it in their pockets. Shutting down the Constitution means shutting down our democracy, and we the people won’t stand for it.

Hall LeeAnn@allianceforajustsociety.org is the executive director of Alliance for a Just Society, a national research, policy, and organizing network working for economic, racial, and social justice. Azcarate fazcarate@usaction.org has been the executive director of USAction for the past 2 and 1/2 years. For 30 years, he has been an organizer, trainer and social movement leader with grassroots, community and labor organizations.

 

Vermont Main Street Alliance Members Play Key Role in Paid Sick Days Senate Approval

Matt Birong, owner of 3 Squares Cafe in Vergennes
Matt Birong, owner of 3 Squares Cafe in Vergennes

The member businesses of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont achieved a tremendous victory this month that was over ten years in the making. The Vermont State Senate approved the Healthy Workplaces bill (H.187) with a strong bi-partisan vote of 21-8.

The approval came after several amendments were made by the Senate Committee on Economic Development that had jurisdiction of the bill and five successful floor amendments that received signals of support from the Economic Development Committee.

Key changes in the paid sick days legislation

included a one-year grace period for new businesses, an exclusion for part-time workers that work fewer than 18 hours per week, and one year delayed implementation for companies that employ five or fewer employees working 30 hours or more per week. The bill also excludes any persons under the age of 18.

Other floor amendments not supported by the committee met defeat, including an attempt to exempt businesses with five and fewer employees that failed by a single vote – providing universal adoption of the law to businesses of all sizes. Due to a narrow vote on this amendment the Senate reconvened to address this item specifically and for the second time in one week they voted to defeat the amendment.

The Main Street Alliance of Vermont members were vocal in opposition to any modification that would carve-out and exempt businesses for any purpose. If the exemption had passed, roughly 25,000 workers would not have the same protections as the rest of Vermont workers.

“We appreciate all the work that the Senate did on this bill – and feel that a reasonable compromise has been struck,” says Lindsay DesLauriers, state director of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont. “We were particularly pleased that the Senate did not adopt an exclusion by business size as we hear again and again from business owners around the state that a standard of earned leave should apply to all businesses equally.

“Paid leave should be a workplace standard like the minimum wage and this bill accomplishes that,” she said.

“This bill represents years of work and compromise to achieve a balanced bill. I’m pleased with the result and proud of the work that so many business owners on our coalitions did to ensure such a positive outcome,” said Stephanie Hainley, Main Street Alliance of Vermont board chair and COO at White + Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors.

“I think this bill is one of the best examples I’ve seen of really working hard to figure out how to find the right balance between employers and employees,” says Matt Birong, owner of 3 Squares Café in Vergennes. “I applaud all the work that has gone into this.”

Cracking Down on Abusive Debt Collectors

This article first appeared in OtherWords

Have you ever picked up your phone to find an aggressive voice on the other end demanding payments on a debt you know nothing about? You’re far from alone.

Once you’re in the sights of a debt collector, the impact on your life can be devastating: Your wages can be garnished and your credit ruined. You might lose your driver’s license, or even your job.

And it could happen over a debt you don’t even owe.

In a recent analysis of 75,000 complaints about debt collection practices submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — just a sample of the total number — this was the most common complaint by far. Over 40 percent of people being harassed by collectors said they didn’t owe the debt in the first place.

Other complaints charged that the collectors made false statements or threats to coerce people to pay.

The government created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — or CFPB ­— to address abusive financial practices after the 2008 financial crash. This year, the bureau is considering strengthening rules to protect consumers from deceptive and aggressive collection practices.

Abusive collection tactics impact people with all kinds of debt — including credit card debt, medical debt, payday loans, student loans, mortgages, and automobile loans. Collectors often strike when people are most vulnerable, such as when they’re recovering from illness or desperately seeking work. They aggressively target the poor, immigrants, and people of color.

About 77 million people — or 35 percent of adults in the United States with a credit file — have a report of debt in collections. That alone makes a compelling case for the bureau to crack down on abusive tactics.

When my organization, the Alliance for a Just Society, analyzed the complaints for ournew reportUnfair, Deceptive, & Abusive: Debt Collectors Profit from Aggressive Tactics — we tallied the complaints in the database and built a list of the 15 companies with the most complaints.

The list is topped by heavy-hitting debt buyers like Encore Capital Group and PRA Group, whose business models hinge on buying portfolios of consumer debts for pennies on the dollar and then wringing payments out of alleged debtors. Both of these companies more than doubled their profits from 2010 to 2014.

Major student loan servicer Navient (formerly Sallie Mae) also makes the top 15 list for complaints about its debt collection tactics.

But it’s particularly worth noting that six out of the top 15 offenders on this list are original creditors, not third-party collectors. They include Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and Synchrony Financial (the largest issuer of private label credit cards).

This is important, because the primary protection most consumers have against unfair collection tactics — the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act — applies only to third parties, not original creditors. This is a troubling double standard.

The new rules must also to apply to the original creditors — including payday lenders, credit card companies, and big banks — along with third-party collectors and debt buyers.

The rules should limit phone calls to prevent harassment and require collectors to have complete documentation before attempting to collect. The rules should prohibit selling, purchasing, and attempting to collect old, paid, or expired “zombie” debt.

Finally, the bureau should toughen the penalties for collectors breaking the rules.

Living with debt isn’t a personal failing — it’s a national crisis. The bureau needs to stand up for everyday people and put a stop to abusive collection tactics.

LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of Alliance for a Just Society, a national research, policy, and organizing network working for economic, racial, and social justice. AllianceForAJustSociety.org
Distributed by OtherWords.org

REPORT: Debt Collectors Profit From Aggressive Tactics

For Immediate Release
January 26, 2016
Contact: Kathy Mulady, (206) 992-8787
kathy@allianceforajustsociety.org
REPORT PROFILES COMPANIES WITH THE MOST COMPLAINTS ABOUT
ABUSIVE AND DECEPTIVE DEBT COLLECTION TACTICS

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau should write strong rules to protect
consumers from abusive collection practices

SEATTLE – Companies engaging in debt collection activities use abusive and deceptive practices that include harassing people for debts not owed, threatening illegal actions, calling people at work, and contacting their employers and neighbors.

These are among the findings of a new report, Unfair, Deceptive & Abusive: Debt Collectors Profit from Aggressive Tactics, released today by the Alliance for a Just Society. Researchers analyzed 75,000 consumer complaints filed during the last two years with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The report profiles the 15 companies with the most complaints. The list includes:

  • Encore Capital Group – San Diego, CA
  • PRA Group – Norfolk, VA
  • Enhanced Recovery Company – Jacksonville, FL
  • Citigroup – New York, NY
  • Expert Global Solutions – Plano, TX
  • JPMorgan Chase – New York, NY
  • Navient (the student loan servicer) – Wilmington, DE
  • Wells Fargo – San Francisco, CA

The CFPB is considering whether new rules are warranted to protect consumers from deceptive and aggressive collection practices. Next steps in a rulemaking on debt collections are anticipated as early as February.

About 35 percent of adults in the U.S. with a credit file have a report of debt in collections, leaving a broad swath of households vulnerable to abusive collection tactics.

“This analysis makes it clear that debt collectors routinely engage in unfair, deceptive and abusive practices to maximize their profits,” said LeeAnn Hall, executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society. “We need the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to stand up for consumers and write strong rules that ends these abusive practices.”

The report includes detailed recommendations to end abusive collection practices.

Meanwhile, secretive groups with undisclosed funding sources have launched a series of dubious attacks on the Bureau since November, seeking to undermine its work to strengthen consumer protections in the financial sector.

“We need the CFPB to stand strong in the face of these deceptive attacks from dark money groups with financial industry ties,” said Hall. “It’s time to rein in abusive debt collection practices and we need strong leadership and a strong rule from the CFPB to do it.”

Findings from the report include:

  • More than 40 percent of the complaints were about continued attempts to collect debts consumers said they did not owe.
  • Nearly 20 percent of complaints were about collectors’ communication tactics; 8 percent cited false statements and 7 percent cited the collector taking or threatening an illegal action.
  • Complaints tied to credit card debt were most common, followed by medical debt, payday loans, student loans, mortgage debt, and finally auto debt.
  • The two companies with the most collection-related complaints, Encore Capital Group and PRA Group, each more than doubled their profits from 2010 to 2014.

The report’s recommendations for the CFPB’s rulemaking include:

  • Apply the new debt collection rules to original creditors – such as payday lenders, credit card companies, and banks – along with third-party collectors and debt buyers.
  • Strengthen remedies and increase penalties to stop abusive debt collection practices.
  • Require debt collectors to have complete documentation before initiating collection actions.
  • Set specific limits on phone calls from debt collectors to prevent harassment.
  • Prohibit the sale, purchase, and collection of time-barred debt (also known as “zombie debt”).

#   #   #

The Alliance for a Just Society is a national organization that focuses on social, economic and racial justice issues.

The full report can be found here: http://allianceforajustsociety.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/2016.01_Debt.Collectors_FINAL.pdf

Instead of Building Walls, Build an Economy That Works for All

The Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will take up a case that challenges President Barack Obama’s executive actions that deferred the deportation of 5 million undocumented immigrants.

News coverage of this development naturally was dominated by the two words that are sure to make any news story go viral: “procedural battle.”

Okay, perhaps such a phrase doesn’t rise to the level of virality as the groundbreaking revelation that Kim Kardashian washes her hair twice a week. But that’s exactly what’s wrong with this system — with so much at stake for so many families, it is a shame that people aren’t paying more attention.

While it can be easy to get lost in the alphabet soup of “SCOTUS,” “DACA” and “DAPA,” debates over the technical merits of the President’s executive actions should not detract from what’s truly at stake here — that families are being separated by outdated, arcane and draconian immigration laws.

So far during this presidential campaign, the immigration debate has been front and center. And, with the Supreme Court taking on this case, we’ll be assured that it will continue.

The anti-immigrant message focuses again on fear – fear that there aren’t enough jobs or enough money to go around, and it resonates, not because it is true, but because we know the majority of people in this country are struggling. They call it the 99% movement because, unless you’re among the filthy rich 1%, you are probably struggling.

The Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series research by the Alliance for a Just Society shows people quite simply aren’t making ends meet. And so, by cranking up the fear of scarcity, people are more likely to perceive others as a threat to their own economic security. When people are drowning in debt and can’t find a decent-paying job, they see immigrants as competition in an already-tight workforce.

The reality is that immigration strengthens our workforce.

“This case is profoundly impactful not just for the Latino community, but for the entire nation,” said Janet Murguía, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. “The expansion of DACA and the creation of DAPA could potentially help more than 4.4 million eligible immigrants, create nearly 30,000 new jobs and grow our GDP by $230 billion by 2025.”

And so the conversation we really need to be having is not about how to keep immigrants out of the country, but how we can shape our economy so that it works for everyone. The answer to the scarcity mentality is not to build walls, but to build the economy and equitably share our resources.

We do that by increasing an embarrassingly low minimum wage, making higher education affordable and accessible, providing health care to everyone who needs it, and stop giving tax breaks to large corporations that drain local economies of good-paying jobs and replaces them with bad jobs.

But tearing apart families, living in the politics of hate, and rejecting those yearning to breathe free is not our way.

Winning the Fight for $15 in 2016

Millions of low-paid Americans rang in 2016 with a raise, as a handful of state minimum wage increases went into effect on the first day of January.

Many of those raises are a barely noticeable 15 or 20 cents an hour — little comfort to people struggling to make ends meet. But workers in the cities and states that voted for more robust wages last year saw much more significant gains.

Minimum wage workers in Alaska, California, Massachusetts, and Nebraska, for example, are finding a dollar-an-hour increase in their paychecks. Workers in Hawaii are enjoying an extra $1.25 an hour. In Seattle, some workers at bigger companies are seeing a substantial $2 hourly increase as the city’s $15 minimum wage is phased in.

The national campaign for a $15 minimum wage emerged as a leading economic justice issue last year. It’s also a critical racial justice issue: Half of all African-American workersand almost 60 percent of Latino workers make less than $15 an hour.

The momentum to raise the minimum wage will only increase in 2016 as public support grows. Yet too many states — 21 of them, concentrated mainly in the South — haven’t budged from the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, unchanged since 2009.

Many of these holdouts have deep pools of poverty. Most deny poor families health care by refusing to expand Medicaid, and nearly all have held the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers to $2.13 an hour for 25 years.

The problem with efforts to raise the wage city by city and state by state is that it leaves out workers in states without a citizen initiative process, or in communities without strong unions or leadership. Millions of low-wage workers are at risk of becoming a left-behind underclass.

That means it’s time for Congress to increase the national minimum wage — and to abolish the lower, sub-minimum wage for tipped workers. If they aren’t sure how to do it, leaders from New York to Los Angeles have provided plenty of examples.

Research from my organization, the Alliance for a Just Society, shows that a living wage for a single adult ranges from $14.26 in Arkansas to $21.44 in Hawaii. On average, a worker would have to put in 93 hours a week just to get by on the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The numbers underscore the crisis facing families in our country.

Often, low-wage workers are told that the solution is to go get a better-paying job, but the reality is there are nowhere near enough jobs that pay a living wage. The occupations with the most job openings — in retail and restaurants — pay the least, and they’re most likely to be part-time.

We’ve become a low-wage nation, with implications that reach far beyond just low pay. Low-wage jobs also mean part-time hours, unpredictable schedules, and no benefits or paid sick leave — making it impossible for workers to break even.

It’s unacceptable that anyone who works full-time in our country should go hungry, homeless, or without care for their child. This is the year to make all wages living wages. Without action, Congress is endorsing the creation of a new class of poverty among our workers.

Jill Reese is the associate director of the Alliance for a Just Society, a national organization focusing on economic and racial justice. AllianceForAJustSociety.org
Distributed by OtherWords.org

This article first appeared in OtherWords.org
http://otherwords.org/winning-the-fight-for-15-in-2016/

Today in Medicaid: Big Win in Louisiana

Today, Louisiana’s new governor, John Bel Edwards, made the most of his first full day in office.

Through an executive order, Gov. Edwards expanded Medicaid to about 300,000 uninsured Louisianans, many of whom will be eligible for health coverage for the first time. This move makes Louisiana the 31st state to extend the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to its lowest-income residents.

Edwards’ action marks a big win for community leaders in Louisiana – and the culmination of a long fight for health care justice.

The battle began in 2012, when the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of the Medicaid expansion. Emboldened by this decision, former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal dug in his heels and refused federal funding rather than make health care available to his constituents.

This intransigence resulted in Louisianans going without a potential 7,600 mammograms and 28,000 cholesterol screenings each year, according to one estimate. The state was also losing out on an average $1.5 billion in federal funds annually.

There were also grave racial justice implications to Jindal’s refusal to expand Medicaid, with African Americans accounting for more than half of those shut out of health coverage as a result. (Almost two-thirds are people of color.)

A diverse coalition of organizations fought back. A Community Voice and Southern United Neighborhoods – partners of the Alliance for a Just Society – joined this fight, knocking on hundreds of doors, holding community meetings, and rallying in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and elsewhere. As the issue played out in the legislature, they showed up again and again, undeterred by setbacks.

In 2015, with Jindal’s term coming to an end – and his popularity plummeting – A Community Voice and their allies made a final push to place Medicaid front-and-center as the race for governor was taking shape. Meanwhile, they kept the heat on the legislature.

These efforts bore fruit in the spring, when lawmakers passed a resolution allowing the incoming governor to pick up the Medicaid expansion without further legislative action.

From there, it was a matter of keeping attention focused on Medicaid as the candidates vied for governor. When Bel Edwards won in November, he assured Louisianans that Medicaid would be one of his top priorities.

His executive order makes that promise a reality. Louisianans eligible for Medicaid expansion should begin receiving their coverage by July.

Community leaders have a lot to celebrate.

“Years of base-building, actions, and skirmishes have led to the day when the people have won health care for another 300,000 Louisianans,” said Lanny Roy, ACV president.

“A Community Voice is proud to have been a part of it, and we’re proud of our new governor John Bel Edwards. Now to the task of effecting it and making our people healthier.”

Meanwhile, millions of other low-income people, disproportionately people of color, remain without coverage in the 19 states that have yet to expand Medicaid. Today, Louisiana points the way.

It’s a Matter of Life and Death: Insurers Must Cover Language Services

A 14-year-old girl accompanies her Somali-speaking father to his medical appointment. Because the clinic doesn’t provide an interpreter, the girl has to inform her own father than he has been diagnosed with cancer. She remains his interpreter through eight years of treatment, sometimes hiding information to protect him from the bad news.

A group of Spanish-speaking farmworkers enters a pesticide-laden field and soon, sickened and vomiting, must rush to the hospital. No medical interpreters are provided, and one of the farmworkers must handle communications between her coworkers and health care providers – while she is suffering from her own symptoms.

A Vietnamese-speaking woman is admitted to the hospital. When doctors or nurses need to talk with her, they call in an orderly with no training as an interpreter and no familiarity with medical terminology.

Cases like these are far from isolated. Every day, children, other relatives, friends, and even untrained hospital staff are asked to step in to do a job only competent, professional medical interpreters should be performing.

These dangerous practices persist despite federal law requiring hospitals and other health care providers to offer language services.

These institutions should be meeting their obligations. But it’s also long past time to require insurance companies to make medical interpretation available just as they cover exams, prescription drugs, and other health care essentials.

So far, we’re not holding insurers to that kind of requirement.

As we continue transforming our health care system through the Affordable Care Act (ACA), we need to incorporate professional medical interpretation into those efforts. The federal government should require insurance companies to make medical interpretation available to all patients who need and want it in their course of care.

Letting insurance companies off the hook puts people’s health at risk, allowing insurers to deliver substandard care to people whose health they’re supposed to protect.

Ample research shows that medical interpretation is a necessary component of health care for people with limited English. Without proper interpretation, doctors can misunderstand patient complaints, inaccurately diagnose their conditions, and prescribe inappropriate treatments. Patients receive medications but may not know how to take them.

Often, patients with limited English don’t even make it to the doctor’s office at all. Studies show that patients with limited English are less likely than other patients to have a regular source of health care.

Thanks to the ACA, insurance companies are signing people up in record numbers. They’re marketing health plans to many new enrollees in languages other than English. They’re also enrolling new patients in languages other than English. They should also be able to make health care available in those languages – rather than just pocketing the premiums from those enrollees.

The ACA gives us new tools for holding insurers and providers to their language services responsibilities. We need to do a better job of using all of these tools.

In early September, the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed long-awaited rules to implement the ACA’s ban on discrimination in health care, including discrimination faced by patients with limited English proficiency.

The proposed rules make it clear that oral interpretation is key to combatting that discrimination. They also establish that the new anti-discrimination rules apply to health insurers offering coverage through the ACA. And they require entities covered by the rules to make sure they’re relying on qualified interpreters.

With this language, HHS is building on longstanding civil rights law recognizing people’s right to oral interpretation. But HHS is also building on a history in which that right has been violated, again and again, with violators abetted by inadequate enforcement mechanisms. Patients still are receiving substandard care because of the language they speak.

In a health system increasingly concerned about quality, insurers should make sure all their patients are receiving good health care.

There’s precedent for requiring insurers to step up. Under California’s SB 853, insurers must provide language services at all access points, including the doctor’s office. And, in many states, Medicaid pays for interpretation to help make sure providers are offering it.

If Medicaid programs can cover medical interpretation, so can private insurers. The federal government shouldn’t be letting insurers off the hook while also letting them collect premiums. Patients with limited English have a right to quality health care – and we need to make sure they’re getting it.

(This article was originally published in Huffington Post.)

Defending Planned Parenthood is Essential for the Whole Progressive Movement

(This opinion by LeeAnn Hall was originally published in Common Dreams)
Planned Parenthood is an easy target for rage and righteousness as we saw too plainly in the shootings in Colorado Springs late last month.
The ongoing conservative attack on Planned Parenthood funding depends on the same extreme rhetoric but, it’s also part of a broader trend, a strategy by the right to dismantle progressive infrastructure.
As destructive as we know right-wing operatives to be, we shouldn’t be surprised by their tactics – and we can’t allow ourselves to be divided or defeated by them, either.

Progressive groups and our members must reach across our issue silos, and our membership bases, whenever one of us comes under attack. Our support of Planned Parenthood provides a good example of how we can and should support each other.

This week I joined with a hundred other community leaders, organizers, and small business owners to place an advertisement in The Hill to tell lawmakers directly that we stand with Planned Parenthood. This followed a day of solidarity on December 5, when organizations and individuals around the country stood up for Planned Parenthood.

By speaking up and speaking together we are helping build a new kind of solidarity essential for today’s progressive movement.

A right to an abortion was upheld by the highest court of the land and is supported, in some or all circumstances, by 80 percent of the public. But abortion rights, and women’s health more broadly, are under greater attack today than ever. Why?

Many states have created bureaucratic hurdles and funding schemes that have made clinics that provide abortions and other essential women’s health services harder and harder to find. At the federal level rhetorical and policy attacks on Planned Parenthood have further jeopardized these rights.

Sure, it is largely because the rightwing politicians have been able to vilify Planned Parenthood and utilize their power at the state and federal level to limit access to abortions.

But it is also because for many years our movement for progressive social change has been too divided-up and focused internally on a narrow set of issues. We have tended to stay in our silos.

For my organization, the decision to stand up for Planned Parenthood was our first significant public foray into reproductive justice. Our decision came after a lot of discussion among organizers and grassroots leaders.

Ultimately, we knew we had to recognize the connection between attacks on women’s reproductive rights and many other issues affecting the lives of everyday people.

Low-wage workers, poor people, people of color, and immigrants depend on Planned Parenthood – 2.7 million women and men every year – for birth control, family planning and abortion services, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted disease.

At a time when working people, and especially working women, are increasingly struggling to make ends meet, Planned Parenthood and other women’s health centers are providing essential services. Seventy-nine percent of Planned Parenthood health care center patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

It’s no accident that the same politicians plotting to defund Planned Parenthood are leading the charge to eradicate the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Last week, just days after the Colorado Springs shootings, conservatives in the Senate were still debating legislation to dismantle both health care pillars.

If the attack on reproductive justice is part of a broader right-wing agenda, the singling out of Planned Parenthood also points to a prime right-wing tactic to advance that agenda: destroy progressive institutions.

Unfortunately, the right-wing has had success in the past with this tactic.

Just a few years ago, right-wing demagoguery, distortions, and budget cuts broke up ACORN, a national network of community organizations that was one of the strongest voices of low-income people in the country. Far too many progressive groups and individuals stood on the sidelines when ACORN was under fire. We lost strength as a result.

The latest legal challenge to the right of workers to collectively bargain and build unions will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in January in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association which could dismantle public sector unions as we know them.

In recent weeks black student activists at the University of Missouri faced threats of violence in the wake of their successful organizing effort to unseat the University President. More recently five Black Lives Matter supporters were shot and wounded in Minneapolis by purported white supremacists.

Meanwhile, political leaders continue to make hateful comments about — and propose continued racist policy against — refugees and Muslims. Some voices may be more extreme than others, but xenophobia is widespread, as we saw in 30 governors’ reaction to Syrian refugees. Along with these rhetorical attacks, we’re seeing efforts to gut the programs that help refugees.

This is all infrastructure that we, as progressives, care about and need.

As community organizations, unions, grassroots activists, and faith leaders we must look to the shows of support for Planned Parenthood as an example of our ability to stand together. If there’s one thing we need lots of these days, it’s solidarity.

LeeAnn Hall is the executive director of the Alliance for a Just Society, a national organization that advocates for health, economic and racial justice. 

Next Attack on Workers – Will Conservatives Champion “Free Riding” to Justify It?

Building power through strength in numbers. It’s one way regular people can overcome opposition from corporate and wealthy special interests to win concrete improvements in our everyday lives.

We may not be able to match opponents who can write seven-figure checks dollar for dollar, but by banding together, articulating collective demands, and negotiating with powerful interests (whether corporate CEOs or elected leaders) from a place of shared strength, we can build the leverage to win changes that benefit our families and communities.

This – building strength in numbers and banding together to negotiate with power holders – is a core component of what community organizing is all about. It’s also a critical part of what unions do for the workers they represent in collective bargaining.

But now, the ability of unions – in particular, unions that represent teachers and other workers in public service – to help workers come together in collective bargaining to win better pay, benefits, and work environments is under threat in a case that will go before the U.S. Supreme Court in January.

The case is called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. It is, in a nutshell, a brazen attempt to overturn what has been a settled Supreme Court precedent since the 1977 Abood decision reaffirmed the right of public sector unions to collect “fair share” fees to cover the costs of collective bargaining.

The fact that the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), the rightwing legal shop leading the case, asked lower courts to rule against it without even presenting an argument underscores the drastic departure from the settled precedent they’re seeking.

On its website, CIR explains: “The speed with which the case moved through the lower courts reflected a deliberate litigation strategy. From the beginning, CIR argued that the lower courts do not have the authority to overturn existing Supreme Court precedent.”

We all have something at stake in this case – the teachers whose ability to band together and have a shared voice on the job is on the line; the students who benefit when their teachers negotiate for smaller class sizes; the local businesses that benefit from the middle class customer base teachers and firefighters and other public service workers represent.

But it’s also true that women and people of color have the most to lose from a bad decision in the Friedrichs case. Unions have won important gains toward gender and racial equity in the workplace; public sector unions in particular have created avenues into the middle class for people who have been systematically shut out and discriminated against, especially people of color.

It should not be too surprising, then, that CIR has counted among its benefactors not only a range of conservative funding conduits that are connected to the Koch political network, but also a group identified with white supremacist ideas.

Maybe one of the biggest ironies in this case, though, is how conservatives will have to tie their own professed values up in knots to argue their position. Because the whole case rests on creating a “free rider” problem – where people don’t pitch in their fair share to support the shared benefits they receive – for unions. The “free rider” idea stands in sharp contrast with conservative narratives about personal responsibility.

If CIR is to win, it will have to convince a majority on the Supreme Court that an organization should be forced to give the benefits of membership (like better deals through group bargaining power) to any individual without asking that individual to pitch in even a dime to support the bargaining the organization does on his or her behalf.

Here’s the thing: what if the organization in question wasn’t a union representing workers, but instead a business association – like, say, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?

Would the U.S. Chamber stand for a legal ruling where any corporation could take advantage of the benefits of Chamber membership – like discounts on products and services, legal documents, business resources, or networking events – without pitching in even a dime to support the costs of securing those benefits?

Of course not. That’s a free rider problem the Chamber and other anti-worker business lobbies would get up in arms about in a hurry.

So here’s the bottom line – unless five justices on the Supreme Court are ready to stand up and argue the U.S. Chamber should have to give free lunch to any Fortune 500 “free rider” that wants it, they should dismiss the Friedrichs case for what it is: nonsense. Case closed.

This article was originally published by LeeAnn Hall in Huffington Post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/leeann-hall/next-attack-on-workers–w_b_8683766.html