Today's Fair Shots - November 3, 2017
"The one constant though all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game -- it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and it could be again. Ohhhhhhhh, people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."
--Lines from "Terence Mann," a J.D. Salinger-like character played by James Earl Jones in the movie "Field of Dreams."
1) Congratulations to the Houston Astros, who won their first Major League Baseball championship last night in Los Angeles with a 5-1 victory over the Dodgers.
Carlos Correa even won a "yes" for his on-air marriage proposal, making the date doubly the most important of his life.
The Astros' win has been a long time coming.
In the union context, there are no losers in baseball. Players are represented by the Major League Baseball Players Association, one of the most successful unions ever formed, as attested to by the fact that team owners still won't let the great change agent, founder and leader of the union, Marvin Miller, into the Hall of Fame even after his death.
The Astros provide another important union context. As anyone who has attended Houston games knows, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 716 has a prominent sponsorship, advertised regularly at Minute Maid Park. The union was a big winner last night, too. Long gone are the days when the original Colt .45s played outdoors and on a typical sweltering summer day left pitchers drenched in their own sweat by the end of the first inning. IBEW 716 played a role in fixing that situation, a piece of history discussed on the union's web site:
Houston Astrodome - Eighth Wonder of the World
In 1965, with the help of Local 716, Houston stole the world spotlight with the completion of the first domed stadium. The Astrodome excited the interest of the people from across the world and was nicknamed the "Eighth Wonder of the World." Seating up to 66,000 people, the dome originally contained over 4,500 skylights each the size of an average door.
It was the first completely covered and air-conditioned arena large enough to accommodate both baseball and football as well as numerous other large functions such as the annual Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. With an overall diameter of 712 feet, the Stadium was a testament to the most advanced engineering of the time.
Two years after the construction of the Stadium, the Local turned their attention to a project of their own. On February 4, 1967, IBEW Local 716 President D.E. Neal and George Sumrow, manager of the Southeast Texas Chapter of NECA, broke ground on a new training center for apprentices and journeymen.
The Joint Apprentice and Journeyman Training Center was built on the property of IBEW Local Union 716 Electrical Workers Educational Foundation, Inc. at 106 Covern Street. The facility made it possible for the Local to expand and to continue training programs. In addition to the four-year training program that was already in place at the time, 10 different subjects developed by the International Office and a number of locally developed subjects were made available for advanced training to IBEW members. With the addition of the facility, the Join Apprenticeship Committee was able to train up to 500 journeymen and apprentices in the most modern facility and with the best laboratory equipment available at the time. To this day, the education offered at the center enables members to stay ahead of the rapid advances in the electrical industry...
Minute Maid Park Home of the Houston Astros
Local 716 also had a hand in the construction of Minute Maid Park. Formerly Enron Ball Park, the stadium opened in 2000 to house the Major League Baseball Houston Astros. The ballpark was Houston's first retractable-roofed stadium, protecting fans and athletes from Houston's notoriously humid weather as did its predecessor, the Astrodome, but also allowing fans to enjoy baseball during favorable weather.
Throughout the 2000's, the organization continues to serve its members by providing them with better training and education, better benefits, higher wages, and improved safety regulations.
2) U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, called out an alleged conflict of interest at the U.S. Supreme Court over an upcoming ruling in a case that could make every U.S. jurisdiction "right to work for less" for public employees.
(You will recall that the upcoming Janus ruling is a successor to a case that looked like it would produce the same result until Justice Antonin Scalia died. President Obama's nomination to the resulting open seat was quashed by the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate.)
Warren, a Harvard Law School professor before she entered the realm of politics, suggests in a column for Politico that the behavior of the newest Justice, Neil Gorsuch, is raising ethical questions, along with a mighty stench:
A few days before the Supreme Court returned from its summer break, Justice Neil Gorsuch, the court's newest member, attended a luncheon at the Trump International Hotel, where he was to give the keynote address. The location of the speech attracted the attention of dozens of protesters and a number of ethics watchdogs, who noted the apparent conflict of interest posed by Justice Gorsuch-a Trump nominee-keynoting an event at a hotel whose revenue goes in part to President Trump. That arrangement was bad enough on its own. But there was another potential conflict of interest created by Justice Gorsuch's speaking engagement-and it highlights the ongoing ethical issues that threaten the credibility of our nation's highest court.
The same morning that Justice Gorsuch gave his speech, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear Janus v. AFSCME. This is a case that will determine whether public sector unions-which represent teachers, nurses, firefighters and police in states and cities across the country-can collect fees from all employees in the workplaces they represent. Justice Gorsuch is widely expected to deliver the court's deciding vote to strip unions of this ability. A decision along these lines would seriously undercut workers' freedom to have a real voice to speak out and fight for higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions.
Here's the rub. Justice Gorsuch's speech at the Trump hotel was hosted by the Fund for American Studies. And who funds the Fund of American Studies? The Charles Koch Foundation and the Bradley Foundation. The Charles Koch Foundation is dedicated to promoting limited government, free markets and weaker unions; and the Bradley Foundation has worked for decades to, in their own words, "reduce the size and power of public sector unions." In fact, the Bradley Foundation helped pay the litigation expenses for Janus-the case in which Justice Gorsuch is likely to be the deciding vote. Think about that: Just as the ink was drying on the court's announcement that it would hear Janus, Justice Gorsuch was off to hobnob with some of the biggest supporters for one side of this important case-the side that wants to deny workers the freedom to build a future that doesn't hang by a thread at the whim of a few billionaires...
It is time to begin rebuilding American's confidence in the court by establishing a formal code of conduct. That's why I co-sponsored Sen. Chris Murphy's Supreme Court Ethics Act, a bill that requires the Supreme Court to adopt an ethical code. As the nation's highest court, the Supreme Court has an even greater duty to set the example for courts around the country and demonstrate that its decisions are based on a fair and unbiased assessment of the facts and the law, not personal biases or their own financial interests. Eliminating ethical questions and conflicts of interests should be the starting point.
Federal judges are not supposed to be politicians or advocates. They are supposed to rise above the political winds of the day and demonstrate a single-minded commitment to one promise: equal justice under law. As judges of the nation's highest court, it is time for Supreme Court justices to demonstrate that they can meet that standard.
Read more: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/01/supreme-court-ethics-problem-elizabeth-warren-opinion-215772
3) Looking for a capsule summary of the ways in which the proposed tax cut bill pending in Congress would harm working people?
The AFL-CIO has posted a strong take on how many ways the bill would enrich the wealthy at the expense of everyone else:
--This bill is a job killer. The GOP tax bill would give companies a huge tax break for outsourcing. U.S. taxes on offshore profits would be eliminated, giving big corporations even more incentive to move jobs offshore.
--Republicans are proposing to (partially) pay for tax cuts with drastic cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and education. The GOP budget includes $5 trillion in budget cuts, including $1.5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid and Medicare, an increase in the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, and an end to Medicare's guarantee of health coverage.
--But the GOP tax bill still won't be paid for, so we can expect Republicans to demand more budget cuts that hurt working people in the future. The Republican budget allows for $1.5 trillion in tax cuts that are not paid for in the first decade, and these tax cuts are structured to cost even more in future decades. First the Wall Street millionaires throw themselves a party, then they stick the rest of us with the tab.
Read five more reasons: https://aflcio.org/2017/11/2/top-reasons-why-republican-tax-bill-bad-working-people
4) The Texas AFL-CIO/Walter Umphrey Golf Tournament went beautifully despite a postponement, a near-miss on bad weather and rampant Astros fever.
Thanks to all the sponsors, donors and volunteers who made the tournament possible. Texas AFL-CIO Director of Field Education & Research Joe Arabie did his usual splendid job of overseeing the proceedings. Without the widespread support from a community of union organizations and allies, the tournament could not have worked. In the coming days, this newsletter will post the full list of supporters.