In Catholic teaching, unions are described as an indispensable element of social life. Unions are to promote solidarity among workers. They are essential for economic justice and to protect the rights of workers... The weakening of unions by so-called “right to work” laws, has been shown to reduce wages and benefits overall in the states where such laws have been enacted. This cannot be seen as contributing to the common good.

—Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky. The Catholic Labor Network elaborates on so-called “right to work”

TODAY'S FAIR SHOTS - March 2, 2017

1-Proposed Convention of States, as Written, Invokes the Whole Constitution, Not Just a Few Proposals

2-Dallas News Follows the Money: Empower Texans Is Big Backer of Convention of States

3-PolitiFact: Abbott Immigration Claim Regarding Travis County Sheriff Is 'False'

4-Workers Defense Holds Day of the Fallen to Promote Construction Workplace Safety

5-'Bathroom Bill' Hearing Set for Next Tuesday

6-Trumka Analyzes Trump Speech on Fox Business Report

1. Lawmakers who led Senate approval yesterday of a plan to call a Convention of States for the purpose of rewriting key portions of the U.S. Constitution insisted the topics for such a convention could be controlled and would not lead to a runaway attempt to take away fundamental rights.

From Texas AFL-CIO Communications Director, Ed Sills-

   The language of the supposed "restrictions" approved yesterday on a 20-11 vote is so broad that, in the wrong hands, it could be interpreted to allow a rewrite of just about any portion of the Constitution.

 Photo from Gawker

Photo from Gawker

   The specific language of SJR 2 was not the brainchild of Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, alone. A larger national group of right-wing opponents of the current balance of federal and state power in the U.S. Constitution came up with the language and are trying to get 34 states to agree to the specific text.

   SJR 2, approved by a 20-11 vote in the Senate, says the Convention of States would be for "the limited purpose of proposing one or more amendments to the constitution to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and to limit the terms of office of federal officials and members of Congress."

   The "fiscal restraints" language points toward a so-called "balanced budget" amendment. How one defines a "balanced budget" would immediately become an issue in Congress and the courts, but getting to such balance would very likely require a combination of draconian cuts or giant tax increases that could be drastic enough to throw the economy into disarray. 

   "Limiting the terms of office" might encompass moves not just to impose term limits on your representatives and senators but to end lifetime appointments for federal judges. That change would greatly compromise the independence of the federal judiciary, a pillar of our nation and the defining characteristic of the third branch of the U.S. government.

   Let's focus, though, on the third issue for a Convention of States -- "to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government." Proponents of the Convention of States may think they have that phrase under control. But any reasonable reading of it in the context of the U.S. Constitution suggests that more topics would be up for grabs than promoters have suggested.

   Gov. Greg Abbott has incorporated nine specific proposals for amendments into his support for the Convention of States. It cannot be overstated just how radical Abbott's "states' rights" amendments to limit federal power are. 

   One of Abbott's ideas is to allow states to override a U.S. Supreme Court decision. During floor debate, Birdwell specifically mentioned his disapproval of a recent decision allowing same-sex marriage. He also stated that the infamous 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson overrode state desegregation efforts, but that is a recasting of history; the Plessy case squarely upheld segregation laws.

   Abbott would also allow two-thirds of states to override federal laws, a form of nullification. The belief in the ability of states to nullify federal law was a proximate political cause of the Civil War; that belief was fought over in the context of slavery. Abbott's proposals would also compromise the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which enables Congress and federal agencies to declare a "law of the land" on issues of importance to everyone, including immigration and, yes, key aspects of labor law, including the right to bargain collectively. 

   The idea of limiting the power and jurisdiction of the federal government could potentially move well beyond even Abbott's radical ideas.

   The U.S. Constitution enumerates federal government powers that include, among others:

  •    Collection of taxes

  •    Payment of debts

  •    Provision of a common Defense

  •    Borrowing

  •    Regulation of commerce

  •    Regulation of Immigration

  •    Regulation of bankruptcy

  •    Coinage of money

  •    Fixing of weights and measures

  •    Establishment of Post Offices

  •    Copyright, patents and trademarks;

  •    Enforcement against piracy (arrrr!) and other international law    violations

  •    Declaration of war

  •    Maintenance of an army and navy, and rules for a military force

   And the catchall phrase -- to make all laws that are "necessary and proper" to carry out the enumerated powers or other federal powers vested by the Constitution. The Abbotts of the world would love to use a red editing pen on the "necessary and proper" clause. (Based on his actions involving local decisions on how to address optional federal immigration "detainers," Abbott seems to want state government dictating immigration law as well.)

   All these subjects, and then some, are clearly fit for discussion at a Convention of States under the language of SJR 2. 

  We could return to an era in which states manufactured money and established debtor prisons, and so much more.

   The chance to rewrite the Constitution to limit federal power might nullify federal civil rights laws in favor of state interpretations of the scope of civil rights. What would stop the Convention of States from deciding that some or all of the protections in the Bill of Rights again do not apply to the states (as was the case until the post-Civil War amendments and subsequent Supreme Court interpretations)? 

   In our arena, a Convention of States could seek to return to an era in which labor law leaned so heavily in the direction of employers that the common law proclaimed a "master-servant" relationship between employers and employees. What would stop states from declaring the federal minimum wage law or child labor laws inapplicable within their borders? In the name of reducing federal power, what would stop delegates from placing so-called "right to work" in the U.S. Constitution?

   I could go on, and constitutional scholars no doubt will flesh out more problems if a Convention of States looms. The dangers of holding such a convention include a broad level of unpredictability and the near-certainty of unintended consequences. 

   The U.S. Constitution can be amended. The process is difficult and it is supposed to be difficult. Until now, the process has for very good reasons been piecemeal. 

   Our Constitution, as amended, has in all but the rarest of cases served our nation well. If a Convention of States occurs, a group of politicians, influenced by a dizzying array of powerful special interests, could side-step the usual amendment process and produce a government we won't recognize unless we study up on the antebellum South.

2- A discussion on the merits of the exceedingly dangerous idea of holding a Convention of States has to be followed by a discussion of the politics. As great journalists often suggest, when it comes to politics, follow the money.

   That is precisely what Dallas Morning News Austin Bureau Chief Brandi Grissom did, expertly, in trying to get to the bottom of who in this state is boosting the proposal to rewrite the U.S. Constitution.

   As it turns out, Gov. Greg Abbott's fervent support for jettisoning some of the fundamental balances in our founding document is connected to none other than Midland oilman Tim Dunn and the group Dunn has funded, Empower Texans.

   You can actually hear the popping of light bulbs, if not the exploding of heads, as you connect the dots on this. Avid readers of this space know that Tim Dunn and Empower Texans are moving forces behind the push to approve SB 13, the bill that would take away the freedom of public employees in Texas to voluntarily contribute to labor organizations of their choice through payroll dues deduction.

   Empower Texans and several board members of the equally right-wing Texas Public Policy Foundation spent major sums of money in an attempt to end the political careers of leaders of the Texas House who have not signed onto the far right's agenda, which includes matters like private school vouchers, immigrant bashing and divisive legislation like the so-called "bathroom bill."

   Let us draw the picture: The very same people who are spending big money in an attempt to decimate unions in this state are the ones who are spending big money to rewrite our nation's Constitution. If they succeed in calling that convention, do you seriously believe the subject of labor unions is not going to come up as a way of "limiting federal power"?

   From Grissom's article: 

   Abbott first announced his new political mission during a speech at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an Austin-based conservative think tank where Midland oilman Tim Dunn serves as vice chairman of the board...

  The project is the primary focus of Citizens for Self-Governance, another nonprofit that includes Dunn on its board of directors.

  Dunn - both individually and through Empower Texans, a political action committee that is primarily funded by him - has contributed more than $5 million to far-right Texas Republicans since 2010, according to campaign finance records. Dunn donated $30,000 to Abbott. Empower Texans gave more than $25,000 to Sen. Brian Birdwell, who is championing the convention legislation in the upper chamber. And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has gotten nearly $650,000 from Dunn and Empower Texans.

  The influence of Dunn and Empower Texans has been most palpable in the Texas House. Last year, Empower Texans plowed more than $1.4 million into campaigns for ultraconservative House candidates.

  Contributions to lawmakers from Tim Dunn and Empower Texans, 2010-2016: 

  Gov. Greg Abbott - $30,000 

  Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick - $649,546 

  Sen. Brian Birdwell - $25,234 

  Total Dunn contributions - $946,898 

  Total Empower Texans contributions- $3,965,725

  In addition to the generous campaign contributions, Empower Texans issues a report card that grades lawmakers based on how they vote on conservative hot-button issues. This year, Empower Texans will grade them on how they vote on the convention of the states, along with 14 other key issues.

  Neither Dunn nor Empower Texans executive director Michael Quinn Sullivan responded to calls seeking comment for this story. A spokesman for Abbott declined to comment.

  Read more:

3- In a timely fact check involving a major Texas immigration story, PolitiFact has found "false" the claim by Gov. Greg Abbott that Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez violated her oath by refusing to enforce an immigration law related to "detainers" for jailed immigrants.

False Truth-O-Meter.png

   The claim is central to the debate over SB 4, including whether Texas really has so-called "sanctuary cities." It is also central to Abbott's decision to withhold criminal justice funding from Travis County and threaten larger financial penalties. 

   Reporter Gardner Selby, in passing, notes that the Governor of Texas didn't even attempt to back up his claim with facts. That should give everyone pause on a wide range of subjects, but especially on Abbott's abrupt attempt to dictate immigration law:

   Greg Abbott, who shut off about $1.5 million in grants to Travis County out of concern that the county's Democratic officials unduly shield unauthorized immigrants, subsequently accused the local sheriff of breaking a federal law.

  The Republican governor said in a Feb. 6, 2017, tweet: "Sheriff violates oath by refusing to enforce 8 USC 1373 & not giving ICE info about drugs cartels & armed robbers." ICE is Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency that focuses on battling the illegal movement of people and trade.

  Abbott didn't offer factual back-up for his charge...

  We don't know why Abbott concluded Hernandez isn't enforcing those provisions. He didn't say and an aide, Matt Hirsch, didn't reply to our inquiry

Read more:

4- On a semi-related subject, our friends at the Workers Defense Project held the biennial "Day of the Fallen" march and lobby day at the Texas Capitol in an attempt to boost the chances of legislation that would improve safety for construction workers, particularly immigrants.

   Marchers carried crosses, each representing an immigrant worker who died on the job.

   The Texas AFL-CIO and the United Labor Legislative Committee, which endorses many of the bills in question, are proud supporters of these events. At the conclusion of the march, hundreds of working people heard from Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, and Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston. Other lawmakers who support safety legislation were present as well.

   If you want the flavor of the street march, go to this 45-second video on my Facebook page: For some photos, check out the Texas AFL-CIO twitter feed: @TexasAFLCIO.


5 -The Senate Committee on State Affairs will hear testimony on SB 6 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, the so-called "bathroom bill," starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday, March 7 in Room E1.012.

 Photo from Inquisitir

Photo from Inquisitir

   The United Labor Legislative Committee OPPOSES SB 6, which we believe will institutionalize discrimination and lead to the loss of jobs in Texas.

  On a positive note, HB 228 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, an Equal Pay bill, will be heard by the House Business and Industry Committee at 11 a.m. Monday in Room E2.016.

6- On the Fox Business Report, AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka called the balls and strikes in President Trump's speech to Congress last night. Trumka's analysis is well worth a look: