Today's Fair Shots - March 28th, 2017

1-Bill on 'Voter ID' Might Not Solve the Problem

2-ULLCO Takes Action on Workers' Comp, Other Bills

3-Trumka: AFL-CIO Will Sue If Labor Department Waters Down Overtime Rule

4-Cornell Graduate Students Voting on Unionization

1) The Texas Senate gave tentative approval yesterday to a bill that responds to a federal court ruling that overturned the "voter ID" law with a measure that could impose felony penalties on some voters.


   Under the proposal, it would be a second-degree felony for a voter to intentionally use alternative forms of identification when he or she has access to a picture ID.

   SB 5 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, advanced on a 21-10 vote and is likely to be sent to the Texas House on Tuesday.

   Texas is already among the states with the lowest voter participation rate and the alternative means of showing ID without a photo has proven confusing. The United Labor Legislative Committee opposes SB 5.

   The Texas Tribune posted background:

   The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last July ruled that Texas lawmakers discriminated against minority groups, who were less likely to possess one of the acceptable types of identification: a state driver's license or ID card, a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card, a U.S citizenship certificate or an election identification certificate. 

  A lower court temporarily softened the rules for November's election, and Huffman's legislation would largely follow its lead. The bill would allow people without photo ID to vote if they presented an alternate form of ID and signed an affidavit swearing a "reasonable impediment" kept them from obtaining such identification.

  Those folks could vote under the proposal by presenting documents such as a utility bill, bank statement or paycheck. And election officers could not question the "reasonableness" of the excuse for not having photo ID.

  "My intent with the bill is to take the roadmap that the 5th Circuit gave us," Huffman said.

  But those found to have lied about not possessing photo ID - by falsely signing the "reasonable impediment" form - could be charged with a third-degree felony under Huffman's bill. Such crimes carry penalties of two to 10 years in prison.

Read more:

2) The United Labor Legislative Committee yesterday took positions on bills involving workers' compensation, charter schools and sexual assaults. ULLCO:

   ENDORSED SB 968 by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin (companion is HB 2229 by Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano), which would allow students and employees at higher education institutions to report sexual assaults, family violence or stalking electronically and anonymously;

   OPPOSED HB 171 by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, which could require school districts to make underused properties available to charter schools; and

   ENDORSED a package of workers' compensation bills. HB 2053 by Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville (companion is SB 1306 by Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe), makes technical fixes related to the enforcement of workers' comp law. HB 2060 by Oliveira (companion is SB 1497 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo), relates to the qualifications of the ombudsman. HB 2111 by Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth (companion is SB 1493 by Zaffirini), changes a statutory reference from "hearing officer" to "administrative law judge." HB 2112 by Romero (companion is SB 1496 by Zaffirini) is a cleanup bill regarding workers' comp reporting requirements. 

3. AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said the national AFL-CIO will sue if the Labor Department waters down an overtime rule that a federal judge in East Texas has halted.


   Trumka was quoted in Bloomberg News following a suggestion by Labor Secretary nominee Alex Acosta that he would support a halfway measure to raise the threshold at which salaried workers are eligible for time-and-a-half pay for weekly hours worked above 40.

   The Texas AFL-CIO is seeking to intervene in the lawsuit, in the belief - highly justified by events to date - that the Trump administration will not vigorously defend the rule:

   The AFL-CIO will sue if the Department of Labor tries to water down a boost in overtime eligibility put in place by the Obama administration, the chief of the labor federation said in an interview.

  "Anything that dilutes it is bad," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in his Washington office. Taking Obama's overtime expansion away from even one worker could have devastating consequences, he said. "Think about the effect that it'd have on that person's family, their lives."

  Millions of additional white-collar workers were poised to gain overtime eligibility last December under Obama's change until it was blocked by a federal judge in Texas. If allowed to take effect, the change would double, to $913 per week, the threshold beneath which employees must be paid time-and-a-half even if designated as managers.

  At his confirmation hearing Wednesday, Trump's nominee to be Labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, deflected repeated attempts by senators to ascertain whether the government would continue to defend that rule in court.

  Acosta did tell senators that it was unfortunate the threshold had languished at the same rate for over a decade, though doubling it creates "a stress on the system," and might exceed the department's legal authority. Those comments seemed to signal an interest in moving the threshold to some level in between the one currently in effect, which was set by George W. Bush in 2004, and the one chosen by Obama.

  Trumka said the AFL-CIO was prepared to bring legal challenges to any such attempt to set a new rule lower than Obama's, along with its current efforts to defend Obama's standard in court, where the federation's Texas branch has petitioned to join the litigation. Overtime was one of several issues on which the labor chief criticized the new president, who drew a larger share of the union vote than any Republican since Ronald Reagan, and has made a point of courting union leaders since taking office.

  "We've been disappointed in a number of areas," said Trumka, who since the election has met repeatedly with Trump and praised some of his moves, such as exiting the Trans-Pacific Partnership. "The fact that he has more Goldman Sachs people over there than Goldman Sachs now has is a disappointment. And it's going to make it difficult for him to live up to the promises of helping workers."

Read more:

4. AFT President Randi Weingarten was in Ithaca, New York on Saturday ahead of a vote by graduate students at Cornell University on whether to bargain collectively through the union.

Via Ed Sills, Texas AFL-CIO Communications Director 

Although I didn't know her at the time, Weingarten and I were contemporaries at Cornell. Many of the same issues raised during three years of organizing by grad students in the election that takes place today and tomorrow were issues in the 1970s, including the need for affordable child care.
   The University, which has a state-funded Industrial & Labor Relations school, is putting on a typical anti-union campaign - the phrase "existential threat" has been popular with management - and results of grad student unionization elections at other universities have been mixed. The Cornell Daily Sun, an independent student-run newspaper that still ranks as one of the best collegiate publications in the nation, did a splendid job with this story:
  Weingarten highlighted the diversity of locals that are affiliated with the AFT. She said the 3,500 locals "are as different as they can be," and pointed out that the AFT is still growing, especially since the election of President Donald Trump.
  She said that when the first travel ban was announced, she and her partner went to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City to protest with hundreds of others. 
  While on her way, she said she got a call saying that a professor at CUNY - who belonged to a union affiliated with the AFT - was unable to enter the United States because of the ban. 
  Through working with a variety of people including U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the professor was able to come home, an event which Weingarten said was an example of the union having someone's back. 
  "If you vote to organize and ratify a union this Monday and Tuesday, you will never, ever, ever, ever see me ever telling you what to do," Weingarten said. "What you will see is a union throughout this country who will have your back every single day, for the issues that you champion, for the people that you represent and for the country that we want to be."
  "That is who a union is these days. That is who a union needs to be these days. That is what, if you vote for a union, that is what the graduate students/workers at Cornell will be," she added. 

Read more: