What Progressives Won Last Night That You Might Have Missed

The 2018 midterm elections were a mixed bag for progressive policies. We had some big wins: States expanded Medicaid, increased the minimum wage, and gave voting rights back to more than a million Americans. But we also faced some hard losses: There are new regressive tax laws, restrictions on abortion access, and tough votes against criminal justice reform.

The undisputed good news is that Americans chipped away at the old guard last night. After two years of constant stress about losing our health care, massive tax handouts to the wealthy, and open animosity towards anyone perceived as different, we finally gained some ground.

To celebrate, we’re taking a break from our usual doom and gloom and rounding up the results that we were excited to wake up to this morning.

We finally have some good news about health care.

Congressional Democrats are in a better position to defend the Affordable Care Act, and are likely to work on stabilizing the ACA and addressing high drug prices in the new congress.

On a state level, voters were clearly motivated by concerns about health care. They also approved Medicaid expansion in three states: Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah. This extends Medicaid coverage to 340,000 low-income people.

The victories for Medicaid don’t stop there. In Maine, where the governor and voters have been engaged in a protracted battle over Medicaid expansion, Governor-elect Janet Mills says she’ll implement Medicaid expansion “immediately” upon taking office. Tony Evers in Wisconsin and Laura Kelly in Kansas could also drive expansion in their states, where leadership has historically resisted it. Sadly, all isn’t rosy: Montana voters rejected a ballot measure that would have extended Medicaid funding via a tobacco tax, ending coverage for nearly 100,000 residents.

A number of pro-choice candidates performed well last night. But two states, West Virginia and Alabama, amended their constitutions to specifically rule out the right to abortion. It’s a symbolic amendment for as long as Roe v. Wade stands, but the new balance on the Supreme Court could place it in jeopardy.

Florida is giving the vote to 1.4 million residents.

Florida’s Amendment 4 restored voting rights to people with felony records. Until last night, it had been one of only three states (now two) that denied people convicted of felonies the right to vote after they served their sentences. That disenfranchised more than 9 percent of the state’s population overall, and 21 percent of African Americans.

It’s difficult to estimate how big of an impact this could have moving forward, but it’s certainly possible that this influx of new voters will sway future elections. And, most importantly, it will allow more than a million people to vote on the policies that affect their lives.

One other bright spot last night was in Colorado: The state passed an amendment barring the use of slavery as punishment for a crime. Other ballot measures were, to put it nicely, kind of a bummer. Six states passed a version of Marsy’s law, which establishes a victims’ bill of rights that has the potential to violate the rights of people accused of crimes and makes it harder for people who are incarcerated to access parole boards and early release. In addition, North Dakota and Ohio both rejected measures that would lessen sentences for drug crimes.

Conservative states are raising their minimum wage.

Voters in Missouri and Arkansas approved increases in the minimum wage, which will together provide a raise to nearly 1 million workers. Missouri’s ballot initiative, which won with more than 62 percent of the vote, will hike its wage to $12 per hour by 2023. Arkansas’, approved by nearly 70 percent of voters, will increase the minimum wage to $11 per hour by 2021. Missouri’s initiative also reverses a minimum wage decrease that the state legislature imposed on St. Louis, which had raised its own minimum wage to $10 in 2017.

This continues a trend of minimum wage action on the state and local level. Though the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not been increased since 2007, four states approved wage hikes in 2014, and four more did the same in 2016, while cities including BaltimoreSeattle, and Washington, D.C. have increased their own minimums.

Still, 21 states adhere to the federal minimum wage, the purchasing power of which peaked in the 1960s. We would certainly like to see more movement here, since wages have been stagnant across the country for the last several decades – particularly for low-income workers and black and Hispanic families.

We’ll look at this as a blow to the specious arguments that opponents to trans rights have been making against trans Americans.

Massachusetts will uphold rights for transgender Americans.

In 2016, Massachusetts passed a bill to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity in public places, but the law’s opponents managed to get it placed on the ballot this year. Voters upheld the law, which provides protections that don’t exist on a national level, by nearly 70 percent. In most states, it is still legal to discriminate against someone in housing, business, employment, and public accommodations because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Because we’re celebrating, we’ll gloss over how irritated the entire TalkPoverty staff is that it’s possible to put these rights on the ballot. Instead, we’ll look at this as a blow to the specious arguments that opponents to trans rights have been making against trans Americans.

San Francisco is taxing corporations to help people experiencing homelessness.

It was generally a bad night for tax policy on the state and local level, due to several states, including North Carolina, Florida, and Arizona, approving anti-tax ballot measures, and the defeat of an effort to raise corporate taxes and implement a progressive income tax in Colorado in order to spend more money on public schools.

However, San Francisco approved an increase in its corporate tax — which will be levied on about 300 of its biggest businesses — in order to raise money to combat the city’s homelessness epidemic. At least 50 percent of the funding will be dedicated to direct housing in a city where some 7,500 people are experiencing homelessness.

The successful campaign in San Francisco was mirrored in two other Bay Area cities and counters a similar effort in Seattle, where the city council passed and then repealed a “head tax” due to opposition from Amazon and other big corporations.




Working on a Campaign Is Grueling. A New Union Wants to Make It Better.

During the 2018 midterm cycle, which comes to a close today, the Campaign Workers Guild has unionized the political staffers of candidates across the country. It recently organized Break the Majority, the coordinated campaign of the Democratic Party in North Carolina, marking its first victory in the south.

Campaigns are often grueling affairs for staffers. There is a glorification of self-sacrifice for the greater good enforced by a hierarchical structure that is not conducive to addressing workers’ demands. Salaried pay often dips below minimum wage if calculated on an hourly basis. The CWG’s unionization efforts aim to tip the scales back toward workers’ rights.

“For many years campaign workers were treated as little more than volunteers who could be given a mere stipend rather than professionals who deserve fair pay and fair conditions,” said Ihaab Syed, CWG secretary.

The Campaign Workers Guild was publicly launched in February by current and former campaign workers, and currently has 28 bargaining units in 18 states across the country.

North Carolina is a particularly notable victory because it is both a swing state and a “right to work state,” which means workers do not have to pay dues for the benefits they receive from being in a unionized workplace.

Unionization rates in those states are significantly lower than they are elsewhere. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, non-unionized workers make 20 percent less than unionized workers on a weekly basis.

CWG’s first victory was the unionization of the Randy Bryce’s congressional campaign, the union ironworker running to take Speaker Paul Ryan’s House seat in Wisconsin. It has also unionized the state coordinated campaigns in Ohio and Minnesota.

Many of the staffers in North Carolina were familiar with CWG’s organizers from their time on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and reached out to begin their unionization effort. “CWG was very open about the process of a union campaign and broke it down into a timeline,” said Grayson Barnette, a field organizer and a member of CWG’s bargaining team in North Carolina.

All CWG bargaining units have been recognized voluntarily without the need for a formal union election. For Break the Majority, it was only six weeks between the initial unionization meeting and voluntary recognition.

However, most private-sector unions are recognized through the National Labor Relations Board elections process, which makes it more difficult, because those campaigns are often met with significant opposition by employers. Nearly 90 percent of employers force workers to attend anti-union events, while more than half effectively threaten plant closings. 35 percent of election requests are withdrawn prior to a vote even being held.

In addition to compensation increases, workers have won sick, bereavement, and parental leave.

Overall, unfair labor practices are alleged in 46 percent of unionizing campaigns, with the NLRB agreeing that at least one charge had merit in half of those cases.

The unionizing effort in the Tarheel State was sparked by a resolution passed by the North Carolina Democratic Party’s executive council that unionization would be encouraged in the 2020 campaign. In other campaigns, though, there has been some pushback.

“They say ‘This is impossible. This is how campaigns work. I paid my dues in these miserable conditions,’” said Syed.

Contracts won by CWG have resulted in several positive changes. In addition to compensation increases, workers have won sick, bereavement, and parental leave. There are 60 members in the North Carolina unit of CWG who will receive pay and health care through the end of November, as well as a 30-minute paid break for lunch during the campaign.

One of the most significant victories for CWG has been addressing sexual harassment. “As we’ve been seeing in the news, sexual harassment is rampant in our society overall and political workplaces and campaigns are no exception,” said Syed.

CWG contracts have led to training on what can be done to prevent harassment and the rights of workers. Furthermore, there has been an implementation of a process whereby complaints can be submitted and investigated.

“Just a process in place is huge for campaigns that aren’t equipped to handle it otherwise,” said Syed.

A long-term issue CWG seeks to work on is how to make health care available year-round and find ways to continue to make campaign work sustainable. For now, though, the change in conditions is worth savoring.

“It’s more for us about having a voice. It was about bringing our concerns to the table and being heard out,” said Barnette.




First Person

I Spent 13 Years in Jail. Not Being Able to Vote Makes it Feel Like a Life Sentence.

I grew up in Winter Park, Florida, where I was born three days after Election Day in 1970. I mention this because most of my birthdays have been associated with voting.

As a child, I couldn’t wait to turn 18 so I could register to vote and go inside the voting booth. And that’s just what I did. It made me feel like an adult, like an American citizen doing my civic duty. I voted in every election that I could.

But because I was convicted of a felony, I can no longer participate in our democracy. Florida is one of three states – along with Kentucky and Iowa – in which everyone convicted of a felony is permanently barred from voting. Amendment 4, which is on the ballot this Election Day, would restore voting rights to some 1.5 million people just like me.

I grew up in a broken home filled with all types of abuse and despair. I had no mentors, only the golden rule to keep our family business inside the home. I went from a little girl filled with hope who got good grades to a young adult who no longer cared.

I became a product of my environment, and ended up being the getaway driver in a robbery gone wrong.

Afterward, I could only think of the victim and his family and the pain they were going through. In those moments, I asked: If it was me and my family, what would I want? I would want the people involved to pay for what they did, I decided.

So I had my attorney take me to the Orange County jail and surrendered to the unknown. I did the right thing when it mattered the most, even when it was scary and the outcome uncertain.

The judge sentenced me to 15 years. I spent a third of my life paying my debt to society for my crime.

I fortunately survived. When I was given my end of sentence paperwork, I was presented with a form that I was told to sign. It advised me that I couldn’t vote anymore.

We had no ability to challenge policies designed to lock us out, and lock us back up again.

At first, I refused, because the judge had not sentenced me to the removal of my civil rights. But when I was told that I would be kept for the additional two years that were cut off my sentence due to good behavior if I didn’t sign the form, I quickly put my name on it. I wouldn’t understand the weight of that paper until after my release.

I came home with a plan to be the best person that I could. But I couldn’t get a job because of identifiers of my conviction on applications. I couldn’t go back to the college I attended pre-incarceration as an in-state student, because I didn’t have an I.D. that was a year old. My prison identification wasn’t acceptable, according to the board of governors.

When I finally thought I had broken through the invisible ceiling by obtaining my real estate license and selling a home to a cash buyer three months later, the significance of that the paper I signed in prison became clear. I took my commissioned earnings to get an apartment, but was refused; in many places, those with a felony conviction are not protected against this form of discrimination. As a professional in a business where it is our goal to make sales for profit, that was just mind-blowing.

I understood then that these things were allowed to happen to those of us with felony convictions because we could not vote. We had no ability to challenge policies designed to lock us out, and lock us back up again.

This is why the passage of Amendment 4 is so important, not just to those of us in Florida who would be affected, but to those in other states who have been denied their right to vote. It sends a message that we are American citizens, and that even though we made some mistakes along the way, we are forgiven and afforded a clean slate to become someone who contributes to society.

For my birthday this year, I am asking for the most important gift anyone can give me, and that’s to go out and vote yes on Amendment 4.



The High Costs of Trump’s Assault on the Transgender Community

A recent New York Times story revealed that the Department of Health and Human Services is considering the adoption of a radically restrictive definition of gender, viewing it as an immutable trait established at birth on the basis of genitalia. This move could have a profound impact on the 1.4 million transgender people living in the U.S., as well as intersex people, who make up around 1.7 percent of the population.

The HHS proposal would reinterpret Title IX, which bars “sex”-based discrimination in federally-funded education and is applied to a wide range of civil rights issues from campus sexual assault to affirming the rights of trans students. HHS intends to push other government agencies to adopt the same narrow and biologically inaccurate view of gender, according to the Times. The agency’s view is also not shared by the courts, which have ruled repeatedly that “sex” includes gender identity under Title IX and Title VII.

The news about HHS came just days before a report that the Department of Justice believes employers can discriminate against employees on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Meanwhile, agencies such as the Department of Education and the Department of Justice have chosen to withdraw anti-discrimination guidance that protected transg people, while HHS quietly removed trans discrimination guidance from its website about health care discrimination. Massachusetts voters will decide on Election Day whether they wish to uphold a law banning gender discrimination in public accommodations.

This is an all-out assault on the transgender community in the United States, and it has sinister implications for other vulnerable groups as well. It will hit low-income trans people especially hard, amplifying already existing economic inequalities.

“People with low or no income already struggle to acquire adequate representation to challenge their rights in court,” Harper Jean Tobin, director of policy at the National Center for Transgender Equality, said via email. “They could potentially be impacted by just the misinformation spread by this proposal. The proposal doesn’t actually rewrite laws, but it could embolden many employers or doctors or schools to disregard the rights of trans people. Those with resources enough to speak to a lawyer are more likely to know when their rights are being violated, while those who cannot might find themselves without much recourse.”

According to a 2015 report from the Movement Advancement Project and the Center for American Progress, trans people face a “financial penalty,” paying more to access health care and other services, from credit to fair housing, than their cis counterparts. They are more likely to live in poverty, with 15 percent of trans people making less than $10,000 annually in contrast with 4 percent of cis people. These numbers are even more stark for black (34 percent versus 9 percent) and Latinx (28 percent versus 5 percent) trans people.

The community overall experiences an unemployment rate double that of cis people. LGBQT people also rely more on threatened benefits programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

This state of economic precarity has a concrete impact on trans lives. For instance, the National Center for Transgender Equality has found that just 21 percent of trans people have changed over all their identification documents, due to high costs and regressive policies such as refusals to allow trans people to update identification or birth certificates without proof of surgery in some states. The lack of consistent and accurate identification can fuel discrimination, such as refusals to hire people when their identification outs them as transgender, or denial of benefits, with 16 percent of U.S. Transgender Survey respondents reporting benefits issues related to mismatching identification.

Legitimizing transphobia on the institutional level encourages harassment and abuse of trans people.

Financial instability also amplifies widespread housing, employment, education, and health care discrimination against trans people. 23 percent of trans people faced “some form of housing discrimination” in the previous year, according to the U.S. Trans Survey, while 67 percent reported being passed over for hiring, fired, or denied promotions because of their gender identity. One in four experienced problems with their health insurance. Low-income people may not be able to “go somewhere else” to access services, cannot afford alternative housing, and cannot fund litigation in cases of discrimination.

In a landscape without comprehensive and explicit civil rights protections, and with federal agencies not only refusing to enforce existing protections but actively promoting discrimination against the trans community, low-income trans people’s financial disadvantage will become much more glaring. The administration is already not enforcing Affordable Care Act protections barring discrimination on the basis of gender identity, making it challenging to access not only transition services but permitting other forms of health care discrimination; this kind of policy could make this problem even worse. Similarly, barriers to accessing identification could leave more trans people struggling to access benefits they need to thrive, such as subsidized housing, SNAP, and Medicaid.

Just as a flood of bathroom bills in 2015 and 2016 emboldened transphobic people and policymakers, moves like this fuel hatred and contribute to the distribution of misinformation about what it means to be transgender and how trans people interact with society. Legitimizing transphobia on the institutional level encourages harassment and abuse of trans people, which harms vulnerable trans populations such as sex workers, women of color, immigrants, disabled people, youth, and low-income people.

Targeting the trans community could also lay the groundwork for disrupting other civil rights, with the federal government’s pursuit of a “right to discriminate” becoming a blueprint for attacking groups such as those who are homeless on the streets of San Francisco, Native American and fighting for the right to vote in Utah, or lesbians who want to adopt a child.



San Francisco’s Prop C Would Make Tech Companies Address the Homelessness Crisis They Helped Create

National media coverage of San Francisco’s Proposition C — which would raise taxes on the city’s largest businesses in order to increase funding to address the city’s homelessness crisis — is largely focused on how the question has divided tech titans.

The highest-profile spat has been between Salesforce’s Marc Benioff and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, the former of whom gave millions of dollars to the campaign to pass Proposition C, while the latter has derided the initiative as “quick acts to make us feel good for one moment in time.”

But this debate isn’t really about tech companies and the political preferences of their wealthy CEOs. Proposition C is about our priorities at a time when wealth and power are more concentrated in America than they have been in decades.

Were Proposition C to pass, taxes would increase for 300 or so of the city’s biggest businesses, raising $250-$300 million  for homelessness supports. (Last year, the city spent $380 million on homelessness programs, so this proposal would increase that funding by at least 65 percent.) At least half of the new funds must be dedicated to permanent housing, which research shows is the most effective way to combat homelessness, with the remainder split between mental health care, shelters, and prevention efforts.

“The idea is simple. It’s about taxing our largest and wealthiest corporations and redistributing that to our most vulnerable communities,” said Sam Lew, policy director at the Coalition on Homelessness. “The everyday San Franciscan won’t be impacted by this tax. It’s really those who are making the most profit and asking them to pay their fair share and give back to the community.”

If this sounds somewhat familiar, that’s because it is. Seattle’s city council passed and then rescinded a corporate tax to bolster funding for homelessness prevention in April, backtracking after the city’s biggest companies — and most prominently Amazon — objected and threatened to put a direct vote over the issue onto the ballot in November. Amazon also halted a construction project in the city during the dispute, threatening to blunt its economic activity if the tax remained in place.

“I and other people out on the streets have reached the conclusion that this is not a winnable battle at this time. The opposition has unlimited resources,” said one city council member who voted first for the tax and then for its repeal.

A similar dynamic is at play in San Francisco ahead of November’s vote. The threat from big businesses, such as Square, Lyft, Stripe and the others who have donated to a “No on C” campaign,  is that Proposition C would kill jobs or deter companies from coming to the Bay Area without solving the homelessness problem. However, a report from the city controller found that were the tax enacted, there would only be 725-875 fewer jobs in the city over the next 20 years, amounting to just 0.1 percent of total employment, while the measure would provide housing for thousands of people.

The “Twitter tax break” saved companies $34 million in 2014 alone.

One of the selling points for Proposition C campaigners is that the measure would simply offset some of the tax benefits that corporations received in 2017 courtesy of the Trump administration and conservatives in Congress. It would also begin to counteract some of the vast under-investments that the federal government has made in affordable housing funding since the Reagan administration, says Lew.

“Because of that huge divestment in public housing, there’s been an increase in homelessness across the United States and there hasn’t been a reinvestment in that in the last 30-35 years,” she said. “What we’re saying in San Francisco is that we’re going to be leaders in providing housing for people who need it. We’re actually going to spend the money that we need to spend to house people.”

San Francisco has about 7,500 people who are homeless, according to the latest data, which is almost certainly an undercount due to the inherent difficulties in accessing the homeless population. People experiencing homelessness in San Francisco are also disproportionately people of color or members of the LGBTQ community, per the city’s most recent survey.

Homelessness in both San Francisco and the U.S. has risen in recent years for many reasons, but one of them is growing economic inequality. In California and San Francisco in particular, that inequality is boosted in no small part by the presence of America’s tech titans. Plenty of research has shown that tech clustering is responsible for the growing wage gap in big cities, and for the divergence between wages in those cities and elsewhere. And that clustering didn’t happen completely organically: San Francisco provided tax breaks to tech companies that settled in the city, with one known as the “Twitter tax break” saving companies $34 million in 2014 alone.

Tech workers have seen their incomes rise in California. Everyone else hasn’t been so fortunate.

Tech workers, especially at the richer end of the income scale, have seen their incomes rise in California. However, everyone else hasn’t been so fortunate:  According to a recent report, wages for 90 percent of California workers are lower than they were 20 years ago.  There’s also no shortage of stories about other inequalities in the Bay Area, on everything from food to transportation to education.

Even a decent paying job is no guarantee of affordable housing, thanks in part to the tech-industry driving gentrification and increased housing prices in California’s major cities. Average rent in San Francisco varies depending on how it is calculated, but many analyses place it above $3,000 per month. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, renting a modest two-bedroom home in the city requires a wage of more than $60 per hour.

These figures, not which tech CEO said what on Twitter, get at the essence of Proposition C. The only question that really matters is: Will San Francisco will ask its wealthiest corporations to pay slightly more so that thousands of currently homeless people can have a roof over their heads?

“We’re on this national platform now because two CEOs of tech companies are fighting about whether it should be passed,” said Lew. “But at the end of the day we’re fighting for a measure that’s going to save lives regardless of what billionaires are thinking.”