Water is a human right

And getting get labor law reform through the House of Representatives


Happy December! I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving.

I have two new stories to share this week.

The first is in The Intercept, and it looks at a transformative bill to reform labor law in the U.S, that’s been sitting quietly on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk for two months, with no sign of when she might bring it to a full vote. (For those not steeped in confusing Congress jargon, once a bill passes its committee—in this case, the House Labor Committee—then only the House Speaker can move it on to the next stage of the legislative process.) Pelosi’s slowness in moving this bill forward has been frustrating to unions and labor allies, as there is already enough support for its passage, and because it’s a top political priority for a key Democratic constituency going into 2020.

The bill—called the Protecting the Right to Organize Act—or the PRO Act, would be the biggest rewrite of labor law in decades. It would eliminate right-to-work laws, impose new penalties on employers who retaliate against union organizing, crack down on worker misclassification, and establish new rules so that employers cannot delay negotiating collective bargaining contracts. It already has 215 Democratic co-sponsors, and that doesn’t even include people like Pelosi and Majority Whip James Clyburn, who don’t co-sponsor bills but would surely vote for this.

Meanwhile, Pelosi and about a dozen other Democrats have been very focused on finalizing a trade deal by the end of the year, despite organized labor’s concerns that the proposed deal may lack the enforcement mechanisms necessary to ensure it actually is a good agreement for workers.

Jamelle Bouie, a New York Times op-ed columnist, actually published an entire column today expanding on some of the ideas in my piece, and he linked directly to my story. So that was very exciting, and you can read his column here.

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I also published a new piece in The American Prospect about a landmark bill set to pass in Baltimore around water affordability. I learned a lot reporting this story about the ways in which water bills have grown so unaffordable across the nation due to deteriorating infrastructure and declining federal investment. The result has been that local water rates keep rising, in order to finance necessary repairs and upgrades, but household incomes have not been rising as fast, which means more people are having their water shutoff, going into fiscal strain, or into flat-out water debt.

In Baltimore advocates and lawmakers have worked to craft a bill meant to help address some of this problem. It would work by capping water bills for low-income residents, making it easier for them to get out of water debt, and making it easier for all consumers to challenge the myriad billing problems residents regularly face. It’s an exciting bill, and leaders in Chicago and Detroit are now considering similar local measures. On the federal level, there’s also a bill dedicated to upgrading the nation’s water infrastructure, though it has little chance of passage under this administration.

Thanks for reading and for supporting this journalism.

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Can DC Avoid Becoming SF?

D.C. Is Rapidly Gentrifying and the Fate of its Affordable Housing Hangs in the Balance

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This week I published a feature story in Washington City Paper looking at the future of housing in D.C. I spent the last month trying to make sense of the dizzying number of promises, plans, and research studies flying around about housing affordability here.

It’s a cliché but not an exaggeration to say D.C. is at a crossroads. It’s become one of the most expensive cities to live in, it tops the national charts when it comes to gentrification and displacement of low-income residents, and it also has a booming economy and higher-paying jobs compared to many other cities—so people increasingly want to move here.

In some ways D.C.’s challenges are unique, but in other ways they are not, and many places are trying to figure out right now how to handle the pressures of building more housing and accommodating population growth, with ensuring that existing residents can survive and thrive in the communities they’ve long known and dedicated themselves to.

D.C. leaders need to figure out what kind of city it wants to be, and who it will be a city for. I worked to include a lot of different perspectives in this story, from politicians and policymakers to activists and developers and researchers.

You can read the story here

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How teachers are mobilizing for climate action

Inspired by their students and the global youth climate strikes


I have a fun story up at In These Times today looking at how educators, professors, and teacher unions are organizing around the climate crisis—inspired by their students and the global youth climate strikes.

Some teachers are starting to think big, including around new forms of civil disobedience, and new ways to approach collective bargaining. Read it here!

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Jessica Cisneros, 26-year-old running for Congress, picks up campaign steam


At the Intercept today I have a story about why organized labor is taking an interest in 26-year-old Jessica Cisneros, who is mounting a primary challenge to Rep. Henry Cuellar in south Texas. Cuellar has been representing his district since 2004, and he’s one of the most conservative, anti-abortion Democrats in the House.

Her challenge won’t be easy, but Jessica has already picked up national endorsements from U.S Senator Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Working Families Party, Justice Democrats, and EMILY’s List—which backs pro-choice candidates. More recently, Jessica was endorsed by the Communications Workers of America District 6, and tomorrow she’s speaking at an Austin AFSCME rally that Cuellar wasn’t invited to attend.

One thing folks emphasized as I was reporting the piece was how much the national buzz has helped energize and excite local activists back in Texas. And since Jessica stunned the cynics by raising $310,000 in the last fundraising quarter, more established political groups — including unions — have decided to take her candidacy seriously.

You can read the story here.

Kind of funny/interesting: after the story was posted this morning, Cuellar’s campaign spokesperson called me to object to a line where I said the Congressman’s vote in favor of a 20-week abortion ban is “commonly known.” He wasn’t upset I reported that Cuellar voted for it, just that I said people actually know about it.

I pointed out that Cuellar is more well-known for his record opposing abortion rights than for his record on labor (that’s also why there was a lot of pressure on EMILY’s List to endorse Jessica) and that is, in fact, what the passage says:

Unions have good reason to be interested in this race. While Cuellar is more commonly known for voting to support a 20-week abortion ban and funding a Mexican border wall in his own southern Texas district, his record on labor issues has driven worker advocates crazy for years.


Here’s something else I learned as I was doing research for the piece that wasn’t included the story. Someone I interviewed brought up that Cuellar supported George W. Bush for president in 2000 (at the time Cuellar was serving as a Democratic member in the TX legislature). So as I went researching for more information about that, I found this, a 2014 press release from his office, proudly taking credit not only for endorsing Bush, but also for a bill that would speed up the deportation of Central American children.

(You can read the full release here.)

The 3 Democratic front-runners now have education plans


Elizabeth Warren, known for her many campaign plans, has been getting dinged by critics for not having a plan out yet on public education. Today she put those grumbles to rest (mostly) and released a long, detailed vision for public schools.

I covered some of the major highlights of her plan for The Intercept, and compared where her ideas stood next to the education proposals put forward by Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. It’s a bit of an education arms race right now and I 👏 am👏 here👏 for👏 it.

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