How 22,000 state employees just secured collective bargaining rights

And a Q&A with the new editor of The Forward

Today at The Intercept I have a story that looks at an encouraging trend in labor that has received surprisingly scant coverage in national media. In June, lawmakers in Delaware and Nevada passed legislation granting collective bargaining rights to 22,000 state employees. Colorado is expected to follow suit next year, for an additional 26,000 state workers.

The piece takes some stock of where things stand for unions one year since Janus v. Afscme. The losses haven’t been as immediately devastating as many unions feared, though the hard times may still be yet to come, especially as more workers retire.


Last week I also had the chance to interview Jodi Rudoren, the incoming Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish Daily Forward about how she is thinking about her new role. It was an interesting and frank conversation, and you can check it out in Jewish Currents here.

Barb Bearman is still breaking idols

I’m happy to share a new piece in Jewish Currents on a remarkable 84-year-old woman living in Minneapolis named Barbara Bearman. Barb has been actively fighting for school integration since 1968, and that’s not an exaggeration. She’s been involved in three separate lawsuits to desegregate Minneapolis public schools, including one going on right now.

When school desegregation unexpectedly became A Thing in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, I thought it would be an interesting time to learn what Barb thinks about all that. I was in Minneapolis earlier this month, so got to sit down with her, speak with people who knew her, and read documents archived about her work at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul.

If you want to get a taste of Barb, here’s a local newspaper clipping that was written about her from 1972; Minneapolis school officials sometimes called her a "‘bitch” behind her back for her advocacy.

“I had a big mouth, I know I came out like a sledgehammer to everybody, I’m sure,” she told me. “But you just don’t compromise on this one.” 

You can read the full piece here.

This bill could upend the 'gig economy'

In California, lawmakers are considering legislation that could make Uber and Lyft drivers employees

In the spring of 2018, the California Supreme Court came down with a landmark ruling, Dynamex Operations West, Inc. v. Superior Court of Los Angeles, which makes it much harder for businesses to classify (or misclassify) their workers as ‘independent contractors’ rather than employees. The distinction matters, since employees have access to a whole host of workplace protection laws that contractors don’t.

But the Dynamex decision hasn’t really been enforced over the last year, and major companies and industries have been lobbying furiously to neutralize it. Especially companies like Uber and Lyft, which make drivers-as-independent-contractors central to their business model.

There’s a consequential bill—known as AB 5—making its way through the California state legislature this summer that would effectively codify and expand the Dynamex decision. Labor experts say it could have huge implications for hundreds of thousands of workers in California, and likely shape the direction of the debate across the country. Already Bernie Sanders has introduced legislation in Congress to narrow the scope of who can be classified as an independent contractor, and its backed by leading presidential candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.

I have a story in The Intercept on the politics around AB5, particularly as they pertain to tech companies like Uber and Lyft working hard to carve out exemptions for their drivers in the legislation. In addition to lobbying lawmakers, they’ve been having meetings with two major unions that are helping to organize ride-share drivers in California — SEIU and the Teamsters — and there’s growing suspicion that those labor groups may be more open to leaving the drivers as independent contractors in exchange for better pay and some benefits than they’ve publicly admitted.

I spoke with labor and transportation experts, ride-share drivers, SEIU, Lyft, and others for the piece. Read it here

Meet Morgan Harper

& charter school politics in the Democratic presidential primary

Hi valued readers of Rachel’s Notebook,

I have two stories to share tonight -

One I co-wrote with my Intercept editor Ryan Grim about a new progressive challenger in an Ohio congressional district gerrymandered for Democrats. 36-year-old Morgan Harper, a Columbus native who spent her first nine months in foster care and wound up working as a senior official for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has mounted a bid against Rep. Joyce Beatty, who has represented her district in D.C since 2013. There’s a lot of tension these days over Democrats primarying other Democrats in safe blue districts, and Ryan and I explore those elements in the story.

If you’ve seen the news recently about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi taking swipes at Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and/or if you saw headlines about veteran lawmakers in the Congressional Black Caucus speaking out against Justice Democrats—the national organization that helped elect AOC and supports primarying Democrats—you’ll probably get a lot out of this piece. (And if none of that has crossed your radar, no worries, we’ll catch up you in the story!)

Read it here: How Morgan Harper’s Ohio Primary Challenge Explains the House Democratic Meltdown

The second piece is a look at how the 2020 Democratic candidates for president are talking about charter schools on the campaign trail. Some candidates have come out behind policies to limit charter schools, some are voicing more critical rhetoric about charters, and others are offering notably muted defenses. As someone who has followed charter school politics for a while, I can tell you it’s a significant shift from years past, and reflects what I see as three main trends: a competitive effort by candidates to court teacher unions (which have long opposed charters), an effort by candidates to distance themselves from the unpopular Trump administration and Betsy DeVos, and a substantial recent drop in support for charters among white voters. The charter movement’s loss of clout within the Democratic party is one of the more surprising developments this election cycle.

You can read it The American Prospect here.


Thanks as always for reading, and if you’re inclined to support more of this work, please do subscribe and/or share this newsletter with a friend.

Will Bernie Sanders stick with a carbon tax?

Bernie Sanders has long been a champion of a carbon tax as a way to accelerate the transition off fossil fuels. He co-introduced a bill to tax carbon in 2013 that would have distributed 60 percent of the revenue back to consumers, he ran for president on taxing carbon in 2016, and he successfully pushed for language in the Democratic Party platform that year in support of the idea.

It’s never been the only thing he’s supported to tackle climate change —he’s also advocated for policies like ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, funding worker retraining programs, massive investment in energy efficiency, public transit, high-speed rail, solar and wind and more. But he has made clear that a carbon tax should be an integral part of any plan.

But over the last year, some influential progressive and environmental groups have soured on the idea. Some just ideologically dislike the idea of any kind of market-based solution. Others have paradoxically grown distrustful of a carbon tax as more Republicans have warmed to the idea, fearful conservatives will undermine it. Others say the Yellow Vest protests in France combined with the fact that it has failed to pass on the ballot in places like Washington state should tell us to divert our political energies elsewhere.

Bernie, since launching his campaign, has been silent on the issue. As voters wait for him to release his presidential climate plan, a key question will be to see if he abandons the idea he’s long heralded or integrates it into his push for a Green New Deal.

I can tell you what I think: I hope he does what he’s long done, and pushes for both.

You can read The Intercept story here.

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