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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

In the space of one day, the Los Angeles City Council votes to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2020 and Philadelphia Democrats nominate a mayoral candidate who ran on a platform of raising wages. Are unions on a roll?

When it comes to lifting the earnings of low-income workers, the answer is a definite yes. Last year, voters approved ballot measures to raise the minimum wage in Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and the California cities of San Francisco and Oakland. In 10 other states, as well as Chicago and the District of Columbia, lawmakers enacted raises. This year, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing for a $15 minimum wage and New York governor Andrew Cuomo says he will use executive authority to raise the wages of fast-food workers. Walmart and McDonald’s are voluntarily increasing pay to some workers.

The income issue is moving so fast that President Obama’s call last year to raise the $7.25 federal minimum wage to $10.10 already seems outdated; congressional Democrats recently introduced a bill to push it to $12. The Obama administration, meanwhile, is expected to announce an update in overtime rules that will give millions of workers a raise.

At the same time, union members and clout are ebbing. Membership stood at 14.6 million or 11.1 percent of the labor force last year, according to the Labor Department. That’s down from 17.7 million and 20.1 percent in 1983. And unions are losing political fights at every level.

Even as he readies that overtime-rule update, Obama is in a high-profile, high-stakes fight with labor over what could be the chief accomplishment of his second term. That would be the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement with 11 Asian-Pacific nations, for which he wants “fast-track” authority that would limit congressional input to an up or down vote on a final deal.

The spectacle has featured Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren trading personal attacks over who is right about potential harm to priorities they both hold dear, and AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka exchanging jabs with Obama over which one of them is living in the past. With Obama, Republicans and some Democrats lined up against them, the most unions can hope for is that negotiators heed their critiques.

A potentially more dire development for unions is Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s ascent to the top tier of the 2016 Republican presidential field — in large part on his reputation as a union buster. Unions tried to oust him in a 2012 recall election after he ended collective bargaining for state public employee unions, but all they did was turn him into a conservative martyr with sky-high name recognition and a national fundraising base.

Walker not only beat the recall, he won re-election in 2014 and promptly made Wisconsin the 25th state with a right-to-work law that lets people opt out of joining unions in workplaces represented by unions. Public-employee union membership, meanwhile, has plummeted since the collective bargaining ban.

Not surprisingly, Walker is running for president as the David who slew the Goliath of labor. He never fails to rouse conservative audiences with tales of the 100,000 protestors at the Capitol, the death threats to him and his wife, his resolve and ultimate victory over “the big-government union bosses,” and his appreciation for the prayers of supporters around the country. Especially supporters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

Whether labor is really a Goliath is questionable. In South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley attacked unions in her State of the State address and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers withdrew a request for an April 22 vote on forming a union at the Boeing Dreamliner plant in North Charleston. Lead organizer Mike Evans cited “an atmosphere of threats, harassment and unprecedented political interference” in an April 17 release that’s painful to read. The union said two organizers were threatened at gunpoint and others reported “hostile and near-violent confrontations.”

Yet a Winthrop University poll in March finds that even in South Carolina, 68 percent favor raising the minimum wage, suggesting a ballot initiative there could well succeed.

The path forward for unions is murky. Campaigning for issues and candidates important to workers takes money, which takes members who pay dues. And while the push for higher wages is a cause sweeping the land, what about other union functions, such as making sure workplaces are safe and workers aren’t abused?

Threats at gunpoint notwithstanding, union organizers should not be deterred. In a Pew Research Center poll in March, people viewed unions favorably by 48 percent to 39 percent. Even more encouraging, support for the right to organize in specific sectors was as high as 82 percent and the age group most supportive of unions was 18 to 29. Polls and election results alike suggest labor has a future, if it can keep it.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. 

File Photo: Thousands of protesters gather for a rally on the State Capitol grounds in Lansing, Michigan, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012. The crowd was protesting right-to-work legislation that had been passed by the state legislature the previous week. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Trump speaking at Londonderry, NH rally

Screenshot from YouTube

Donald Trump once again baselessly claimed on Sunday that the COVID-19 pandemic was "going to be over" soon, just hours after his chief of staff suggested the administration was unable to get it under control.

"Now we have the best tests, and we are coming around, we're rounding the turn," Trump said at a campaign rally in Manchester, New Hampshire. "We have the vaccines, we have everything. We're rounding the turn. Even without the vaccines, we're rounding the turn, it's going to be over."

Trump has made similar claims on repeated occasions in the past, stating early on in the pandemic that the coronavirus would go away on its own, then with the return of warmer weather.

That has not happened: Over the past several weeks, multiple states have seen a surge in cases of COVID-19, with some places, including Utah, Texas, and Wisconsin, setting up overflow hospital units to accommodate the rapidly growing number of patients.

Hours earlier on Sunday, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows appeared to contradict Trump, telling CNN that there was no point in trying to curb the spread of the coronavirus because it was, for all intents and purposes, out of their control.

"We are not going to control the pandemic. We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas," he said. "Because it is a contagious virus, just like the flu."

Meadows doubled own on Monday, telling reporters, "We're going to defeat the virus; we're not going to control it."

"We will try to contain it as best we can, but if you look at the full context of what I was talking about, we need to make sure that we have therapeutics and vaccines, we may need to make sure that when people get sick, that, that they have the kind of therapies that the president of the United States had," he added.Public health experts, including those in Trump's own administration, have made it clear that there are two major things that could curb the pandemic's spread: mask wearing and social distancing.

But Trump has repeatedly undermined both, expressing doubt about the efficacy of masks and repeatedly ignoring social distancing and other safety rules — even when doing so violated local and state laws.

Trump, who recently recovered from COVID-19 himself, openly mocked a reporter on Friday for wearing a mask at the White House — which continues to be a hotspot for the virus and which was the location of a superspreader event late last month that led to dozens of cases. "He's got a mask on that's the largest mask I think I've ever seen. So I don't know if you can hear him," Trump said as his maskless staff laughed alongside him.

At the Manchester rally on Sunday, Trump also bragged of "unbelievable" crowd sizes at his mass campaign events. "There are thousands of people there," he claimed, before bashing former Vice President Joe Biden for holding socially distant campaign events that followed COVID safety protocols.

"They had 42 people," he said of a recent Biden campaign event featuring former President Barack Obama. "He drew flies, did you ever hear the expression?"

Last Monday, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) endorsed Biden's approach to the pandemic as better than Trump's, without "any doubt."

"The more we go down the road resisting masks and distance and tracing and the things that the scientists are telling us, I think the more concerned I get about our management of the COVID situation," he told CNN.

In his final debate against Biden last Thursday, Trump was asked what his plan was to end the pandemic. His answer made it clear that, aside from waiting for a vaccine, he does not have one.

"There is a spike, there was a spike in Florida and it's now gone. There was a very big spike in Texas — it's now gone. There was a spike in Arizona, it is now gone. There are spikes and surges in other places — they will soon be gone," he boasted. "We have a vaccine that is ready and it will be announced within weeks and it's going to be delivered. We have Operation Warp Speed, which is the military is going to distribute the vaccine."

Experts have said a safe vaccine will likely not be ready until the end of the year at the earliest, and that most people will not be able to be vaccinated until next year.

Trump also bragged Sunday that he had been "congratulated by the heads of many countries on what we have been able to do," without laying out any other strategy for going forward.

Nationally, new cases set a single-day record this weekend, with roughly 84,000 people testing positive each day. More than 8.5 million Americans have now contracted the virus and about 225,000 have died.

Trump, by contrast, tweeted on Monday that he has "made tremendous progress" with the virus, while suggesting that it should be illegal for the media to report on it before the election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.