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

Corporate Power

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell

Photo by NASA HQ PHOTO is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Reprinted with permission from Roll Call

That Pepsi bottle on the counter looks so out of place. My husband has always been a Diet Coke man. It's a matter of principle, he tells me, even as he admits he prefers "The Real Thing." Coca-Cola's statement disapproving of Georgia's new voting restrictions was too little, too late, and that's that, he says. All of that puts the Atlanta-based soft drink giant in a bind, since even its belated critical stand was too much for backers of the bill, who are also banishing Coke from their own fridges, they say.

What's a company to do?

I can't feel too sorry for Coca-Cola, Delta, and the rest, though, since they've been playing the political game forever while pretending to be above it all. And I have to stifle a laugh at the Republican politicians who are admonishing corporations and sports leagues now that the bills the GOP instigated aren't getting a pass. These are the same pols who eagerly accepted campaign donations and good PR in days past.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is astute enough to recognize why his furrowed brow and outraged words are landing with a thud. It's why his story is constantly changing. He told companies to stay out of politics, was called on it, then said he meant to only offer advice that business leaders read the fine print before opening their mouths and closing their pocketbooks.

Carefully studying the legislation would be more than I'd wager Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp did, judging by the speed with which he signed the 98-page, GOP-led monster, after it raced through the state legislature, though I'm sure he was briefed on its intent. However, the arrest of duly elected Democratic state Rep. Park Cannon after she knocked on Kemp's door to witness the signing seemed to happen in excruciating slow motion.

Kemp's expressions of concern for Black-owned businesses hurt by Major League Baseball moving its All-Star Game from Georgia, after he prevented Cannon from witnessing the signing of a bill that would affect so many of her constituents, earns him a spot right alongside McConnell in the hypocrites' hall of fame.

Many Georgia Democratic politicians and activists, such as Stacey Abrams, Kemp's past and maybe future opponent, have reminded those who would boycott the state about the workers who would pay a price. But the blame for the punitive actions clearly lies at the feet of the lawmakers who rushed to fix an election system that was not broken — unless broken is defined as losing presidential and senatorial contests.

Devil's In The Details

Apparently, more and more companies are taking Kemp's advice to become informed about not only Georgia's bill but also voting legislation that Republican-controlled legislatures are rushing to pass across the country. The New York Times provided a handy deep dive into the Georgia law. Here are some lowlights: Voters will have less time to request absentee ballots; drop boxes still exist, but barely; if election problems arise, it will be more difficult to extend voting hours; and so much more.

What many find most disturbing in that and other bills are new rules that would give legislatures the right to overrule the will of voters. For instance, in Georgia, the GOP-led legislature is now empowered to suspend county election officials. Isn't that what Donald Trump dictated in his threatening calls to state officials?

How widespread is the threat to democracy? The Brennan Center for Justice estimated that, as of late March, legislators had introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states.

I, for one, would be happy to never hear the word "cancel" again, now that it's used as a mantra from the folks who want to cancel the will of the voters who favored Joe Biden. Did they honestly expect American citizens (many of whom work for or patronize those now-vocal corporations) to take it? After all the corporate statements last summer supporting equity and racial justice after George Floyd's deadly interaction with law enforcement, it was inevitable that demands to back up those words with action would follow.

Good For Business?

Recently, more than 100 chief executives and corporate leaders met virtually to discuss taking action to oppose the voting bills, including withholding investments from states that pass such measures and donations from politicians who support them. Get McConnell the smelling salts!

That's a little surprising since the usual corporate comfort zone is taking the tax breaks and hiring lots of lobbyists. So a certain amount of cynicism is allowed. Paying attention now must be good for business, or CEOs wouldn't be considering it. You also have to credit the 72 African American executives who signed a letter criticizing business as usual. Two of them — Kenneth Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck — reportedly helped lead the meeting.

In Michigan, leaders of Ford and General Motors joined other businesses based there to voice their opposition to GOP-sponsored election bills in that state and around the country. And more than a dozen top law firms have committed to forming what amounts to legal "SWAT teams" to fight the laws.

Remember when McConnell celebrated the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United ruling that companies could finance election spending? "An important step" in restoring their First Amendment rights, he said. Mitt Romney famously said: "Corporations are people."

Well, people are going to have an opinion and perhaps, when prodded, a conscience. From now on, Georgia and states with laws on deck (a baseball reference in memory of a missed All-Star opportunity) have to decide if corporations are naughty children to be scolded and condescended to, or not.

For those without Fortune 500 bona fides, and only their vote as voice, why wouldn't that vote be protected as precious? Which brings me back to my husband, who reminds me, only half-jokingly, that not only is he doing his part, he's also in good company. Will Smith has decided that his next project is canceling plans to film in Georgia because of the state's freshly minted voting restrictions.

Bad boys, indeed.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

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Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

Reprinted with permission from Portside

As destiny would have it, just days after Amazon used illegal tactics to derail a drive by warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama to unionize, journalists in northern New Jersey who work for Gannett are voting on whether or not to form a union. They are affiliated with NorthJersey.com, the Bergen Record, the Daily Record and the NJ Herald.

In both cases the workers putting so much at risk to form a union are like David facing off with Goliath. Armed only with their courage to stand up for their own collective sense of right and wrong, they face multi-billion-dollar corporate behemoths that are the very engine of the wealth concentration and radical income disparity that have come to define the global economy.

As multiple economic studies have documented, since the 1970's workers saw their wages flatline or decline, even as technology saw their productivity, the wealth their labor generated, grow exponentially.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the newspaper business which I entered through the loading dock door decades ago at the Ridgewood Newspapers in Bergen County, when I started in the typesetting and composition department.

As a reporter, I watched as technology reduced the number of people it took to produce the newspaper, but those labor savings never found their way into the paychecks of those of us who continued to produce the newspaper.

Rather it went to the capital interests that swallowed up local newspapers which permitted those Wall Street types to corner the entire industry.

We were told we were lucky to have a job, which is a mantra that has only gotten louder as the corporate titans like Gannett, which now owns one in five of America's newspapers, has gutted the staffs of the local newspapers it has devoured in an unrelenting squeeze play that put profits over people.

"Since 2016, we have seen more than half of our colleagues lose their jobs, with cuts of over 250 people at The Record, the Daily Record and the NJ Herald," wrote the Gannett employees seeking union representation in their mission statement. "Staffers who were unceremoniously laid off include a reporter nearly nine months pregnant and a 30-year-veteran reporter who was forced to take a buyout after missing a single email to opt out of the process."

Their statement continued. "By forming a union, we are taking a stand for respect and dignity, and greater protections against unjust terminations and reductions in force. We are uniting with NewsGuild members around the country in a movement to save local news and ensure a seat at the table when decisions are made that affect our paper and the news coverage we provide. There is no journalism without journalists."

But Gannett is hardly alone.

According to the Pew Research Center's analysis U.S. newspapers "have shed half of their newsroom employees since 2008."

"From 2008 to 2019, overall newsroom employment in the U.S. dropped by 23 percent, according to the new analysis," Pew reported. "In 2008, there were about 114,000 newsroom employees – reporters, editors, photographers and videographers – in five industries that produce news: newspaper, radio, broadcast television, cable and 'other information services' (the best match for digital-native news publishers). By 2019, that number had declined to about 88,000, a loss of about 27,000 jobs."

With the contraction of authentically reported local news what filled the void was social media click bate and propaganda as the nation lost the vital sense of situational awareness that comes from a vibrant local press. It's not hard to track the devolution of our national circumstance to the Jan. 6 insurrection where thousands were ready to overthrow our democracy in their own cyber bubble where they were convinced the 2020 election was stolen.

After all, they heard it on the "news."

What's happened to the news gathering workforce played out across every other industry and has only accelerated since the early 1980s when President Reagan fired more than 11,000 air traffic controllers who were on strike. He also banned them for life from federal employment. His scorched earth approach got traction with private employers who adopted similar tactics.

Before Reagan's mass firing, close to one in four Americans were represented by a union. Today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics just 10.8 percent are, a .5 percent increase from the year before.

In transportation, where crews on trains and ships have been slashed, the results have been calamitous for people and the planet. Consider the runway oil train that was unattended when in 2014 it leveled a Quebec community's downtown killing 47 residents. Maritime fatigue, the result of short staffing, has produced oil spills visible from space.

In the healthcare sector we see it in the business model of nursing homes where profiteers pay as little as they can to as few people as possible to care for our most vulnerable. More than a year into the COVID pandemic, we have seen the consequences of that business model carried on the backs of low wage caregivers who often had to work in more than one facility to make ends meet and spread the deadly virus in the process.

With the historical decline of unions, there's been an explosion in so-called gig workers, who as "independent contractors" are part of a precarious workforce that lacks the basic safety net of healthcare or access to workers compensation in the event they are injured or disabled while working.

No doubt, they too, are told they are lucky to have a job, even if they can't really call it that.

At both the state and federal level, our democracy has become captive to these capital interests that have successfully pressed for deregulation in a world where corporations can plot global domination for maximum profits subsidized by our tax policy. Meanwhile, workers are blocked at every turn from organizing collectively in their own and in their community's self-interest.

And just what has this brave new world dominated by Goliaths like Amazon and Gannett given us?

According to Forbes, in October the Federal Reserve found that the top one percent of Americans had a combined net worth of $34.2 trillion in wealth, or 30.4 percent of all U.S. household wealth, while the bottom 50 percent of the population held just $2.1 trillion, or 1.9 percent of all wealth.

Is it merely coincidental that the breathtaking concentration of corporate media power that Gannett represents comes as the well-documented concentration of wealth continues to grow and even accelerate in this country during the pandemic?

Let's hope our colleagues at The Record, the Daily Record and the NJ Herald can carry the day and form a union.