By: Daniel Ohiri
It’s election day! All across the country, people will be voting for governors, attorneys general, state house, and city council. Thousands will also be voting for several municipal propositions. I want to focus on one of these referendums in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Proposition No. 2 says,
“Shall the City of Albuquerque adopt the following amendments to update the language of the Open and Ethical Elections Code, which provides for public financing of City candidates: Vied eligible city residents with Democracy Dollars, to contribute to their choice of qualified candidates , which the candidates could redeem with the city clerk, up to a limit, for funds to spend in support of their campaigns, as directed by the City Council, and increased funds for publicly financed mayoral define family candidates?”
This simply worded proposition actually radically alters the way we finance elections. Following a 5-4 ruling from the Supreme Court, municipalities nationwide had to redo their public financing system. Paraphrasing Justice Kagan’s dissent, this ruling significantly weakens election authorities’ ability to combat the hold special interests have in our political system. No city is safe from high dollar donors corrupting their politics. In Albuquerque, Demos found that, “A small pool of donors contributing at least $1,000 each provided the majority of campaign funds in the last city election”. In a city, where the per capita income is $28,229, we are currently crippling, in a major way, the average citizen’s ability to participate in politics.
The rising cost of city council elections is damaging to our democratic process. Take for example this year’s election in Albuquerque City Council District 8. In this district one of the candidates has opted to pursue private financing while the other has chosen to be publicly financed. Trudy Jones, who is privately financed and the incumbent, raised $31,305 (mostly from the real estate industry) during Reporting Period 7 (09/03/ 2019 – 10/11/2019). During the same reporting period her opponent, Maureen Skowran, raised $0.00. The race in District 8 demonstrates the advantages that affluent incumbents have in financing their campaigns. In elections across the country we are seeing more and more that big money is unfortunately essential to a modern campaign, and without it challengers face an uphill battle to even get on the ballot, let alone mount a successful campaign. The reliance on big donor financing is damaging because it limits the entryway into public service to the affluent or affluent adjacent. Therefore, it limits the socioeconomic diversity of thought and people in the halls of power and decision making. It also affects access to policymakers, there is evidence that suggests that politicians will listen more keenly and respond to the policy proposals put forth by high dollar donors instead of low dollar constituent contributors.
Albuquerque voters have a choice in filling the public financing hole created by the Supreme Court. They have a choice in following in the steps of Seattle, WA, when they created a similar program. They also have a choice to continue the status quo. Ultimately, the choice is theirs.
By: Sean Ruddy
This past month, the D.C. city council took landmark action when it unanimously passed an updated Framework of the city’s comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan is a far-reaching document that guides the decision-making of the city's zoning commission for the next 20 years, having great influence on the landscape of the city. One of the main improvements to the comprehensive plan included encouraging the Zoning Commission to approve the development of planned unit developments (PUDs), which are a type of multi-purpose development that are exempted from some zoning restrictions if they provide a public good. One of the main changes to PUD developments is that they are no longer forbidden if the development would have “incompatibility” with a neighborhood but only when there are “unacceptable project impacts in the surrounding area.” This change will ensure that new crucially needed affordable housing developments are not blocked because of frivolous subjective reasons, such as distributing the “character” of a neighborhood, while still ensuring that current residents are not harmed.
The new comprehensive plan also requires that some PUDs and developments using city funds must help provide more equitable housing within DC. These changes to PUDs are expected to improve the amount of affordable housing units throughout the District. These necessary changes come at a crucial time, with a new report finding that DC is displacing lower-income residents at the highest rate in the country. These new housing developments will help stop this displacement and move the city towards the estimated 320,000 new units that have to be built by 2030 to keep up the job growth within the city. The plan gives priority to PUDs with a “build first” approach, which prevents residents from being displaced by allowing them to stay in their homes until new facilities are built. The amendments also establish a “right to return” clause that will make sure residents are able to return to their homes following housing redevelopment projects.
Other new improvements to the comprehensive plan coming from the amendments include a focus on development density instead of height, emphasizes on renewable energy sources in construction, and encouraging the development of multimodal public transportation to connect all residents to the bustling sectors of the city.
The Roosevelt Network praises the new amendments and appreciates the D.C. council’s commitment to preventing the displacement of its citizens. We hope to work with the council and other important stakeholders to monitor implementation and make certain that these changes help the city’s most vulnerable residents.
By Matthew Allen
Every day for as long as I can remember, my Dad has driven to and from work in Boston from our suburban town of Andover. This, according to 2018 numbers, has cost him a total of almost $50,000 in productivity over the last two decades due to the fact that Boston has the worst traffic of any city in the United States (and the eighth worst of any city on Earth). In 2018 alone, the average commuter that drove into Boston wasted over 160 hours of their life sitting in traffic, and, in rush hour, 60% of all roadways in the Greater Boston area are congested. Even worse, perhaps, is the fact that the average speed of driving in downtown Boston is 11 mph. However, this traffic doesn’t just plague the lives of commuters (and their employers). It plagues the environment, too. According to a 2014 EPA report, auto emissions serve as the largest source of air pollution in the state.
Despite all of this, very few commuters choose to take the commuter rail, as the trains are run-down, most lines have limited service, and many simply cannot afford the fares. These factors have led the MBTA’s commuter rail ridership to decrease by 25% since 2002, making Boston the only major city in the country whose commuter rail has decreased in riders since that point.
In order to address this important issue, I propose the implementation of a congestion pricing system in Boston, which will serve to: reduce overall traffic, decrease air pollution, and generate revenue to apply to more sustainable alternatives, such as the commuter rail. Congestion pricing is an idea that’s worked incredibly well in cities all over the globe. So well, that many American cities, such as New York and Seattle, are officially exploring implementing it themselves. However, Boston’s government has yet to follow their lead.
The fundamental concept of congestion pricing is that if we charge drivers a fee for entering a specific zone (generally the downtown area), people will choose to take alternative forms of transportation in order to avoid that fee, thus decreasing traffic and air pollution, and increasing public transportation ridership. And this has had immense success in cities such as Stockholm, Singapore, and London. Each of them has had a congestion pricing model for over a decade (Singapore has even had theirs since 1975). London’s system, which has been in place since 2003, includes an ￡8 ($13) daily flat fee for entering the congestion zone. This has helped to reduce traffic by 30%, and increase average downtown traffic speeds from 2-5 mph to 10 mph. It has also reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 16%, increased public transit ridership by 18%, and generated over $200 million in revenue annually. It’s even served to help business within the zone, as such businesses are growing twice as fast as those in other areas of the city.
It’s clear that Boston has a congestion problem; one that is doing significant harm to economic productivity, to the environment, and to the lives of hundreds of thousands of commuters. Implementing a congestion pricing system has been proven to alleviate these problems in myriad cities across the globe, and now I believe it’s time for Boston to give it a try.
By Jeanna Korzun and Danjha Leon
Wage theft in America is a very real threat to thousands of workers across America, and Washington DC is no exception. There have been several cases where workers had been paid unfairly and mislead from their original contracts. While the Wage Theft Prevention Amendment Act of 2014 introduced much-needed improvements to the city’s laws, its effects have not been felt by all workers.
Wage theft includes more than hourly pay below minimum wage, it includes uncompensated overtime, payments for work made after the promised deadline, and “failure to properly classify workers as employees instead of independent contractors.” The latter of these definitions is the most notorious for evading the law, as the classification of independent contractors has specific requirements. Often, hiring companies use this term to evade taxes and certain requirements for work that would otherwise be provided for traditional employees. When this manipulation of the law is paired with the coercion of workers who either do not know or do not understand the law, wage theft will continue to occur.
A prime example is the case of Power Design Inc. a Florida based company that does commercial electrical work in 28 states and the District of Columbia that has been sued numerous times for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, both here in D.C. and around the country. The component of the alleged lawsuits suggests that Power Design utilizes a competitive business model which misclassify employees, stealing wages, and exploit low-paid workers.
There are cases of contractors that worked the George Washington University, had issues related to wage theft. For example, A&D Drywall, drywall contractor pays their employees cash and gave no overtime. Dynamic Contracting, who uses labor brokers, is currently being sued for wage theft. Gilbane Construction, or GC, is also being sued for wage theft for work done around the city. Mid Atlantic Manganaro, which constructed buildings at GW, they are also being sued for wage theft (Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters).
Ultimately, the solution requires more comprehensive legislation, such as the inclusion of spread information to community members on what means wage theft and how to address it. Additionally, workers must be made aware of their rights, the D.C. government should aggressively oversee and prosecute wage theft offenders. Moreover, companies ought to establish internal regulators to specifically take charge of ensuring that each worker knows their rights and that each company is complying with the law. The Just Pay Campaign, led by DC Jobs for Justice, is working to improve policy and implementation of it plus leading a campaign to highlight enforcement failures by taking on bad actors (DC Jobs for Justice).
If you or someone you know suspects that they are a victim of wage theft, please refer to Know your Rights and Wage Theft websites to better identify the case and to proceed accordingly.
By Matt Girardi
May Day throughout much of the world is synonymous with a celebration of organized labor. To honor the Haymarket Affair, workers’ rights activists have long used May Day to highlight the continued fight against economic and social injustice that too many workers continue to face. This May Day, a number of student groups including the Progressive Student Union, Fair Jobs GW, Fossil Free GW, the YDSA, and Jewish Voice for Peace (amongst others) coalesced and planned a rally in Kogan plaza. Termed the “Rally for Fair Jobs”, its focus was intended to be the continued lack of security for too many GW Workers—both student and non-student. Since September 2018, Fair Jobs GW has campaigned on a series of 10 demands that they have named the “Fair Jobs Contract”. These demands range from recognizing the collective bargaining rights of all GW workers to ensuring accessible health care, clarifying overtime policies, ceasing GWs outsourcing practices, and ensuring that the university is paying all its workers a living wage. Taken altogether, if implemented, the Fair Jobs Contract would provide economic justice, security, and dignity for all GW Workers. If administration wants to show they understand and are willing to work with students to make the university an institution where the best and brightest and not just the children of the wealthiest can thrive, it should take note of the demands of the activists that were in Kogan and move towards adopting the recommendations of the Fair Jobs Contract- particularly in respect to collective bargaining.
While the administration recently took some steps in the right direction by working with the Student Association to lower costs of laundry, printing, and renting spaces, it has some way to go before GW becomes affordable and accessible to every one of the students who call this campus home. Unfortunately, instead of recognizing continued concerns by both student and non-student GW workers, administration has continued to block Workers’ Rights by partnering with the Trump Administration’s National Labor Relations Board to stop graduate students from unionizing and launched sustained efforts to stop Resident Advisor unionization. It has continued to use temporary hires to fill gaps in employment, relies on third party contractors to undercut efforts at solidarity and unionization by direct staff and continues to not move on adopting a UPASS program that would significantly reduce costs for GW workers. To add insult to injury, after sustained efforts by administration to undermine Resident Advisor Unionization efforts, it made promises of increased transparency and cooperation between management and RAs, and then announced sweeping changes to the RA program.
The surprise announcement included the requirement of additional work hours, random roommates for some RAs, and the transition from a cash stipend to a fully covered meal plan. To top it all off, the CSE announced the changes after the housing application deadline passed for most upperclassmen, so many returning RAs were stuck choosing between signing the unexpected contract or paying the full cost of housing after all their potential roommates already established housing plans for the coming year. One Resident Advisor, speaking on anonymity for fear of their job, remarked that “[this] seemingly unfair rollout onto next year’s staff, particularly veteran RAs returning to the role, raises a serious question – why is upper management exclusively deciding what is best for the program and its workers? RAs depend on their stipend to accommodate the cost of not only food but also clothing, books, tuition, and a healthy social life. Without any say in the process, students complied as the CSE bound their income to GW-sponsored dining establishments while decreasing their flexibility to fit other jobs into their already busy schedules.”
Ironically and sadly, by reneging on their promise of additional cooperation and transparency with RAs and transitioning their wages into meal plans, the CSE has magnified the absurdity of the insecurity at the 59th wealthiest university in North America: nearly 40 percent of its student body, and even its own Resident Advisors, cannot even afford to consistently eat three meals a day.
Nonetheless, according to administration, GW student workers can have their concerns taken seriously by administration without forming a union. In fact, after Graduate Students advocating for unionization known as “GW Grad Students United” repeatedly requested to meet with President LeBlanc, they were met with a response by Provost Forrest Maltzman where he opined “Although I do appreciate that unions have made important contributions in many industries and over time, I view our graduate students as primarily students. Nor do I believe it is appropriate to utilize a collective bargaining process to shape the graduate student experience.”
While Provost Maltzman is entitled to that opinion, it is difficult to not to see that the bigger picture is missed in his response. In the words of the aforementioned (anonymous) RA: “When university employment determines so much of one’s livelihood, students deserve a seat at the negotiating table.” After all, unionization and collective bargaining efforts are not about setting up conflicts: they are about allowing workers to create a collective voice that no individual, no one worker, and no one Provost could provide. Only through that collective, united voice can workers engage in a fair, meaningful, and equitable dialogue with management. Even in the administration’s Faculty-Staff culture survey, a theme of “inadequate faculty and staff appreciation, recognition and care” was noted as a major hindrance to development of a healthy campus culture. If administration wants to act on that survey, if it wants to cast aside old stereotype of GW being a school of, by, and for elites, and if it truly wants to tap into the energy of the workers and young people who do their best to make this school run every day, it should work with the people who have been working for them. This May Day, workers were out, about, and ready to engage. Will the administration finally be willing to reciprocate? We can only hope so.
Note: When contacted, Fair Jobs GWU responded “PSU and the Fair Jobs campaign support grad student unionization efforts, and when there was an active movement to unionize RAs, we supported those efforts as well.” Grad Students United did not return immediately a request to comment on student unionization efforts.
By: Harry Levine
It is no secret: there are countless children throughout the world today who are mired in poverty and chaos. Children who go hungry every day, children who lack access to clean water, children whose lives are threatened by violence and crime, and sadly, so many more children facing so many other hardships. Given these tragic circumstances, it is easy for one to see how so many children throughout the world grow up without any prospects for a happy, prosperous, and peaceful life. However, let’s suppose that all of the societal, cultural and environmental factors which were holding a child down were suddenly lifted. Let’s say a child under the boot of discrimination, living in a dangerous neighborhood, in a broken home, and in a poor school district, was suddenly placed in the exact opposite situation. Surely, given such a radical change of circumstances, this child should thrive? Now that the barriers to advancement have been lifted, shouldn’t the child’s future be bright? Well, no, not necessarily. To understand why this outcome is the case, we need to look at a crucial component in the wellbeing and success of children - one which psychologists and social scientists have truly began to grapple with in recent years: stress.
We are all stressed, each and every day; getting to class or work on time, getting enough sleep, eating well, maintaining happy personal lives, paying the bills, one could go on. All stressors in our lives cause us anxiety, which is simply a natural response to the problems stressors pose us. However, once these stressors are removed, this anxiety fades. But what if the stressors are subtler, and long-term? What if the state of anxiety that we enter when stressed doesn’t fade? The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders identifies this state as toxic stress, and it is key to understanding how stress can harm child development.
“Time heals all wounds,” as the old adage goes. But in the case of children and stress, this largely is not so. It all happens in the brain, and specifically the brain stem, when children are very young. The brainstem is the brain’s first part to undergo development - it is responsible for responding to perceived threats, and having us give emotional, “flight or fight” responses in the short-term. Because the brain stem is the first part of the brain to develop, it is what children use primarily to respond to stress. Once they are older, the part of the brain used for reason and complex thought, the frontal lobes, is developed enough that they can begin to respond rationally and calmly to stress.
Here’s the problem: what if young children are constantly exposed to stress? What if their brain-stems are always being stressed, to respond to constant adversity in a tough environment? The result of such a situation is that children’s brains are irrevocably altered, likely for life - their brain stems become overdeveloped, at the expense of the parts of the brain which deal with rational thought, such as the frontal lobes. Better Brain for Babies, funded by the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, states that an overdeveloped brainstem can lead to “anxiety, impulsiveness, hyperactivity, poor impulse control, lack of empathy, and poor problem-solving skills.” In a study from the United Kingdom, boys were analyzed from birth until roughly their university years. The researchers found that boys who faced excess stress before the age of six ended up being more depressed in their teenage years than those who did not. In the landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, it was seen that a stressful and overly-adverse childhood experience had negative cognitive effects on children for life. One can clearly see how the behaviors detailed earlier from an altered brain development, such as poor impulse control and poor problem solving skills, make it harder for children to attain employment and develop rich social lives as they age. Simply put, children can literally be trapped from the start.
So what are we to do? Well, Better Brains for Babies points out that “In order to handle stress and return to calm, young children needs caregivers to comfort and reassure them that they are safe.” In other words, it is not enough to simply address the “hard” aspects of poverty - such as food insecurity, access to clean water, and physical safety - later in life. Such changes would be welcome, but children will still suffer from the earlier trauma of poverty as they age. Time does not heal all wounds, in this case. We all agree that the health and wellbeing of children should be promoted everywhere - and that should their include personal, emotional health and wellbeing as well. An array of policy programs which contain an aspect of stress reduction - of providing intimate emotional support to young children in stressful situations - is clearly necessary in addressing this problem.
So, what would such programs entail? For starters, one idea would be the promotion of community centers, particularly those that provide programs for new parents. Such centers, if of low-cost to the parents, could provide education on key stress-relieving activities for children. Indeed, if the centers become a place where parents could bring their children - even if just for a limited period of time - to help relieve them of stress, it would go far. Another idea would be policies which would reward companies that allow their employees to bring their children to work. While there would be some obvious complications with this idea, such that the line of work parents are in would dictate its feasibility, it is nonetheless true that separation from parents can lead to higher stress levels in children. These policies, as well as others, would go far in bettering such children's prospects for future happiness.
By: Emma Kiesling, Adam Graubart
Bold vs. Old Recap: Part 4 of 5
In the United States, we face a stark reality: we remain the only industrialized country in the world to lack paid family leave and universal healthcare. At the Bold Versus Old policy conference, Ai-jen Poo and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal discussed the gaps that exist in our healthcare, childcare, disability services, and elder care systems, proposing bold ideas to adequately address the long-standing health disparities that pervade throughout America.
Ai-jen Poo, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, outlined a bold proposal for universal family care that subsidizes services for children, the elderly, and the disabled. She argued that the current costs of in-home care are enormous and getting larger, but at the same time, at-home care can be back-breakingly expensive. Unlike a siloed paid family leave plan or Medicare expansion, Poo wants to create a system that provides the care necessary at various stages of life, viewing our care needs along a continuum. Under Poo’s proposal, everyone would contribute to a fund for caregiving based on the idea that our nation’s young people and its wise, older adults enrich the common good into our future. As when Franklin Roosevelt fought for Social Security so that all Americans could retire with dignity, this plan takes care of past and present generations in an esteemed way, relieving the financial and emotional stress felt by middle and low-income Americans. Poo’s proposal streamlines several governmental services, including many within Medicare, in a way that adds value to the economy while allowing for more affordable, comprehensive care.
Medicare for all isn’t a new idea, but never before has it been so popularly expounded by our elected representatives. Universal healthcare now seems like a required credential for progressive members of congress and presidential candidates. At Bold Versus Old, we discussed the life-saving possibilities that exist if we “public-tize” our health and grant government greater ability to regulate cost-prohibitive elements of the healthcare industry, such as prescription drug prices.
Jayapal stated her case in a global context, pointing out America’s declining life expectancy and increasing, inequitable rate of infant and maternal mortality, unique and alarming trends among the world’s developed countries. Healthcare costs are still higher than any other developed nation, and 30 million Americans remain uninsured. Jayapal’s proposal is a full-scale medicare expansion, shifting healthcare back to being patient-driven and affordable. The plan proposes long-term coverage for older and aging Americans and ensures that the default for their care is at home, and not in collective facilities. In addition, the plan powerfully tackles our country’s healthcare market inefficiencies. It provides for a rapid transition from the Affordable Care Act-era public-private healthcare system to an entirely public system. But that doesn’t mean it’s all broad and sweeping plans; the details of Jayapal’s proposal far surpass the previous Medicare for All bill–the text of this version supersedes its predecessor by over 100 pages.
During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt's support for employer-provided health insurance established the inertia for privatized healthcare to dominate our policymaking space in the twentieth century. Nevertheless, there seems to be momentum for universal care and Medicare for All among our current politics. Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren introduced a new universal child care plan, and Congresswoman Jayapal’s proposal have been introduced and boasts 106 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives. The way we achieve these policy changes remains unclear, but one thing is clear–these bold policy proposals aren’t going anywhere.
By: Emma Kiesling, Adam Graubart
Bold vs. Old Recap: Part 3 of 5
There’s been a lot of buzz about Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, the Sunrise Movement, and growing enthusiasm for the Green New Deal. The name suggests sweeping reform reminiscent of President Roosevelt’s agenda to put America back to work during the Great Depression. Last Thursday, we learned about the equally ambitious policy goals behind all the rhetoric. Demond Drummer, an organizer of New Consensus and one of the Green New Deal’s primary architects, outlined why he believes his policy is right for this moment. He explained how the aims of this policy offer solutions backed up by careful research and dutiful consideration of its impact on working-class Americans.
As a representative of the Green New Deal brain trust, Drummer described the plan as a World War II-level industrial policy that would mobilize the entirety of the American economy. With a series of national projects, each described by Drummer as a “moonshot,” he discussed his aspiration to transition to a carbon neutral economy, prioritizing energy efficiency and water safety. Of note, the plan focuses on the entire economy, and Drummer hopes it will serve as a tool for economic justice and equality in addition to curbing climate change. He explained how decreasing our dependence on carbon presents an opportunity for large public investments in much-needed infrastructure and enables us to valorize the work of all Americans. In particular, the Green New Deal decarbonizes agriculture, and it aims to neutralize carbon emissions in manufacturing while offering a jobs guarantee as these sectors transition. By involving all Americans in the growth related to the new green sector, Drummer argued that the Green New Deal will be “sustainable and prosperous not just for a handful of families but for everyone.”
With a federal jobs guarantee, extensive carbon regulation, and numerous infrastructure projects, this policy is perhaps the most ambitious and wide-reaching legislative agenda since FDR’s historic New Deal. But maybe that’s what this extreme moment for our planet calls for. The policy might resemble an old-fashioned, government-centered approach, but it also constitutes something undeniably bold: a popular agenda to stop ignoring the most pressing crisis of our generation.
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