In This Episode
- The House passed the Protecting the Right to Organize Act on Tuesday, a bill that’s been called the biggest expansion of labor rights since the New Deal. Now, the question is whether the filibuster will kill this bill in the Senate… or if the bill will kill the filibuster. We discuss, and hear from Faiz Shakir, founder of More Perfect Union, on what this moment means for the labor movement.
- Today, the House is likely to pass the revised COVID relief bill, the last step before it goes to Biden’s desk. We talk through some provisions in the bill that are getting less attention: money for Native communities, money for Black farmers, and fixes to the Affordable Care Act.
- And in headlines: Myanmar’s military government cracks down on media coverage of protests, Tennessee expands vaccine eligibility to include inmates, and Piers Morgan to defend the Queen on his own time.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Wednesday, March 10th, I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: And I’m Gideon Resnick, and this is What A Day, where we have now completed all our self-improvement projects for quarantine and can finally say we’re perfect.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, I’m now a quadriligual, ambidextrous, multi-instrumentalist—so you know, get at me.
Gideon Resnick: I can do one more rep of bicep curls, but for left arm only. On today’s show, we are going to dig further into the COVID relief bill, then some headlines.
Akilah Hughes: But first, the latest:
[clip of Ilhan Omar] I rise in solidarity with the 5,800 mostly Black workers in Alabama who are currently fighting one of the most predatory corporations in the world, Amazon, to form a union.
Akilah Hughes: That was Congresswoman Ilhan Omar talking about the Pro Act yesterday on the House floor. The bill, short for Protecting the Right to Organize, passed in the House yesterday, and President Biden said he would sign it into law if it makes it to his desk. Of course, it would have to make it through the Senate first, which, you know: treacherous, horrible place. But before we get ahead of ourselves, Gideon, let’s talk about this bill. It’s being called the biggest expansion of labor rights since the New Deal. What do we need to know about it?
Gideon Resnick: It’s definitely a big deal. It would be majorly consequential for workers and their unionization efforts across the country, especially because most legislation that we see and hear about seeks to erode workers’ rights, particularly when it comes to unions. That’s just been the history. The bill actually passed last year in the House. But the new momentum behind it comes from the fact the Democrats have majorities in the House and the Senate, a president who is vocally supportive, and an organized labor movement with even more muscle. So let’s go through some of the things it would broadly do: it would give workers that want to form a union more protections from retribution by employers or union busting tactics; it would target right-to-work laws, which exist in more than half of our states; it would give the National Labor Relations Board the ability to fine companies for violating employees’ rights to unionize, and more. And as it stands currently, there are basically no penalties for employers who do retaliate against workers for unionization efforts. There’s also a piece that would make it more of a challenge for companies like Uber to classify their workers as independent contractors, a relevant point given Prop 22.
Akilah Hughes: And so the big question is, does the filibuster kill this bill, or does this bill kill the filibuster? All right. Where do you see this actually going?
Gideon Resnick: I wish I could say, I really do.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, me too.
Gideon Resnick: I don’t think it’s going to get 60 votes in the Senate, to your point. So it is a filibuster conversation again, but this time it might be coming from a different source, which is organized labor. According to Politico, the executive board of the AFL-CIO is holding a meeting set for today about this very question. And so the thinking is if they come down on the side of a filibuster elimination in order to get the PRO Act passed, as well as legislation that raises the minimum wage. That could apply new pressure from a group that has historically wielded some influence on Biden. Who, by the way, still seems infuriatingly not open to Senate reforms yet. One recent example: last week, Biden put out a video message in support of the right of workers at Amazon to unionize without intimidation, and according to reports, it was organized labor that worked behind the scenes to help make that happen. The president of the union that would represent the Amazon workers, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union [RWDSU], said it was, quote “the most pro-union statement from a president in U.S. history.” So a big compliment there. And we’ll see how this all builds out.
Akilah Hughes: I mean, totally. I watched that Biden video and I was very shook. I just, it’s something that, you know, you would hope that a president would say, but as progressive as presidents we’ve had, we just haven’t seen it. So I do think that that’s a little bit of a change. But where are things now in the Amazon labor push?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So the election is set to conclude on March 29. And according to The New York Times, Biden’s message got a positive response from some of the workers in Bessemer. But we still see Amazon continuing to fight the effort aggressively. A recent Washington Post report highlighted that many employees in Bessemer are receiving multiple emails a day to dissuade them from voting for the union. We’ve talked about the presence of fliers in places like bathrooms, allegations that traffic signals have been changed around the facility. And the RWDSU recently said as well, that there was a mailbox appearing on company property, which could lead voters to thinking that Amazon has a role in the counting and collecting of their ballots, i.e., the perception is that it was an intimidation tactic.
Akilah Hughes: Oh my God. It’s just like, when will they quit? So anyway, we’ve got the potential union at Amazon, we’ve got the potential PRO Act. I mean, how do we see these two things fitting together?
Gideon Resnick: That was the question I was thinking as well. It’s almost fortuitous that this is happening at the same time. So I actually talked to Faiz Shakir yesterday. He is the former campaign manager for Senator Bernie Sanders and the founder of the group called More Perfect Union, which has been working on the Amazon union drive. He told me that if passed, the bill could help the Amazon workers in negotiations if they end up unionizing.
[clip of Faiz Shakir] One core part of the PRO Act says, that if you win you organize and campaign, there should be a first contract. You will be penalized if there is not a first contract. Because Gideon, you know that there’s a lot of companies that will just drag it out. Say: oh, yeah, sure, you got a union, but we’re never going to strike a collectively-bargained agreement with you, there’s no penalty if we don’t do so we’ll just drag this thing out for ages and ages. And it is the case that basically half of all successful unions still don’t form, you know, a collectively-bargaining agreement. And this PRO Act would establish and ensure that a first contract would arrive.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, so the collective bargaining agreement is just one impact of this bill for what’s going on in Bessemer. Shakir was also feeling pretty optimistic about the moment that we’re in, because there is this connection between the workers and organizers and the administration.
[clip of Faiz Shakir] If you’re a worker who’s engaging, you’re giving President Biden all of the opportunity to engage. He’s of course inspired—the president—by the fact that there are workers taking the courageous action of standing up to arguably the most powerful company in America, Amazon, and saying “we’re going to do it here” in arguably, one of the hardest place to do it, in Alabama. You do see mutually reinforcing strength, both from the workers taking courage to do this, standing up to power, knowing that they are standing up to a very powerful force. And then arguably the most powerful person in America, the President of the United States, saying: I see you and I got your back.
Gideon Resnick: Right. So Shakir is hopeful the support from the top elicits high participation as the Amazon vote goes on, and that hopefully more Democrats go to Alabama to support the vote, potentially including Sanders and Biden as well. We’ll see. So that’s a little bit of a look into the future of labor, which is relevant every day in every sector—just take a look at the BuzzFeed HuffPost story that we get delve into at a later time. But let’s take a moment to also zoom back in on this sprawling COVID relief bill. So the House is likely to pass the revised version today. And Akilah, there are some interesting things in there that we haven’t gotten to yet.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah. So even though we aren’t getting $2,000 checks—is only 1,400, there’s a ton to be celebrated in the massive package that hasn’t even been covered at length. So please indulge me because there’s a lot to be excited about.
Gideon Resnick: I am always indulging. Indulge away.
Akilah Hughes: [laughs] Thank you so much. All right. So first off, 31.2 billy has been dedicated to helping indigenous people, which is the largest public investment in Native communities ever. And yes, America owes them much more than that but it’s nothing to sneeze at. Here’s how that shakes out. So there will be 20 billion dollars allocated that goes to COVID relief for their communities. You remember that indigenous populations faced some of the highest rates of COVID over last summer, with the Navajo Nation bearing the brunt of America’s crisis for most of July. Then there’s six billion for health care, a major investment; 1.25 billion for housing, which many blame for the uncontrollable spread of COVID as multiple generations had to live and work together under the same roof; there’s another 1.1 Billion for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and so much more.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it is a lot of stuff. And in other disenfranchised communities seeing relief in this bill, there’s also money for Black, Latino and other farmers of color.
Akilah Hughes: That’s right. They didn’t forget about us. All right. So there’s a cool five billion dollars and that addition is actually thanks to Reverend Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who pushed for that specified relief. And this is just, you know, righting the wrongs of exclusionary practices that made it nearly impossible for farmers of color to own or pass down land going all the way back to the early 1900s. Back then, around 14% of farmers were Black, compared to 2% today. And that money will go towards forgiving those debts. And speaking of debt forgiveness: Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bob Menendez added a section that makes any student loan forgiveness tax free. Meaning if Biden actually does cancel any amount of student loan debt, it won’t come with an added cost to do so.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, so cancel away. And there are a lot of improvements to the ACA as well. Can we talk about that, too?
Akilah Hughes: Sure. So basically, the bill increases insurance subsidies, which means 14 million Americans will be able to pay less for their health insurance. Health insurance premiums will be capped at 8% percent of income, which is big any time, but also the pandemic has pushed a lot of people into poverty so this is necessary to keep the most vulnerable among us covered. Now, the catch with this, just like the child tax credits, is that the benefits are temporary. The hope is to make it a permanent fixture later on but there really isn’t a guarantee. There’s a lot more in the bill that we don’t have time to get to today, including money for child care providers to the tune of 39 billion dollars. So if you’re still sore about these inadequate stimmy checks, I feel you, but know that this is not a net loss. All right, progress is sometimes incremental and this is a huge increment. But that’s latest for now.
Akilah Hughes: It’s Wednesday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we’ve got a White House pup date, Biden’s German shepherds Champ and Major were sent home to Delaware late Monday night after the younger one, Major, bit a Secret Service agent. The agent’s injury was later described as, quote “extremely minor” with no skin puncture or bleeding, but not before a reporter asked this question at a press briefing:
[clip of reporter] Can you confirm that it was a Secret Service member who was bitten? And can you also reassure the public that Major Biden will not be euthanized as a result of this?
Akilah Hughes: What the fuck? [laughs] OK, so I am in awe of this man’s mind, but according to Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Champ and Major will back at the White House soon. So Giddy, my question for you: does America need to cut these dogs some slack?
Gideon Resnick: I think so. And I think this is all some scheme by this cat, wherever this cat is at, it is up to this cat doing some of this stuff, like maybe this was a collusion-type situation with secret service agents.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, he was provoked. [laughs]
Gideon Resnick: We don’t know. We don’t know. So, listen, I think everybody deserves their day in court, and that applies to Major as well. So, you know, I hope, I hope we get to hear his side. That’s all, that’s all I’ll say.
Akilah Hughes: Absolutely. And also, I mean, I’m pretty sure, like the Secret Service agent isn’t calling for him to be euthanized. Like, what really gives dude? Like, why would you even ask that?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s a pretty big jump to say, like “they’re in time-out temporarily” to, like “kill that dog!”
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, like tell America you’re not going to murder that dog. No one said that. You said that, what are you talking about?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I mean, I’m glad the answer is not an endorsement of dog euthanasia. That helps put my mind at ease a little bit.
Akilah Hughes: Low bar, low bar. [laughs]
Gideon Resnick: So how are you feeling about this? Should Champ and Major be given a little bit of leeway here?
Akilah Hughes: I think definitely. I mean, first of all, these are animals. And I think that people tend to forget that dogs are animals because they’re like: they’re part of my family. Yeah, you have an animal in your family. Like dogs have teeth, they might bite you. Also, these are German shepherds that are rescues. Like we don’t know the situation. Perhaps somebody didn’t know how to approach the dogs. You know, it’s just very insane to me that that would be the thing. Like Fauci has absolutely—he’s never bit me, but like, he has like jumped at me before, and I’ve never thought, like: well, that’s the end of Fauci. Like, just, you know: put him in a bag or something. Like, what are you talking about? It just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a very insane question. And also I think that these dogs are innocent. They’re dogs, right? They were probably playing or they were scared. They didn’t know. I don’t think that they’re malicious. They’re not like out to get blood. So that entire narrative just seems like a lot of bored people since Trump’s idiocy is no longer the main story.
Gideon Resnick: I yeah, and I will say, you know, if we’re really splitting hairs about the offenses that happened here, I think if I’m not mistaken, this is the same dog that broke the president’s foot. So wouldn’t that have been—
Akilah Hughes: Bigger thing, right?
Gideon Resnick: —if you’re really going to say like “time for discipline school,” like tripping, almost tripping the guy who is near 80, pushing 80, I feel like is more of a dangerous—
Akilah Hughes: And the leader of the free world, seems like. [laughs]
Gideon Resnick: Right. [laughs]
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, totally. And I just need the press to, like, chill out, all right. This isn’t—like these are Secret Service members, I’m pretty sure they’re trained to, like, take a bullet. I don’t think they’re, like, worried about getting, like, grazed by a dog’s tooth. But just like that, we’ve checked our temps. Stay safe. Put some respect on Major’s name. He’s just doing his best. And we’ll be back after some ads.
Akilah Hughes: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: There’s some updates on the state of the military coup in Myanmar. The military government is cracking down on any media coverage of the mass protests, nationwide. Authorities have been conducting raids on major news media offices in the country, seizing their computers and equipment. Before that, five local outlets were stripped of their licenses and banned from broadcasting or providing any information about the protests on any media platform. Over 30 journalists and media executives have been detained since the beginning of last month. Also yesterday, a second official from Aung San Suu Kyi’s League for Democracy Party died in custody after he was arrested this week. Human Rights Watch said there was evidence of torture involved in his death, opening questions of how the military is handling its political detainees. Despite the escalating crackdown, widespread protests are still happening every day in defiance of curfews and new laws.
Akilah Hughes: The COVID-19 variant from South Africa was detected in a state prison in Colorado, making it the first known case of the variant in a U.S. correctional facility. Two staff members and one inmate were infected with the variant at the Buenavista Correctional Complex. Officials are worried this might prompt new outbreaks and infections in a facility where 60% of inmates have already been infected by the original virus. Studies have shown that inmates are way more likely to get infected and potentially die from COVID-19 compared to the general public, yet only a small percentage of inmates across the country have been vaccinated. Some states, like Tennessee, have just started expanding their eligibility to include inmates who are at high risk for getting COVID. The state just ordered over 2,000 doses for inmates who are older or have preexisting health conditions.
Gideon Resnick: At What A Day, we are all about representation of hard partying animals in media, which is why we are excited about a movie that was announced in Deadline yesterday. It is called Cocaine Bear, and it’s said to be directed by pitch perfect’s Elizabeth Banks and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. The movie is based on the true story of a black bear in Kentucky that ate a duffel bag containing 70 pounds of cocaine in 1985. If you are not up to date on drug-to-dollar conversions, that is about 15 million dollars’ worth. And this is why bears aren’t allowed at Burning Man: they are notoriously bad at sharing their stashes. Also, only a few of them can ride bicycles. That’s an impediment too. Sadly, the real bear overdosed because he was probably one or two million dollars over his personal limit. Banks’s movie is being described as a character-driven thriller, and producers hope to start shooting this summer.
Akilah Hughes: I also hope to start shooting part of it the summer, please. [laughs] Reach out, Elizabeth. All right. British media is already course correcting after Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview by first getting rid of volunteer monarchy defender and freak for getting ratioed: Piers Morgan. In response to Harry and Meghan’s statements about racism in the royal family, Morgan described the interview as a quote “two hour trash-athon.” He also said he didn’t believe Markle’s claim that her treatment by the press led her to contemplate suicide. When one of Morgan’s co-hosts on Good Morning Britain questioned his long-running, one-sided Markle feud, he stormed off the set. Hours later, Morgan’s network said he had resigned, meaning women will have to find a different, large headed TV man to tell them how to exist on the planet. Buckingham Palace released its own statement in response to the Harry and Meghan interview yesterday, saying, quote “The issues raised, particularly of race are concerning.” Yep, gonna need to reread that statement to find the part where it says: we are sorry. Anyway, Oprah is officially the queen of England until further notice.
Gideon Resnick: Everyone there: congratulations on getting a new car.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, they don’t call it OWN for nothing. And those are the headlines.
Gideon Resnick: One last thing before we go this week: on Pod Save the World, Tommy and Ben are joined by Veronica Gago, an Argentinean activist who launched a feminist movement against gender-based violence.
Akilah Hughes: Yeah, check out the interview and subscribe to Pod Save the World wherever you get your podcasts.
Gideon Resnick: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, stay in school if you are a bear, and tell your friends to listen.
Akilah Hughes: And if you’re into reading, and not just royal non-apologies, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out. Subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Akilah Hughes.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
[together] And lay-off Major Biden!
Akilah Hughes: It’s not his fault and it’s weird that everybody’s making it about him and his temperament. OK, he’s a dog. Leave him alone.
Gideon Resnick: I would personally like Oprah to sit him down and get the truth out.
Akilah Hughes: Yup. Amen. [laughs] There’s a lot more to the story.
Akilah Hughes: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media.
Gideon Resnick: It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes.
Akilah Hughes: Sonia Htoon is our assistant producer.
Gideon Resnick: Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producers are Katie Long, Akilah Hughes and me.
Akilah Hughes: Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.