Civil rights, labor groups petition Biden with their agendas
Vanita Gupta, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights | blogs.law.nyu.edu

WASHINGTON—Prominent civil rights groups are bringing wide-ranging policy agendas to Democratic President-Elect Joe Biden, with two of them also agitating for more Black appointees to top Cabinet posts. That, at least, was met with a Cabinet nomination for Rep. Marcia Fudge on Dec. 9.

Among the top, boldfaced items on one list, from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: Passing the Protect The Right To Organize (Pro) Act, the most-comprehensive pro-worker labor law reform since the original National Labor Relations Act of 1935. The New Poor People’s Campaign unveiled the other comprehensive list.

Accompanying the PRO Act, also in Leadership Conference boldface, passing “legislation to strengthen and ensure anti-discrimination protections for all working people, including the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and the Equality Act, and legislation to strengthen protections against workplace harassment.”

And Biden should push and Congress should “pass legislation to support the health, safety, and economic security of working people, including the PRO Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, the Healthy Families Act and Family Act, the Raise The (Minimum) Wage Act, and the Fair Act,” which would strengthen job safety and health laws, the civil rights group added. It boldfaced those, too, as top priorities for the incoming administration.

“Over the last four years, we have faced demagoguery, fearmongering, racism, and xenophobia from those in power,” Leadership Conference President Vanita Gupta explained in releasing the recommendations on Dec. 7.

“Despite the pandemic and deliberate barriers to the ballot, more than 160 million people voted, shattering records. The country is in need of a course correction, and the new administration and Congress must act immediately” on the priorities it set out, she added.

NPPC sounded similar themes. “If America does not address what’s happening with visionary social and economic policy, the health and well-being of the nation is at stake,” said NPPC co-chairs the Revs. William Barber II and Liz Theoharis at its Dec. 7 unveiling.

“What we need is long-term economic policy that establishes justice, promotes the general welfare, rejects decades of austerity, and builds strong social programs that lift society from below.”

The recommendations occurred the day before two other civil rights groups, the NAACP and the National Urban League, met with Biden to push for appointing more African Americans to top jobs in the incoming administration. “It is about representation at the table,” said Urban League President Marc Morial, the former Mayor of New Orleans.

Besides extensive recommendations on civil rights, voting rights, dismantling the war machine, ending the Trump-GOP tax cuts, and shifting money from both of those to social services, NPPC also wants Biden to push comprehensive immigration reform and legalization, curb ICE and Border Patrol raids and to stop Donald Trump’s Mexican Wall.

NPPC’s lengthy agenda also includes comprehensive plans to attack the coronavirus pandemic and particularly its outsized impact on Black and brown people, who are at high risk of catching the virus and dying, especially since disproportionate numbers are nurses, medical workers, truckers, farm workers, warehouse workers, and other frontline workers.

Those demands, which if Biden fulfills them would help all workers, include increased protective personal equipment (PPE) for vulnerable people, stepped-up anti-coronavirus efforts to make schools safe again, raising the minimum wage immediately to $15 an hour and then to “a true housing wage” of $23 hourly by 2028.

That demand would also “guarantee the right to form and join unions to all workers,” NPPC says.

The NPPC also, like National Nurses United, would have Biden order the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to force firms to craft and implement programs to protect workers and customers from the virus.

NPPC also wants Biden to push, as he has promised, a comprehensive infrastructure rebuilding program, with an emphasis on high-paying jobs to lift people out of poverty.

It would be “a federal jobs program to build up investments, infrastructure, public institutions, climate resilience, energy efficiency, and socially beneficial industries and jobs in poor and low-income communities,” the NPPC says.

They must be “environmentally sustainable infrastructure jobs that expand and retrofit public and affordable housing, water/sanitation systems, public transit, utilities/broadband access, and sustainable food production and distribution,” NPPC says. And such public facilities must stay public, not be privatized for profit.

And in a goal both teachers unions would agree with, it calls on Biden to push “safe, quality and equitable public education, with supports for protection against re-segregation.” The government should “increase public education funding at all levels, especially for poor and low-income students and communities.”

To pay for all of this, NPPC advocates repealing the $1.7 trillion Trump-GOP tax cut for corporations and the rich and cutting the war budget sent to the Pentagon virtually in half, by $350 billion.

The Leadership Conference, like the NPPC, emphasized renewing, restoring, and strengthening both the Voting Rights Act and its enforcement, and massive moves against voter suppression. And it called for Biden to nominate federal judges who respect and will uphold the constitutional rights of all, especially people of color and other minorities.

But its recommendations for their first 100 days added other fields, too. One would extend emergency paid sick and medical leave during the coronavirus pandemic to all workers. Others included:

“Issue an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $15 per hour as of the next contracts the government signs with contractors; as of October 1, 2021, and every year thereafter, ensure the minimum wage for federal contract workers is indexed to wage growth and increased accordingly.” That recommendation was in boldface type, indicating it’s a top priority of the Leadership Conference.

The Leadership Conference also wants Biden’s Education Department to ban corporal punishment in schools and end federal funding for cops in schools. Another boldfaced recommendation is to “nominate a Secretary of Education with a demonstrated record of support for marginalized communities and civil rights laws–someone who will make civil rights and equity the center of any work they do.”

And, like teachers unions, the conference opposes sending federal education money should go to parents of private school kids–the opposite of Trump regime priorities.

While the Leadership Conference and the New Poor Peoples Campaign concentrated on issues–though LCCR made a big point about restoring fairness to the federal judiciary—appointees topped the list at the meeting between Biden, the NAACP, and the Urban League.

“It is about a significant number of Black people in the Cabinet, let me be clear,” said Morial. Biden has already named several Blacks to top jobs, and his Vice-President-Elect, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is the first African-American, first woman, and first Asian-American in the nation’s #2 post.

The meeting between Biden, the NAACP, and the Urban League was followed by the president-elect’s decision to name Fudge, a Black veteran lawmaker from Cleveland, as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. HUD Secretary Ben Carson, a former surgeon is the sole Black in Trump’s Cabinet.

Like other majority-Black cities, Cleveland went overwhelmingly for Biden in November’s election. Indeed, Blacks were his most consistent supporters, both then and in the party primaries earlier this year.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., a key Biden backer, said Fudge “would get a Cabinet position” in the administration. She was in the running for Agriculture Secretary, which would have been a first for the agency, but also in line with its priorities. Most of USDA’s budget goes not for farm subsidies, but for SNAP, also known as food stamps.

But the Ag job went to white former Obama Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Progressives slammed him for ignoring poor Black and brown farmers USDA mistreated and/or stiffed on crop loans in the past.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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