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Fast Food Workers Fight for a Raise, a Union, and Dignity at First National Convention

Fast Food Workers Fight for a Raise, a Union, and Dignity at First National Convention

By Alice Speri

July 30, 2014 | 10:55 am

“More than 1,300 workers from all over the US traveled to the outskirts of Chicago over the weekend for what organizers said was the first nationwide fast food workers convention. This gathering in Elmhurst, Illinois was held on the heels of a snowballing movement that has quickly grown from a spontaneous New York City walkout in November 2012 to one of the most significant American labor organizing efforts in recent years.

They came from California and Connecticut, from Kansas City, Little Rock, and more than 50 cities across the country. Most arrived after long, grueling road journeys, some on yellow school buses, and many brought their children along.

Most of the workers were young, but others were in their 40s and 50s, “career” fast food workers, who have spent decades in the industry. They were overwhelmingly black and Hispanic, but not only. Some were part-time students, a few had college degrees, and many held two or three different fast food jobs at the same time.

All photos by Alice Speri.

They came carrying banners from regional chapters and wearing shirts saying “Can’t survive on $7.25” and “We are worth more.” And they brought two demands: pay of $15 an hour and the right to form a union.

“Look around,” Mya Hill, an organizer from Detroit, told a roaring room packed with fired-up workers on Friday night, as the two-day event kicked off. “This is what a union looks like.”

First Victories
With most of them making the $7.25 federal minimum wage or just a few dimes more, fast food employees have become one of the most outspoken groups of low-wage workers in the country. While some politicians — including President Obama — have begun debating raising the minimum wage across the board to $10.10, the fast food workers’ bolder demand for $15 has quickly become the rallying cry for a movement that is promising to spread across industries.

“It’s time to stop paying us poverty wages, people are sick of it, everyone in this room is sick of it. We can’t live like this, it’s time for a change,” Shantel Walker, 32, a Brooklyn fast food worker for more than 15 years, told VICE News. “We work for multibillion dollar people. A little dollar, two, three, is nothing to them. They throw away money every day. When someone doesn’t eat their food, they throw it away. That’s basically our money in the garbage can.”

Shantel Walker, a fast food worker from Brooklyn said: ‘It’s time to stop paying us poverty wages, people are sick of it, everyone in this room is sick of it.’

Critics have slammed the $15 an hour demand as utopian, entitled, and economically senseless. But as Americans have started to awaken to the widening inequality in the country, the call for a fair wage has begun to gather traction. “We’re all people,” Walker added. “We have rights.”

Representatives for several fast food chains, including Burger King, Taco Bell, and Wendy’s, did not respond to requests for comment from VICE News on the convention and the workers’ demands.

A spokesperson for McDonald’s did not respond to interview requests or address questions on the impact of the fast food movement and whether its executives are taking the workers’ calls into consideration, but did release a statement.

“McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a concern and commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants. McDonald’s and our independent franchisees believe that any minimum wage increase should be implemented over time so that the impact on small and medium business owners is manageable,” spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said.

“Additionally, we believe that any increase needs to be considered in a broad context, one that considers, for example, the impact of the Affordable Care Act and its definition of ‘full time’ employment, as well as the treatment, from a tax perspective, of investments made by businesses owners.”

But despite some skepticism, the fast food workers’ movement has already reaped some important victories.

In June, Seattle’s city council voted to raise the minimum wage to $15 — a move that is also being debated in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago. So far, more than 6.7 million workers have seen their wages increase since the fast food workers’ movement started.

And in a decision with potentially massive consequences, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s is the “joint employer” for workers at its franchised stores — meaning the corporation will no longer be able to brush off workers’ complaints (and lawsuits) by putting all the blame on its franchisees. It could also be held responsible for unfair labor practices at its thousands of restaurants, including threatening to or firing workers for organizing.

“Like other fast-food franchisors, McDonald’s is trying to have it both ways when it comes to its relationship with employees working in stores bearing its name,” labor law scholar Michael Fischl said in a statement following the decision. “On the one hand, in order to protect its ‘brand,’ the Mother Ship micromanages virtually every aspect of day-to-day operations, from food preparation to customer service, and everything in between. On the other hand, in order to circumvent the rights of its employees under the National Labor Relations Act, it proclaims that it is ‘shocked, shocked’ that anyone would think it actually exerts such extensive control over its franchised stores,” Fischl continued.

“The General Counsel’s determination to treat McDonald’s as a ‘joint employer’ suggests that going forward the NLRB will be paying more attention to what franchisors are doing than to what they are saying they do.”

Predictably, the ruling outraged critics of organized labor, with Angelo Amador, vice president of labor and workforce policy for the National Restaurant Association, telling the New York Times that the decision “overturns 30 years of established law regarding the franchise model in the United States.”

Tuesday’s ruling came after the Chicago convention, but workers there were already celebrating their first big successes.

“What you are doing right now is the most important workers’ movement in America today,” congressman Keith Ellison — and co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — told workers on Saturday. “Millions of people across the country are looking at what you’re doing here in Chicago.”

Mary Kay Henry

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, also praised the workers. The union, which represents its members from a variety of service sectors, backed the convention and offered financial and organizational support — leading some critics to dismiss the event as an attempt to boost union membership.

“The people in this room tonight have changed our country,” Henry told Friday’s boisterous crowd. “When this movement started 21 months ago with the first strike in New York, people thought $15 an hour was a fantasy. They laughed at you. But now, because of your courage and your hard work, it will become a reality.”

Yet despite the wins, fast food employees face an uphill battle.

“It’s going to take a long time. You’re going back to your workplace after this and it’s not gonna happen overnight,” Justin Jones, a 23-year-old organizer from Orlando, told a group of workers in a breakout session. “This is gonna be a fight, it’s gonna be hard.”

“I’m pretty sure they’re gonna make it as tough on us as they can,” he told VICE News later, adding that he has already been turned away from many restaurants — including the world’s largest McDonald’s, in Orlando — for speaking with staff.

But the convention, Jones hopes, will boost workers’ morale and show them they are not in the fight alone.

“We wanted workers to come together and be motivated so when they go back to their cities they can share stories and be like, ‘Hey, this is a real big thing, they’re not playing,'” he said. “It’s a movement and it’s not going anywhere. These guys are serious, they’re for real.”

Birth of a Union
Just 21 months ago, most of the workers who packed into the convention center had no idea they could even protest cuts to their hours and late paychecks without getting fired.

Darrell Roper, 51, who works at a Burger King on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, did some research of his own after an organizer approached him outside the store two years ago. He was surprised to learn that he had a right to organize with other workers, as long as it was not on the clock.

“Most people don’t know that, that’s what it is. They’re weary because they don’t have any information,” he told VICE News, adding that he now talks to other workers — and has come under scrutiny from his managers for doing so. “What I learned gave me the heart and the audacity to want to participate, knowing that my employer can’t hold that against me.”

Darrell Roper

That sense of newly discovered empowerment was palpable across the convention hall, where many said they would have never dreamed to find themselves just months ago.

“When I first heard about it, I’m not gonna lie, I was kind of skeptical. I was thinking, ‘I’m gonna lose my job, I’m gonna get in trouble,’” Douglesha Nicholson, a 23-year-old Pizza Hut worker from Kansas City, told VICE News. But after the first strike, she was sold.

“It was a big rush of adrenaline, going out and being able to yell without the risk of being fired. Just to let you know ‘Hey, I’m here, this is what I’m demanding, this is what I want,’” Nicholsonsaid. “We’re here to educate other fast food workers who may be skeptical about it, to let them know that we have their back.”

Sitting at a table with workers from Detroit, Brooklyn, and Wisconsin, Nicholson and her partner Marcus Stove, 24, who works at Wendy’s and whatever other odd jobs he is able to find, they compared wages and managers. Nicholson and Stove have four children together — “four and a half,” he joked, as they are expecting their fifth in September — and have long searched for but have never been able to find anything better than their fast food jobs.

“I can’t feed five kids on $7.25,” Stove said. “I’m here for the $15. I’m here to get that money.”

“We all have children,” Nicholson, whose oldest son is seven and wants to be a Pizza Hut driver when he grows up, told the other workers at the table. “I’m here because we are human beings.”

Douglesha Nicholson and Marcus Stove

At other tables, workers from different cities also compared paychecks and traded stories of payments that came weeks late, frying burns, and customers throwing shakes at them through drive-through windows. For the workers, including many leaving their hometowns for the first time, it was a powerful experience.

“Especially in the South, a lot of people are not used to this, they don’t really have knowledge of what a union is, there aren’t a lot of strikes going on,” said Jones, the Orlando organizer. “Here, you are seeing strangers, from other states, races, and belief systems, who have the same issues as you, and it gives you common ground. It’s not just you, it’s other states that all have the same issues. It’s unifying. It’s pretty awesome.”

That was precisely the point of the convention, workers and organizers said: To unite workers and capitalize on the momentum of a movement that has already staged some of the most widespread strikes in recent history, turning the “Fight for $15” chant from a utopian slogan into a reality for some.

But the workers who gathered here also adopted a resolution at the end of the convention that pledged further action — including more strikes, sit-ins, and even soup kitchens outside their stores — “to make sure everyone knows their employees don’t make enough to eat,” one worker suggested.

And many of these employees want a union as much as a raise.

“Right now, people who are working in fast food, their rights are being trampled. The union is not just for job security, it’s to protect your rights,” Roper said. “Without a union, I can’t negotiate with management. It’s their way or no way.”

History of the Movement
The sometimes rowdy convention was heavy on hope and civil rights rhetoric, as workers discussed civil disobedience and watched videos of early workers’ movements. Speaker after speaker reminded those in the room that they were “making history.”

“I’m inspired by what you are doing,” Reverend William Barber II, head of the North CarolinaNAACP, told the workers at the beginning of a long sermon. “You are in a fight to change America and you need to stay in that fight.” At its national convention, last week, the civil rights group voted unanimously to endorse the Fight for $15 campaign.

In fact, this movement has already made history.

It was born almost by accident in New York City, when a couple of hundred workers — “overworked and underpaid” as some of them said — walked off their jobs in November 2012. After that, dozens of people gathered at a Brooklyn Wendy’s to support a young woman who had been fired for protesting. In a domino effect, the strikes started to follow across the country — with a massive, 150-city walk-out in May this year.

Also in May, 101 McDonald’s workers were arrested at a rally outside the company’s corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. Many of them were at the Chicago convention, where they got a standing ovation, pledged to do it again, and asked for others to follow.

“I tell you, if every one of us in this room goes to jail for civil disobedience, these corporations are gonna have to listen to us,” one of them told the crowd.

“They’re afraid of this movement, they want to keep their workers subjected,” said Roper. “They don’t want the whole store walking out, but there’s gonna come a time when corporate is gonna have to deal with us, they’re gonna have to give in.”

The workers plan to directly take on the executives of the corporations they work for — an effort that will likely be boosted by Tuesday’s ruling.

“If a CEO gets paid 1,000 more times than the average worker, I believe they can pay you a living wage. If the industry can make billions and billions and billions, I believe they can pay you a living wage,” said Barber.

In her speech, Henry listed the total compensation of fast food CEOs — coming to around 1,200 times the minimum wage that workers make.

“I think these CEOs should come into the store, to see how the stores are actually run,” Kristina Bradley, 25, told VICE News. Bradley was fired from a Pittsburgh Chick-fil-A after joining protests, she said.

“My paycheck says $300. My monthly bus pass costs $146. My rent is $450. If I’m making $300, where is my money?” she asked. “They say there’s welfare out there, you should go get food stamps. You think we want to live off the government? Are you serious? We are working.”

Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi

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Labor Regulator Says McDonald’s Corp. Counts as a “Joint Employer” of Franchise Employees

Labor Regulator Says McDonald’s Corp. Counts as a “Joint Employer” of Franchise Employees

 

posted by on TUE, JUL 29, 2014 at 1:20 PM

 

Ronald McDonald has some thinking to do.

“According to the Associated Press via the New York Times, the National Labor Relations Board has just issued a decision that the big ol’ McDonald’s Corporation can be named a “joint employer” of the workers in McDonald’s restaurants, even if those restaurants are owned by franchisees. Hmmm, what’s that mean? Says the AP:

The decision by the National Labor Relations Board was being closely watched because it could potentially expose McDonald’s to liability for the working conditions in its franchisees’ stores. It also puts pressure on the world’s biggest hamburger chain at a time when protests for higher wages in the fast-food industry have captured national attention.

McDonald’s and other fast-food companies have repeatedly said they are not responsible for determining wages and other terms at their franchised locations.

The International Franchise Association, which is currently suing the City of Seattle over our new $15 an hour minimum wage law, has maintained throughout their opposition to our tiered minimum-wage timeline that franchises should count as small businesses under Seattle’s law because their operations are so totally separate from the parent company. This NLRB decision is unrelated to that suit, but it’s certainly a ruling the franchise peeps are gonna hate.

In fact, the franchise association’s president and CEO, Steve Caldeira, sent a long opinion piece out to media in early July with the association’s fears about this potential NLRB ruling. It read in part:

Entrepreneurs are drawn to franchising because it is a proven, time-tested business model. But if control is taken away from these small-business risk takers who invest their own financial resources, fewer new businesses of this kind will be started.

This, in turn, will slow job growth. Unlike many other sectors of the economy, franchising has been growing consistently. In addition, large brands will probably opt to open corporate locations instead. That will reduce the number of entrepreneurs who are the backbone of Main Street America and help to create two-thirds of net, new small-business jobs in the U.S.

If it’s thinking about breaking the tried-and-true franchise business model, the NLRB’s Department of Advice should keep its advice (and blatant political agenda) to itself.

The horrors, you guys, THE HORRORS! What if there were no more Quizno’s in Seattle? What’s gonna happen to my KFC?! I WANT MY SMALL-BUSINESS MCDONALD’S BACK!!!

Meanwhile, Working Washington, the group behind Seattle’s fast-food strikes and a big force behind the $15 minimum wage law, has a different view on today’s decision. Spokesman Sage Wilson says via e-mail, “Today’s decision confirms what workers already know: in the fast food industry, the money and the power are concentrated at the headquarters of the global franchise corporations that bring in billions of dollars a year on poverty-wage business models.” He adds that “it’s time for them to reckon with their responsibility, stop making excuses, and ensure everyone who works for these chains can support themselves, afford the basics, and contribute to the economy.”

UPDATE: The NYT now has a much more thoroughly reported story up than the initial AP story I linked to at first, if you want more information on the NLRB decision.”

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What Happened When 3 Politicians Tried a Minimum Wage Budget

What Happened When 3 Politicians Tried a Minimum Wage Budget

By Scott Wilson

Jul 28, 2014 2:35pm

 

GTY money jef 140725 16x9 608 What Happened When 3 Politicians Tried a Minimum Wage Budget

(Getty Images)

“Have you ever seen a congressman snacking on a measly tin of sardines? Or maybe a governor ordering a McChicken off the dollar menu?

In Washington this week that scene was reality for three Democratic politicians who are taking the Live the Wage challenge.

Reps. Tim Ryan and Jan Schakowsky joined former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland in taking the challenge–and are each living on a budget of $77 for the week–the same amount that a minimum wage worker typically has to spend on food, transportation and day-to-day expenses–after factoring out major costs such as rent and utilities.

A $77-a-week budget certainly doesn’t allow for luxuries.

“I basically had a couple bags of peanuts in the cloakroom–and there was a little fruit in the office that I ate yesterday,” Rep. Ryan told ABC News. “I spent about seven bucks last night on a couple cans of sardines and a bag of crackers from the convenience store up the street.”

The congressman began the “Live the Wage” challenge last week with hopes of bringing attention to the hardships facing minimum wage workers around the nation.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky also began the challenge Thursday–telling ABC News, “It totally changes your perspective. Even the shopping experience–I make a shopping list when I go to the store usually. I think about what I need–what I want–and I put it in the cart. I truthfully rarely think about how much it costs.”

“I’ll walk down the aisle and I’ll see something–you know, that would be great and I throw it in the cart. There’s just none of that when you’re on that kind of budget. There’s no spontaneity whatsoever,” Schakowsky added.

Strickland even took a trip to McDonald’s to try out the fast food chain’s dollar menu. Strickland posted a photograph of his $2.20 meal on Twitter noting that the workers at McDonald’s–(a company known for paying the legal minimum)–”deserve a raise.”

In a Politico op-ed, Strickland explained that he was unable to complete the week-long challenge with a budget of just $77. One particularly difficult aspect the governor discussed was eating a healthy diet while living on a $7.25 hourly wage.

“Because fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find at a price within a minimum wage budget, I turned to bread, peanut butter, bananas and bologna more than anything else. That was what I could find when I took this budget to the grocery story last Sunday. And that’s why I ate lunch from the McDonald’s dollar menu.”

Schakowsky and Ryan have also taken to social media in recent days to share their message about the challenges facing minimum wage workers.

“There are a lot of people out there who do this for extended periods of time–years–so the idea is to get the message out and raise awareness about some of the difficulties that can happen to you,” Ryan told ABC News.

“We realize it’s not going to be exactly like the challenges that a minimum wage family faces, but the country is talking about the minimum wage right now. And I think that’s exactly what we want to do.”

Schakowsky echoed Rep. Ryan’s sentiments.

“I’m not going to pretend that now I understand what it’s like to live on the minimum wage. I think it’s a taste of it. But for anyone who thinks it’s a gimmick, my suggestion would be–try it,” Schakowsky said.

“You will get a small sense of what it’s like to be constantly thinking about how much you’re spending.”

Ryan and Schakowsky were co-sponsors of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013. Their goal is to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.

The push to increase the national minimum has steadily intensified in the past year–as the minimum wage has remained unchanged since 2009.

Last week marked the five-year anniversary since Congress last passed an increase to the national minimum, while the wage for tipped workers has remained at $2.13 an hour since 1991.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the minimum wage doesn’t get you very far. “On average, a single-parent household (One parent, at least one child under 18) will spend $5,457 per year on food, or about $105 per week.”

That’s $28 above what a minimum wage worker has to live on for a week.

When asked about plans for reintroducing minimum wage legislation, Schakowsky was optimistic, but expressed concerns over whether Speaker of the House John Boehner would bring the bill to a vote.

“We’re hoping that we’re going to see another vote on it in the Senate and that there will be more pressure,” Schakowsky said.

“I fully believe that if Speaker Boehner were to call an increase on the minimum wage–that it would pass. It’s a matter of making sure that we just get more Republicans over this recess to ask the speaker to just call the bill.”

Ryan, however, was not as optimistic about the bill’s prospects before the midterm elections.

“I doubt it. The speaker’s holding the line on this. And I hope it’s a rallying call for the 65,000 minimum wage workers in my district–and the million and a half across the country,” Ryan said.

“Let’s increase the minimum wage and get people to work and make sure work pays. That’s ultimately the conversation we want to have.””

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Ex-governor tries to live on a minimum wage budget — and fails

Ex-governor tries to live on a minimum wage budget — and fails

“I had $77 to spend on food, transportation, activities and other personal expenses for the week,” the Ohio Democrat and current president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund wrote in Politico magazine. “I didn’t make it.”

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How liberalism became an intolerant dogma

How liberalism became an intolerant dogma

 

My reaction to this article is multifaceted: on the one hand, I am glad that Damon Linker made these points, and on the other hand, I would like to argue against some of the implications and assumptions he makes.

To start with, I would like to clarify the difference between liberalism and libertarianism. Linker conflates the two concepts, and, while they are similarly related, they are not altogether identical.

According to wikipedia:

Liberalism (from the Latin liberalis) is a political philosophy or worldview founded on the idea of liberty and equality. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally they support ideas such as free and fair elections, civil rights, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free trade, and a right to life, liberty, and property.

while

Libertarianism is the group of political philosophies which advocate minimizing coercion and emphasize freedom, liberty, and voluntary association. Libertarians generally advocate a society with significantly less government compared to most present day societies.

These definitions suggest that liberalism has a stronger focus on equality, while libertarianism is more strongly focused on small government. My take is that liberalism is more willing to explore the options for achieving equality, whereas libertarianism is staunchly wedded to the idea that small government will produce equality. It’s arguably impossible to know which camp is “right.”

The problem that I have is Linker (who is directly influenced by Mark Lilla’s essay) conflates the two concepts without fully examining the differences.

He is correct, however, in identifying that the libertarian concept can be aptly applied to both sides of our bipartisan political systems:

“…Libertarianism in this sense fuels the American right’s anti-government furies, but it also animates the left’s push for same-sex marriage — and has prepared the way for its stunningly rapid acceptance — in countries throughout the West…”

Linker then goes on to say:

“…What makes libertarianism a dogma is the inability or unwillingness of those who espouse it to accept that some people might choose, for morally legitimate reasons, to dissent from it. On a range of issues, liberals seem not only increasingly incapable of comprehending how or why someone would affirm a more traditional vision of the human good, but inclined to relegate dissenters to the category of moral monsters who deserve to be excommunicated from civilized life — and sometimes coerced into compliance by the government…”

Now, I don’t know much about those who espouse libertarianism. I’ve only had the chance to talk in depth politics with one self-assigned libertarian and so my knowledge of the matter is limited. However, I have a much deeper understanding of liberalism as I was raised in a liberal household, have liberal friends, and generally support “liberal causes.”

And, yes, I would say that I have witnessed a trend of liberals who “seem not only increasingly incapable of comprehending how or why someone would affirm a more traditional vision of the human good, but inclined to relegate dissenters to the category of moral monsters who deserve to be excommunicated from civilized life.” I experienced this type of liberal primarily when I was attending college and they, more often than not, came in the form of well-meaning feminists who wanted so badly for women to be “liberated from the oppressive regime of Western society” that they would criticize any and all who remotely participated in seemingly “oppressive” actions, thoughts, and social roles. For example, I was “looked down on” for wearing makeup and shaving my legs.

And, yes, I can see that that kind of liberal is in the public eye right now thanks to the media and high-profile liberal groups who, although fundamentally well-meaning, insist on casting blame instead of focusing on shared hardships (see my previous blog post “The Day I Became a Men’s Rights Activist” for further examples).

However, that loud-voiced minority does not accurately represent all liberals as a whole. And it is always unfair to utilize synecdoche when describing any group of human individuals.

Linker acknowledges this point without actually realizing it when he says:

“…The latter tendency shows how, paradoxically, the rise of libertarian dogma can have the practical effect of increasing government power and expanding its scope…”

This is where Linker’s previous mistaken conflation of libertarianism and liberalism comes into play. Again, I don’t know as much about libertarians as I do liberals, but if they were interchangeable they would not have different guiding principles.

He then brings in some examples of “liberalism’s dogmatism… in recent months”:

  • “Brendan Eich resigned as the chief executive of Mozilla, a company he helped found, after gay rights activists launched a boycott against the company for placing him in a senior position. Eich’s sin? More than five years earlier, he donated $1,000 to the campaign for California’s Proposition 8, which sought to ban same-sex marriage in the state. It didn’t matter that he’d explicitly assured employees that he would treat them fairly, regardless of their sexual orientation. What mattered was that Eich (like the 7 million people who voted in favor of Prop 8) had made himself a heretic by coming down on the wrong side of an issue on which error had now become impermissible.
  • Liberals indulged in a wildly overwrought reaction to the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, with seasoned journalists likening the plaintiffs to the Pakistani Taliban, and countless others taking to social media to denounce a government-sanctioned theocratic assault on women’s health — all because some women working for corporations that are “closely held” by religiously conservative owners might have to pay out of pocket for certain forms of freely available contraception (as, one presumes, they currently do for toothpaste). Apparently many liberals, including the Senate Democrats who seem poised to gut the decision, consider it self-evident that these women face a far greater burden than the conservative owners, who would be forced by the government to violate their religious beliefs. One highly intelligent commentator, inadvertently confessing his incapacity to think beyond the confines of liberal dogma, described the religious objection as “trivial” and “so abstract and attenuated it’s hard to even explain what it is.”
  • Beyond the Beltway, related expressions of liberal dogmatism have led a Harvard undergraduate to suggest that academic freedom shouldn’t apply to the handful of conservatives on campus — because their views foster and justify “oppression.” In a like-minded column in The Chronicle of Higher Education, a professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania argued that religious colleges should be denied accreditation — because accrediting them “confers legitimacy on institutions that systematically undermine the most fundamental purposes of higher education,” one of which is to pursue “skeptical and unfettered” (read: dogmatically liberal and secular) inquiry…”

His portrayal of these events is arguably myopic and one-sided. Linker presents each event in an overly-simplistic way that distorts the reasons behind them.

First, Brendan Eich was only CEO of Mozilla for two weeks. Yes, he was one of the co-founders of Mozilla, but the original revelation of his donation was back in 2012. It only became an issue recently because he was promoted to CEO. According to the New Yorker:

“…While Eich attempted to defuse the problem with conciliatory blog posts and interviews about diversity and inclusiveness, he didn’t actually say that his views on gay marriage had changed. That, inevitably, provoked a uprising within the Mozilla community: a public petition was circulated demanding that he step down, the dating site OkCupid recommended that its customers stop using Firefox, and some Mozilla employees (though far from all of them) called for his resignation…

 

The problem was that Eich’s stance was unacceptable in Silicon Valley, a region of the business world where social liberalism is close to a universal ideology. At this point, a tech company having a C.E.O. who opposes gay marriage is not all that different from a company in 1973 having a C.E.O. who donated money to fight interracial marriage: even if there were plenty of Americans who felt the same way at the time, the C.E.O. would still have been on the wrong side of history. And since the role of a C.E.O. as a public face of an organization is more important than ever these days, Eich’s personal views were inevitably going to shape his ability to run the company.

 

That’s especially true because of the unusual nature of Mozilla. Mozilla is not like most companies. It’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, and is just one part of the broader Mozilla community, which includes thousands of open-source software developers and other volunteers around the world. These people still do much of the work behind Mozilla’s products—contributing code, technical support, design improvements, and so on. This means that Mozilla depends on the goodwill of its supporters more than most corporations do; it relies on their willingness to donate their services in pursuit of the broader Mozilla project, which is all about keeping the Web transparent and accessible. If it alienates them, Mozilla’s entire mission will be at risk…”

Furthermore, board members at Mozilla didn’t even want to have Eich as CEO in the first place. They had wanted “an outside CEO, presumably to shake up the organization”:

“…Three of the company’s six board members actually resigned before Eich was appointed… Eich himself told VentureBeat that the board had interviewed twenty-five candidates before settling on him; he even wondered aloud why they didn’t pick Jay Sullivan, who was the other internal candidate for the position…”

In other words, Eich’s resignation was much more multi-faceted than Linker implies.

Linker’s second bullet point is even more blatantly sensationalized, as obvious in just the first seven words:

“Liberals indulged in a wildly overwrought reaction…”

“Indulged”? “Wildly”? “Overwrought”? Really, Linker? That’s how you present a balanced report on recent events?

“…all because some women working for corporations that are “closely held” by religiously conservative owners might have to pay out of pocket for certain forms of freely available contraception (as, one presumes, they currently do for toothpaste)…”

Now that’s a new low, your biases are showing Linker.

Hobby Lobby stated from the beginning that it isn’t against all forms of birth control, just certain ones such as Plan B, Ella, and intrauterine devices. Hobby Lobby does provide insurance coverage for 16 other forms of birth control, including pills that prevent ovulation. They object to these certain forms of birth control because they are supposedly “abortion-causing,” which is “against their religious principles.”

These contraceptive options in fact do not cause abortion, they merely prevent the attachment of a potentially fertilized egg to the uterine wall. Some intrauterine devices don’t even regulate or administer hormones. Their science behind the decision is blatantly wrong, regardless of what their actual argument is.

Yes, those forms of contraception are “freely available” but they are also highly expensive if you don’t have insurance to help cover the cost. I personally have an IUD and it cost me $300 out of pocket, it would have cost me $800 if I hadn’t had health insurance to help. That is significantly more than “toothpaste.”

For Linker’s third bullet point, I would agree that it is unfair to deny accreditation to religious colleges. But, again, that is one individual liberal that Linker is using to characterize the entirety of liberals. Synecdoche, much?

However I should give him some credit since he does acknowledge this:

“…But wait, some will object: You can’t reduce contemporary American liberalism to the illiberal outbursts of loudmouthed activists, intemperate journalists, foolish undergraduates, and reckless Ivy League professors!

 

To which the proper response is: True!..”

He goes on to say:

“…Still, I wonder: Where have been all the outraged liberals taking a stand against these and many other examples of dogmatism — and doing so in the name of liberalism? I’ve been doing that in my own writing. And I’ve appreciated the occasional expressions of modest support from a handful of liberal readers. But what about the rest of you?..”

I have to admit I agree with the sentiment, but the way Linker phrases it stinks a bit like egotistic intellectual masturbation: “I see it, why don’t you see it?”

Linker then goes on to offer an explanation for why, in the first place, we find ourselves “in a world dominated by libertarian dogma.” He says that,

“…From the dawn of the modern age, religious thinkers have warned that, strictly speaking, secular politics is impossible — that without the transcendent foundation of Judeo-Christian monotheism to limit the political sphere, ostensibly secular citizens would begin to invest political ideas and ideologies with transcendent, theological meaning.

 

Put somewhat differently: Human beings will be religious one way or another. Either they will be religious about religious things, or they will be religious about political things.

 

With traditional faith in rapid retreat over the past decade, liberals have begun to grow increasingly religious about their own liberalism, which they are treating as a comprehensive view of reality and the human good…”

I would first like to point out that Linker uses the phrase “religious thinkers” to mean “Western society’s religious thinkers.” Not all religious thinkers follow “Judeo-Christian monotheism.” That aside, his use of the word “religious” is a bit ambiguous. Religious can mean a variety of things, according to dictionary.com:

re·li·gious

adjective

1. of, pertaining to, or concerned with religiona religious holiday.
2. imbued with or exhibiting religionpious; devout; godly: areligious man.
3. scrupulously faithful; conscientious: religious care.
4. pertaining to or connected with a monastic or religious order.
5. appropriate to religion or to sacred rites or observances.
 

More often than not, most arguments, opinions, and statements boil down to semantics and it’s very difficult to fully and accurately understand or convey meaning in today’s rapidly evolving language environments.

The phrase “religious thinkers” is obviously referring to thinkers associated with specific, established, recognized religions. And, if we are to extend that meaning to his later statement that “human beings will be religious one way or another,” then we are to understand that he really means that “human beings will be associated with a specific religion one way or another.” However, I don’t think that’s what he wants to say.

Thus, the phrase “either they will be religious about religious things, or they will be religious about political things” is inherently contradictory: he is changing the meaning of “religious” from one sentence to another. He then extends this new meaning to the next paragraph to make his point.

Thus, I have to admit that I have little understanding of what he means by, “liberals have begun to grow increasingly religious about their own liberalism, which they are treating as a comprehensive view of reality and the human good.” And, consequently, I don’t understand what he means by,

“…But liberalism’s leading theoreticians (Locke, Montesquieu, Jefferson, Madison, Tocqueville, Mill) never intended it to serve as a comprehensive view of reality and the human good. On the contrary, liberalism was supposed to act as a narrowly political strategy for living peacefully in a world of inexorably clashing comprehensive views of reality and the human good…”

Wouldn’t a “narrowly political strategy” be one aspect of “a comprehensive view of reality and the human good”? I don’t know. 

Linker concludes by saying that “the proper response to the distinctive dogmatism of our time is to urge liberals to return to their tolerant roots.” However, I would instead urge them to logically and thoroughly follow their liberal ideals which would then result in a “return to their tolerant roots”. I’m disputing Linker’s method, not end goal.

More often than not, people don’t follow the logic structures of their arguments and opinions to their logical conclusions. This plagues liberals, libertarians, and conservatives alike. They get so caught up in advocating for “what they believe in” that they often don’t examine why they believe what they believe and what further implications come along with that. 

Take the minimum wage debate as an example: If you are against the minimum wage raise, you are hurting your own prospects as well as the prospects of others. If wages were raised, money would be pumped into the economy making life better for EVERYONE. Just look at the states that have raised the minimum wage this year, they’re seeing higher employment growth than the states that didn’t. A recent article on Salon.com is a perfect example of this: “I was poor, but a GOP die-hard: How I finally left the politics of shame“.

Overall, I think Linker has a great message to send to the masses. However, I think he could have thought a little bit more about his delivery and wording to make his meaning clearer and could have made an effort to not sound biased. But that doesn’t mean his article should not be read and shared and discussed.

Even if you agree with someone’s overall point does not mean you should not critically examine what they say.

 

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Referendum on the $15 Minimum Wage Will Not Go to the Ballot This Year

Referendum on the $15 Minimum Wage Will Not Go to the Ballot This Year

YESSSS!!

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