Mid-Term Senate Races Matter: Heller’s High Water

U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) released the below statement after a right-leaning federal judge in Texas nullified the Obama Administration’s Department of Labor overtime rule.

“The former Obama Administration’s expansion of the federal overtime rule would have devastated Nevada’s business owners and job creators. Since the rule was issued last year, I have been strongly concerned about its impact because it would fundamentally change how employers compensate their workers, reducing Nevadans’ work hours and benefits. I’m pleased to see that a federal judge acknowledged the regulation’s harmful consequences and ruled it invalid today,” Heller said. “Today’s news is a relief for countless Nevada businesses and employers, and I commend Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt for his leadership in this fight.”

Heller has worked tirelessly at undermining the Obama-era overtime rule aimed at leveling the playing field for workers. Instead, he’s worked to bolster the bottom line of his corporate benefactors. Don’t believe me?  As evidence —

  • In February 2016 he wrote to Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez about this rule and what he claimed would be its negative impacts on corporations in the state of Nevada.
  • In March 2016, he followed up with yet another letter highlighting his concerns over the new policy change.
  • In the Senate, Heller expressed concerns with his Senate colleagues by writing to Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and related Agencies Chairman Roy Blunt and Ranking Member Patty Murray.

Heller also cosponsored S. 2707, the Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act, in the 114th Congress, legislation that would have cancelled the proposed DOL regulation to increase the salary threshold for workers eligible to receive overtime pay and require impact studies for future proposals of related rules.

Protecting Workplace Advancement and Opportunity Act

S.2707 declared that the proposed or the final rule of the Department of Labor entitled “Defining and Delimiting the Exemptions for Executive, Administrative, Professional, Outside Sales and Computer Employees” shall cease to have any force or effect. The rule revises the “white collar” exemption of executive, administrative, professional, outside sales, and computer employees from minimum wage and maximum hour, or overtime, requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA).

If the proposed rule is a final rule on the date of enactment of S.2707:

  • the Dept of Labor would have been prohibited from enforcing it based on conduct occurring before that enactment date,
  • an employee would not have any right of action against an employer for the employer’s failure to comply with the final rule at any time before that enactment date,
  • any regulations that were amended by the final rule would have been restored and revived as if the final rule had never taken effect, and
  • nothing in S.2707 would have been construed to create a right of action for an employer against an employee for the recoupment of any payments made to the employee before the enactment of this bill that were in compliance with that final rule.

It also specified that the Dept of Labor could promulgate any substantially similar rule only if it had completed certain required actions; but any new rule could not contain any automatic updates to the salary threshold for purposes of exemptions to minimum wage and maximum hour requirements under the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act).

The requirement that definitions applicable for such exemptions be defined and delimited from time to time by Labor regulations would have been construed to:

  • require Labor to issue a new rule through notice and comment rule-making for each change in any salary threshold it has proposed (creating more expensive and elongated rule-making processes); and
  • exclude any rule that would result in changes to any salary threshold for multiple time periods, including through any automatic updating procedure.

The Dept of Labor was also prohibited from promulgating any final rule that included any revision to duties tests for exemption from minimum wage and maximum hours requirements unless specific regulatory text for the provision was proposed in the proposed rule.

For clarity, here is the background on that “Final Rule” and what it did for WORKERS:

In 2014, President Obama directed the Department of Labor to update and modernize the regulations governing the exemption of executive, administrative, and professional (“EAP”) employees from the minimum wage and overtime pay protections of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA” or “Act”). The Department published a notice of proposed rulemaking on July 6, 2015, and received more than 270,000 comments. On May 18, 2016, the Department announced that it will publish a Final Rule to update the regulations. The full text of the Final Rule will be available at the Federal Register Site.

Although the FLSA ensures minimum wage and overtime pay protections for most employees covered by the Act, some workers, including bona fide EAP employees, are exempt from those protections. Since 1940, the Department’s regulations have generally required each of three tests to be met for the FLSA’s EAP exemption to apply:

  1. the employee must be paid a predetermined and fixed salary that is not subject to reduction because of variations in the quality or quantity of work performed (“salary basis test”);
  2. the amount of salary paid must meet a minimum specified amount (“salary level test”); and
  3. the employee’s job duties must primarily involve executive, administrative, or professional duties as defined by the regulations (“duties test”).

The Department last updated these regulations in 2004, when it set the weekly salary level at $455 ($23,660 annually) and made other changes to the regulations, including collapsing the short and long duties tests into a single standard duties test and introducing a new exemption for highly compensated employees.

This Final Rule updates the salary level required for exemption to ensure that the FLSA’s intended overtime protections are fully implemented, and to simplify the identification of overtime-protected employees, thus making the EAP exemption easier for employers and workers to understand and apply. Without intervening action by their employers, it extends the right to overtime pay to an estimated 4.2 million workers who are currently exempt. It also strengthens existing overtime protections for 5.7 million additional white collar salaried workers and 3.2 million salaried blue collar workers whose entitlement to overtime pay will no longer rely on the application of the duties test.

* Key Provisions of the Final Rule *
The Final Rule focused primarily on updating the salary and compensation levels needed for EAP workers to be exempt. Specifically, the Final Rule:

  1. Set the standard salary level at the 40th percentile of earnings of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage Census Region, currently the South, which is $913 per week or $47,476 annually for a full-year worker;
  2. Set the total annual compensation requirement for highly compensated employees (HCE) subject to a minimal duties test to the annual equivalent of the 90th percentile of full-time salaried workers nationally, which is $134,004; and
  3. Established a mechanism for automatically updating the salary and compensation levels every three years to maintain the levels at the above percentiles and to ensure that they continue to provide useful and effective tests for exemption.

Additionally, the Final Rule amended the salary basis test to allow employers to use non-discretionary bonuses and incentive payments (including commissions) to satisfy up to 10 percent of the new standard salary level. The Final Rule made no changes to the duties tests.

Effective Date
The effective date of the Final Rule is December 1, 2016. The initial increases to the standard salary level (from $455 to $913 per week) and HCE total annual compensation requirement (from $100,000 to $134,004 per year) will be effective on that date. Future automatic updates to those thresholds will occur every three years, beginning on January 1, 2020.

Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Senator Heller espouse and promote a nationwide move such as that just made by the Missouri GOP-led legislature which lowered the minimum wage from $10/hr to $7.70/hr (or, from $20, 800/yr to $16,016/yr for Missouri citizens.

Afterall, Senator Heller has made it exceedingly clear that he represents only his corporate benefactors and is a firm believer and double-downer in a failed trickle-down philosophy.

“Congress is ready to address tax reform, and that’s why I’m encouraged by the President’s comments today about bringing tax relief to all Americans. Nevada’s hardworking families and small business owners have been waiting for a simpler, fairer tax code for years now, and Congress and the White House are poised to make that happen,” Heller said. “I was honored to host Secretary Mnuchin earlier this week in Las Vegas for a meeting with Nevada employers and the message we received from these business leaders was clear – lowering rates will help boost the economy, create jobs and increase wages. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I’m looking forward to working with the Administration on this issue and having a seat at the table to make sure that the final product is what’s best for Nevada.”

Mid-term elections matter and we cannot let Dean Heller get re-elected to the Senate, nor can we let AG Laxalt get elected to the Governorship of Nevada.

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Bernie Sanders: Agenda for America—12 Steps Forward

Bernie Sanders, a challenger to Hillary Clinton, for President of the United States has put forth his “Agenda for America”

  1. Rebuilding Our Crumbling Infrastructure
    We need a major investment to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools. It has been estimated that the cost of the Bush-Cheney Iraq War, a war we should never have waged, will total $3 trillion by the time the last veteran receives needed care. A $1 trillion investment in infrastructure could create 13 million decent paying jobs and make this country more efficient and productive. We need to invest in infrastructure, not more war.
  2. Reversing Climate Change
    The United States must lead the world in reversing climate change and make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energies. Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized, our transportation system needs to be energy efficient and we need to greatly accelerate the progress we are already seeing in wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other forms of sustainable energy. Transforming our energy system will not only protect the environment, it will create good paying jobs.
  3. Creating Worker Co-ops
    We need to develop new economic models to increase job creation and productivity. Instead of giving huge tax breaks to corporations which ship our jobs to China and other low-wage countries, we need to provide assistance to workers who want to purchase their own businesses by establishing worker-owned cooperatives. Study after study shows that when workers have an ownership stake in the businesses they work for, productivity goes up, absenteeism goes down and employees are much more satisfied with their jobs.
  4. Growing the Trade Union Movement
    Union workers who are able to collectively bargain for higher wages and benefits earn substantially more than non-union workers. Today, corporate opposition to union organizing makes it extremely difficult for workers to join a union. We need legislation which makes it clear that when a majority of workers sign cards in support of a union, they can form a union.
  5. Raising the Minimum Wage
    The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage. We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. No one in this country who works 40 hours a week should live in poverty.
  6. Pay Equity for Women Workers
    Women workers today earn 78 percent of what their male counterparts make. We need pay equity in our country — equal pay for equal work.
  7. Trade Policies that Benefit American Workers
    Since 2001 we have lost more than 60,000 factories in this country, and more than 4.9 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs. We must end our disastrous trade policies (NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China, etc.) which enable corporate America to shut down plants in this country and move to China and other low-wage countries. We need to end the race to the bottom and develop trade policies which demand that American corporations create jobs here, and not abroad.
    [Sign the petition to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership — another trade deal disaster]
  8. Making College Affordable for All
    In today’s highly competitive global economy, millions of Americans are unable to afford the higher education they need in order to get good-paying jobs. Further, with both parents now often at work, most working-class families can’t locate the high-quality and affordable child care they need for their kids. Quality education in America, from child care to higher education, must be affordable for all. Without a high-quality and affordable educational system, we will be unable to compete globally and our standard of living will continue to decline.
  9. Taking on Wall Street
    The function of banking is to facilitate the flow of capital into productive and job-creating activities. Financial institutions cannot be an island unto themselves, standing as huge profit centers outside of the real economy. Today, six huge Wall Street financial institutions have assets equivalent to 61 percent of our gross domestic product – over $9.8 trillion. These institutions underwrite more than half the mortgages in this country and more than two-thirds of the credit cards. The greed, recklessness and illegal behavior of major Wall Street firms plunged this country into the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. They are too powerful to be reformed. They must be broken up.
  10. Health Care as a Right for All
    The United States must join the rest of the industrialized world and recognize that health care is a right of all, and not a privilege. Despite the fact that more than 40 million Americans have no health insurance, we spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation. We need to establish a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system.
  11. Protecting the Most Vulnerable Americans
    Millions of seniors live in poverty and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country. We must strengthen the social safety net, not weaken it. Instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs, we should be expanding these programs.
  12. Real Tax Reform
    At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we need a progressive tax system in this country which is based on ability to pay. It is not acceptable that major profitable corporations have paid nothing in federal income taxes, and that corporate CEOs in this country often enjoy an effective tax rate which is lower than their secretaries. It is absurd that we lose over $100 billion a year in revenue because corporations and the wealthy stash their cash in offshore tax havens around the world. The time is long overdue for real tax reform.

2012-12-02: What I’ve Been Reading

Iceland Did it Right…and Everyone Else is Doing it Wrong

News Report: Iceland’s commitment to its program, a decision to push losses on to bondholders instead of taxpayers and the safeguarding of a welfare system that shielded the unemployed from penury helped propel the nation from collapse toward recovery, according to the Washington-based fund. The rebound continues to wow officials, including International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde, who recently referred to the Icelandic recovery as “impressive”.

Deja Moo (BS) All Over Again

Robert Reich, Déjà vu All Over Again Op-Ed: Haven’t we been here before? It’s as if the election never occurred – as if the Republicans hadn’t lost six or seven seats in the House and three in the Senate, as if Obama hadn’t won reelection by a greater number of votes than George W. Bush in 2004. And as if the fiscal cliff that automatically terminates the Bush tax cuts weren’t just weeks away. Déjà vu all over again.

Robert Reich, Bungee-Jumping Over the Fiscal Cliff Op-Ed: What’s the best way to pressure Republicans into agreeing to extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class while ending them for the wealthy? The President evidently believes it’s to scare average Americans about how much additional taxes they’ll pay if the Bush tax cuts expire on schedule at the end of the year. He plans to barnstorm around the country, sounding the alarm.

Why Are Cows Tails Dropping Off?

imageFracking Our Food Supply, Elizabeth Royte | The Nation:  In Louisiana, seventeen cows died after an hour’s exposure to spilled fracking fluid. (Most likely cause of death: respiratory failure.) In north central Pennsylvania, 140 cattle were exposed to fracking wastewater when an impoundment was breached. Approximately seventy cows died; the remainder produced eleven calves, of which only three survived. In western Pennsylvania, an overflowing waste pit sent fracking chemicals into a pond and a pasture where pregnant cows grazed: half their calves were born dead. The following year’s animal births were sexually skewed, with ten females and two males, instead of the usual 50-50 or 60-40 split.

Ambient air testing by a certified environmental consultant detected elevated levels of benzene, methane, chloroform, butane, propane, toluene and xylene—compounds associated with drilling and fracking, and also with cancers, birth defects and organ damage. Her well tested high for sulfates, chromium, chloride and strontium; her blood tested positive for acetone, plus the heavy metals arsenic (linked with skin lesions, cancers and cardiovascular disease) and germanium (linked with muscle weakness and skin rashes).”

GMO Cops: Biotech Giant Hires Former Cops to ‘Enforce Patents’

Anthony Gucciardi, News Report: “So perhaps DuPont has realized that they better start shaking down their clients now before their empire ultimately collapses along with Monsanto. And if it’s not resistant rootworms, horrendous failures to yield, or a disturbingly high rate of farmer suicide, its the numerous country-wide bans on GMOs that continue to be announced each month. From Russia to Peru (which passed a monumental 10 year ban), GM crops are effectively being phased out of the international food supply.”

Kenya Bans Importation of GMO Foods

Video Feature: Public Health minister Beth Mugo subsequently directed all Public Health Officers at all ports of entry and all other government regulators to enforce the ban on importation of Genetically Modified Foods in the country. This she says was following the decision made by the cabinet to ban the importation of GMO foods into the country due to inadequate research done on GMOs and scientific evidence provided to prove the safety of the foods until such a time that the country will certify that they have no negative impacts on the health of consumers.

Sorry Monsanto: Govt Admits GM Bt Cotton Crops Fail 40%

Lisa Garber, News Report: The government of Maharashtra, a state in western India, has acknowledged for the first time that Bt cotton is a failure that will likely reduce yields by 40%, from 3.5 to 2.2 million quintal. The region’s cotton farmers will face about Rs6,000 crore, over 1 billion USD. Accumulated losses are to be even more staggering: Rs 20,000 crore, or about 3.6 billion USD, due to rising cultivation costs.

Are Human Genes Patentable? Supreme Court Will Decide

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two of the 23,000 genes in the human genome, 20 percent of which have been patented.  We all have these genes, but women with certain genetic mutations are estimated to have up to an 85 percent lifetime risk for breast cancer and 50 percent risk for ovarian cancer.  Myriad Genetics obtained patents on the “isolated” forms of the two genes, which simply means it patented the human gene once removed from the cell.  This includes the BRCA genes from every person in the United States.  Myriad has enforced its patents on the genes so that it has a monopoly on BRCA genetic testing.

Appeal vowed in Nevada same-sex marriage ruling

Karen Golinski, Amy CunninghisA federal court challenge to Nevada’s ban on same sex marriage has been turned back in U.S. District Court, but proponents vowed Friday to fight on with an argument that a pair of state laws regarding same-sex unions unconstitutionally make gay couples “second-class citizens.”  Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund attorney Tara Borelli noted that a Thursday ruling by U.S. District Chief Judge Robert Jones came a day before the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether to take up the gay marriage question, and just weeks after voters approved same-sex marriage in three states and defeated a ban in a fourth.

Report: America’s Domestic Workers Raise Kids, Care for Seniors, Run Households Without Benefits, Protections or a Living Wage

Domestic Workers.Mike Ludwig, Truthout: The first-of-its-kind assessment of the domestic workforce finds that the people who substantially help drive the US economy are themselves overworked, underpaid, sometimes abused and often in dire economic straits.

Methyl Iodide Federal Registration Pulled

imageOne of the most toxic pesticides on earth is now off the market thanks to an Earthjustice lawsuit.  The company that manufactures methyl iodide, an extremely toxic pesticide that is often applied to strawberries, is no longer applying for federal registration of the chemical – effectively ending its toxic legacy. Check out the interview below with Greg Loarie, our attorney who led the case against methyl iodide! Click SHARE or LIKE!

 

GOP Extremists Continue to Push Repugnant Anti-Women Laws

Pro Choice.

This absurd period of legislative history that became dubbed the “war on women” (though it affected people of all genders) culminated in this year’s notorious spate of comments from Tea Party-approved candidates about rape — legitimate, god-willed or otherwise — and resulted in the biggest anti-misogynist backlash at the ballot box we’ve seen in a long time.

Women handily voted for Obama, vetoed extreme anti-choicers and listed abortion as an important issue in exit polls. But in several states, GOPers seemed not to get the message. At all. Some of them are continuing to fight the same battles, in some cases putting women’s access at risk.

New push to reduce antibiotic use in farm animals

Officials with Keep Antibiotics Working, whose mission is to eliminate the inappropriate use of antibiotics in food animals, urged the White House and Congress on Wednesday to push forward with legislation limiting antibiotics in livestock immediately.

They argued that American lives are at risk because farmers are feeding healthy animals a high volume of unneeded antibiotics, and when those animals enter the food supply, humans are developing resistance to certain bacteria.

Ending the US War in Afghanistan? It Depends on the Meaning of the Word ‘War’

Dave Lindorff, Op-Ed: How do you “end” a war by simply having one side say it’s over, unless you actually do stop fighting and walk away? Certainly the invading side in a foreign war can call that war quits, but if the other side doesn’t, and the invader stays on the battlefield — which in Afghanistan is the whole county — you haven’t ended it at all. The other side will continue to hit you until you’re gone.

EPA Slaps BP and in the Process, Punishes the Pentagon

R. Jeffrey Smith, New Analysis: EPA acted two weeks after the corporation entered guilty pleas in federal court to 14 criminal counts, including manslaughter, related to the spill. It was not a speedy decision, however, since EPA employees began considering a contracting ban years ago in response to a BP oil spill in 2006 and a refinery explosion in 2005. “Do we want to do business with this  foreign corporation, which has a horrendous record of chronically violating U.S. law?”

Latest Sanction Against BP Goes Beyond Gulf Spill

Abrahm Lustgarten, News Analysis: When the Obama administration temporarily banned BP from federal contracts Wednesday, it pointed to BP’s “lack of business integrity” and conduct relating to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill. The sanction, however, has been years in the making. BP has been criminally convicted in four previous cases — including a 2005 explosion in Texas that killed 15 workers — and the EPA has been considering broader debarment proceedings against the company since at least 2005.

Conflict of Interest?  Susan Rice, Top Candidate for Secretary of State, Has Millions Tied to Canadian Tar Sands

Stephen Lacey, News Report: “According to a report from OnEarth Magazine, Rice has millions of dollars tied up in top Canadian energy companies — including TransCanada, the company pushing for the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Because the pipeline crosses international borders, its approval falls under the jurisdiction of the State Department. That means Rice — or any other candidate tapped to head the State Department — would be responsible for approving or rejecting the project.”

Thinking the Unthinkable: What if America’s Leaders Actually Want Catastrophic Climate Change?

Dave Lindorff, Op-Ed: What if the leaders of the United States — and by leaders I mean the generals in the Pentagon, the corporate executives of the country’s largest enterprises, and the top officials in government — have secretly concluded that while world-wide climate change is indeed going to be catastrophic, the US, or more broadly speaking, North America, is fortuitously situated to come out on top in the resulting global struggle for survival?

Why Climate Deniers Have No Scientific Credibility – In One Pie Chart

Jim Powell , News Analysis: “Global warming deniers often claim that bias prevents them from publishing in peer-reviewed journals. But 24 articles in 18 different journals, collectively making several different arguments against global warming, expose that claim as false. Articles rejecting global warming can be published, but those that have been have earned little support or notice, even from other deniers.”

Warehouse Worker Lawsuit Targets Walmart

Adithya Sambamurthy and Jim Morris, News Analysis: The staffing agencies have agreed to pay a collective $450,000 in fines and back wages to settle citations issued by California labor officials, who raided the warehouse the same month the lawsuit was filed last year. Schneider, which was not cited by the state, said in a statement that it “played no role in determining the rate or method of pay” that led to the violations. By adding Walmart – the warehouse’s only customer – to the lawsuit, lawyers for the workers are seeking to prove that the company pressured Schneider to hold down costs by underpaying subcontractors.

How Congressional Republicans and Fox News Displayed their Profound Debt Ceiling Ignorance

Jeff Spross, News Analysis: “The debt limit does not control or limit the ability of the federal government to run deficits or incur obligations. Rather, it is a limit on the ability to pay obligations already incurred.” The President does not have discretionary control over how much the country borrows. Obama’s new proposal gives him no such control. It would merely make hikes in the ceiling automatic, in accordance with the debt necessitated by budgets Congress has already passed.

Avoiding a New American Recession

Martin Feldstein, Op-Ed: “America’s national debt has more than doubled in the past five years, and is set to rise to more than 100% of GDP over the next decade unless changes in spending and taxes are implemented. A well-designed combination of caps to limit tax expenditures and a gradual slowing of growth in outlays for entitlement programs could reverse the rise in the debt and strengthen the US economy.”

Why Austerity Economics Hurts Low-Wage Workers the Most

Robert Reich, Op-Ed: Walmart – the trendsetter for big-box retailers – is also doing well. And it pays its executives handsomely. The total compensation for Walmart’s CEO, Michael Duke, was $18.7 million last year – putting him number 82 on Forbes’ list. The wealth of the Walton family – which still owns the lion’s share of Walmart stock — now exceeds the wealth of the bottom 40 percent of American families combined, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.