National efforts to protect voting rights floundering. Starbucks, Amazon union drives gain steam. Indian farmers declare victory over controversial reforms.
Despite Biden’s promises, national efforts to protect voting rights stall
Since the summer, Republicans in the Senate have blocked numerous efforts to pass even minimal voting rights protections. With more conservative states passing restrictive laws, voting rights advocates have looked to Washington to take action. But so far, their efforts have been in vain. Last month, President Biden signaled his willingness to create a new carve-out to Senate filibuster rules to allow Democrats to pass voting protections with a simple majority. Advocates have been frustrated at the lack of any forward movement on this plan since then.
And the stakes are only growing. Earlier this week, an ex-FBI official warned that efforts to undermine the vote like those seen on January 6 were only a “dress-rehearsal” for 2022. Frank Figliuzzi, a former Assistant Director for FBI Counterintelligence, pointed out that staunch Trump allies and “QAnon adherants” are already moving to infiltrate the government at all levels, from local to national offices. Many of these are specifically targeting the offices of local and state election officials. Trump ally David Purdue, who is running for Governor of Georgia, has said that he wouldn’t have certified President Biden’s victory in the state in November.
The Justice Department is at least taking some action. The DOJ is suing to block new voting restrictions in Texas on the grounds that they disproportionately burden minority voters.
Starbucks, Amazon facing unionization efforts
In a matter of hours, we could see the first unionized Starbucks franchise in the U.S., or a months-long effort could be back to the drawing board. Today, the National Labor Relations Board will be tallying the votes from three Starbucks franchises in the Buffalo, NY, area. Union backers from the three stores filed petitions back in August with the NLRB to vote on whether the shops will join Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. Starting last month, 111 workers from the three stores were eligible to submit votes by mail to determine which if any stores will join the union.
By unionizing, workers hope to gain leverage to improve pay and working conditions. Workers at the Buffalo stores say their locations have suffered equipment problems and chronic understaffing since long before the pandemic.
Starbucks has resisted unionization efforts and has tried to head them off by promising pay rises for employees nationwide in the coming year. Starbucks employees already enjoy competitive benefits compared to most food service chains. But workers say that if the company can afford to pay its CEO $15 million a year, it can do more for the workers that make the chain a success.
A ‘yes’ vote at any or all of the stores would add momentum to unionization efforts at other franchises. Three other Buffalo-area Starbucks stores plus another in Mesa, AZ, have already filed petitions with the NLRB.
AL Amazon warehouse gets another chance to vote
Last month, labor officials ruled that employees at a Bessemer, AL, Amazon warehouse will get another chance to vote on whether to unionize. A vote was held earlier this year and employees overwhelmingly voted no. But the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union challenged the results, citing evidence of worker intimidation by Amazon. Amazon has challenged the ruling so workers may have a little longer to wait for their do-over. Organizers have said that since the vote, many warehouse workers have come forward to say they either hadn’t voted due to intimidation or would change their vote to ‘yes’ given another chance.
India: Farmers end year of protest after government withdraws controversial reforms
Indian farmers who have been camped out in Delhi for over a year have finally begun disbanding to return home after declaring victory in their fight against controversial agricultural reforms. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed reforms to liberalize agricultural trade in the country. Currently, India’s farmers do no trade their products on the open market. Instead, they sell most of their goods to government-controlled wholesale markets at guaranteed prices (also known as minimum support price or MSP). The reforms would have allowed farmers to trade directly with private agricultural businesses, supermarkets and other private wholesalers.
Even with India’s rapid industrialization in recent decades, most Indians still make their livings in agricultural, as farmers or laborers. Farmers feared that opening trade with private entities would make their incomes vulnerable to unpredictable market forces. They also feared the formation of private monopolies that could engage in price-fixing and price-gouging.
For the last year, farmers have camped out in the capital and periodically blocked traffic. Many have died from extreme temperatures and from COVID. Throughout it all, Modi has steadfastly refused to withdraw the reforms, until a sudden about face last month. Many of the protesting farmers are Sikhs from the provinces of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, which are holding national elections soon. Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP party badly needs to make in-roads with India’s sizable Sikh minority in these provinces.
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