Feb. 12, 2008
Story and pix By Ken Krayeske • 12:50 PM EST
I don't have a Courtney file photo, so here goes a head shot.
Congressman Joe Courtney's office displayed a responsiveness heretofore unseen in Connecticut Congressional representation. I had a noon deadline for a story today, and I needed some information from the Congressman's office.
After years of dealing with the dead letter offices of entrenched incumbents like Joe Lieberman, Nancy Johnson and Gary Franks, who once watched a golf match on television while I tried to discuss his new book with him, I didn't have any hope of talking to the Congressman.
I figured I had a better chance of getting the story through the legislative assistant who worked on the topic I was writing about. But the policy aide didn't return my 9 a.m. call.
No, Brian Farber, Courtney's spokesperson, got back to me, and said maybe he could have Courtney on the phone by 10:30. I couldn't believe it. A Congressman, returning a call, in under two hours? In Connecticut? Is this a dream?
I was awake when my phone rang at 10:40 and it was Rep. Courtney. We spoke for about 15 minutes as he was driving down Route 2. As if I need to say it, this sets the bar very high for Congressional representatives in the future.
Anyways, Congressman Courtney and I discussed funding for youth groups like AmeriCorps and Public Allies, presidential politics, and the AFL-CIO's number one legislative priority, the Card Check Act.
Ken: I understand that the 2009 FY budget contains a $17 million increase for AmeriCorps. Is that enough to meet the needs of our youth population?
Courtney: Is is not sufficient. I am on the House Education and Labor committee. We did hearings on AmeriCorps. The opportunity to expand this program is limitless really, and $17 million just a drop in the ocean. The education spending bill we passed last fall and sent to Bush that he vetoed would have had more spending for AmeriCorps. This guy is horrible is on helping on these kinds of priorities.
We just passed a bill out of committee called the GIVE Act [Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act]. It is an authorizing bill on AmeriCorps that is coming up for action by the Congress. We authorized 100,000 new positions in AmeriCorps [ed. note: according to an email from Farber, the increase is actually 25,000, from 75,000 to 100,000], and increasing the stipends people would be eligible for them.
That is clearly where the policy ought to go. We need to have a president who would work with us on how to fund these priorities. The guy we are stuck for the next 11 months wont do this.
We should do what we can to hit the funding levels for the GIVE act. If we do 100,000 positions, we need more than $17 million. We didn't pull that 100,000 out of thin air. It was based on hearings, as far as waiting lists, and unfilled programs that kids would go to work at tomorrow if they had the opportunity, and do some incredibly positive things for communities.
Ken: What are the chances that the GIVE Act will pass this year?
Courtney: I don't know if you have been reading inside baseball on the budget bills, but one scenario is that Congress may not take up any domestic spending bills until we get into Congress in January. What we went through last fall with Bush and his vetoes is so completely non-productive. It is a serious scenario being discussed by [Rep. Steny] Hoyer and [Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi.
Why work with them if all we are going to do is run into a stone wall? Let's see if we can get a new president and a new majority in the Senate and pass the budget for FY 2009 that is better in terms of our priorities.
Ken: In terms of the presidency, do you think the Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama would be better for our country's young people?
Courtney: I actually think on the issues like this, I believe Clinton and Obama are almost identical. Sen. Clinton serves on the education committee. I don't know if Obama serves on the education committee. But she is very much supportive of AmeriCorps. Her husband was responsible for creating it. Either one would be an ally.
Ken: What about Sen. McCain?
Courtney: We would get a third Bush term if he got elected.
Ken: What is the status of the GIVE Act now?
Courtney: It was reported out of committee. Our committee is busy, working on the Higher Education Bill reauthorization and student loan bills. [Rep. George] Miller from California [Seventh District – Contra Costa County] is chairman, and he is bursting at the seams to get all these issues presented. We are keyed up and ready to move forward.
Ken: Since we are talking about the Labor Committee, I'm taking a labor law class right now, and I am reading lots of NLRA cases, and employees who want to unionize have so few recourses when management blocks an election, and a lot of it seems to come from the Taft-Hartley Act. When will Congress repeal the Taft-Hartley Act?
Courtney: We did pass the Card Check Bill, or the Employee Free Choice Act, which says employers can't block union organizing drives with litigation that sometimes goes on for 10 years. It is the AFL-CIO's number one priority, we even got some Republican votes in the house. But it stalled in the senate, where you need 60 votes for cloture.
It remains the AFL-CIO's number one labor priority for 2008, and for the next session of Congress. If McCain gets elected, labor is in big trouble. If we don't get a Democrat in the White House, they will continue to load up courts with judges and administrative agencies that are designed to block organizing.
The Employee Free Choice Act is critical to make sure people can organize without recourse. It was one of my first speeches on the House floor.
The Foxwoods case is classic as to why this needs to pass. The UAW won that vote 60-40, with a healthy margin.
Then management is coming in there with a big hired gun [in front of the National Labor Relations Board]. They put on days of testimony about what the ballot said, "Do you support this union?"
Management was bringing in employees who claimed they couldn't read it, and said they had difficulties with the language.. The testimony was comical. The translators that management brought in were at the hearing. Inadvertently, someone would ask a question in English, and they would answer it before the translators could.
These were all card dealers, of course they understand English. But it is a textbook example of how they abuse the system to delay union victories. If you get unions to get the cards, we don't have to go through these hearings.
If you go back to NLRA [the National Labor Relations Act, passed in 1937], a card check was supposed to be the method towards getting union recognition. It was down the road that employers were given the option of requesting an election, moderated by the NLRB.
The law we voted on in the House would say that a union would be recognized with a majority of signature cards signed by members of the bargaining unit. If even a third, thirthy-three percent, wanted an election, they could still have one. The law changed so that employers don't have the opportunity to mandate an election. Otherwise, these hired guns, consultants come in where there is strong support for union with cards, and they end up turning the election in to a long drawn out process that defeats the election.
The Card Check Act, that is the battle to be watching.