Welcome back to the Local Progress Federal Advocacy Roundup! With the debt ceiling set to expire, the last month was a busy month in D.C. as Congress worked to avert financial disaster. Below, you’ll find our overview of the debt ceiling deal, some takeaways from an important Supreme Court Decision regarding the right to strike, and our read on the changes for asylum seekers after the expiration of Title 42. Read below for more info!
Of course, the big news over the last month was the debt ceiling. The Democrats and Republicans reached a deal in early June, and President Biden subsequently signed the bill to suspend the debt ceiling till 2025. Progressive commentators had criticized the Biden Administration for multiple reasons: (1) agreeing to negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling instead of first pursuing untested alternatives like 14th amendment litigation or “minting the coin,” and for (2) legitimizing the very notion of a “debt ceiling,” which a growing number of scholars, economists, and legislators regard as a completely arbitrary limit on government spending that should be abolished.
Regardless, lengthy negotiations were had, and deals were reached. While the bill will stave off the catastrophic effects that would have resulted from a debt default, the bill will still negatively affect working families and communities of color by cutting spending and adding restrictions to key government benefits. And because the deal did not do away with the debt ceiling altogether, it is very likely that another protracted debt ceiling fight will arise in 2025—one that could result in even more damage. Due to these concerns, a significant portion of the Progressive Caucus — including former Local Progress Board Member Greg Casar — strategically voted against the debt ceiling bill to publicly register their concerns, knowing that it would still ultimately pass and a debt default would be avoided.
Our friends at the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center have released a great explainer on the debt ceiling deal. Some key takeaways from the bill:
- Introduces new work requirements for those receiving SNAP and TANF benefits, despite the well-documented research that work requirements only hurt intended beneficiaries and do not raise employment rates.
- Claws back $30 billion of unspent COVID-19 aid. Critically, ARPA funds given to localities and states will not be clawed back.
- Rescinds ~$20 billion of the $80 billion that the Inflation Reduction Act granted to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The $80 billion IRS allocation represented a historic investment in the IRS.
- Ends the student loan payment pause, requiring borrowers to begin repayment 60 days after June 30. The Biden Administration had planned to end the pause on September 1.
- Increases military spending by 3% in 2024 to $886 billion.
Former President Donald Trump was federally indicted on 37 counts by a grand jury in federal court in Miami. The indictment resulted from an extensive investigation by Special Counsel Jack Smith that focused on allegations that Trump had mishandled classified documents after leaving office. A day after the indictment was announced, the 49-page charging document was unsealed. Click here for a more detailed assessment of the indictment.
The Supreme Court has released key decisions over the last few weeks to weaken labor rights, affirm freedom of speech on the internet, declare Alabama’s redistricting plans unconstitutionally diluted Black voting power, and minimize the authority of the EPA to regulate wetlands. Key decisions regarding student loan repayment and affirmative action are expected in the weeks ahead. Read below for our analysis of their big decision on the right to strike.
The Right to Strike in Glacier Northwest, Inc. v. Teamsters
This case, concerning the ability of employers to hold workers liable for damages occurring during a strike, threatened workers’ right to strike.
The Facts: Unionized workers at a quick-dry concrete company went on strike following an impasse in negotiations after their previous contract, which contained a no-strike clause, expired. Once the strike started, drivers still ensured that the trucks containing concrete continued to run in order to avoid drying the concrete and damaging the trucks. Although workers took this step and the strike was predictable, Glacier had no contingency plan and some of the concrete became unusable. Glacier then filed a tort lawsuit against the union in Washington state court for the financial damages.
The Legal Question: Generally, federal labor law in the National Labor Relations Act preempts state court involvement because Congress sought to create uniform national labor policy adjudicated by a body familiar with labor organizing: the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The question in the case here was whether the concrete company could sue in state court for damages using state tort law, or if the workers’ actions should be considered “concerted activity” (the right to act with co-workers to address work-related issues) which would mean there is no tort dispute at all and that the dispute should remain under the NLRB’s purview.
The Decision: In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court unfortunately decided the “union should be subject to an employer tort lawsuit because of financial losses caused by the spoilage of the concrete” and that the conflict here is not preempted by federal labor law, but it largely confined its decision to the specific facts of the case. The case now returns to the Washington Supreme Court.
The Impact: Despite the Supreme Court siding with the employer here, workers still very much have the right to strike. However, the Supreme Court has weakened that right by opening the door to more state tort law claims against unions and striking workers, raising questions about what kind of employer damages could be adjudicated under state tort law. While labor advocates believe that the decision could have been far worse, labor leaders like Jane McAlevey have also urged us to not take too much comfort in that fact and instead be ready to fight the court’s intention to continue weakening labor rights.
For a more detailed assessment of the case, read labor law expert Terri Gerstein’s breakdown on the Economic Policy Institute blog.
In May, Title 42 expired. (Click here to view Local Progress’s statement on the development.) This immigration policy, exercised broadly under former President Donald Trump during the pandemic and then under President Joe Biden, allowed immigration authorities to expel hundreds of thousands of people seeking a better life without giving them a chance for asylum.
While some thought the expiration of Title 42 would have resulted in a record number of asylum seekers arriving at the border, that has not been the case—perhaps in part because asylum seekers may be attempting to follow the federal government’s guidance on how to apply for asylum. Notably though, this collective “adherence” does not signal that the process for receiving asylum is now easy—in fact, it’s still incredibly difficult.
In response to Title 42 ending, the Biden Administration enacted a confusing, lottery-based system of applying for asylum. Advocates have called for the lottery system to be greatly expanded to meet the need at the borders. Additionally, under new policies, “migrants who do not first seek asylum in countries they pass through on the way to the U.S. are deemed ineligible to apply for asylum at the U.S. border, unless they were denied by a country they passed through or they prove they meet a special set of criteria, such as being potential victims of torture if they are deported.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has deemed these policies as effectively amounting to an “asylum ban” since it has left many unable to apply for asylum. The ACLU is currently litigating the policies in federal court.
📰 The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Takes Aim at Non-Compete Agreements: In May, the NLRB General Counsel released a memo that declared that non-compete agreements violate the National Labor Relations Act, except in limited circumstances. The memo details that the agreements are illegal because they could prevent workers from “resigning or threatening to do so to demand higher wages or other improvements at the workplace.”
📰 The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Takes On Crypto: In early June, the SEC filed a lawsuit against Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange. And a day later, the SEC filed suit against Coinbase, the U.S.’s largest cryptocurrency exchange. In both lawsuits, the SEC alleges that leadership sought to mislead and manipulate investors.
Local Progress members can visit invest.gov to see public and private investments in their communities funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS Act. The map distinguishes between formula and discretionary infrastructure grants, by state.
The Recompete Pilot Program is an economic development initiative that will provide grant funding to distressed communities across the country to create, and connect workers to, good jobs and support long-term comprehensive economic development by helping to reduce the high, prime-age (25 to 54 years of age) employment gap. Grants can be used for a wide variety of purposes, including: business advice for small and medium-sized local businesses, land and site development, infrastructure and housing, job training oriented to regional or local labor market needs, workforce outreach programs, and job retention programs. If you’re interested in applying, reach out to our National Membership Organizer, Kara Sheehan.
To help localities and nonprofits leverage federal grant dollars, our partners at Civil Rights Corps launched a federal grants database. The database lets you filter the vast array of federal grants by eligible recipients, deadlines, grant amounts, issue-area, and target population.
Smart Growth America, in collaboration with Equitable Cities, the New Urban Mobility Alliance, and America Walks, created the Community Connectors program to help advance locally driven projects that will reconnect communities separated or harmed by transportation infrastructure and tap available federal and state funds to support them. 15 teams from small to mid-sized cities (between approximately 50,000 and 500,000 in population) will be selected to receive a capacity-building grant to advance these projects. Public entities and nonprofit organizations may apply together as small teams to receive grants of up to $130,000 each for capacity building to advance these projects. Applications are due before July 15, 2023.
Open Infrastructure Grants for Local Governments:
- Clean School Bus Program (EPA): For school districts to purchase electric school buses and infrastructure. Due August 22, 2023.
- Brownfields Jobs Training Grant (EPA): For local governments to deliver trainings to recruit, train, and place unemployed and under-employed residents in various aspects of hazardous and solid waste management, including sustainable cleanup and chemical safety with a preference for environmental justice communities. Awards are $500,000. Due August 2, 2023.
- Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient, and Cost-Saving Transportation (PROTECT) Grant (DOT): For local governments to fund climate-resilient surface transportation projects that use natural infrastructure. Due September 18, 2023.