Kalena Thomhave

Kalena Thomhave is a writing fellow at the Prospect.

Follow @kalenasthom

Recent Articles

Federal Employee Union Begins ‘Shame on HHS’ Campaign

The Trump administration’s targeting of federal employee unions is unsurprising, considering its transparent disdain for labor. But this Friday, a major federal union plans to fight back with a union-wide campaign.

The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents 150,000 federal workers in 31 agencies, recently filed a grievance against the Department of Health and Human Services over “bad faith bargaining tactics.” In the grievance, NTEU says that HHS negotiators broke a number of bargaining rules during a negotiation over the union contract. HHS plans to eliminate telework and alternative-schedule options as well as public transportation subsidies and other benefits.

NTEU claims that HHS negotiators refused to explain the Trump administration’s proposals, and demanded counterproposals within three days. According to a statement from NTEU Chapter 254, after just one full day of bargaining, the department invited a mediator into negotiations—an “obvious effort to check that box so it can move forward to the Federal Service Impasse Panel.” Such a move would essentially declare that the two sides came to an impasse and could force the contract to move to the jurisdiction of the presidentially appointed panel.

Just one day later, HHS ended bargaining and submitted its final offer. According to the NTEU grievance, ground rules state that the bargaining schedule is 18 weeks.

The Trump administration’s contract proposals also include requiring union officials to pay rent for their offices, even though those on-site premises have been a part of federal union contracts for years. According to NTEU, the new language that HHS has offered is “almost word-for-word” the language in the illegal contract forced upon workers within the Department of Education in March, when, after negotiations with the American Federation of Government Employees union fell apart, the department announced a new “collective bargaining agreement” with widespread changes and reduced benefits—changes the union said it had not agreed to.

This Friday, NTEU is encouraging all members (not just HHS employees) to use the social media hashtags #SHAMEOnHHS and #UnionStrong, as well as to wear NTEU shirts and stickers bearing the hashtag.

Also on Friday, NTEU President Tony Reardon will deliver a petition to HHS Secretary Alex Azar, signed by nearly 5,000 HHS workers, asking the HHS negotiators to withdraw the proposals that target employee benefits.

“Today it is HHS,” reads a blog post on the NTEU website calling for union-wide solidarity. “Tomorrow it could be your agency.”

With executive orders aimed at curbing the power of federal unions, and attacks on benefits in both the Departments of Education and Agriculture, that may not be hyperbole.

 

Q&A: We All Benefit from Welfare. Most of Us Just Don’t Realize It.

Americans benefit from government social programs more than ever. They also hate government more than ever.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) A Tea Party rally at the U.S. Capitol on July 19, 2013 I n recent decades, Americans have become increasingly angry at the federal government, anger that helped propel Donald Trump to the White House. And yet, more Americans than ever are benefiting from government social programs, many of which the Trump administration is actively working to destroy. Political scientist Suzanne Mettler calls this paradox “the government-citizen disconnect.” Such is the title of Mettler’s new book , which draws on original survey data to explore how the use of 21 federal social policies is connected to Americans’ attitudes about government. She finds that 96 percent of Americans have used at least one of these policies. But partly because of policy design—which makes means-tested programs for the poor more visible than policies for the rich hidden in the tax code—many Americans don’t recognize the value of government social programs. Critically, wealthier Americans—who...

Making California’s Farmers Markets Accessible to All

A recent Trump administration move put SNAP use at farmers markets in jeopardy—but not in California.

Elias Funez/The Union via AP A busy farmers market in Nevada City, California L ast month, a complex government contracting decision created tumult in the farmers market world by threatening the ability of nearly 2,000 markets across the country to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps. However, thanks to a resilient state program, only one of those markets was in California. The U.S. Department of Agriculture runs a program in which private contractors provide software and Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) processing equipment to farmers markets. But as the Prospect reported last month, the federal government abruptly changed its contract, forcing one major software company to announce it was going out of business during prime market season. The nonprofit Farmers Market Coalition began to crowdfund for markets to buy new equipment, and the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs and the state of New Y ork...

How SNAP and Medicaid Work Requirements Will Hurt Workers

The problem isn’t that people don’t want to work. It’s the volatile and unstable nature of the low-wage labor market.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Republican Representative Dave Brat of Virginia has been promoting work requirements for SNAP recipients. trickle-downers.jpg O n any given day, you’re likely to interact with a lot of people who work in the low-wage labor market. They’re the laborers you pass on the street, the retail clerks in a shop you frequent, the cooks or wait staff at a restaurant you like. They might be your family, friends, and coworkers. Maybe you yourself work in one of these occupations—after all, many millions of Americans do. While conservatives might paint adults who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly called food stamps) benefits and Medicaid as idle people who don’t want to work, the data don’t validate that assumption. Adults who rely on SNAP and Medicaid for help paying for their groceries and health care are often those same low-wage workers. But their work is largely volatile and unstable, and it comes without such key work supports as...

With Massive Merger, the Prison Phone Industry Could Become Even More Lucrative

The prison phone industry, which has come under fire for the exorbitant fees it charges prisoners calling home, may be set to become even more profitable. This month, the giant inmate phone services company Securus petitioned the FCC to approve its plan to buy a smaller competitor, ICSolutions.

If the Trump administration’s Federal Communications Commission approves the merger, just two companies (Securus and Global Tel Link) would control between 74 percent and 83 percent of the market, according to analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI). (Securus responded to PPI’s analysis, calling it “unreliable and misleading.”)

I previously wrote about how the prison phone industry is lucrative for both companies and states: Companies squeeze as much money as possible out of prisoners and their families, who are typically poor, while states often award contracts to phone companies that are willing to pay the highest commission rates. As a result, prisoners and their families may pay as much $1 per minute for a phone call.

As Aleks Kajstura, legal director at PPI, wrote in a blog post, just two companies controlling the lion’s share of the prison communications industry “will give facilities less choice and less ability to draft contracts that truly meet their needs.” According to reporting by the Marshall Project, if the deal is approved, prison systems in 47 states will contract with either Securus, Global Tel Link, or CenturyLink—and CenturyLink subcontracts nearly all of its contracts with ICSolutions or Securus.

PPI joined a number of prisoner advocacy organizations in filing a petition to deny the merger—but not merely because of the threat of a duopoly. They also argue that Securus routinely ignores regulations in order to maximize its profits (like when the FCC banned flat-rate fees on phone calls, and Securus changed the name of the charge to “first-minute” fees).

How will the Trump FCC rule on this? We can’t be sure yet, but let’s look to recent history: Last year, the administration approved Global Tel Link’s acquisition of Telmate, a company that had a market share just shy of ICSolutions’.

Pages