News Abortion

New York City Launches Clinic Escort Program, Anti-Choicers Offended By “Government Interference”

Robin Marty

Apparently government is only allowed to get involved in clinic operations if it is in order to pass restrictions for women seeking pregnancy terminations.

New York City is taking an unprecedented step to help women gain access to safe legal abortion services, by starting a program to recruit and train clinic escorts. Proposed by New York City Council Member Christine Quinn, the program is intended to assist women safely past the protesters and self-proclaimed sidewalk counselors attempting to block them from entering reproductive health care facilities.

Needless to say, anti-choice activists are aghast at this “government over-reach” and “invasion into health care and personal lives,” and the imposition the perceive on the poor, unwilling protesters at the centers.

Via LifesiteNews.com:

“It doesn’t make sense. She’s supposed to be my representative,” said Monsignor Philip Reilly, a Catholic priest who led the protest. He called for her to depart City Council, saying, “If she wants to do that, she should resign.”

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[S]ome say the Council is sending the wrong message by getting involved at all.  “This says it’s okay to have an abortion, and it’s not okay,” said Antoinette Wolske, a retired nurse from Queens who participated in Saturday’s protest. “We should not have this idea promoted.”

Government interference: totally fine to push your own viewpoint when it comes to blocking abortion, not so welcome when it comes to enforcing a woman’s legal rights.

News Economic Justice

New York City Wage Theft Law Would Include Big Fines, Jail Time

Teddy Wilson

Businesses in New York City would be required to provide freelance employees with contracts or face severe penalties, including jail time, if they did not pay freelance employees, according to a bill introduced this week in the New York City Council.

The New York City Council is considering passage of what would be one of the country’s toughest wage theft policies as lawmakers nationwide look for ways to crack down on the illegal business practice.

Businesses in New York City would be required to provide freelance employees with contracts or face severe penalties, including jail time, if they did not pay freelance employees, according to a bill introduced this week in the New York City Council.

The Freelance Isn’t Free Act, introduced by Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), is modeled after legal protections provided for traditional employees against wage theft. Employers who refuse to pay or attempt to delay payment would face penalties including monetary damages, attorney’s fees, and civil penalties.

Lander said in a statement that the bill is a first-of-its-kind piece of legislation that would provide freelancers with protection from wage left.

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“The bill works by requiring any company who hires a freelance worker to execute a simple written contract, describing the work to be completed, the rate and method of payment, and date when payment is due,” Lander said.

The new bill comes less than a month after Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill creating the Office of Labor Standards to enforce the city’s labor laws.

State and city policymakers across the country have pushed for laws that would help employees receive fair payment from employers who often withhold money without consequence. A recent study showed that wage theft is rampant in Minnesota. Democratic lawmakers in Wisconsin have grappled with how to ensure low-wage workers are paid what they’re owed, while in California—where wage theft costs workers $29 million per week in lost pay—lawmakers consider penalties for employers who violate labor laws.

Under the New York City bill, employers would be required to provide freelancers with contracts that include the length of the employment and the compensation the freelancer will receive. Employers will have 30 days to pay freelance employees upon completion of the contracted services.

Employers who violate the proposed law would face civil penalties, including a fine of up to $5,000, and an additional $100 for every day that payments are withheld. The proposed law includes criminal penalties of a fine of up to $500 and imprisonment of up to three months.

A notable exception to the proposed law would be that the city government would be exempt, as an employer, from adhering to the new rules with freelancers it hires.

Lander told Crain’s New York Business that the bill could be amended to ensure freelancers working with the city government would have the same protections. “We have to make sure the city isn’t stiffing its freelance workers,” Lander said.

The bill has the support of the Freelancers Union, an organization that advocates for legal protections for freelancers but is not a labor union and cannot collectively bargain for its members.

Sara Horowitz, the Freelancers Union’s founder and executive director, told the Washington Post that wage theft against freelance workers is disturbingly commonplace.

“It’s almost become something that people view as the price of doing business, just accepting that they won’t get paid,” Horowitz said. “It’s really crazy, because it’s a lot of money, and it’s really bad practice for companies to think they can do this.”

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has lent its support to the bill. Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU told the Nonprofit Quarterly that the union is supporting the bill because wage theft affects workers across many socioeconomic backgrounds, from day laborers to freelance journalists.

“That’s why we’re coming together in this coalition,” Figueroa said. “The union movement was built on solidarity and strength in numbers and that’s how we’ll win independent workers the equal protection they deserve.”

Rachel Northrop, a freelancer working in New York, told the Washington Post that when a magazine she did freelance work for stopped paying her, she questioned whether she could continue working as a freelancer.

“Non-payment paralyzes the most motivated sector of people, who are willing to work on their own schedule, be independent and self sufficient,” Northrop said. “When other people hear this, it makes people think ‘let me stay at this boring job that I don’t even like.’”

Lander said that more than 70 percent of freelancers have reported being paid late, being underpaid, or not being paid at all, and on average it cost freelance workers $6,390 per year.

There were more than $20 million in lost income per week in New York due to wage theft, according to a study released last year by the U.S. Department of Labor. The study concluded that 19.5 percent of low-wage workers in New York had their wages stolen each month.

A 2009 study conducted by the Center for Urban Economic Development examined data from Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, and found that 26 percent of low-wage workers were paid less than the minimum wage in the week prior to the survey.

The Business Council of New York State, a lobbyist group, opposes the bill. Zack Hutchins, spokesperson for the council, told Crain’s New York Business that the bill is unnecessary because the market weeds out bad actors.

“Companies that don’t pay freelancers properly, or on time, quickly find themselves unable to hire freelancers,” Hutchins said. “All this bill will do is put another law on the books that regulators will be unable to enforce and add to the burden of the 99 percent of business owners who act properly every day.”

Lander said that he will pursue other measures designed to protect workers’ rights.

Lander introduced another bill Monday that would change the legal definition of “employee” to include interns, and would clarify the protections for part-time, temporary, leased, and seasonal workers and independent contractors under the city’s human rights law.

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Consumer Affairs, where it awaits further action.

Analysis Politics

Major Anti-Choice Donors Among Biggest Presidential Campaign Contributors Identified by New York Times

Sharona Coutts

Just 158 families have provided nearly half of all the money donated to White House contenders so far. But the two families that have contributed the most to presidential campaigns also give prolifically to anti-choice groups and candidates.

Over the weekend, the New York Times published another piece in its series on who is financing the campaigns of this crop of presidential candidates.

The piece presented eye-popping new information: Just 158 families have provided nearly half of all the money donated to White House contenders so far.

But what the report didn’t mention was that the two families that have contributed the most to presidential campaigns also give prolifically to anti-choice groups and candidates. This is consistent with a little-noticed trend on which Rewire has been reporting for a while: the merging of political mega-donors with anti-choice activism. This fact is worth bearing in mind when listening to the anti-choice rhetoric being spouted by Republican presidential contenders.

At the top of the New York Times list is the Wilks family, the fracking barons who are cementing their place as arch-conservative mega-donors. According to the Times analysis, brothers Farris and Dan, and their spouses Jo Ann and Staci, have contributed a combined $15 million during this campaign so far in support of Ted Cruz’s campaign.

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Their choice of candidate should come as little surprise, given Cruz’s longtime alliances with the fundamentalist Christian right. For example, Cruz is a regular attendee of the Values Voters Summit, an annual gala held in D.C. by the Family Research Council, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers a hate group for its virulent homophobia, among other things.

As Rewire has previously reported, the Wilkses are significant anti-choice donors, and have also plowed millions into a program that seeks to indoctrinate school children and university students with their right-wing views.

While the Times did mention the Wilkses’ anti-choice stance in a list of donors that accompanied the main piece, it’s worth noting the extent of those activities.

The Wilks family uses at least two foundations—the Thirteen Foundation and the Heavenly Father’s Foundation—to funnel donations to dozens of right-wing organizations, including crisis pregnancy centers, anti-choice advocacy groups, and religious organizations that oppose the right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term.

Records for those foundations show that the Wilkses have pumped at least $33 million into right-wing causes since 2010. Some of that largesse has gone to causes and candidates that support fracking. Despite the conservative rallying cries of local control and states’ rights, the Wilkses have been major backers of laws that prohibit local communities from attempting to ban fracking.

Second on the Times list are Robert Mercer, a Wall Street hedge fund manager, and his daughter, Rebekah Mercer. Also Cruz fans, the Mercers are reported to have given $11.3 million in campaign contributions so far.

Mercer is emerging as a conservative presence within the more traditionally liberal enclaves of New York City. Between 2005 and 2013, his foundation, the Mercer Family Foundation, contributed nearly $40.1 million to mostly conservative causes, including some prominent anti-choice groups, federal tax records show. Some of his giving has gone to neutral groups or causes, such as the Mayo Clinic or supporting ovarian cancer research. However, he gave $10.5 million to the anti-choice, right-wing Media Research Center between 2008 and 2013, as well as a quarter of a million dollars to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a legal group that takes on high-profile conservative cases.

What’s particularly interesting about the New York Times list is what it suggests about how the deluge of campaign cash is affecting the Republican Party in the wake of Citizens United.

The 2012 contest saw an unprecedented amount of money flow to presidential candidates, mostly conservatives. But instead of allowing the monied interests to shore up the election for Republicans by outspending Democrats, what resulted was a prolonged period of public infighting and mutual denigration that left the Republican candidates diminished in the public’s eye.

As Ken Vogel has pointed out in his reporting for Politico, as well as in his book Big Money, the new ability for billionaires to pick pet candidates and keep their campaigns afloat, despite poor public support, has had the ironic effect of damaging the Republican Party’s ability to put forth a candidate who can win the general election.

The rise of anti-choice donors to the top of the donors list indicates that this trend could increase in 2016—precisely what Republican Party officials and former kingmakers had hoped to avoid in the aftermath of 2012. In the wake of Mitt Romney’s defeat, Karl Rove called for a mechanism for the party to weed out weak candidates earlier in the process; the GOP establishment, in its “autopsy report” on the election, substantially agreed.  

Another reason to believe the problem has been exacerbated for Republicans this time around is the absence of certain family names from the list of 158 top donors, suggesting that some of the heaviest hitters may be waiting to see which candidates to back. (For instance, Paul E. Singer, Sheldon Adelson and Foster Friess are missing—they were some of the most significant political donors to competing Republican candidates in 2012.)

Most notably, the Kochs are missing from the list. Their name has become synonymous with the post-Citizens United era of dizzying sprays of money spurting in the direction of multiple candidates at once. Of course, this could be due to the byzantine methods they employ to channel contributions through multiple foundations and other nonprofits, often making it difficult or impossible for the public to learn who has backed which particular candidate or cause. In the last cycle, Koch-related money flowed to a nonprofit called the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which acted as a pass-through entity for millions of dollars in funding to many of the nation’s foremost anti-choice organizations.

With the manufactured controversy over Planned Parenthood having dominated politics over the summer, there is good reason to believe that the confluence of campaign cash and anti-choice donors could continue to propel Republican candidates to take positions on many issues—especially reproductive rights—that are at odds with the majority of American voters.

Brie Shea contributed research to this report.