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Actual good news: Biden thumps Big Pharma and his NLRB deals a huge win to workers
The name of this newsletter might be Bad News but once in a while some good things do happen, and there’s a bias in the media not to cover movement in that direction. It’s not ideological – it just doesn’t quite sell. Also, there isn’t a lot of it lately.
But it’s worth flagging a development from today that even took progressive advocates in the health care reform space by surprise: the Biden administration included a whole suite of short-acting insulin drugs on its list of medications for which Medicare will now be able to negotiate bulk prices. That the drug-price negotiation measure passed at all, even in its compromised form, is something of a Washington miracle, given that Big Pharma spent a staggering $700 million-plus just on lobbying in 2021 and 2022. That’s almost $2 million spent on every single member of Congress. Their strategy to block it from happening was to block the entire Build Back Better bill, knowing that if it passed, their provision would be in there because it raised revenue that Democrats could then spend on other things, like climate investments. They very nearly succeeded, but in the end they got beaten. And since then the fight has been over which drugs would be included in the first list of ten to be negotiated. The law set fairly clear parameters over what was eligible, but to the administration’s credit, they interpreted it as expansively as possible, and targeted many blockbuster drugs, and also managed to lump a bunch of insulin medications and devices into one category. Good on them.
While we’re singing the praises of the Biden administration, let’s save a stanza for the NLRB, which on Friday dropped a bombshell ruling that gives workers their best shot at organizing unions since perhaps the 1940s. The way organizing currently works is that you ask your coworkers to sign cards saying they want to be in a union, and then you deliver those cards to the bosses, the cards representing the wishes of a majority of workers. For years, organized labor tried to pass into law what they called “card check,” which would mean that all you had to do is check the cards, and if they added up, you have a union, and negotiations for a contract are supposed to begin. That legislation never passed and in reality, most employers reject the cards and insist on an election. They then fire the workers who organized the union, delay the election, browbeat the remaining workers, and otherwise engage in what are known as unfair labor practices. Then they easily win the election, and get a slap on the wrist for their violations.
As Harold Meyerson explains, the new ruling says that no, if you commit any unfair labor practices in the course of an election that you insisted on, you lose. It’s over. Union recognized, time to start bargaining.
Yesterday, the Treasury Department released a report highlighting the role labor unions can play in boosting the middle class and economic growth – a stark divergence from previous anti-union orthodoxy we usually hear from Treasury officials in both parties. “Over the last half century, middle-class households have experienced stagnating wages, rising income volatility, and reduced intergenerational mobility, even as the economy as a whole has prospered,” Treasury declares. “Unions can improve the well-being of middle-class workers in ways that directly combat these negative trends. Pro-union policy can make a real difference to middle-class households by raising their incomes, improving their work environments, and boosting their job satisfaction. In doing so, unions can help to make the economy more equitable and robust.” I can’t stress enough just how unusual it is to hear that kind of language coming from the Treasury Department of all places.
Retroactive programming note: There was no Counter Points show last week. We’re back tomorrow morning though.
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