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I've just heard back from New York Times reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin by phone and email. In a prepared statement, he walked back his comments on MSNBC considerably. "Boy did I touch the third rail! My off-handed comment was admittedly flip. I apologize for that. It was meant to provoke a conversation."

I did not mean to suggest that there are literally no successful companies that employ union workers. Of course there are! Your readers have provided a good list (though I might quibble with some of the names.)

I made the unscripted comment with my financial columnist hat on in the context of the problems at GM. That's what the discussion was about on the program. And when you look at some of the once great iconic American industries that have faltered -- automobiles, airlines, steel, apparel, etc -- there is a fair question worth asking about whether those industries were helped or hurt by their unions. But let's leave that debate for another day.


Not sure if that will placate his critics, who were pretty livid about the whole episode, but I guess we'll see.

Regarding the similarity between the question he posed the hosts of Morning Joe and a question former General Electric CEO Jack Welch posed to economist Joseph Stiglitz during a panel discussion Sorkin moderated, he said, "I'm afraid to say I hadn't remembered it until you sent me your post."

Sorkin said he hadn't expected such a strong response and even suggested he was sympathetic to the very people who were most upset by his words.

Drip, drip.

We should soon know whether the House Ethics committee is probing any lawmakers' ties to the now-defunct PMA lobbying group. The House has passed Rep. Steny Hoyer's resolution to force the committee to disclose the issue, reports Roll Call. The vote was 270-134.

Federal investigators are looking into whether PMA gave campaign contributions in exchange for earmarks. Two powerful Democratic lawmakers, Reps. Pete Visclosky and John Murtha have received the most scrutiny for their ties to PMA. Last week, Visclosky acknowledged that he had been subpoenaed in connection with the probe.

The New Hampshire state House has now passed a gay marriage bill after a misfire two weeks ago, putting this state on the road to full marriage equality.

So what has made the difference? Two weeks ago, I pointed out that this bill had become a case study in get-out-the-vote for a chamber of 400 members. The initial version passed by a 178-167 margin. But Gov. John Lynch (D) wouldn't sign it without expressly codified exemptions for religious institutions that didn't want to participate in gay marriage.

That new version then initially failed by a margin of 188-186 -- owing mainly to marriage opponents doing a better job this time of getting their people to the chamber.

But now the new version has passed 198-176. Marriage-equality supporters took another bite at the apple, ironed out some final language, and picked up those remaining votes they needed.

Late Update: Gov. Lynch has signed the bill, officially legalizing gay marriage in the state of New Hampshire. The new law will take effect January 1, 2010.

Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union answers Andrew Ross Sorkin's question with a question of his own. "Unionized companies are a driving force in our economy, from Kaiser Permanente to Securitas," Stern said in a statement to TPMDC.

The bigger question this country is really asking right now is how do we define a successful company? Is it a company that turns a profit by driving down employee wages successful? Is cutting off benefits or putting people out of work to improve the bottom line for shareholders a business model we as Americans want to embrace? Are we going to embrace the Wal-Mart model as the standard of success, or are we going to raise the bar and rebuild the middle class in this country?

We think it's time to have a serious national discussion about what we want the future of our economy to look like--and the voices of women and men who work are critical to that conversation. That's why we're supporting the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill to help create an economy in which companies succeed based on the quality of their services, not on their willingness to exploit or silence workers.

Read More →

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud greets President Obama in Riyadh.

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Barriers block the road to Cairo University, where President Obama will speak on Thursday.

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If you want more information than you'll ever need on the wealth of successful business employing unionized workers, you need look no farther than the group American Rights at Work. Every year they publish the Labor Day List, to "recognize successful partnerships between employers and their employees' labor unions that are working well in the global economy."

You can download the 2008 report here (PDF), and see a full list of past reports here.

(Note that because the most recent Labor Day List came out last year, the companies highlighted in it don't necessarily meet the criteria we've set up for our growing list of profitable, unionized companies.)

I asked Nikki Daruwala, who directs the Socially Responsible Business Program at the group American Rights at Work, why the perception that unions always hurt businesses persists if all this information is so easily accessible.

"I think it has to do with the fact that people have this knee-jerk reaction--that union and management are on the opposite poles," she said. "They're not open to the idea that there are very successful partnerships...helping the companies, helping society."

I just got off the phone with Nancy Mills, the Deputy Chief of Staff for AFL-CIO, who had some thoughts for us on the substance and the implication of Sorkin's statements on MSNBC.

"One of the things it points out is that the American public in general, and those who have an axe to grind, who are promoting this ignorance, don't seem to know who's in unions." Mills said.

She noted that there's no shortage of companies with successful worker-employer partnerships adding that "People think of these as good places, successful, interesting, and they don't stop and think that they might be unionized, because there hasn't been a picket line."

I asked her if unions, or the greater labor movement have any culpability for allowing this predominant line of thinking to go largely unchallenged. She noted that there's a long standing debate within the labor movement about the usefulness of spending dues dollars on messaging to non-union members, and that the big federations have spent the last several years fending off attacks from anti-union interests leaving little in the way of time or resources to promote a positive message.

Late update: You can read Sorkin's apology here.

The new SurveyUSA poll in Virginia finds former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe still ahead in this Tuesday's Democratic primary for governor -- contrary to a Public Policy Polling (D) survey yesterday that showed him slipping into second place behind state Sen. Creigh Deeds.

The numbers: McAuliffe 35%, Deeds 29%, and former state Del. Brian Moran 26%, with a ±4.4% margin of error. Two weeks ago, SurveyUSA had the race as McAuliffe 37%, Deeds 26%, and Moran 22%.

The pollster's analysis shows that this race remains volatile: "Half of SurveyUSA likely voters say they may yet change their mind. Among voters who say their mind is made-up, Deeds leads, with McAuliffe and Moran a half-dozen points back."

In the general election match-ups against Republican former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell, the Dems currently all trail by varying margins: McDonnell edges Deeds 44%-43%, leads McAuliffe 47%-40%, and is ahead of Moran by 48%-37%.

Following on his meeting earlier this week with Democrats from the Senate Finance and HELP committees (the two committees with jurisdiction over health reform legislation), President Obama has sent a letter to the committees' chairmen--Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA)--restating his priorities, and committing to some new spending cuts to generate revenue to pay for comprehensive legislation.

You can see the entire letter here, but some of the key points are:

I am committed to working with the Congress to fully offset the cost of health care reform by reducing Medicare and Medicaid spending by another $200 to $300 billion over the next 10 years, and by enacting appropriate proposals to generate additional revenues. These savings will come not only by adopting new technologies and addressing the vastly different costs of care, but from going after the key drivers of skyrocketing health care costs, including unmanaged chronic diseases, duplicated tests, and unnecessary hospital readmissions.

To identify and achieve additional savings, I am also open to your ideas about giving special consideration to the recommendations of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), a commission created by a Republican Congress. Under this approach, MedPAC's recommendations on cost reductions would be adopted unless opposed by a joint resolution of the Congress. This is similar to a process that has been used effectively by a commission charged with closing military bases, and could be a valuable tool to help achieve health care reform in a fiscally responsible way.


Congress has demanded that health reform efforts be deficit neutral--meaning Obama must pay for the initial costs with a combination of efficiency savings and increased taxes or spending cuts. For more on how the MedPAC plan would work, see this post. Much of this ground, apparently, was covered at the meeting--and soon we'll know whether it's the sort of stuff Congress will go for.

As we've been reporting, earlier today, New York Times business reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin appeared on MSNBC and seemed to question the entire idea of unionization. "Name a successful unionized company. Think. You're going to go to [commercial] break before you come up with one."

Last week, Sorkin moderated a forum, hosted by Vanity Fair and Bloomberg, which included, among others, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch and Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.

During the discussion, the Welch trotted out roughly the same that Sorkin brought on to Morning Joe against Stiglitz "[G]ive me a highly successful, unionized American industry," he demanded.

Here's the entirety of the exchange:

WELCH: Joe, do you think that if we trace back things like this, they're going to give us a more competitive America to compete in the global world? Now, do we - should be retained good wages? Should we have benefits? Should we have enlightened management to take care of workers? Absolutely.

But should we get all organized again and get all these work rules and have General Motors and U.S. Steel and the airlines and all these businesses - give me a highly successful, unionized American industry.

STIGLITZ: Well, I do think that - that workers who are treated better or more productive.

WELCH: I agree.

STIGLITZ: Now - now, one of the things that has induced a lot of companies to treat the workers well is the fear of unions coming in. So it has been an incentive device that has, I think, encouraged better treatment of the workers at by some of the non-union firms.Well, I do think that - that workers who are treated better or more productive.


More on the answer to Welch's (and now Sorkin's) question in a moment. Funny how that line made it from the lips of the former chairman and CEO of GE on to a GE-owned cable network. I'm sure Welch is extremely proud.

Late update: You can read Sorkin's apology here.

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