Lever Time

On this week’s Lever Time: David breaks down the looming railroad workers strike; and interviews Florida Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist.

Show Notes

On this week’s episode of Lever Time: David is joined by New York Times’ global economics correspondent Peter S. Goodman and Labor Notes reporter Jonah Furman to break down the looming railroad workers strike, which could potentially bring the U.S. economy to a screeching halt (7:03). Then, David interviews Charlie Crist, the Democratic nominee running for governor of Florida against Ron DeSantis. David and Charlie discuss DeSantis’ recent horrible political stunt, plus what it would take to unseat him this November (35:24).


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A rough transcript of this episode is available here.

What is Lever Time?

From LeverNews.com — Lever Time is the flagship podcast from the investigative news outlet The Lever. Hosted by award-winning journalist, Oscar-nominated writer, and Bernie Sanders' 2020 speechwriter David Sirota, Lever Time features exclusive reporting from The Lever’s newsroom, high-profile guest interviews, and expert analysis from the sharpest minds in media and politics.

David Sirota 0:10
Hey there and welcome to lever time the flagship podcast from the lever on independent investigative news outlets supported by readers. I'm your host, David Sirota on this week's show, we've got a busy show, we're going to be talking about the railroad. Yes, those greedy selfish railroad workers who are demanding a fair contract from the poor, impoverished railroad CEOs who've collectively pulled down over $200 million in CEO pay over the last three years, we're going to be talking about the workers potential strike and what it could do to the US economy. Then I'll be speaking with the former governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, who's now running as the current Democratic nominee for governor. He's trying to get his old job back. And he's running against the incumbent governor and professional troll Ron DeSantis. This November. That's a huge race. As I'm sure we'd all love to see Ron DeSantis exit the national stage of American politics before he runs for president. This week, our paid subscribers will also get to hear a bonus segment, the levers, Julia rock talks about her coverage of a recent meeting of the Federalist Society, she went to that meeting. And the Federalist Society, as you know, is the right wing legal organization, which is largely responsible for the Supreme Court's six to three majority. Julia was in the room at this meeting, sacrificing her own happiness and mental health, just to get the story. So make sure to take a listen. If you want access to lever time premium, you can head over to lever news.com To become a supporting subscriber that gives you access to all of our premium content. And you'll be directly supporting the investigative journalism that we do here at the lever. Speaking of which, if you liked this podcast, and if you like our reporting, please do us a favor. Tell your friends and family about the lever. The only way that independent media grows is by word of mouth, and we need all the help we can get to combat the insane bullshit. That is corporate media. As always, I'm joined by producer Frank What's up Frank?

Producer Frank 2:22
David? I'm going to be coming in a little hot at the top of the today's show, but I just gotta say it. Fuck Ron DeSantis man, like I like no seriously this guy when he pulled this stunt. This is one of like the cruelest political stunts I think I've ever seen. You're talking about the migrants. I'm talking about the migrants and like, I don't think I've encountered such an odious political figure in recent history. I mean, like, obviously, Trump is a horrible person, but he's like a baby brain, moron, you know, like, DeSantis has the full faculties of an adult human. And he uses them to do just like the most heinous, heinous shit, and I just like, Man, this this really bothered me this this this past week.

David Sirota 3:09
Yeah. I mean, the story about what Ron DeSantis did, to those migrants, flying them up to Martha's Vineyard is is truly grotesque. And we're going to definitely get into that with Charlie, Chris, later on in the show. I just mentioned at the top of the show, the journalism that we do and the impact that the levers journalism has. And so one thing I want to mention on the you'd love to see it frontier at the top of this show is that we actually have some evidence of the impact of our journalism. You just mentioned Ron DeSantis. And how much of a bummer and a grotesque person he is. Well, let me let me cure that with some good news. President Biden, this morning, just cited the levers investigative reporting, in his big speech, demanding passage of the legislation to end dark money. And now the US Senate is set to vote on it. We've been covering dark money at deliver we've been covering the big story, we broke the big story of that $1.6 billion contribution to the dark money group, the right wing dark money group, we've covered it here on lever time, Biden came out and cited that reporting to demand a passage of legislation to end dark money. You don't have to believe me Listen to the clip from Biden's speech.

Joe Biden 4:32
And here's just one recent example of conservative activist who spent as was his right decades working to put enough conservative justice on the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, now has access to $1.6 billion in dark money to do more damage and from our perspective and restrict more freedoms. As far as we know, that's one of the biggest dark money transfers in our history. And here's the deal, the public only found out about this $1.6 billion transfer because someone tipped off some of your reporters. Otherwise, we still wouldn't know about it. But now we know there's something we can do about it. This week, the Senate is going to vote on the Disclosure Act.

Producer Frank 5:14
Man, this was so cool to hear him cite the work that our reporters have done. I was gonna say we've done I didn't do any of it. But that you know, that Andrew and his team did.

David Sirota 5:25
I mean, dark Brandon saying someone tipped off some of you reporters, he's talking about Andrew Perez, he's talking about, you know, the the reporters that the levers Andrew Perez worked with at ProPublica. That's our reporting. So if folks are listening to this, and want to understand how reporting has an impact can pressure and force politicians to do some things? This is a good example of that. Now, to be clear, the DISCLOSE Act has been sitting in Congress dormant for months and months and months. And the thing is, the DISCLOSE Act, wouldn't be in the news. This is I mean, I don't think I'm overstating it here, if we hadn't broken that huge story. And that story went viral Biden obviously referencing it. So I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that this is a you can see a direct line between the reporting we do how Biden felt pressure to do something to call on the Senate to deal with it, and cited our reporting like, as somebody who's worked in journalism and politics for now. 20 plus years. That's the kind of thing you truly you love to see it. I mean, it really is something you just you'd love to see doesn't happen all that often. But that's what you love to see. I was super psyched, Frank.

Producer Frank 6:46
This has made me feel better after how angry I was at Ron DeSantis. This past week. Let's just say that

David Sirota 6:51
we right we were gearing up for this interview with Charlie Kristen, and following the Ron DeSantis stuff and feeling super bummed out. And then like dark Brandon comes out and cites our reporting. I'm like, you know, this is why we do this work. So moving on to our first story, we're going to be talking about that looming railroad workers strike a little background on what's been happening since 2019. Over 12 different unions that comprise the rail industry workforce have been negotiating with the rail companies to improve their contracts their working conditions in the like, the unions are specifically demanding higher wages, as well as better working conditions. What that means is paid time off, and a more flexible schedule, particularly when it comes to scheduling medical appointments, which is obviously important in particular, not just generally, but in specific when it comes to the pandemic. After years of cost cutting and staff shortages. These workers say they're totally short staffed and aren't able to take sick leave due to those antiquated scheduling and attendance policies. Let me give you one example. Total rail employment has decreased from over 427,000 people in 1983, to less than 200,000 people in 2021. Now, as the potential for a strike becomes more imminent, the Biden administration has stepped in and has brokered a tentative compromise deal between the rail companies and the union leadership just as an FYI, when it comes to the railroad industry, the President and the federal government have a special set of laws to try to broker these compromises because the rail industry is so integral to the overall economy. It's treated as kind of different than other industries in the country. But here's the thing, union rank and file workers still need to vote to approve that deal to avert a strike. And if there's a strike, it could result in the American supply chain coming to a screeching halt. To better unpack this entire situation, a situation that could affect you, your community and the overall economy. I'm now going to be joined by Peter Goodman, the global economics correspondent for The New York Times who's covered the supply chain, as well as Jonah Furman, who is a terrific labor reporter and regular contributor at labor notes. Hey, Jonah, Hey Peter, how you guys doing? Good, how you doing? I'm alright. Thanks to both of you for your reporting on this. Jonah, we're gonna start with you. We're in the middle of a negotiation standoff between the railroad workers union and the rail companies. Last week the Biden administration stepped into broker what it calls a compromise between the companies and the union leadership and the unions are set to vote on that contract. This week, you've been keeping close tabs on the rank and file workers, the union members as all of this has been on unfolding, I guess to start, what's the sense you get of how they're viewing disagreement? Are they getting what they want? And and as I asked that, maybe give us a little bit of an overview of what they've been demanding that they've not been getting? Yeah, I

Jonah Furman 10:18
think the first thing to understand is that workers have not seen the deal yet. And this is a big deal for people trying to figure out how they're going to vote on their agreement. And you said, the rail workers union, there's actually 12 unions involved here. So each one of them has to pass their own contract for this thing to be actually done with. So what rail workers have seen is what's been in the press and a couple of press releases. And it sounds like the two big improvements from Thursday from the Marty Walsh broker deal. Were some addition of unpaid sick time, we don't really know how much or what it covers exactly, and some amount of cap on healthcare costs. So the number of people I've seen is that your health care premiums can't go over $400 A month under this deal. So we don't know there might be more details in there. But those were was in the in the news and in the press releases. Now the question is, does that get you to 51% Ratifying in 12 different unions? So if you look at where workers were at before the Thursday deal, before the New Deal that stopped the strike for now, you had internal polling from some of these unions saying 80% wanted to vote it down. And 90% authorizing strikes. So the question is that those improvements, some unpaid sick time and a cap on how much you could pay for health care? Does that swing it, you know, 30 points for for all the unions. Talking to rake in filers, it's hard, you're sort of you know, there's 120,000 workers here. So it's like, you know, how do you take the temperature there. But there's certainly a large group of workers who are saying, This is not what we held out for, it's been three years of negotiations. And this is not what the build up was for. Right? We didn't come to the edge so we could get some unpaid sick time and a cap on our health care costs, we wanted real time off the job, which is really, I think the biggest picture way to understand these negotiations has been like the rail carriers, and the federal government wants to throw money at the problem, and the workers need some work life balance. So whatever form that takes a deal that's going to be wildly popular and acceptable for these workers is going to have to add to the time that you have off the job. It can come with raises or not, it can come with healthcare caps or not, but it needs some more time off the job, which is the one thing that the original deal and last week's deal didn't really meaningfully expand on according to what we know. Now, again, we gotta wait to see the agreement.

David Sirota 12:46
Well, I mean, the the railroad executives are telling the federal government that their skyrocketing profits don't have any contributions from labor. That's what they told us in that federal report that we reported on. So it's kind of amazing that that's the situation that we're in that the that the guys on the other side of the table, the executives are kind of saying that out loud, I want to turn to the supply chain. These unions have been negotiating this contract since 2019. Due to the complex laws of the Railway Labor Act, which governs this particular industry kind of separate from other industries. It's actually very difficult for the rail workers to come this close to a potential strike. These laws exist because the railways are so important to the supply chain. So Peter, you wrote about this for the New York Times, just to paint a picture of what a rail strike could practically look like in the United States, and what it would mean, not just for the railway industry, but for the economy as a whole.

Peter S. Goodman 13:49
I mean, it can be crippling to the supply chain. Rail is a central part of a supply chain that depends upon highways and ships, we live in the age of the shipping container, the whole point of the shipping containers, you've got the standard size boxes, that can be easily moved from one mode to the next, instead of having to pack and repack. Whatever means of conveyance you're using, you can just use a crane to lift a container off the ship that's coming in from Asia to a port, and then immediately put it onto rail or onto the back of a truck and move it around. So what we've learned from these two years of serious disruption to the supply chain, is that if any one part of it backs up, the whole thing, immediately suffers the consequences. And so, you know, this is central to this game of chicken that's being played between the management of these rail companies and the unions themselves. I mean, I mean, from the union standpoint, people have suffered through a pandemic, without to Jonah's point paid sick leave. I mean, let's remember that the US is an extraordinary outlet. hire. This is the only developed country that doesn't provide at a national level, a guarantee of paid sick leave. So we've had huge numbers of people, not just in rail, of course, and slaughterhouses, at trucking firms in warehouses, who've had to choose between paying the rent, putting groceries on their table, and putting their lives at risk in the middle of a pandemic, often without protective gear. And people are very unhappy about that. And they understand that they were playing a vital role in keeping it all going. And so the rail workers and they're not alone in this dock workers who are involved in contentious port negotiations with port overseers on the West Coast, you'll also feel like, listen, it's time for us to get compensated. And our leverage is enormous. Because if we do go on strike, or if we even just slow down the works, the consequences will be great. Well, the rail companies are now trying to use that very reality, the potential crippling effect to the supply chain to argue that, you know, Congress has got to get involved, they managed to get the Biden administration to get Cabinet Secretaries energized. So they're using that threat of disruption to the supply chain for their own leverage in terms of, you know, keeping this whole system going.

David Sirota 16:15
Well, I want to talk about what Congress could do here, as you suggested, because the economic stakes are so high, we are effectively watching a game of chicken unfold the rail unions, the workers knowing that they could, they could really slow down and harm the economy. And the rail companies think their industry is too crucial for Congress to allow their unions to strike. Now, here's the thing, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer a Democrat, who I think last cycle was among the top recipients of campaign cash from the railway industry. He's threatened workers by saying that Congress will pass legislation banning them from striking quote, if needed. Jonah, let me ask you the question of what does that mean, in practice, for folks who don't understand what Congress could do, or what the Biden administration could do under existing laws to essentially block a strike like it's hard to conceive of how does the government prevent people from not going to work?

Jonah Furman 17:19
Well, so something you need to understand is the Railway Labor Act builds in Congress at the end of it as sort of this backstop of like, if we get to a work stoppage, it's basically expected that Congress will pass a bill and they can pass a rail Bill faster than anything else, they'll pass it in 24 hours. The bill that they would pass, you can see GOP senators brought this bill to the floor Tuesday night before the potential shutdown, which was basically saying, implement the recommendations of the presidential emergency board. The presidential emergency board is part of the real process to what happened in August of this year. Basically, Joe Biden convenes a group of mediators who say, we've looked at all the facts, and here's 120 page document of what the deal should be. And then the unions and the and the rail carriers, the employers take that language and say, Okay, we'll build the union contract out of it and send it out for a vote. Now, this was the thing that workers were like, This is unacceptable. The PDB, the presidential emergency board document was the thing that that said, all those things, here's 24%, in raises and no changes to your time off the job, or maybe one additional day. The reason that Congress has the workers in a corner here is because they can basically say, look, Joe Biden said, this is the deal you should have. So if you go on strike, and we have to stop a shutdown, send you back to work, it'll be under the terms of this agreement. And the GOP, of course, loves this, because they can say, Look, if the Democrats said you had to go back to work, it's not us. Now, on the other hand, there's nothing stopping Congress from having a bill that says, Okay, it's the PDB recommendations, plus 15, paid sick days, or plus, you know, like you, you have a weird situation here, where in the rest of the private sector, this doesn't exist, but under the Railway Labor Act, it's expected that Congress can step in and say, here's the deal you're going to work under, they can also say, here's, here's the deal, you go back to work, and you're forced into some sort of arbitration. Now, again, the workers look at it, and they see that if you put another arbitrator on this case, who already has 120 pages of arbitration from the President, they're probably going to say that's the deal you're going to have. So a lot of workers I talked to what they would like to see is of course, something more ambitious from Congress that says here's some paid sick days too. But short of that just say stay out of it. Don't give the carriers don't give the boss and an out through Congress where they say we're gonna give a boss friendly contract, just stay out of it and make the carrier's reckon with the economic pain that they're going to feel, you know, they're losing a lot of money on a strike. And that's how it traditionally a strike works, right? You have the workers say, we're not going to work. So you're going to the boss is going to feel economic pain, and they'll have to respond to that. If they have Congress has this release valve. The workers are looking at it and saying, Well, we strike and Congress gives us the deal, are we Don't strike and the carriers give us the deal. What's the difference? So they're really hoping that Congress will either stay out or have a better option on the table than just the GOP saying, Go to work under President Biden's deal.

David Sirota 20:10
It won't surprise either of you to learn that the rail companies have been reporting record profits over the last several years. I mentioned it before, I'm going to mention it again. At the same time, Rails CEOs have pulled down over $200 million in compensation in the last three years. And they've spent almost $200 billion on stock buybacks and dividends over the last dozen years. Those are actions that benefit wealthy shareholders primarily. To add insult to industry, again, according to a statement by the Presidential emergency board, rail carriers maintain this is a direct quote, quote, that capital investment and risk are the reasons for their profits, not any contributions by labor. Peter, I want to ask you this question about a worker shortage. It seems to be what the rail carriers are saying that they're not willing to give in on on the scheduling stuff that it relates to worker shortages, or I put shortage in quotes because there's a debate over is a worker shortage, a worker shortage or a wage shortage? I've just asked you what to make of this. Is there a real shortage of workers preventing company management from actually doing what workers want? When it comes to schedule? Is it a wage shortage like the executives don't want to pay as well to get enough workers like what's going on? Yeah,

Peter S. Goodman 21:34
that's a super important question. Well, in the immediate term, there are shortages of workers in lots of industries in the supply chain for the simple reason that the unemployment rates really low, and people suddenly are in a position where they can go get a better deal someplace else. So it is hard to entice people into industries that are that are difficult. I mean, we're talking about physically taxing jobs, people are away from their families for a long time. You know, there are dangers. But in terms of the broader context, again, not just in rail, but in trucking as well. The shortage conversation is usually industry lobbying. You know, I'm more familiar with this in the truck driver scenario, where, you know, the the trucking industry has leaned heavily on the Biden administration to expand the ranks, you know, let's drop the age from 21 to 18, at which you can get people to drive a truck, because, oh, there's a shortage. Well, in that case, you know, there's three times as many holders of commercial driver's licenses in the United States as we actually need. But we've run out of people willing to take the deal, which usually involves some kind of predatory lending to pay for credential program to get a commercial driver's license, all kinds of predatory leasing arrangements. Well in rail, it's important to remember that this thing that you just alluded to precision scheduled railroading, which is the just in time manufacturing for rail, you know, just in time manufacturing, the very common sensical idea going back to Toyota, way back in the middle of the last century, that instead of building you know, as many cars as possible, and then figuring out how to sell them, just build them according to actual demand and limit this supply of parts and components, which was then sort of hijacked by consultancies, like McKinsey and turned into this very crude directive to just slash inventory slash wages, take the proceeds and give it to the shareholder through share buybacks and dividends will so that's applied in rail through this so called precision scheduled railroading, which is where the cutting service cutting maintenance, cutting capital outlay on locomotives, so suddenly equipments breaking down a lot more frequently, and crucially, laying off roughly one quarter of the workforce in the five years before the pandemic and then laying off more people in the first waiver. The pandemic, when most economists thought oh, this is gonna be a terrible recession, we're not gonna have demand for anything, not understanding okay, we're not going to the gym anymore. But we're going to buy peloton, they're going to come into ports from China, on the west coast of the US, and they're going to get where they're going by truck, rail, etc. We're actually going to need more people, not fewer. So the big picture is you're correct in putting the emphasis on share buybacks, these rail companies cut spending on human beings on equipment while they transferred the proceeds to themselves to the executive ranks to the shareholder ranks. And once we got a shock, they said, Oh, my goodness, we can't get enough people. We need you know, all sorts of subsidies and emergency directives and we can't possibly afford things like paid sick leave, and the workers bore the brunt of that. And guess what, they're not very happy about it, and they're not motivated to go back and do their jobs unless they get something that they feel is fair compensation.

David Sirota 24:52
Okay to to bring this conversation to the macro. I want to ask you both. A question that has been on my mind that that That's about both the rail way situation but also about kind of what we've been calling critical or essential workers across the country in the post pandemic. Well, I guess it's not post pandemic, but at least the non lockdown part of the pandemic. It seems to me that when I was growing up coming up in politics, there was this idea that you wanted the labor market to work for wages, and that you didn't want a labor shortage, but you wanted a tight labor market to raise wages to give workers more bargaining power. So that that companies wouldn't see workers as expendable as they had gotten used to seeing them. Workers, therefore have more power to bargain, like we're seeing railway workers try to bargain like we've seen Nurses also try to bargain, et cetera, et cetera, grocery store workers and the like. And it seemed to me that this was what you kind of wanted out of macro economic policy, tight labor markets, help workers. Now we're seeing this idea that tight labor markets, I mean, it's been promoted. I'm not saying I agree with it. But tight labor markets are now the problem that workers having too much power, putting too much power in quotes, that that's a problem. I just wonder what your reaction to that is? Isn't one way to look at what we're looking at here? Yes, it's, it's kind of tumultuous, and turbulent. And it makes the economy I guess, feel a little bit more unstable. But isn't this aren't we actually, in some ways, in a good position, if you care about workers, finally having a little bit more power? visa vie their negotiations with capital? Jonah? I'll ask you that first. Yeah,

Jonah Furman 26:51
I mean, I think part of what you're describing is like people, you know, they say generals fight the last war, the last time we had inflation like this, there was something like a wage price spiral, basically, inflation causes prices to go way up. So workers are demanding more, the crucial difference is in the 70s. We were like pre the union busting that has happened over the past 50 years, workers were a lot less are now a lot less powerful and a lot less able to demand we need XYZ arrays to keep up with inflation. I mean, iconic unions like the UAW have dropped the cost of living adjustment that was part of these these mechanisms that would keep wages up with prices. If you look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just put out data. I think yesterday, that was, you know, real wages have fallen something like 4%, since a year ago today, so we're definitely not seeing wage price spiral that people are fear mongering about what we are seeing is obviously corporate profiteering, which is not new, except it used to come with also, this bigger piece of the pie for the workers, who are only really able to, you know, obtain that with high union density and strong unions. So, you know, people are pointing to oh, these rail workers are, you know, getting offered 24% Over the next five years, not a steady increase, but way above what workers without a union, which is much more of the economy than it was in the 70s. Last time we saw anything like this are getting, you know, John Deere was an iconic pandemic strike, they said deemed essential and 2020, proven and 2021 they got an immediate 10% wage increase that was basically eaten by inflation within the next year after that. So you know, I think a big difference from what we've seen in the past with how wages and a tight labor market and inflation are supposed to interact, is that assumed this like New Deal arrangement, postwar arrangement, where unions were playing the function of the welfare state. Now we've dropped the unions, but we still have the inflation and the profiteering. So you're, you have this formula, where and the other thing about it is that the the high profile fights, things you hear about are the union fights and strikes, you're not hearing about people working at Target, whose wages are just dying with inflation, you're not hearing low wage workers who have no protection and no mechanism and no voice in the public and no political outlet. You know, you're only hearing about unions. And people like to pretend like oh, those rail workers, they're just, you know, the blue collar workforce in this country is too powerful, because they're all you know, living like it's 50 years ago, when there were actual organizations for workers to have a political and economic voice, which is the key difference right now.

David Sirota 29:30
And I also think, like this idea, when you hear kind of corporate executives, consultants, kind of pundits freak out about, you know, wage increases. One of the thing that's written out of the story is some of those wage increases that we've seen, and I agree with you overall, wages are not kind of skyrocketing, but some of the wage increases we've seen are essentially recuperating wage increases that should have been paid, like over decades, right? It's like workers are getting like a little bit more than They used to get while they were being fleeced through the kind of D unionization, the last 30 years of D unionization. And of course, then there's the corporate profiteering angle here. So Peter, just to build on what Jonah said, I mean, this whole notion that, you know, worker power is bad workers are getting too greedy. is also you alluded to this Jonah is also countered by the fact that it's not like companies are doing badly right now. It's exactly the opposite, that companies are raking in macro economically record record profits. I mean, I guess the question is, what do you think corporate executives thought was going to happen? Right, they're just going to rake in record profits, it's going to be a particularly difficult work situation, because of the pandemic and the like, you think they got used to workers just like rolling over and having absolutely, you know, you know, nothing to say and and just just completely playing dead? Is that what they I think that's what they must have expected, right? I mean,

Peter S. Goodman 31:03
our supply chain, and really our economy writ large, is built on the understanding that there's a permanent group, a large group of people who are so desperate, that they will take whatever job is on offer, they will take jobs where there's no health care, they will take jobs where they have to choose between their own safety and their paycheck, they will take jobs that keep them far from their families and unable to schedule basic things like taking themselves or their children to, to see the doctor, you know, when we talk about the supply chain returning to normal, or the economy returning to normal, after the pandemic shock, we have to remember that normalcy for now going on, you know, half a century in the United States, is an economy where huge numbers of people have been rationed out of health care, where they can't afford their housing, where they can't bargain collectively, they can't get their piece of the action. So corporate executives, they're telling a kind of truth when they say, Hey, we can't afford this. I mean, yeah, we can all see, well, what do you mean, you can't afford it, you know, you're making record profits, you're paying huge dividends and buybacks to shareholders, the corp, the people actually running these large corporations are answerable to boards that have organized themselves as centers of profit being returned to shareholders. And if you don't play that way, you lose your own job at the top. So those pressures are real, it doesn't make it just and it doesn't make it good for society. For all the obvious reasons that, you know, it's not a great thing to have large numbers of people running around without health care, or reliable housing, it turns out, it's not even a very good way to just get a package delivered to your door, because you go back, I'm writing the history of the global supply chain, you go back to Henry Ford, who was a horrible person, and he was a famous anti Semite. He was a racist, he crushed unions. But he was he knew a few things. And one of the things he understood was, if you don't pay people enough, now, he paid them on unilateralis terms, he wasn't into collective bargaining. If you don't pay people enough, they will not show up motivated, they will show up distracted by their financial problems at home, it's not a good way to keep the gears moving. And over the decades over the century, really, since what we've done again, and again, as as financial interests have taken control of our economy is we've removed resilience. We've removed you know, backup plans, extra parts and warehouses, more workers, people paid enough that they can feel reasonably comfortable. And we've kind of cut everything to the bone, which is great when there's no shock. And when there is a shock, the whole thing breaks down. And that's that's where we are now.

David Sirota 33:44
And I think your point about the economy, the quote, normal economy being essentially built upon misery, the assumption that there must be a certain amount, a lot really of misery baked into how a how the normal quote unquote, economy works, and how a corporation operates based on relying on that misery. That is a profound point. And I think that's when you hear folks, we got to get back to normal, we got to get back to the way it was, what they're effectively saying whether they know it or not, whether they're insinuating it or not is we have to get back to just presuming and accepting that mass misery among workers is just the thing that is part of the American economy. And as Jonah has reported in his reporting about rail rail workers, for instance, workers are just starting, at least some workers are in a position to be saying, No, that's bullshit. We're not gonna we're not gonna take it anymore. And to my mind, that's a good thing. Jonah Furman of labor notes, where can folks find your work?

Jonah Furman 34:49
Check out labor notes.org. And you can also follow me on Twitter just at Jonah Furman

David Sirota 34:54
and Peter Goodman of The New York Times and people can find your work at the New York Times, but Peter is also The author of the book, Davos, man, Peter, where can they find your work?

Peter S. Goodman 35:04
They can find it on my website prs goodman.com or Twitter Peter S. Goodman.

David Sirota 35:08
Thanks to both of you. Thank you. Thanks, David. We're gonna take a quick break, but we'll be right back with my interview with Charlie Crist, the Democratic nominee running against the current Florida governor and professional troll Ron DeSantis. Welcome back to lever time. For our big interview. Today I'm going to be speaking with Charlie Crist. Charlie was the attorney general of Florida and then the governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011. Fun fact, he was originally elected governor of Florida as a Republican, and then left the party while in office. He later was elected to Congress as a Democrat, and he's now running again for governor as the Democratic nominee to unseat the world class asshole. That is Ron DeSantis. Ron DeSantis, has emerged as one of the most repugnant public figures of the last decade. He is basically the human embodiment and political equivalent of Florida man, which Wikipedia defines as, quote, an alleged prevalence of male persons performing irrational or absurd actions in the US state of Florida. It comes from you know, the headlines that are like Florida man does, you know something insane. Ron DeSantis is like the political version of Florida man. Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week. You know that DeSantis just made national headlines when he used state government funds to charter two planes with about 50 Venezuelan migrants on board. The planes were chartered from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, basically as a political stunt to try to own the LIBS on the issue of immigration. Here's one of the crazy parts. The flights he chartered weren't even from Florida, the state where he's governor, they were from another state. And now there are allegations that the operation deliberately misled the migrants with false promises of benefits when they landed in Massachusetts. DeSantis is now facing a Texas law enforcement investigation and calls for prosecution DeSantis has been seen by many as the clear successor to Donald Trump, and may very well run for president in 2024, regardless of whether Trump runs or not, but he first has to win reelection in this year's governor's race in Florida. Otherwise, he may be ousted from the national political stage two years before his potential presidential bid. Luckily, the person he's running against Charlie Crist was already the governor of Florida and a former Republican. So if there's any shot of DeSantis losing this race, Charlie Crist is probably one of the few people who has a chance to pull it off. Governor Chris, thanks so much for taking the time with us today.

Charlie Crist 38:00
No, it's a pleasure. Great to be with you, David. Thank you. Okay,

David Sirota 38:02
so listen, Ron DeSantis. Your opponent made national headlines last week when he chartered two planes with about 50 migrants on board from Texas to Martha's Vineyard, it's been all over the news DeSantis denying that the migrants were put on the plane under false pretenses. Some have accused DeSantis of human trafficking. You have condemned him and called on the Department of Justice to investigate the legality of the stunt. I guess the first question that I think a lot of people are asking is, why do you think the sitting governor of a very large state seems to prioritize this kind of political theater of cruelty, as opposed to like doing the basic functions of being governor?

Charlie Crist 38:45
Several things? David, it's great question. Number one, I think he's trying to distract from the real issue he's afraid of, which is choice. You know, the choice is choice in this election. And Ron DeSantis, recently signed a horrific Bill 15 week bill, but the worst part about it is there's no exception for rape or incest. And what's what's really strange about this scenario we're talking about Tuesday of last week, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, introduces a bill that mimics DeSantis bill puts it front and center on the national agenda again. And so the next day he pulls this stunt of flying 50 People from Texas to Massachusetts, he's obviously trying to change the subject. He knows a women are going to vote in droves in this election, and he's trying to distract from that issue. And he doesn't one of the most cruel ways possible, using human beings as pawns. It's It's unbelievable.

David Sirota 39:43
Do you think that he should be prosecuted, and I mean, you've called for an investigation, but I mean, there's been an argument out there that this is a potentially criminal act that he's not acting as governor if he's doing something in Texas, that he's he's not sort of Above the Law, where do you come down on that?

Charlie Crist 40:02
Well, I think that's probably the case. But you know, I'm a former Attorney General, Florida too. And so I understand that you have to conduct a proper investigation, to make sure we know what the facts are, before you charge anybody with anything. That's what a free society does. And so I think that has to ensue. First, I was very pleased to hear that a local sheriff in Texas has already initiated such an investigation. I think that's a great first step. And I think we'll get to the bottom of what happened here. But this much, I can already tell you, the statute that appropriated $12 million total to be able to do this kind of activity specifically says from in state, meaning like Florida, this tray originated in San Antonio, Texas ended up as we all know, now in Massachusetts, so it looks like he's already violated that law at a minimum, then, you know, we can take it from there. But the cruel, repulsive, inhumane nature of this is just stuck. He's willing to use people as pawns to try to further his political career. And the irony, David, I think he's ruining his political career. He may be, you know, doing better among Republican primary voters for 24. The vast amount of Floridians who are decent minded, good people are appalled by this kind of behavior. And we're embarrassed by it, frankly.

David Sirota 41:28
So DeSantis has broken gubernatorial fundraising records. I've worked in politics and media for a long time. I mean, $177 million, for a gubernatorial candidate is just just I can't it's hard to really fathom. And the thing is, he seems like, in many ways, kind of an openly transactional and corrupt politician in this way. I mean, he was backed by a nonprofit bankrolled by the big energy utility in the state, which was then allowed to jack up rates. He helped his donors deregulate the nursing home industry, as we reported, he's promoted COVID therapies from the biotech company whose executive is one of his top donors. I wonder, do you think folks in Florida are sort of upset about this kind of corruption? Or are we kind of in the age of like Donald Trump, where everyone just kind of accepts this thing, this this kind of corruption as just politics as usual?

Charlie Crist 42:23
I think they're upset about it. You know, I'm here in Punta Gorda, Florida, on the west coast of Florida, just a little south of St. Petersburg, where I live in Tampa Bay. And you know, we had a group here this afternoon for a luncheon, probably 200 people or so. And this is a very red County, I should stress that. And yet that kind of enthusiasm exists. And I guarantee you there were some moderate Republicans in that crowd today. Because this is an issue of decency, corruption, decency, right, wrong. It's not even right versus left anymore in this election. It's right versus wrong. And you're right. I mean, one of the guys who gave him $15 million, a guy named Ken Griffin $15 million, because we have no limit in Florida had the majority of the shares of stock and regenerable, which is as you appropriately cited, a COVID treatment, apparently a good medicine. But when the governor of our state, we have 22 million people, it's a pretty big market doesn't really advocate wearing masks or getting a vaccine when we were at the height of the pandemic, but advocates this medicine and goes around the state trumpeting it, and you know, but he's covered by Fox News. So he's doing that he's a huckster for this guy around the country nationwide. It is corrupt, and I can't believe an ethics complaint has been filed against him for it. Okay, so I've got

David Sirota 43:44
a question about Florida since 2000. We've joked at times in my household that you should never bet on Florida making a good political choice, you hope the state's going to do the right thing. And then it doesn't I mean, I think a lot of people, a lot of people who aren't Republicans feel that way. You are elected as the Republican governor of Florida. And you and you switched parties in 2010. This is back in 2007 to 2011. In retrospect, it looks like you saw the Maga transformation coming. But then again, it's not like the Republican Party was super normal and moderate back in the good old days of the George Bush administration. And also since you switched parties, Florida has gone pretty Republican after your tenure, the state elected and reelected. Rick Scott is Governor rolling right into DeSantis. The state also voted for Donald Trump twice. I guess the question is, what do you think has changed in Florida since you were governor? Why do you think the state has voted for more statewide Republicans and why now? Do you think Florida voters could be more receptive to a Democratic nominee for governor?

Charlie Crist 44:52
It's a great question, David. And I'll tell you this, this election four years ago for Ron DeSantis was the close This gubernatorial election in the history of Florida, he barely got elected in my purple state. And that's what gives me hope. Because I know that's still the case, we're about a third registered Republican about a third registered democratic and about a third registered Independent. So that's purple by definition, really. And so, you know, we have a house in the Senate in Tallahassee that are pretty strongly Republican. You're right. But they got to rig the seats, you know, but in statewide campaigns, they can't do that. The boundary is the boundary of the state of Florida. And the fact that he barely got elected, had to have a recount, when he did get elected four years ago, tells me that we're still purple. And we have an opportunity and with his charades that he's pulling, taking away a woman's right to choose, even in cases of rape or incest, doing what he did with the migrants last week, shipping them from Texas to Massachusetts, he keeps doubling down on the read be hard write stuff in anticipation of 24. And he seems to be forgetting, you know, 20 twos before 24. He's taking his eye off the ball, I really believe in,

David Sirota 46:08
let me ask a climate question. The Politics of Climate Change, and Florida, Florida, uniquely exposed to some of the most, the worst biblical effects of climate change, floods, hurricanes, etc, etc. Seems to me that the Democratic Party, for all its flaws, at least acknowledges climate change, and proposes things to address it while the Republican Party has almost no position on the issue at all. It feels straight out of our movie, like don't look,

Charlie Crist 46:36
by the way that you were a big part of that. Kudos to you.

David Sirota 46:40
Thank you. I appreciate it. Of course, I'm just curious, what do Republicans, Republicans like DeSantis? What are they saying about climate? How do you how do you think voters feel about the issue in Florida, Republican voters independent? Is it a salient issue in Florida?

Charlie Crist 46:54
It is it is. And and I think it's because it's Florida, you know, so we're surrounded by water, Gulf of Mexico on the West Coast, Florida Bay to the South Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast. And so you know, we're surrounded by beauty and nature and environment that's precious, and really precious not only because of this, the beautiful nature of it, but the fact that it drives our economy, tourism. I mean, people come to Florida because it is a beautiful place to visit. And so if we don't take care of our environment, if we don't address climate change in Florida, we're going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg, the tourist industry. So I'll tell you the first time I really got engaged in climate change, I was still a Republican. It was about a year before I ran for governor the first time and I had a meeting with John McCain in Coral Gables, Florida, near Miami. And, you know, he was thinking about running for president. I was thinking about running for governor at that time. And we just had a nice one on one meeting for like a half hour. At the end of the meeting, he gets up he had to go. He turns around and goes, Charlie, something else you got to think about? And I said, What's that senator, he goes, climate change. He said, important issue, dig into it, bear down on it, it's going to be important. You're gonna probably run for governor of Florida, you're going to need to do this. It My God, how prescient was he with that as a Republican, right. But he was a unique Republican, let's be honest. But I'm the only governor in the history of my state. As a Republican still, at the time, David, who held a climate change summit in Miami, Along with Governor Schwarzenegger, then from California, and people from all over the globe. But it's front and center. It's very important. Even Republican Floridians are concerned about climate change in the Sunshine State.

David Sirota 48:40
Well, that's good to hear. I want to ask about your running mate. Your running mate is the President of the United Teachers of Dade the largest teachers union in the southeastern United States. It's not all that often, in fact, I can't come up with it with an example of a union president being the nominee for a statewide office in the way that your running mate is what inspired you to choose Carla, as your running mate. What does it say anything about your views on education on union rights in general?

Charlie Crist 49:16
Well, union rights for sure. Yeah. I mean, you know, working folks need to have advocates, especially in Florida right now, we have been rated the most expensive state to live in, in the United States, more than California, more than New York. And so, you know, middle class folks, union people, by and large, need an advocate. And so I thought it would make a statement about that, given what she has done for United Teachers of date, but more to the point. She taught for 10 years. She's a teacher, and a special ed teacher at that, which really hit my heart that you know, you got to have people I think, in public service to care about others. That said to me volumes about how much Carla Hernandez cares about others being a feature of special ed students. All these things factor in, but really what was her enigmatic nature, her her charisma, her enthusiasm. And the fact that she was a special ed teacher all added together to make a great pick the question

David Sirota 50:18
of abortion, I want to just spotlight one more time here because it's so important. I think there are a lot of folks who would look at you focusing on abortion, a lot of folks from outside of Florida and say, I don't get it. A Southern state is the Democrats are somehow going to going to win or abortion is a winning issue in a conservative Republican leaning state in the South. Right, the old tropes, the stereotypes are you know, the South is more conservative, more Republican, more anti abortion than the rest of the country. You you're making the abortion issue in the wake of the Supreme Court decision, and in the wake of DeSantis his own anti abortion laws. You're making that a central issue? What do you say to folks who will be like who are like, I don't get it. I thought Florida is a southern state, a conservative state. I thought they'd like what what the Republicans in the national Republicans are doing on abortion,

Charlie Crist 51:14
they hate it. They hate it, because it's a freedom issue. It's a respect issue. And it shows the lack of respect that Governor DeSantis has for women in my state. And the fact that he signed that bill that has no exception for rape or incest is number one unconscionable outrageous women in my state. To your point well taken. You know, is Florida, more conservative than that? Does the right to choose really weigh in that heavily on the voters of a state like like ours? Well, let's look at Kansas, just had a referendum on choice, overwhelmingly pass it. Let's look at Sarah Palin candidacy and read Alaska. Democrat one female candidate. Yeah, I listen, people are decent minded. They don't like migrants being shipped around. Women don't like being told what to do by a white guy, Ron DeSantis. And they're not going to put up with this. And I don't care if they're in Kansas, Alaska or Florida. This isn't going to pass the test. And Floridian women and fair minded men, of course, are going to stand up for a woman's right to choose. I'm confident

David Sirota 52:24
a Susquehanna poll has you only four points behind DeSantis and AARP poll has it at three points. What do you think has changed in the last few weeks of this race? I mean, this race I'll be I'll just confess, I didn't presume that this race would be close to Santos has got a huge war chest. It's a you know, Republican leaning state. And then I saw these polls, and I'm thinking something, something must be going on. What do you think it is? You don't?

Charlie Crist 52:52
I think? It's a great question. And then the I think the mistake a lot of folks make is okay, he's got like $300 million. I'm being sarcastic, but it's in excess of 100. And think, how do you compete with that? Well, you compete with that by campaigning, you compete with that by having enough to communicate, you compete with that by going on a podcast like yours, God bless you. And so what I think has happened, once the primary was over David, it was then one on one. And people are looking at Ron DeSantis in my state, and they're seeing the weird crap that he's doing, and the unkind and cruel things that he is doing, taking away a woman's right to choose. They're like, Oh, my God, is there an alternative to this? And then they look and they see me, we go, should I remember that guy was our governor. And you know, he's not a jerk. And all of a sudden, it's like, oh, maybe more of us will vote for him. And they've been the numbers of them closer by the day, practically. And here's what's else interesting about that. He has flooded the airwaves since the primary over three weeks ago. We've been dark the whole time. And we've gone up and he's gone down. What does that tell me? Floridians know his product, and they don't like it. And the alternative is becoming more attractive to them. And here we are.

David Sirota 54:11
So the last question very simply, what would you say to a voter in Florida who hasn't yet decided on who to vote for governor? What's the case in like 30 seconds, 60 seconds, you would make for why they should vote for you, instead of their incumbent governor.

Charlie Crist 54:29
If you want a governor who really does care about you, and if you're a woman, and you're right to choose, and we'll fight for it. It has said already that the first day of the new Chris administration will sign an executive order protecting a woman's right to choose if you having to pay property insurance in the sunshine state right now, which is through the roof. And you want a governor who before as governor, reduced rates by 10%, as opposed to this one has done nothing about it. The bottom line is if you want a governor who cares about you, instead of his own political future, you should vote for Charlie Crist. because I'll never forget you and I'll always have your back.

David Sirota 55:02
Governor Charlie Crist, thank you so much for taking the time today. And good luck in your race against Ron DeSantis.

Charlie Crist 55:07
Thank you, David. Great to be with you, sir. Appreciate it.

David Sirota 55:12
That's it for today's show. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get lever time premium get to hear our bonus segment. It's Julie Iraq's coverage of a meeting held by the Federalist Society, weeks after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. But I

Julia Rock 55:26
would say it was a very cheery event. And he even made a comment during his speech sort of to the effect of like, well, you know, the court used to sort of be complicated. There were a lot of these five, four decisions, you didn't quite know where they were gonna go. But now it's like, we all know the courts doing. So I would say the vibe was sort of like, We are the Federalist Society, and this is our Supreme Court.

David Sirota 55:48
And please be sure to like, subscribe and write a review for lever time on your favorite podcast app. One last favor to ask. If you liked this podcast and our recording. Please tell your friends and family about the lever and the work we're doing here forward our emails to them, encourage them to subscribe. The only way independent media grows is by word of mouth. So we need all the help we can get to continue doing the work that we're doing. Until next time, I'm David Sirota keep rocking the boat

Transcribed by https://otter.ai