Rants and Raves for the Week of April 19th, 2010
Who would have thought that elected officials who say they stand with workers would vote for a bill to eliminate seniority and due process rights for public school teachers? Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened to pass SB 955 (Huff) out of the Senate Education committee. The bill eeked out with the support of Senators Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) and Elaine Alquist (D-San Jose). Unbelievable.
Republican Senator Dave Cox introduced a bill that would take away the eight hour day, under the bogus claim that it would somehow stimulate our economy. That’s the same theory that Governor Schwarzenegger and Meg Whitman believe in – a trickle-down approach that President George H.W. Bush (the first one) called “voodoo economics”. Fortunately, our friends in the Senate Labor Committee defeated SB 1335 on a party line vote.
Assemblymember Isadore Hall (D-Compton) introduced a bill, AB 1802, which would let school districts off the hook for providing appropriate medical care to students, and instead allow classified employees to be pressured into administering medication. After hearing from a room full of teachers, nurses, and school employees about how this bill would put students at risk, jeopardize workers and undermine the standard of care, the Assembly Business and Professions Committee rejected the measure.
Senator Sam Aanestad (R-Butte/Glenn) believes that the way to help small business is to give them a free pass the first time they violate child labor laws, check stub requirements, or workers’ compensation rules. His bill (SB 1267) would waive penalties on small businesses that violate workers rights. In light of the tragic deaths of the West Virginia coal miners, we should have learned that letting employers off the hook can have devastating results. The Senate Labor Committee chose to side with workers and voted this bill down.
Speaking of hardworking West Virginia coal miners, as if the company’s dismal safety record weren’t proof enough, two weeks after the tragic deaths of 29 coal miners we see again how little Massey Energy cares about workers. The company has denied time off for miners to attend their friends’ funerals and has prohibited memorials outside the mine. After almost $2 million in proposed penalties since 2005, 52 worker fatalities over the past 10 years, and 44 major methane violations over the last two years, we probably shouldn’t be surprised at this callous response to worker deaths. It’s just another example of corporate desire for profit over people.
Significant activities took place in the Assembly Jobs and Economic Development Committee this week. On a unanimous bipartisan vote, the committee passed AB 2437 (VM Perez), a labor-sponsored bill to create a revolving loan fund to help provide low cost loans to create manufacturing jobs. To be eligible for the loan, businesses must meet high wage and benefit standards and unions and their employers receive a loan preference.
We achieved a real victory for international solidarity when the committee also passed AJR 27, a resolution urging congress to reject a free trade agreement with Colombia. Yessica Hoyos, the daughter of a murdered Colombian labor leader, spoke to the committee about the targeting of unionists in Colombia and urged the committee to stand with Colombian workers in rejecting a trade agreement. Sacramento labor leader Bill Camp talked about the conditions workers endure in Colombia and about the repression that results when workers try to organize.
The March for California's Future concluded its 48-day, 365-mile trek up the Central valley to reinvest in public services. This historic march highlighted the deep budget cuts, including $17 billion in public education funds, over the past 2 years and the need for new revenue sources. Congratulations to the marchers and their supporters for their tireless energy to march for California's future.
On Thursday night, the Wisconsin General Assembly passed SB 585, which prohibits employers from holding captive audience meetings during union organizing drives. The bill is now expected to be signed into law Governor Doyle. This makes Wisconsin the second state in the nation to enact such a law; Oregon passed a similar bill in 2009. As we await national labor law reform, it is exciting to see states pushing to protect workers from employer intimidation when they try to form a union.
Rep. George Miller (D- 7th District) knows that we need more economic stimulus to pull us out of this deep recession. He also knows that the worst thing we could do in this economy is slash public sector jobs, which traditionally provide the only stability in a downturn. His new jobs bill, called the Local Jobs for America Act, would provide $75 billion over the next two years to cities and counties to avert mass layoffs. Much of that money is earmarked for teachers, firefighters, police officers, and childcare workers to ensure that essential services are provided. It would also fund 50,000 private sector positions.
In 1999, California passed the first nurse-to-patient staffing ratio law. Since that time, 14 states have passed similar laws and another 17 are considering similar legislation. One of Governor Schwarzenegger's first acts was to try to repeal the nurse staffing ratios, but the nurses fought back, saying he was jeopardizing patient safety. And a new study conducted the University of Pennsylvania and published in the journal Health Services Research proves they were right. The study concluded that if similar laws were passed in other states it could reduce patient deaths up to 14 percent. Senator Boxer has introduced a federal staffing ratio and this study underscores the importance of that effort.