Rants &amp; Raves for the Week of April 25th

Rants & Raves for the Week of April 25th, 2011



Republicans and their corporate allies love to whine about California’s burdensome business taxes. Turns out that many of the largest corporations in California are paying well below the tax rates that they like to complain about. How is that possible? Well, there’s the stated tax rate, which is what they are supposed to pay, and then there’s the effective tax rate—which is what is actually paid. It just so happens that some of the largest corporations in California, including eBay, Cisco and Google, pay an effective tax rate well below the required 35 percent U.S. income tax rate for corporations. Companies end up paying a lower effective tax rate exploiting California’s many corporate tax breaks and employing a myriad of smoke and mirror strategies to shelter income from the tax collector. And guess who has to make up for all the taxes corporations don’t pay to keep up the roads, schools and infrastructure the state provides? Yep, the rest of us in California who don’t have an army of tax consultants. A recent study CalPIRG estimated that each Californian pays an extra $440 in taxes to make up for what corporations and the wealthy avoided paying. That’s $440 every year that we’re paying to make up for what eBay doesn’t pay—doesn’t seem fair now, does it?


Fast-food chain Carl’s Jr. CEO, Andrew Puzder, has been making a lot of noise lately with help from his GOP friends in the legislature. In a recent op-ed, Puzder says unless the state caves to his list of demands he’s going to continue to expand in Texas while moving operations out of California. So what does Puzder want? As it turns out, he thinks gutting regulations that protect workers, consumers and the environment would be a good start.  Puzder is demanding that California slash regulations that make our state a better place to live and work in return for him considering building more fast-food restaurants with low-wage jobs here. Sounds like a pretty lousy deal to us. Despite all the hyperbole from Puzder and others about the Texas miracle, it’s well-documented that the grass isn’t really greener in the Lone Star state. We’ve detailed extensively the reasons why Texas isn’t as great as Puzder and the CA GOP make it sound. Low-wage, low-service and less-regulation states like Texas have astoundingly high rates of poverty, pollution and high school dropouts. Texas also has a whopping $25 billion two-year budget deficit. As if that weren’t enough, we’re now hearing the Texas’ beloved armadillos cause leprosy. Our advice to Puzder: Stop whining about regulations that are good for our families, and start acting a little more responsibly as the head of a major corporation. And if you’ve already made up your mind to continue expanding in Texas, just beware of those armadillos. They may look harmless, but as we know from your bogus rhetoric on the Texas economy, looks can be deceiving.


Et tu, Brutus? Republicans have a long track record of going on the offensive against labor unions, and recent attacks on unions in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states were right out of the Republican playbook. But recent attacks on public employees and their unions in the Democrat-controlled state of Massachusetts are truly shocking. The Massachusetts House Speaker, a Democrat, introduced a bill to take away the right of public employees to negotiate over health benefits with municipal governments. The bill is a direct attack on collective bargaining and on public employees. Unions plan to fight back against their supposed allies in the Democratic party who voted overwhelmingly to dismantle workers’ rights.


Those billionaire Koch brothers and their ultra-conservative propaganda are at it again…this time, though, they’ve found a captive audience. It’s just come to light that last fall Koch Industries’ 50,000 employees received a 14-page “election packet” filled with just the kind of right-wing, anti-union indoctrination you’d expect from the oil industry barons.  The “helpful” materials went beyond simply endorsing Tea Party candidates; it actually preaches a much broader, John Birch-style, extremist anti-government philosophy. Keep in mind these are the same billionaires who not only advised Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on his infamous anti-worker legislation but devised a website called www.standwithwalker.com, which offers gems like “…every state should adopt Governor Scott Walker's common sense reforms.”  An even more common sense reform would be for Koch Industries to stop forcing their employees to read such nonsense.


Everybody knows that it was the banks and their reckless mortgage lending that brought our economy crashing down, right? Well maybe everyone outside of the state capitol. This week, banking committees in the Assembly and the Senate both defeated key bills to protect families and communities from foreclosures, bowing to pressure from all the major banks and the Chamber of Commerce. On Monday, the Assembly Banking Committee considered AB 935 (Blumenfield), which would have created a $20,000 fee on banks for each foreclosure.  This fee would have gone to local government, police and fire departments, to help mitigate the loss of revenues from foreclosures. Assemblymembers Roger Hernandez, Ricardo Lara, Henry Parea and Norma Torres refused to support the bill. On Wednesday, Senate Banking Committee heard SB 729 (Leno) which would prohibit banks from foreclosing on families when they are in the loan modification process.  Two Democrats failed to support the bill — the committee chair Juan Vargas and Senator Alex Padilla – leaving it one vote short. Because of their actions, working families lost and the banks won. But that was just this round.  Both bills are up for reconsideration next week and we DO have a chance and the power to turn around the outcome.   Call your Senators and Assembly Members today, and urge them to stand with California families, not with the banks.



Seniors in Tulare County are sick and tired of budget cuts targeting the elderly, sick and disabled and they are not going to give up without a fight. A group of seniors rallied in front of Assemblymember Connie Conway’s district office in Visalia this week and sent in a delegation to meet with her staff. Conway, a Republican, is the Assembly Minority leader and refused to let voters decide on temporary tax extensions to balance the budget. She advocates for more cuts to close the gap, even though 1 in 3 residents in her district receive state aid. Seniors went to Conway’s office to tell her how they will suffer from the deep cuts to the budget. They argued for new tax revenues in order to prevent seniors from being forced from their homes into institutions or becoming homeless from deep cuts. Conway’s staff tried to argue with them, but they were no match for seniors on a mission to save California from further cuts targeted at the state’s most vulnerable residents.


The 2.3 million unemployed Californians know firsthand the importance of unemployment benefits. Their checks, however small, mean the difference between paying rent and homelessness, and putting food on the table or going hungry for many families. Unemployment benefits are the lifeline people need as they struggle to find work in a tough economy. Did you know that unemployment benefits are also help save jobs? A recent report the UC Berkeley Labor Center finds that because the unemployed spend their benefits in the local economy, UI benefits save jobs and actually reduce unemployment. They found that “the unemployment insurance program supported 161,000 jobs in California in 2009, mostly in the private sector. Without those jobs, California’s unemployment rate would have been almost one percentage point higher.” Their study argues for extended, or even increased, UI benefits for the jobless during a recession in order to jumpstart the economy and keep the rest of us working.


After so many years with a National Labor Relations Board that only undermined a workers right to organize, finally a new day is here. The Labor Board has just announced plans to sue states that are interfering with workers’ rights. Several states have passed constitutional amendments banning majority sign-up. Not only does this make it harder for workers to choose a union, but it infringes on the rights of employers, who under the National Labor Relations Act can voluntarily recognize a union through majority sign-up. Yeah, these politicians are so anti-union they don't even want to let employers decide to respect majority sign-up. That's because they know that majority sign-up is a fair process that allows workers to choose a union free from harassment or intimidation. It also allows employers and employees to agree to union recognition without conflict or delay. It’s about time the Labor Board stood up for workers and put a stop to the efforts to further weaken our right to organize.


In the midst of so many attacks on public workers, it is timely that today, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis will host a ceremony to induct the Sanitation Strike Workers of AFSCME Memphis Local 1733 into the Labor Hall of Fame. The 1,300 workers who took part in the historic 1968 Memphis, Tennessee, sanitation strike will be honored, and several of those workers will be present. This strike is particularly historic because Martin Luther King Jr. has joined the Memphis sanitation workers as they found for the right to bargain, job safety, better wages and benefits – and that’s where Dr. King was assasinated. That strike in Memphis helped galvanize the nation to support labor rights for public workers. All the gains over the past four decades built upon the courage of the Memphis workers and the power of their message. As we listen to politicians blame working people for the economic collapse, we join Secretary Solis in recognizing that if was the heroism and sacrifice of the Memphis sanitation workers that brought dignity and security for public workers and built the American middle class.


a margin of 71% to 25%, Californians strongly oppose the Assembly and Senate Republicans’ plan to solve our state’s fiscal woes through a cuts-only budget.  An LA Times/USC poll confirmed what teachers, firefighters, police officers, health care and other workers have been saying all along: our beleaguered public services have already been cut to the bone and a cuts-only budget just isn’t an option—not to mention that budget deficits can’t and shouldn’t be solved entirely on the backs of workers, public services and education. Now that voters couldn’t be more clearly agreeing, we hope Republican obstructionists in the legislature finally start listening.


Another fantastic UC Berkeley Labor Center study released this week found that Wal-Mart—champion of low wages, high turnover and legendary union-busting—could pay workers $12 an hour with almost no impact to prices. For decades, the company has refused to address notoriously low wages, arguing that even slight wage hikes would mean higher prices, less profitability and thus fewer jobs. This landmark study throws serious cold water on that theory: under the hypothetical $12-an-hour Wal-Mart minimum wage, an average shopper spending $1, 187 annually in Wal-Mart stores would see a $0.46 price increase per trip. This works out to a 1.1% increase over current prices. Not only is this far less than Wal-Mart’s own estimated savings to consumers, but workers earning less than $9 an hour would watch wages rise $3,250 to $6,500 per year, and workers now earning between $9 and $12 an hour would see gains of $1,675 to $2,930. Clearly, the bean counters at Wal-Mart just don’t care about doing right their workers.