Rants and Raves for the Week of February 21st, 2011
As Republican governors continue wage war on public workers, you may be wondering who will be left to do the work after all the budget cuts, layoffs, and takeaways. Don't worry, they've got an answer for that: prison inmates. All across the country, states are increasingly relying on prison labor to do the jobs once done public employees, including cleaning courthouses, maintaining highways, and even doing upkeep on public water tanks. That means the jobs that once paid a decent wage so workers could provide for their families are now being done prisoners for no pay. In fact, Nevada Governor John Ensign just signed a bill requiring inmates to work 50 hours a week! Guess it wasn't bad enough that American workers had to compete against workers earning just a few dollars a day in impoverished countries, now they gotta compete with free prison labor. Well, that's one way to break the middle class.
What do Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Niketown and Prada all have in common? Yes, they’re all high-end stores catering to the wealthy. Yet somehow, they are all eligible for generous tax credits through California’s Enterprise Zone program, which is supposed to offer incentives for business to locate in economically distressed areas to create jobs (last time we checked, Union Square in San Francisco was far from distressed, and Saks does not need a public subsidy). Now, Oakland wants to expand its own Enterprise Zone to include the wealthy enclaves of Piedmont and Montclair. Piedmont already boasts a per capita income almost $50,000 MORE than neighboring Oakland; hard to see the economic distress in that. Fortunately, Governor Brown proposed eliminating the failed EZ program, reigning in free money giveaways to upscale corporations.
Leave it to Wall Street to find something to complain about after their second most profitable year in their history — raking in $27 billion in 2010, according to the New York Comptroller. Big Banks are quick to point out that CEO bonuses are down. But before you cry a river for Wall Street executives, remember that CEO compensation is way, way up. Turns out that Wall Street realizes that the millions of Americans who lost their jobs, their homes, their retirement security and their peace of mind—all while bailing out the banks—are a bit pissed off the CEOs that crashed the economy. So to save face, they decided to reduce big cash bonuses, while at the same time increasing base salaries. CEOs have put taxpayer bailout dollars to work raising base salaries to all-time highs. Makes you wish we never bailed them out, right?
While movements for democracy catch fire across the Middle East and the Midwest, Republicans in California are moving in the opposite direction. 30 Republican state legislators have joined an anti-tax caucus that wants to block Governor Brown from putting extension of existing taxes on the ballot to prevent $12 billion in cuts to schools, senior programs and public safety. Why won’t Republicans let Californians make up their own minds about how to balance the budget? Why are they trying to prevent democratic elections? Well, maybe they’re afraid voters will chose to support Governor Brown once again and hand the GOP another bruising defeat in California, just like in November.
And that’s not the only measure the GOP is pushing to silence our voice. Newly-elected California Assembly Member Allan Monsoor of Costa Mesa just introduced a Wisconsin-style attack on collective bargaining. Anti-worker politicians say this is about pensions but the real story is that this is an attack on the middle class. Our members won't be silenced in Wisconsin or in Sacramento and we will fight every attempt to take away our right to bargain.
If there's any good to come out of the anti-worker attacks, it is that the American people aren't falling for it. We all know that the economic collapse was not caused workers; it was Wall Street and the big banks that got us here. A new USA Today poll shows that sixty-one percent of Americans disapprove of the Wisconsin-style attack on collective bargaining rights. The American people want a real economic recovery with good jobs and a stable middle class, not divisive worker takeaways that create a race to the bottom.
In fact, the attacks in Wisconsin have truly galvanized and united workers and progressives in a way we haven’t witnesses in decades. All around the country, working families are hitting the streets to show their support for workers’ rights in Wisconsin and all of the other states that have launched assaults on collective bargaining, and California is certainly no exception. In Sacramento, more than 3,000 came out to a candlelight vigil at the Capitol on Tuesday night. Additionally, 200 attended a corresponding vigil in Oakland, 150 joined a rally in San Diego last weekend, 250 came out last night in Orange County, and dozens of LA workers hit the road and travelled to Wisconsin to join the protests. And the actions don’t stop there, in fact, they’re getting bigger and better every day. Tomorrow could be the biggest day ever, as labor and progressive groups are hosting rallies in all 50 states and a number of cities in California — find a rally near you.
Even celebrities are getting in on the action. SAG members Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) and Gabrielle Carteris (The Event, My Alibi, Beverly Hills, 90210) and AFTRA member Robert Newman (Guiding Light) will be travelling to Wisconsin to join their union brothers and sisters for the massive rally planned for Saturday, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of workers. Looks like Wisconsin Governor Walker SERIOUSLY underestimated the power and reach of the unified Labor Movement.
And that power and unity is spreading across the Midwest. As the crowds in Wisconsin have grown exponentially, the solidarity has spilled into Ohio, where thousands surrounded the state capitol to defend workers’ rights. And in Indiana, Republicans were forced to withdraw their bill to make Indiana a “right to work for less” state after a series of labor protests. Research shows that “right to work for less” laws don't just make unions weak, they lower wages and benefits for all workers. That's why workers across this country are standing up and standing together, and together we will win.
Every year, the Chamber of Commerce pushes legislation that they claim promotes “workplace flexibility.” But that so-called ‘flexibility’ doesn’t apply to workers – it only applies to the employers who want get out of paying overtime or providing lunch breaks. Real flexibility means recognizing that working people have families who depend on them. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis' recent keynote address at the Department of Labor Women's Bureau conference noted that hourly workers have the least flexibility or family-friendly work policies. Too often, hourly workers must choose between caring for loved ones and keeping their jobs. Solis pointed out that family leave policies are good for workers and for employers as they boost productivity and morale. All workers deserve to be able to bond with a newborn baor care for an aging parent, without losing their jobs.
And in California, jobs are on the way…. Really! Boeing was just awarded a $35 billion contract the federal government to build refueling tankers – a contract that could have gone to European company EADS/Airbus, but fortunately, those jobs are staying here in the US. And Boeing has said that California will get 4,500 jobs building the new tankers. Who ever said that government spending doesn’t create jobs? 4,500 newly employed Californians would have to argue that it does.
Another real source of new, local jobs is the construction of high-speed rail. And it’s no secret that high-speed rail is another huge job creator – turns out, it’s common knowledge. According to a new poll, two thirds of Americans (64%) say they somewhat or strongly support using state and federal funds for the job-creating high-speed rail project. And in California, support is even greater—more than 70% support state and federal funding for high-speed rail.