Rants &amp; Raves for the Week of March 14th

Rants & Raves for the Week of March 14th, 2011

A new Field poll out this week shows that an overwhelming majority of Californians want a say in how the state deals with the budget crisis, and a strong majority favors Governor Brown’s plan to extend existing taxes to help the state close the budget gap. Just one problem: Republicans in the state legislature obstinately refuse to allow Californians to vote on Brown’s proposal. Instead, the obstructionists have given Brown a list of demands that have absolutely nothing to do with the budget. Things like gutting retirement for teachers and protecting big tax giveaways for corporations. Maybe these Republicans need a primer in how democracy works. If the people want a say in our future, we should have it.

You know how if you repeat a word over and over again, it loses all meaning and starts to sound really silly? That’s exactly what’s happening with the word “job-killer,” and the congressional Republicans obsessively repeating it are starting to sound even sillier than usual. Case in point: their laughable effort to hang the “job-killer” label on the Dodd-Frank Act—the vital law that reigns in the criminal Wall Street excesses that caused our relentless recession and sky-high unemployment. On Wednesday, House Republicans introduced five bills to gut the Act’s protections, with House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) seriously arguing that greater fiscal transparency and banking industry disclosure will “send jobs overseas.” Sigh…thanks for the tip, Rep. Bachus. Any chance your job will be one of them?

What’s not to like about high speed rail? It promises to create millions of jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emission and alleviate traffic congestion. It’s one of the few issues that labor, environmentalists and business can unite around. Despite public support, Congress is in a fight to eliminate all federal high speed rail funding—the House passed a bill to do so already and the Senate is working to restore the funding. If high speed rail is so popular and makes good policy sense, why are House Republicans trying to kill federal funding? Could it be because it IS so popular AND makes good policy sense? Well, yes. High speed rail is part of President Obama’s vision of building a 21st century infrastructure that makes the United States a global innovator. And voters love high speed rail—it’s clean, creates jobs AND shortens their commute. So of course Republicans would try to kill the project that the President supports and voters love. Guess the good policy argument wasn’t enough to sway them…

The middle class in California has been disappearing fast, but apparently not fast enough for the City Council in Costa Mesa. In the midst of these trying times, they chose to lay off half their workforce and contract out their jobs. Contracting out has its own costs-lack of accountability, reduction in services, and the profit motive. But the toll on workers is most profound. Costa Mesa city workers were devastated the mass layoffs and one worker appears to have committed suicide. This tragedy is the predictable outcome of the campaign to blame public workers for hard economic times. It’s time we rebuild our economy creating good jobs, not destroying them.

Today, workers in Wisconsin and across the nation celebrated a major victory when Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order, blocking implementation of the Wisconsin law that would eliminate collective bargaining rights for public sector workers. The judge concluded that the late night maneuvers that Republicans used to ram through the bill violated the state’s open meeting laws. The court’s action underscores the fact that Walker is nothing but a bully, willing to break the law to get his way. But we’re not scared of bullies, and we’ll keep fighting for workers’ rights, in the courts and in the streets.

And there’s no doubt that the energy on the ground in Wisconsin continues to grow. Last weekend, over 100,000 Wisconsin workers and supporters showed up at the Capitol to protest the union-stripping law. There was even a crew of farmers driving tractors around the Capitol to show their support to workers. These crowds are greater than those protesting the Vietnam War, making them the largest in Wisconsin history. That’s the power of solidarity. It’s how we won the right to organize and how we will get it back-in Wisconsin and beyond!

Blue Shield has FINALLY made it out of the Rants section of Labor’s Edge for the first time in months. The health insurer was poised to score a record number of Rants, but changed course suddenly announcing it would not increase rates for 200,000 policy holders in 2011. Policy holders were bracing for premium costs to rise as high as 86.5 percent as a result of three consecutive rate increases since October 2010. Instead, Blue Shield will rescind their rate increase for May and has said it will not raise rates again this year. The announcement comes on the heels of public outrage and “serious concerns” raised Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones about the rate filings. As policy holders breathe a deep sigh of relief, we hope that Blue Shield’s next step is to figure out how to help control escalating medical costs in order to make health coverage affordable and accessible for all.

Workers from across the country got a boost from Vice President Joe Biden on a special virtual town hall teleconference that also included Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka. Biden told workers: “You built the middle class. This fight is not about wages or benefits; it’s about trying to break unions. We absolutely, positively need collective bargaining.” It’s good to see the administration stepping up to support workers under attack.