Rants & Raves for the Week of May 16th, 2011
GOP Assemblymember Dan Logue’s increasingly odd fascination with Texas Gov. Rick Perry rose to a new level this week as Logue and several of his Republican colleagues launched a website to “draft” Perry to run for president. This comes on the heels of Logue’s trip to Texas several weeks ago where his bromance with Perry blossomed at receptions and panel discussions that trashed regulations that protect workers, consumers and the environment. Never mind that the myth of the Texas economic miracle has been shattered time and again or the Republican claims of California businesses fleeing the state are grossly inflated or that Texas has, well, “Texas-sized” economic problems including a ballooning budget deficit, off-the-charts poverty and an unemployment rate that’s doubled in the last several years. The real question is, doesn’t Logue have something better to do with his time, like, say, working to solve California’s budget crisis, which, the way, is what taxpayers pay him to do?
People who handle the food we eat should have decent, affordable health care, right? Not necessarily, according to the management at three major southern California supermarkets. Negotiations between the grocery workers’ union and management at supermarket giants Ralphs, Vons and Albertons have stalled over management’s health care proposals. Management wants to shift 80 percent of the health care cost onto checkers, baggers, deli and bakery clerks and other workers, and with skyrocketing premiums, few would be able to afford coverage. United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) spokesperson Mike Shimpock summed it up best, saying the supermarkets’ health care proposal “mirrors that of corporate healthcare villain Wal-Mart: expensive and ineffective enough that no employee participates.”
Massey Energy’s negligence and recklessness caused the death of 29 miners at their Upper Big Branch mine last year, according to a new report the state of West Virginia. The explosion at Massey’s mine was the worst mine accident in 40 years, and prompted accusations that the miners’ deaths could have been prevented, had Massey put in place minimal safety precautions. The new report goes as far as to say that Massey “operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner, and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk taking.” It goes on to chronicle not only the horrendous safety shortcuts taken the company, but also the way that Massey wielded their influence and power to threaten workers, intimidate regulators and buy the favor of politicians and the political process. As a result, Massey was able to operate free of safety regulations, inspections or fines—all of the mechanisms put in places to protect workers and to prevent the tragedy of 29 miners losing their lives. A rant against Massey, but a huge rave to the state of West Virginia for exposing how Massey was aggressively evading safety standards to save money.
Apparently, it’s not enough for Wisconsin lawmakers to take away workers’ collective bargaining rights – now, they’re going after the right to vote. The Wisconsin Legislature just passed a so-called “Voter ID” bill, which would disenfranchise tens of thousands of students, seniors, poor and minority voters. Wisconsin’s Voter ID bill would make it much, much, MUCH harder for many voters to cast their vote, because it would impose the most onerous and restrictive photo ID requirement of any state in the nation. According to a recent UW-Milwaukee study, those without state-issued photo ID who would need to obtain one to vote under the Voter ID Bill include 23% of Wisconsinites over the age of 65; 55% of African American males and 49% of African American women; 46%of Hispanic men and 59% of Hispanic women, and whopping 78% of African American males age 18-24 and 66% of African American women age 18-24. Gov. Scott Walker (R) says he will sign it next week… we’re just wondering which constitutional rights he’ll go after next.
There's a reason so few workers in America belong to unions — and it’s not because they don't want to (poll after poll shows a majority of Americans would join a union if they had the chance). When workers try to exercise their right to organize, employers respond with pressure, threats, and intimidation. Over half of employers threaten to close the worksite if workers join a union, and nearly all conduct one- on-one meetings to determine which workers are supporting the union. And most of the time, they get away with it. The good news is that recent appointees to the National Labor Relations Board seem to actually believe in upholding the law. This week, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel ordered a California waste management company to reinstate workers who were fired for leading an organizing effort and to reassign other workers who were punished for supporting the union with bad assignments. The judge noted that “these actions appear calculated to chill the employees’ rights to the point that the organizing campaign could be defeated before the Board issues its final determination.” At the Board's urging, the judge ordered immediate relief. This important ruling should send a strong message to employers that the NLRB means business, and they can no longer run roughshod over workers’ rights.
In spite of all the attacks on workers’ rights going on in Legislatures around the country, there is one Legislature that’s doing right its workers – Puerto Rico. This week, Puerto Rico’s House and Senate voted unanimously to reinstate collective bargaining for public employees. The law ends a policy imposed in March 2009 that mandated a two-year freeze on the economic clauses of all collective bargaining agreements. That two-year freeze is officially over, and Puerto Rico’s public sector workers once again have the right to negotiate for salaries, benefits, bonuses and other economic aspects. Here’s hoping Wisconsin, Ohio and other states are quick to follow suit!
This week is Classified School Employee Week in California — a chance for all of us to appreciate the work that classified employees do to support, serve and mentor students. Classified school employees are the para-educators, library assistants, custodians, cafeteria workers, social workers and other essential personnel that make sure the schools are safe, clean and supportive places for kids to learn. This week, classifieds spoke about what their work means to them, and to the students they care so much about. From keeping kids safe going to and from school, feeding them and helping them find the books and resources they need, classifieds are there. They’ve also borne the brunt of budget cuts and are taking on doubled workloads to keep schools running. The cuts to schools could be even worse under an all-cuts budget advocated Republicans. Governor Brown’s May budget Revise clearly outlines the devastating impact more cuts will have to California’s public schools, and to the classified employees who make sure all the state’s children are educated. As the budget negotiations continue, we take a moment this week to celebrate and appreciate all the work that classified school employees do every day in our state. Thank you!
Congratulations to the San Diego/Imperial Central Labor Council! They were one of three San Diego-based organizations to win $1.1 million in U.S. Department of Labor grant funding for youth job training. The grant awards are part of a nationwide YouthBuild program, to help young people from at-risk backgrounds get the job training and education that will lead to a solid middle-class job. The programs target youth ages 16-24 who have dropped out of school or been through foster care or the criminal justice system, and gives them hands-on training in the building trades while also helping them to complete their high school diploma. The San Diego Labor Council’s ongoing work in this area made them the ideal candidate for the federal funding, and we’re proud of their work in helping at-risk young people find their way in the workforce.