Rants & Raves for the Week of May 9th, 2011
Most Californians were happy to see Arnold Schwarzenegger and his failed ideas head back to Hollywood. So it was like a bad case of déjà vu this week when the Assembly GOP finally released its own proposal – if you want to call it that – on the budget that resurrected pretty much every failed gimmick, cut and borrowing scheme from the Arnold years. The GOP’s proposal was straight out of the Arnold play book – it scapegoats state employees and kicks the can down the road without any meaningful solutions to the current crisis. Apparently the GOP has forgotten that voters resoundingly rejected those types of schemes in last November’s election. Gov. Brown has a real proposal to deal with our budget crisis right now, once and for all. Brown’s already enacted spending cuts and he’s proposed extending existing taxes to help our state break free of the vicious cycle of budget deficits that plagued us throughout Schwarzenegger’s tenure. The GOP needs to start working with the Governor and Democrats on real solutions and leave the failures of the Schwarzenegger Administration where they belong – in the past.
Surprise, surprise — CEOs think California is bad for business, according to a new survey Chief Executive magazine, which ranked California as having the worst business climate of any other state. So why are CEOs upset about California? Is it because some of the largest, most innovative and successful companies in the world started and are headquartered in California? Are they opposed to California’s huge consumer market, bustling ports, transportation infrastructure, proximity to the Pacific Rim, world-class universities and highly skilled workforce have grown our state into one of the largest and most powerful economies in the world? Maybe it’s because corporations in California actually wind up paying much less in taxes than the tax rate on paper because of the many corporate tax breaks the state offers. But we all know what CEOs really hate about California — our state has some of the best worker and environmental protections in the country that guarantee that our residents and workers are safe, healthy and paid a fair wage for their labor. Apparently, it’s too much trouble for CEOs to make sure they don’t exploit their workers, pollute our air and water or poison our food supply. If that’s the definition of “business climate” then we should be proud that CEOs rated us last—it means we’re doing our job to keep California a great place to live and work.
Maybe Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan had a bad experience at the doctor as a kid, or maybe he didn’t get a lollipop after his vaccines. Whatever the reason, Rep. Ryan and his fellow Republicans are launching as all-out assault on health care. In reality, the GOP isn’t opposed to generous health care benefits at all – as long as they’re the ones receiving those benefits. But when it comes to health care for low-income families who are struggling to get by, that’s a whole other story. The latest House Republican budget plan would kick 44 million low-income Americans off of their health coverage, leaving them uninsured and with few options for preventative care or for treating their children’s asthma or diabetes. The plan would drastically cut federal grants to states for the Medicaid program, dumping the problem onto already cash-strapped states grappling with a growing uninsured population. Oh, and the plan would also repeal the Affordable Care Act. Since the GOP hasn’t been able to beat back federal health reform with voters, the courts or in the Senate, they’re now resorting to the budget process to dismantle a reform that is growing in popularity as provisions are implemented.
When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker first went after collective bargaining rights, most figured he just didn’t like unions. Well, now the truth is out: he’s pretty much against any workers having any rights. This week, he unilaterally repealed Milwaukee’s Paid Sick Days law. That law, passed in 2008 with 70% of voters supporting, allows all workers to earn the right to stay home when they or a loved one is sick. Without paid sick days, many workers have no choice but to go to work or send children to school even when they are seriously ill. This undermines public health for everyone, which is why public health experts have determined that paid sick days are essential. But Governor Walker doesn’t care what experts say — he only talks to Corporate America to get his marching orders. No wonder he wanted to silence workers’ voices; that way, there’s no one to stand up when he dismantles worker protections to cut costs for big business. Hopefully, California workers will soon have the right to earn paid sick days when AB 400 (Ma) sponsored the California Labor Federation becomes law.
If you steal from your boss, you’ll likely go to jail. But steal from your workers, and you probably won’t even get a slap on the wrist. According to a ground-breaking study from the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia University Law School, labor law enforcement across the country is even worse that we thought, and is utterly failing to protect the most basic rights of working men and women. The study found that most states are failing to enforce their own wage and hour laws. While the number of low-wage workers actually rose in 2009, funding for wage enforcement decreased. The majority of states do not fine or penalize employers for violating workers’ rights, and Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida don’t even have a state agency that enforces wage and hour standards. What good are labor laws on the books, when employers can get away with ignoring them altogether?
500 workers at the Rite Aid warehouse facility in Lancaster celebrated a huge victory last week, when they finally won their union after a long, five-year battle with Rite Aid management. Even since the workers first starting organizing with ILWU in 2006, Rite Aid management fought tooth and nail to bust the union. They hired professional union-busters, harassed and even fired workers for supporting the union. These workers stood their ground, and it took five years, but they finally won a voice at work. We wish them a heartfelt congrats and this well-deserved (and long-overdue) victory.
Have you ever wondered what actually goes on behind the kitchen door at your favorite restaurant or café? In cities where there are few or no union establishments, it’s often hard to know whether restaurant employers are obeying basic labor law, let alone treating their workers well. In San Francisco, Young Workers United, an independent worker center housed at UNITE HERE Local 2, has come out with their 2nd Annual Dining with Justice Guide. The guide highlights union restaurants and bars represented Local 2, and also recommends eateries that go above and beyond the basic requirements of labor law to treat their workers well. Restaurant workers and members of YWU interviewed other restaurant workers in English and Spanish to identify the best places to work in the City. In the process of interviewing workers, YWU recruits them to trainings on health and safety and basic labor law and organizing to raise awareness about their rights and how to enforce them. Its’ not as good as a union contract, but for the thousands of non-union food service workers in San Francisco, it’s a good introduction to the labor movement, and opens the door to the possibility of joining a union in the near future.
California’s budget isn’t just a crisis. It’s an emergency. This week, thousands of teachers, students, school employees, public sector workers and others came together to declare a the ‘State of Emergency’ through a week of action aimed at preventing the draconian budget cuts that have decimated our schools and vital public services. From Day 1, the demonstrators made it clear that they mean business, Wisconsin-style, as they occupied the Capitol on Monday night, and 65 teachers and students were arrested when they refused to leave. Each day of the week took on new focus, from legislators to teachers to parents and others, and thousands participated through rallies, teach-ins, town halls, social networking and more. Last night, dozens of teachers protested outside of the offices of the two Republican leaders, saying they would not leave until the GOP lawmakers provided votes for the temporary tax extension and a budget the blocks another $4.1 billion in cuts to schools. California Teachers Association President David Sanchez and 25 other teachers were arrested for standing up for their schools. The week of action culminates today with massive rallies going on this afternoon in Sacramento, San Francisco, LA, San Diego and San Bernardino. Catch the live stream here.
Imagine if your boss called you in tomorrow and told you this: “From now on, every time you swipe your card at the grocery store, you’ll have to pay your bank between $.36 and $1.50. Whenever you withdraw money from an in-network atm, you’ll pay the bank between $1.29 and $2.00, and if you need a replacement card, you now owe the bank between $14.89 and $35.00. Oh, and one more thing, these terms are non-negotiable. I signed a contract with your bank.” For somewhere in the neighborhood of two million Californians, sadly, this is the ugly reality. Approximately that many Californians are compensated on payroll paycards—electronic debit cards, issued the employer, on which workers are paid wages. However, these cards remain almost totally unregulated and chock full of exorbitant fees and terrible terms. Fortunately, there’s a solution: AB 51, which just cleared the Assembly Banking Committee on a 7-4 vote and is fast working its way through the legislature. The bill would allow employers to use paycards, but only if the terms are fair to the workers—meaning that employees won’t get nickel and dimed to death the bank and their boss. For two million Californians, that’s a reality that can’t come too soon.
Have soaring gas prices eaten into your family’s budget? Are you worrying about rising costs and your shrinking take-home pay? Did you pay taxes this year? If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you are clearly not a Big Oil executive. As prices soar at the pump, the big oil companies have raked in $35 billion in profit in the first quarter of this year alone—and that is not profit that they’re sharing with the average consumer. While the average tax payer dutifully pays their fair share in taxes every year, oil companies have poured millions of dollars into creating and defending lucrative tax loopholes so they don’t have to pay any taxes. Last year alone, oil companies spent $145 million and hired 798 lobbyists last year alone all to defend the $21 BILLION in tax breaks they get from the government every year. Some of those tax breaks include a tax deduction for punitive damages they have to pay for the devastation caused oil spills. So taxpayers like you and I end up footing the bill for the irreparable damage caused oil companies. The “rave” part in all this is that Senate Democrats are finally taking action to repeal those tax giveaways to Big Oil. This week in Washington, DC they put big oil executives on the hot seat grilling them about gas prices, tax breaks and why ConocoPhillips called repealing tax breaks “un-American.” Since when did it become un-American to want everyone to pay their fair share in taxes and not game the system? We think what Big Oil is doing is un-American, and we’re glad the Democrats are finally taking action to do something about it.