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Archive for the ‘unions’ tag

10-year strike at Congress Plaza Hotel is over

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On Strike
On Strike

Strikers at the Congress Plaza Hotel
Strikers at the Congress Plaza Hotel, 520 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60605

Wow, that’s unexpected. Sounds like the Union caved, but perhaps I’m wrong.

A 10-year strike at the Congress Plaza hotel in downtown Chicago, believed to be the longest hotel strike in history, has ended.

A attorney for the hotel said Unite Here Local 1, the union representing cleaning and maintenance workers, has offered an unconditional return to work as of midnight Wednesday.

The union confirmed Thursday morning that it is ending the strike.

 “The decision to end the Congress strike was a hard one, but it is the right time for the union and the strikers to move on,” Unite Here Local 1 President Henry Tamarin said in a statement. “The boycott has effectively and dramatically reduced the hotel’s business. … There is no more to do there.”

Tamarin said when the strike started, the standard wage for room attendants was $8.83 per hour — a wage contract workers still make. The city wide standard for room attendants is now $16.40 an hour, he said.

(click here to continue reading 10-year strike at Congress Plaza Hotel is over – chicagotribune.com.)

The Infamous Congress Hotel
The Infamous Congress Plaza Hotel

Congress Plaza Hotel Strikers March On
Congress Plaza Hotel Strikers March On

Congress Hotel
Congress Hotel

Hallway at Congress Hotel
Hallway at Congress Plaza Hotel

Written by Seth Anderson

May 30th, 2013 at 9:18 am

NLRB drops complaint over Boeing

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Boeing Logo
Boeing HQ in Chicago’s West Loop

The National Labor Relations Board on Friday officially dropped its high-profile case challenging Boeing’s decision to open a nonunion aircraft manufacturing plant in South Carolina.

The board acted after the Machinists union approved a 4-year contract extension with Boeing earlier this week and agreed to withdraw its charge that the company violated federal labor laws. Lafe Solomon, the board’s acting general counsel, said he had always preferred a settlement. The agency settles about 90% of its cases. Under the deal, Boeing (BA) promised to build the new version of its 737 airplane in Washington state. The Machinists also agreed to drop allegations that Boeing opened the South Carolina plant in retaliation for past union strikes.

(click here to continue reading Labor board drops complaint over Boeing plant – USATODAY.com.)

 

Written by Seth Anderson

December 12th, 2011 at 9:07 am

Posted in Business

Tagged with , ,

Union Advocates Accuse GOP Of Interfering In Boeing Dispute

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Boeing Logo

The GOP wants the Obama administration to be Republicans, and negate the legal process. Not going to happen…

Labor allies are defending the White House from attacks by South Carolina Gov. NIkki Haley (R) and other Republican lawmakers over a union dispute with Boeing, accusing them of interfering with an independent federal agency.

At the Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Haley and other Republicans called on President Obama to condemn the independent National Labor Relations Board, which is tasked with enforcing labor laws, for suing Boeing over a production line in South Carolina that it says constitutes illegal retaliation against unionized Boeing workers in Washington State. Obama has no direct control over the agency, but does choose its members, and Republicans have sought to block appointments they consider too pro-labor.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, issued a statement accusing the GOP of an “overly dramatic response” to a “routine unfair labor practice charge.” He added that it was unfair to target the White House when it has no say in the NLRB’s lawsuit.

“That’s what this all comes down to: powerful corporate interests are pressuring public officials to interfere with an independent agency, rather than let justice run its course,” Harkin said. “And we should not tolerate this interference. Instead, we should turn our attention back to the issues that really matter to American families – how we can create jobs in Washington, South Carolina, Iowa, and across the country?”

(click here to continue reading Union Advocates Accuse GOP Of Interfering With Independent Labor Agency | TPMDC.)

And a little back-story on the dispute:

An ugly spat between a huge corporation, organized labor, the White House, and a Tea Party governor whose union-busting rhetoric would make Chris Christie blush, is becoming the next national flashpoint in this year’s ongoing war on unions.

The dispute centers around a planned Boeing airplane production line for its 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina using nonunion labor. The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint earlier this month looking to halt operation of the new plant after members of the International Association of Machinists at Boeing’s Washington state production line claimed the decision to expand outside the state was retaliation for previous strikes. The NLRB is demanding that Boeing open a second production line in labor-friendly Washington state.

Boeing responded that because the corporation is not closing its Puget Sound plant, the retaliation claims are “legally frivolous.” Boeing recently issued a further statement claiming it would have opened its South Carolina line regardless of labor conditions in Washington state. The case will come before an administrative law judge in June and Boeing can appeal that decision in federal court if it doesn’t go its way.

Given that the NLRB languished under the Bush administration — at one point the AFL-CIO called for it to be shut down — the NLRB’s complaint represented a coming out party of sorts for the revamped agency.

 

(click here to continue reading South Carolina Emerges As Next Labor Flashpoint In Boeing Dispute | TPMDC.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 11th, 2011 at 9:45 am

Posted in Business,politics

Tagged with ,

Walker the Wanker

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This land is your land, this land is my land

According to Madison City Attorney, Mike May, Wednesday night’s quick vote to strip collective bargaining from public employees in Wisconsin is probably illegal.

Madison Mayor David Cieslewicz blogs:

To quote Mike’s email to alders and I this morning:

“The Office of the City Attorney (in compliance with State law) insists on 24 hours notice for any meeting, or adding any matter to an agenda, unless there is no way that 24 hours notice could have been given. Mere convenience or inadvertence is insufficient to meet the less than 24-hour notice. This is necessary to be in compliance with the Open Meetings Law. It is an essential element of government in Wisconsin.

“Today’s action does not meet that test. It does not comply with Wisconsin Law.

“The action taken today will be struck down if challenged in court.

“Sec. 19.84(3), Stats.:

“‘Public notice of every meeting of a governmental body shall be given at least 24 hours prior to the commencement of such meeting, unless for good cause such notice is impossible or impractical, in which case shorter notice may be given, but in no case may the notice be provided less than 2 hours in advance of the meeting.’

“Sec. 19.97(3), Stats.:

“‘Any action taken at a meeting of a governmental body in violation of this subchapter is voidable …’

“This aggression will not stand. If challenged in court, the action today would likely be voided as illegal.”

(click here to continue reading Mayor Dave’s Blog – Mayor’s Office – City of Madison, Wisconsin.)

 

Written by Seth Anderson

March 11th, 2011 at 9:11 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,

Wisconsin GOP senators Recall Likely

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Phil Looks Cold - Blue

Wisconsin democracy in action! Politicians are elected to serve the interests of their constituents, if politicians instead brazenly serve the interest of their corporate masters, then they should suffer the consequences.

So how’s the drive to recall Wisconsin GOP state senators going? If these new numbers the Wisconsin Democratic Party shares with me are accurate, it’s already exceeding expectations in a big way.

Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the party, tells me that activists working on the recall push already collected over the weekend 15 percent of the total necessary signatures needed to force recalls in all eight of the GOP districts Dems are targeting. He says that the party — which is helping to coordinate and keeping track of outside efforts to gather signatures — set itself a goal of 10,000 signatures for the weekend, and has already exceeded it by 35 percent.

Zielinski also claims that recall forces over the weekend put more than 2,000 volunteers on the street to collect signatures. He also says volunteers have collected 26 percent of the signatures required in one district, and 20 percent in another, though he wouldn’t say which ones, because Dems want GOP senators to fret that they are the ones in question.

If these numbers are close to accurate, they are a surprising sign of the power of the grassroots energy uncorked by Scott Walker’s union-busting proposals. Under Wisconsin law, a recall requires a number of signatures totaling 25 percent of the number that voted in the last gubernatorial election.

…Also: As Ben Smith pointed out yesterday, the mechanics of recall drives favor unions, because of their organizing ability, and because many Republicans in Wisconsin occupy swing districts. Fourteen out of 19 GOP state senators preside over districts carried in 2008 by Obama.

(click here to continue reading The Plum Line – Drive to recall Wisconsin GOP senators gaining steam, Dems say.)

Freedom Feed Mill

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, some details of the process:

Wisconsin requires petitioners to gather enough signatures to equal 25% of the votes cast in the most recent race for governor in the district of the targeted legislator, a daunting number. That barrier is even higher in some states – it’s 40% in Kansas – and lower in others – 12% in California for governor, 20% for state legislators.

Wisconsin law also dictates that a year must pass after the election of the targeted official before he or she can be recalled. In some states, that period is only 90 days.

That means that in the Wisconsin Senate, only the 16 members elected in 2008 are eligible to be recalled this year.

Recall drives have now been officially launched against every one, some by more than one committee, Kevin Kennedy, the state’s top election official, said Sunday. The other 17, elected in 2010, could be targeted for recall next year, as could the governor. It would take more than 540,000 valid signatures to force a recall election against Walker in 2011.

The other hurdle in Wisconsin for recall organizers is that they have only 60 days once they formally organize to gather the needed signatures – in some states that period is much longer. The signatures needed for the recall drives now under way range from 11,817 in Milwaukee Democrat Spencer Coggs’ district to 20,973 in the district of New Berlin Republican Mary Lazich.

In interviews last week, some experts said Wisconsin’s short window for petitions and the large number of signatures required means that recall efforts will need significant funding and paid canvassers.

On the other hand, social media offers today’s activists a tool that didn’t exist 10 or 20 years ago to rapidly mobilize and coordinate grass-roots political activity.

“I think this may actually become more common because of social media,” Moncrief said.

Under the timetables in state law, the 60-day petition period that’s under way in 16 Senate districts is followed by a 31-day period where signatures are challenged, defended and reviewed. That period can be extended by a court.

If enough signatures are declared valid, an election is scheduled for six weeks later. If more than one challenger in the same party files papers, then that election serves as the party primary, followed four weeks later by a general election.

(click here to continue reading Recall drives could make history – JSOnline.)

Written by Seth Anderson

March 8th, 2011 at 10:59 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,

The Wisconsin Lie Exposed

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Seymour - Home of the Hamburger

You mean Governor Wanker is a liar? Who would have guessed? Besides anyone with an IQ over 781

Pulitzer Prize winning tax reporter, David Cay Johnston, has written a brilliant piece for tax.com exposing the truth about who really pays for the pension and benefits for public employees in Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker says he wants state workers covered by collective bargaining agreements to “contribute more” to their pension and health insurance plans. Accepting Gov. Walker’ s assertions as fact, and failing to check, creates the impression that somehow the workers are getting something extra, a gift from taxpayers. They are not. Out of every dollar that funds Wisconsin’ s pension and health insurance plans for state workers, 100 cents comes from the state workers.

How can this be possible?

Simple. The pension plan is the direct result of deferred compensation- money that employees would have been paid as cash salary but choose, instead, to have placed in the state operated pension fund where the money can be professionally invested (at a lower cost of management) for the future.

 

(click here to continue reading The Wisconsin Lie Exposed – Taxpayers Actually Contribute Nothing To Public Employee Pensions – Rick Ungar – The Policy Page – Forbes.)

Red yellow and windy

and

If the Wisconsin governor and state legislature were to be honest, they would correctly frame this issue. They are not, in fact, asking state employees to make a larger contribution to their pension and benefits programs as that would not be possible- the employees are already paying 100% of the contributions.

What they are actually asking is that the employees take a pay cut.

That may or may not be an appropriate request depending on your point of view – but the argument that the taxpayers are providing state workers with some gift is as false as the argument that state workers are paid better than employees with comparable education and skills in private industry.

Maybe state workers need to take pay cut along with so many of their fellow Americans. But let’s, at the least, recognize this sacrifice for what it is rather than pretending they’ve been getting away with some sweet deal that now must be brought to an end.

Footnotes:
  1. which excludes most television news pundits, and most politicians []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 26th, 2011 at 11:42 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,

Governor Wanker’s Fake Koch

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I’ll never get a job writing headlines, but you get the idea, right?

University of Wisconsin Madison Union

John Nichols on a more serious note:

Those questions point to a more profound question: Has Walker violated Wisconsin’s strictest-in-the-nation ethics rules, which require elected officials to “maintain the faith and confidence of the people of the state” when it comes to their actions?

Here’s the critical exchange:

Koch caller: “Well, I tell you what, Scott: once you crush these bastards I’ll fly you out to Cali and really show you a good time.”

Governor Walker: “All right, that would be outstanding. Thanks for all the support in helping us move the cause forward…. “

Koch caller: “Absolutely. And, you know, we have a little bit of a vested interest as well. ”

“Well,” replies Walker, “that’s just it.”

When someone who Scott Walker thought was a major donor to national groups that aided Walker’s 2010 gubernatorial run – as that gave the Walker campaign $43,000 directly, via Koch Industries’ KochPAC – said he had a “vested interest” in a budget plan being pushed by the governor, Walker replied” “Well, that’s just it.”

The conversation is so stunning in its brazenness that the Center for Media and Democracy, which had already filed a freedom-of-information requests for records of contacts between the governor and his aides and representatives of Koch industries, is stepping up those demands.

“One request is for the phone logs and the other is for their emails. We are looking for any contacts between Scott Walker and his staff and anyone with Koch Industries or the Kochs (brothers David and Charles),” says Lisa Graves, a former deputy Assistant Attorney General of the United States who now heads the Madison-based center. “We are interested as well in calls to and from the group Americans for Prosperity, with which Mr. Koch is closely tied.”

Says Graves: “We are interested in a number of things, especially contacts between the financial interests that helped elect Governor Walker and the governor and his staff. We are interested in whether the governor and his staff have maintained faith with the ethics requirements and responsibilities associated with their positions.”

(click here to continue reading Taped Conversation Reveals Wisconsin Governor’s Deal with David Koch | The Nation.)

And more from Lisa Graves:

The Return on Investment?

Some things are known, though. Koch money helped get Scott Walker the governor’s seat in Wisconsin. And now a major Koch-related group is spearheading the defense of Walker’s radical plan to kill public employees’ right to organize in Wisconsin. The question is whether an actual majority of Wisconsin citizens want two of the richest men in the world, who do not live here — and who, as Lee Fang has pointed out, have eliminated jobs in this state — to be playing such an influential role in the rights of working people here.

The Kochs assert that they do not “direct” the activities of Americans for Prosperity or the Tea Party. No, they just fuel them with their riches from the oil business they inherited from their daddy.

And they did not vote for Scott Walker in the traditional sense in a democracy. Rather, as the Republican Governors Association spells out, they “invested” in him.

What is the return desired for their investment? It looks like the first dividend Walker wants to pay, through the help of the Koch-subsidized cheerleaders from Americans for Prosperity, is a death knell for unions and the rights of workers to organize. But tens of thousands of Wisconsin citizens have stood up this week to say this ROI will not be paid, that their rights will not be the price Walker exacts from them in return for the largess the Kochs have shown him as the anointed instrument of their agenda in this state.

(click here to continue reading A CMD Special Report: Scott Walker Runs on Koch Money | Center for Media and Democracy.)

 

Written by Seth Anderson

February 23rd, 2011 at 5:02 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,

Wal-Mart coming to Presidential Towers

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Walmart Towers West Loop

[Wal-Mart Towers, West Loop]

Speaking of unions, one of the country’s biggest anti-union corporations1 is about to open up a location entirely too near me:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. plans to open a Neighborhood Market store at the Presidential Towers apartment complex in the West Loop in what would be the discount chain’s first small grocery store in Chicago.

The world’s largest retailer intends to spend $1 million to build out 26,491 square feet on one level at the residential tower at 555 W. Madison St., according to a building permit filed on behalf of Wal-Mart.

(click here to continue reading Wal-Mart market coming to Presidential Towers | Chicago Breaking Business.)

Four Tops

from the Wall Street Journal, 2009, but still relevant:

Since February, about 60 UFCW organizers have been dispatched to more than 100 Wal-Mart stores in 15 states to get workers to sign union-authorization cards. The cards are attached to flyers that feature a photograph of President Barack Obama and a quote from a 2007 speech he gave to UFCW activists in Chicago. “I don’t mind standing up for workers and letting Wal-Mart know they need to pay a decent wage and let folks organize,” Mr. Obama said in 2007. A White House spokesman said Thursday that the president stands by the statement.

Meanwhile, the UFCW plans to fly about 100 pro-union Wal-Mart workers to Washington this month to lobby members of Congress on the pending legislation, known as Employee Free Choice Act. The bill, organized labor’s top legislative priority, would allow unions to bypass secret-ballot elections and form union locals if more than 50% of workers at a company location signed cards requesting representation. At this point, the union said it hasn’t obtained majority support at any Wal-Mart stores, but has majorities in a handful of individual departments, which can be unionized separately.

Business groups are spending tens of millions of dollars to defeat the bill and say it would allow union organizers to pressure workers to sign cards.

Wal-Mart remains one of labor’s staunchest opponents, arguing that a union would lead to higher operating costs and less flexibility in managing workers. It also represents labor’s biggest prize, because its jobs can’t be shipped overseas and it sets standards in the retail and grocery industries. Union officials believe they would have an easier time organizing Wal-Mart competitors if the retailer were represented by unions.

(click here to continue reading Union Intensifies Efforts to Organize Workers at Wal-Mart – WSJ.com.)

Kevin Robinson of the Chicagoist has been covering Wal-Mart’s Chicago plans for a while:

A lot of them are afraid that they’re going to close the store,” Linda says. “Because they did close a store.” Wal-Mart closed its store in Jonquière, Quebec Canada in 2005 after workers there joined the United Food and Commercial Workers union. That Wal-Mart employees in suburban Chicago know this five years later is a testament to the company’s efforts to ensure that its employees don’t sign union cards.

Wal-Mart uses a subtle but effective form of union busting to keep their employees from organizing. It starts with showing anti-union videos as part of new employee orientation. A requirement of all employees is that they must attend mandatory “continuing education” meetings, featuring videos produced by corporate headquarters. Rosetta and Linda told me about the videos the company makes employees watch. “Our [store] had never used a demo person [in a video],” Rosetta told me. “A demo person is the ones that just lost they jobs – you wear black pants, white shirt and a white hair net…. They added a new saying watch out for this person, if they talking out against the company, they might be crazy. And they showed a person wearing black pants, a white shirt and a white hair net. And it was like watch out for a worker like that she might be crazy!” Rosetta says that when that video came out, her coworkers were telling her she had to go see it, because they felt she was the one being portrayed.

But Wal-Mart has made indoctrinating their employees against joining a union part of the culture of the company. Aside from regularly showing anti-union videos, they also maintain a well-organized set of front-line managers to harass, interrogate and threaten employees that might be trying to get organized. Documented cases of such practices in the Chicago region don’t appear to exist, as a serious union organizing drive has yet to materialize in a local Wal-Mart. But a 2007 case study by Human Rights Watch looked pretty extensively at the corporation’s actions in Greely, Colorado and Kingman, Arizona, both the site of serious attempts by employees to join the UFCW.

Dystopos. Wal-Mart maintains a national union hotline that supervisors are instructed to call at any hint that the employees in a given facility might be considering joining a union. Teams of professional union busters are then sent from Bentonville, Arkansas to thwart any attempt by employees to organize. In both Greely and Kingman, the company’s labor relations team was deployed to the stores.

(click here to continue reading Working for Wal-Mart, Part Three – Chicagoist.)

Baby's On Fire

and how did Wal-Mart get permission to even build stores in Chicago?

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s divide-and- conquer strategy prevailed in Chicago by pitting construction workers against employees who will stock shelves and ring registers.

The biggest U.S. retailer reached a deal with the building trades union two weeks before the city council unanimously approved Chicago’s second store. Those workers will erect all Wal-Mart facilities in northern Illinois during the next three years, according to a labor agreement signed by Patrick Hamilton, Wal-Mart’s vice president of construction.

The non-union employees who will staff the stores in the nation’s third-largest city have no such agreement.

“Wal-Mart played on the whims of the building trade unions, and the rest gave in,” Reverend Booker Vance, a spokesman for Good Jobs Chicago, a coalition of local unions, congregations and community groups, said in a telephone interview. “You have a lot of smoke and mirrors, and Wal-Mart would like to give the impression that they acted in good faith, but they have not.”

Nelson Lichtenstein, director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor, and Democracy at the University of California at Santa Barbara and author of “The Retail Revolution: How Wal- Mart Created a Brave New World of Business,” agreed with Vance.

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union and the Chicago Federation of Labor, an umbrella organization representing 300 unions in the area, were “sold out by the building trades, who are still pretty powerful in the city,” Lichtenstein said in a telephone interview.

(click here to continue reading Wal-Mart Cracks Chicago by Splitting Union, Non-Union Workers – Bloomberg.)

Still won’t shop there, despite being able to soon see Walmart from my window. Hope various small businesses nearby don’t shutter.

Footnotes:
  1. I think the official way to spell Walmart is without the dash, but still see both variants []

Written by Seth Anderson

February 23rd, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Business,Chicago-esque

Tagged with , ,

Union crushing in Wisconsin could lose $46 million in federal funds

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Metaphoric

The Koch kisser Scott Walker has yet another problem brewing:

[Scott Walker’s brinksmanship] could be forfeiting millions in transportation funding from the federal government if his anti-union legislation is signed into law.

Under an obscure provision of federal labor law, states risk losing federal funds should they eliminate “collective bargaining rights” that existed at the time when federal assistance was first granted. The provision, known as “protective arrangements” or “Section 13C arrangements,” is meant as a means of cushioning union (and even some non-union) members who, while working on local projects, are affected by federal grants.

It also could potentially hamstring governors like Walker who want dramatic changes to labor laws in their states. Wisconsin received $74 million in federal transit funds this fiscal year. Of that, $46.6 million would be put at risk should the collective-bargaining bill come to pass — in the process creating an even more difficult fiscal situation than the one that, ostensibly, compelled Walker to push the legislation in the first place.

He probably figures the jobs lost would be union jobs, so what the hell. Half a billion dollars and a crippled state economy are nothing if he can crush labor

(click here to continue reading Daily Kos: Walker informed Wisconsin could lose $46 million in federal funds with anti-union bill.)

Diving into the future

and if you hadn’t heard, Ian Murphy of a Buffalo alt-weekly, Buffalo Beast, held a 20 minute prank call with Walker by posing as a member of the Kochtopus:

Ian Murphy, editor of the Buffalo Beast, just did something wonderful. Murphy, pretending to be billionaire industrialist and secretive conservative political activist David Koch, called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, currently in the midst of attempting to crush the public employees’ unions. “Koch” got through to Walker (who hasn’t been taking calls from the Democratic state Senate minority leader). He taped the call and put it online.

So Walker will happily take a call from a Koch brother. He says that he considered “planting some troublemakers” among the protesters. He is convinced that everyone is on his side. Like most people who only watch Fox, he has a skewed impression of the popularity of his union-crushing proposals. (His plan is, nationally, roundly unpopular. Except on Fox.)

…Walker does reveal that he is planning to trick the Democrats into coming back into town for a “talk,” despite his lack of interest in compromising anything. He will ask them to open a session in the Assembly, and then take a recess for this talk. At that point, the Senate Republicans would hold the vote on the bill while Walker distracts the Democrats with this entirely pointless discussion:

They can recess it … the reason for that, we’re verifying it this afternoon, legally, we believe, once they’ve gone into session, they don’t physically have to be there. If they’re actually in session for that day, and they take a recess, the 19 Senate Republicans could then go into action and they’d have quorum because it’s turned out that way. So we’re double checking that. If you heard I was going to talk to them that’s the only reason why. We’d only do it if they came back to the capitol with all 14 of them. My sense is, hell. I’ll talk. If they want to yell at me for an hour, I’m used to that. I can deal with that. But I’m not negotiating.

(click here to continue reading Fake “Koch brother” calls up Wisconsin governor – War Room – Salon.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 23rd, 2011 at 1:24 pm

A Wisconsin Power Play

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Gravestone - St Sebastian Parish Isaar WI

Paul Krugman discusses why the Wisconsin-as-Cairo movement is important, especially for the Democratic Party.

The bill that has inspired the demonstrations would strip away collective bargaining rights for many of the state’s workers, in effect busting public-employee unions. Tellingly, some workers — namely, those who tend to be Republican-leaning — are exempted from the ban; it’s as if Mr. Walker were flaunting the political nature of his actions.

Why bust the unions? As I said, it has nothing to do with helping Wisconsin deal with its current fiscal crisis. Nor is it likely to help the state’s budget prospects even in the long run: contrary to what you may have heard, public-sector workers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are paid somewhat less than private-sector workers with comparable qualifications, so there’s not much room for further pay squeezes.

So it’s not about the budget; it’s about the power.

In principle, every American citizen has an equal say in our political process. In practice, of course, some of us are more equal than others. Billionaires can field armies of lobbyists; they can finance think tanks that put the desired spin on policy issues; they can funnel cash to politicians with sympathetic views (as the Koch brothers did in the case of Mr. Walker). On paper, we’re a one-person-one-vote nation; in reality, we’re more than a bit of an oligarchy, in which a handful of wealthy people dominate.

Given this reality, it’s important to have institutions that can act as counterweights to the power of big money. And unions are among the most important of these institutions.

You don’t have to love unions, you don’t have to believe that their policy positions are always right, to recognize that they’re among the few influential players in our political system representing the interests of middle- and working-class Americans, as opposed to the wealthy. Indeed, if America has become more oligarchic and less democratic over the last 30 years — which it has — that’s to an important extent due to the decline of private-sector unions.

And now Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to get rid of public-sector unions, too.

There’s a bitter irony here. The fiscal crisis in Wisconsin, as in other states, was largely caused by the increasing power of America’s oligarchy. After all, it was superwealthy players, not the general public, who pushed for financial deregulation and thereby set the stage for the economic crisis of 2008-9, a crisis whose aftermath is the main reason for the current budget crunch. And now the political right is trying to exploit that very crisis, using it to remove one of the few remaining checks on oligarchic influence.

So will the attack on unions succeed? I don’t know. But anyone who cares about retaining government of the people by the people should hope that it doesn’t.

(click here to continue reading Wisconsin Power Play – NYTimes.com.)

Add this to the list of things I’m disappointed in Obama for: he should be more involved in this fight, lending his voice and power to help the unions.

Written by Seth Anderson

February 21st, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,

The Kochtopus Helped Fund Scott Walker

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Extended Reach

Turns out the Koch brothers are knee deep in Scott Walker’s campaign to crush unions in WIsconsin.

According to Wisconsin campaign finance filings, Walker’s gubernatorial campaign received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC during the 2010 election. That donation was his campaign’s second-highest, behind $43,125 in contributions from housing and realtor groups in Wisconsin. The Koch’s PAC also helped Walker via a familiar and much-used politicial maneuver designed to allow donors to skirt campaign finance limits. The PAC gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent $65,000 on independent expenditures to support Walker. The RGA also spent a whopping $3.4 million on TV ads and mailers attacking Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker ended up beating Barrett by 5 points.

The Koch money, no doubt, helped greatly. The Kochs also assisted Walker’s current GOP allies in the fight against the public-sector unions. Last year, Republicans took control of the both houses of the Wisconsin state legislature, which has made Walker’s assault on these unions possible. And according to data from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the Koch Industries PAC spent $6,500 in support of 16 Wisconsin Republican state legislative candidates, who each won his or her election.

Walker’s plan to eviscerate collective bargaining rights for public employees is right out of the Koch brothers’ playbook. Koch-backed groups like Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Reason Foundation have long taken a very antagonistic view toward public-sector unions. Several of these groups have urged the eradication of these unions. In Wisconsin, this conservative, anti-union view is being placed into action by lawmakers in sync with the deep-pocketed donors who helped them obtain power. (Walker also opposes the state’s Clean Energy Job Act, which would compel the state to increase its use of alternative energy.) At this moment—even with the Wisconsin uprising unresolved—the Koch brothers’ investment in Walker appears to be paying off.

 

(click here to continue reading Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: Funded by the Koch Bros. | Mother Jones.)

Treasure Chest - Nadeau

The NY Times adds, a couple of days later, responses from the Kochtopus itself:

Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, told counterprotesters in what was otherwise a largely union crowd that the cuts were not only necessary, but they also represented the start of a much-needed nationwide move to slash public-sector union benefits. “We are going to bring fiscal sanity back to this great nation,” he said.

What Mr. Phillips did not mention was that his Virginia-based nonprofit group, whose budget surged to $40 million in 2010 from $7 million three years ago, was created and financed in part by the secretive billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch.

State records also show that Koch Industries, their energy and consumer products conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., was one of the biggest contributors to the election campaign of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican who has championed the proposed cuts. Even before the new governor was sworn in last month, executives from the Koch-backed group had worked behind the scenes to try to encourage a union showdown, Mr. Phillips said in an interview on Monday.

(click here to continue reading Koch Brothers’ Money Fuels Wisconsin Fight – NYTimes.com.)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 21st, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Posted in politics

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Walker Manufactured Budget Shortfall To Attack Unions

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Hoan Bridge Milwaukee

A Teabagger lying? How unusual! Scott Walker is a stain.

Wisconsin’s new Republican governor has framed his assault on public worker’s collective bargaining rights as a needed measure of fiscal austerity during tough times.

The reality is radically different. Unlike true austerity measures — service rollbacks, furloughs, and other temporary measures that cause pain but save money — rolling back worker’s bargaining rights by itself saves almost nothing on its own. But Walker’s doing it anyhow, to knock down a barrier and allow him to cut state employee benefits immediately. Mad In Madison: Wisconsin Workers Protest Against Governor’s Budget Proposals

Furthermore, this broadside comes less than a month after the state’s fiscal bureau — the Wisconsin equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office — concluded that Wisconsin isn’t even in need of austerity measures, and could conclude the fiscal year with a surplus. In fact, they say that the current budget shortfall is a direct result of tax cut policies Walker enacted in his first days in office.

 

(click here to continue reading Wisconsin Gov. Walker Ginned Up Budget Shortfall To Undercut Worker Rights | TPMDC.)

Our Lady of the Green

and The Madison Cap Times adds:

Unfortunately, Walker has a political agenda that relies on the fantasy that Wisconsin is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Walker is not interested in balanced budgets, efficient government or meaningful job creation. Walker is interested in gaming the system to benefit his political allies and campaign contributors.

To achieve that end, he has proposed a $137 million budget “repair” bill that he intends to use as a vehicle to:

1. Undermine the long-established collective bargaining rights of public employee unions, which have for 80 years been the strongest advocates for programs that serve the great mass of Wisconsinites, as opposed to wealthy elites and corporate special interests.

As Racine’s Democratic state Rep. Cory Mason says, the governor’s bill is designed not with the purpose of getting the state’s finances in order but as “an assault on Wisconsin’s working families and political payback against unions who didn’t support Gov. Walker.”

2. Pay for schemes that redirect state tax dollars to wealthy individuals and corporate interests that have been sources of campaign funding for Walker’s fellow Republicans and special-interest campaigns on their behalf.

As Madison’s Democratic state Rep. Brett Hulsey notes, the governor and legislators aligned with him have over the past month given away special-interest favors to every lobby group that came asking, creating zero jobs in the process “but increasing the deficit by more than $100 million.” Actually, Hulsey’s being conservative in his estimate of how much money Walker and his allies have misappropriated for political purposes.

(click here to continue reading Walker gins up ‘crisis’ to reward cronies.)

run, run, run, run, run

There’s a PDF here that was written by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, explaining in detail these misappropriations. Or as the authors put it:

Annually, this office prepares general fund revenue and expenditure projections for the Legislature prior to commencement of legislative deliberations on the state’s budget.

In the odd-numbered years, our report includes estimated revenues and expenditures for the current fiscal year and tax collection projections for each year of the next biennium. This report presents the conclusions of our analysis.

Written by Seth Anderson

February 17th, 2011 at 3:04 pm

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Unions and Citizens United

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Corner of Washington and Desplaines

Athanae over at First Draft brings up an interesting point in the Teabagger Governors Against Unions battle that is currently raging in Wisconsin, and elsewhere. The unions are one of the Democrats biggest backers, spending lots of money in each election cycle. If the Rethuglicans smash the unions, who is going to step into that breach?

Feingold was on Maddow tonight and they both talked about something Susie’s been pushing on Twitter, which is that given the Citizens United decision, if you defund unions across the country the only moneyed players in politics anymore will be corporations. So this isn’t about the budget. This is about politics, and it’s about the long game, and they’re playing for keeps.

Luckily, so are the protesters. Madison schools are closed tomorrow, too, because teachers aren’t having it, so the protest — 30K by Maddow’s count, 13K by others’ — will get even bigger. Now that the story’s in the NYT, I imagine the rest of the national press/blogs will be reassured that this isn’t just the usual spectacle of unwashed hippies protesting the lack of free pot, and will feel secure in devoting some of their ink and their emotions to it. They pretty much ignored the fuck out of it until this afternoon, when the noise got too loud to ignore anymore.

(click here to continue reading New York Times Parrots Walker Line That Union-Busting is Budget Related – First Draft.)

On an unrelated note, why isn’t Russ Feingold running for president?

Written by Seth Anderson

February 17th, 2011 at 7:56 am

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Right To Work

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Build Union - Local Four

Quote I hadn’t heard before from MLK, Jr.

“In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, such as ‘right-to-work.’ It provides no ‘rights’ and no ‘works.’ Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining…We demand this fraud be stopped.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Right to work” is, along with “Death Tax” and “Clear Skies Act,” among the disco hits of Republican Orwellian language. As the fact that it was around for Martin Luther King to address it suggests, it is one of the longest-disputed such false slogans and frauds. That we are still fighting it shows both the degree to which Republican officeholders and the corporations that fight so hard to elect them want this legislation on the books from coast to coast and the tenacity with which working people have fought back.

It’s not enough for today’s Republicans that the richest 1% of the population takes in 24% of the nation’s income. Not enough for them that 20% of the population holds 85% of the wealth. Not enough for them that: median weekly wages, when adjusted for inflation, fell slightly for both high school and college graduates from 2000 to 2009, according to a recent analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank

No, not content with all of that, they’re mounting a massive assault on what we have left. In a classic divide and conquer strategy, most of the most overt assaults are on unions—get non-union workers to think that the economy is in trouble because the teacher down the street has a pension rather than because the wealthy have more than their share and don’t pay their share. But ultimately, it’s not about corporations and Republicans vs. unions. It’s about corporations and Republicans vs. working people—if you’ll notice, everyone outside the top 10% or so has been losing ground, not just union members. (Not mostly union members, in fact, which is probably why they get targeted first.) And attempting to pass RtW laws in several states is part of that assault.

(click here to continue reading Daily Kos: So-called “Right to Work” and the assault on the middle class.)

 

Written by Seth Anderson

February 13th, 2011 at 10:21 pm

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State Budgets and Public Unions

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Add Drums to the Tumult

Seems to be an obvious focus for the upcoming Republican Congress to focus upon – starve the beast, drown it in a bathtub, right?1

There’s no question that Republicans have introduced a bill which would require more transparency on state public pensions, and that they hope this would provide a road map in the states for where they can cut budgets; namely, on the backs of public employees. That doesn’t mean it will happen in exactly that way, however. And the idea that the next Congress will overhaul the 30s-era law allowing states to go bankrupt seems fanciful to me.

But I don’t think states or municipalities need much help from the federal government in their desire to rewrite public employee union contracts. There has been a concerted effort for years to demonize and delegitimize public employee unions, from both Republican pols and the media in general. This has left a distorted impression about greedy union contracts and well-paid government functionaries. So the new class of Republican governors would certainly want to capitalize on that by pleasing the public, who now favor things like wage freezes (which Obama just instituted at the federal level) and furloughs and bigger pension contributions, punishing those workers. And they are animated by a general hatred of unions, which have maintained their strength in the public sector while fading away in the private sector.

Alongside that, there are legitimate budget problems in the states. The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates a $118 billion dollar shortfall in state and municipal budgets in 2011. And there are certainly some states and municipalities with currently unfunded pension liabilities. While federal aid could offset some of that, there’s no chance it will happen – expect the House to pass, early next year, a resolution basically forbidding “bailouts” of the states. At that point, state governments will either have to cut spending or raise taxes to balance their budgets, which almost all of them are constitutionally required to do. With public employees – or rather, cops, firefighters, nurses, teachers, the people who prepare your state tax refund, the people who get you your driver’s license, the people who get the roads and bridges fixed and basically secure your safe passage through the commons – seen in a negative light, they will in many states be lined up for cuts.

(click to continue reading In Unfolding War on Public Employees, State Lawmakers and Media Likely to Do the Work Themselves | FDL News Desk.)

PCBs

Especially when you read about cities like Hamtramck, MI, or Prichard, AL, or Central Falls, RI, or even Bell, CA

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — Leaders of this city met for more than seven hours on a Saturday not long ago, searching for something to cut from a budget that has already been cut, over and over. This time they slashed money for boarding up abandoned houses — aside from circumstances like vagrants or obvious rats, said William J. Cooper, the city manager. They shrank money for trimming trees and cutting grass on hundreds of lots that have been left to the city. And Mr. Cooper is hoping that predictions of a ferocious snow season prove false; once state road money runs out, the city has set nothing aside to plow streets.

“We can make it until March 1 — maybe,” Mr. Cooper said of Hamtramck’s ability to pay its bills. Beyond that? The political leaders of this old working-class city almost surrounded by Detroit are pleading with the state to let them declare bankruptcy, a desperate move the state is not even willing to admit as an option under the current circumstances.

“The state is concerned that if they say yes to one, if that door is opened, they’ll have 30 more cities right behind us,” Mr. Cooper said, as flurries fell outside his City Hall window. “But anything else is just a stop gap. We’re going to continue to pursue bankruptcy until the door is shut, locked, barricaded, bolted.”

(click to continue reading In Michigan, Hamtramck Pleads for a Bankruptcy Option – NYTimes.com.)

and in Hamtramck, MI, the city certainly wants to focus cutting the budget on public employees:

Here, the urgent search for services to cut has turned all attention to a realm that is also emerging at the center of budget debates in cities and states around the country: the costs of salaries, benefits and pensions of public workers.

Mr. Cooper, the city manager, says that everything else that could be cut already has been, while the city goes on spending 60 percent of its total general fund to pay for its police and firefighting forces — 75 current police officers and firefighters and about 240 former workers and spouses now on pensions. Mr. Cooper said that an entry-level police officer costs the city about $75,000 a year in salary and benefits, and yet repeated efforts to renegotiate contracts have failed.

“They kind of have the Cadillac plan,” Mr. Cooper said, “and we’d kind of like the Chevy.”

The police and firefighters question whether the city’s bankruptcy talk is really just a scare tactic for negotiation. Earlier discussions with city officials, they say, have urged them to accept pay cuts, layoffs, increased worker payments to pensions and even a suggestion that officers might pay for part of their own bulletproof vests — all this while the city has opted not to increase taxes.

“Nobody likes the police until you need them,” said Jon Bondra, the incoming president of Hamtramck’s police union.

So we’ll see…

Footnotes:
  1. rough paraphrase of Grover Norquist’s infamous phrase: “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 28th, 2010 at 8:56 am

Posted in government

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