In Massachusetts, union ranks swell with the young and hip

An opinion piece in Sunday’s Boston Globe brought a smile to my face. Most of the time when we talk about “big changes coming to unions” it is not good news, especially given the unprecedented attacks on union workers across the country. In this particular case, however, Joanna Weiss’s op-ed talks about the influx of younger, hipper men and women into the labor movement:

[In] Boston — in the service industry, at least — union membership is actually growing. Unite Here Local 26 now covers 60 percent of workers at the the city’s full-service hotels, up from 40 percent a decade ago. Earlier this month, 200 staffers at the W Boston and the Back Bay Hotel voted to join.

Their ranks include Godfrey, 29, a server at Nine Zero for the past nine years. With good pay and job security, she was able to buy a condo in Jamaica Plain. And her good health benefits are even more important now that she’s expecting her first child.

There’s also Arthur Bergevin, 24, a Brandeis graduate who works as a food runner at the W Boston, and plays drums in a band called The Tin Thistles. The union contract gives him more control over his schedule, helping him juggle work and gigs. He can pay the bills while he chases a music career.

The Unite Here contract covers all hotel workers, from hipsters in trendy bars to the immigrants who do much of the backbreaking housekeeping work. All of them get a pension, health care, and job protection. Their wages are fair, but hardly exorbitant, given Boston’s obscene cost of living. Room attendants start at $16.23 per hour with full benefits.

Weiss also points out something that we at Working America have always known, something that anti-worker politicians try their hardest to cover up: union workers who have a say in their contract and access to training from their peers are more skilled, more productive, and better for your bottom line. Besides, when there’s no economic incentive to undercut your competitors, it doesn’t happen:

From a business standpoint, there are good reasons for hotels to work with unions. Local 26 president Brian Lang notes that when hotel workers share a citywide payscale, it’s harder for one hotel to undercut the rest. Service workers, on the frontlines of guest interaction, might as well be happy and committed.

It’s true that Massachusetts isn’t free of budgetary strife; many Bay State union members are unhappy with Governor Deval Patrick and the state Senate over union concessions included in the state’s budget.

Yet at a time when private sector union membership is at a historic low, it’s hard not to grin as we witness the emergence of a new generation of working men and women bargaining collectively for a better life – even if they wear skinny jeans instead of bomber jackets.

Memorial Day: How to support the troops

It’s easy to pay lip service to our veterans and servicemen and women, especially when Memorial Day comes around. But through the barbeques and flags, the question remains: how can we truly honor those who have fought for our country?

Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq War veteran and current Executive Director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, has a suggestion. Want to honor our troops? Hire them:

The Department of Labor reported in April that 10.9 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans are currently unemployed, a full two percentage points higher than the national average. An internal survey of IAVA members suggests that number is actually much higher at 20 percent. By now, it’s well known that the veterans of this generation won’t be getting a welcome-home parade. Most have come to accept this after 10 years. But it’s a travesty that so many are coming home to an unemployment check.

Rieckhoff writes that a variety of factors contribute to veterans’ unemployment, including cultural stereotypes of mental illness and a widespread belief that military skills don’t translate well into the civilian marketplace.

The solution, he says, should come from both the public and private sectors: tax breaks for companies that hire veterans and the addition of transitional assistance to the currently weak Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), but also a commitment on the part of private businesses to hire these “dynamic, tech-savvy men and women who don’t quit.” Rieckhoff lauds the example of J.P. Morgan Chase, which has pledged to hire 20,000 military veterans by the end of 2012.

Here’s another way to honor and support those who have worn the uniform: Leave Social Security alone:

Most of the more than 4,000 children who lost a parent since the beginning of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars now receive Social Security survivors’ benefits. More than 771,000 veterans receive Social Security disability benefits. Social Security currently pays benefits to over 9 million veterans—about 4 in 10 veterans today—and the vast majority of veterans will become Social Security beneficiaries in the future.

Veterans and their families rely on Social Security – that’s why nine veterans’ organizations, including the AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council, joined the Strengthen Social Security campaign last week. The group released a full report called “Social Security: Serving Those Who Serve Our Nation.”

There are many ways to honor those who have sacrificed for our country, whether they are men and women currently serving and their families, injured and disabled veterans, surviving family members, or young newly returned job-hunters. Instead of merely talking about supporting them, let’s actually do it: by keeping their safety net intact and providing the resources they need when they come home.

Alabama Legislator Tired of Hurting Workers

In Alabama, a state representative changed political parties over his frustration with a bill to change laws affecting teachers. From the Tuscaloosa News:

Daniel Boman, a 36-year-old lawyer from Sulligent, said Wednesday’s vote on a bill to change the state’s tenure and fair dismissal laws for educators convinced him he was in the wrong party.

Boman, elected as a Republican last November, voted against the tenure and fair dismissal bill that Democrats said removes much of the due process for teachers facing discipline or firing.

At a press conference Rep. Boman had this to say:

“During this current session I have seen this legislative body pass bills that I feel adversely affect what my people back home want, need, and deserve…

The move to blame and punish teachers, and other state and public employees has gone too far – at least for this legislator, who hasn’t forgotten that he’s in office to represent the voters of his district.

A look at the bill itself, from HuffPo:

The Alabama House of Representatives voted to pass the Students First Act, which does not do away entirely with teacher tenure but does streamline the teacher dismissal process. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) signed the bill on Thursday.

Here’s what probably motivated Rep. Borman:

The bill keeps both tenure and the timeline for achieving it in place for teachers but eliminates the lengthy federal arbitration process for firing tenured teachers. Under the new law, teachers would be unable to appeal layoffs. School districts and community colleges would be empowered to terminate teachers “at any time” and for various reasons, such as a reduction in the number of positions available, incompetency, and “immorality.”

Any time an appeals process is eliminated, justice for the worker is eliminated. Incompetence is an easy claim to make, but what does it look like, exactly? And termination any time for “immorality?” That’s a deadly weapon to deploy. No wonder Representative Borman decided it was time to speak out.

All NH and VT Share is a Border

New Hampshire and Vermont could not be further apart in terms of general outlook and governance. Yesterday, the big right-to-work veto override vote did not take place in NH.

From NHPR:

House Speaker says he didn’t have needed 2/3rds to override Lynch veto and says it would be “perilous” to announce when vote may take place.

After all of the threats and bribes Speaker O’Brien still didn’t have enough votes to override Governor Lynch’s veto. Another man might have gotten the message. Not O’Brien.

The turnout for the vote was high, 380 out of 397 representatives were present. Some were pretty annoyed that the vote was going to be delayed. Representative Tony Soltani (a Republican from Epsom) tried to force the issue. The Speaker became so irate that he had the House Sergeant-at-Arms escort Representative Soltani back to his seat.

Speaker O’Brien, for his part, said numbers dictated his decision making. He says he would have preferred maintain his schedule but wasn’t sure he had the votes.

“It would have been close. It depends who shows up. Without having, for example, I was missing five votes, five yes votes, and I wasn’t going to take that chance.”

It seems the Speaker needs more time to game this vote. It’s entirely possible that he will schedule this vote on a day when many members are absent. It takes a 2/3 majority to pass, but that is 2/3 of those present. He has until December to schedule this vote.

Last month, the Vermont legislature passed a bill that would create a single payer health care system for the entire state. Today, Governor Peter Shumlin signed that bill into law. Vermont is the first state in the nation to pass this kind of legislation. The state will spend the next 4 years setting up the system. What I found most remarkable about this brief story is the quote from Governor Shumlin.

From ThinkProgress:

In a statement provided to ThinkProgress, Shumlin explained that he had an economic and moral imperative to champion Vermont’s new health care law: “This law recognizes an economic and fiscal imperative – that we must control the growth in health care costs that are putting families at economic risk and making it harder for small employers to do business. We have a moral imperative to fix this problem, with 47,000 Vermonters uninsured and another 150,000 underinsured and worried about how to afford keeping their families healthy”

Vermonters feel they have a moral imperative to take care of families and business. The NH legislature feels they have a moral imperative to destroy unions and ensure lower wages for NH workers. Truly, all we share is a border.

Vermont takes a historic step toward single payer health care

While fellow New England states are attacking workers’ rights, Vermont has taken the historic first step toward universal health care.

Vermont became the first state to lay the groundwork for single-payer health care on Thursday when its governor signed an ambitious bill aimed at establishing universal insurance coverage for all residents.

This law recognizes an economic and fiscal imperative,” Democratic Governor Peter Shumlin said as he signed the bill into law at the State House.

“We must control the growth in health care costs that are putting families at economic risk and making it harder for small employers to do business.”

The plan, called “Green Mountain Care,” would establish an independent board tasked with setting health care rates and budgets in Vermont.

ThinkProgress describes the next steps Vermont will take:

In order to actually enact the system, the state needs a waiver from the Affordable Care Act health reform law. Currently, the federal government will start handing out state waivers in 2017 — three years after Vermont wants to implement its system. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) has introduced an amendment that would move the waiver date up to 2014, an idea that President Obama has endorsed.

The Guardian points out that Vermont was also the first to ban slavery in 1777 and the first state to offer public education.

For our part, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin became one of our favorites when he took on Scott Walker’s collective bargaining plan when both men appeared before Congress last month, suggesting that America’s governors “use maple syrup, not vinegar.”

A step forward: Judge strikes down Wisconsin collective bargaining law

Great news:

A judge has struck down Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial new collective bargaining law.

Dane County Judge MaryAnn Sumi issued a permanent injunction against the law Thursday morning. This means the law is effectively dead until the Wisconsin Supreme Court acts on the law.

Judge Sumi found that the manner in which the bill was passed violated the state’s Open Meetings law because the legislature didn’t give enough advance notice of the vote. The GOP Senators, of course, didn’t give advance notice so that the Democrats couldn’t come home in time to vote against the bill.

The irony is that because of their majority, Walker’s allies could have eventually passed this bill legally. But in their rush to strip rights from working people, they revealed how much contempt they have for the democratic process.

The Senate might now try to pass the collective bargaining bill as part of the budget like they originally tried to do, but Wisconsin is a different place than it was in February. The shine is off of Governor Walker, six anti-worker senators will be up for recall in July, and a lot more people in Wisconsin and around the world are paying attention.

Wisconsin Roundup V: You can’t hide

You can run, but you can’t hide. This week, Scott Walker and his allies found that between their radical right-wing agenda and their kickbacks to corporate donors, there’s a lot of dirt that they can’t quite sweep under the rug. The recall elections of three anti-worker politicians became official, GOP Sen. Mike Ellis’ antics became a YouTube hit, and Scott “Imperial” Walker broke another campaign promise.

This is your Wisconsin roundup:

  • It’s officially official. Recall challenges to Dan Kapanke, Randy Hoper, and Luther Olsen cleared the final hurdle this week. The General Accountability Board (GAB) rejected legal complaints against the three recall efforts, which means that at least those three will be subject to removal from office on July 12.
    The next date to look forward to, though, is May 31, when the GAB will consider challenges to the remaining recall petitions against two more Republicans (Sheila Harsdorf and Alberta Darling) and three Democrats (Bob Wirch, Dave Hansen, and Jim Holperin). The petition to recall Robert Cowles will be considered at a later date.
    Not only is this new law a cynical, blatantly political anti-democratic travesty, it was also passed in a manner that would make Nixon blush. Almost 10,000 people have viewed the video of Senator Mike Ellis, wearing sunglasses and chewing gum, grumbling “shut up” and shouting over longtime legislator Sen. Fred Risser to start the vote before debate was over. If you haven’t this video, it will really crystallize what’s going on in Wisconsin:
  • Read my lips, Walker is raising taxes…on the wrong people. As a candidate, Scott Walker signed the Americans for Tax Reform Pledge, which said he would “oppose and veto any and all efforts to raise taxes.” However, in his proposed budget for 2011-’13, Walker reduces the Wisconsin Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and skips the inflationary adjustment on the Homestead Tax Credit. Both of these amount to an income tax and property tax increase on low income families.

Those tax credits have helped Wisconsin families earn a living and stay in their homes for years. This yet another in a long line of decisions that show Walker’s fealty to the super-rich and his complete disdain for Wisconsin working families. Those working people are starting to notice, which is why…

  • Walker’s poll numbers continue to dip. Only 43 percent approve of Scott Walker’s performance as governor, according to a recent PPP poll. That’s down from 46 in the last poll. Not only is there disapproval, there’s enthusiasm for removal: 50 percent would support an effort to “repeal and replace” Scott Walker if they could vote on it today (including 50 percent of independents), and 50 percent also think the Democrats should control the State Senate, thereby providing a check on Walker’s imperial ambitions.

We’ll keep you updated on all the goings-on in the cheese-covered lightning rod that is Wisconsin. If you’re currently fighting for your rights in the Badger State, take heart – we’re watching.

Florida’s Rick Scott sinks to 29 percent approval

A new Quinnipiac poll has bad news for Florida’s Governor Rick Scott (R). After five months in office, only 29 percent of respondents approve of his performance, making him one of the least popular governors in the country.

It’s not just Democrats who aren’t happy. 57 percent of independent voters, many of whom voted for Scott in 2010, disapprove of his performance. Only 51 percent of Republicans give him a thumbs up.

Why has Gov. Scott sunk so low? Here are some guesses:

  • After his predecessor fought for and won huge high speed rail grants that would have put tens of thousands of Floridians back to work, Gov. Scott canceled the project with scant justification.
  • Gov. Scott helped push through a bill that limits early voting periods and makes it harder for students, minorities, seniors, and poor citizens to vote – largely seen as a political move to hurt Democratic turnout in 2012.
  • Scott ordered a 15 percent cut in funding to the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, which serves 30,000 Floridians with mental and physical disabilities. One administrator said: “Potentially, these cuts have life and death implications for these people.”
  • Even though Florida’s economy was devastated by the July 2010 man-made oil spill disaster at the Deepwater Horizon rig, Rick Scott declined the opportunity to join the multi-state lawsuit against rig owner Transocean. The Pensacola News-Journal wrote of this decision: “While it ought to be inconceivable to worry that the state’s governor is more sympathetic to the interests of the corporations responsible for the oil spill than to the interests of the state residents who were its victims, that’s not a given in Scott’s case.”

That just scratches the surface of the damage Rick Scott has done since January. We didn’t even get to paycheck deception, cutting unemployment benefits, Scott’s description of Floridians as his “employees,” or the raises he gave to his staff while he cut crucial public services.

The most offensive part to me is that so many construction workers, engineers, service workers, and struggling parents voted for Rick Scott specifically because he promised an aggressive job creation agenda – 770,000 in seven years.

Those Floridians wanted to get back to work, and they were absolutely hoodwinked – Rick Scott’s actions are killing even more jobs in a state that already has 12 percent unemployment.

It makes you wish you could go back in time and warn them.

NH RTW Veto Override May Be “Pushed Off”

NH Speaker O’Brien may put off the vote to override the veto of Right to Work that was scheduled for tomorrow today. From NHPR:

Speaker O’Brien had fast-tracked the override vote on the so-called right to work bill, and announced weeks ago it would take place tomorrow. O’Brien now says the vote may be pushed off.

Translation: He doesn’t have the 2/3 majority required to override, so he’s going to need a little extra time for threatening and bribing.

There’s also a fear he could call for the vote after Democrats (who are united in opposition to the bill) leave for a big fundraiser tomorrow tonight.

A conversation with NH Speaker O’Brien

Tomorrow, the New Hampshire House will vote whether or not to override Governor John Lynch’s veto of the unionbusting “right to work” bill, which was passed by Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature. As Susan wrote yesterday, anti-worker politicians and their shadowy out-of-state backers are pulling out all the stops – threats, arm-twisting, misinformation, you name it – to assemble the two-thirds necessary for the override.

Speaker William O’Brien, last seen advocating voter suppression, came out with an aggressive, spurious opinion piece in the Manchester Union-Leader this morning. I read it and had a few questions for the Speaker:

The House and the Senate passed right-to-work because we know that economic liberty and employment freedom are fundamental building blocks of a dynamic economy. At a time when we need to become even more competitive to maintain the New Hampshire Advantage, we are quickly falling behind the 22 others states that have passed this important worker protection that turbo-charges economic growth.

Mr. Speaker: If economic liberty and employment freedom are so important, why are you butting the government’s nose into the contracts businesses make with their employees? Is that the “small government” New Hampshire voted for in 2010?

Also, you say New Hampshire is “falling behind” the 22 right-to-work states. Are you aware that New Hampshire workers are currently earning $5,500 more on average than those in RTW states? Are higher wages a trend that concerns you? Do your constituents agree?

Oh, one more thing – you talk about “turbo-charged economic growth” in RTW states. I hope you’re not referring to RTW states like Florida, Mississippi, Idaho, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, or Arizona, all of which have double or more New Hampshire’s unemployment rate. Those states seem to be “turbo-charging “to the bottom.

Speaker O’Brien also uses the example of Boeing:

The Boeing experience further demonstrates the need for a right-to-work law in New Hampshire to limit the corrupting power of labor unions, as they now direct the Obama administration’s efforts to prevent that Boeing factory from being built for the sole reason that the new factory will not be a closed union shop.

Mr. Speaker: Sorry, I got light-headed for a second there – my brain has trouble with too many lies all at once.

What you might be referring to is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) actually enforcing the law, which states that companies can’t punish workers for being in a union. By taking jobs from union machinists in Washington State, Boeing is breaking the law. You may not like the law, Mr. Speaker, but it’s not your choice to ignore it.

And come on, Mr. Speaker, Boeing is not a victim here. They are a hugely profitable, tax-evading aerospace giant, and the idea that individual union machinists are “forcing” them to do anything is ridiculous.

I know that I alone can’t stop your drive to add New Hampshire as the latest entrant in the “Race to the Bottom.” But when you’re going about passing legislation that hurts working families in your state, at least try to be a little bit more honest about it.