Possible cuts leave New England workers in the cold

As the federal budget cuts continue, the possibility of cuts to LIHEAP, (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) are being suggested as a possibility. LIHEAP is the reason a lot of low income folks who live in cold places don’t freeze to death.

From WHDH:

LePage warned that Maine’s LIHEAP funding from the federal government could be cut in half, from $54 million for this year to about $26 million. He noted that the reduction could come as the cost of heating fuel rises above last year’s level.

and for other New England States:

Celeste Lovett, New Hampshire’s fuel assistance program manager, agreed. Federal figures show New Hampshire’s LIHEAP funding could be cut from $36 million to $15 million. “It’s really too soon to tell,” Lovett said. “What we’ve done in New Hampshire is go forward with taking applications.”

In Connecticut, the allocation would drop from $98 million to $41 million, Massachusetts from $175 million to $81 million, and Rhode Island from $34 million to $15.4 million.

and

The Obama administration, questioned about the proposed funding cut, acknowledged that the new LIHEAP figure was based on the expectation that fuel prices would be lower this winter. But in northern New England, they’re expected to be in the $4-per-gallon range.

The prices aren’t lower in northern New England, as I learned in looking into my own potential fuel costs, here in Northern NH. I have to heat with kerosene, and kerosene costs about $4.25 per gallon already.

Every year, cuts to LIHEAP are threatened, and so far, they haven’t come to pass. The fact that these threats are made nearly every year is unspeakably cruel to those folks who are in desperate need of assistance. If these cuts do come to pass, they will hurt the unemployed, the low wage workers, and the low income, especially the elderly.

Democracy is not Pay-Per-View

Joel Payne, Communications Director

I’m a fan of pro-wrestling, and sometimes I pay a little extra to see the matches on Pay Per View. But that’s not how democracy should work.

During the August recess, at least four members of Congress are refusing to hold town halls to meet with constituents that are free and open to the public. Instead, they have chosen to appear only at events where attendees must pay admission.

Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) didn’t take questions from the people who elected him this August, but he did show up at a $30 per-plate “CEO to CEO” forum. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) isn’t concerned about her constituents who can’t pay the entrance fee at a federal employee gathering.

Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Ben Quayle (R-AZ), who both supported a budget that would end Medicare, sought to avoid angry, betrayed voters by only appearing at paid events.

American democracy is so powerful and so sacred because anyone, regardless of wealth or stature, can participate – and that includes engaging their representatives about the issues that affect their lives. Have these politicians forgotten the values that they were sent to Washington to uphold?

Unfortunately, the core tenets of democracy aren’t the only thing these representatives have forgotten. Working America talks to 20,000 people across the country every week, and let me tell you, the politicians and the pundits are living in a different world from the rest of us. While many in Washington are focused on ideological agendas and political games, the overwhelming message from folks on the ground is that we need jobs; we need to put Americans back to work and get the economy moving again. No wonder voters are feeling buyer’s remorse for who they elected in 2010.

Look, I know this last manufactured, immature debt ceiling debate in Congress felt more like pro-wrestling than civil debate. But the comparisons end there. Reps. Barletta, Ellmers, Ryan, and Quayle should stop running from the people – their bosses – and hold events that are free and open to the public.

If they don’t, the folks that pay their salaries – you and I – certainly won’t forget.

Statement from Working America Communications Director Joel Payne on Rep. Bachmann’s new Super PAC

“While imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, we would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the chutzpah of Ken Blackwell and his cronies to use the name of our organization for Rep. Michele Bachmann’s latest Super PAC.

Working America, founded almost a decade ago, represents more than 3 million working-class moderates across the country, including Minnesota. “Citizens for a Working America” is a right-wing front group now raising corporate money to prop up Rep. Bachmann – someone who has advocated for cuts to job training, cuts to unemployment benefits, cuts to Medicare and a government shutdown.”

Seeing worker anger in Wisconsin, Ohio Gov. Kasich seeks compromise

Ohio Governor John Kasich came into office swinging against teachers, police officers, and other public employees. Alongside his allies in the legislature, he pushed through Senate Bill 5, which would strip away collective bargaining rights for 360,000 Ohio workers. Even when pro-worker groups collected 1.5 million signatures to put the repeal of Senate Bill 5 to a referendum, Kasich remained unapologetic.

However, after seeing the results of the Wisconsin recall elections, during which working families rose up and took away Gov. Scott Walker’s working majority in the state senate, something changed. Not 24 hours after the polls had closed in Wisconsin, Gov. Kasich held a press conference and proposed a compromise:

Gov. John Kasich pleaded with organized labor leaders today to compromise on Senate Bill 5 and cancel a fall referendum on the controversial bill that peels back public employee collective bargaining rights.

Kasich said avoiding a fight over state Issue 2 is in “best interest of everyone, including public employee unions.” He asked the unions to “set aside political agendas and past offenses.

Hmm. Avoiding a fight? Set aside past offenses? This is John Kasich, the same man who:

Described his political agenda like this just three days after his election: “If you think you’re going to stop us, you’re crazy. You will not stop us. We will beat you…If you’re not on the bus, we’ll run over you with the bus. And I’m not kidding.”

• Demanded that Ohio teachers unions take out a full page ad apologizing for not supporting his campaign.

• Repeatedly and publicly called a police officer who gave him a moving violation an “idiot” – shortly before pushing legislation that would take away bargaining rights from all Ohio police officers.

Yet, here is Governor Kasich – “pleading” in the words of the Columbus Dispatch – that opponents of Senate Bill 5 compromise instead of going ahead with the repeal effort.

What changed?

Make no mistake: John Kasich is spooked by what happened in nearby Wisconsin. The Wisconsin elections ousted two entrenched Republican Senators from office, and the GOP’s attempts to recall three members of the Democratic “Wisconsin 14” were defeated with embarrassingly-high margins.

In his own state, working families collected six times the number of signatures needed to get SB 5 repeal on the ballot, and polling shows it would go down hard if they election was held today. Due in part to SB 5 and his personal intransigence, Kasich himself has approval numbers that one blogger called “eye poppingly horrible.”

After all his talk and bluster, Ohioans know the truth: Kasich’s anti-worker, corporate-backed policies are bad for Ohio, bad for the economy, and bad for working families.

Moreover, those policies are bad for the very people who voted him into office last fall, who responded to his promises for job creation and economic growth that have gone unfulfilled.

#BuyersRemorse rallies building momentum nationwide

The idea is simple: working people, feeling duped by election year promises of jobs and economic development, are having the same reaction they would to a bad purchase. What if they could “return” these dishonest politicians the same way they could return a bad gift to a department store?

All they needed were receipts. And that’s where we came in.

In Minnesota, Colorado, New Mexico, Michigan, and Florida, Working America members are staffing “Buyer’s Remorse” booths to allow working people to make their voices heard against the elected officials who promised a jobs agenda and delivered anything but. Thousands have already signed return ballots, and the press is taking notice.

Crooks and Liars:

At a time when job creation is the top issue on the public agenda, these lawmakers have ignored the wishes of the people and pursued an extreme ideological agenda while creating few, if any, jobs.

These Republicans all campaigned on promises to focus on job creation, but have failed to live up to their promises. Many of the policies they have pursued have made the jobs crisis in the country worse, not better.

Orlando Weekly:

U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster, [has] earned a reputation for being, well, a do-nothing since he unseated Alan Grayson last November.

Working America, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, is hosting a Buyer’s Remorse booth at Colonial Plaza tomorrow to accept ballots from voters who want to take back their vote for Webster, who they say hasn’t done enough to create jobs in this Central Florida economic dustbowl we call home.

Workday Minnesota:

The goal is “to hold Rep. Michele Bachmann accountable for ignoring the devastating jobs crisis while focusing on advancing an extreme political agenda,” organizers said. The Buyer’s Remorse booth is one of several being installed across the country this month while federal lawmakers are home for an August recess.

Eclectablog, via Blogging for Michigan:

The return booth – one of several being installed across the country this month while federal lawmakers are home for an August recess – will provide Michiganders the opportunity to hold Rep. Walberg accountable for ignoring the devastating jobs crisis while focusing on advancing an extreme political agenda that includes voting to protect tax loopholes for the rich, pledging to protect the outsourcing of Michigan jobs and supporting to privatize Medicare.

We’ll have pictures from the events up soon – in the meantime, join the conversation about the false election year promises of Reps. Coffman, Bachmann, Walberg, Webster, and Governor Susana Martinez by tweeting with the hashtag #buyersremorse.

Word on the Street: Jobs lost at the hands of elected officials

Catherine Balsamo – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette by Ann Belser noted that, after processing July’s job stats, we are now at 9.1% unemployment. The article goes on to explain: “[July’s] jobs report would have been better if governments had not cut so many workers.” Unfortunately, states across the country, including Pennsylvania, have lost a painful amount of jobs at the hands of their own elected officials.

Under the new state budget here in Pennsylvania – a budget that doesn’t even include all the cuts to education that Governor Corbett wanted – we lost or will lose a total of 10,000 jobs in education alone.

Think about that: because of decisions made by our elected officials ten thousand jobs will be gone within the field of education in the state of Pennsylvania. Wow.

As painful or shocking as these statistics are, the on-the-ground impacts of this continuing jobs crisis (exacerbated by anti-government politicians) are more staggering than any unemployment statistic could be.

One Working America member here in Western Pennsylvania went from making a solid professional wage as a computer information services technician to being unable to support himself after he was laid-off. He is a single dad, and he and his daughter recently moved back in with his parents. This member can no longer access the sort of medical care he could when he was employed. Even though this member is exceptionally brilliant and hard working, he still can’t find work. The jobs simply aren’t there.

Another member is desperate for her and her housemate to find employment. Their lives may depend on it, because she has health issues that demand a diet she can’t afford, and because her housemate has no access to healthcare and consequently relies on her to be his “medical personnel.”

Our governor may have run on a “jobs campaign,” but he has put jobs – and consequently us – last. The new state budget will put thousands more families in situations like the ones such as those just described.

Governor Corbett and job-killing elected officials across the country need to know what their constituents main priority is – getting back to work – and that we are holding them accountable for upholding their campaign pledges of focusing on job creation.

Working America members know that elected officials who claim to be promoting job growth by adding corporate tax loopholes are not really focusing on reducing unemployment. We all see that those extra corporate profits are going to the top, instead of being used for investments that put Americans back to work.

Despite the obstacles that unemployed Pennsylvanians face while officials like Governor Corbett fail to get it right, workers have done anything but give up. The computer technician mentioned above is organizing his friends and neighbors to take action. He also spoke at a jobs town hall and interviewed with the employment reporter from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The second member mentioned wrote a letter to the editor published in the Post-Gazette, sharing her unemployment situation and calling on Governor Corbett to “balance the budget responsibly.” Working America members are attending events, signing petitions, writing letters to elected officials and to the papers, and getting their friends and family members involved. Actions like these are some of the things that we need to do to hold our elected officials accountable for promoting job growth.

With more and more folks doing their part to hold our politicians accountable, we’ll be less and less likely to open the newspaper and read that “the jobs report would have been better if governments had not cut so many workers.”

Wisconsin Roundup XI: Two down, two to go

Voters will go to the polls today in Wisconsin’s 22nd and 12th Senate District to show their approval of Bob Wirch standing up for their rights, and to show their disapproval for a pair of candidates that could supply a late night comedian with jokes for a year. Meanwhile, two pro-worker legislators prepare to take office after last week’s victories, and all eyes are on a guy named Schultz (not Ed).

This is your Wisconsin Roundup:

• Vote for Bob! It’s election day again in Wisconsin, as voters in the Northwoods 12th District and the Kenosha-area 22nd District cast their ballots in the final round of recalls. Democrat Bob Wirch is defending their seats against Republican challengers Jonathan Steitz. His colleague Jim Holperin is running against Tea Party activist Kim Simac. Steitz is a corporate lawyer from Chicago who may have a noncompliant sexual offender living on his property, while Simac compared public schools to Nazi Germany and, when asked, cannot think of a piece of legislation in Madison that she would support – or oppose. In fact, Simac has made so many verbal gaffes and outrageous statements, there’s a blog singularly devoted to her quotations.

But even with the outrageous track records of Steitz and Simac, these races are still close. We’ll be watching the results and covering them live on Twitter.

• Jen and Jess are on the case. Working families in Wisconsin got two steps closer to taking back the State Senate last week, as Jennifer Schilling and Jessica King succeeded in their recalls against Dan Kapanke and Randy Hopper respectively. Schilling is an Assembly member who has been involved in her community since she was a student at UW-LaCrosse. King overcame a hardscrabble upbringing to become a professor, city council member, and finally Deputy Mayor of Oshkosh. Congrats to Jen and Jess on their victories – we’re looking forward to seeing them get to work for Wisconsin’s working people.

• Dale – Rescue Ranger for Wisconsin? Now that the margin in the State Senate 17 Republicans and 16 Democrats, anyone can be the “deciding vote” one way or another. That’s why a lot more attention is being paid to Dale Schultz, a moderate Republican from the 17th District. Schultz was the sole GOP senator to vote against Governor Walker’s union-busting bill, and has been fairly critical of Walker since February.

Assuming Holperin and Wirch win tonight, Sen. Schultz will be the “swing vote” in Madison. One blogger said of the election results “Congratulations, Wisconsin Governor Dale Schultz,” while another called him the “new de facto Majority leader.” In any event, it’s a big deal that Schultz voted against his own party’s attacks on workers, because if his displeasure with Walker’s anti-working families agenda continues, it might be enough for him to form a new coalition with Democrats, or switch parties.

Just another example of how Walker and his allies’ extremism is forcing out moderates and independents that might otherwise support them.

But for now – go vote, Wisconsin! And follow us on Twitter tonight for election updates.

Barely Scraping By in the USA

Barbara Ehrenreich’s award winning book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America was published ten years ago. It was a ground breaking look at the lives of folks who were barely scraping by on low wages. Ehrenreich went under cover, working at jobs like waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, and discount chain worker and quickly learned the realities of how hard people working for $7 an hour actually had to work to manage to live indoors.

Ehrenreich has written an afterward to the book, ten years later. Seen here in Mother Jones:

At the time I wrote Nickel and Dimed, I wasn’t sure how many people it directly applied to—only that the official definition of poverty was way off the mark, since it defined an individual earning $7 an hour, as I did on average, as well out of poverty. But three months after the book was published, the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, issued a report entitled “Hardships in America: The Real Story of Working Families,” which found an astounding 29 percent of American families living in what could be more reasonably defined as poverty, meaning that they earned less than a bare-bones budget covering housing, child care, health care, food, transportation, and taxes—though not, it should be noted, any entertainment, meals out, cable TV, Internet service, vacations, or holiday gifts. Twenty-nine percent is a minority, but not a reassuringly small one, and other studies in the early 2000s came up with similar figures.

Sorry to keep saying it – but remember, this was 10 years ago.

When you read about the hardships I found people enduring while I was researching my book—the skipped meals, the lack of medical care, the occasional need to sleep in cars or vans—you should bear in mind that those occurred in the best of times. The economy was growing, and jobs, if poorly paid, were at least plentiful.

And now for the chilling part:

In 2000, I had been able to walk into a number of jobs pretty much off the street. Less than a decade later, many of these jobs had disappeared and there was stiff competition for those that remained. It would have been impossible to repeat my Nickel and Dimed “experiment,” had I had been so inclined, because I would probably never have found a job.

She’s right. At a time when it’s harder to get into McDonald’s than Harvard, she wouldn’t be able to get the same kind of low wage jobs that sustained her while she researched “Nickel and Dimed.”

And speaking of depressing – the results of a survey in The Consumerist:

According to the NFCC survey, 64% of Americans don’t have enough cash available to them to cover a $1,000 emergency.

As wages remain stagnant, increasing numbers of working folks are living paycheck to paycheck, one emergency away from financial disaster.

#BadBoss: Fictional Work Reviews

We all get nervous for our annual review at work. But Jackie from Pennsylvania had extra reason to be worried: her Bad Boss was searching for a reason to fire her so that her job could be shipped overseas. Since Jackie was an effective employee, her boss had to grasp at straws:

My office was preparing to off shore jobs. In the year prior, they began mandatory work reviews every few months. During this period, they scrutinized anything they could to create a negative spin to discredit workers. They didn’t tell us what was expected of us. The rules seemed to change with the supervisor’s mood.

In addition, every few months I had a new boss. No one ever really got to know me. This is how my non-union work reviews progressed:

First review:

Boss: There have been reports that you have been harsh in your emails.

Me: Wow, can you tell be when? I don’t want to be perceived that way.

Boss: No, I can’t. But you are being rated unsatisfactory because of this. You really need to improve and you have a lot of room for improvement.

Me: But I don’t know what I did to make this mystery person(s) believe this. Do you have copies of the emails? Or give me something to go on?

Boss: No, I don’t. You didn’t report to me then; so I didn’t keep records. You need to sign this acknowledgement form. It indicates that you have been told of this problem and will work on improvement.

Me: But I really don’t know what I did wrong.

Boss: Well, just, be more of a people person. Think about how you would want to be addressed. Add some polite things to your emails.

Me: But I am an engineer.

Subsequent reviews became progressively worse. Greater and more unsubstantiated claims were made in attempt to shame me. I think they were counting on the shame factor to keep me and all the other workers silent and to themselves. Because of the fictional nature of the review; I did not stay silent. I shared my work review with other workers. They were relieved to hear that they were not the only one being unfairly targeted.

By the fourth review you would think I was a lazy, stupid, not-worth-the-space-I-occupied-on-the-earth putz. On my final day of employment, I was escorted to the curb. The other folks were asked to complete their day of work.

The only difference between me and them is that I did not stay silent during the incredible injustice that was being perpetrated on the workers.

Whether you’re a good boss or a #badboss, there’s nothing stopping you from being dishonest in your reviews, especially if you feel it will benefit your position.

Think you can top Jackie’s story? Tweet at @WorkingAmerica with the hashtag #badboss.

NH Budget Cuts Come Home to Roost

Last week, I wrote about how the latest NH state budget has resulted in at least 450 jobs lost, so far.

This week, there’s some magical thinking afoot in the Granite State. From The Conway Daily Sun:

New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing no longer plowing some roads between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m. as well as allowing snow to build up to between 5 and 7 inches before turning some crews out onto the road.

The DOT plan is not acceptable, according to Rep. Gene Chandler, R-Bartlett, who also serves as the chair of the transportation department in the New House of Representatives. He hopes DOT officials will come up with a new plan because the current one could have “huge ramifications” on tourism and revenue for the Granite State.

and

Boynton said DOT lost 42 employees to budget cuts (there remain about 800 employees). Its budget was cut 11.5 percent; the budget is expected to be cut an additional 11 percent in 2012 and 13 percent in 2013; there was a 25 percent reduction in the state’s sand and salt budget.

In the northern part of the state, winter can last a solid 6 months. An 11.5 percent budget cut to DOT is huge in a state in northern New England. How could anyone realistically think that cutting the DOT budget would NOT adversely affect winter plowing?

Chandler is serving his 13th term. He is Speaker pro Tempore, which means he’s part of Speaker O’Brien’s leadership team.

This is a budget that Chandler supported. He shilled for it. He voted for it. Gene Chandler never challenged his party, never stood up and said that a budget that cuts both revenue and spending will lead to problems for our state. He said nothing until one of those cuts came home to roost in his own district, and suddenly it’s “not acceptable.”

Stories like this will continue to happen, as the impact of those budget cuts hit home in all manner of unpleasant ways.