More than 1,800 University of Oregon (UO) faculty members now have a voice at work after they chose to join United Academics, an affiliate of AFT Oregon and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The Oregon Employment Relations Board Friday certified the professors’ choice after the university dropped its objections.
The new union includes tenure- and non-tenure-track faculty, adjunct instructors, research associates and assistants and post-doctoral scholars. Scott Pratt, professor of philosophy, says the composition of the bargaining unit
paves the way for UO tenure-related and non-tenure-track faculty—working together—to have a more substantive voice in refocusing our university on the core mission of teaching and research.
In March, a majority of faculty members signed union authorization cards and the university initially filed objections. But after several meetings with the professors, the administration dropped those objections. Says English instructor Tina Boscha:
We now have the official means to negotiate and collectively bargain for better working conditions, transparency and accountability. This will improve the learning conditions of our students.
Meanwhile, Oregon State University (OSU) graduate employees are working hard to form a union. A strong majority of workers already have signed cards asking to join AFT Oregon Local 6069—the Coalition of Graduate Employees.
But OSU President Edward Ray will not agree to recognize the strong desire of nearly 800 graduate workers who have voted to form a union. Click here to sign a petition and help these workers join Oregon’s union movement.
With the Pennsylvania primary election taking place this past Tuesday April 24th, voters had a snap shot look at some conditions to expect with the upcoming November general election.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett recently signed a voter suppression bill, HB 934, into law that will go into effect in November. It requires voters in the state to show a state-issued photo ID in order to vote. A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice found that seniors, African-Americans, and low-income citizens are disproportionately less likely to have this kind of ID.
Concern about the bill began to come into bubble up over the course of the Tuesday primary. Signs were posted at polling sites stating that voters should be prepared to show their ID’s in order to vote, even though the law hasn’t yet gone into effect.
Many voters who were exercising their rights this past Tuesday experienced new obstacles to casting their ballot. At one polling location, in Cumberland County, voters encountered several signs with a large font heading reading “ID Required to Vote.” Below the large heading was a poorly photocopied news article that explained a state issued photo ID would be required to vote in November. Earlier in the day, a State Representative’s staff person observed four voters reading the signs and then turning away without voting. The staff person was able to catch them and explain that photo ID’s are not required to vote until November and they then proceeded in to the polling location.
This is just one account; reports throughout the day indicated extreme confusion and misleading information given across the state. Not coincidentally, there was a very low voter turnout at the polls. One can only imagine how much the misleading photo ID signs and other confusing misinformation contributed to the low turnout.
Even before Pennsylvania Working America members saw this law in action, they were very concerned. Terry, a Working America member in from Ardmore, was livid. “As a senior citizen and lifetime voter, I am outraged at the thought of a voter ID law that would disenfranchise so many voters in the state,” Terry mentioned.
Terry went on to express her concern by writing a letter to the editor of the Main Line Times:
As a senior citizen I am outraged about HB934 the “voter ID bill” recently signed into law by Governor Corbett. HB 934 mandates voters to produce photo IDs issued by the federal and state governments, a university, or a long term care facility, before casting a ballot.
This law will suppress votes of the elderly, the disabled, the poor, minorities, and violates the Pennsylvania constitution mandate of free and equal elections. A Think Tank group is estimating that this law will cost at least $11 million. Voter ID laws are expensive. With budget shortfalls already cutting numerous programs, Pennsylvania can’t afford this legislation.
Terry is right: we need to protect the right to vote in Pennsylvania and across the country. With the primary now behind, it’s time to ensure that all Pennsylvanians are able to exercise their voting rights in November.
This morning, Rep. Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who heads the House’s budget committee, spoke at Georgetown University, and once again he offered a defense of his budget and his vision for America.
That vision, as we’ve discussed before, involves the demolition of the Medicare guarantee and a big redistribution of the benefits of economic growth upward. In Ryan’s world, you’re on your own—and that means your access to health care and education, among other things, would be sharply constrained by your wealth, even more so than it is today.
We would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few.
Jamelle Bouie of the American Prospectrightly calls Ryan’s plan “alarming.” He explains what Ryan’s proposals would actually do: they amount to some $9 trillion in tax cuts, heavily tilted towards the very wealthiest, coupled with devastating cuts to Medicaid, food stamps, Pell grants and other programs that help support working-class families and give them a chance to get out of poverty. As Bouie puts it:
Ryan… would engineer an unprecedented financial windfall for the wealthiest Americans. Everyone else would have to pay for it. This is neither compassionate nor an attempt at achieving “the ends of the welfare state through more private means and more efficient public means”—it’s a whole scale attack on the idea of social responsibility.
The Ryan/Romney/Republican is a complete departure from the post-war political consensus in a way that wasn’t true of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, or even McCain/Palin. Ryan wants to return to a world of tremendous social and economic injustice, and the GOP has signed on wholeheartedly.
When Working America staff go door to door in working-class neighborhoods each night, they hear about a lot of issues: good jobs, health care, schools, corporate accountability. But underneath all of these specific issues is a broader question about what kind of country we are, and what kind of economy we have. Are we building a future for our kids where everyone has a decent life and a chance to get rewarded for hard work, or are we building a winner-take-all economy where the value we create gets captured by an ever-smaller segment of society? After all, in recent decades, working people have seen their productivity go up a lot, their wages far less so—putting pressure on their ability to pay for their home, their health care and higher education for their kids. The people we visit understand this pressure at a gut level.
For all his gauzy, pretty talk about opportunity and growth, Ryan’s policies speed up the growth of inequality and ravage the programs and policies that protect the rest of us. People like the thousands of families we talk to every week deserve better.
This week’s primary election in Pennsylvania held several bright spots for working families, public education advocates, and those who value accountability for our politicians.
One victory was in the West Philadelphia House District 188, where incumbent Rep. James Roebuck faced a primary challenge from Fatimah Muhammad. Rep. Roebuck is the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, and has been a major opponent of school vouchers and other forms of education privatization. This made him a target of the American Federation for Children (AFC), the big-money pro-voucher group headed by major right wing zillionaire Betsy DeVos, as well as Michelle Rhee’s anti-teacher PAC Students First.
“I see a move by essentially a handful of very wealthy people who want to privatize public education for a wide variety of reasons,” Lawrence Feinberg, co-chairman of the anti-voucher Keystone State Education Coalition, told the Philadelphia City Paper. “Not the least of which has to do with crushing labor unions, but they also want tax dollars going to private and religious schools.”
These out of state corporate-backed groups spent almost a $1 million on down-ballot races in Pennsylvania, littering Roebuck’s district with glossy mailers accusing him of hurting students – when in fact he has been protecting students and families from privatization, as well as fighting Gov. Corbett’s deep budget cuts:
Like pro-voucher efforts nationwide, the Pennsylvania campaign conceals the corporate money behind local front groups. The word “voucher” does not appear in any of the attack ads.
Luckily, Working America organizers worked with brothers and sisters from the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) to let West Philadelphians know about the money behind Muhammad and the truth of Rep. Roebuck’s record, on the phone and door-to-door. And despite the money spent against him, Roebuck pulled out a win with an 887 vote margin.
In another part of Philadelphia, Democrat Ed Neilson squared off with Republican Dave Kralle for an open seat in House District 169. With close votes on everything from education funding to voter suppression, an open House seat isn’t small potatoes, and the choice in the 169th was clear. Not only had Neilson advocated for workers as Deputy Secretary of Labor under Gov. Rendell, he also had been a union electrician, a lifelong member of IBEW Local 98. That’s right: Philly had the chance to send someone to the legislature who actually understood the perspective of the average working family.
It was tight, but in a District formerly represented by a Republican, the electrician engineered a 592 vote victory in this special election. Neilson and Kralle will face off again in November.
Lastly, in Western Pennsylvania, redistricting had forced two Democratic Congressmen to compete for the 12th Congressional District. Still, there was a clear contrast. Rep. Jason Altmire voted against the Affordable Care Act, which we know is an enormous boon to young people, seniors, and families seeking health care coverage. Altmire voted ‘no’ on health care even after telling his constituents it was a priority for him. Meanwhile, he voted for the Republican “Balanced Budget Amendment,” a right-wing measure that would have opened the door to cuts in Medicare and Social Security.
Working America worked with the United Steelworkers as part of the AFL-CIO’s Labor Program to get out the vote for Rep. Mark Critz, an advocate for job creation, workers’ rights, and protecting the social safety net. Because the way the map had been drawn, the area Critz had represented was only 27 percent of the new district, giving him a disadvantage. Still, when the two records were made clear, working Pennsylvanians chose Critz – the margin of victory was just over 1,000 votes, or one percent.
Working America will continue to work with our allies to ensure that the politicians we send to state houses and the U.S. Capitol have working families’ best interests in mind. Not only do these three narrow victories show that every single vote counts in every single race – it also gives us hope for the high-stakes elections later this year.
Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, wrote a piece for the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine called “Six Rules for Dining Out.” The article is meant to be a Freakonomics-type guide to getting good deals at restaurants, but we balked at Rule #2: “Exploit Restaurant Workers.”
Cowen writes under that heading:
Quality food is cheaper when cheap labor is available to cook it. In a relatively wealthy country like the United States, cheap labor can be hard to find. We have a high level of labor productivity and a minimum wage; in some cases even illegal immigrants earn more than the legal minimum…The upshot is that these restaurants tend to offer good food buys.
The polar-opposite case is when you see a restaurant replete with expensive labor. There’s a valet-parking attendant, a host to greet you, a person to take your coat, a sommelier, a floor manager, a team of waiters, and so on. If you go, for instance, to the Palm, a fancy steak-house chain, you’ll see a lot of people at work. Everyone is scurrying around, and you have the feeling that management puts a lot of time and effort into coordinating the large staff…I like quality service, but only when I am steered toward better items on the menu or when I reap some other concrete benefit rather than just feeling fancy. I’m not sure what I am getting from the service at the Palm…
Now, we want to give Professor Cowen the benefit of the doubt, that he just wants to give some consumer tips and slipped up with his wording. But this column displays some basic inhumanity to restaurant workers that bears examination.
“Exploit restaurant workers?” Don’t worry, Professor, they are already being exploited. A lot. And the exploitation of those workers endangers their health, your health, and the economy at large.
Those people at the Palm restaurant who Cowen sees “scurrying around” are, according to statistics, struggling a great deal no matter how much he pays for his steak. The federal subminimum wage for tipped workers, many of whom work in restaurants, is $2.13 an hour – and it has not gone up in 21 years. George H.W. Bush was President last time that number moved.
Some states have instituted slightly higher figures, but even those are slipping: there was a recent effort in Florida, strongly backed by the restaurant lobby, to decrease the subminimum wage of $4.65 back down to the federal level. It’s no wonder that 7 out of the 10 lowest paid jobs in the United States, according to DOL data, are in the restaurant industry.
What if one of those little “scurriers” gets sick? Too bad. 87 percent of restaurant workers can’t earn sick days, and 90 percent don’t have health insurance through their employer. It’s no wonder that t 63 percent of restaurant workers report cooking, preparing, or serving food while sick. As Meghana Reddy of the Restaurant Opportunities Center writes: “if exploiting restaurant workers is how you get a cheap meal, then you should know you are also putting your health as a consumer in jeopardy for a cheap meal as well.”
By almost any metric – the ability to seek recourse for sexual and racial discrimination, workplace safety, job security – restaurant workers are already some of the most exploited workers in the United States. These workers are less able to support families, pay back loans, and participate fully in the economy. It costs the taxpayer too – restaurant servers are twice as likely to be on food stamps.
Rather than seek out restaurants with cheap labor, consumers should care that the people preparing and serving their food are treated fairly, paid well, and have the ability to stay home if they get sick. We strongly recommend to Professor Cowen the ROC-United Diners’ Guide, which empowers us to support responsible restaurants when we dine out. We’ve had enough exploitation. Let’s have some new rules for dining out.