What Happened In San Diego Serves As A Powerful Reminder That Local Elections Matter

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On July 14, the San Diego City Council voted 6-3 to raise San Diego’s minimum wage to $11.50 by 2017.

On August 8, Mayor Kevin Faulconer vetoed the bill.

That’s the part of the script you’ve seen before. But this time, the ending was different.

On Tuesday, six members of the City Council overturned Mayor Faulconer’s veto. The city’s business establishment, lead by the Chamber of Commerce, is seeking to gather 34,000 signatures in 30 days to put the issue to voters in November, which would delay its implementation. But otherwise, the measure is on its way to becoming law.

Faulconer, a Republican, was elected in a close special election in February following the resignation of Democrat Bob Filner. Because of his conservative leanings and close business ties, his victory was seen as a loss for working people.

But the minimum wage fight is another example of why you should never count out your local elections. Instead of an utter defeat at the hands of Mayor Faulconer, the Council’s one-vote-margin super-majority has given the bill another shot.

With no federal action on wages expected anytime soon (Thanks archaic Senate rules! Thanks Mitch McConnell! Thanks gerrymandered, unresponsive Congress!), the action is all in states and cities. Ten states have raise the minimum wage this year alone, and Seattle has a plan to raise their wage to $15 over the next few years. It’s no coincidence that ALEC has formed a new offshoot to focus on city and county issues.

In the country’s eighth-largest city, one city council member had the power to keep a bill raising wages for an estimated 172,000 people from dying.

That’s why you have to vote, and not just for President. For Senate, Congress, Governor, State Senator, and State Representative. Vote for County Commissioners. Vote for Mayor and City Council. Vote for municipal positions like Clerk and Auditor. Vote for hyper-local positions if you have them, because they might be City Councilors someday.

Our opposition isn’t taking any chances. ALEC and the Chamber of Commerce take a great interest in current (and future) city officials to make sure they will be on their side when things like minimum wage reach their desks.

One local election made the difference for 172,000 weekly paychecks. Replicate that in every city and town? That’s what change looks like–not just one victory or defeat at the top of the ticket.

Photo via Raise Up San Diego on Facebook

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Governor Corbett Finally Pulls the Plug on ALEC Voter ID Law in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (R) will not appeal the Commonwealth Court’s recent decision to strike down the so-called voter ID law.

Gov. Tom Corbett put another nail in the coffin of Pennsylvania’s voter identification law on Thursday, announcing he would not appeal a judge’s decision that the law violated the fundamental right to vote.

The Republican governor issued a statement that defended the law, but he also said it needed changes and that he hoped to work with the Legislature on them.

We’ve written frequently about the voter ID law in Pennsylvania, which contained some of the most restrictive voting restrictions in the country. As many as 750,000 Pennsylvania residents lacked the ID required by the law, many of them seniors minorities, students, and low-income workers.

The law passed in March 2012 mirrored other “voter ID” bills introduced in state legislatures nationwide, all of them based on ALEC model legislation. Prominent ALEC member State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) was one of the laws main boosters in Harrisburg.

The state spent about $7 million trying to enforce the law, while at the same time making huge cuts to education and public services.

“That’s money that could have been spent elsewhere. It’s money that could have gone to schools,” said Philadelphia City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, “It’s money that could have gone to real voter education and that’s really a shame.”

According to MSNBC, Gov. Corbett “raised the idea” of fixing the voter ID law through the legislature, but “suggested it wasn’t a priority.

In 2012, Working America members made educating their communities about the potential new voting restrictions a top priority. Through canvassing, radio, social media, and simple conversations with friends and family, we educated an estimated 425,000 Pennsylvanians before the law was enjoined. The effort was chronicled in detail by Voting Rights News.

If Gov. Corbett is defeated this November, it may be a very long time before we see voter ID in the Keystone State.

Photo by @abc27news on Twitter

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Senator Casey Urges Governor Corbett to Give Up the Fight on ALEC-Backed Voting Law

Bob Casey, senior senator from Pennsylvania, is urging Governor Tom Corbett to end his attempts to enact that state’s controversial voter suppression law.

“At every turn Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law has been rejected by the courts,” Casey wrote to Corbett’s office, “Continuing this appeal will only continue to cast a cloud of uncertainty over residents who are rightly concerned that this law will prevent them from exercising their right to vote.”

The letter comes three days after a Commonwealth Court judge denied the Corbett administration’s request to reconsider their January decision that struck down the law.

The Pennsylvania law, based on an ALEC model bill and championed by ALEC member legislators like Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, required that voters must show specific kinds of photo identification to cast a ballot. The legislature passed the bill in March 2012 knowing that  750,000 Pennsylvanians, many of them seniors, minorities, and low-income workers, did not have this type of ID.

While Gov. Corbett and his allies in the legislature pushed enormous cuts to education and public services, the state spent $7 million in a bungled, widely mocked attempt to enact the new voting restrictions.

After the law passed in March 2012, Working America members and organizers were able to reach estimated 642,000 Pennsylvanians with information about what they would need to vote. This year, our members are mobilizing in North Carolina to educate their community about that state’s new stringent voting restrictions; which, not coincidentally, is also based on an ALEC model and promoted by ALEC member legislators.

We don’t yet know if the Corbett administration will appeal the ruling and take the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But we hope he decides instead to follow the advice of Sen. Casey and thousands of others who want the governor to focus on creating more jobs, not fewer voting rights.

Photo by Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. on Facebook

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Two Of Nation’s Most Restrictive ALEC-Backed Voting Laws Blocked On The Same Day

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On April 29, 2014, restrictive voting laws in both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were dealt major blows.

In Wisconsin, the voter ID law passed in 2011 and backed by Gov. Scott Walker was struck down by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman wrote that the law placed unfair burdens on poor and minority voters, as well as the nearly 300,000 Wisconsinites who currently lack ID. The law has not been enforced since a state judge ruled it unconstitutional in March 2012.

While attending the Time 100 gala in New York City, Gov. Walker told reporters: “We ultimately think that just like many other issues in the last several years that it will ultimately be upheld.” Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen Plans to appeal.

Over in Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley denied the request of Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration to reconsider his ruling that overturned that state’s voter ID law. McGinley struck down the law in January, finding that it put an unreasonable burden on the nearly 750,000 Pennsylvanians who lack photo identification.

The judge “also entered a permanent injunction,” said Pennsylvania ACLU legal director Vic Walczak, “which means the voter ID law cannot be enforced unless and until the [state] Supreme Court takes some kind of action.” The Corbett administration has not yet said whether they plan to appeal.

Those decisions come on the heels of a similar situation in Arkansas, where a judge declared that state’s voter ID law “void and unenforceable.”

These laws were part of a nationwide push for restrictive voting laws after the 2010 elections, backed by the power of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

The Pennsylvania and Wisconsin voter ID laws were both based on ALEC model legislation and pushed by ALEC-affiliated legislators. According to NBC News, lawmakers proposed 62 photo ID bills in 37 states in the 2011 and 2012 sessions alone, and that “more than half of the 62 bills were sponsored by members or conference attendees” of ALEC.

The Pennsylvania law was championed by prominent ALEC member Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who used taxpayer money to attend ALEC conferences.

So what’s next? Egregious voting restrictions are still on the books across the country, particularly in North Carolina. Working America members in NC have made it their primary focus to educate their communities about the law.

But as the New York Times editorial board put it, Wisconsin’s Judge Adelman has “paved the path” for similar laws across the country to be confronted by the court system.

Photo by vox_efx on Flickr

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How ALEC and the Koch Brothers Could Get a Major Ally Elected to the U.S. Senate

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Thom Tillis, Speaker of the North Carolina House and front runner for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, has deep ties to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. In the heated primary leading up to the May 6 election, those connections are paying off.

Since he took the role of Speaker in 2013, Tillis has helped pass a raft of corporate-friendly legislation. Many of these bills were based on ALEC models:

In 2013, after Republicans gained control of the North Carolina legislature and governor’s mansion for the first time since 1870, an array of right-wing legislation reflecting ALEC templates swept through the legislature. Both the Raleigh News-Observer and CMD found dozens of ALEC bills introduced in 2013, including measures that promote voter suppression, union busting, public funding of private schools, and the repeal of clean energy laws.

The onslaught of ALEC-influenced legislation in 2013 helped give rise to North Carolina’s “Moral Mondays” movement.

Tillis himself is not only an ALEC member legislator. He’s a member of the ALEC board of directors, a former member of ALEC’s International Relations Task Force, and received ALEC’s “Legislator of the Year” award in 2011.

Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the group founded and funded by billionaire David Koch, has already spent a whopping $7 million on TV ads attacking Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan. AFP’s ties to ALEC run deep:

AFP has long been a member of ALEC, and both David and Charles Koch have made personal loans to ALEC and funded the group through their foundations. Additionally, a Koch Industries lobbyist sits on the national board of ALEC — along with Tillis.

Art Pope, a North Carolina mega-donor who funds two state-based right-wing think tanks (both of which have been members of ALEC) also reportedly is supporting Tillis’ candidacy. Not coincidentally, Pope serves on the board of AFP.

As we’ve written before, ALEC disrupts democracy not just because of the policies they promote. By writing corporate friendly bills while also funding and promoting the campaigns of politicians who support those bills, they essentially turn legislators into delivery systems – not public servants. But in supporting Tillis and attacking his would-be opponent to the tune of millions, Pope and the Kochs are showing Tillis’ other legislative colleagues that they could benefit by toeing the ALEC line.

Photo via ncdot on Flickr

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Every Time Anti-Union Bills Come Up in Missouri, More Republicans Vote Against Them

Last night, the Missouri House of Representatives approved a bill that would make it harder for union workers to make their voices heard in the political process. Known as “paycheck deception,” House Bill 1617 places unnecessary restrictions on how union workers’ paycheck deductions can be used. Like many other anti-worker bills introduced around the country, House Bill 1617 is based on an ALEC model bill.

Does this story seem familiar? It should. The Republican-controlled Missouri House passed an almost identical bill almost exactly one year ago.

Again, the bill was introduced (SB 29 last time, HB 1617 this time). Again, there was enormous outcry from labor unions, community members, and the faith community. Again, debate on the floor revealed that the bill’s sponsors were unfamiliar with current paycheck deduction laws, which render “paycheck deception” laws redundant. Again, they didn’t care, because ALEC wrote the bill anyway, and because hurting labor unions is in their political interest. Again, it passed.

If ALEC did a remake of the movie Groundhog Day, it would look a lot like this.

But in this version, there were two major changes.

First, this version refers the issue to the 2014 ballot. This is because last year’s attempt at paycheck deception was vetoed by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon, and despite controlling twin supermajorities in the legislature, the bill’s proponents were unable to get enough Republican votes to override.

Second, this year the bill lost even more Republican votes, a tight 83-70.

This mimics a trend in the Missouri Senate. While SB 29 passed the Senate on a near party-line vote last spring, two conservative Republicans opposed it when it came back around for an override attempt in the fall: Senator Wayne Wallingford (R-Cape Girardeau) voted no, while Senator Gary Romine (R-Farmington) “took a walk” and was absent (a tactic often used to express passive opposition).

So why is this happening? It seems that for a number of Republican lawmakers, and for even more of their constituents, the ALEC-backed anti-worker agenda is getting tired. As the economy continues to struggle, the continued pushing of narrow, corporate-backed policies at the expense of job-creation policies–like Medicaid expansion and raising the minimum wage–is making less and less sense.

“A lot of Republicans don’t want anything to do with these bills, because they’re afraid the issue will come back to bite them in the end,” said Democratic House Minority Leader Jacob Hummel, “They’re right.”

“There’s more and more of us on the Republican side who realize that labor is not the enemy,” said Republican Representative Anne Zerr. Rep. Zerr has opposed both paycheck deception and “right to work” in her caucus, and spoke at a rally opposing “right to work” last week. A former utility worker, Rep. Zerr stressed that she is doing her best to turn her caucus in a different direction. “We are educating our own,” she told the crowd.

But for now, HB 1617 moves next to the Missouri Senate. If the trend continues, that might be where it stops.

Learn more about “paycheck deception” bills.

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The Five States With the Lowest Quality of Life Have This In Common.

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Politico Magazine released a comprehensive report comparing all 50 states using 14 different indicators of quality of life. In their ranking, the five bottom states (Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama) are all so-called “right to work” states.

Four out of five of the states with the highest quality of living, according to the study, are free bargaining states: New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

The study confirmed something that more and more working Americans are learning every day: “right to work” laws are wrong for everyone.

Quick review: “Right to work” laws require unions to extend their services to all employees in a bargaining unit, whether or not they pay dues. By making dues optional, “right to work” laws force unions to spend more resources on collecting dues than on advocating for their members–both at the workplace and in the political arena. It’s a roundabout method of de-funding unions that has been instituted in 24 states.

The Politico Magazine study used rankings from the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI, and data on math and reading scores, average income, life expectancy, crime, home ownership, infant mortality, and more.

As 2014 kicks off with legislators and big-money donors pushing “right to work” and other collective bargaining restrictions in–at the very least–Missouri, Oregon, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, it’s important to make it very clear what effects these laws actually have, versus what their proponents claim they have.

A few effects of “right to work” are not disputed by its proponents. The key sponsors of the collective bargaining restrictions Missouri, for instance, openly admit that wages would go down if the law is passed. Indeed, wages in “right to work” states are 3.2 percent lower that in free bargaining states. Essentially, it’s like the average worker is paying an annual $1,500 fee for living in a “right to work” state. (Other reports have found “right to work” states have higher poverty rates, fewer workers with employer-based health insurance, and higher rates of workplace injuries and fatalities.)

But when you combine income with a host of other factors, as the Politico Magazine ranking does, the picture doesn’t get better for “right to work” states. Overall, 15 “right to work”  states rank in the bottom 20.

The Politico Magazine ranking is not the definitive scientific report on quality of life. But it does confirm yet again that in places where workers’ right to organize is deceptively circumvented and wages decrease, other important life-quality factors decrease as well.

As legislators push these laws across the country, we should consistently require proof to back up their claims. The actual numbers don’t look too good for them.

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Pennsylvania Judge Rules Against ALEC Voter Suppression Bill, But the Fight Goes On

Last week, those of us who think voting should have equal access to the ballot received a bit of good news.

The voter suppression law passed in Pennsylvania in March 2012, one of the most restricting voting rights policies in the country, was ruled unconstitutional by a Commonwealth Court judge:

The Supreme Court worked quickly when it addressed voter ID in the run-up to the 2012 election, so it remains unknown whether voters will be required to show photo identification in the May primary.

For now, however, the law is invalid after Judge Bernard McGinley of Commonwealth Court found that it “unreasonably burdens the right to vote” and threatens a fundamental right of hundreds of thousands of qualified voters.

“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal,” the decision states.

The decision confirmed what Working America’s 500,000 Pennsylvania members already understood: The law threatened the constitutional right of Pennsylvanians to vote, and it disproportionately targeted the elderly, students and communities of color.

If that sounds awfully similar to other voting rights restrictions passed in other states, like Wisconsin and North Carolina, that’s no accident. The Pennsylvania voting rights law is based on an ALEC model bill, and State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who shepherded the bill through the legislature, is an active ALEC member.

Republican legislators dismissed concerns that the law had been designed to depress Democratic turnout ahead of the 2012 election. However, Rep. Mike Turzai let it slip at a recorded meeting that “voter ID” would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

“[The] decision is a victory for working families in Pennsylvania,” said Catherine Balsamo, Senior Member Coordinator with Working America. “Folks deserve the right to advocate for themselves and their communities, and the right to vote provides that essential voice.”

In 2012, after the law’s passage, Working America members raised community awareness about the law to help everyday Americans know what they’d need to do to keep their right to vote.  Between our media presence, conversations with community members, online actions and more, Catherine, Benita and the Working America team reached an estimated 642,000 people with information about what they’d need to vote.

Our member Benita Campbell was active in that campaign. “It’s another feather in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s hat, because it’s a continuation of our collective struggle,” she said of the decision. “It’s a wonderful way to honor him…If this ruling is upheld, we all win.”

So what’s next? Some Republican legislators are considering an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, or even passing an entirely new bill that could pass constitutional muster. Hopefully, though, Gov. Corbett and his legislative allies will move on from political attacks on voters to the issues that our members actually consider: creating jobs, expanding Medicaid, and adequately funding Pennsylvania public schools.

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Hey, Google, Remember That Whole ‘Don’t Be Evil’ Thing? ALEC Is Evil. Seriously

Famously, Google’s informal company motto is “don’t be evil.” The slogan isn’t “don’t be evil yourself, but giving others money to do evil is OK.” If the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) had a motto, it would be “do as much evil as you can.” One of these things is not like the other.

ALEC is pushing bills in state legislatures across the country to take awayworkers’ rights, suppress the vote, privatize schools and prisons and make it easier for corporations to pollute our air and water. AFL-CIO has launched a new petition to ask Google CEO Larry Page to stop funding ALEC and live up to Google’s motto.

Today is also a national day of action led by Progress Now to call attention to ALEC’s activities in the states. More than two dozen states are hosting actions to raise awareness about the conservative group. Activities range from legislative hearings to investigate taxpayer money being sent to ALEC to attempts to convince state legislators to sign a pledge to put their constituents interests ahead of those of the corporations that ALEC represents. Progress Now and other organizations also will begin participating in a weekly program, ‘Mondays with ALEC,’ highlighting the damage ALEC is doing across the country. “Mondays with ALEC” begins Jan. 27.

“Across the country we have seen efforts by ALEC to take over our statehouses and put profits over people, and now it’s time that the people stood up and fought back,” said Arshad Hasan, executive director of Progress Now.

You can follow the anti-ALEC actions today on Facebook and Twitter.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The “Right to Work” Editorial That Renews Our Faith in Modern Journalism

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The editorial board of the Salem Statesmen Journal, one of the most influential newspapers in Oregon, is not messing around.

Their piece on the coming fight over making Oregon a so-called “right to work” state goes right to the point: this law is bad for Oregon, and the only reason we’re talking about it is because of deep-pocket out-of-state special interests.

Don’t know what a “right to work” law is? The editorial kicks it off with a succinct definition:

Under right-to-work laws, employees in unionized workplaces no longer can be required to pay unions for the cost of being represented. That’s the sum and substance of right to work, in one sentence.

These laws, passed in 24 states, have nothing to do with protecting those who have a job from losing it or granting anyone who needs a job the right to find it. Yet the phrase persists, because political factions that back such legislation aren’t courageous or honest enough to call them what they are.

Right-to-work is a misnomer. If proponents were straight with us, they’d call these transparently vindictive efforts a “Right to Weaken Unions Act” or a “Right to Punish Those Who Oppose Us Measure.” The laws drain money from unions under the guise of creating a more business-friendly environment for states.

As we’ve written, the national “right to work” effort sputtered in 2013. In Oregon, Portland attorney Jill Gilbson Odell is sponsoring a “right to work” initiative intended for the 2014 ballot. “There’s national money to be had,” she told the Associated Press, mentioning “large donors” who would back her. But 2013 saw little movement for Odell’s effort, and popular Gov. John Kitzhaber has already stated his opposition.

Yet Oregon remains a top target for national “right to work” backers. “[It’s] as if a big red X has been affixed to a map of our state by outside influences who have decided in secret that we are to be the next target in their misinformation campaign,” the editorial board writes.

Odell’s claims may indeed pan out, and the anti-worker initiative could get the big dollars it needs to get to the ballot. In that case, the Statesmen Journal has a simple suggestion:

The misinformation campaign is coming. Right-to-work proponents are expecting you to roll over and play dumb. We suggest you sit up and become informed.

Here are some real facts to get you started:

  • States with “right to work” laws have lower average wages than free bargaining states. Workers earn an average of $1,500 less annually in “right to work” states.
  • Fewer workers have employer-based health insurance in “right to work” states. There are also higher rates of workplace injuries and fatalities in these states.
  • Research in favor of Oregon’s “right to work” initiative is deeply flawed (and funded by the same donors who are pushing the policy in the first place.)
  • Businesses don’t use “right to work” as a primary factor when deciding where to locate.

Learn more about “right to work” laws at WrongforEveryone.com.

Photo by NSNewsflash on Flickr

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