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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Let’s Take the Politics Out of the Minimum Wage by Indexing it to Inflation

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The Minnesota legislature is currently holding up the passage of a bill that would raise our minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015. The key sticking point is that the House and Senate cannot agree on whether or not the state’s minimum wage should be indexed to inflation.

Indexing would allow the minimum wage to keep its value in the years to come, by automatically making small annual increases to the wage based on inflation–not based on the current political climate. It is unclear to many of us who support raising the wage, why our DFL-controlled Senate would not want to take this opportunity to take the politics out of future minimum wage increases.

Minimum wage workers haven’t seen a raise in years, and historically the wage has been woefully behind the rising costs of living. In fact, Minnesota has been even further behind almost every other state, with an abysmally low minimum wage of $6.15 an hour, making us one of only four states that have a lower minimum wage than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. This is largely due to politics getting in the way of past efforts to raise the wage.

It continues to be challenging for many states to do more than marginal reforms to minimum wage when conservative groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association spend big money to lobby politicians, spreading the repeatedly debunked myth that the economy will crumble if the minimum wage is increased. The Minnesota DFL majorities in the legislature have a real opportunity to win a strong victory for working people and break this cycle of letting corporations overpower the voice of working people.

Indexing the minimum wage to inflation is a common sense solution to the overwhelming majority of Minnesotans and has already proved to work well in other states. The state of Washington has the highest statewide minimum wage of $9.32 an hour, which has been indexed to inflation since 1998. Since then, Washington’s economy has not only decreased poverty, but it has created more jobs, including a 21 percent  increase to the payrolls of restaurants and bars.

The Minnesota Senate needs to do the right thing and follow through to raise the minimum wage and include indexing.

Recently, Working America members have been engaged at the capitol to speak directly with members of the Legislature.

Judith Nunez works two part-time, low-wage jobs and got engaged with the minimum wage campaign for the first time at a workers’ roundtable meeting with legislators who were taking the Working America Minimum Wage Challenge.“We are all human beings and it shouldn’t be this hard for any of us to provide the basic needs we all share,” Judith told legislators.

Minnesotans need to tell their state senators to support raising the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015 and it needs to be indexed. Send a message now.

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Tea Party Ballot Measure Absolutely Crushed by Ohio Voters

An overhaul of Cincinnati’s pension system backed by the Tea Party was thoroughly crushed on Tuesday. Cincinnati voters rejected the charter amendment, known as Issue 4, by a 57-point margin.

Issue 4 was placed on the ballot by a private group known as the Cincinnati for Pension Reform Committee. It would have required the city to pay off its $872 million unfunded liability in the current pension system within 10 years, or find cost savings or new revenue elsewhere to make up the difference.

Making up that huge gap, exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis, is nearly impossible in 10 years. That’s the point: Issue 4 was a barely concealed attempt to force cuts to public services in Cincinnati, and generally pit the city’s citizens against the workers who make it run.

The city is already taking steps to address the $872 million liability in a number of ways–and as with most cities, the public workers themselves are bearing the brunt. Issue 4 would have put those changes on steroids, and would have lead to either tax increases or cuts to public safety and city services: closed firehouses, slower emergency response times, and staffing shortages when we need help the most.

It’s no wonder then that opposing Issue 4 united unlikely allies: the Chamber of Commerce, AFSCME, firefighters, and the editorial board of the right-leaning Cincinnati Enquirer. “Today’s vote will be heard beyond Cincinnati and sends a message for those on the ideological extremes who think it is ok to impose their agenda on an entire city,” said Peter Linden of AFSCME Ohio Council 8, “Had this passed, outside money and political extremists would have cost Cincinnati taxpayers more money, with less services.”

It’s been two years since Ohio voters of all political stripes overturned Gov. John Kasich’s Senate Bill 5, which stripped collective bargaining from over 300,000 public workers. It’s been one year since Ohio voters chose pro-worker Senator Sherrod Brown over the Tea Party-affiliated Josh Mandel. Since that time, the effort to get a so-called “right to work” on the 2014 Ohio ballot has faltered, collecting less than a third of the signatures needed in 20 months.

It’s time that the corporate-backed anti-worker forces in Ohio get it through their heads that Ohioans are interested in more jobs and a stronger economy; not fewer rights at work, fewer public services, and attacks on the workers who are already making the most sacrifices.

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AFL-CIO, Chamber and United Way Urge Congress, President to End the Shutdown Now

Signaling how wide a swath of America the federal government shutdown is affecting, the AFL-CIO, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the United Way sent a joint letter today to Congress and President Barack Obama urging them to end the shutdown now. They said:

As leaders of business, labor, and the nonprofit sector, we are writing to urge you to end the federal government shutdown immediately.

Our country is navigating the most challenging economic times in a generation.  While we may disagree on priorities for federal policies and we even have conflicting views about many issues, we are in complete agreement that the current shutdown is harmful and the risk of default is potentially catastrophic for our fragile economy.

Large and small businesses, the workforce (especially federal workers), people who rely on public and privately-funded social services, and communities at-large, are being harmed by the shutdown.  The federal government is our nation’s largest consumer of goods and services, our largest employer, and the single largest source of financial support for state and local governments and for private social services.  Several hundred thousand public servants are at home without pay.   The longer the shutdown continues, the more people and communities’ economic security will be damaged.  Ultimately, our economy could be driven back into a recession.

As we often have in our history, our country benefits from strong differences of opinion on many important issues affecting both federal legislation and the federal government.  We believe it is important that we turn to the normal processes our government has for resolving these issues.  We cannot afford to have either our government closed or our nation’s creditworthiness called into question as part of the way we resolve these important issues.

Our three disparate sectors share a common view– no one benefits from the current shut-down and everyone will be harmed if the government defaults.  It is in the interest of our nation that Congress  restore the normal functioning of our political process, fund the government immediately and quickly move to resolve the impasse over the debt ceiling limit.  We urge all of our leaders in Washington to set aside the many issues we disagree about, reach across the aisle and end the shutdown and the threat of a national default.

The letter was signed by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue and United Way Worldwide U.S. President Stacey Stewart.

Click here to read how the shutdown is affecting people and to share your story.

Photo from United Way on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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EPI: Missouri’s Paycheck Deception Bills Not Necessary to Protect Workers

Resposted from AFL-CIO NOW

new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that two Missouri paycheck deception bills are not necessary to protect workers and they would limit the free speech and political spending of unions and organized workers, while allowing unlimited corporate spending on political causes.

Both federal and state laws already protect the political rights of private- and public-sector employees who join or are represented by unions. Paycheck deception supporters say their new bills are necessary to stop workers from being forced to pay to support a political cause they oppose, but current law already does that.  S.B. 29 and H.B. 64, the bills in question, are not designed to enhance individual rights but instead make it harder for employees to authorize payroll deductions for union use—even if the uses are not political. And, the bills are designed to foster conflicts between workers and unions. Not surprisingly, the bills, supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Federation of Independent Business and the American Legislative Exchange Council, would do nothing to change the current legal prerogatives of corporations and their lobbyists to freely spend on politics without complying with any particular process whatsoever.

From the EPI report:

“These ‘paycheck protection’ proposals reflect corporate lobbies’ unabashed attempts to enact a broad corporate economic agenda by crippling the ability of workers to participate in the political process,” said Gordon Lafer of the EPI. “Because the labor movement is the only vehicle through which millions of working Americans collectively pool sufficient resources—in the form of both financial contributions and organized volunteer efforts—to serve as an effective political counterweight to this agenda, eliminating union political activity promises to leave the corporate lobbies with an increasingly free hand to shape economic policy at the expense of workers.”

Read the full report.

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Terrible, Corporate-Backed Unemployment Insurance Cuts Move Forward In North Carolina

Tell NC lawmakers to drop their draconian, hurtful, immoral unemployment insurance proposal.

Republican legislators in North Carolina are pushing an extreme package of cuts to unemployment insurance.

The Senate committee in charge of the issue, the Revenue Laws Study Committee, voted to move the proposal forward on Tuesday. It will come to the General Assembly for a vote when they reconvene on January 30.

The proposal cuts the weekly maximum benefit by 35 percent, (even though the statewide average benefit is much less). It also reduces the number of benefit to a sliding scale between 12 and 20 weeks, even though the average length of unemployment is at an all-time high of 40 weeks.

In total, unemployment benefits would be slashed by $600 to $700 million annually. The reduction in benefits would be permanent.

“No state has ever cut their maximum benefit so severely,” said George Wentworth, senior attorney at the National Employment Law Project. Bill Rowe of the N.C. Justice Center called it “one of the most radical, if not the most radical [unemployment] proposals in the country.”

Republican legislators say the cuts are needed to retire North Carolina’s $2.4 billion debt to the federal government. But if North Carolina employers paid unemployment taxes at roughly the national average, there would be no debt – and no need for cuts. Despite claims that the plan is “balanced,” the responsibility for paying down this debt falls almost completely on unemployed workers, the majority of whom lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

The real reason legislators are pushing this plan? They are doing the bidding of the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, the state arm of the national right-wing lobbying group. The Chamber cooked the plan up last year, and their political action committee donated to the campaigns of 17 out of the 20 members of the Revenue Laws Study Committee.

Chris Fitzsimon of NC Policy Watch was the hearing on Tuesday:

The most absurd moment of the public comment period came when the lobbyist for the N.C. Chamber of Commerce addressed the committee to praise the plan, a plan that he helped write in the backrooms over the last few weeks. Funny he didn’t mention the secret meetings in his remarks.

Not only The N.C. Justice Center writes:

Contrary to what has been said by some of our lawmakers, the proposed changes to our insurance system are dramatically out of line with our neighboring states, and would in fact move North Carolina toward the bottom of state rankings.

Here are more details of the proposal in question, via the News-Observer.

Stop the unemployment cuts – send a message now.

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Chamber’s Lobbyists Try to Entrap and Smear Unions

How low would the Chamber of Commerce and its representatives go to ensure their domination of American politics? Check this out: a lobbying firm that represents the Chamber asked private security firms to find ways to hurt unions and progressive groups.

ThinkProgress finds that their proposals included:

an entrapment project. The proposal called for first creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” to give to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then to subsequently expose the document as a fake to undermine the credibility of the Chamber’s opponents. In addition, the group proposed creating a “fake insider persona” to “generate communications” with Change to Win.

Also, they were collecting information about the families and personal lives of their political opponents:

One of the targets was Mike Gehrke, a former staffer with Change to Win. Among the information circulated about Gehrke was the specific “Jewish church” he attended and a link to pictures of his wife and two children.

John Cole goes on a right-on-target rant about this:

One thing that even the dim bulbs in the media should understand by now is that there is in fact a class war going on, and it is the rich and powerful who are waging it. Anyone who does anything that empowers the little people or that threatens the wealth and power of the plutocracy must be destroyed…

You have to understand the mindset- they are playing for keeps. The vast majority of the wealth isn’t enough. They want it all. Anything that gets in their way must be destroyed…

And they are well financed, have a strong infrastructure, a sympathetic media, and entire organizations dedicated to running cover for them.

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Supreme Court Swings Toward Corporate Interests

It’s hard not to notice the tidal wave of money the Chamber of Commerce has poured into influencing elections and policy decisions. But that’s not all—they’ve also significantly influenced the Supreme Court to favor corporate interests in its decisions.

On the center’s 30th anniversary in 2007, Carter G. Phillips, who often represents the chamber and has argued more Supreme Court cases than any active lawyer in private practice, reflected on its influence. “I know from personal experience that the chamber’s support carries significant weight with the justices,” he wrote. “Except for the solicitor general representing the United States, no single entity has more influence on what cases the Supreme Court decides and how it decides them than the National Chamber Litigation Center.”
A study prepared by the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal group, examined the center’s success rate in the Supreme Court. It found that the positions supported by the chamber prevailed 68 percent of the time in the Roberts court, compared with 56 percent in the last 11 years of the Rehnquist court, a period without changes in the court’s membership.
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Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, drew a different conclusion, saying the numbers proved that the Roberts court increasingly sided with corporate interests. He also said the study documented “a sharp ideological divide that did not exist before 2005.” In the last 11 terms of the Rehnquist court, the five more conservative justices voted for the chamber’s position 61 percent of the time, while the four more liberal justices voted for it 48 percent of the time

In the first five terms of the Roberts court, the corresponding bloc of five more conservative justices voted for the chamber’s position 74 percent of the time, and the four more liberal justices 43 percent of the time.

The Chamber, naturally, thinks this overstates its influence. You know, when it’s being covered in the New York Times, as opposed to in 2007 when doing a victory lap.

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Chamber Manipulations

Want an in-depth look at how the Chamber of Commerce operates? Grittv has it:

Meanwhile, Think Progress details some of the tactics the Chamber has used to push back against criticism:

Manipulating Google And Blogs: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce retains public relations giant Fleishman-Hillard for much of their online communications work. Fleishman-Hillard VP Pat Cleary posts on the Chamber’s blog, and says he works closely with conservative bloggers through RedState. Other Chamber lobbyists collaborate routinely with conservative bloggers through the Heritage Foundation’s Bloggers Briefing to help get the message out for business lobbyists. As Cleary has told conferences of business lobbyists, he helps trade associations like the Chamber buy AdWords to promote the business lobby’s message. For example, when anyone Googles the words “US Chamber” and “foreign,” they see a link to the Chamber’s false response that it receives only $100,000 from foreign affiliates.

Paying For Television Pundits: GOP lobbyist John Feehery has appeared on cable television to attack ThinkProgress’ reporting, taken to Twitter call President Obama a “business-hating socialist” for calling attention to this story, and even penned an article in The Hill newspaper to defend the Chamber and lie about our investigation. Feehery never mentioned the foreign corporate direct donations to the Chamber’s 501(c)(6). But more importantly, neither The Hill nor any of television outlets Feehery appears on disclosed the fact that Feehery’s public relations firm, The Feehery Group, counts the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as one of its clients. Shortly after our story broke, Feehery was hired by another public relations/lobbying firm, Quinn Gillespie, which is also a client of the Chamber. Moreover, Fox News’ parent company is an active member of the Chamber, and hate-talker Glenn Beck met with the Chamber’s second in command earlier this year to plot the 2010 election. While Fox hosts and Beck have endlessly defended the Chamber’s secret money, there has been no disclosure of the network’s financial ties to Chamber lobbyists.

The Chamber Owns Fake News Sites: As the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard reported, the Chamber owns a variety of news websites in West Virginia, Illinois, and elsewhere, while also maintaining a wire service called Legal Newsline. All of these websites posture as independently owned and objective journalism outfits, and do not disclose that they are fully owned subsidiaries of Chamber lobbyists.

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Chamber vs. Chamber

Your local Chamber of Commerce does not necessarily agree with the political positions taken by and negative ads run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – and increasingly, local Chambers want people to know that. AlterNet has a rundown.

“I now have a standard e-mail saying we’re not a chapter of the U.S. Chamber that I have to send out a couple of times a week,” Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce president Timothy Hulbert told Washington Monthly.

Earlier this month, the Greater Hudson Chamber of Commerce in New Hampshire disaffiliated from the U.S. Chamber. Executive vice-president Jerry Mayotte told the Nashua Telegraph, “We didn’t like the fact that the U.S. Chamber was supporting particular candidates. We don’t think it’s good business practice to do so.”
The nearby Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce has never been a member, telling the Telegraph, “We cover a very large area, and in our towns, there is a broad range of political viewpoints.”

“It’s a matter of practicality,” Camden-Rockport-Lincolnville Chamber of Commerce executive director Dan Bookham told the Free Press, a Midcoast Maine newspaper. “We have a diverse membership of 600 people, from Tea-Partiers to Marxists. It would just cause disruptions and arguments in the business community.”

The more extreme the US Chamber of Commerce gets, the more its false claims to representing small business are stripped away. Remember that in 2008, just 19 contributors gave the Chamber a third of its revenue. Remember how it claimed to represent 3 million businesses, but it turned out the real number was more like 200,000. Remember how the Chamber’s position on climate change was too extreme for Exelon, Apple, Pacific Gas & Electric.

The Chamber represents the very biggest and greediest corporations. By contrast, the vice-president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce says:

“This is just suspect,” says Pinto. “The whole activity of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is suspect, and their motives are suspect, and their donors are suspect. My donors are not suspect: my donors are Sabrina’s Cafe and Isgro’s Bakery. Our 5,000 members are concerned about trash and crime. That’s the stuff we have to deal with on a daily basis.”

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