Officials Attempt to Delay Minimum Wage Increase in New Mexico’s Largest County—And Fail

nmal_bernco_testify2

In 2013, Working New Mexico members fought for a minimum wage increase in Bernalillo County—and won. Bernalillo is the most populous county in the state and includes the city of Albuquerque.

The increase included a cost of living adjustment, but on January 1, 2015 workers were disappointed that the cost of living adjustment had not been implemented. When a reporter spoke with Commissioner Wayne Johnson about the cost of living adjustment not being enforced, he stated it was an oversight by the commission and they were trying to resolve the issue but a resolution might come as late as 2016.

The minimum wage workers would be losing $0.15 per hour. For a full-time worker, that would equal $312 a year, or a week’s worth of pay.  When Commissioner Johnson stated that it was an oversight on part of the Board of Commissioners, Working America members were upset because this meant that they would not have $312 extra this year to help support themselves and their families.

Commissioner Wayne Johnson also said about the delayed increase that the “damage was minimal if any.” This remark was out of step with the realities faced by minimum wage workers in this country.

On January 13, ten of our members attended the County Commissioners meeting and two of our members testified against the delay. They confronted Commissioner Wayne Johnson about his comments.  One of our members explained how this increase would affect him as a minimum wage student worker. Jaen Ugalde said, “$312 could help us pay for a month of rent, or for a portion of our books.” Lorenzo Pino urged the commissioners to vote on the measure that night to bring relief to Bernalillo County’s low-income families.

nmal_bernco_testify1

Thanks to our members’ presence and heartfelt testimony, the commissioners took action that night, voting 3 to 2 in favor of a minimum wage cost of living adjustment. It will take effect on January 26, 2015. Commissioners Maggie Stebbins, Debbie O’Malley and Art De La Cruz voted in favor. Unfortunately Wayne Johnson and Lonnie Talbert were the two votes against resolving the delayed cost of living adjustment.

By standing together as Working New Mexico, our members shed light on the plight of low wage workers and their families – and won. Without our members’ work, Bernalillo County officials could have easily gotten away with delaying a much needed cost-of-living adjustment. Working New Mexico, a project of Working America, is committed to standing up for our communities and putting the issues of everyday working people front and center—and when possible, forcing our leaders to take immediate action.

Tags: , , ,

To Represent Their Party Tonight, GOP Chooses ALEC Alum and Koch Ally

Who did the Republican Party choose to respond to President Obama’s State of the Union tonight? Someone who represents the anti-worker, corporate-influenced, Koch-dominated wing of their party: newly-elected Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA).

The network of organizations affiliated with oil billionaires David and Charles Koch spent about $300 million on the 2014 elections. This network includes Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners, Donors Trust, and a dizzying array of think tanks and astroturf organizations.

The Kochs also heavily fund ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the “Match.com” nonprofit that brings together state legislators and corporate lobbyists to write “model bills” which are then distributed to pass in state houses. ALEC “model bills” that became law include Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070, Michigan’s union-busting “right to work” law, and Florida’s infamous “Stand Your Ground” gun law.

Ernst was one of those state legislators who joined ALEC after her election to the Iowa Senate in 2011. In June 2014, Ernst told a group of Koch-affiliated donors at a closed-door meeting in California: “the exposure to this group and to this network and the opportunity to meet so many of you, that really started my trajectory.”

She wasn’t wrong. Ernst was enormous beneficiary of the Koch network from day one of her campaign, as PR Watch reports:

In her campaign for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat, Ernst was the underdog early in the crowded Republican primary, but soon became the darling of outside spending groups, maintaining a $12 million lead in outside spending over her Democratic opponent into the final weeks of the race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. A few days after Ernst’s appearance at the Dana Point summit, Charles Koch and his wife, son, and daughter-in-law maxed-out on donations to Ernst, and much of the outside spending supporting Ernst or attacking her opponent came from Koch-tied groups like the 60 Plus Association, American Future Fund, Freedom Partners Action Fund, the National Federation of Independent Business, and Americans for Prosperity.

During the campaign, Ernst’s spokeswoman was Gretchen Hamel, who led the Koch-backed group Public Notice. Once elected, Ernst hired as her Chief of Staff Lisa Goes, a former VP at the Koch-backed National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), a group which, not coincidentally, ran radio and online ads on behalf of Ernst during the campaign.

So what do the Kochs and their network get for all this support? As a candidate, Joni Ernst opposed raising the minimum wage, and said she considered privatizing Social Security an “option.” She also signed the pledge from super-lobbyist Grover Norquist saying that she would oppose the elimination of tax breaks, including those for companies that ship jobs overseas. In fact, we found it difficult to identify a single policy difference between her campaign rhetoric and the ideas advanced by the Koch brothers’ network.

The selection of Senator Ernst to respond to President Obama on behalf of the Republican Party comes at a time when the Koch network’s political operation is beginning to rival that of the GOP itself. Americans tuning in tonight would be fair in questioning whether Ernst will be representing an opposition political party or the network of donors that, by her own admission, propelled her into the U.S. Senate.

Read more from PR Watch.

Learn more about the Koch network, aka “The Kochtopus.

Learn more about ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Photo by areflaten on Flickr

Tags: , , , ,

AFL-CIO Joins Broad Coalition to Fight for Affordable Medicines

Yesterday, the AFL-CIO’s own Thea Lee joined AARPDoctors Without BordersOxfam America and the Generic Pharmaceutical Association in urging President Obama to fix proposals in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a trade and economic governance deal currently under negotiation—that could leave us all paying more for life-saving prescription medicines.

One of the most harmful of the provisions Lee warned against including in the TPP was part of the U.S.-Korea FTA. It gives companies that make drugs or medical devices special rights—over and above those they already have under domestic law—to appeal government decisions about whether to include a drug or device in a government health program (such as Medicare) and how much to pay for it.

Public health advocates, doctors and patients don’t receive similar rights—they aren’t even mentioned in these provisions. No  trade agreement should “stack the deck” toward higher prices for life-saving drugs and devices. Yet the U.S.-Korea FTA does, and the TPP might do the same. America’s working people can’t afford unnecessary price increases for pharmaceutical products—to say nothing of our brothers and sisters in developing countries.

Another potentially harmful provision reportedly included in the draft TPP is patent protection so extreme  it will lead to “evergreening” (indefinite perpetuation) of medicinal patents, thus preventing price competition from generic drugs. The AFL-CIO has a long history of supporting intellectual property rights—after all, workers in creative and innovative fields rely on intellectual property protection to support their pay and benefits. But extreme patent protections (like rules requiring a new 20-year patent term every time the drug changes from liquid to pill to capsule, or rules that prevent people from challenging the validity of a patent) are unnecessary and can put our families’ health at risk. That’s just wrong. Such rules hurt patients and simply shouldn’t be in international trade deals.

Finally, to expand access to affordable medicines, many in the coalition argued the TPP must omit investor-to-state dispute settlement, also known as ISDS or corporate courts. These, too, have been in trade deals like NAFTACorporate courts provide foreign investors with private justice, complete with their own special rules and their own private “courts” staffed by private lawyers, unaccountable to the public. Pharmaceutical companies could use ISDS to challenge states’ Medicaid drug pricing policies, such as their use of drug formularies or rebates. These challenges could raise costs for these programs (making it less likely states will pursue the ACA Medicaid expansion).

The TPP must not straitjacket nations’ policy choices regarding how to organize their health care delivery systems. Instead, these agreements should promote U.S. medical and pharmaceutical exports in ways thatrespect the human right to health care and national choices about how to best defend that right. 

Read the full AFL-CIO/AARP/MSF/GPHA/Oxfam letter here.

Sign a petition here demanding the TPP not interfere with affordable medicines or harm working families in other ways.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Tags: , , , , , , ,

7 Reasons Fast Track Is Off Track

During the secret discussion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, extreme corporate interests are pushing for a Fast Track process that would not only hurt working families in the United States, but in the other countries involved in any final deal. Here are seven reasons why Fast Track is off track.

1. People oppose it: More than 60% of voters oppose Fast Track for the TPP free trade deal.

2. It doesn’t reflect modern values: Fast Track is a copy of the approach to trade taken by President Richard Nixon, pursuing the passage of trade deals regardless of the effects a deal might have on wages, jobs, small businesses and the environment.

3. It’s a job killer: Past trade deals have cost American jobs in large numbers. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement led to the loss of more than 682,000 jobs.

4. It makes it harder for workers to get a raise: Previous Fast Tracked deals have depressed wages and weakened the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain.

5. It increases inequality: Previous trade deals have greatly exacerbated CEO-to-worker pay disparities, so that the current ratio is 354-to-1.

6. It’s undemocratic: Fast Track limits debate and prohibits amendments and doesn’t give the public the opportunity to influence the process.

7. It gives corporations more power: By including “investor-to-state dispute settlement” provisions, foreign investors in the United States and U.S. investors operating in foreign countries can skip traditional methods of complaining about laws they don’t like and sue nations directly in private arbitration tribunals made up of for-profit arbitrators. This would give corporations and foreign interests an influence over our economy that the rest of us don’t have.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Republican Lawmakers Fight for Last-Minute Gift to Big Banks

If Republican lawmakers have their way, one of the final acts of the 113th Congress will be to make it easier for big banks to gamble with taxpayers’ money.

As Congress negotiates a last-minute deal to fund the federal government and avoid a shutdown on Dec. 11, it appears likely that a last-minute trade-off will roll back a provision of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act aimed at limiting bank bail-outs.

The provision, “Section 716,” requires banks that trade some of the riskiest types of financial products to conduct the activity in subsidiaries separate from the portion of the bank that is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

A group of pro-reform senators sent a letter to Senate budget negotiators late last week urging them to leave the controversial provision intact. The letter, signed by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) states, “Section 716 of the Act was a key component of the financial reforms. We urge you to oppose inclusion of provisions modifying or repealing this reform in any funding legislation.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) blasted the efforts to roll back derivatives regulation, calling it “reckless.” She said:

Middle-class families are still paying a heavy price for the decisions to weaken the financial cops, leaving Wall Street free to load up on risk. Congress should not chip away at important reforms that protect taxpayers and make our economy safer.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Tags: , , , , ,

Philadelphia Could Finally Get Paid Sick Days, If Comcast Doesn’t Block It

blog_nutter

In the past, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has made his position on a paid sick days law very clear. In 2011 and 2013, he vetoed paid sick days bills passed by a majority of the City Council, turning a deaf ear to the nearly 35 percent of Philly’s workforce that doesn’t have access to a single paid sick day.

But third time might be the charm for Mayor Nutter. The Mayor’s Task Force on Paid Sick Leave produced a report this week formally recommending that businesses with more than 15 employees allow all workers to accrue one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. And Nutter indicated he would support such a bill if it came to his desk:

“A healthy worker is a happy worker, and it’s a person that’s ultimately going to be more productive and just spreading a lot less stuff around the workplace,” Mr. Nutter said after accepting the report of a 14-member mayoral task force formed to study the issue.

In 2013, Working America drove hundreds of calls and emails to the Philadelphia City Council and Mayor Nutter’s office urging support for a paid sick days law. After Nutter’s veto, the Council was one vote short of an override.

The fight this time might be over the details. Councilman William Greenlee, who introduced the 2013 bill and is expected to do so again, thinks “15 employees is a little high” for an exemption. He supports exempting businesses with 10 employees or more.

Another player to watch? Comcast, the Philadelphia-based cable giant that lobbied hard against paid sick days in 2013. “Almost all of the $108,429.25 Comcast spent on lobbying in 2011 was in opposition to paid sick days,” reported PRWatch.org last year, “It also is a major contributor to Mayor Nutter, contributing $7,500 to his campaign in 2011 and an additional $8,500 in 2012.”

We’re hoping that Mayor Nutter, who leaves office next year, will side with Philadelphia workers over the corporations that have funded his previous campaigns.

Photo by PhillyCam on Flickr

Tags: , , , , ,

Black Beans, Guac and Respect

huhtamaki_blog

In Los Angeles, more than 100 supporters rallied yesterday at a local Chipotle restaurant to ask it to intervene with its supplier, Huhtamaki.

Workers who make the packaging for Chipotle’s burrito bowls work at Huhtamaki, a giant Finland-based company, earn less than $15 per hour.

Huhtamaki is one of the leading producers of single-use packaging in Commerce, Calif. Under previous management, these jobs were permanent manufacturing jobs, but now Huhtamaki hires temporary workers to pay lower wages with no benefits.

Huhtamaki workers in Los Angeles have been organizing for a year for fairness and respect at the workplace. Workers report that the company prioritizes production over health and safety.

Levi Ross, from the Huhtamaki Workers Committee, said, “I’ve been working at Huhtamaki in Commerce, California for three years. I work hard to provide for my wife and two kids, but it’s been a struggle. Despite positive reviews from my managers, I still make barely enough to support my family and I can’t afford health care for my kids. Recently, we tried to talk to management at our plant about these issues, but they ignored us and, instead, retaliated against us for speaking out. Since Huhtamaki is ignoring us, we’re bringing our fight for justice to one of its customers—Chipotle. Huhtamaki supplies Chipotle with burrito bowl containers, a company which proclaims that it follows ethical standards for all the products it uses. We think those same standards should apply to the workers of the suppliers, like Huhtamaki, that Chipotle contracts with, too. Sign our petition here.”

Huhtamaki has more than a dozen plants across the United States and an aggressive expansion strategy in this market based on creating low-wage, precarious employment.

Maria Elena Durazo, from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, spoke at the rally. Los Angeles port truck drivers also showed impromptu support for Huhtamaki workers.

Stand with Huhtamaki workers and sign their petition today.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Tags: , , , , ,

‘I Miscarried on Walmart’s Property’

Courageous current and former Walmart workers are calling on the mega retailer to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers including lighter duties where medically necessary and being able to drink water or sit down while at work. They formed a group called “Respect the Bump,” which made huge strides earlier this year when Walmart announced it would make accommodations for workers with complicated pregnancies, including lighter duties when medically necessary.

Unfortunately this policy does not extend to all pregnant workers and is not being implemented consistently, so many women are still not receiving the accommodations they need.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, stand with Walmart workers who are fighting for their right to speak out without fear of retaliation.

Find a Black Friday protest near you and find out more ways to get involved: www.BlackFridayProtests.org.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Tags: , , , , ,

Former Massey Energy CEO Indicted

4578435294_43f6882a26_o

For those of you who have been following the Massey Energy story, the Mine Workers (UMWA) passed along this news yesterday:

United States Attorney Booth Goodwin announced that a federal grand jury today returned an indictment charging Donald L. Blankenship, former Chief Executive Officer of Massey Energy Company, with four criminal offenses. The indictment charges Blankenship with conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and securities fraud. The indictment alleges that from about Jan. 1, 2008, through about April 9, 2010, Blankenship conspired to commit and cause routine, willful violations of mandatory federal mine safety and health standards at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine, located in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The indictment alleges that during this same period of time, Blankenship was part of a conspiracy to impede and hinder federal mine safety officials from carrying out their duties at Upper Big Branch by providing advance warning of federal mine safety inspection activities, so their underground operations could conceal and cover up safety violations that they routinely committed.

The indictment further alleges that after a major, fatal explosion occurred at Upper Big Branch on April 5, 2010, Blankenship made and caused to be made false statements and representations to the SEC concerning Massey Energy’s safety practices prior to the explosion. Additionally, the indictment alleges that, after this explosion, Blankenship made and caused to be made materially false statements and representations, as well as materially misleading omissions, in connection with the purchase and sale of Massey Energy stock.

The FBI and the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General are in charge of the investigation. United States Attorney Booth Goodwin, Counsel to the United States Attorney Steven Ruby and Assistant United States Attorney Gabriele Wohl are handling the prosecution.The four counts charged carry a maximum combined penalty of 31 years’ imprisonment.

Click here to view a copy of the indictment. An indictment is only an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The Massey Energy Upper Big Branch (W. Va.) deadly blast killed 29 in 2010. Families of the victims reacted to the indictment yesterday.

Photo by D.D. Meighen on Flickr. Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

ALEC Politicians Won Big On Tuesday, But Corporations Are Still Leaving

Logo of the software group at the entrance to the headquarters in Walldorf

Joni Ersnt. Scott Walker. Thom Tillis. Many of Tuesday night’s Republican winners have strong ties to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which brings together legislators and corporate lobbyists to write corporate-friendly legislation.

But while these current and former ALEC members got a boost from their connections and affiliation with the bill mill (in the case of Tillis, the boost came in the form of record spending from dark money groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity), ALEC itself is in dire straits.

The day after Tillis and others claimed victory, the German software company SAP formally cut ties with ALEC.

The [SAP] spokeswoman told Manager that the company abandoned ALEC because of its “merkwürdigen” (strange) positions—such as its support for Stand Your Ground laws, climate denial, and opposition to solar energy deployment.

SAP joins American counterparts like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Yelp in ending their affiliation with ALEC.

Ever since the secretive organization came onto the public’s radar in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing and the press around the “Stand Your Ground” laws they developed, an estimated 93 corporations and 19 no-profits have cut their ALEC ties.

Why is this a big deal? While a lot of information on ALEC is not public, we know that corporations pay at least $5,000 to become members and sit on the organization’s various task forces. When these companies leave–or decline to renew their membership–that means ALEC has fewer resources to recruit legislators, take them on lavish trips, or ply them with expensive steak dinners. It also means ALEC has less capacity to produce model legislation that weakens wages, attacks the rights of workers, stifles clean energy, and privatizes everything from schools to parking meters.

Tillis and his friends are in, but SAP is out. Who is next?

UPDATE. From Center for Media and Democracy’s Nick Surgey, writing in the Huffington Post:

SAP is a particularly big loss for ALEC, because its representative at ALEC, lobbyist Steve Searle, is the Chair of ALEC’s corporate board, and the former corporate chair of ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force. As a leader within ALEC, Searle would have helped drive the ALEC agenda, and would have had inside knowledge of what ALEC has planned for 2015 to continue to stonewall action to tackle climate change.

Photo by Manager-Magazin.de

Tags: , , , , ,