Call Me Radical, But I Think A Good Budget Requires More Than “Spirit”

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The following is a guest post from Pittsburgh Working America member Kayleigh Metviner

I participated in a press conference on Tuesday with the local chapter of Working America,  a national economic justice organization, to call for a Pennsylvania state budget that favors education and social services over corporate tax cuts.

A few hours later, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett presented his vision for the state budget, which was not expected to be anything to cheer about. Now, I am a newcomer to Pennsylvania, and I am not going to write in-depth about Pennsylvania-specific politicians and issues. What I am more interested in here is the disconnect between legislation that is both feasible and favored by a majority of citizens, and the legislation that is proposed by Corbett.

Why politicians who face abysmal approval ratings (23 percent for Corbett last week) still try to get reelected is beyond me, but Corbett’s budget proposal is clearly aimed at garnering support this year. And even though most self-identified progressives would rather drink West Virginia’s water than see Corbett reelected, his attempts to pass legislation that appeals to the majority could still be a good thing. Unfortunately, his actual budget proposal makes that very unlikely.

In his speech, Corbett said that his budget sets the agenda in the “spirit” of expanding public education, which…niceBut the state budget doesn’t have a column for spirit, and very few of us have managed to exchange spirit for goods and services.  So where is the money for education coming from?

Mainly from a highly unlikely projected increase in state revenues.  Despite having predicted a budget deficit by the end of the 2014-2015 fiscal year just a couple months ago, and despite revenue having come in short even of that projection in January, Corbett’s spending plan is dependent on a 4 percent increase in revenue this year.

In contrast, the budget that Working America and community members across the state support would see education and social services funded mainly by closing corporate tax loopholes, like the well-known Delaware tax loophole that deprives many states (except Delaware) of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

We presented this proposal before the release of Corbett’s plan because we wanted to make it clear that there is a viable alternative to empty, feel-good promises and more of the same political floundering that leaves the majority of us, in Pennsylvania and around the country, in a perpetual state of disadvantage. Crafting a state budget is undoubtedly a complex matter, but in the face of complexity, let’s turn to logical and equitable solutions, not “spirit.”

Text JOBS to 30644 to join Working America’s movement for economic justice in Pennsylvania.

Photo by onepittsburgh on Instagram

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Dear Governor Corbett: Here’s How You Fully Fund Pennsylvania Schools. It’s Actually Pretty SImple.

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The following is a guest post from Working America member Kayleigh Metviner

Volunteers, supporters, and media gathered at Working America’s Pittsburgh office on Tuesday morning to call for an economically just and fiscally responsible state budget, in contrast to the budget proposal anticipated from Governor Tom Corbett (R-PA) later in the day.

With over 500,000 members in Pennsylvania, Working America is a formidable force in the state, and we are overwhelmingly in support of a state budget that focuses more resources on public education, higher education, and social services.

Our members know that money doesn’t materialize out of thin air, so their calls for well-funded education and social services are accompanied by practical and equitable solutions: closing the Delaware tax loophole that deprives Pennsylvanians of hundreds of millions of dollars a year and expanding Medicaid.

Expanding Medicaid will not only allow more Pennsylvanians to access health care, it also has the potential to lower overall health care costs. On top of this, it will be 100 percent funded by the federal government for the first three years, and that rate would modestly and gradually decrease to 90 percent during years after that. Lowered costs from expanded Medicaid, combined with increased revenues from corporations paying their fair share of taxes will enable our state to fulfill its commitment to our public schools.

Several Working America volunteers read community member comments aloud at the press conference. One member urged Governor Corbett to “budget with greater consideration for education support instead of corporate tax breaks/”  Another wrote: “Please, stop the practice of subsidizing large corporations with taxpayer money when programs and research to help the vulnerable are so needed.”

We want to thank those who shared their stories and urge all Pennsylvanians to continue spreading the word about the real possibilities for economic justice right here, right now.

Text JOBS to 30644 to join Working America’s movement for economic justice in Pennsylvania.

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Update: Now More than 600 Economists Endorse $10.10 Minimum Wage

Two weeks ago, we reported on an open letter in support of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour that, at the time, had been signed by 70 economists.  The online version of the letter asked for other economists who have a Ph.D. in the field to sign the letter. Since then, the total number of signers on the letter has risen to more than 600.

The text of the letter:

July will mark five years since the federal minimum wage was last raised. We urge you to act now and enact a three-step raise of 95 cents a year for three years—which would mean a minimum wage of $10.10 by 2016—and then index it to protect against inflation. Senator Tom Harkin and Representative George Miller have introduced legislation to accomplish this. The increase to $10.10 would mean that minimum wage workers who work full time, full year would see a raise from their current salary of roughly $15,000 to roughly $21,000. These proposals also usefully raise the tipped minimum wage to 70% of the regular minimum.

This policy would directly provide higher wages for close to 17 million workers by 2016. Furthermore, another 11 million workers whose wages are just above the new minimum would likely see a wage increase through “spillover” effects, as employers adjust their internal wage ladders. The vast majority of employees who would benefit are adults in working families, disproportionately women, who work at least 20 hours a week and depend on these earnings to make ends meet. At a time when persistent high unemployment is putting enormous downward pressure on wages, such a minimum wage increase would provide a much-needed boost to the earnings of low-wage workers.

In recent years there have been important developments in the academic literature on the effect of increases in the minimum wage on employment, with the weight of evidence now showing that increases in the minimum wage have had little or no negative effect on the employment of minimum wage workers, even during times of weakness in the labor market. Research suggests that a minimum wage increase could have a small stimulative effect on the economy as low-wage workers spend their additional earnings, raising demand and job growth and providing some help on the jobs front.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Why We Don’t Like Fast Track: It’s an Outdated and Undemocratic Policy

Photo courtesy of StopFastTrack/Flickr

Fast Track—it’s a term that’s in the news more lately these days. And for good reason. Early in January, Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) have introduced a bill that would bring back a bad idea that’s been dead since 2007.

Sign the petition to stop Fast Track dead in its tracks.

This Fast Track bill would re-establish a process (first used in the Nixon administration) that allows a trade deal negotiated in secret to pass Congress under a process that allows no amendments, limited debate and not nearly enough public scrutiny. Ever since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), trade agreements have been about much more than reducing tariffs. Now they are about providing extreme patent protections for pharmaceutical companies, promoting deregulation, weakening “Buy American” policies and providing extraordinary legal rights and privileges to large, foreign corporations. Should those policies really be made behind closed doors, out of the public view?

Whatever justification there may have been in the past for this undemocratic policy, surely we can do better today. We know from experience that once legislators have the Fast Track ticket in their hands, they are likely to finalize an agreement that will send jobs overseas, hold down wages, harm small businesses and give global corporations even more influence over our economy. Workers, communities and small businesses—in the United States and in the countries we trade with—need updated, 21st century trade and economic policies that promote good jobs and benefits for all, not simply massive profits for a few.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Hey, Macklemore, Can We Go New Wireless Provider Shopping?

Hey, Macklemore, Can We Go New Wireless Provider Shopping?

Hey, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, can we talk for a minute? I love you guys. I think “The Heist” is one of the best albums of the past few years. I’ve sung three different songs of yours at karaoke and I’m practicing a fourth. I’m one of the people who knows that when you talk about Capitol Hill in your songs, you’re not talking about D.C.

One of my favorite things about your songs, beyond the high-quality sound and performance, is how you talk about real-world issues and problems in honest, open and thoughtful ways. You don’t talk down to your listeners and you give them things to think about that they might not otherwise think about. That’s a great thing to do. From discussions on LGBTQ equality in “Same Love,” to talking about racial profiling and Trayvon Martin at the American Music Awards, to dealing with drug addiction and abuse on songs like “Otherside,” you’re bringing up important topics in ways that few popular musicians ever do. That’s to be applauded.

I’m also a fan of how you have stayed true to your principles and refused to sign with record companies that would exploit you. So, can I ask you a favor? You’re performing a show tonight sponsored by T-Mobile. T-Mobile is a company as bad or worse than those record companies you talked about in songs like “Jimmy Iovine.”

Workers employed by the wireless provider have described the company’s tactics as “brutal psychological terror.” These practices include things like verbal abuse, threats, forcing workers to wear dunce caps and sit in a corner if they don’t meet their quotas. In one town, so many T-Mobile workers have gone to the doctor reporting migraines, stroke symptoms, high blood pressure, anxiety and depression, the doctors have started referring to the symptoms as “T-Mobile disease.” When those workers try to stand up for themselves and just work in a reasonable environment, they report being fired, disciplined, interrogated in basements and systematically told to keep quiet.

So far in your career, you’ve done a great job at raising awareness about injustice when you’ve seen it. You can do it again by shining a light on T-Mobile and its mistreatment of workers. At the end of “Jimmy Iovine,” you said something about how you’d prefer to be a starving artist than succeed at getting screwed over by a greedy corporation. And that was a bold stance for you that has paid off. Now you have the chance to help T-Mobile workers avoid both starving and getting screwed over.

Our friends at United Students Against Sweatshops and MoveOn.org asked your fans to sign a petition asking you to break up with T-Mobile.

Can you help some brothers and sisters out?

Read more about T-Mobile’s mistreatment of workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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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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Pentagon Contract Workers Strike for Living Wage

A group of Pentagon workers employed by federal contractors at low wages to operate concessions and clean federal buildings are the latest federal contract workers to walk off the job and urge President Barack Obama to use his executive authority to establish a living wage requirement for contractors that do business with the government.

Salon’s Josh Eidelson reports that low-wage contracted workers at several other federal buildings joined today’s demonstrations. Read Eidelson’s full report.

About 2 million workers are employed at low wages by federal contractors across the nation.

Like low-wage fast-food and retail workers across the country, the federal workers have staged one-day strikes to spotlight their demands for a living wage and the right to join a union without retaliation by employers.

In September, a group of federal contract workers marched to the White House and delivered petitions with more than 250,000 signatures, urging Obama to issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay a living wage. While Obama has called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage, the White House has not indicated if Obama will issue the living wage executive order for federal contractors.

More than 200 workers at six Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., won union representation with UNITE HERE late last year and are bargaining for better wages and working conditions.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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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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NLRB Files Formal Complaint Against Walmart, Internal Anti-Union Documents Also Leaked

The National Labor Relations Board filed an formal complaint yesterday against the retail behemoth Walmart, alleging that the company violated the rights of nearly 70 workers rallying over workplace conditions in 14 states.

The Los Angeles Times reports the complaint, the largest ever against Walmart, refers to charges made in November 2012 during the Black Friday actions by associates speaking out for respect on the job and for Walmart to publicly commit to provide regular hours and a living wage of $25,000 a year. The complaint alleges Walmart illegally fired and disciplined nearly 70 workers in 34 stores.

“Walmart thinks it can scare us with attacks to keep us from having a real conversation about the poverty wages we’re paid,” says Barbara Collins, a fired Walmart worker from Placerville, Calif., who is one of the workers named in the complaint. “But too much is at stake—the strength of our economy and the security of our families—to stay silent about why Walmart needs to improve jobs. Now the federal government is confirming what we already know: We have the right to speak out, and Walmart fired me and my co-workers illegally. With a new CEO taking over in a few weeks, we hope that Walmart will take a new direction in listening to associates and the country in the growing calls to improve jobs.”

Making Change at Walmart reported in a press release:

If Walmart is found liable, workers could be awarded back pay, reinstatement and the reversal of disciplinary actions through the decision; and Walmart could be required to inform and educate all employees of their legally protected rights. While historic, the complaint alone is not enough to stop Walmart from violating the law. Since the start of the year, Walmart has continued to retaliate against workers who speak out for better jobs.

In other news, the Internet group Anonymous leaked a set of Walmart PowerPoints for managers that included ways to discourage workers from joining a union and how to identify “early warning signs.”

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The PowerPoints also detailed legal ways an employer could discourage workers from organizing:

“Walmart’s aggressive anti-worker campaign is real, it is ugly and unnecessary,” says Dominic Ware of Leandro, Calif. (OUR Walmart member and former associate). “Instead of spending money on these misleading and false campaigns to intimidate workers and their rights, Walmart should be focused on publicly committing to improving jobs, raising wages and making sure that workers are able to raise their concerns without fear of illegal retaliation.”

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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West Virginia: Weak Environmental Laws = Poison Water

Common sense tells you don’t put a hazardous chemical storage facility on the banks of a river, a little more than a mile upstream from a drinking water intake that serves more than 300,000 people downstream. So should the law.

But beyond basic common sense, state and  federal environmental and safety and health rules should be in place to prevent disasters such as the recent West Virginia chemical spill that poisoned the drinking water of families downstream from a largely unregulated and uninspected toxic chemical facility on the banks of the Elk River.

Not only was Freedom Industries allowed to operate the facility, which stored millions of gallons of various so-called “specialty chemicals” in aging tanks along the river banks, it had not been inspected by state or federal authorities since 2001, according to the Associated Press. When the leak occurred it was neighbors, not the company, who alerted officials.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports:

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials have said that their inspectors investigated the situation at Freedom on Jan. 9—not because of an alert from the company, but after neighbors complained of an annoying chemical odor resembling that of licorice.

The chemical industry and others in West Virginia have a long and successful history of fighting environmental and health and safety rules. But as the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards points out, the West Virginia water disaster is:

The latest in a series of environmental and safety disasters related to shortcomings in federal and state oversight that have often been driven by vociferous industry-funded anti-regulatory campaigns….The public pays the price when the regulatory agencies don’t have the legal tools and funding to do their jobs.

AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario says, “This latest disaster has eerie echoes of the West Texas fertilizer explosion in March 2013—in both cases regulation of the toxic chemicals involved were lacking and there had been no oversight or inspections of the facilities.”

In Charleston, citizens have had their lives upended for days, but thankfully there has been no loss of life. In West, Texas, the damage was more devastating and long lasting with 15 emergency responders killed and hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed.

She said the disasters point out the urgent need for stronger protections and greater oversight by state and federal authorities.

This will only happen if citizens and workers come together and demand that their government take action to ensure safe water, clean air and safe workplaces for all.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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