Outsiders Behind Kentucky ‘Right to Work’ Push

Park Hills, Ky., resident and airline pilot Stuart Morrison recently wrote a great op-ed for Cincinnati.com ripping apart the push for “right to work” in his home state by outsiders with an agenda that doesn’t help Kentucky. Take a look.

Next week, Kenton County commissioners intend to vote on a countywide ban on private-sector “agency shop” agreements between unions and employers. Those are labor agreements that require persons who work in organized shops to contribute to the cost of representing them in collective bargaining and contract enforcement. Such clauses are almost uniformly demanded by union members, who resent having to subsidize the representation of employees who choose not to be members….

I appreciate that the commissioner took the time to discuss this matter with me, but I am deeply disturbed that on a significant issue for our citizens, the legal affairs of the county have apparently been outsourced to right-wing advocacy groups. I am equally troubled that the commissioners have not performed any sort of independent investigation on what the economic impact of this new law would be and have not even held hearings on the matter. I recognize that the same anti-union advocacy groups that claim to know Kentucky law better than the state attorney general also produce studies showing the purported benefits to workers of right to work laws, all of which have been discredited. The underlying fact remains that right to work laws are consistently associated with lower family income, lower rates of health insurance coverage and greater dependence on the federal government for assistance.

The Kenton County Commission seems poised to proceed despite the fact that the issue is already the subject of a lawsuit before a federal judge in Louisville following a similar course of action undertaken in Hardin County. I think that before we enact a law it should be accompanied by an independent review of its legality and economic merits by professionals hired by and accountable to those who live here. The fact that this was not done in any meaningful way tells me that the enactment of right to work is not a matter of considered economic or legal policy, but an exercise in raw political payback against constituencies who have chosen not to support the present all-Republican board.

Read the full article.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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County ‘Right to Work’ Drive Seems to Be Fizzling in the Bluegrass State

Union-busters bragged that “right to work” ordinances would be on the books in 30 of Kentucky’s 120 counties by Jan. 31.

“They have fallen well short of their goal,” says Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO.

Warren County passed a right to work ordinance in December. Since, only four more counties have followed. Ordinances have passed on first reading in three others. Of the group, only Warren and Hardin counties don’t border Tennessee, a right to work state.

Londrigan says the state line counties “are low hanging fruit” that “seem to be more susceptible to right to work proponents’ lies about how they would get all those jobs from employers who are purportedly setting up shop just on the other side of the Tennessee border as if they were maquiladoras along the Mexican border.”

Grassroots opposition by union members and union allies statewide has helped stall the right to work drive, says Londrigan.

Counties the right to work supporters assumed would jump on board have suddenly backed off.

Londrigan says two other factors also have helped: a federal lawsuit filed by nine unions against the Hardin County ordinance—which could be applied to other right to work ordinances—and an opinion from Attorney General Jack Conway that county right to work ordinances are unconstitutional.

Also, the state AFL-CIO has sent hefty packets of information telling the truth about right to work to judge-executives and county attorneys across the state.

Meanwhile, Kentucky union members are showing up at fiscal court meetings to challenge right to work advocates from in-state and out-of-state groups, Londrigan says.

We have sent a strong message to the counties that organized labor will be fighting this plague in every corner of the commonwealth.

While the legal action in federal district court in Louisville and the attorney general’s opinion have prompted some county officials to hesitate on right to work, other county officials have told unions that they won’t pass a right to work ordinance regardless of how the suit turns out, according to Londrigan.

But it is extremely important that we stay engaged so that we have the necessary information to defeat this anti-worker, anti-union onslaught.

Londrigan says Bluegrass State unions have let the union-busters:

know that the Kentucky labor movement isn’t going to roll over for them and that we are never going to stop fighting for economic, political and social justice.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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7 Reasons Right to Work Is Wrong for Warren County, Ky. (and Everywhere Else)

7 Reasons Right to Work Is Wrong for Warren County, Ky. (and Everywhere Else)

In Warren County, Ky., a fiscal court has given preliminary approval to a local “right to work” for less ordinance. The measure is worded as to prevent any worker covered by the National Labor Relations Act from being required to join or pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. Since it is already illegal in the United States to require workers to join unions, the real focus of the measure is to weaken workers in negotiations with employers for decent wages and benefits. Instead of passing illegal ordinances that are a big waste of time and resources for the county, those efforts should be spent in other ways like focusing on raising wages for Warren County residents.

If you’re in Kentucky, call the fiscal court today and tell them you oppose the right to work ordinance: 1-855-721-3304

Here are seven specific ways that this measure would hurt workers in Warren County, most of which would apply to workers in other Kentucky locales (and elsewhere) if the process were repeated elsewhere:

1. It’s illegal and will create an administrative nightmareA Kentucky court already has said that right to work laws can only be made at the state level. If it goes into effect, it will lead to legal wrangling and make compliance very difficult for companies that work in more than one Kentucky county.

2. The law is being pushed by rich extremists from out of state: The Bluegrass Institute, a Kentucky “think tank,” that is pushing local right to work laws like this one receives massive amounts of funding from out-of-state interests that won’t be affected by the negative impact of such laws on Kentuckians. A shadowy network of groups, many of them connected to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, and the billionaire Koch Brothers, pushes these laws across the country, with little concern about the local impact and without revealing their funding and broader agenda.

3. The law is being advanced with little input with a high level of secrecy: On Dec. 11, the court voted to pass the law. The right to work measure was part of a bill called Promotion of Economic Development and Commerce for Warren County and it was handed out 15 minutes before the vote, a vote that was held 19 out of 20 during the meeting. Where was the public input? Who proposed the measure? Who supported it? What economic impacts would it have on workers? Were any questions asked or answered during the process?

4. It hurts working families: There is a pattern of right to work laws decreasing wages, lowering household income, increasing poverty, undermining workplace safety and failing to improve access to health care.

5. These laws don’t actually boost the economy: A significant body of research backs that claim, and even some conservatives, such as Stanley Greer, a spokesperson for the National Right to Work Committee, have admitted it: “We’re not purporting to prove that right to work produces superior economic performance.”

6. Voters don’t want it: In November, Kentucky voters rejected candidates funded by out-of-state interests with extreme agendas, including right to work.

7. Kentucky residents have other priorities: The state’s hardworking families need a raise, more good jobs and more investment in education. This measure will accomplish none of that.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Kentucky Voters Turn Back Republicans’ Right to Work Push

Rep. Gerald Watkins, USW Local 550 photo.

You have to look pretty hard to find something for unions to celebrate after the election.

But take a gander at the Bluegrass State beyond its much-publicized and hotly contested U.S. Senate race, and you’ll see where anti-union Republicans failed, big time.

The Kentucky GOP very publicly promised to put the Bluegrass State in the “right to work” column if they flipped the Democratic-majority state House of Representatives. The Republicans came up short.

While Mitch McConnell beat labor-endorsed Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in the U.S. Senate battle, the state House is still Democratic and by the same 54–46 pre-election margin.

Of course, McConnell v. Grimes grabbed the lion’s share of media attention nationally and statewide. Even so, the House results are good news for unions in an otherwise generally disappointing election.

With the Democrats holding onto the House, Kentucky will remain the only non-right to work state in the South. Jeff Wiggins, president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, said:

The outcome of the House races was huge for us. All that stands between us and a right to work law is that Democratic House.

The state Senate has a right to work Republican majority. Gov. Steve Beshear, a union-backed Democrat, would almost certainly veto a right to work bill. But in Kentucky, a simple majority of both houses of the legislature overrides a governor’s veto.

The House Republican candidates united to make right to work one of their top issues. Rep. Jeff Hoover, the House minority leader, stumped the state for right to work, posing for TV and newspaper cameras with local Republican candidates in tow.

A slew of GOP radio, TV and print ads touted a right to work law. The Republicans maintained such a measure would lead to dozens of companies and thousands of good jobs coming to Kentucky.

Paducah Plumbers and Steamfitters (UA) Local 184 challenged the Republicans on some of their turf, the GOP-friendly, anti-union Paducah Sun. The newspaper endorsed McConnell. Even so, Local 184 took out a full page in the paper debunking Republican claims about right to work.

State Rep. Gerald Watkins of Paducah was one of the victorious labor-endorsed Democrats. “The ad was great and strong union support really helped me,” said Watkins, one of the pro-union incumbents the GOP targeted for defeat.

Wiggins, who is also president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9447, said a Republican majority legislature wouldn’t have stopped with a right to work law.

They would have repealed our prevailing wage law, too. We’d have ended up working for less money, and our workplaces would have become less safe. The Republicans would have turned back the clock to the time of no unions and the company store.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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11 Reasons Why Mitch McConnell Is One of the Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections

It’s an election year and we are quickly approaching the time when working families will have the opportunity to go to the polls and vote against a whole host of extreme candidates who support policies that limit rights, make it even harder to afford a middle-class life and pad the pockets of their corporate buddies. One of the “Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections” is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

1. He opposes wage increases, prevailing wage laws and black lung benefits. He also refuses to support legislation to secure pensions for mine workers and retirees. [Courier-Journal, 8/27/14; The Nation, 6/20/14; The Associated Press, 7/3/14; S. 468, introduced 3/6/13]

2. McConnell has voted against laws that would help stop outsourcing and has even voted for tax breaks that reward corporations for exporting America’s jobs overseas. [Senate Vote 181, 7/19/12; CNN, 7/19/12; The Wall Street Journal, 9/26/10; Senate Vote 63, 3/17/05; The Washington Post, 3/20/05]

3. He said that the government should cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—programs the working class depend on. [The Wall Street Journal, 1/6/13]

4. McConnell is out of touch with Kentucky’s working families, who are seeing their incomes fall behind the cost of living. He’s worth more than $27 million but blocked and voted against legislation to raise the minimum wage. [The Washington Post, 4/30/14; Washington Post candidate wealth profile, 2010; S. 2223, Vote 117, 4/30/14]

5. He supported massive tax breaks for the wealthy while voting against funding to keep teachers in the classroom. He sponsored legislation to permanently reduce the estate tax for the wealthy and extend the Bush‐era tax breaks for the richest Americans and opposed legislation that would give aid to states facing financial trouble to keep teachers in the classroom. [The Washington Post, 9/13/10; Chicago Sun-Times, Editorial, 2/5/10; H.R. 1586, Vote 224, 8/4/10]

6. Instead of helping jobless workers get back on their feet, McConnell blocked legislation extending unemployment insurance benefits. [Politico, 2/6/14]

7. While 40 million Americans are being crushed by student loan debt, he blocked the “Bank on Students Emergency Loan Refinancing Act” that would have enabled millions of Americans with expensive student loans to refinance into more manageable payments. [S. 2432, Vote 185, 6/11/14; The Huffington Post, 6/11/14]

8. McConnell has consistently voted against laws that would make it easier for Kentucky workers to get good pay, decent benefits and real job security. [Lexington Herald-Leader, 6/21/07; Senate Vote 227, 6/27/07; Senate Vote 243, 12/28/12; Congressional Record, 12/28/12; CQ, 12/28/12]

9. McConnell blocked and voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act, a Democratic bill aimed at narrowing the pay gap between men and women. [Politico, 4/9/14; S. 2199, Vote 103, 4/9/14]

10. Many Americans believe that Washington is broken and too many politicians are playing political games instead of coming together to solve problems for working people. McConnell called himself a “Proud Guardian of Gridlock.” [Political Transcript Wire, 2/2/06]

11. According to the Washington Post, “Mitch McConnell raised the art of obstructionism to new levels. When McConnell and his united GOP troops couldn’t stop things from getting through the Senate, they made sure the Democrats paid a heavy price for winning.” [The Washington Post, 1/30/11]

Text MYVOTE to 30644 for important updates on the election. 

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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3 Pieces of Good News for Obamacare You Might Have Missed

Remember Obamacare? Also known as the Affordable Care Act? With news of conflict and tragedy dominating the airwaves, recent news about the sweeping new health care law has been getting swept under the rug.

That’s too bad, because here’s the basic headline: the Affordable Care Act is working, and consumers have a lot to look forward to when the next open enrollment period starts in November.

Here’s the rundown:

1.) More insurance companies are joining the exchanges. The health exchanges set up under the ACA work best when more insurance companies participate. More companies means more competition for your business, which ultimately means lower prices for consumers.

For instance, last year in New Hampshire there was only one company on the state exchange–not a recipe for healthy competition. Even so, signups exceeded expectations, and other companies are diving in to swoop up consumer dollars. For 2015 open enrollment (which begins on November 15, 2014), there will be not one more but four more companies on the New Hampshire exchange.

That’s happening across the country. In Michigan, there will be 18 companies for 2015 open enrollment versus 13 in 2014. In Indiana, consumers will have double the options to choose from. Major carriers like United, Aetna, and Cigna are wading into California’s exchange, which they previously sat out. Again, more competition means more options and lower prices for consumers.

2.) The ACA is massively cutting the rate of uninsured. Between the creation of state exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid in half the country, and the end of disgusting insurance practices (like denying insurance to those with pre-existing conditions), the Affordable Care Act is succeeding at its main goal: reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

Look at where we stand. The rate of uninsured in New Jersey is down 38 percent. In Minnesota, it’s down a whopping 40 percent. And in Kentucky, where Senator Mitch McConnell advocated full repeal of the ACA, the rate of uninsured has been cut in half.

What of predictions that all those consumers signing up wouldn’t pay their premiums? Charles Gaba, who runs ACASignups.net, has crunched the statewide data and estimates 90 percent of those who signed up on the exchanges have paid the first premiums.

3.) A majority of Americans want to keep the ACA. The Koch Brothers, the Republican Party, and the health insurance lobby itself have all spent massive amounts of money on a barrage of misinformation to convince the country that Obamacare is a government takeover, a socialist conspiracy, a massive waste of money, or the “worst thing since slavery,” depending on who you ask.

But as more and more people gain the peace of mind that health coverage brings, the misinformation loses its effectiveness.

A Bloomberg poll released on June 11 shows that 56 percent of Americansthink Obamacare “may need small modifications, but we should see how it works,” vs. 32 percent for repeal and 10 percent for leaving it be. The poll also finds 11 percent oppose the law because it didn’t go far enough.

And as we’ve seen since 2010, support for the actual components of the ACA is much higher: 55 percent support eliminating lifetime caps, 65 percent support changing rules on preexisting conditions, and 75 percent (!) support allowing children to remain on parents’ plans until 26.

As MSNBC’s Simon Maloy put it: “We’re only six days into June, and opponents of the ACA have already had a terrible month.” Which makes it a great month for consumers like you and me.

Visit WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org to find out more information on getting affordable coverage that works for you.

Photo by Obamacare on Facebook

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Amazon.com Workers File Suit over Unpaid Time

More workers at Amazon.com’s warehouses—that some describe as high-speed, high-tension  sweatshops—have filed federal court suits against the company and its contractors that supply the mostly temporary and low-paid workers for workplace rules that require them to undergo unpaid security checks at breaks and the end of their often 12-hour shifts.

The most recent legal action comes from workers at distribution centers in Kentucky, Tennessee and Washington State. Those suits follow one filed by Amazon.com warehouse workers in Nevada.

According to the complaints, writes Dave Jamieson at The Huffington Post, the workers have to go through a security checkpoint at the end of their shifts, as well as at the beginning of their unpaid breaks. Workers typically line up to pass through a metal detector, and they may have their bodies passed over with wands or their bags searched by guards if they happen to set the detector off. The searches usually take about 10 minutes but can be as long as 30 minutes in peak holiday season. Says Jamieson:

Collectively, the complaints suggest that Amazon’s policy of forcing workers to wait in security lines without pay is common practice at its growing number of distribution centers throughout the country. The suits also reveal some of the labor penny-pinching that’s enabled the world’s largest online retailer to undercut competitors with such fast and cheap shipping.

Read more from Jamieson.

In July, after President Obama appeared at an Amazon.com warehouse in Tennessee calling for creation of “middle class jobs,” we reported on working conditions at the online retail giant’s warehouses, including workers walking more than 10 miles a shift, temperatures as high as 110° F and with their productivity tracked by a scanner.

Workers are pressured to keep up dangerous levels of work for shifts that last 12 hours or more. Workers say they are constantly in fear of being written up or fired for not working fast enough. Employees reportedly have to participate in phone conferences where there was screaming and constant complaints that production numbers weren’t high enough, regardless of how high they were. Several former managers said they were retaliated against for complaining about work conditions.

Read the full story.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Appeals Court Denies Peabody’s Retiree Health Care Evasion

In a victory for some 3,100 retired Mine Workers (UMWA) members and a setback for Peabody Energy and its attempt to duck its health care obligations, a U.S. Court of Appeals’ bankruptcy appellate panel todayreversed a lower court’s ruling that would have allowed Peabody to shed its responsibilities.

The retirees worked for Heritage Coal before Peabody spun it off to Patriot Coal. The UMWA says Peabody created Patriot solely for the purpose of ducking health care and other obligations for miners and retirees.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts says the court’s ruling was:

A bright ray of good news in what has been a long, dreary period for the retirees, their dependents and widows who have been desperately worried about what’s going to happen to their health care.

The union has been engaged in a Fairness at Patriot campaign to win justice and protect the pensions and health care for the workers and retirees at Patriot and to hold Peabody accountable to its obligations. Says Roberts:

Peabody has spent years trying to get rid of its obligations to the thousands of retirees who made it the richest coal company in the world. This decision foils part of that plan. And it makes us even more determined to keep fighting to make sure the company lives up to its entire obligation to these miners.

UMWA members at Patriot Coal operations in West Virginia and Kentucky last week ratified a settlement the union reached with the company that makes significant improvements in terms and conditions of employment over a federal bankruptcy judge’s order from last May. But says Roberts:

We are now able to turn our full attention to securing the lifetime health care benefits Peabody and Arch Minerals [which also was involved in the creation of Patriot] promised these retirees. If those companies thought our public effort to highlight their poor corporate citizenship was over, they will quickly find out otherwise. We’re moving into a new phase of that effort, and soon. We fully intend to hold Peabody and Arch accountable.

Visit Fairness at Patriot for more detailed information on the struggle.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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What the Members of the “Pro-Hunger” House Caucus Should Know About Who Gets Food Stamps

It’s true: the number of recipients of food stamps have gone up since the start of the worst recession since the Great Depression. But it turns out that some of the loudest critics and attackers of the program represent constituents who have the most to lose from food stamp cuts.

Bloomberg reviewed 2,049 U.S. counties for food stamp usage. Among the 250 counties with the highest concentration of food stamp recipients, 227 are wholly within one congressional district, with 160 represented by Republicans and 67 by Democrats.

Many of those same Republicans voted for a farm bill this past June that cut about $2 billion annually from food stamps. Many of them also voted for a July 11 farm bill that stripped all funding for food stamps – that bill passed the House.

Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) voted for both bills. He represents the second poorest district in the country, Kentucky’s 5th, where 32 percent of residents receive SNAP benefits.

His district also includes Owsley County, where 52 percent of residents received SNAP in 2011, a higher proportion than any other county in America.

Reporting for Bloomberg, John McCormick and Greg Giroux found that Owsley County residents were supportive of keeping the supplemental income:

“Of all the things they could cut in America, it shouldn’t be the food stamp program,” said Marshall, 58, who received Social Security disability payments and is raising three grandchildren, ages 7 through 17, in Booneville, Kentucky, on a monthly income of $1,255, all from the state or federal government.

In Owsley County, the unemployment rate is 11.8 percent, according to the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training. Residents say few jobs are available in an area hit hard by the closing of coal mines…

“Almost everyone I know gets at least some food stamps,” said Sara Price, a Booneville resident who has used the program for about a decade and gets $333 a month for her family of six. “There used to be more stigma attached to it. There is no shame with it, if you are working and trying to make ends meet.”

Maxine Gibson, 47, said she gets $165 a month in food stamps that she uses for a grandchild and another child, ages 9 and 5, that she’s raising. With her Social Security disability and other government assistance, she said her household has about $1,500 a month in income. “I buy a lot of soup because it’s cheaper,” she said. “It really doesn’t last all month.”

But to ideological hardliners like Rep. Rogers, that doesn’t matter so much.

“If there was no deficit, they would still want to cut this kind of program,” Graham Wilson, the political science department chairman at Boston University, said of Republicans. “They have a fervent ideological belief that government should be cut back.”

Rep. Rogers was criticized in the local press for his votes. Yet just last year 84 percent of his constituents voted to send him back for his 16th term. Would they, and other SNAP recipients represented by Republicans, be so supportive if they knew what their lawmakers were up to?

Check out the Bloomberg piece, and while you’re at it, see what the Lexington Herald-Leader about Rep. Rogers’ votes.

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

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How Seven Elected Officials Are Standing Up to the Banks

“You have really been fantastic!” wrote William from Bearsville, New York, “Rarely have I been able to write that someone I voted for has actually acted as I would act…truly representative government! I love it!”

Congress is at record low approval, and distrust of government is at record highs. Occupy protesters have taken to the streets across the country to voice their anger at the current political system. In this day and age, what would possess William from Bearsville to gush over an elected official?

Turns out William was writing to Eric Schneiderman, the Attorney General of New York state. Schneiderman, elected in 2010, is one of a handful of state officials resisting a proposed “50 state settlement” with big banks that would amount to a slap on the wrist for years of unethical and sometimes illegal foreclosure practices.

The first reaction we all have to a politician doing anything we even remotely approve of is: What’s their game? What do they have to gain from this? Given what we’ve seen the last few years, it’s a fair question. Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, gave his answer in an August blog post:

I’ve known Schneiderman for a few years, back when he was a state Senator working to reform the Rockefeller drug laws. And my answer to this question is pretty simple. He wants to. That’s it. Eric Schneiderman is investigating the banks because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. So he’s doing it. This guy has thought about his politics. He wrote an article about how he sees politics in 2008 in the Nation, and in his inaugural speech as NY AG he talked about the need to restore faith in both public and private institutions. Free will still counts for something, apparently.

But the New Yorker isn’t the only one stepping up to the plate. Joining Schneiderman are Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Jack Conway of Kentucky, Beau Biden of Delaware, Kamala Harris of California, and Lori Swanson of Minnesota. “Thank goodness Lori Swanson is standing up for homeowners and holding financial companies accountable,” wrote Elizabeth from Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

It’s true that these seven AG’s happen to be Democrats. But foreclosure fraud is not – or at least it should not be – a partisan issue. Even our most conservative, rabid anti-Obama friends and relatives would probably agree that those who used dirty tactics to make a killing while millions of families lost their homes should be brought to justice.

The biggest reason that there are seven AG’s standing up to the banks instead of 50 is that the price for messing around with those large financial institutions – literally trying to extract more restitution and deny blanket legal immunity – can be very high. A bunch of these guys are up for reelection, and some of them have ambitions for higher office. In an age of Citizens United, tangling with the likes of Bank of America and Citigroup can put a huge pair of crosshairs on your political career; the banks don’t care whether there is a D or an R next to your name if you vote their way.

That’s why it’s even more important to laud these seven for standing up to the banks. Take action here and send a message to your state Attorney General that an investigation into fraud isn’t just good for our economic future – it’s the right thing to do.

Photo of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman from the Office of New York Attorney General.

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