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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by @abc27news on Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by vox_efx on Flickr

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AFL-CIO and Working Families Lead Efforts Across the Country to Raise the Minimum Wage

Photo via All-Nite Images/Flickr

While Republicans in Washington, D.C., are doing their best to stop a federal increase to the minimum wage, working families and their allies across the country are fighting to increase the minimum wage at the state and local level. America’s working families consistently support a minimum wage increase, supporting the idea that jobs should lift workers out of poverty, conservatives continue to rely upon disproven criticisms of increasing the wage. But Americans aren’t buying the conservative lies and are demanding that Congress and the president raise the wage for millions of workers, including tipped workers. And many of them aren’t waiting for Washington to get the job done, they’re taking action across the country. The federal minimum wage has remained $7.25 an hour since 2009 and wages for tipped workers have been frozen at $2.13 an hour since 1991. Here’s the latest news on the push for a higher minimum wage across the nation:

Alaska: More than 43,000 signatures were collected in favor of an August ballot initiative that would raise the wage to $9.75 over two years, with an annual increase for inflation.

Arkansas: Labor and community groups are pushing for a ballot measure that would raise the the state minimum wage to $8.50 over the next three years.

Connecticut: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) proposed increasing the wage to $10.10 an hour. The legislature is now considering the bill.

Idaho: Labor and community groups are working on legislation that would increase the wage in the state that has the highest percentage of minimum wage employees in the nation.

Iowa: With the rallying cry “We can’t survive on $7.25!” working families in Iowa are pushing for a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10.

Los Angeles: The Raise L.A. campaign is working on raising the minimum salaries of hotel workers to $15 an hour while the L.A. County Federation invited Pope Francis to visit the city to help champion economic equality for low-wage workers.

Maryland: Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has joined with Raise Maryland in calling for the state’s wage to be raised to $10.10 an hour. They also are calling for tipped workers to earn at least 70% of the minimum wage.

Massachusetts: The Raise-Up Massachusetts campaign is collecting signatures to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot and is organizing a low-wage worker listening tour.

Minnesota: Working families and their allies are pushing to raise the state minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015, with future increases tied to inflation.

Missouri: Low-wage and tipped workers organized and testified at a critical committee hearing for a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour. The bill is active in the state Senate.

Nebraska: The legislature is considering a package of bills backed by local labor groups that would raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour and require employers to provide paid sick days.

New Hampshire: The state’s labor movement and community allies have made raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour one of their top priorities for 2014.

Pennsylvania: A community coalition launched a campaign to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Seattle: Working families in Seattle are trying to recreate the success of allies in SeaTac in an effort to raise the local minimum wage to $15 an hour.

South Dakota: The South Dakota AFL-CIO and allies successfully placed a minimum wage increase on the ballot that will be voted on in November, raising the state’s wage to $8.50 with an annual cost-of-living increase.

West Virginia: The legislature passed a bill championed by the West Virginia AFL-CIO that would raise the minimum wage to $8.75 and would increase the minimum wage for tipped workers.

Do you think America needs a raise? Sign the petition

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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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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How Union Members Saved Harley-Davidson

What do you do when your world-famous brand is so smashed by the recession that your stock price falls from $75 to $8? What do you do when your manufacturing plant has a culture that leads to high rates of absenteeism on Mondays and Fridays? What do you do when your product takes 18 months to get into the hands of the customers who want it?

Generally, you go out of business.

Unless, that is, your workforce is unionized and they become aware of the problems you face and they decide to be part of the solution. That’s the story of Harley-Davidson, as told by Adam Davidson of the New York Times. Members of the Machinists (IAM) and United Steelworkers (USW) who work for the motorcycle manufacturer are paid living wages compared to manufacturing workers in many parts of the world, but officials at the company never considered moving their factories out of the United States. Their image and customer base are blue-collar Americans who want their hogs made in America by highly skilled labor.

Davidson writes:

Harley tore down the existing plant and built a new one. Unlike most factories I’ve seen lately, the new plant in York [Pa.,] has people everywhere. There are no robots on the main assembly line (they have various peripheral jobs); instead, hundreds of workers, operating in teams of five or six, manually build each motorcycle. This seemed like an expensive way of doing business, but Magee said that experienced, skilled workers, unlike robots, can constantly adjust to new information. The York plant makes four basic styles of motorcycle, but each has an array of customizable options. There are around 1,200 different configurations, and a new bike starts its way through the production line every 80 seconds. Virtually each one is unique, and workers have no idea what’s coming 80 seconds later. Surprisingly, robots can’t adjust on the fly like that.

Skilled union workers were able to do a job that was too complicated for machines to do and produce a product that revived the iconic brand. While Davidson was at the York plant, he saw a worker fix an assembly problem that literally saved the company more than a million dollars. That kind of worker innovation and cooperation, teamed with a company that is committed to doing things the right way has paid off. Harley-Davidson has gained back almost all of the stock value it lost and bikes get to customers in just a few weeks now. Costs have been cut by $100 million at the York factory, which recently won an IndustryWeek Best Plants award, the industry equivalent of a Grammy. The average worker at the York location has been there 18 years and they are extremely devoted to Harley.

No question that this is a model that other companies should be paying attention to, particularly if they want to be able to weather tough economic times.

Photo by Harley-Davidson on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Governors Who Reject Medicaid Painfully Unaware of the Pain They Are Causing

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The most under-reported fact about our health care system in 2014 is this: 5 million Americans don’t have access to affordable health coverage simply because their governors (or majority of legislators) refuse to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Medicaid expansion would cost the states nothing for the first three years, and after that time the federal government would pick up an overwhelming majority of the costs. Yet, when asked, these politicians frequently cite cost as the prohibiting factor to Medicaid expansion. That’s because the real reason would–and should–be embarrassing: they want to be seen as “tough” toward President Obama and the new health care law, and rejecting Medicaid expansion is the best and easiest way to do that.

These politicians include Rick Perry, governor of Texas, where nearly one out of four people don’t have health insurance. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is another: 700,000 Pennsylvanians are denied affordable coverage because of his opposition to expanding Medicaid.

Working America members in Pennsylvania have been active in pressuring Gov. Corbett and the legislature to change their tune. In December, our longtime member Georgeanne Koehler wrote a heartfelt letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in favor of Medicaid expansion, citing her 50 years in the health care industry. “I learned early on that when an illness attacks us it doesn’t care anything about us, not our race, religion, gender or politics,” she wrote in the letter, which she dedicated to her late brother.

John Miklos, a member hailing from Uptown, followed up with a December 26 letter titled “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid.” John described several different common scenarios where the average working person would benefit from expansion. ”These scenarios are not imaginary,” he wrote, “People I know well live them every day.”

James Barum, another active Working America member in Pittsburgh, followed up these letters with a personal story of his own. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published his letter, “Health care needs,” in Thursday’s paper. We’ve included the letter in its entirety:

Health care needs

On the subject of the Dec. 27 letter “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid,” I thought that I would share a personal experience that may give readers pause on this issue.

A friend of mine works in the service industry brewing coffee. One day, when I was in line at that café to buy a drink, I saw her begin to cry while working. She was working furiously, making lattes and trying her best to meet each customer’s needs.

Somewhere in the chaos, a manager and I stopped her. In the break room, I spoke with her about what had occurred.

While picking up a tray, she felt a sharp pain shoot through her back. She always had issues with her back, and this happens to her occasionally, but never this bad. I asked if she had health insurance or could see a doctor, and she said, “No, I don’t, I’ll just have to tough it out.”

This saddened me, but when I heard about Gov. Tom Corbett’s reluctance to expand Medicaid, that sadness turned to anger — anger at the injustice of a friend who works so hard to serve others but cannot get her home state to serve her basic need for health care.

My friend and thousands just like her would qualify for Medicaid if our governor had the courage to put his constituent’s peace of mind above political games.

Nothing will get done if readers don’t give him the “encouragement” he needs.

JAMES BARUM
Robinson

Take action now: Tell Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett to accept federal funds for Medicaid.

Photo by @Fox43 on Twitter

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