Wisconsin Republicans Take Another Step Toward Silencing Workers and Decreasing Wages

Late Wednesday night, the Wisconsin state Senate voted 17–15 to advance a “right to work” bill that has been widely criticized as harmful to the working families of the state. Thousands rallied outside the Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday in opposition to the legislation, as similar laws have been shown to have widespread negative effects in the other states that have passed them. Republicans Fast Tracked the bill in order to limit public discussion and feedback, and the bill is expected to be voted on by the state Assembly next week. If it passes, it will be sent to Gov. Scott Walker (R) who has indicated he will sign it.

Republicans Fast Tracked the bill in order to limit public discussion and feedback, and the bill is expected to be voted on by the state Assembly next week. If it passes, it will be sent to Gov. Scott Walker (R) who has indicated he will sign it.

Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Phil Neuenfeldt, expressed dismay over Republicans ignoring the will of the people:

Republican senators clearly weren’t there to listen to their constituents or vote in the best interests of all Wisconsinites. With out-of-state special interests calling the shots, Wisconsin citizens get left behind. Right to work is a continuation of the destructive policies of the Scott Walker administration that have cost Wisconsin jobs and economic opportunity.

Wisconsin State AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Stephanie Bloomingdale echoed those comments:

Despite hours and hours of testimony on how right to work will lower wages, increase workplace deaths and erode the base of the middle class by crippling the ability of workers to team up and join together through their unions for a strong voice in the workplace, Republican senators rammed right to work legislation through the Senate in a disheartening move to democracy.

Wisconsin’s working families aren’t allowing Walker and his allies to silence them. They will rally again on Saturday at noon to make sure their voices are heard and will be out in force for a scheduled committee meeting on Tuesday and an expected floor vote in the Assembly on Thursday.

State Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D) summed up the effects of the bill: “This bill is going to drive down family wages. Period.” UAW member John Drew condemned the legislation as “a political attack on labor, dressed up as an issue of worker freedom. They want to beat us down, brothers and sisters. This is politics, pure and simple.”

Republican leaders couldn’t even convince all of the members of their own party of the merits of the legislation. State Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R) voted against the bill: “I am not convinced that the supposed benefits of passing this bill will materialize and offset a potentially disruptive impact on our economy.” He was the only Republican who stood and spoke in support of the legislation. The public wasn’t convinced, either. More than 1,750 Wisconsinites submitted comments or registered to speak against the bill at the hearing. Only 25 were in favor.

Unions representing Wisconsin’s professional athletes also weighed in, opposing right to work. The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) issued a strong statement:

The NFL Players Association stands together with the working families of Wisconsin and organized labor in their fight against current attacks against their right to stand together as a team.

Devoted food and commercial workers who spend their Sundays servicing our players and fans at Lambeau Field will have their well-being and livelihood jeopardized by right to work. Governor Scott Walker may not value these vital employees but, as union members, we do. We understand how devastating it would be if they lost the ability to have their workplace conditions and wages guaranteed through collective bargaining. We do not have to look any further than our own [collective bargaining agreement] to see that a band of workers, joined together as a union, can overcome decades of poor workplace conditions and drastically improve pensions and benefits.

Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Tony Clark said:

The Major League Baseball Players Association stands with our brothers and sisters in organized labor and deplores the current attempts in Wisconsin to undermine the collective voices of working people by seeking passage of so-called “right to work” legislation. We are proud to be among the ranks of labor unions that negotiate the terms and conditions of employment for their members, sitting across the table from management as equal parties under the federal law that guarantees the right to union representation. This state legislation is nothing more than an obvious attempt to undermine those rights and that power.

The National Hockey League Players Association issued a statement as well:

The current bill would impede the ability of working families in Wisconsin to achieve fair collective bargaining agreements with good wages and appropriate on the job protections. “Right to work” is not about freedom, it is about empowering employers at the expense of the employees. Again, we urge a No vote on the current legislation.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state where extremists are pushing right to work legislation in an attempt to silence working families. New Mexico’s legislature is headed down the same destructive path as are several other states.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Wisconsin Rallies Set to Stop ‘Right to Work’ Fast Track—Here’s How You Can Help

Wisconsin Rallies Set to Stop ‘Right to Work’ Fast Track—Here’s How You Can Help

The news from Wisconsin, during Gov. Scott Walker’s era, is once again bad for working families. The legislature is not only planning to introduce “right to work” legislation this week, it intends to Fast Track it, and Walker said he intends to sign it. Before we get into the reasons why right to work is wrong for Wisconsin (and everywhere else), here are a few steps you can take right now if you care about the future of Wisconsin and its workers.

  • Public testimony begins Tuesday on the right to work legislation. If you can, attend and speak up.
  • Attend one of the Madison rallies on Tuesday or Wednesday this week. Learn more.
  • If you can’t attend events in Madison, sign the online petition against right to work in Wisconsin.

You can follow the rallies and the story on Twitter with the hashtags: #wipolitics#righttowork and#wiunion. If you need more information before participating, here are eight reasons why right to work is bad for Wisconsin’s working families. Right to work laws:

1. Make it easier for CEOs to cut health and safety protections for workers. Workers in right to work states are twice as likely to die on the job as workers in states without such laws. Wisconsin already has a higher job fatality rate than the national average. In 2013, 96 workers lost their lives on the job in Wisconsin.

2. Increase risk of on-the-job injury. Wisconsin workers already are at a higher risk of injury at work, with a rate much higher than the national average. In 2013, Wisconsin workers suffered more than 85,200 work-related injuries and illnesses. Employees in foundries, wood products manufacturing, transportation, nursing homes, as well as the police and firefighters, are particularly likely to be hurt at work.

3. Lower wages and health insurance coverage for workers, thus increasing poverty and infant mortality.

4. Decrease investment in education.

5. Undercut the ability of unions to bargain for safety standards and rights stronger than the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) standards.

6. Limit the ability of unions to encourage compliance with worker protections, which unions do through collective bargaining agreements, member training and education, and workplace safety and health committees within the unions. Evidence shows that union workplaces have a much stronger enforcement of job safety rules than nonunion workplaces.

7. Weaken the protections for workers who are retaliated against for raising job safety concerns.

8. Make Wisconsin even more unsafe than it already is for workers. Currently, under the federal OSHA law, only 36 inspectors are available to check out 159,000 workplaces, meaning OSHA can only inspect each workplace once every 104 years. Similarly, the state’s penalties for job safety and health violations are too low.  In fiscal year 2013, the average penalty for a serious safety violation was only $2,207. For killing a worker, it was only $3,000. Such low figures offer little deterrence.

Well aware of these facts, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka condemned the Wisconsin push:

The effort to lower wages in America is going to reach new heights in Wisconsin this week. Wall Street billionaires and political extremists are joining together to force a vote on right to work legislation, which is wrong for Wisconsin’s hardworking families. This is a blatant attempt to silence workers’ voices to stop us from speaking out about lower wages and mistreatment at work.

In America, we have a strong tradition of having each others’ backs. Right now, workers from throughout Wisconsin and across the country are gathering in Wisconsin to fight back, together. They are using the tool Gov. Walker is most afraid of: their collective voice.

This right to work sham is about much more than unions. It is simply the next step in the billionaire right wing’s attempt to strip our freedoms to bargain with our employers as we see fit, ensure safe workplaces and raise wages across the country. Billionaires like the Koch brothers and the Walton family are engaged in a systematic attempt to dismantle our economy by lowering wages, while lining their pockets with record profits.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Walker Says Minimum Wage Serves No Purpose

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) doesn’t believe the minimum wage “serves a purpose.” Yes, that’s what he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board Tuesday. It should come as no surprise then that Walker also opposes raising the federal minimum wage from the $7.25-an-hour level where it’s been stuck since 2009.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) doesn’t believe the minimum wage “serves a purpose.” Yes, that’s what he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board Tuesday. It should come as no surprise then that Walker also opposes raising the federal minimum wage from the $7.25-an-hour level where it’s been stuck since 2009.

For the 700,000 Wisconsin workers who earn less than living wages and would like to be able to support their families, Walker has some sound and sage advice. He says those workers in fast food and retail and other low-wage jobs just have to get better jobs. He suggests welding. Hand me my helmet and spot welder. Then beam yourself up, Scotty. Obviously you’re from another planet. Here’s proof.

Earlier this month, a group of low-wage workers filed a complaint with the state that the $7.25-an-hour minimum wage actually violates a state law that says the minimum wage must be a living wage.

According to the Walker administration, $7.25 an hour is a living wage. Who knew? This is what the state’sDepartment of Workforce Development said in rejecting the workers’ claim of poverty wages:

The department has determined that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to the complainants are not a living wage.

You can’t make this stuff up.

The group Wisconsin Jobs Now said after that decision that Walker’s “political stance against raising minimum wage is one thing.”

But for the governor to brazenly say to the working families of Wisconsin that $7.25 an hour is enough to sustain themselves is not only misguided, it is incredibly ignorant and willfully obtuse.

We agree. So does Mary Burke who is running to unseat Walker. Burke, who supports increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, said the wage law does indeed serve a purpose.

It’s important that people who are working full-time are able to support themselves without government assistance. That’s just sort of common sense.

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Supreme Court Blocks Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked Wisconsin from implementing the nation’s strictest voter photo ID law that could have denied more than 300,000 registered voters the right to vote in the Nov. 4 election.

The one-page order gives opponents of the law 90 days to file a formal petition asking the Supreme Court to take up the case. The court’s three most conservative justices, Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, dissented.

It is estimated that some 300,000 registered Wisconsin voters—mostly African American, Hispanic, students and young voters (18–24) and those older than 65—do not currently have the types of IDs the law requires.

There have been a number of legal challenges to the photo ID law that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the Republican-majority state legislature passed in 2011. The most recent when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Advancement Project filed an emergency request asking the Supreme Court to block the ruling.

Advancement Project Co-Director Penda D. Hair says:

As we showed in the federal District Court, approximately 300,000 registered Wisconsin voters, disproportionately voters of color, lack the forms of ID that would have been required under the state’s restrictive voter ID law. These voters have a fundamental right to vote, a right that should not be denied by politicians who manipulate the voting rules weeks before Election Day. In a democracy, elections should be free, fair and accessible to all Americans.

Also announced yesterday, a federal judge struck down Texas’ very strict voter ID law.

On Oct. 8, the key parts of North Carolina’s restrictive voting rights law go forward, and last week the court allowed new voting restrictions in Ohio that severely curtailed early voting opportunities to go forward.

The Fair Elections Legal Network says that over the past two years, more than 30 states have introduced legislation or enacted laws that would curb voters’ access to voting. Find out more here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Horrible: Supreme Court Allows North Carolina’s Voting Restrictions to Go Forward

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The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday allowed key parts of one of the most restrictive voting rights laws in the nation to go forward. A federal appeals court had enjoined the provisions and North Carolina officials asked the Supreme Court to stay that ruling.

The majority of justices who voted to stay the appeals court ruling that would have reinstated same day voter registration during the early vote period and allowed the counting of ballots that were cast in the wrong precinct did not comment on their reasoning.

But Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, who dissented, wrote that allowing the two provisions to stand “risked significantly reducing opportunities for black voters to exercise” their right to vote.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted (5–4) the Voting Rights Act by eliminating a provision that allowed the federal government to step in and preserve the people’s right to vote in all or parts of 16 states with long histories of voter discrimination.

Justices Ginsburg said Sotomayor said North Carolina’s new restrictions on voting “likely would not have survived” scrutiny under the Voting Rights Act.

Studies show that in North Carolina, African Americans were more likely to use same-day registration than other groups. The Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and organizer of the “Moral Monday” protests, said:

Tens of thousands of North Carolina voters, especially African American voters, have relied on same-day registration, as well as the counting of ballots that were cast out of precinct, for years.

The ruling means that Friday is the last day North Carolinians can register to vote. Find the latest information on voter requirements from the North Carolina Board of Elections.

The 2013 North Carolina law was pushed by extremist lawmakers, including North Carolina House Speaker and current U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis and Gov. Pat McCrory (R). It directly targets the voting power of working people by shortening early voting periods, imposing restrictive voter ID requirements in 2016, along with eliminating same-day voter registration. The law faces further legal challenges next year.

USA Today reports that Tillis trails Sen. Kay Hagen (D) by just two percentage points. Figures from the North Carolina State Board of Elections show that more than 21,000 voters registered and voted on the same day during the early voting period in 2010, and more than 6,000 voters were able to have their ballots counted even though they voted in the wrong precinct.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on Wisconsin’s strict voter photo ID law soon. Last week, the court allowed new voting restrictions in Ohio that severely curtailed early voting opportunities to go forward.

In a video posted Monday on the Department of Justice website, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said:

The early voting times targeted for cancellation, including weeknight and Sunday hours, previously provided critical opportunities for many people to get to the polls [and] disproportionately affect people with child care responsibilities, hourly salaries and reduced access to transportation—people who may have difficulty getting to the polls at any other time, and who are much more likely to be low income or minority individuals.

The Fair Elections Legal Network says that over the past two years, more than 30 states have introduced legislation or enacted laws that would curb voters’ access to voting. Find out more here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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6 Reasons Why Scott Walker 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 (surprise, surprise) Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Here are six reasons why Walker has been bad for working people:

1. Walker promised to create 250,000 jobs in his first term, but with only a few months left the state is dead last in the Midwest in terms of job growth and he’s less than halfway toward reaching his jobs goal. [The Washington Post, 9/5/14]

2. And jobs aren’t just the one negative in Wisconsin’s economy. The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia ranked the state 49th in economic outlook and Wisconsin was one of only five states projected to contract in the second half of 2013. On top of that, new estimates show the state will be facing a $1.8 billion shortfall in the next budget cycle. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/28/13; Media Matters, 1/27/14]

3. As governor, Walker made the largest education cut in the state’s history—more than $1 billion. [Politifact, 2/8/12]

4. Walker signed legislation that would pre-empt local government control, preventing them from requiring paid sick days for workers, regardless of how much the community might want them. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/5/11]

5. Despite the fact that wages are stagnant and the minimum wage continues to lose buying power, Walker opposed raising the minimum wage, calling such a proposal a “political grandstanding stunt.” [The Associated Press, 1/23/14]

6. And the kicker that we’re all too familiar with: Walker signed a bill to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights, barred the traditional collection of union dues and forced workers to pay more for their health care and retirement benefits. [2011 Wisconsin Act 10; The New York Times, 2/22/14]

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Scott Walker Strongly Opposes Raising The Minimum Wage, So He Can’t Be Pleased About This

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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, infamous across the country for his anti-union policies, is also an opponent of raising the minimum wage.

Unfortunately for him, he will share the November ballot with a minimum wage referendum in four of Wisconsin’s largest counties: Dane (home of Madison), Eau Claire, Kenosha, and Milwaukee (where Walker was once County Executive).

Due to a 2005 law, individual municipal units like cities and counties in Wisconsin can’t enact their own wage laws. (Thanks to one of Walker’s first acts as governor, the same applies to paid sick days laws). But counties can still put non-binding “advisory” wage-related referenda on the ballot. Dane, Milwaukee, Kenosha, and Eau Claire counties will all ask voters if they recommend raising the minimum wage to $10.10.

Despite staunch opposition from Gov. Walker and his legislative allies, an incredible 76 percent of Wisconsinites support raising the minimum wage above the current $7.25. To survive a tough race against businesswoman Mary Burke, who supports raising the wage, Walker might have to shift his position. “We do think that ultimately Gov. Walker’s position is going to need to evolve or he’s going to be negatively impacted by his position because it’s out of step with the majority of voters,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison of Wisconsin Jobs Now.

Wisconsin activists aren’t done, though. They also submitted signatures to get minimum wage increases on the ballot in Neenah and Menasha.

Photo by @WisconsinJobsNow on Twitter

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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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Most Wisconsin Republican Senators Who Support Limiting Early Voting Rights Have Voted Early Themselves

In a stunning display of hypocrisy, 15 of the 17 Wisconsin state senators who voted to restrict early voting hours in Wisconsin have themselves voted early.  Senate Bill 324 would prohibit voters from casting their ballots early before 8 a.m. or after 7 p.m. on weekdays or at any time on weekends. The total number of hours that early voting ballots, which are submitted as absentee ballots, can be accepted under the legislation cannot exceed 45 hours a week.

Scott Ross, executive director of One Wisconsin Now, condemned the hypocrisy:

That these senators would vote to make it harder for their fellow citizens to cast an early ballot in elections, just as almost every single one of them has, is an almost unbelievable act of hypocrisy….Elections are the one time everyone—regardless of age, race or income—is equal. Our government ought to be making it as convenient as possible for legal voters to participate in our democracy. But apparently these Republican senators believe they deserve to be more equal than others.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Don’t Be Fooled: Insurance Companies, Stubborn Politicians Are Behind High Insurance Premiums

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The health insurance industry is reacting badly to President Obama’s announced health care “fix” — which would allow customers to keep health plans that may not meet minimum standards.

“This decision continues different rules for different policies and threatens to undermine the new market, and may lead to higher premiums and market disruptions in 2014 and beyond,” said Jim Donelon, president of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.

That response lead cartoonist Mark Fiore to ask: when doesn’t the health insurance industry react to an event by raising premiums?

Remember during the health insurance Wild West before health care reform, when premiums were skyrocketing, not to mention loads of people getting dropped from their plans? Remember leading up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, when premiums rose? That suddenly seems like so long ago. Remember the insurance companies complaining about rising premiums before? Me neither.

Mark Fiore’s cartoon above, “A message from the Health Insurers of America,” is a good reminder that private insurance companies are responsible for high premiums, and that they will take the opportunity to pad their profits more often than not.

Since I am a self-employed cartoonist, I’ve been living in the health insurance wilderness for quite a while. My family’s plan was canceled, like all those other people you’ve heard about lately.

Fiore’s solution? Kicking his old insurance company to the curb and getting a better deal from his state’s new health exchange, California Covered — even more affordable with subsidies.

Since I’m not holding my breath that my insurance provider will “un-cancel” me, let alone offer my previous plan at the same price, off to California Covered I go! Once I’m there, thanks to generous subsidies, my premium will be lower than before. Ah, America!

Do insurance companies deserve all the blame? No sir. You can also lay the burden at the feet of Republican governors and legislators who have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, leaving more than 5 million Americans without access to affordable coverage. That means more people using the emergency room, which means higher overall health care costs, which means — you guessed it — higher premiums for everyone.

If you don’t believe the effect that stubborn governors can have on health care costs, just compare average premiums in Minnesota (Medicaid expanded) and Wisconsin (Gov. Scott Walker refuses Medicaid expansion). Due to the difference in Medicaid eligibility and a better review of rates in Minnesota, the average Wisconsinite is paying $1,800 more than the average Minnesotan.

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