Skyline of Richmond, Virginia

Union represented nurses in Wilkes-Barre still without pact


FEBRUARY 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Union represented nurses in Wilkes-Barre still without pact


REGION, January 28th- Negotiations for a successor labor agreement between the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Professionals (PASNAP) Union and Community Health Systems (CHS) Inc., which is the largest owner of for-profit hospitals in the country, and owns and operates the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital is continuing but the two sides are still far away from reaching a contract.

PASNAP, which is affiliated with the California Nurses Association (CNA), represents approximately 450 nurses employed at the medical center located on North River Street in Wilkes-Barre. The union also represents nurses employed at the Community Medical Center (CMC) in Scranton.

The previous contract expired on August 30th and the two sides agreed to work under the terms and conditions of the expired contract while they continued to negotiate for a new pact.

One of the main issues blocking the two sides from reaching a new contract is staffing levels.

According to Stanley Wielgolpolski, a Registered Nurse (RN) at the medical center, staffing levels at the facility has steadily dropped with no similar significant drop in the number of patients.

Mr. Wielgolpolski stated the number of nurses PASNAP currently represents indicates the steady drop in staff levels. His said thirty nurses have left since CHS purchased the medical center.

PASNAP is conducting a campaign requesting the public sign petitions to show support for the nurses. The union stated more than 10,000 signatures have been obtained including those of Democratic United States Senator Robert Casey, State Representative (Democrat-116th Legislative District) Todd Eachus, State Representative Eddie Day Pashinski (Democrat-121st Legislative District) and State Representative Phyllis Mundy (Democrat-120th Legislative District).

On January 10th, PASNAP delivered to Hospital Administrators the petitions that requested that CHS put “Patients Before Profits” and settle the contract.

Stanley Wieglpolski, an Emergency Room Nurse at Wilkes-Barre General and a delegate to the Greater Wilkes-Barre Labor Council labor federation, stated the petition should show CHC officials that the public doesn’t like them coming into our community with the sole purpose of making a profit.

“You need to resepct our standards of care, you need to respect the caregivers who provide that care and tou need to respect the patients who depend on our community hospital for their care,” said Mr. Wieglpolski.

Negotiations between the two parties began more than 10 months ago in a attempt to obtain an successor contract agreement.

Commercial Real Estate Collapse Bigger than Subprime Implosion – Why is the Market Ignoring the $3.5 Trillion Commercial Real Estate Market Implosion?


Commercial Real Estate Collapse Bigger than Subprime Implosion – Why is the Market Ignoring the $3.5 Trillion Commercial Real Estate Market Implosion?

Posted by mybudget360

Most people that follow real estate even at a cursory level have heard of the problems in commercial real estate. The enormous $3.5 trillion market in commercial real estate (CRE) has deep and profound problems. At the peak CRE was estimated to be valued at $6.5 trillion. Today the value is closer to $3.5 trillion or closer to the loan amount outstanding. This market is now sitting in a zero equity position. In fact from market trends it is very likely that much of CRE bought during the last few years is significantly underwater. This trend is a few years behind the residential housing bust that shocked the markets into record declines. Why is the market not reacting as negatively to the bust in CRE as it did to residential housing?

Commercial and construction loans combined are bigger than the entire subprime market and CRE values have now fallen by 43 percent from their peak across multi-family units, hotels, and retail space. And with the CRE collapse there is a harder time selling off this space if there is no economic demand for certain spaces. You also have a smaller pool of borrowers looking for retail space. Take for example retail space near empty suburban housing divisions. With the busted homes if you lower prices enough, there will be a market created at a certain point. Yet this takes time. But with commercial real estate you may have no market at any price. Much of the CRE space is used as a business. With no business there is no need for CRE. So we have a giant $3.5 trillion market of loans that are largely toxic but the market seems to be ignoring this. Take a look at the combined CRE collapse from data collected by MIT: …..


Toward A Progressive Tea Party Movement


Toward A Progressive Tea Party Movement

Most progressives have little respect for the Fox News generated “Tea Party” movement. However, it has tapped into a very real populist anger with the direction the country is headed in at this point in our history.

Progressives should see a real opportunity in the emergence of the “Tea Party” movement to educate the public and re-direct the anger to the real villains whose actions and policies created the many problems faced by the citizens of the United States of America. Our government has failed the American public by serving corporate interests and private profit instead of the public good.

The Republican Right has been somewhat successful in twisting this legitimate anger and aiming it against those who have been fighting this corporate takeover and corruption instead of themselves. They do this by lying to the public and twisting reality.

Of course, Fox News has been the leading force in this evil propaganda campaign. However, a few corporatist Democrats like Senator Ben Nelson, independents like Joe Lieberman and almost every elected Republican in the nation have helped advance the corporatist agenda by deceiving the reformist elements in the Tea Party movement.

Tea Party activists should realize that Fox News was formed by corporatists to advance the corporatist agenda. The corporatists have captured the “conservative” movement. They are playing their followers for suckers. A few Tea Party leaders know they are being used as a tool of the Republican Right and corporatists but most do not.

The American government is not the enemy if it is actually controlled by the American public instead of by the rich and powerful elite who make up the corporatists power structure. The American government needs to provide a check and balance against corporate power. We must recapture our government from corporate interests. This will never be done by Republicans. It will never be done by the small corporatist faction of the Democratic Party. It can be done with an alliance of progressives, real Tea Party reformers, economic populists and grassroots Democrats.

The Scott Browns and Sarah Palins of the nation only play at being populists. They act in support of the corporatist agenda while talking like reformers. Scott Brown was financed by corporatist forces. He was heavily financed by the debt collection industry, banking interests, health insurance companies and the like just like Sarah Palin. Brown opposes Wall Street reforms and regulation. He wants corporate power to go unchecked. These ideas are clearly enemies of the American public and real functional democracy. Folksy talk is just more hot air. It is actions that count.

Fox News seems designed to act as a financial and political backer of Republican Right corporatist politicians. They spin everything to defeat real reforms and undermine real reformers.

Labor unions act as a check and balance on corporate power. Fox News and the Republican Right corporatists demonize them at every opportunity. Union leaders are always elected by the membership. They are the only truly democratically-elected populist element in our economic system. The Fox News crowd calls these elected leaders “union bosses.” You do not get to elect your “boss.” Try suggesting free elections for all the management positions at your place of employment and you will probably be joining the ranks of the unemployed. Corporations are basically organized in a top down dictatorial manner. It is their nature and mindset to be dictatorial with very, very few exceptions.

Suing corporations act as a check and balance to corporate power. Fox News and the Republican Right corporatists are trying to eliminate the effectiveness of this check and balance under the disguise of “tort reform.”

Campaign finance laws slightly reduced the ability of corporations to buy elections, smear reformers and defeat reforms. While in power, the Republican Right corporatists packed all our federal courts with corporatists. This is why the Republican Right corporatists on the Supreme Court have recently overturned over 60 years of established law to give corporations unlimited power to spend shareholders’ money to advance their corporatist political goals.

Most corporations are not loyal American citizens like the recent Supreme Court ruling implies. Almost all the large corporations operating in America are international in nature. International corporations should not be controlling the American economy, the American political system or the American government. American citizens should be. No matter what the Supreme Court says, international corporations are neither people nor American citizens.

The percentage of the American economy going toward debt is growing rapidly. Why? The answer is corporate power and corporatist government policy. So-called “free trade” has failed the American public while enriching the corporatists. Tax revenue has gone in the toilet because we do not tax imports and tens of millions of former taxpayers have lost their jobs. Without good-paying jobs, these workers/taxpayers are not paying nearly as much in taxes.

Tax cuts for over 30 years have been focused on enriching the corporatists and screwing the middle classes. The Fox News and the Republican Right corporatists want you to place the blame on the poor for government debt. This is pure nonsense. Unfair tax cuts are the real villains along with corporatist “free trade” policies. Additionally, the corporatists start unnecessary wars financed by public debt that enrich the international corporations while killing and maiming American soldiers.

So-called “free trade” is undermining our national security by crushing our industrial manufacturing base and crippling our national finances.

Government spending as a percentage of our economy is excessively large mostly because our economy has not really grown the way it should because of so-called “free trade.” Free trade has not been free for American citizens. Our public and personal debts have exploded. Our wages have not grown as quickly as our cost of living. Our jobs are disappearing or have already disappeared.

Government debt to enrich international corporations instead of improving the lives of American citizens is nearly criminal. Why does Medicare money get paid to drug companies without bargaining down the price of drugs? Corporate power is the only answer.

Why do Americans pay twice as much for medical care than any industrialized nation but have worse results? Why are medical costs exploding here at the same time as millions of citizens are being kicked out of their health insurance plans? Why are our companies paying the cost of health insurance while all our foreign competitors get subsidized by government payment of healthcare costs? The answers are corporate power.

The real reformers of the Tea Party movement need to look at corporate power instead of government as the villains threatening the future of America. The Republican Right, corporatists and Fox News are threatening your civil liberties and Constitutional Right not the ACLU, Obama or the Democratic Party. Republican Right, corporatists and Fox News are those who support the “national security state”, torture, jailing citizens without trial, wiretapping without court orders, etc.

International corporate interests have much more control over the lives of the average American citizen than our government does. When the government gets captured by these corporations, like it did under George W. Bush and his allies who are still in office, the American public gets hammered!

You are not ignorant or out of touch with reality just because you watch Fox News or listen to right wing talk radio but prolonged exposure will eventually get you there. Watching only Fox News will likely stop reform supporters of the Tea Party movement from realizing that they have much more in common with progressives than they ever realized. The real reformers in the Tea Party movement and progressives should unite in a Progressive Tea Party movement. Fox News and the Republican Right corporatists should not control or define the Tea Party. Both progressives and the real reform elements in Tea Party movement should reach out to each other and make common cause on many issues.

It is time for a Progressive Tea Party movement.

Written by Stephen Crockett (Host of Democratic Talk Radio and Editor of Mid-Atlantic

Unions bash Democrats, warn of political fallout


Unions bash Democrats, warn of political fallout


Labor groups are furious with the Democrats they helped put in office — and are threatening to stay home this fall when Democratic incumbents will need their help fending off Republican challengers.

The Senate’s failure to confirm labor lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board was just the latest blow, but the frustrations have been building for months.

“Here’s labor getting thrown under the bus again,” said John Gage, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 600,000 workers. “It’s really frustrating for labor, and a lot of union people are thinking: We put out big time in money and volunteers and support. And it seems like the little things that could have been aren’t being done.”

The 52-33 vote on Becker — who needed 60 to be confirmed — really set labor unions on edge, but the list of setbacks is growing.

The so-called “card check” bill that would make it easier to unionize employees has gone nowhere. A pro-union Transportation Security Administration nominee quit before he even got a confirmation vote. And even though unions got a sweetheart deal to keep their health plans tax-free under the Senate health care bill, that bill has collapsed, leaving unions exposed again.

Union leaders warn that the Democrats’ lackluster performance in power is sapping the morale of activists going into the midterm elections.

“Right now if we don’t get positive changes to the agenda, we’re going to have a hard time getting members out to work,” said United Steelworkers International President Leo W. Gerard, in an interview.

“There’s no use pretending any longer.”

The biggest threat, of course, is apathy from a Democratic constituency that has a history of mobilizing for elections.

“You’re just not going to be able to go to our membership in the November elections and say, ‘Come on, let’s do it again. Look at what the Democratic administration has done for us!’” Gage said. “People are going to say, ‘Huh? What have the Democrats done for us?’”

Kim Freeman Brown, the executive director of a D.C.-based nonprofit called American Rights at Work, acknowledged “frustration” with the lack of movement.

“I implore Congress to listen to the voice of their constituents who want change, and so far we haven’t delivered good enough on that promise,” she said. “To the degree that we don’t address these real bread-and-butter issues, we will have failed America’s workers.”

Gage warned that Democrats will struggle to energize blue-collar voters if they don’t score a few victories soon. Union leaders say they will closely watch as a new “jobs bill” emerges to see if it includes more labor-friendly provisions or tax cuts for small businesses.

When you talk to labor officials these days, much of their animus is directed at Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who helped filibuster Becker’s confirmation.

“Ben Nelson has got principles until you buy him off,” Gerard said. …….

Read more:

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Under Obama, labor should have made more progress


Under Obama, labor should have made more progress

By Harold Meyerson
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

For American labor, year one of Barack Obama’s presidency has been close to an unmitigated disaster.

Labor’s primary priority ## the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) ## died when the Democrats lost their 60-vote majority in the Senate. Labor’s normal priority ## a functioning National Labor Relations Board ## also seems out of reach, with Republicans on Tuesday blocking the appointment of Obama nominee Craig Becker (that’s why Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown scurried down to Washington last week to take his seat). Other key legislation for which labor has lobbied, including health-care reform and financial regulations, languishes in the Senate.

For the unions, the Senate’s inability to pass EFCA is devastating and galling. Democratic senators had developed a compromise proposal that would have jettisoned the controversial “card check” process ## by which unions could be organized without a secret ballot ## in favor of expediting the election process (so that management couldn’t delay for months, or even years, employees’ votes on whether to unionize) and stiffening the penalties for violating the rules that govern election conduct.

The compromise had a shot at winning all 60 Democratic votes. The unions, which spent more than $300 million in the 2008 elections on Democrats’ behalf, wanted a vote on EFCA last year, but Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked them to wait until health reform had passed. (Their requests for confirmation votes on NLRB appointees were similarly delayed.)

By my count, this marks the fourth time in the past half-century that labor’s efforts to strengthen workers’ ability to organize have been deferred by the Democratic presidents and the heavily Democratic Congresses they supported. In 1965, about the only piece of Great Society legislation not enacted was the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act provision that gave states the power to block unions from claiming as members all the employees in workplaces where they had won contracts. In 1979, as American management was beginning to invest heavily in union-busting endeavors, the first effort to reform labor law failed to win cloture in the Senate by one vote as President Jimmy Carter stood idly by. In 1994, President Bill Clinton responded to a similar labor-backed effort by appointing a commission to recommend changes in labor law to the next Congress ## which turned out to be run by Newt Gingrich. And last year, by asking his labor supporters to wait, Obama ensured ## unintentionally, of course ## that the next effort to revive organizing must wait until the next overwhelmingly Democratic Congress.

Meanwhile, the percentage of American workers in unions steadily declines. During the 1965 effort, more than 30 percent of private-sector workers belonged to unions. In 1979, the share was 21 percent; in 1994, 11 percent; and in 2009, just 7.2 percent. When the next chance to rewrite labor law comes around, the rate of private-sector unionization could be down to trace elements.

What will life be like in an America with almost no private-sector unions or collective bargaining? We had a glimpse of that during George W. Bush’s presidency, in which the unionization rate was already so low that median household incomes declined even as gross domestic product rose. It’s also apparent that a deunionized private sector won’t readily support ## politically or economically ## a unionized or expansive public sector. In 1960, when California Gov. Pat Brown created the nation’s foremost public sector ## the greatest university systems, freeways and aqueducts ## it was paid for by the nation’s most vibrant, and one of its most highly unionized, private-sector economies. California’s private sector is nowhere near as vibrant or unionized today ## a major reason its public sector is crumbling.

In a deunionized America, it’s not clear who, if anyone, will fund campaigns such as those the unions funded this year, for universal health care and financial regulation. It’s also not clear who, if anyone, will persuade working-class whites to vote Democratic. (Over the past half-century, white male union members have voted Democratic at a rate 20 percentage points higher than their nonunion counterparts.)

No nation has ever been home to a middle-class majority absent a sizable labor movement. In their failure to advance labor’s prospects, the Democrats condemn themselves to a future of fewer Democratic voters and their nation to a future of mass downward mobility.

* * *

American workers suffered a loss of a different kind Friday with the death of Beth Shulman from complications of a brain tumor. In her 2003 book, “The Betrayal of Work,” and throughout her life, Beth eloquently championed the interests of the tens of millions of Americans who barely make enough to get by. Her voice, and her warmth, will be missed.

CWA Union files complaint against LifePath Inc.


FEBRUARY 2010, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

CWA Union files complaint against LifePath Inc.


BETHLEHEM, January 17th- The Communications Workers of America (CWA) Union District 13 filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region Four office in Philadelphia alleging a Lehigh Valley employer violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRAct).

According to the Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge filed on January 13th, 2010 by the District 13 of the CWA, Board Street in Philadelphia, LifePath Inc., High Point Boulevard in Bethlehem, violated Section 8 (a), subsections (1) and (5) of the NLRAct.

The complaint does not state how many workers are employed at LifeBath Inc., which provides specialized support services for mentally and physically disabled persons.

According to previous news stories published in the newspaper, CWA Local 13500 organized the employees of LifePath Inc. approximately 29 facilities that are located throughout the Lehigh Valley in 2007. In September, 2007 the NLRB conducted a election to determine if employees of the company wanted to be represented by the CWA for the purpose of collective bargaining. The union was successful winning the election with 166 voting in favor of becoming union members and 138 voting against. Under NLRB rules, at least fifty percent plus one of the eligible employees voting in the secret ballot election must support being represented by a labor organization.

The voting location for the LifePath workers was at the High Point Boulevard facility. Each group home had around three eligible to vote employees for a total of around 467.

The CWA alleges in their ULP “since on or about January 7th, 2010, the Employer has failed and otherwise refused to supply information requested by the Union necessary for the administration and enforcement of the collective bargaining agreement and to otherwise participate in a timely manner in the grievance process. Specifically, the Employer has refused to comply with relevant and necessary information requests submitted by James Byrne, CWA Representative, to Karen Werkheiser, Human Resources (HR) Director, on or about January 7th, 2010, pertaining to the discharge of Nicosia Henry.”

The complaint was filed by Attorney Nancy Walker, South Board Street in Philadelphia, on behalf of the Union.

The company representative named on the ULP to be contacted is Karen Werkheiser, indentified as LifePath Inc. HR Director.

In January, 2008 the CWA filed a complaint against the employer alleging LifePath violated the NLRAct when the employer terminated a union member alleging she was fired because of her protected activity on behalf of the CWA.

According to the NLRB, the agency is investigating the allege violation of the NLRAct and will determine if there is merit in the complaint.

Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton Metropolitan Statistical Area unemployment rate decreases


FEBRUARY 2010, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton Metropolitan Statistical Area unemployment rate decreases


LEHIGH VALLEY, January 6th- According to labor data provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Center for Workforce Information and Analysis in Harrisburg, the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased by five-tenths of a percentage point to 9.3 percent. The MSA includes Lehigh, Northampton, and Carbon Counties of Pennsylvania and Warren County, New Jersey. Twelve months ago the unemployment rate for the region was 6.3 percent.

There are fourteen Metropolitan Statistical Area’s in Pennsylvania and the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton Metropolitan Statistical Area has the second highest unemployment rate.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is 8.5 percent, decreasing by four-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report, which was released approximately four weeks ago. There are 540,000 Pennsylvania residents without jobs. Pennsylvania has a seasonally adjusted workforce of 6,328,000 and 5,788,000 of them have employment. The national seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was reported to be 10.0 percent, decreasing by two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report. However, the rate does not include workers who benefits have been exhausted and have stopped looking for work. There are 15,375,000 residents nationally unemployed which also does not include workers who benefits have been exhausted.

The data shows the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA and the Erie MSA are tied for the highest unemployment rate in the state at 9.4 percent. The Johnstown MSA, the Williamsport MSA, and the Reading MSA are tied for the third highest unemployment rate in the state.

The State College MSA has the lowest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 5.9 percent, with the Lebanon MSA second at 7.0 percent. The Lancaster MSA and the Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA are tied for the third lowest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 7.5 percent.

The Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton MSA has the third largest civilian labor force in Pennsylvania at 416,400, rising by 4,900 during the past twelve months. There are 38,700 residents in the MSA without jobs, rising by 12,100 during the past twelve months.

The Philadelphia MSA has the largest civilian labor force in Pennsylvania at 2,950,300 with 261,000 residents not working. The Pittsburgh MSA has the second largest civilian labor force at 1,205,200, with 95,100 residents unemployed. The Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA has the fourth largest civilian labor force in the state at 280,300, with 21,000 residents unemployed. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre MSA has the fifth largest civilian labor force at 279,500 with 26,400 residents not working.

PLRB schedules hearing on complaint filed by Union against Northampton County


FEBRUARY 2010, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

PLRB schedules hearing on complaint filed by Union against Northampton County


REGION, January 15th- The contract dispute between Northampton County administrators and the United Steelworkers of America (USW) Union Local 2599, which represents workers at Gracedale nursing home, has resulted in the union filing a complaint with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) in Harrisburg. Northampton County owns and operates the nusing home in Upper Nazareth Township.

According to Jerry Green, President of Local 2599, which office is located on East Lehigh Street in Bethlehem, the Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge was filed because the two parties agreed on a new four-year labor agreement but Northampton County administrators have renege on the contract.

“We spent time and money negotiating the contract, now they want to back out of the deal,” said Mr. Green.

Under the contract negotiated with Northampton County officials the 50 Gracedale employees represented by Local 2599 would receive a wage increase of more than four percent each year of the pact.

The previous contract expired on December 31st, 2008 and the two parties agreed to work under the terms and conditions of the old contract while negotiations continued for a successor pact.

On December 15th, 2009 Mr. Green filed the ULP with the PLRB alleging the County leadership willfully and wantonly knew that they would renege of the new agreement that was thought to be reached in good faith. According to the PLRB, the ULP was marked received on December 17th, 2009.

A hearing on the ULP is scheduled before Hearing Examiner Thomas Leonard on April 28th, in the Northampton County Courthouse in Easton.

Man files complaint against Pizza Hut in Allentown


FEBRUARY 2010, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Man files complaint against Pizza Hut in Allentown


ALLENTOWN, January 14th- Hector Morales of 8th Street in Allentown filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region Four office in Philadelphia alleging the Pizza Hut Restraurant on Chew Street in Allentown terminated him for engaging in protected concerted activity including organizing a drivers meeting to discuss joining a union.

According to the Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge filed by Mr. Morale, he was terminated on November 13th, 2009 in retaliation for engaging in action protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRAct).

The ULP was discovered during the monthly review by the newspaper of complaints and petitions filed at the NLRB office. The newspaper is the only local media that reviews both complaints and petitions filed by labor organizations and workers.

The complaint states the Head Manager of the Chew Street Pizza Hut is Mr. Ron Knocz and is indentified as the contact person for the employer.

Under the NLRB rules, any worker can file a complaint with the agency if he/she believes their rights under the NLRAct were violated. It is not necessary for a worker to be represented by a labor organization.

The ULP states there are approximately 20 workers employed at the Pizza Hut Chew Street restraurant.

According to the NLRB, the complaint is being investigated and should it be found there is merit in Mr. Morales complaint the agency will schedule a hearing

The Obama/Democratic Stimulus Worked


The Obama/Democratic Stimulus Worked

Simple proof…

It’s up to the wingnuts. If they want to keep lying about Obama, then we’ll do our best to set the record straight. If they want to bring up legitimate criticism, and there’s plenty of it, then we’d likely join them, and we could all have an Obama bashing party together. But they’re not that smart…


Taking Elections Back From the Corporations and the Constitution Back from the Gang of Five


Taking Elections Back From the Corporations and the Constitution Back from the Gang of Five

By Robert Borosage

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md) and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mi) and chair of the House Judiciary Committee today introduced an amendment to the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United that gave corporations the right to spend unlimited funds in election campaigns as a matter of free speech.

Edwards, a brilliant first term legislator with a long commitment to free elections, quoted Justice Lewis Brandeis: ‘We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.’ It is time we remove corporate influence from our policies and our politics. We cannot allow corporations to dominate our elections, to do so would be both undemocratic and unfair to ordinary citizens.”

“The ruling reached by the Roberts’ Court overturned decades of legal precedent by allowing corporations unfettered spending in our political campaigns,” said Congresswoman Edwards. “Another law will not rectify this disastrous decision. A Constitutional Amendment is necessary to undo what this Court has done.”

Judiciary Chair Conyers concurred and co-sponsored the amendment, noting that “”The Supreme Court’s idea that corporate political is no different than an individual citizen’s political speech was not the law when the Constitution was written, was not the law before the Supreme Court’s decision two weeks ago, and should not be the law in the future.”

Senator John Kerry announced a plan to introduce a similar amendment in the Senate

A broad coalition of groups are joining together to push the drive for the amendment, while supporting legislation to limit the Court’s ruling.

This should lead to campaigns in every state to pass the amendment - and force legislators to decide which side they are on: Should corporations be guaranteed the same free speech rights as American citizens?

The Supreme Court’s decision - imposed by the gang of five activist conservative justices - is wrong on the law, wrong on the history, wrong on the principles of a Republic (as opposed to the interests of Republicans). Scorning decades of precedent, and dozens of settled federal and state laws, the right-wing majority imposed a power-grab every bit as egregious as the decision in Bush v Gore that made Bush president by shutting down the vote count in Florida.

If citizens begin to understand the stakes, then this decision may well backfire on the Gang of Five and their conservative allies.

See amendment and Edwards and Conyers’ statement here,54&itemid=121 .

See Edwards’ floor speech on issue here .

For more information go to



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

– Wage Hikes for 800 Office Cleaners –

Wilmington, DE – Janitors in Wilmington and New Castle County have won a historic area-wide contract with wage increases, health insurance, paid vacation and other benefits. After months of negotiations with area cleaning contractors, nearly 800 office cleaners, some of whom currently make as little as $7.25 with no health benefits will see their wages rise to $9.25 by the end of the 2 year contract, and for the first time full-time workers will receive employer-paid health benefits.

“What’s striking is that the men and women who clean the very banks that prompted this economic crisis have successfully fought for higher wages,” said Mike Fishman, President of 32BJ, the largest property service workers union in the country.

The contract will raise industry standards at more than three quarters of the commercial office buildings in Wilmington, and New Castle County including Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase.

Under the new 2 year contract, which will go into effect on January, 2010 in Wilmington and in 2011 in New Castle County, office cleaners will earn a minimum wage of $8 per hour or receive a raise of at least 40 cents per hour. Average hourly wages will increase as much as $2 over the life of the 2 years contract, with an annual increases of 70 cent an hour effective January 2011 and a raise of 55 cents an hour on December 31, 2011 for Wilmington workers and a year later starting January 2011 for New Castle County workers. In both areas, for the first time, all full-time workers will receive employer paid quality health care.

“This is the beginning to a better life,” said Willie Grant an Arthur Jackson office cleaner who has been working for almost 3 year for the cleaning contractor in Wilmington. “I suffer from a heart condition, thank God we’re finally going to have healthcare.”

For several months, the union has negotiated on behalf of office cleaners who maintain buildings in Wilmington and New Castle County buildings and facilities. These office cleaners now join thousands of other 32BJ SEIU members who have won contracts improving standards for janitors across the country.

“This is an inspiring victory for 32BJ members, their families and the community of Wilmington,” said Kevin Kelley, Wilmington Council member. “These workers have shown that by uniting together in a union they can win the living wages and health care they deserve.”

With more than 110,000 members in eight states and Washington D.C., 32BJ is the largest property service union in the country.
## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## -

EDITOR’S NOTE: I had the pleasure of marching in Wilmington last year with this great union local. This is a huge win for hard-hit Delaware workers. I apologize for not getting this up sooner but I did not get the press release when it was first issued. Hats off to all my friends at SEIU 32BJ! GREAT JOB!!!!!

Shareholders Forced Political Spending


Shareholders Forced Political Spending

When we make an investment by buying shares in a corporation are we endorsing the political goals of corporate CEO’s or other corporate executives? For most American citizens, the answer is clearly “NO!”

The recent Supreme Court ruling stating that corporations have the right to spend the shareholders’ money to influence federal elections seems designed to trample on the property rights of individual shareholders, empower the international corporate executive class and distort the electoral process in favor of the pro-corporate Republican Party. It completely fails to protect the property rights of shareholders against politically-motivated abuse by corporate executives.

While the ruling was both bad law and bad for American democracy, as most commentators have stated publicly, few editorialists or pundits have examined how badly the ruling tramples on the property rights of shareholders. I might want to buy shares to fund my retirement or meet unexpected future financial demands. I want my money used in the core missions and functions of the business. I did not invest my money to have it misused by corporate executives to fund their political goals or agenda instead of mine.

Why did this radically activist Supreme Court empower corporate executives to use my money for politics instead of for the legitimate business purposes that are the reasons shareholders bought shares in the first place?

Every member of Congress should support a new federal law that would require all shareholders agree before any corporate money can be spent to influence elections. This does not violate the premise of the Supreme Court ruling that states (incorrectly in my opinion) that corporations have the right to spend corporate funds on elections. Such a law would not require a Constitutional Amendment.

Shareholders should never be forced to make a political contribution to a candidate or campaign that the individual shareholder does not support. These forced contributions are unjust. In fact, corporate executives who spend corporate funds on influencing elections are frankly stealing from the shareholders.

Even before the new federal law is passed, shareholders should consider suing any corporate executives who misuse corporate funds to influence election outcomes directly or indirectly. The lawsuits should seek both to injunction the corporation from using shareholders money without universal approval from all shareholders and to fire the corporate executive involved “with cause” so that any “golden parachute” provisions (where more shareholder money gets stolen by executives) might get blocked.

Any officeholder who fails to support a new federal law restricting corporate executive power and empowering individual shareholders to veto spending corporate money on elections is helping in the politically-motivated theft of shareholder property! We need to identify these officeholders regardless of political party and vote them out of office. They are corrupt!

While corporations are not people, shareholders and corporate executives are people. The corporate executives should not overrule shareholders when it comes to political spending of corporate funds. The corporate executives work for the shareholders and never should be legally permitted to forget this basic fact.

Written by: Stephen Crockett (Host of Democratic Talk Radio ). Mail: 698 Old Baltimore Pike, Newark, Delaware 19702. Phone: 443-907-2367. Email:

Feel free to publish at no charge without prior approval.

ACORN Scandal Offers Key Lessons to All Charities


ACORN Scandal Offers Key Lessons to All Charities

by John Atlas and Peter Dreier

Acorn is getting a bum rap ## in the news media, among politicians, and even by some foundations.

The attacks are worrisome not just because they have harmed an effective grass-roots organization but also because they show how the nation’s increasingly polarized political environment, exacerbated by the news media, can threaten any group that challenges big business and conservative politicians.

Until recently, Acorn, the nation’s largest community-organizing group, was well known primarily among progressive activists and the low-income people it has organized since it began in Little Rock in 1970. By mobilizing poor people and their middle-class allies, it has won major victories ## at the local, state, and national levels ## to improve the living and working conditions of everyday people.

With chapters in more than 70 cities, it has successfully fought banks that engaged in predatory lending, employers that paid poverty wages, and developers that gentrified low-income neighborhoods. It has also registered more than a million Americans to vote.

Acorn is now well known, but what most Americans know about it is wrong, based on controversies manufactured by the group’s long-time enemies.

A new national survey revealed shocking public misperceptions about Acorn: More than half of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of the organization, and 52 percent of Republicans, 18 percent of Independents, and 9 percent of Democrats think Acorn stole the election for Obama.

If foundations retreat in the face of the current war against Acorn, it will not only embolden right-wing extremists but will also raise questions about grant makers’ commitment to a robust democracy.

How is it that after working in relative obscurity for almost 40 years, Acorn was so falsely framed in news stories that many Americans believed the absurd and alarming notion that it stole a presidential election?

The answer is a tale not only of how the Republican Party and conservative news media framed Acorn but also of how most mainstream journalism organizations were negligent by repeating rather than fact-checking the allegations.

After the 2000 presidential election, Karl Rove (President Bush’s top political adviser) and conservative Republicans orchestrated an attack on Acorn for alleged “voter fraud,” as part of a campaign to suppress the voting of minorities and the poor. As part of this effort, a U.S. Attorney was asked to investigate Acorn.

The investigation came up empty-handed, but the GOP operatives persisted. The allegations of “voter fraud” hit a peak in October 2008, aided by Arizona Sen. John McCain’s charge in a presidential debate with Barack Obama that Acorn “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”

He demanded that Mr. Obama disclose his ties to Acorn. Senator McCain frequently repeated those accusations on the campaign trail. Soon, according to a national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 82 percent of Americans reported they had heard about Acorn.

Although the voter fraud never materialized, the stories planted during the election season yielded a bountiful crop of misinformation.

In recent months, the organization’s notoriety was compounded after Fox News broadcast controversial clips from videotapes of Acorn staff members talking to two people posing as a prostitute and her pimp. The pair showed up at 10 Acorn offices, tried to entrap low-level staff mem bers into providing tax and housing advice for their illegal prostitution ring, and videotaped the encounters.

The tapes were edited before they were released, failing to reveal that some Acorn offices turned the pair away or refused to provide them any aid. In no Acorn office did employees file any paperwork on the duo’s behalf.

Nonetheless, Fox News broadcast those videos on a virtual round-the-clock basis, causing a controversy far out of proportion to its news value. Almost every major TV station and newspaper reported the controversy, allowing Fox News to set the agenda.

The attack on Acorn is not really about a few bogus names on voter forms or about a few staff members providing advice to a phony prostitute with a video camera. Rather, it is part of a broader conservative effort to attack progressive organizations (including labor unions, environmental groups, activist religious organizations, and community organizers).

The attacks on Acorn began years ago. Its corporate enemies paid a Washington public-relations firm to create the Web site, where many of the attacks on Acorn were first rehearsed. Then the right-wing echo chamber orchestrated its war on Acorn, and the mainstream news media joined the chorus.

Although Acorn has received positive news coverage about its organizing work in many local news outlets, the national media (with some exceptions) have acted more like stenographers than journalists, repeating the lies and half-truths by Acorn’s critics without trying to verify them, put them in context, or provide Acorn with an opportunity to rebut them.

We expect this from the right-wing echo chamber ## Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and their ilk. More troubling is the mainstream news media’s unwitting complicity in the conservative campaign to frame Acorn.

For example, 80.3 percent of the print and broadcast stories about Acorn’s alleged voter fraud failed to mention that Acorn itself was reporting voter-registration irregularities to authorities, as required by law.

Unfortunately, the Repu blican-manufactured contro versies have scared some of Acorn’s longtime supporters. Even many Democrats in Congress voted to condemn Acorn and demand that the federal government pull its financial support.

Some foundations also pulled the plug. The Catholic Campaign for Human Devel opment, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ antipoverty charity, praised Acorn for its work “preventing home foreclosures, creating job opportunities, raising wages, addressing crime, and improving education.” But under pressure from conservatives, it, too, cut off Acorn’s money. Other grant makers are sticking by Acorn but want to see the organization improve its day-to-day management.

Like all large organizations, Acorn is not without flaws. Acorn was embarrassed by its errant employees and fired them immediately. But the misjudgment of a few employees is hardly grounds for withdrawing federal or foundation funds.

Acorn admits that in the past it devoted too few resources to management. But since Bertha Lewis took over as chief executive a year ago, she has improved staff accountability, financial safeguards, and internal communications. With foundation support, she brought in management experts, account ants, and lawyers to help Acorn establish new management practices.

Ms. Lewis also set up an advisory council to recommend management changes. In October that group recruited Scott Harshbarger, the former Massachusetts attorney general, and former president of Common Cause to investigate the videotape incident and to recommend and carry out necessary man agement changes. On Monday, Harshbarger released his independent report concluding that while ACORN needs to improve its management structure, it did not engage in illegal activities when two videographers, one posing as a prostitute, sought to entrap ACORN employees. The report confirms that the rush to judgment by Congress, as well as by some of ACORN’s political allies, was premature. Harshbarger noted that the videos, made by two conservative videographers under the guidance of right-wing activist Andrew Breitbart, were doctored and distorted, making it difficult to determine what actually occurred. The videographers refused to provide Harshbarger with the original videos or to talk with him for his report.

People concerned about poverty in the United States can ill afford to lose Acorn.

Its organizing ## door-knock ing in poor neighborhoods to identify problems and mobilize residents ## not only helps the poor but is also one of the best training grounds for new young organizers.

Most of its budget goes into (relatively low) salaries for organizers, researchers, administrators, and counselors. By any measure, Acorn has been remarkably successful. For example:

Assisting the poorest Am ericans. Acorn spearheaded campaigns to adopt living-wage laws in dozens of cities and increase state minimum wages, resulting in millions of Americans getting raises. Its free tax counseling has helped make the federal earned-income tax credit an effective antipoverty program.

Helping low-income people buy houses. Acorn has pressured banks to end racial discrimination in mort gage lending (”redlining”) and provided counseling on buy ing a home to 350,000 low-income people. It has also helped negotiate 110,000 mort gages worth more than $16-billion. Officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, even during George W. Bush’s ad ministration, viewed Acorn’s nonprofit programs ## to develop low-cost housing and provide homeownership counseling ## as among the best in the country.

Fighting for an overhaul of the financial system. Almost a decade ago, Acorn warned about the dangers of predatory lending by banks, private mortgage companies, and mortgage brokers.

If foundations use the current controversy as an excuse to abandon Acorn now ## particularly during a deep recession when poor Americans desperately need a voice in the corridors of power ## it will do more than wound Acorn. It will also hurt the poor and weaken the fabric of American democracy.

John Atlas is president of the National Housing Institute and author of Seeds of Change, a history of Acorn that Vanderbilt University Press will publish in 2010. Peter Dreier is a professor of politics and director of the urban and environmental policy program at Occidental College; he is the co-author of the study “Manipulating the Public Agenda: Why Acorn Was the News, and What the News Got Wrong.”

A version of this was originally published in the Chronicle of Philanthropy.