Skyline of Richmond, Virginia

We Are All Part of the Labor Movement Now

03.16.11

We Are All Part of the Labor Movement Now

by Robert Creamer

Speaking to a cheering crowd of eight to ten thousand outside of Chicago’s State of Illinois Building Saturday, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Deputy Director Roberta Lynch said, “whether you are a member of a labor union or not, we are all members of the labor movement now.”

She was dead on. In a matter of less than a month, since Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker declared war on the right of public service employees to organize and negotiate the terms of their employment, the public’s perception of organized labor has fundamentally changed.

For many who previously believed that unions were just another “special interest” they now represent a labor movement that is fighting for the rights of middle class Americans.

The struggle has become a movement because the battle is no longer simply about dollars and cents – it is about principle. It is about rights. As the AFSCME banners say in Madison: “It’s about freedom.”

The battle of Wisconsin – and all of the other states where right wing governors have trained their sites on public employee unions – is no longer just a struggle over wages and benefits. It’s no longer about the “state budget”. It has become a struggle about the dignity of middle class Americans – about the principle of whether everyday people have the right to sit at a bargaining table and have a say about their wages, their working conditions, and their jobs. It has become a symbol for the desperate desire of everyday Americans to stand up straight and fight back against the forces that are destroying the middle class.

Walker intentionally transformed this battle into a struggle over principle by refusing to accept Wisconsin union member’s willingness to take cuts in salaries and benefits in order to balance the state budget. Instead he has insisted on stripping everyday, middle class Americans of their right to have a say.

Luckily for the future of the middle class – the labor unions – and the millions of others who are now part of the new, broader “labor movement” have risen to the challenge.

As USAction President William McNary said, in an inspired speech to the crowd in Chicago, this is a battle about human dignity the same way that the garbage worker’s fight for union recognition in Memphis, Tennessee in April of 1968 was a struggle for human dignity. That was the battle that drew Dr. Martin Luther King to Memphis to make his famous “I’ve been to the mountain top” speech – just before he was gunned down by James Earl Ray.

Martin Luther King inspired the world by his sacrifice in Memphis 43 years ago. He was there to champion precisely the cause that has become the center of the struggle in Wisconsin.

The movement – the new labor movement – has spread like wildfire across America.

Saturday MoveOn.org and its allies like USAction – together with public employee unions, teachers unions – and labor organizations of all shorts – organized rallies to support the workers in Wisconsin in every state capitol and most major cities. Hundreds of thousands participated.

Usually rallies like this take months of planning and require hundreds of busses to assure turn out. These rallies were organized on several days’ notice. People told their neighbors who told their neighbors. The on-line tools that have helped turbo-charge the movement for democracy in the Arab world allowed notices of rallies to go out in seconds.

The turn out was about the wide spread anger at what Governor Walker has proposed – but mainly it was because people were inspired by the resolve of the workers in Wisconsin – and the Democratic State Senators who have stood their ground.

Movements are not primarily about material self-interest. They are mainly about spiritual self-interest. They are about inspiration – about being part of something meaningful – about making history – about empowerment – about freedom.

The Obama campaign inspired millions. It engaged their hunger for meaning and purpose – for empowerment and hope. It wasn’t mainly about what they thought about Barack Obama – or what he could do for them. It was about how he made them feel about themselves – about what they themselves could achieve.

In the two years since President Obama’s Inauguration, America had lost that feeling in the difficult struggle to dig out of the Great Recession and the “sausage making” of political battle in Congress.

In the last month, many Americans have found it once again.

The people in Chicago Saturday were from every ethnic group. They were veterans of the Progressive Movement and they were kids for whom this was the first experience of the feeling that comes when you’re part of something historic.

The radical right wing Republicans decided to strike now to destroy organized labor. They wanted to destroy it because it is the only institution in the country that prevents Wall Street and the largest international corporations from having their way with America. Organized labor is the only organization that can simultaneously stand up for the middle class at the bargaining table and the ballot box.

But by making their play to destroy unions they risked something that from their point of view is much worse – a reborn labor movement – one that involves labor union members – and millions of others throughout America.

The right gambled that it could make policemen, firefighters, teachers and nurses into the “ greedy welfare queens” of our time – scapegoats for America’s economic woes. Fortunately, most Americans see policemen, firefighters, teachers and nurses as their neighbors – as breadwinners for middle class families that are just like them. Turns out it’s tough to make cops, firefighters, teachers and nurses into villains.

Instead of creating political momentum to destroy unions, the right has sparked its worst nightmare – the rebirth of the labor movement.

On his way to the Chicago rally, and AFSCME staffer was stopped by a young woman in a parking garage. She asked him about the AFSCME insignia on his jacket. “Are you part of the organization that’s defending the workers in Wisconsin?” she asked.

“I’m an organizer for the union, “ he responded.

“Very cool! I’d like to do that too,” said the young woman. That wasn’t exactly the idea was it Governor Walker.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com.

Anti-union legislation being proposed in Pennsylvania

03.16.11

MARCH 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Anti-union legislation being proposed in Pennsylvania

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

REGION, February 17th- Pennsylvania could experience protest like those in Wisconsin by union workers due to anti-union legislation.

In Wisconsin, pro-union protesters have protested Republican efforts to force labor contract concessions on public employees unions, including teachers and other government workers, that would make them contribute more to their health care and pension costs and change many of the terms and conditions language of their contracts.

The Republican Governor, which was elected in November, 2010, set off the protests by pushing ahead with legislation requiring the concessions from government workers. The Republicans also have majorities in the Wisconsin House of Representatives and Senate. He says the concessions are needed to deal with a state deficit of $3.5 billion.

Wisconsin is one of nine states in the nation that are facing budget deficits and are proposing measures calling for concessions by government workers.

In Pennsylvania, several anti-union measures have been introduced in committee that if passed would hurt members of the labor community.

With the Republicans gaining control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and the Governors Mansion, anti-union legislation will likely be introduced in the upcoming session of the General Assembly, including a fourth try at banning the use of PLA’s on public construction projects. The GOP also controls the Senate.

Also, teacher unions in Pennsylvania are against legislation that would allow parents to receive vouchers to send their children to non-public schools.

A PLA is a comprehensive agreement signed by a builder and local craft unions under which a defined construction project is agreed to be completed by workers from local union halls, in return for the union’s guarantee of no strikes, a steady labor supply, and general labor peace. Under a PLA, a nonunion contractor could still be hired for a project, however if they are selected, local unionized workers must be hired.

The unions also fear legislation will be introduced on the floors of the General Assembly that would ban union security clauses in Pennsylvania. Such legislation is often referred to as “right-to-work.”

“The fact of the matter is that many non-union contractors here in Pennsylvania and all over the country bid on projects with PLA’s and win those bids. They then go on to complete those projects using local crafts people and still earn a reasonable profit. They do this because PLA’s work,” stated Frank Sirianni, President of the Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council in Harrisburg, which is a labor federation representing unions who members are employed within the construction industry.

Food Workers Union making noise about selling of Liquor Stores

03.16.11

MARCH 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Food Workers Union making noise about selling of Liquor Stores

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

LEHIGH VALLEY, February 14th- The union that represents the majority of the workers employed by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), which operates the Pennsylvania Wine and Spirit Shoppes, began a public awareness campaign against selling the retail stores to private business people and union officials are meeting with legislators requesting they not support the privatization plan.

The debate of whether Pennsylvania should sell their state liquor stores to private owners has resurfaced in the General Assembly in Harrisburg and the three labor unions that represent the workers will likely be affected if the stores are privatized.

The Pennsylvania Senate has began to conduct hearings and hear testimony on what impact privatization will have on the public, the business community, and the unions that represent the PLCB employees.

The United Food and Commerical Workers Union (UFCW) represents the majority of the workers employed by the PLCB. The UFCW represents shelf stockers and clerk workers.

Most lower tied supervisors of the system are represented by the Independent State Store Union (ISSU) in Harrisburg while the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union represents mainly office employees including auditors.

Should the stores be “sold-off” to private owners the unions’ would likely lose members and may even be removed as the bargaining representative of the employees.

There are approximately 625 liquor stores throughout Pennsylvania and the LCB also operates liquor stores located in around 50 grocery stores. The retail store system generates millions of dollars in profit including creating $400 million in tax revenue.

Supporters of privatization suggest the selling of the stores would generate $1.5 billion of state revenue yield, but it would be a one-time infusion of funds.

Before a sale can be held legislation would need to be passed in the Pennsylvania General Assembly and signed by Republican Governor Tom Corbett, which supports privatizing the stores.

Wendell Young IV, President of UFCW Local 1776, which has offices in Plymouth Meeting, Gettysburg, and Pittston, stated there has been a lot of talk about the merits of selling the stores recently but there are several myths being repeated regarding privatization including the two billion dollar wind-fall for Pennsylvania.

“While the UFCW PA Wine and Spirits Council representing local unions with a combined membership of over 40,000 members in Pennsylvania is not averse to engaging in the debate on this issue, we think that the discussion has to be based on facts, not fantasy. Selling the state stores is an irresponsible, risky scheme that won’t fix Pennsylvania’s budget” stated Mr. Young.

Mr. Young stated privatization opponents suggest selling of the licenses would raise $2 billion but comparable licenses have not been shown to be worth anything close to that anywhere in the nation. Also privatization supporters suggest selling of the stores would give “mom and pop” a chance to go into the liquor business. However, they do not show where “mom and pop” would come up with the $2.3 million needed to purchase a license.

Schakowsky Introduces Bill to Tax Millionaires and Billionaires

03.16.11

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Sarah Baldauf; 202.225.2111
sarah.baldauf@mail.house.gov

Schakowsky Introduces Bill to Tax Millionaires and Billionaires

The most popular way to reduce the deficit, according to 81% of Americans? Put a surtax on federal income taxes for those who make more than $1 million per year.
– NBC/Wall St. Journal Poll, March 2, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC (March 16, 2011) – Today Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), member of President Obama’s 18-member Fiscal Commission, introduced the Fairness in Taxation Act today, which would create new tax brackets for millionaires and billionaires. Original co-sponsors include co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), as well as Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD), Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR).

Income inequality in America is the worst we’ve seen it since 1928. Wages have stagnated for middle and lower income families despite enormous gains in productivity. Where has all the money gone?

“In the United States today, the richest 1% owns 34 % of our nation’s wealth – that’s more than the entire bottom 90%, who own just 29% of the country’s wealth,” said Rep. Schakowsky. “And the top one-hundredth of 1% now makes an average of $27 million per household per year. The average income for the bottom 90% of Americans? $31,244. It’s time for millionaires and billionaires to pay their fair share, which is why I introduced the Fairness in Taxation Act. This isn’t about punishment or revenge. It’s about fairness. It’s about avoiding budget cuts that harm middle class families and those who aspire to it. We can choose to cut education, job creation and health care, or we can choose to ask those who can contribute more to do so.”

The current top tax bracket begins at $373,000 in income and fails to distinguish between the “well off” and billionaires – like the top 20 hedge fund managers whose average income last year was over $1 billion.

The Fairness in Taxation Act asks enacts new tax brackets for income starting at $1 million and ends with a $1 billion bracket. The new brackets would be:
$1-10 million: 45%
$10-20 million: 46%
$20-100 million: 47%
$100 million to $1 billion: 48%
$1 billion and over: 49%
The bill would also tax capital gains and dividend income as ordinary income for those taxpayers with income over $1 million.

Support for Schakowsky’s Fairness in Taxation Act:

“I think very wealthy people like me should pay substantially higher taxes, since we have done exceedingly well in the last few decades,” said Katharine Myers, a millionaire from Pennsylvania whose income comes from royalties from the Myers-Briggs personality test, created by her mother-in-law, which she has managed with Peter Myers since the 1980s. “Our taxpayer-funded government contributed to my success.” Myers has been a supporter of United for a Fair Economy and its Responsible Wealth project for many years.
“It’s time we treated multi-millionaires the same way we treat working families – by creating a tax bracket to match their income,” said Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “There’s no reason to treat the wealthiest one percent of the country any more specially than anyone else, and right now that’s exactly what our tax system is doing. The Republican war on working families means cutting from the middle and handing the savings to the top. Instead, let’s have everyone pay their fair share to create jobs and get the economy moving again.”

“Millionaires and billionaires should be giving to charity not getting it,” said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “The middle class is shrinking and deficits are rising because Republicans are giving a pass to special interests who aren’t paying their fair share. This bill is part of a plan to level the playing field.”

“A tax system where families earning several thousand dollars are taxed at the same rate as millionaires is unfair, and unsustainable,” said Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD). “The Fairness in Taxation Act is a common sense solution to eliminating this inequality and balancing the federal budget. At a time when House Republicans are demanding that working families, teachers, and firefighters bear the burden of reducing the deficit, millionaires should be required to contribute their fair share.”

Groups that have endorsed Schakowsky’s Fairness in Taxation Act:

United for a Fair Economy, Citizens for Tax Justice, Citizen Action Illinois, U.S. Action, Campaign for America’s Future, Wealth for the Common Good, and The Agenda Project.

Congresswoman Schakowsky has shown that there is another way,” said Steve Wamhoff, tax expert from Citizens for Tax Justice. “Her proposal would make the federal income tax more progressive by introducing higher rates for taxpayers with income in excess of $1 million. Millionaires have benefited disproportionately from the tax cuts enacted over the past decade, so it seems entirely reasonable that they share in the sacrifices needed to get our fiscal house in order.”

“The budget cuts being debated in Washington shamefully require middle class families to pay the price for the recklessness of the Wall Street bankers and hedge fund managers who broke our economy,” said Brian Miller, Executive Director of United for a Fair Economy. “Instead of punishing middle class families and de-funding America, the Fairness in Taxation Act asks those who have benefitted so heavily from the economic bounce of Wall Street to share responsibility for getting our nation’s finances on track.”

“Any sensible program for deficit reduction must begin with changing the massive tax cuts for the very wealthy,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. “Those tax give-aways were a major cause of our current deficit. In an era of excessive inequality we should end Bush era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. We need progressive revenues not just to bring down deficits, but also to finance investments in job and sustainable growth. The introduction of the Fairness in Taxation Act is an important step that will be popular with the American people.”