Monday, June 27, 2005

What does union membership really mean?

Sophie Tucker (1920's most popular American "jazz" singer) is reputed to have said, "I've been rich and I've been poor. Rich is better."

Well ask anyone who has worked both union and non-union jobs and almost all will tell you that, "Union is better."

What has union membership meant for you and your family? Whether you’re a new or longtime union member, we’d like to find out. And if you’re not a union member, we want to hear from you as well—tell us what difference union membership would make in your life and for our nation.

These are the latest in a series of questions we’ve been asking activists about how to strengthen America’s union movement. Your thoughtful comments are helping to shape our planning for the coming years and informing the major proposals the AFL-CIO will take to our 2005 Convention in July. Please take a minute or two to share your thoughts with us again. Click on the link below:

Union membership benefits different workers in diverse ways. Please let us know what you think are the most important benefits of being a union member. Click on the link below:

And don’t forget to read responses to these questions and others at the AFL-CIO’s Strengthening Our Union Movement for the Future website, where you also can read major proposals for change.

As the 2005 AFL-CIO Convention draws closer, we will continue to ask your thoughts about strengthening our union movement for the future. Thank you again for your participation in these important discussions.

In solidarity,

Working Families e-Activist Network, AFL-CIO
June 27, 2005

P.S. Don’t miss the AFL-CIO executive officers’ proposal for change, " Winning for Working Families."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

57 million Americans say they would join a union if they had a chance - How about you?

Employee Free Choice Act
Protecting Workers’ Freedom to Choose
From Voice@Work

More working people than ever—some 57 million—say they would join a union if they had a chance, according to a survey from Peter D. Hart Research Associates. But employers routinely harass, intimidate and coerce workers who try to exercise their right to form a union at work.

On April 19, a bipartisan coalition reintroduced into Congress the historic Employee Free Choice Act (S. 842 and H.R. 1696). The act would strengthen protections for workers’ freedom to choose by requiring employers to recognize a union after a majority of workers sign cards authorizing union representation. It also would provide for mediation and arbitration of first-contract disputes and authorize stronger penalties for violation of the law when workers seek to form a union.

NYU Refuses to Negotiate with Graduate Employees Union

From Voice@Work Update June 23, 2005

NYU Refuses to Negotiate with Graduate Employees Union
Last week New York University announced it plans to end recognition of its graduate employees’ union, the United Auto Workers Local 2110 (UAW), when the current contract ends Aug 31. NYU is exploiting a recent partisan decision issued by the Bush-appointed National Labor Relations Board (Brown University 341 NLRB No. 4) that reversed precedent affording graduate and teaching assistants protection under the National Labor Relations Act.

This is a slap in the face to university employees, who for several years worked cooperatively with the university to win important workplace improvements such as superior benefits for student teaching and research assistants, better compensation and clearer work rules.

NYU administrators made their position on unions clear in a memorandum issued by Executive Vice President Jacob Lew and Provost David McLaughlin, which said “NYU should no longer use a union as an intermediary with our students; accordingly, the University should not negotiate a new contract with the UAW.” Calling the UAW an “intermediary” reveals the university’s lack of respect for the workers decision to form a union.

In the coming days, we will ask Voice@Work activists to tell university administrators to honor workers’ decision to have a union with the UAW.

The New York Times version is here.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Who you gonna believe: the Gov or your own two eyes?

Ehrlich's Hirings, Firings Reached Deep Into Ranks -- Sunday's Washington Post:

"Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has denied Democrats' accusations that he fired workers for partisan reasons.

"Ehrlich's top advisers have said they fired 284 workers. That number, they say, is modest compared with what occurred when his predecessor, Parris N. Glendening (D), took office in 1995, replacing fellow Democrat William Donald Schaefer.

"But Ehrlich has overseen the dismissal of four times as many workers as Glendening, according to state personnel chief Andrea Fulton, who reviewed state records at the request of The Washington Post. She said Glendening fired 65 workers during the first three years of his administration.

".. . In many cases, the workers resigned, retired or were demoted after they were told that they would be fired."

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Gov in full Bush mode

You know the drill: Everything is secret, all publicity is stage managed, nothing is real except for the official television images, "loyalty" is the only litmus test.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that protesters were banned when the Gov held a festive ceremony in Princess Anne on Maryland's Eastern Shore to personally deny Wal-Mart employees the right to health care.

The Maryland legislature passed a bill that would have required large employers to provide health insurance to all employees. The legislation wasn't totally altruistic. Each year, Wal-Mart costs Maryland taxpayers millions because so many of their employees qualify for Medicaid (I've heard that Wal-Mart provides employees with instructions on how to apply).

I guess that the legislature's calling for even a meager level of corporate responsibility must have offended the Gov's corporate patrons. So, the Gov made sure that no one else's reality would intrude on the merry spectacle of vetoing the bill.

Here's Michael Olesker's column on the subject

The Gov's patrons at Wal-Mart have commissioned a "reality" TV show to counteract all this bad publicity (I swear I'm not making this up!):

"For the first time, Wal-Mart Stores is becoming a major sponsor of a reality television show, by signing a branded-entertainment agreement with ABC for "The Scholar," a summer series that begins a six-week run on Monday night. Wal-Mart will be woven into the plots of episodes of the show, which is centered on a competition among 10 high school seniors from across the country for a grand prize of a full college scholarship, valued at $250,000, covering tuition and expenses.

The students will compete in a variety of academic, creative and social tasks, including team challenges, oral exams and defending themselves before a scholarship committee. In one challenge, the five members of the winning team each receive a $2,000 Wal-Mart gift card to outfit their dormitory rooms. And Wal-Mart is underwriting the cost of the scholarships for the nine runners-up, totaling $300,000. (The Broad Foundation in Los Angeles is donating the grand prize.)

There will also be commercials during the show promoting the Wal-Mart and Sam's Club Foundation's long-running program offering scholarships to students in towns where it operates stores and distribution centers. The foundation said yesterday that it would provide more than $6.9 million in scholarships this year to more than 6,700 students through the Sam M. Walton Community Scholarship Program, named after the company's founder."

Everything you need to know about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

AFSCME Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act: AFSCME's Comprehensive Guide for You, Your Family and Your Union

After more than 11 years since passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, questions still arise from affiliates about workers' rights under FMLA and management's implementation of the law. The AFSCME Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act: Questions & Answers, remains the most requested publication of the International's Women's Rights Department. Also, over time, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and some courts have clarified FMLA requirements.

For these reasons, the Women's Rights Department has updated its FMLA brochures in three important ways. First, the brochures have been changed to reflect a major U.S. Supreme Court decision in Ragsdale et al. v. Wolverine World Wide Inc., which struck down part of the DOL's FMLA notification requirements. Second, we have added citations for each of the DOL regulatory requirements contained in the brochure to make it easier for affiliates to locate provisions on their own. Third, we have combined both the AFSCME Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Bargaining and the Family and Medical Leave Act brochures so that affiliates can have one complete guide to the FMLA.

This publication replaces the AFSCME Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act: Questions & Answers, and its supplement, Bargaining and the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Gerald W. McEntee
International President
William Lucy
International Secretary-Treasurer

When the chickens don't vote for Frank Perdue

Alexander Cockburn takes on Thomas Friedman:

". . . when I read the reports filed by U.S. correspondents and pundits from Paris, after the French Non! to the EC proposed constitution a couple of weeks ago. It was striking how many of them, presumably without any direct orders from the owners of their publications, started lecturing the French in the tones of nineteenth-century Masters of Capital.

The 'Non', they howled, disclosed the cosseted and selfish laziness of French workers. On inspection this turned out to mean that French workers have laws protecting their pensions, health benefits, leisure time and other outlandish buttresses of a tolerable existence. No one was more outraged than Friedman, a man who, we can safely surmise, does have health benefits, enjoys confidence about his retirement along with a robust six-figure income plus guaranteed vacations plus a pleasant ambulatory existence living in nice hotels, confabbing with CEOs, and lecturing gratified businessmen on their visionary nature and the virtues of selfishness.

From Bangalore Friedman issued a furious rebuke. 'French voters are trying to preserve a 35-hour work week in a world where Indian engineers are ready to work a 35-hour day. Next to India, Western Europe looks like an assisted-living facility with Turkish nurses.' I guess it does, though 'engineers' is rather a dignified label to fix on the cyber-coolies -- underpaid clerical workers -- who toil night and day in Bangalore's call centers. But if you want a race to the bottom of the sort Friedman calls for, you don't have to travel too far from Bangalore, maybe -- though any direction will do -- north-east into the former realm of posterboy Naidu to find an Indian reality compared with which the so-called IT breakthroughs in India are like gnat bites on the hide of one of those buffaloes you see in photos in articles headlined 'Timeless India Faces Change'."

Read the rest of Cockburn's essay on Friedman

Senator Steele (?)

From the Daily Kos: "MD-Sen: Steele will form exploratory committee" by kos Wed Jun 15th, 2005 at 09:56:55 PDT

The Maryland GOP has two players on its bench -- the state's governor, Robert Ehrlich (who we're taking out next year), and and Lt. Governor Michael Steele. After much national pressure, it looks like Steele is going to run.

Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele is expected to announce today the formation of an exploratory committee that would be his first step in seeking the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Paul S. Sarbanes, a source familiar with Steele's candidacy said.

The announcement has been expected for several weeks, as state and national Republicans have continued to encourage Steele to enter the race. Leading Republicans say Steele has the best chance of capturing a position last held by the GOP in 1987, when Sen. Charles McC. Mathias retired.

Republicans are excited that Steele is black, since that lynching business and related shenanigans make it hard for them to attract significant non-white support.

We Marylanders would be excited if the Republican party suddenly discovered that many Marylanders are black -- and deserve respect.

Michael Steele, The Lost Years
- During the last gubernatorial election Maryland dems filed a complaint saying that, in their view, the Man of Steele had acted in the capacity of an attorney when he attempted to arrange a financial settlement for his sister (who was trying to divorce Mike Tyson!). The Man of Steele is not a member of the Maryland Bar and his sister's dee-vorce was filed in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Taking a leaf from the Karl Rove strategy book, the Man of Steele shifted into full Rottweiler mode to "respond" to his critics, "My family is off limits in this debate," he said. "If my opponents want to try to destroy me, I welcome and will meet the challenge in kind. But my loved ones will not be attacked."

Hmmm, ". . . trying to destroy me" and "my loved ones will not be attacked" Destroy? Attacked? All we wanted to know was "did you belong to the Maryland Bar?" Gee, touchy touchy!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Why I'm joining the GOP

Why I'm joining the GOP / Leaving the left for fun and profit
- Jeff Gillenkirk
Sunday, May 29, 2005

After a lifetime voting for and working for Democratic candidates and independents, I'm finally going to make the switch and become a Republican.

The reasons are many, not the least of which is age. I turned 55 recently and, having lived more than half my life, I can't afford to worry anymore about the other guy. It's time for me.

As a Republican, I can now proudly -- indeed, defiantly -- pledge to never again vote for anyone who raises taxes for any reason. To hell with roads, bridges, schools, police and fire protection, Medicare, Social Security and regulation of the airwaves.

President Bush has promised to give me more tax cuts even though our federal government owes trillions of dollars to its creditors. But that's someone else's problem, not mine. Republicans are about the here and now, and I'm here now.

As a Republican, I can favor exploiting the environment for everything she's got. No need to worry about quaint notions like posterity and natural legacy. There are plenty of resources left for everyone, and if we don't use them, someone else will.

I want a party that doesn't worry about things before we have to. Republicans refuse to get hog-tied by theories such as global warming, ozone depletion, fished-out oceans and disappearing wetlands. The real problems -- if there are any -- aren't forecast to take hold for at least 50 years. So what do I care? I'll be dead.

As a Republican, I can swagger and clamor for war -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, wherever -- even though I've never fought in one or even been in the military. I can claim that we're fighting for Democracy, ignoring reports of torture at Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Base and Guantanamo Bay, and a spreading gulag of secret detention centers around the world.

Read the rest here

Summer of Honor

This Friday night is Union Night at Camden Yards. Show your union pride at a rally with the stadium workers who are part of the United Workers Association (UWA).

Labor organizers have been working with this group for over a year and the UWA is now affiliated with AFSCME and needs our support on Friday night.

Peter Angelos, the Orioles owner, promised clean-up workers a living wage this season. Workers demand Angelos honor his commitment. I'm told that the head of the AFL/CIO in Baltimore is not supporting this rally-because he would rather be friends with the owner of the Orioles than with the workers who clean the stadium.

Come meet at Council 92 office at 6:00 pm, rally at 6:30, and then enjoy the game after.

Spread the word!

Where: Meet at 190 W. Ostend Street (AFSCME Council 92 office), Free parking!
When: 6:00 pm Union Night Friday June 17, 2005
What: Rally for Honor - United Workers Association

Show your spirit and solidarity with the UWA by purchasing a campaign t-shirt for $10!

p.s. It's also Student Night at Oriole Park! For all students with a valid ID -- Left Field Upper Reserve Tickets are $5. ONLY at the Box Office or by calling (888) 848-BIRD

Ending the New Deal (Why Union?)

In response to the post "Why Union?" Aldesko wrote . . . "Read the article from the Washington Post [Public Workers Under Fire] and then tell me why public employees--who are suported by tax dollars--deserve to have it better than private sector employees."

I am as usual, moved to despair by our fellow citizens who have internalized the right-wing notion that "Class warfare" means to deligitimize any attempt to rein in the excesses of Bush's corporate patrons. Yet at the same time "Class warfare" means it's okay to step on the fingers of those beneath us on the economic ladder.

The flipside of the "class warfare" coin is revealed in Aldesko's phrase "why public employees--who are suported by tax dollars--deserve to have it better than private sector employees."

To the question: "What is Swing?" Fats Waller once answered, "If you have to ask, you ain't got it." To the question, "Why do any employees 'deserve to have it better?'" I can only say, "If you have to ask . . . "

Yes, all employees are in trouble. Let us again ask ourselves, how has the GOP managed to get the chickens to vote for Frank Perdue?

The answer is this: the GOP has constructed a compelling, overarching narrative that has swept away the weak efforts of the folks who are remnants of the New Deal to reach the American voter. Well, actually, the Dems got 48 percent of the US voters to pull the lever for the "most liberal man in America," John Kerry. It was a good effort, but not enough to save the country from a right-wing take over.

The reason the GOP is so successful is because they are selling an irresistible story that has the squares wrapped up in knots. Grover Norquist and Karl Rove play their siren song for the suckers--"Don't restrict the rich, this is America and one day you may be rich too." The Orwellian lyric is rewritten every week by Frank Luntz and distributed to a disciplined cadre of gauleiters who will not deviate from the bullet points of received right-wing orthodoxy.

It's high time organized labor got up from the canvas and defended itself.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Love note to Steve Hill

Steve Hill of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute is your lighthouse in the fog-bound Maryland State budget process. My mental image of Steve's work comes from those 1930's prison movies where the cons try to break out only to be caught in the guard's searchlight beam. Steve is the guy with the searchlight . . . and the ability to read mounds of legislative prose to discover the single phrase that's going to cost us taxpayers big bucks. Not that I'm implying anything about the lobbyists' impact on Maryland's legislative and executive branches . . .

I'm sure the Gov would love it if Steve's searchlight beam were dimmed. After all, Steve is the guy who discovered the corporate tax loophole that permits multi-state corporations to scam their way out of paying any Maryland corporate tax. Meanwhile, Maryland's instate business people pay their tax in full to make up for the budgetary shortfall.

We have a name for the Maryland business people who think Governor Ehrlich represents their interests: "Chickens who vote for Frank Perdue."

I attended a budget committee hearing in Annapolis during the last legislative session where they heard testimony regarding a modest proposal to increase Maryland's corporate tax rate from 7 to 7.4 percent (don't hold me to those exact percentages). Maryland's patriotic and civic-minded business associations responded with the usual cries of, "It will mean the end of civilization as we know it." Well maybe, but corporate taxes were NOT raised and now Maryland's individual taxpayers are feeling the crunch.

We, in higher education know what the budget shortfall means: Continue to provide well educated new employees to Maryland's companies, but don't spend any money doing it.

Hey, the good news--the budget crunch has simplified the hiring process at Maryland's public colleges and universities. We only ask applicants one question, "Can you do the work of two people without whining?" (I shouldn't tip off the applicants, but there is only one acceptable answer, "Yes, but I'll need an assistant!")

Check out Steve's Maryland Policy Blog. Hats of to Mr. Hill.

Paging Mr. Orwell

Does the Governor Have a Plan B For Code Red?

You gotta love the Gov! He ordered Joe Curran, the Maryland state Attorney General to drop out of a multistate challenge to the Bush administration's demolition of the EPA's air pollution regulations. Curran intended to forward Maryland's Department of the Environment advocacy of, "a national program with emission caps more stringent than current federal proposals . . . "

But wait, during the past General Assembly session, Ehrlich also opposed state anti-pollution legislation claiming that a state shouldn't involve itself in legislation that could involve out of state polluters.

Hmmmm, lessee. The state shouldn't tackle air pollution, the federal government shouldn't tackle air pollution, maybe we need to go to the UN . . . no that's no good, Bolton is gonna be "our" rep there . . .

When Scoundrels Rule

I am reading The Last Refuge, Patriotism, Politics and the Environment in an Age of Terror, by David W. Orr.
The book is dedicated to Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela, and Paul Wellstone--pioneers of twenty-first-century politics.

Yes, it's another description of the damage that the right-wing idealogues have wrought--environmental, civic, political, economic--but Orr skillfully weaves these many disparate strands into a coherent whole.

The environmental movement has at its core, the wonderful, soul-stirring transcendence you can experience in America's wild and lonesome places. That psychic jolt has energized an army of ecological activists. Those soldiers work unstintingly to maintain our wild and lonesome places purely in the hope that generations of Americans as yet unborn will be able to experience the same psychic jolt.
I am sorry to say that America's labor movement does not seem to provide a comparable heart-felt enthusiasm. Sure, we can all reason, judge, and explain why workers should organize, but it is a rare (and joyous) moment when a worker "feels" what organized labor is all about. One day perhaps . . .

Here is a quotations from the Introduction to The Last Refuge

". . . Increasingly, we are ruled by a plutocracy, distracted by the entertainment industry, and frequently misinformed by an increasingly concentrated news media that puts the pursuit of market share above telling the whole truth. And, part symptom, part cause, we have state legislatures and a congress with many members who havent read widely, thought deeply, or imagined much beyond their own pecuniary gain."

Gee, sounds as if David Orr visited Annapolis during the last legislative session!