Thursday, March 29, 2007

Senate Iraq supplemental, the minimum wage, and the President

Lost in all the discussion about the vote to end the war and bring our troops home, which was tied to the emergency funding for the war in Iraq was the fact that the minimum wage got tied it to it too.

Which is a very smart move. The President has already threatened a veto of the spending, since it mandates that troops come home by spirng of '08. Americans overwhelmingly are against the surge, they don't think it will do what the President said it would, and they don't trust the President to do anything right. So he's already under a lot of pressure to cooperate, which he has of course, refused to do.

If he vetoes that bill, he'll be forever tied to the failed war, and his refusal to cooperate to end it with dignity. He'll also be tied to the failure to raise the minimum wage.

Lots of other comentators have noted that people whose support for the war is based on the "If we fail, it will be the WORST THING OF ALL TIME" theory, they often overlook one fact. We don't have competent people in charge who can pull this off, we have George Bush & Co. You can hope and pray that they'll see the light and start acting like professionals. Like a grizzled old Marine once told me

"Shit in one hand, wish in the other hand. See which one fills up first."

I have no idea what that means (and the visual is disturbing), but what I think that Marine was saying is that hoping for something isn't the same thing as having that hope come true. Wishing that we had adults in charge won't put them in charge at this point. We had that chance, it was the 2004 elections. People chose poorly.

George Bush: the intervention

Some folks have problem with drinking, others with drugs, still others have a problem invading countries. They need an intervention. Below is the chronicle of one such man, George W. Bush:

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Change To Win

Apparently the Change To Win coalition is undergoing some, well, labor pains. Other than the progress of the SEIU in organizing Houston, and UNITE HERE, which won some good hotel worker contracts this past year, the Teamsters have failed to organize much, the Laborers' have done squat (so far as I can tell) and so have the Carpenters. The UFCW continues to take hits, and while they've tried valiantly to organize Smithfield foods, it hasn't happened so far.

Monday, March 26, 2007

On the Attorney General Scandal

Some call it the grand unifying corruption scandal. Maybe that's so. Josh Marshall says that worrying whether your US Attorney is prosecuting only Democrats and laying off Republicans is a bright line we'd never see crossed. To wit:
"What we seem to see are repeated cases in which US Attorneys were fired for not pursuing bogus prosecutions of persons of the opposite party. Or vice versa."
That's about right to me.

But let's think about this for a minute. Maybe we Democrats are getting off pretty easy here. I mean, sure, apparently the Federal Government views it as their job to squash our every activity, and yes, they're moving to ensure that no corrupt Republican is left behind from the cash gravy train--but wait. Given that they view us as treasonous, mentally diseased, the modern heirs to fascism, and even the Party of Death--Death!--I say we're getting off easy. They could really have taken the gloves us, I suppose.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Gee, I wonder why Houston is sticking it to the SEIU protestors so hard?

So the protestors who successfully brought Houston Janitorial companies to the bargaining table (and won big) are facing up to $2,000 in fines for tying up traffic. The city is taking a very hard line against people who essentially broke traffic and public congregation laws to bring attention to people making starvation wages. So are they being punished for that, or because they won?

Revisiting the Minimum Wage: Home Health Care Aides

It's a little-known fact that there are millions of Americans who are not covered by the national minimum wage (now set at $5.15 an hour). These include workers with disabilities, babysitters, federal criminal investigators, of course waitresses and food servers (who are covered by a patchwork of state laws), and fishermen. Also listed are 'companions to the elderly', a category that includes the rapidly-growing sector of home health care aides. These are workers for county governments, private companies, and non-profits. They attend to every personal need of house-bound elderly with no one else to take care of them. They literally feed and bathe the old that many would prefer not to see. It's an invaluable service to society.

But they are not eligible for the basic right to a criminally low wage (a wage, I might add, that hasn't been raised in ten years, while Congress has raised its pay up to $31,000 in the same time period). They're also not eligible for overtime, meaning they can worked to their breaking point with no relief. Think about that. They're taking care of your parents and grandparents.

So Ms. Evelyn Coke (Supported by the SEIU, and the AARP) has filed suit for back wages. That suit will go to the Supreme Court. Ms. Coke worked up to three 24-hour days a week during some parts of her career, and is now too old and sick to continue work herself. Opposing her are a collection of employing agencies, and interestingly billionaire NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. They're claiming that to bring these people up to the federally-mandated minimum would bankrupt their agencies and deny elderly the proper care that they're due.

They're not arguing that these people don't deserve the money, just that if they earn it, they'll bankrupt the system. Of course, Michael could just cough up the $250 million himself, and he'd still be sitting pretty. He might help 60,000 people by doing so, however, so it's not likely to happen.

But this raises some questions. Why are some employees exempt from the law at all? Even if the suit prevails, employees hired by individual families still won't be covered. Categories like the ones mentioned above will not be affected by the suit. Is it just to avoid paying people what the law says is the absolute minimum that a human's labor is worth? The lawyer for Ms. Coke said that the law isn't intended to apply to 'neighbor-to-neighbor' relationships like babysitting, and that since the home healthcare industry has blown up, it should be clearly covered by the minimum wage. But shouldn't your relationships with your neighbors be governed by laws like the minimum wage?

(Ms. Coke and her son--NYT)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Hope Dies Last

Maybe it's just my personality. I tend to focus (sometimes to the exclusion of all else) on those things needing to be changed. The wrongs that we need to right. The wrongs which will never be righted. The gray areas in between. The space that's created by just discussing and thinking about these issues is part of the moral imperative where I live. It's one part what's possible, one part what's wrong, and a few parts doom and gloom.

In my professional life, this works great. In my mental life, well, let's just say I'm not much fun to watch the news with.

While I was down in Florida a few weeks back, I picked up Hope Dies Last by Studs Terkel. It's a collection of short essays of the kinds of American characters you'd expect from Studs. Dennis Kucinich has a short passage that talks about his poor upbringing (he lived in twenty places by the time he graduated high school, and two of siblings died in childbirth). There are couple of freewheelers in the mix too, like the interview with a bike messenger.

But the part that spoke the most to me are his passages on those in the labor movement, and organizers, who are detailed in a chapter called 'Discovering Power'. In their voices is a lot of sadness, disappointment, and a certain degree of jadedness. Roberta Lynch, who is one of the top bigwigs in AFSCME of Illinois says, "I would not describe myself as an optimist...I would just say that I am person who is periodically visited by hope."

This is how, on a day to day basis, the professional troublemaker often feels (at least, it's how I feel). After all, the poor still are poor, the hungry hunger, and the powerful retain their lofty perches. We lose a lot. Like in that song by Randy, "Karl Marx and History":

It sure rains on our parade,
The winds will change, the clouds will fade.
But change will come eventually.
So says, Karl Marx and history.

But the title of the book gives the game away. Studs is pushing 100 years old himself, and you don't make it that long on a steady diet of cynicism. The rest of the chapters lay out what what a popular psychology for the organizer might look like. Ken Paff, of Teamsters for a Democratic Union talks about a life spent in the pursuit of democratic, shop-floor militancy. How the miracle that Ron Carey's election pushed the Teamsters to strike (and win!) against UPS in 1997 for their part-time employees. He's a man with hope.

Much space in the book is devoted to the characters who won a living wage for Harvard's janitors several years ago.

Young people who did the sitting-in talk about being jeered at by their classmates for caring about people that most of the students didn't even see. But they won. They brought Harvard to the table, and they won.

The custodians are hoepful people. They went from being nobodies, to getting respect on their job, and they made billionaires sitting on a $2 billion dollar endowment, give up just a little of it so that their janitors might live a little better. They did that when all the trustees wanted was to say 'no', and have them go away. But they won.

Bob Kelly, who describes himself as a 'glorified custodian' recalls how blue collar people used to view college protestors in the '60's, and how the Harvard campaign led him to realize "Instead of [thinking] "We're taking care of spoiled little rich kids," it's "Can you believe they're doing this for us?"...Boy, people can surprise you."

Edward Childs, a cook at Harvard for 27 years tells how he went from being asked by a friend to help the cooks get a 50 cent raise to putting in a career at Harvard: "I got the union bug, and the union bug is much stronger than anything else."

It is. Boy, it really is. The message is delivered again and again in this book: hope isn't something you pray for, it's something you live. And when your life is dedicated to busting the odds, it's something you better take to heart. You can't ask people around you to take on the biggest issues, their bosses, the system, racism, war, whatever, and not live hope. Because you will be disappointed.

But then, after a hard fought won, or an equally hard fought loss, you will hear what IAF Organizer Mike Gecan calls 'the most beautiful question you could hear in organizing'--what do we do next?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

This video will probably not change anyone's views of the labor movement.

But it's pretty funny.

We're AFSCME, and we're the fuckin' union that works for you.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hey everyone

I have been lazy recently. I have no good explanation for why, either. It's not as though things haven't been happening.
Now, I bring all of these things up not as a way of proving how awesome I am (it's self-evident), but as a way of explaining my tardiness in making regular posts on this webspace.

Hey, you're not paying for it.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The House passes the Employee Free Choice Act

This is exceedingly good news. Amid the miring down of the Iraq debate, the house has moved decisively, giving workers some more power than they currently have. The Employe Free Choice Act would allow unions to be certified by a majority of workers signing union cards, and if they can't finish a contract within 3 months, one is decided by neutral arbitration.

It's a big win. It also stiffens penalties for companies who violate federal labor law when workers organize. A worker is fired every 23 minutes for exercising their rights to lawful union representation.

Of course, the opponents will raise the hoary trope of union thugs pressuring decent workers into signing cards they don't wish to sign, but as one of those union thugs, I can tell you, this is not how it works in the real world. In the real world, you have conversations with people about what their concerns are, and once you have a decent relationship with them, then you point to how collective bargaining can address those concerns. There's no smoke, no mirrors. It's just conversations, one after the other.

And despite what you may think, the organizer has no power over workers who don't want union representation. It doesn't happen.

In fact, federal researchers have been able to find 42 instances in the past 60 years where there have been documented cases of union intimidation during an organizing process. Which sounds bad until you compare to the 30,000 documented times the employer has harassed workers seeking to lawfully organize.

Watch the video below of George Miller (D-CA) making the case for the EFCA:

Look, the bottom line is that you cannot find a free country anywhere without a vibrant and free labor movement. Where you find tyranny, you find weakened, diminished worker rights. They all go hand in hand.