After a Twenty Year Campaign, Aramark and Privatization Shown the Door in Houston

New Orleans  It was a “pinch me” moment when the news finally broke that after United Labor Unions Local 100’s 20-year fight to get rid of Aramark as the food service subcontractor in the giant Houston Independent School District, they were finally being shown the door. The district was close lipped about its decision to not renew the $6 million contract with Aramark, but news reports were clear that the constant complaints and criticisms from food service workers was a critical factor.

Undoubtedly, the soaring cost of this privatization fiasco in Houston was also part of the problem. As the report indicated, there were few sweet nothings being whispered in anyone’s ears about this divorce. Aramark making sure that it left the district with as bad a taste in their mouths as the children they had been feeding, threw a rock through their own glass window dredging up a story from the last century alleging mismanagement of the district of the cafeteria operation. Their parting shot, we took as a relief, because it indicates that they know they won’t be back so they saw no risk in fouling the trough where they have gorged for decades.

Our members are celebrating because they paid for this contract with overwork and underpay, as the food service workforce was decimated in order to line Aramark’s pockets. Where individual schools had previously enjoyed a modicum of oversight and quality control, Aramark lopped off hundreds of jobs in order to establish a central kitchen that would deliver tens of thousands of meals to the individual schools. It’s not hard to imagine the daily problems of such a mammoth enterprise!

Local 100 was recently successful in winning an agreement from the HISD to raise the wages for food service workers, and more recently has been campaigning to win an increase in hours for their work in order to improve service and food delivery for the children. Another factor may be the level of lead found in many of the water fountains and kitchen faucets after Local 100 forced the district to begin a comprehensive testing program.

Recent studies by researchers from Massachusetts and Sweden found that outsourcing workers through privatization imposed a wage penalty of up to 7% for janitors and up to 24% for security guards. The same has been true for food services workers, though perhaps worse, because they often have had to endure split shifts and part-time work hours, often lucky to make six hours a day during the school year. The much-loved and iconic “lunch ladies” by children and parents have been starving and impoverished by Aramark for much of their careers.

Despite the horrors of privatization for the last several decades in Houston, the ideology of privatization more than the economics will continue to be at the heart of every campaign as businesses continue to search for profit by pretending that they are always more efficient and better at delivering public services than government, when their only real skill is reducing wages, hours, and workers and in food service, cheaper, low-quality food. At least in Houston we can enjoy the victory for a minute, but there’s still no cure for the plague.

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Please enjoy Pokey LaFarge’s Riot in the Streets.

Thanks to KABF.

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Music as a Barometer of Our Times Calls for a Better Man

New Orleans   It’s Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I helped my son open up at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse for the regulars. Once or twice a year it’s “training day” all over for me. I’m help, just not great help, but I don’t mind getting bossed around. It’s fun to see everyone, wish them well. After decades, Mardi Gras is a chance for me to come off the road and get a day off for me and take a Trump relief break.

Alexa is playing alternative country and that’s a nice break as well. We’ve had some problems in country music recently. I’ve loved it for years, but almost had to swear off last year. It had become boring and ridiculous. Last year there was a song that said it all, as someone whose name I didn’t catch sang, “It’s hard to be a woman in a country and western song.” She mourned the fact that it all seemed about going after a girl and driving her to the lake or river in a big pickup truck.

But, maybe times are changing? I heard a song about how the trick of driving across the border was to put a Bible on your dash. A real sign of potential change though for women, and we can hope for their men as well, is a recent release by the group, Little Big Town, called “Better Man” where the refrain continues to “wish you were a better man.” No standing by. No taking the blame. None of what my companera calls “whining women singing.” It’s mournful about losing the man, but it’s clear it simply came down to the fact he just plain wasn’t a better man. That’s a standard we have to be ready to step up and be judged by.

Here’s Better Man:

I know I’m probably better off on my own
Than lovin’ a man who didn’t know
What he had when he had it
And I see the permanent damage you did to me
Never again, I just wish I could forget when it was magic
I wish it wasn’t four am, standing in the mirror
Saying to myself, you know you had to do it I know
The bravest thing I ever did was run

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I can feel you again
But I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man
And I know why we had to say goodbye
Like the back of my hand
And I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man
A better man

I know I’m probably better off all alone
Than needing a man who could change his mind at any given minute
And it’s always on your terms
I’m hanging on every careless word
Hoping it might turn sweet again
Like it was in the beginning
But your jealousy, I can hear it now
You’re talking down to me like I’ll always be around
You push my love away like it’s some kind of loaded gun
Boy, you never thought I’d run

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I can feel you again
But I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man
And I know why we had to say goodbye
Like the back of my hand
And I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man
A better man
Better man

I hold onto this pride because these days it’s all I have
And I gave you my best and we both know you can’t say that
You can’t say that
I wish you were a better man
I wonder what we would’ve become
If you were a better man
We might still be in love
If you were a better man
You would’ve been the one
If you were a better man
Yeah, yeah

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I can feel you again
And I just miss you, and I just wish you were a better man
And I know why we had to say goodbye
Like the back of my hand
And I just miss you and I just wish you were a better man
We might still be in love, if you were a better man
Better man

And, if those lyrics aren’t enough of a surprise, then here’s a big one: the song was written by Taylor Swift, who now styles herself a pop diva.

There’s some hope for all of us and a Happy Mardi Gras!

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#OscarsSoWhack!

New Orleans   Ok, this is the Trump Era, so why would anybody care about the Oscars, now or ever? It’s a high-priced fashion show and a self-congratulatory industry back pat. Viewership has been going down steadily. The industry seems to be searching hardest for the pulse of viewers globally, especially in China, and, as some critics have noted, has lost its way in telling the great American story, although they certainly have a lot of company in that chorus.

Nonetheless, it’s like candy, no matter how bad for you, it’s hard to resist the significant cultural role the industry occupies and its impact on all of us. And, even juicier, we have a super flub this time for the hardcore, all-the-way-to-the-end viewers, where they were rewarded with another example of the chaos of our times, when for the first time in 89 years, the wrong winner was named for best picture. There’s a circular firing squad of blame and shame now, which is a delightful spectacle in itself, if for nothing else than a pleasant Trump diversion, about how Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway could have gotten the wrong card, and how Dunaway then, in the-show-must-go-on play announced that “La La Land” was the winner, rather than “Moonlight,” which turned out have actually won.

After two years of agitation on the theme of #OscarsSoWhite, the Academy of Motion Pictures was already on their heels for white-listing so many movies and actors in the awards, so both supporting awards were won by African-Americans this year, including the first Muslim to ever win an award it seems. “Moonlight,” which is one of the few movies I have seen recently, was a hard, but beautiful, look at low income families in a Miami project dealing with drugs, poverty, and the long list of issues faced by all, including in this case sexual identity and bullying. In a white male dominated industry this was a pushback moment, which matters, regardless of the mix-up, though it is unlikely to represent a game changer. The industry studies the numbers, and 25% of tickets are bought by African-Americans in the USA, but that has not been enough to tilt the representation, either on employment or thematically, of African-Americans in the industry to date.

My first impulse was to think that Faye Dunaway in a classic Daniel Kahneman moment right out of Thinking, Fast and Slow, might have been so conditioned to believe that “La La Land” would win that her expectations and assumptions tricked her brain into believing she was reading “La La Land,” even when “Moonlight” was the winner. The story now spinning is that the envelope said, Emma Stone, Best Actress, “La La Land,” but Stone says she doesn’t want to get into any controversy, but she has her hot hands all over the envelope that said that. The bean counters claim there are always two envelopes, so it’s possible that was the problem, though I’ll enjoy my own theory for a bit with all apologies to Faye Dunaway, that sometimes, as the President is now teaching us, people see what they want to see, no matter what the facts and reality hold.

Any way you slice it, it’s #OscarsSoWhack!

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Please enjoy John Mellencamp’s Grandview. Thanks to KABF.

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Work Requirements without Job and Wage Guarantees and Protections are Recipes for Exploitation

online system for workforce requirements in Louisiana

New Orleans   The dishonesty of public policies meant to be both punitive and exploitive, while masked in the language of fiscal accountability or even worse an aberration of American so-called values, never ceases to boil my blood. There’s never been a better example than proposals on work requirements for the poor.  The true purposes of such requirements has never been more transparent than now, when we are statistically at a time of almost full-employment.  The only thing being disguised is the urgency behind the proposal for some politicians so that they can try to cover their tracks as they force mass deportations of immigrants, many of whom are doing jobs unwanted by others, and where employers will be crying for replacements and state coercion to fill the work orders.

After decades of fighting Nixon, Reagan, Bush and the Republican hordes on work requirements for welfare, we got them in spades from Clinton’s so-called welfare reform. Work requirements for food stamps, a program as much an US agricultural support program for farmers as a social welfare component of the safety net for poor workers without families or children, came in as well and were relieved during the Great Recession of 2008, but have been restored by some states now that employment has returned and job calls are going wanting. Some governors and legislators in states like Arkansas and Louisiana among others are calling for work requirements for single lower income individuals who are on Medicaid thanks to the expansion of the program under the Affordable Care Act.

What a farce!  Politicians without a clue about how to create jobs or training programs requiring work when so many people are doing multiple jobs to just survive. The jobs clearly do not exist, yet they are still promoting work requirements because some well-heeled small business donor, who has them on speed dial, is complaining that no one wants to work for the minimum wage on offer and frozen for almost a decade. Meanwhile President Trump shouted that the Republicans are now the party of the working class, and, perhaps no better, The New York Times tried valiantly to introduce the new working class to its readers with rose colored glasses telling the story of nine of them where four of the nine were enjoying the benefits of a union, despite the fact that hardly one in ten now can claim such an advantage in their workplaces.

If they are going to continue to punish the poor by imposing work requirements for nonexistent jobs, there should be hard and fast conditions to such mandates:

  • Substitute placement in public service or volunteer positions while receiving benefits similar to the food stamp requirement should be allowed.
  • Guarantees of adequate and available training for jobs.
  • Guarantees of living wages rather than minimum wages, inadequate to support decent food and housing.
  • Guarantees of public protection against wage theft and exploitation on the job by employers determined to exploit the weakened rights of the worker with the loss of food, health, and welfare benefits.

If work requirement promoters are unwilling to attach the necessary guarantees and protections, then not only is this vicious scam exposed as nothing more than punitive and exploitive, then, fair enough, such work requirements must be barred.

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Trump Militarization of Domestic Policies Is Getting Scarier

London   It is getting harder and harder to deny that there is a very scary, highly uncomfortable pattern emerging around Trump’s domestic policies, and it involves a steady effort to federally militarize policy and policing. These are not tendencies, but firmly expressed proposals. Coupled with his increasing attacks on the institution and independence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the court system, this adds up to something dangerous, even if I hesitate to call its name.

First, of course, we have the Trump immigration and deportation policies. The familiar outlines are well-known in all of their horror, but critical to these efforts, particularly in the light of the unwillingness of not only sanctuary cities, particularly in heavily populated immigrant areas, and already strapped local police forces unable to stretch themselves even thinner on unfunded federal mandates, is his proposal to hire an additional 10,000 immigration enforcement agents to speed up captures and deportations.

A second proposal surfaced in a press briefing that Trump’s press secretary held last week about the loosening standards, as the White House sees it, of drug enforcement. Sean Spicer was careful to say that Trump supports the continued use of medical marijuana for the relief of patients in pain, but that there needed to be a crackdown on federal marijuana laws being ignored in many urban jurisdictions. He indicated that they were likely to propose beefing up the federally controlled police force to do this by many thousands of officers, presumably referring to the agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

And, then there’s the blatant attacks and bullying of the Federal Bureau of Investigation which he is excoriating as a threat to the American people, rather than a critical protector of our safety. Some of this seems triggered by reports that Press Secretary Spicer had leaned on the FBI to deny a story in the Times that he asked them to refute a story about the Trump campaign’s communications with Russian operatives before the election. They were scuffling to deny that one of their top dogs had been the source of the anonymous leak, and the Trump team wanted them to go public with their obsequiousness, which they refused. Trump has also been unhappy that the FBI is continuing to investigate the Russian-Trump campaign ties. This is a Steve Bannon-Brietbart.com playbook exercise of attack and disruption meant to realign and control the department.

Fortunately, Congress hasn’t approved the appropriations for either of these expanded police forces for Trump policies, but the lack of independence of the transactional Republican Congress gives me pause that they will slam the brakes down as hard as needed.

Add two new federal police force expansions and one effort to take control over the formally independent federal police force, and what do you get? It’s not jack boots and Stormtroopers, but it is also nothing good for democracy and the American people.

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Resisting Deportations

Edinburgh   In the new orders being rolled out by the Trump Administration targeting immigrants and possibly Muslims and others, many have pointed out that we are now going to be creating secret communities of immigrants unprotected by usual law and order, victimized by employers and wage theft, susceptible to human trafficking, and devolving into slums. Bill Quigley, professor at Loyola Law School, and longtime friend and comrade recently provided eleven ways that people are resisting deportations around the country, and I thought it worth sharing, so here they are.

Here are eleven recent examples of how people are directly resisting.

One. Blocking vehicles of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A coalition of undocumented immigrants, faith leaders and other allies blocked a bus in San Francisco which was full of people scheduled for deportation. Other buses were blocked in Arizona and Texas. People blocked streets outside of ICE facilities in Los Angeles.

Two. People have engaged in civil disobedience inside border highway checkpoints to deter immigration checks. People have called neighbors to warn them that ICE is in the neighborhood and held up signs on highways that ICE is checking cars ahead.

Three. Cities refusing to cooperate with immigration enforcement and targeting. Hundreds of local governments have policies limiting cooperation with immigration enforcement.

Four. Colleges and universities declining to cooperate with immigration authorities and declare themselves sanctuary campuses. Dozens of schools have declared themselves sanctuary campuses and over a hundred more are considering some form of resistance to immigration enforcement.

Five. Churches sheltering and protecting immigrants scheduled for deportation in their sanctuary. Over a dozen churches are already doing this with hundreds more considering sanctuary. The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles declared itself a Sanctuary Diocese in December 2016 and pledged to defend immigrants, and others targeted for their status.

Six. Detained people demanding investigation into illegal actions. Over 400 detained immigrants in Broward County Florida wrote and publicized a letter to government officials challenging the legality and conditions of their confinement.

Seven. Divesting from stocks of private prisons. Private prison companies CCA and GEO have pushed for building more prisons for immigrants and have profited accordingly. Columbia University became the first university to divest from companies which operate private prisons.

Eight. Lawyers have volunteered to defend people facing deportation. People with lawyers are much less likely to be deported yet only 37 percent of people facing deportation have an attorney and of those already in jail the percentage drops to 14 percent. Los Angeles has created its own fund to provide legal aid to those facing deportations. Other groups like the American Bar Association recruit and train volunteer lawyers to help. Know Your Rights sessions are also very helpful. Here are CAIR Know Your Rights materials for Muslims. Here are Know Your Rights materials for immigrants from the National Immigration Law Center.

Nine. Restaurants declaring themselves safe space sanctuaries for undocumented and LGBTQ workers. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 25 percent of workers in restaurants are Latino.

Ten. Sit-ins at elected and appointed officials at government buildings. Bodegas have gone on strike.

Eleven. Social self-defense. Jeremy Brecher pointed out that decades ago communities in Poland organized themselves into loose voluntary networks called Committees for Social Self-Defense to resist unjust government targeting. This opens resistance in many new forms in addition to the ones identified above including: setting up text networks for allies to come to the scene of ICE deportation raids, to document and hopefully stop the raids; identifying and picketing homes of particularly aggressive ICE leaders; providing medical, legal and financial assistance to help shelter people on the run from authorities; and boycotting businesses and politicians that cooperate with ICE.

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