Supreme Court Moving Left? Not Yet!

US_Supreme_Court_3_CNA_4_17_15Madison   The Supreme Court ended its term at the end of June, so we can stop holding our breath, but we can hardly celebrate. The Martin-Quinn scores are named after a professors at the University of Michigan and University of California at Berkeley and attempt to use the Justices voting patterns to determine ideology. They claim that the recent term showed an ongoing pattern of the Roberts Court towards the left. Perhaps we’ve become so desperate for good news that we’re now willing to grasp at any straws?

This so-called drift does not include the decisions in the widely heralded Texas abortion case where the court by a 5-3 decision threw out the specious decision by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the Texas legislatures transparent attempt to roll boulders in the way of women attempting to gain an abortion in that state using the veneer of adding additional health safety requirements. The court saw through that attempt, now widely copied by many other states. In a simple fact-based decision, they noted that there was no proof that the additional health standards were about protecting women and noted that many other procedures that were much more dangerous did not have to meet these burdensome hospital privilege and surgical operating room standards. There was no poetry in the decision, just the facts, ma’am. Roberts and Alito dissented on procedural grounds without contesting the facts, further locking the door on these conservative efforts to control women. Was this a liberal-left decision or simply the majority crying “gotcha” at such obvious overreaching?

The Court also drew a finer line around what accounts for corruption from political figures versus a wink-and-nod, all part of the game exchange at the favor bank of political commerce by vacating a conviction of the former governor of Virginia. He and his wife had taken a boatload of gifts from a contractor, but at the time there was no law in Virginia forbidding it, no matter how unseemly. The Court in an opinion written by the Chief Justice said, essentially, let the good times roll, if someone has money and power, that’s the point of politics and they can ask and receive favors and assistance without it being a bribe as long as the politician didn’t directly interfere with the governmental process in offering such help. Is this a liberal-left decision or just a free pass for the one-percenters to get-and-grab at politics along the Trump transactional model while someone down the line can get life in prison for five-fingering a bag of candy?

Meanwhile we have the split decisions without a full Court like the one that left union-shop dues provisions alive on one hand and re-criminalized more than four million immigrants on the other. Those were cases of dodging a bullet and taking one on pretty fierce ideological lines. No movement there. Four-on-four hard-court, no fouls game on the biggest court we have. And, how about the erosion of Fourth Amendment rights on search and seizure by police which ignores everything we are learning in modern society about an institution well-armed and out of control. Yikes!

Speculation about the current nominee-in-waiting, Judge Merrick Garland, puts him as slightly left of Justice Stephen Breyer and right of Justice Elena Kagan. Hardly a move to open the envelope wider or go out of the box. None of this seems like a move towards real justice, but just more middle-of-the-road, keep the peace and let the establishment rest easy. It seems clear we have less the rule of law and equal justice and just more pure politics covered in a black robe.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Leaders Assess Progress and Map Out Plans

DSCN1360

reports and campaign discussions in Baton Rouge Local 100 Union Hall

Baton Rouge   Thirty Local 100 United Labor Union leaders gathered together for the 36th annual leadership conference for the union, this time in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Leaders were there from Little Rock and Warren, Arkansas, Dallas and Houston, Lafayette and New Orleans, and points near and far in the three-state areas. We met in Local 100’s big 5000 plus foot union hall in Baton Rouge, so that the members could see first had what had been done to improve the space, and what still needed to be done. It was a hot, mid-90’s June day, but the 10-foot ceilings and thick cinderblock walls made the large meeting room pleasant with five fans running. That is not to say the leadership won’t take a harder look at the thousands needed to repair the air conditioner, but it was a lot better than people had any reason to expect. They were surprised, and I felt lucky, or as I reminded many of them, “tell me you can’t remember visiting your grandmother in the country and hearing the ceiling and attic fans humming?”

A lot of time in the morning was spent reviewing our progress on living wage campaigns or more accurately moving the minimum wages up. In Houston, we had success in both our Head Start unit as well as moving the ages up past $10 per hour for our cafeteria workers. The lesson we had learned, according to Houston office director, Orell Fitzsimmons, was to not try to grab all 30,000 workers in the district at once, but to concentrate on one segment after another. Having raised the hourly wage in the cafeteria, the union is now hunkering down to try to extend the hours from seven to eight to move people up more solidly. In Arkansas, the union with our allies are trying to push a statewide petition of workers and supporters to set the floor above $10 per hour. Winning an election could be difficult, but having our members who are state workers living in poverty is even harder. In Dallas and New Orleans there have been efforts that have met with some success at establishing levels past $10 per hour for subcontracted workers, but in those cities, especially New Orleans, the issue is enforcement. One cleaning contract we organized recently is now six-months overdue on paying the new city standard of $10.55 per hour. I can remember years ago a hotel union in San Jose-Monterrey saying they didn’t want to support our living wage fight because then why would workers need a union? It turns out part of the answer is: they would still need a union to actually get it!

On other fronts, the union is preparing campaigns to advocate to get lead tested and removed from schools and workplaces to protect our workers, children and clients. We are also going after nonprofit hospitals to hold them accountable for providing charity care, especially in Texas where there is no expanded Medicaid and elsewhere in our private sector contracts where the deductibles are pricing our members out of the company-sponsored plans and into the penalties for not having Obamacare.

Will we come up with the money to fix the air conditioner? I don’t know, but we’ll win some big campaigns because of leadership meetings just like this!

reports and campaign discussions in Baton Rouge Local 100 Union Hall

DSCN1361

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Painful Tragedy of the Digital Divide

computers_0Little Rock    For more almost 25 years, Local 100 United Labor Unions has represented school support workers mostly in Texas and Louisiana from Head Start to high school from teachers to bus drivers to cafeteria workers and janitors. Most of our work is concentrated in the cities now, Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Little Rock, because the members’ dues can afford the infrastructure there, but every month we still get regular dues checks from our members at the outposts of local.

About this time of year when winter lingers and spring is pushing forward in this part of the country, I used to join Orell Fitzsimmons, 100’s Texas State Director, for what we called our “fence mending” tour. I would meet him in Houston and then we would drive to Corpus Christi, meet with Willie Fleming there, and then stay in some cheap motel along South Padre Island before we went through our school districts along the Rio Grande Valley before heading back north toward San Antonio and back around to Houston. Sometimes we would stop and take a picture of Texas state highway 100 on the way to Donna to visit our members in the school district there before doubling back to McAllen, Pharr, McAllen, and Brownsville. Everything in south Texas is a long ride.

The FCC is voting soon on a Band-Aid, but essential program to expand “lifeline” funds collected from the big telecoms to offer increased access to broadband internet to lower income families. If we were really serious about attacking inequality we would do a whole lot more, including forcing these public utilities to make all internet affordable to all families in their homes as a basic necessity, but at least we’re doing a little something-something.

Forty percent of the families in South Texas where we used to fence mend do not have access at home to the internet. Looking at a picture in the New York Times of children standing outside a schoolhouse in McAllen, one of our old Texas school districts, so that they could download homework assignments from a school’s wireless hotspot, is just about enough to bring tears to my eyes from the rage boiling my brain. Reading about a young girl in the Donna Independent School District, that we know like the back of our hands, who rides a bus 3-hours a day so that she can use the Wi-Fi on the bus to keep her grades up is tragic. Reading about another 17-year old girl who finishes her after-school job in Pharr and then has to go to a friend’s house to use the internet in order to get assignments in before the midnight deadline that are required to be submitted on-line just about sends me to the street to scream.

Why are we not doing better for these children? Why are these school districts not paying a janitor a couple of extra dollars to keep the cafeteria open for these young scholars to do their homework until 9PM or even later? Why are teachers so brutally insensitive to the children they see eye-to-eye across their desks? What kind of casual cruelty is becoming part of the DNA of our society? And, that’s downstream, when so much of the problem is upstream in corporate suites and politicians offices.

The Rio Grande Valley is not an exception either. More than 30% lack internet access in New Orleans, Detroit, and other broke-ass cities, that are also not surprisingly majority-minority cities. 25% of library users now in cities according to surveys find their patrons coming to use the computers and internet, yet how many are open the hours that students need?

Half-steps are probably better than standing still, but we need a full-on march to deal with the digital divide and the inequality it advances so clearly for so many struggling so hard.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Keeping it Holstered in Texas

2-gun-holsters-apHouston   New Year’s Day in Texas was duck-and-cover for 2016. Almost one-million Texans have a permit to carry guns and until New Year’s they had to keep handguns concealed. Now it’s all out in the open, and so are the arguments about it.

Businesses can opt out of open-carry and some have. For months, a number of hospitals have been posting signs telling people to cover it up before they came into the emergency rooms or along the hospital corridors. Given the number of gunshot wounds that are already being processed through big city emergency rooms in Houston, Dallas, and elsewhere, that makes sense, because the last place you would like to see the gunfights from the hood continue without missing a beat would be in hospitals. Some grocery stores have said, no, and no way. Times-Warner Cable has opted out as well, and that’s another place where people are known to lose their tempers, so thank goodness.

In August, Texas universities and colleges are still puzzling through the issue, because the Texas state legislature in its wisdom has set that date to allow students and professors to carry concealed weaponry on campus. The University of Texas at Austin is supposedly debating whether or not that would work for them or not. Memories of someone pot shooting from the UT tower have obviously dimmed. It takes some real imagination to come up with the side of the argument that says, hey, students with concealed guns, yeah, let’s do that, and while we’re doing it, let’s make sure they’re drinking, too.

Some of the gunners are talking about boycotting stores and businesses that won’t allow them to walk in with their guns strapped to their legs. H-E-B and Sprouts Grocery are saying they will not allow open carry. Walmart, which sells a pile of guns, says open carry is fine with them, which is disappointing, but not surprising especially.

Some of the Texas rough riders say the new law won’t make much difference, but, frankly, having read Frank Strier’s recently published, Guns and Kids, it’s pretty clear that just like possession is supposedly nine tenths of the law, access to handguns right at the hip pretty much guarantees that way too many folks will find their trigger fingers getting itchy when their tempers get hot, and the results will be tragic and predictable.

Of course open carry has always been the way of the world in Texas when it comes to long guns hanging from the gun rack in the pickup. That kind of open-carry includes military style assault rifles.

It’s always good advice in Texas to be ready to duck-and-cover, and now with guns close at hand, it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled because, sadly, some cowboys will find it too easy to keep them blazing.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Opting out of Workman’s Compensation

thNew Orleans     Given all of the effort of the techies to promote the so-called “gig” economy and create a permanent class of part-time, on-call workers with few to no benefits, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that some of the big boys have already found loopholes allowing them escape clauses for compensating their workers, even in the terrible and tragic situations where workers are hurt in the course of serving exactly those same employers. Not too long ago reporters for ProPublica ran a piece in Salon.com on the way Costco, McDonalds, Walmart, numerous health care companies, and others had figured out loopholes in Texas and passed laws in Oklahoma to write and administer their own self-serving workman’s compensation programs. There was nothing pretty to be found in reading the piece.

This is all complicated, but the simple backstory is that the Texas constitution had pretty much always allowed employers to opt out of workman’s comp, but until some Dallas-based lawyers started pulling and pitching the path out, most had stayed in thinking it protected them as well as their workers. One of the lawyers got so good at this chicanery that he left and formed a company, PartnerSource, to do nothing but scheme and cheat on workers’ injuries. Needless to say there was a ready market, and the shyster has a map pins all over his wall on where he wants to move the opt-out campaign.

What kind of things do they get away with and who does the damage, you might ask? Well, let’s looks at some of the cases with ProPublica:

 

· For nearly 40 years, every state has covered occupational diseases and repetitive stress injuries, recognizing medical research that some conditions develop over time. But in Texas, a number of companies, including McDonald’s and the United Regional Health Care System, don’t cover cumulative trauma such as carpal tunnel. U.S. Foods, the country’s second largest food distributor, also doesn’t cover any sickness or disease “regardless of how contracted,” potentially allowing it to dodge work-related conditions such as heat stroke, chemical exposures or even cancer.
· several companies, including Home Depot, Pilot Travel Centers and McDonald’s, exclude injuries caused by safety violations or the failure to obtain assistance with a particular task.
· Brookdale Senior Living, the nation’s largest chain of assisted living facilities, doesn’t cover most bacterial infections. Why Taco Bell can accompany injured workers to doctors’ appointments and Sears can deny benefits if workers don’t report injuries by the end of their shifts. Costco will pay only $15,000 to workers who lose a finger while its rival Walmart pays $25,000.

 

You get the picture?

Add to these horrors the fact that disputes are often forced into arbitration and denied access to courts, the companies are pushing the costs over to Medicaid and Social Security disability and away from their own responsibilities, and all of this is virtually unregulated, and the full dimensions of another assault in state legislatures is clearly on the way. Bills are already pending in South Carolina and Tennessee, and a coalition led by executives at Loews, Walmart, Nordstrom’s and other companies has been formed to promote passage in other areas.

Open the window even a crack and the horrors come roaring in!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Brits and Texans Agree – Attack Unions Where it Hurts – Dues Collection

union-yes-logoNew Orleans  Conservatives of all stripes and nationalities seem to have settled on a killer app for delivering a death blow to unions: block the dues collection mechanism!

Short memories will recall that earlier this year there were fierce legislative battles in Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and elsewhere whose sole objective was to eliminate the ability of public employees to have their dues paid to unions or employee associations through payroll deductions from their checks. The legislation state by state was almost identical with small adjustments place to place only in severity and breadth. Some states exempted no public employees from state to municipal to schools. Others were more selective, like Texas, and tried to favor certain employee groups like police and fire. Most of the legislation was cranked out on the Koch brothers’ ALEC template. The objective was transparent: cripple unions.

Unions and their allies were both good and lucky in the 2015 legislative sessions and managed to block passage of most of these Wisconsin-wannabe measures. It’s not clear how long the streak can continue. The Texas Tribune reports that Texas Lieutenant-Governor Dan Patrick has already started loading up the big guns on this bill for the 2017 session, partially by making it an election primary issue for the committee chair that in his view botched the process preventing the bill from emerging for a vote in the recent session. Patrick is assigning the bill to committees in advance of the session so that it is stripped of any problems. Even the favored few public employee groups that escaped elimination last year seem likely to be on the chopping block in the coming bill. It’s a heckuva a way to build solidarity in the house of labor, although that may not be enough to save us.

The problem is that the Republicans hold the whip hand in Texas and many other southern and border states coming perilously close to the kind of daunting, no holds barred, no prisoners taken one-party rule that can be found in parliamentary government elsewhere. The recent victory of the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom giving them majorities rather than a coalition government, has led them to propose amendments to the Trade Union Act that would eliminate all payroll dues deductions for any public employee group, hoping to decimate the membership of the largely public workers’ union, Unison, and other unions with public members that have long been the backbone of the Labour Party. There will be little that can stand in their way, and state by state we are facing a similar challenge in the United States now.

In Texas they are clear. This has little to do with the workers and whether they need or want union representation on the job. Proponents like the Lieutenant-Governor and his allies are clear this is all about making sure that unions have a depleted treasury and will be limited in the amount that they can donate politically to their opponents. It’s all about running the well dry. Workers and their unions are collateral, ideological damage standing in the way of naked political self-interest.

The clock is ticking for unions and even with Herculean efforts the damage will be extensive.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail