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Let’s Get Women Out of the Red

By: Gerald McEntee Tuesday April 17, 2012 7:01 am

One of many women participating in efforts to recall Scott Walker. Photo by marctasman.

Workers are under attack and women are bearing the brunt of it when it comes to pay. Who’s to blame? Corporate-backed politicians typified by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Last week, in the dead of night, Walker signed a piece of legislation that rolls back progress on pay equity in his state, where women make only 75 cents for every dollar a man earns doing the same job. (Wisconsin’s rate was already worse than the disheartening national average of 77 cents on the dollar.) Walker’s legislation repeals a 2009 law that made it easier for victims of wage discrimination to have their day in court.

His action adds another to the growing list of reasons Wisconsin voters want to recall him this June.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has yet to denounce Walker’s anti-worker, anti-women action. Recently, Romney’s campaign officials were stumped by a reporter’s question on the topic. The reporter asked if Romney supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first law President Barack Obama signed, making it easier for women to sue in wage discrimination cases. Campaign officials were silent, then said only, “We’ll get back to you on that.”

No public official should have to stop and think about pay equity. It’s the right thing to do. And it’s the smart thing to do. When women do not get paid fairly, we all suffer.

Yet in places like Wisconsin, the systematic attacks on women’s pay and voices continue. Walker’s so-called “budget repair” bill passed last year broke the livelihoods of many women in the state, where the resulting layoffs and pay cuts disproportionally hit working women.

Leah Lipska, a member of AFSCME Local 1 in Wisconsin, told her story in a letter to the Washington Post. She wrote, “Aside from my full-time job with the state, I have been forced to take a part-time job at a local pizza place. Even that’s not enough to make up for my decrease in pay since Governor Walker’s law. I got so far behind on my car payments, I had to ask my parents for help. I’ve even had to go to the local food pantry. [Walker] is no hero; he’s stolen our American Dream.”


Mitt Romney and the 1%

By: Gerald McEntee Friday January 27, 2012 9:54 am

Mitt Romney has released some information on his income taxes over the past two years. Turns out he’s paid less than 14 percent on more than $40 million in income. He makes more in one day than most American makes all year, yet he pays a tax rate that is far less than what the vast majority of Americans pay. Keep in mind that Romney’s income rolled in while he did nothing but clip coupons and hit the campaign trail. It suggests that our once progressive income tax has been turned into a farce, where the very rich get away with paying less than bus drivers, construction crews and health care workers. That’s not right, and it’s why the tax laws need to be changed and changed soon.

It’s now obvious why Romney tried so hard for so long to hide his financial holdings. He’s stashed some of his money in tax havens like Luxemburg and the Cayman Islands. He’s even had a Swiss bank account. He says he’s paid taxes on all his foreign holdings, but The Los Angeles Times reports that Romney failed to disclose at least 23 funds and partnerships on his most recent financial disclosure forms, including 11 based in low-tax foreign countries. While he may not have broken any laws by funneling cash into off-shore accounts and companies, Romney has clearly broken faith with the American people. He amassed his wealth by hollowing-out companies, laying off employees, ruining communities and practicing what is kindly called “vulture capitalism.” He left thousands of families in hardship while he accrued hundreds of millions in wealth. He should be ashamed, but if we’ve learned anything over the past year, Mitt Romney has no shame.

Romney, after all, doesn’t hide that he wants a tax code that rewards the 1 percent and makes the rest of us pay far more than our fair share. He’s running for president with a plan to change the tax code to make rich Americans even richer. The Economist magazine describes his plan as “very progressive, by 15th century standards.” Romney’s “help the rich get richer” plan would reduce the taxes of the top 1 percent by more than $170,000, while adding $600 billion to the deficit. He gets defensive when his plan is attacked, just as he gets hot under the collar when people bring up his past career as a corporate raider. He claims that any criticism of his repugnant business practices is an attack on free enterprise. It is not. It’s an attack on ruthless behavior. He claims that his critics are engaging in “class warfare.” It is not that either. If anything, he’s demonstrated the truth in Warren Buffett’s statement about class warfare: “It’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Unfortunately, Romney’s not the only candidate out there who is interested in making life easier for the well-to-do. Shockingly, Newt Gingrich’s tax proposals are even worse that Romney’s. He wants to eliminate completely the taxes on capital gains. His radical tax scheme would guarantee that most members of the 1 percent, including Romney, would pay little or no taxes at all. The middle class would be left to pay the country’s bills, including the cost of additional tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy.

Perhaps that’s why the GOP candidates spend their time distorting Pres. Obama’s record, rather than outlining their own hare-brained plans for our country. Rick Santorum goes even farther. He says talking about the middle class is misguided because, get this, it buys into “the class warfare arguments of Barack Obama.” Santorum scolded Romney for using the term in a recent debate: “The governor used a term earlier that I shrink from. And it’s one that I don’t think we should be using as Republicans: Middle class.” And why shouldn’t Republicans talk about the middle class? “There are no classes in America,” Santorum continued. Only a millionaire could believe this.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Romney, Gingrich and Santorum all support the unhinged agenda of their political allies who now control the U.S. House of Representatives. They’ve promised to support radical schemes like the Ryan Budget, which abandons programs that have helped to build and sustain the middle class, including Medicare, Social Security, education assistance, health research and job training programs. They ignore the damage done to the middle class as CEO pay skyrocketed 300% since 1990 and corporate profits doubled. These are the candidates of the 1%, for the 1% and by the 1%. If they have their way, Mitt Romney and the wealthiest people in America won’t have to release their tax returns. They won’t even have to file.

McEntee on Jobs

By: Gerald McEntee Friday October 7, 2011 6:54 am

On Tuesday, the Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia, told the press that he would not schedule a vote on President Obama’s American Jobs Bill. That’s appalling, but not surprising. With its current leadership, the House never schedules votes on bills to increase employment in the U.S. If you look closely at their record, you’ll see that putting more people to work is the last thing they want to accomplish. It would be bad for the billionaires who finance their campaigns, and it would hurt their chances of maintaining power.

None of the folks on TV news will mention it, but the truth is that the bosses on Wall Street and right-wing talk radio like high unemployment. It drives down wages and increases profits. That makes most corporate CEOs happy. High unemployment delights the Rush Limbaughs of the world, too. It makes President Obama fail, and that’s been their hope since day one of his presidency. Remember, it was Limbaugh who told his audience in the earliest days of 2009: “I want to see him fail.”

Limbaugh was not alone. The GOP leader in the Senate made it clear after the elections last November that jobs would not be the top item on his upcoming agenda. No, Sen. Mitch McConnell said: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Not lower unemployment. Not help for families facing foreclosures. Not financial support for students struggling to stay in school. No, the single most important thing they want is to defeat President Barack Obama.

If you understand that this is their guiding goal, much of their abysmal record on the economy begins to make sense. It helps explain the GOP’s willingness to allow taxes to be raised on 99 percent of the American public, which is what will happen if President Obama’s plan to extend the tax cuts for workers is not passed by the end of the year. That tax cut is part of the American Jobs Act, which Leader Cantor won’t schedule for a vote.

It explains the efforts by House members last spring, when the economy was beginning to recover, to launch an unprecedented months-long debate on whether the U.S. would increase the debt limit. This wasn’t about giving President Obama a blank check, as clueless Rep. Michelle Bachmann said. The Congress had already approved legislation spending the money – with the support of Rep. Bachmann. The question was whether the U.S. would live up to its commitments.

In the end, thanks to the efforts of Rep. Cantor’s and Rep. Bachmann’s allies to undermine the full faith and credit of the United States, a ratings agency lowered the rating of the U.S. debt, for the first time in history. They sent a clear message to the financial markets that the leadership in the U.S. House was willing to risk the default of the United States rather than compromise on taxing the wealthiest people in America. They succeeded in derailing the economic recovery. They got what they really wanted: higher unemployment.

Never mind that this agenda hurts millions of America’s working families. The House leadership in Washington may give lip-service to the concerns of America’s jobless, but they do what their bosses on Wall Street tell them to do. And that is: “Don’t increase taxes on the rich.”

The working middle class has been under attack for decades. Now, when we have a chance to rebuild Main Street and help hard working American families by passing a much-needed jobs bill, the leadership in the House won’t hold hearings or bring it to a vote. These people deserve all the criticism they are getting from the students, young people and activists who are targeting the House leadership’s bosses on Wall Street. That’s why AFSCME stands with the courageous participants who are broadening the Main Street movement by occupying Wall Street.

When will Congress realize that they should be working for the American people, not the obscenely wealthy CEOs, the slick Wall Street operators and the shrill blowhards on right-wing talk radio? When will they listen to the voices on Main Street, and not do the bidding of their Wall Street masters? No time soon, if Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell have their way.

According to the latest Washington Post/ABC poll, only 14 percent of Americans think Congress is doing a good job. Those 14 percent must be working for Cantor and McConnell and their cronies in the U.S. Capitol. The rest of us think that their leadership is worthless. They take their cues from Wall Street, not Main Street. If they are not going to help put the country back to work, it’s they and their Congressional collaborators who will be looking for work after the next election.

We Remember

By: Gerald McEntee Friday September 9, 2011 7:27 am
"9/11 Memorial Stained Glass at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Midtown NYC" by By NYCUrbanScape Peter Cigliano on flickr

"9/11 Memorial Stained Glass at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Midtown NYC" by By NYCUrbanScape Peter Cigliano on flickr

A decade has passed since the attacks that brought horrific destruction and death to the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the fields outside Shanksville, Pa.  Those acts of terrorism ripped apart steel and concrete and broke our hearts. The families that lost loved ones may never be whole again.

Father Mychal F. Judge, a New York Fire Department chaplain and member of AFSCME Local 299 (District Council 37), was among the first to arrive at the scene in New York.  Father Judge did not hesitate when he heard of the attacks.  He put on his collar and went to be of help.  He died giving the Last Rites of the Roman Catholic Church to a mortally wounded firefighter.  He is known today as “the Saint of 9/11.”

Father Judge was not alone.  Paramedics Carlos Lillo and Ricardo Quinn, both AFSCME DC 37 members, braved the horrors in Lower Manhattan to support rescue efforts. They too gave their lives, as did Chet Louie, an AFSCME member who worked a second job at the World Trade Center, and five members of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000 – Yvette Anderson, Florence Cohen, Harry Goody, Marian Hrycak and Dorothy Temple – who worked for the state Department of Taxation and Finance in the South Tower.

Ten years later, one is still moved by the memory of the many public employees who put their lives in danger.  Police officers, firefighters, EMTs and other first responders rushed into the twin towers to rescue the injured. Emergency personnel created caravans to help dig through the rubble. Engineers worked up to 36-hour shifts trying to find survivors. Sanitation workers, child care providers and hundreds of other public employees delivered lunches, supplies and volunteered to do whatever was necessary.  Similar acts of courage and service were seen at each of the attack sites.

America’s Future is at Stake this Labor Day

By: Gerald McEntee Wednesday August 31, 2011 7:15 am
"San Francisco Labor Temple Wall Painting"

"San Francisco Labor Temple Wall Painting" by xeeliz. The San Francisco Temple of Labor was built to house the San Francisco Labor Council and labor union offices and to provide a meeting hall for San Francisco's unions. The building was the primary center for the city's historic labor community for over half a century and played a significant role in the 1934 citywide labor strike for better working conditions.

As we celebrate Labor Day 2011, working families face greater attacks on their economic security than at any time since the days of the robber barons in the late19th Century.  In state houses across the country, politicians backed by Wall Street billionaires are attacking fundamental reforms that union members fought and won over many decades, reforms like collective bargaining, child labor laws, safety regulations and even the right of workers to vote.  In the U.S. House of Representatives, right-wing forces have passed legislation to eliminate Medicare, undermine Social Security and increase the taxes paid by working families while giving massive benefits to corporations and the very rich.

Rather than pulling together to find real solutions to our problems, anti-worker billionaires and the politicians they fund are mobilizing to transfer all the burdens of taxation onto working families.  Under the budget bill supported by all except nine Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate, taxes would increase for the working middle class while the wealthiest one percent would find their taxes cut in half.  Millionaires would be taxed at a lower effective rate than anyone working nine to five for a paycheck.  That’s not a real solution, and it does nothing to create jobs.

We fought for reforms . . .

Unions opposed these measures.  The labor movement worked long and hard to enact reforms like the progressive income tax, Social Security and Medicare.  On Labor Day and every day, we need to remember that winning those victories – and so many others – was not a day at the beach or a walk in the park.  When unions fought for collective bargaining rights, for the eight hour work day, to expand non-discrimination laws, to restrict the use of child labor and to enforce workplace safety regulations, we were always opposed by Wall Street.  Yet, today, too many Americans take those reforms for granted.  But many realize how important these reforms were.  And they are mobilizing to oppose the concerted efforts underway across the country to repeal them, along with other policies and laws that have promoted social and economic justice. 

The ALEC Cabal: How Influence Peddlers Undermine Democracy

By: Gerald McEntee Wednesday August 3, 2011 8:24 am
"Power and Influence"

"Power and Influence" by Wandering Eyre on flickr

As the eyes of the nation are focused on lawmakers in Washington this week, hundreds of right-wing state legislators are quietly meeting with corporate lobbyists behind closed doors in a New Orleans hotel to draft far-reaching legislation. The secret meetings, underwritten by powerful special interests –  including the insurance and banking industries, big oil and the pharmaceutical giants – are part of an on-going effort to subvert the public interest by an industry backed-group shamelessly called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This hidden collusion between well-financed lobbyists and elected legislators undermines the basic American values of public debate and full-disclosure that Americans rightly expect when our laws are made.

Through ALEC, big corporations lay out more than $6 million a year to wine and dine state legislators, and pay for expensive vacations and junkets, while at the same time drafting corporate-friendly legislation that the politicians then push when they return to their statehouses. This covert coalition of state legislators and Wall Street moneymen has been surreptitiously working out of the view of Main Street Americans to dismantle health, safety and environmental regulations, privatize vital public services, restrict the ability of working men and women to make a fair wage, and reduce the ability of seniors, students, minorities and the poor to vote. All done behind closed doors without the press or public seeing whose palm is greased.

More than 2,000 state legislators are in on the game. Over the years, with corporate backing in their campaigns, they often go for higher office, like former ALEC members Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. More than 70 members of Congress and governors have attended the closed-to-the public get-togethers where corporate CEOs lay out the agenda for the year ahead. It is no coincidence that Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio made attacks on the middle class and collective bargaining rights their top priorities, rather than find real solutions and focus on job creation, when they took power earlier this year. They are both ALEC alumni.

Why Unemployment Makes the Tea Party Happy

By: Gerald McEntee Thursday July 14, 2011 8:21 am

DONT TREAD ON ME by DonkeyHotey

The tea party Republicans have drawn a line in the sand. The debt ceiling was raised five times during the administration of President George W. Bush. Yet, it is only now, with tea party Republicans holding the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives, that America is placed in the position of defaulting on our commitments, for the first time since the founding of our country.

Their irresponsible position is that corporations and billionaires should not have to share the sacrifices needed to keep our economy on track for recovery. That is why they vehemently oppose efforts to cut corporate welfare and to eliminate subsidies for the oil companies. Unlike most Americans, who believe we should pull together to find real solutions, these politicians are intent on dividing Americans by destroying programs that have broad public support. At the same time, they have done all in their power to create instability in the economy and put more Americans out of work.

With more than 14 million Americans out of the job market, it is appalling for these politicians to play games with our nation’s economy. Creating jobs and keeping Americans working have to be top priorities. But for the tea party Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, those are far from the top of their “to-do” list. Instead, they have repeatedly passed bills that would put more Americans out of work. A harsh conclusion, perhaps, but just look at the facts:

Since the tea party took over the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2011, they have pushed legislation which, if enacted, would have added more than 6.5 million additional workers to the unemployment rolls:

• The Economic Policy Institute estimates that nearly 1 million jobs would have been lost if their 2011 appropriations bill had been enacted.
• Their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act would have cut as many as 400,000 jobs annually, according to the Center for American Progress.
• And the Ryan Budget they passed, which destroys Medicare and Medicaid, student loan programs and health care research, would put as many as 3 million more workers out of their jobs during the next five years.

Thankfully, President Obama and cooler heads in the Senate have kept these job-killing bills from becoming law. But they all passed the tea party-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.

Tea party politicians have been ramming through similar misguided bills at the state and local level. Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, Chris Christie in New Jersey and Rick Scott in Florida are just a few of the elected officials who have pushed policies to put people out of work. All of them turned down federal funding for transportation projects that could have produced hundreds of thousands of jobs. And they have ruthlessly cut budgets rather than ask billionaires in their states to pay their fair share of taxes. Their actions are hurting job creation, even in the private sector. As economist Adam Hirsch noted on the website Think Progress last month: “States that cut spending are seeing significantly more job losses in the private sector than states maintaining or increasing spending levels.”

In the last Congress, tea party Republicans consistently voted to increase unemployment. In August of 2010, for example, every tea party-backed politician in Congress voted against legislation to provide assistance to the states to pay for teachers, firefighters and vital public services. If they had their way, 300,000 additional jobs would have been lost, adding to the more than 500,000 state and local jobs that have been lost in recent years. The next time a tea party politician tells you that jobs are what they care about, remind them that if it had been up to them, every auto worker at General Motors would be out of work today. And what about the jobs saved or created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act? They opposed the bill kicking and screaming, yet every thinking economist in the country agrees that it saved or created anywhere from to 2 to 4 million jobs.

While they consistently pay lip service to “reducing the debt,” that is not their real goal. Their tax cuts for corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers actually increase our debt. As, under Ryan’s plan “the public debt would increase from $10 trillion in 2011 to $16 trillion in 2021,” even while decimating essential programs for Main Street Americans. That’s because Ryan adds to his Draconian cuts with even larger tax giveaways to his friends on Wall Street. (Ryan wasn’t drinking tea with his Wall Street pals last week. He and two companions spent $700 on two bottles of wine at a Capitol Hill restaurant.)

One is tempted to conclude that the tea party Republicans see political benefit from increasing unemployment while President Obama is at the helm. Michelle Bachmann, in an unguarded moment last week, admitted as much. Whatever their motivation, their policy choices do not reflect the Main Street values shared by most Americans.

It is clear, however, that many of them are willing to tip the country into a double-dip recession and put the world economy into a tailspin. They are, as Warren Buffett said last week, “playing Russian roulette.” And if that leads to more unemployment, apparently the tea party Republicans really don’t care.

The Centenary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the Need to Organize

By: Gerald McEntee Friday March 25, 2011 10:23 am

March 25  marks the 100th anniversary of a tragic, pivotal moment in history, when 146 mostly young New York garment workers, all but 17 female, died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  Many were immigrants, who came to find the American Dream and went to work in a Manhattan sweatshop on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of a building near Washington Square.  They put in nine hour days, six days a week, hundreds of workers on each floor, surrounded by piles of flammable fabric.  Some of the piles were so large that they blocked the exits that could have saved lives on that terrible afternoon.

When the fire started around 4:30 p.m., it spread quickly.  Within minutes, the workers were caught in an inferno.  The fire trucks, which arrived quickly to the scene, were not able to help.  The ladders could not reach the victims.  The water from the hoses could reach the 6th floor, but no higher.  Many of those on the floors above leapt to their deaths.  An eyewitness later described the crowds who gathered on the street below as “horrified and helpless.”

The bodies of six workers were so badly burned that they were not identified until last month, February of 2011, when a remarkable researcher named Michael Hirsch was able to track down their identities.  A recent article in The New York Times noted that their burial in early April of 1911 was a culmination of collective grief.  “Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers turned out in a driving rain for a symbolic funeral procession sponsored by labor unions and other organizations,” the paper noted, “while hundreds of thousands more watched from the sidewalks.”

It is difficult today, after 100 years, to fully appreciate how the horror of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire changed America.  These young workers knew their workplace was unsafe.  Two years earlier, they had tried to form a union.  They had tried to exercise their fundamental right to bargain collectively to improve the safety of their hazard-strewn sweatshop.  They had walked in picket lines.  But they had not succeeded.  The trauma of the Triangle tragedy moved a nation to pick up the fallen banner of these workers and fight for the rights they had been denied.

Unions and other organizations, including the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and the Women’s’ Trade Union League, set out to improve working conditions at sweatshops like the Triangle Factory through collective bargaining . They also organized to force the adoption of fire safety measures in New York that served as a model for the entire country. “The Triangle fire became a central moment in the history of the labor movement and in particular of the ILGWU,” says the Cornell University Library website. “It endured in the collective memory of its members as a symbol of the evils that made it necessary for workers to organize into unions.”

Even today, this tragedy demonstrates why unions are so important in the lives of working Americans, and why working men and women continue to organize and fight for workplace safety and better education for dangerous jobs.  It’s why leaders like Megan Burger, a tour guide at the U.S. Capitol, organized more than 130 tour guides and visitor assistants last year to make sure they had a voice at the table when issues of security are being discussed.  It’s why correction officers come together to make sure that they have the proper equipment and safety standards when dealing with dangerous inmates under stressful conditions. It’s why LaTonya Johnson, the owner/operator of a licensed family child care facility in Milwaukee, fought so hard for the collective bargaining rights that Gov. Scott Walker has stolen with his recent anti-worker legislation.

As was true a century ago, the key to success is organizing.  On Monday, the White House will host an event to commemorate the tragedy of the Triangle fire by focusing on the work of women around the country who are fighting to improve conditions on their jobs and in their communities.  U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and Valerie B. Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, will host a Women’s History Month forum with women who are organizing and making a real contribution to progress for all working Americans.

Deanna Vizi, a child care provider from Genoa, Ohio, and a member of AFSCME Council 8 will be among the speakers at the forum.  She recently fought for three years to gain union recognition for 3,500 dedicated professionals who care for the next generation in the Buckeye State.  “Being a union member is important to me,” Deanna says.  “Many voices together are better heard.  Although I work independently, I know that I have an entire team ready and willing to support me at any time.”

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was a turning point in the development of broad public support for the reforms that America desperately needed if it was to be free of the corporate abuses and excesses of the Gilded Age.  It helped Americans see the difference between right and wrong.  It had a profound influence on politics, culture and the first stirrings of the New Deal. Today, one hundred years later, this terrible and tragic event can still teach a new generation about the need to pull together, to organize and to fight for the common good.