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Weekly Audit: Hostile Takeover Threat Spurs Concessions from Michigan Unions

9:17 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Michigan’s new Emergency Manager Law is already forcing major
concessions from unions. The law gives the governor the power to declare a
city insolvent and appoint an emergency manager with virtually unlimited
power to reorganize every aspect of city business, including dissolving
the city entirely. The emergency manager even has the power to terminate
collective bargaining agreements.

As a result of these expanded new
powers, public employees unions in some Michigan municipalities are
already making large preemptive concessions to keep their cities from
tripping any of the “triggers” in the new law that might give the governor
an opening to send in a union-busting
emergency manager, Eartha Jane Melzer reports in the Michigan
Messenger.

In Flint, the firefighters’ union agreed to increase
contributions to health insurance and give up holiday pay and night shift
differentials. Flint Firefighters Union President Raul Garcia told the Wall
Street Journal
that these concessions were driven by fear of a state
takeover of Flint. “I would rather give concessions that I would like than
have an [emergency financial manager] or something of that magnitude come
in and say this is what you are going to do,” Garcia said.

The new
law also gives the Emergency Manager the power to privatize prisons, Melzer notes.

Detroit grows green

The citizens of Detroit
aren’t waiting around for an emergency manager to take over. The city’s
industrial economy is dying, but its grassroots economy is stirring to
life, Jenny Lee and Paul Abowd report in In These Times. Detroit
residents have been growing their own
food
in town for decades, but recently activists and the city have
joined forces to link many small producers into a network that will
provide food security for the city.

Wal-Mart and wage
discrimination

Next week, the Supreme Court will take up
the case of 100 women who are suing Wal-Mart for wage discrimination. As
Scott Lemieux explains in The American Prospect, the Court will
decide whether these women can band
together
to sue the nation’s largest retailer, or whether each must
sue the firm individually.

Lemieux argues that, for the sake of
women’s rights at work, it is very important that these Wal-Mart employees
be allowed to sue together instead of one at a time:

Given the compelling stories these individual women can
tell, does it matter whether they can file suit collectively? Absolutely,
for at least two reasons. First of all, only a class-action suit can
properly create a record of the systematic gender discrimination
at Wal-Mart. Any individual case can be dismissed as an anomaly or a
misunderstanding, but the volume of complaints makes clear that gender
discrimination was embedded deeply within the culture of the corporation,
a very relevant fact for a discrimination suit.

Litigation is expensive and time-consuming, for the individuals and for
the court system. Forcing victims of discrimination to sue one by one
makes it less likely that they will seek justice, especially if they’re
suing because they were underpaid in the first place. Wal-Mart claims that
the class is too large to be allowed to proceed, and that the women
couldn’t possibly have similar enough claims. But as Lemieux points out,
the class is huge because Wal-Mart is huge.

War and the
deficit

Jamelle Bouie writes at TAPPED, in response to the United States’
new military commitments in Libya:

I just wish we could
at least acknowledge the obvious truth: conservatives don’t care about
deficits but will use them to cut spending on poor people. When it comes
to things they like — wars, for instance — they’re willing to pay any
price.

The U.S. fired 110 Tomahawk Missiles at Libya
on Saturday, at an estimated total cost of $81 million, or 33 times the
annual federal funding for National Public Radio.

Sally Kohn of
TAPPED notes that the United States scraped together $2.3 million worth of “blood money” to
pay off the families of the victims of Raymond Davis, a rogue CIA
operative who shot and killed two men who tried to rob him in Pakistan.
Laura Flanders of GRITtv calculates
that $2.3 million ransom for a single killer would have paid the salaries
of 45 Wisconsin public school teachers
for a year.

Public pensions 101

We often
hear that public pensions are unfunded.
On the Breakdown, Chris Hayes of The Nation asks economist Dean
Baker what this actually means. Baker explains that s0-called “defined
benefit” pensions have become rare in the private sector, but remain
relatively common in the public sector. A defined benefit pension
guarantees the pensioner a certain income. Most private sector pensions
are so-called “defined contribution” plans, which means that employer puts
aside a certain amount of money each month for the employee, but there’s
no guarantee how much return the pensioner will eventually get on that
investment.

A state pension fund is considered unfunded if the
assets the fund has today aren’t sufficient to cover the defined benefits
that are due to workers over the next 30 years. Baker notes that many
funds are a lot healthier than they look because their values were
calculated at the nadir of the stock market in 2009. The market has since
made up a large percentage of that ground. A handful of states were
mismanaging their pension funds, but most states have been
responsible.

Ethical outlaws

Bea is a
manager of a big-box chain store in Maine. The company pays her staff
between $6 and $8 an hour and many are struggling. Even as she tries to
keep a professional atmosphere in the store, Bea has been known to bend the rules to help an employee in
need, as Lisa Dodson describes in YES! Magazine:

When one of her employees couldn’t afford to buy her
daughter a prom dress, Bea couldn’t shake the feeling that she was
implicated by the injustice. “Let’s just say … we made some mistakes
with our prom dress orders last year,” she told me. “Too many were
ordered, some went back. It got pretty confusing.” And Edy? “She knocked
them dead” at the prom.

Andrew, a manager in the
Midwest is quietly padding his employees’ paychecks because he knows their
wages aren’t enough to live on. Andrew knows he might be accused of
stealing, but he does it anyway because the alternative is
unthinkable.

Dodson interviewed hundreds of low- and middle-income
people about the economy between 2001 and 2008. Along the way, she
stumbled on what she calls “the moral underground,” a world where managers
bend the rules at corporate expense to enable their low-wage staff to get
by. It is legal to pay people less than a living wage, but increasing
numbers of people like Bea and Arthur have decided that the situation is
morally unacceptable, and quietly acted accordingly.

This post
features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the
economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is
free to reprint. Visit the Audit for
a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best
progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and
immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse
and The
Diaspora
. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of
leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: Police Defy Order to Clear Protesters from Wisconsin Capital

9:18 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, eaghra

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Monday afternoon, the Capitol Police in Madison, Wisconsin refused to enforce an order to clear the Capitol building of hundreds of peaceful protesters who have been occupying the site to protest Governor Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviews State Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D), who spent Sunday night in the Capitol building with other protesters. Roys describes what happened at four o’clock on Monday afternoon when the government gave the order to clear the protesters from the building:

And after several hours of the same sorts of scenes that we’ve been seeing all week—singing, chanting, drumming, speechifying—the Capitol police captain, Chief Tubbs, made an announcement, and he said that the protesters that had remained in the building, they were being orderly and responsible and peaceful and there was no reason to eject them from the Capitol.

Police attempted to clear the building of protesters on Sunday night, but they relented when the protesters refused to leave and allowed them to stay another night. On Monday, the police decided not to eject protesters already inside, but no additional activists would be allowed in. The governor plans to deliver his budget address on Tuesday afternoon. Walker is expected to call for spending cuts that could exceed $1 billion dollars.

Gov. Walker has threatened mass public sector layoffs if the Democratic senators do not return from Illinois by March 1. However, the Uptake.com reports that one of the absent legislators, State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, claims Walker is not telling the truth. Erpenbach says the unions have already agreed to come up with the money the governor needs to balance the budget, and therefore, he has no need to lay anyone off to bridge the gap.

Wisconsin 101

Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive describes the epic scale of the Wisconsin protests:

This is the largest sustained rally for the rights of public sector workers that this country has seen in decades — perhaps ever.

The crowds at the state Capitol have swelled from 10,000-65,000 during the first week all the way up to 100,000 on Feb. 26. Hundreds of people occupied the Capitol building with a sit-in and sleep-in for days on end, and total strangers from around the world ordered pizzas for them.

In case you’re still wondering what all of this means, Andy Kroll, Nick Baumann, and Siddhartha Mahanta of Mother Jones have joined forces to bring you this “Wisconsin 101″ primer.

The Republicans in the Wisconsin House passed a bill that would take away collective bargaining rights for public sector unions, restrict their ability to collect dues, and force them to undergo yearly recertification votes. But the bill cannot become law until the state Senate also passes it. Currently, 14 Democratic state senators are hiding out in Illinois to deprive the Republican majority of the quorum they need to vote on the bill. However, as Kroll notes, if only one Democrat breaks faith and returns to Madison, the Republicans will be able to pass the bill.

Nationwide solidarity

Jamilah King of Colorlines.com brings us a photo essay on the solidarity rallies held around the country over the weekend in support of the Wisconsin protesters. From San Francisco to Salt Lake City to Atlanta to New York, people took to the streets in support of the right of workers to organize. Also at Colorlines.com, historian Michael Honey draws parallels between the situation in Wisconsin and Dr. Martin Luther King’s last crusade. Shortly before his assassination, King stood with the sanitation workers of Memphis to demand collective bargaining rights and the power to collect union dues.

George Warner of Campus Progress profiles some young activists who took to the streets of Washington, D.C. to express their solidarity with the Wisconsin protesters. About 1,500 people came out to a rally in support of the protesters on Saturday.

Anonymous strikes again

In a bizarre twist, a loosely organized coalition of anarchic hackers known as “Anonymous” attacked websites linked to Koch Industries on Sunday, Jessica Pieklo reports for Care2.com. The Koch brothers are among Gov. Walker’s most generous benefactors. The hackers launched a distributed denial of service attack on the website of the Koch-funded conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

In addition to generous campaign contributions, the Koch brothers gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn paid for millions of dollars worth of ads against Walker’s opponent in 2010. Walker is evidently very grateful to Koch. Last week, a writer for a Buffalo-based website got Walker on the phone by pretending to be David Koch.

Don’t look now, but…

Meanwhile, in Indiana, the state assembly reconvened on Monday to find most of the 40 Democratic members had decamped for Illinois. The legislators are apparently taking a page from the Wisconsin playbook. Indiana’s Republican governor is trying to pass legislation that would make permanent a ban on collective bargaining by public sector workers and the Democratic legislators are seeking to deny him the 2/3rds quorum required to vote on the bill.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: A Recall Fight Brewing in Wisconsin?

10:19 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

Creative Commons, Flickr, mrbula

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Tens of thousands of people continue their peaceful occupation of the Wisconsin state capital to protest a bill that would abolish most collective bargaining rights for public employees. As the protests entered their eighth day, GRITtv with Laura Flanders was broadcasting from Madison, Wisconsin in collaboration with The Uptake.

Flanders interviewed Nation journalist and seventh-generation Wisconsinite John Nichols. Nichols and fellow guest Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive noted that the bill isn’t just an attack on collective bargaining rights. The bill would force public sector unions to hold recertification votes every year, which would put their very existence on the line annually. “The unions realize that this is a threat to their very existence,” Rothschild explained.

A game of chicken

The Wisconsin state Assembly begins debate on the bill on Tuesday, but 14 Democratic senators remain in hiding in Illinois, depriving the Senate of the quorum it needs to vote on the bill. According to an obscure procedural rule, the state Senate can still pass bills on non-fiscal matters.

The result is that a game of chicken is about to begin, in which the Republicans will attempt to pass as many non-fiscal bills hated by Democratic senators as possible, such as legislation mandating photo ID for voters, in an attempt to provoke their colleagues into coming back home to vote on the fate of public sector unions.

The Democrats don’t control the state Senate at the best of times, so it’s not clear why they would be more eager to come home to lose on voter ID and public sector unions. As of Tuesday, the legislators in exile showed no signs of wavering, telling CBS that they were waiting to hear from the governor.

“I think if this [bill] gets pushed through, we’re going to have a recall effort and take this governor out,” Rothschild predicted.

Solidarity

An estimated 80,000 protesters gathered in Madison, Wisconsin to protest a Republican-backed budget bill that would abolish collective bargaining rights for most public employees, Democracy Now! reports.

The bill would spare the bargaining rights of unionized police officers and firefighters. However, Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Wisconsin Professional Firefighters Association, tells host Amy Goodman that Wisconsin’s firefighters and police officers stand with other public sector workers. “An assault on one is an assault on all,” Mitchell said.

Union busting, not budget fixing

Matthew Rothschild in The Progressive argues Gov. Walker’s real agenda is union busting, not budget repair. Walker claims that he is forced to abolish collective bargaining rights because the state can no longer afford them. But this is a matter of priorities, not a true fiscal emergency. Walker is asking working people to pick up the tab for his economic agenda. During his brief tenure in office, Walker refused $800 million in federal funds for high speed rail, which would have created jobs and stimulated the economy. He has also pushed through $117 million in tax breaks.

The captain of the Superbowl-winning Green Bay Packers, the NFL’s only non-profit team, has come out in solidarity with the protesters in Wisconsin, Dave Zirin reports in The Nation. Captain Charles Woodson said in a statement:

Last week I was proud when many of my current and former teammates announced their support for the working families fighting for their rights in Wisconsin. Today I am honored to join with them. Thousands of dedicated Wisconsin public workers provide vital services for Wisconsin citizens. They are the teachers, nurses and child care workers who take care of us and our families. These hard working people are under an unprecedented attack to take away their basic rights to have a voice and collectively bargain at work.

“Budget crisis” theater

Forrest Wilder in the Texas Observer notes that the Lone Star State is facing a $27 million shortfall of its own. He argues that Republicans are construing this relative small shortfall as a “budget crisis” in order to imbue their crusade against public services with a false sense of urgency. The budget gap could be bridged with a small and relatively painless tax increase, Wilder notes, but Republicans only want to talk about cuts.

Raise our taxes

Fifteen thousand Illinoisans massed in the state capital with an unusual demand for their state legislators: Raise our taxes! The Save Our State rally was one of the largest citizen assemblies in the history of the state legislature, David Moberg reports for In These Times. The event was organized by the Responsible Budget Coalition (RBC), an alliance of more than 300 organizations including social service agencies, public employee unions, and religious and civic groups. The RBC is calling on legislators to fix flaws in the Illinois tax structure that threaten essential services and the long-term financial health of the state.

No help for 99ers

Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-CA) bid to attach a 14-week unemployment insurance extension for Americans whose benefits have run out (known as 99ers because they have already been unemployed for at least 99 weeks) to the continuing resolution to fund the government proved unsuccessful last week. Ed Brayton of the Michigan Messenger reports that the provision foundered late last Wednesday due to a procedural objection.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.