About Liz Iacobucci

Liz Iacobucci is the former Public Information Officer for the State Employees’ Association of New Hampshire, SEIU Local 1984. Over the past three decades, she has served in government at the federal, state and municipal levels; and she has worked for both Democratic and Republican politicians.

Public Pensions: Still Waiting to be ‘Made Whole’

IOU in a piggy bank by Images of Money via Flikr

IOU in a piggy bank by Images of Money via FlikrLooks like the Justice Department is settling cases with banks responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown. Citigroup is next up: and reported to be paying $7 billion to end Justice Department investigations.

But I don’t see any of that money headed back to public pension systems.

…like, say, New Hampshire? In June 2007, the New Hampshire Retirement System Trust Fund held $29.7 million in Citigroup stock. Within two years, that stock had lost 94% of its value. (That’s a lot of retirees’ COLAs, right there.)

…like, maybe, Detroit? In June 2007, the two retirement systems covering Detroit public employees had a total of $343 million invested in mortgages. But after the crash, the systems’ “unfunded pension liability” was one of the main justifications for declaring that Detroit was “bankrupt.” (Read “Detroit’s Pension Systems: not ‘unaffordable’, just battered by Wall Street” here.)

State and local pension funds lost a total of $1 Trillion (yes, with a “T”) in value between 2007 and 2008. NOT a coincidence: those state and local pension funds are now “underfunded” by $1 Trillion.

And now the Justice Department is wrapping up its investigations, with fines to the federal government and assistance to homeowners…

… and nothing, as far as I can tell, in the way of restitution to all those public employees whose retirement dreams were destroyed.

Meanwhile, Wall Street broke more records last week…

…and Governor Chris Christie has decided not to pay New Jersey’s pension system more than $2 billion in employer contributions.

New Hampshire public sector retirees haven’t received a cost-of-living adjustment since 2010.

Detroit’s retirees are voting on whether to accept benefit cuts.

And so far, only one banker has gone to jail (compared to 839 people who were convicted for crimes during the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s)…

…and as far as I can tell, nothing whatsoever in the way of restitution to public pension funds.

Does that $7 billion settlement sound like a lot to you? Here’s some context:

  • That’s just slightly higher than the $6.4 billion Citigroup had originally planned to spend next year to buy back corporate stock. (Why would a company buy its own stock? “To counteract the dilution of bank shares when executives are awarded stock as incentives.”)
  • It’s roughly equal to six-months’ profit for the corporation.
  • It’s less than 2% of what Citigroup received in the federal bailout.
  • It’s less than one percent of what public pension funds lost in the meltdown.

Mad, yet?

Read the Rolling Stone’s “Looting the Pension Funds” here.

Read “The Plot Against Pensions” here.

 

Hey, Supreme Court: What about States’ Rights? (Harris Vs Quinn)

CC DBKING

10thAmendmentIt seems to me that today’s Supreme Court decision was driven more by ideology than by an understanding of how labor unions work in practice.

It seems to me that the Court gave very little consideration to states’ rights, particularly:

  • whether the State of Illinois should have the right to determine which categories of employees it considers to be “state employees” and
  • whether states – as employers – should have the right to decide whether they want to include “agency fee” provisions in their union contracts.

And I’m wondering whether the next SCOTUS decision will strike down states’ rights to decide – for themselves – whether or not to even have public employees’ unions. (Some states have chosen NOT to have public-sector unions. New Hampshire didn’t have public-sector collective bargaining until 1975, when it was established by Republican Governor Mel Thomson.)

Shouldn’t Illinois have the right to decide – for itself – whether the home-based caregivers that it pays with Medicaid money should be considered its “employees” for purposes of collective bargaining?

Shouldn’t Illinois have the right to decide – for itself – whether or not to include an “agency fee” provision in its union contracts?

Maybe I missed it…? But when I read through the decision, I didn’t see a whole lot of respect or deference given to the rights of the Illinois Legislature to set the employment conditions of the people it views as its “employees.”

Every time the New Hampshire Legislature considers a so-called “Right to Work” bill, we hear from private employers that it would infringe on their rights to set working conditions for their employees.

Shouldn’t state governments have that same right?

 

Because those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it…

May_2_1933

… a reminder of what happened 81 years ago in Germany:

Politifact:
On May 2, 1933, unions were dissolved, their assets were confiscated, their offices were occupied and their leaders were arrested. Hitler then outlawed strikes, abolished collective bargaining and established the German Labor Front, a corrupt party organization.

The United Kingdom’s National Union of Teachers:
The German trade union movement was one of the largest and most powerful in the world… but independent trade unions had no place in Hitler’s vision for Germany.  Attempts to destroy the unions were assisted by the attitudes of some German business leaders and conservative politicians, many of whom shared the Nazi fear of a socialist revolution. More generally, many of these people felt that the unions had become too powerful in the 1920s and looked for restrictions on or even complete abolition of union rights.

On 2nd May 1933, stormtroopers violently occupied offices of the Free Trade Unions across Germany.

In the city of Duisburg, four officials were beaten to death by Nazi thugs in the cellar of the trade union headquarters. Many more union leaders were arrested and held in prison or concentration camps…

May_2_1933

3 Things You Need to Know about Today’s Minimum Wage Vote

profits vs minimum wage

Here’s the first thing:
Today, the Senate did not vote on raising the minimum wage.  (If they had voted, the bill would almost certainly have passed.)
Rather: today’s vote was on whether to end a filibuster.  The filibuster is a parliamentary maneuver that allows a minority of Senators to prevent the full Senate from voting on a measure.  Since President Obama was elected, the GOP has used the filibuster to drive Congress into gridlock.  (Read more about the filibuster and Scott Brown here.)
The Senate can still vote again (and again) in the future on whether to end the filibuster.

Here’s the second thing:
The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has been keeping track of corporate profits since 1947.  For the first 40 years after that, there was an almost perfect relationship between total corporate profits and the minimum wage: total corporate profits were almost exactly 55 billion times the minimum wage.  But once the 1986 corporate tax cut started impacting the economy, that changed. (It changed even more after the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts.)

profits vs minimum wage


And here’s the third thing:

Today’s vote to end the filibuster failed by only six votes.  New Hampshire’s Sen. Kelly Ayotte was one of them.

4-30-14 Minimum Wage Filibuster Vote

Taxpayers Are Paying Profitable Corporations To Create Jobs?

Toyota GT86 by M 93 via Wikimedia Commons

Toyota GT86 – Frontansicht, 17. September 2012, DüsseldorfWhen word first spread that Toyota was moving jobs from California to Texas, some right-wing talking heads were blaming California’s government.

But within a day, the Wall Street Journal had figured it out: it was actually Texas’ government.  Yes, the newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch broke the story: Texas to Pay $10,000 for Each Toyota Job

Texas offered Toyota $40 million to move, part of a Texas Enterprise Fund incentive program run out of the governor’s office. At $10,000 a job, it was one of the largest incentives handed out in the decade-old program and cost more per job created than any other large award. Last year, Texas spent about $6,800 to lure each of 1,700 Chevron Corp. positions to Houston and $5,800 for each of 3,600 Apple Inc. jobs shifted to Austin.

Ok, so… let me see if I can get this straight.

Toyota just had a second year of record profits.

Toyota wasn’t actively considering locating in Texas.  “Toyota narrowed its preferred locations to Denver, Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C.” before choosing to move to Texas because of the economic incentives.

$10,000 a job.  Courtesy of Texas taxpayers.

Gosh, it’s a good time to be a corporation.

OK, I need to give the Wall Street Journal some credit here: they have been working the “state economic incentives for jobs” beat for a while now.  From their 2013 story about Washington state’s genuflection to Boeing:

Officials from most of the states Boeing invited to participate have publicly expressed interest. Missouri’s governor, Democrat Jay Nixon, on Tuesday is to sign a package of incentives approved last week by the state’s largely Republican legislature. The measure would be worth $150 million annually to Boeing if the company creates at least 2,000 jobs in Missouri.

Ok, by my math: $150 million a year divided by 2,000 jobs equals $75,000 per job per year… which would have been courtesy of Missouri taxpayers.

Back to their story:

Washington’s legislature last month approved sweeteners valued at $8.7 billion over 16 years—which experts say is the largest corporate-incentive package in U.S. history—in an effort to keep the jobs

And, back to my math: $8.7 billion over 16 years is about $544 million a year – or, more than three times what Missouri offered.

If we’re still talking about 2,000 jobs… that’s about $272,000 per job per year, courtesy of Washington state taxpayers.

Wow.

(Boeing, by the way, just distributed $3 billion as dividends and stock buy-backs.)

Yes, this is what has been going on, all across America.  Billions of dollars in government aid to corporations, even as Congress cut the Food Stamp program and rejected an increase in the minimum wage.

It’s a really good time to be a corporation.

Or a CEO.

Or a lobbyist.

(But not such a good time to be a US veteran.  More than a million veterans are minimum-wage workers who won’t see their pay increase.  And another million veterans just had their Food Stamp allotments cut.  Where are our priorities?)

The Supreme Court: LOOKING for Trouble?

TruthOrConsequences

TruthOrConsequencesCan’t help noticing… when SCOTUS goes looking for a case, the Justices can get themselves really far into the weeds.

Case in point:  two years ago, the Court indicated a willingness to “revisit” long-settled precedents on labor unions.  And they ended up with Harris v. Quinn – which could have all kinds of unintended consequences.  (Are they really going to rule that employers can’t fire workers based on who they associate with?  How’s that going to work, if a Homeland Security employee decides to join Al Qaeda?  Or will they rule that Illinois can’t decide the employment conditions of its own employees?  How are all those “States’ Rights” folks going to swallow that?)

The Harris decision is still pending… and it sounds to me like the Court is looking for even more trouble.

According to press reports, SCOTUS is now targeting state laws that prohibit lying about political candidates.  Here’s the WaPo story from yesterday:  Supreme Court suspicious of Ohio law that criminalizes false speech about candidates.

Ok, so… We’re still reeling from a presidential campaign where the concept of “truth” lost big time.

People’s trust in politicians is pretty much at an all-time low.

And now the Supreme Court wants to go after state laws that prohibit lying during political campaigns?  Really gotta wonder.

If the standards used in the Ohio statute sound familiar – “knowing the same to be false or with reckless disregard for whether it was false or not” – well, that’s probably because those same standards are used in libel law.

So… If the Supreme Court rules that corporate-money groups trying to influence elections have a First Amendment right to recklessly disregard the truth about political candidates… wouldn’t that also throw a whole lot of libel precedent out the window?

(Can’t help but notice that there are some high-dollar libel lawsuits pending in lower courts.  MediaMatters’ story:  Libel: Will Defamation Suits Doom Three Right-Wing Media Outlets? How will the Ohio decision affect those cases?)

The judiciary is still the most-trusted branch of the federal government.  But that, of course, could change.  Observers describe an increasingly pro-business tilt to SCOTUS decisions.  (How the Chamber of Commerce conquered the Supreme CourtSupreme Court Hands Chamber Of Commerce Blockbuster Pro-Corporate Term)

And, according to researchers, the rest of our government already represents business interests, rather than the average citizen.

The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.

So… what happens if (when?) Average Americans lose trust in all branches of their federal government?

Can’t help but wonder how this is going to play out, long term.

Wondering Where Your Retirement Has Gone?

wall street bull

 

If you’re wondering what happened to your retirement security, then you really need to read the NY Times excerpt from “The Wolf Hunters of Wall Street.”

The same system that once gave us subprime-mortgage collateralized debt obligations no investor could possibly truly understand now gave us stock-market trades involving fractions of a penny that occurred at unsafe speeds using order types that no investor could possibly truly understand…

“It was so insidious because you couldn’t see it,” Katsuyama says. “It happens on such a granular level that even if you tried to line it up and figure it out, you wouldn’t be able to do it. People are getting screwed because they can’t imagine a microsecond.”

…Even giant investors simply had to take it on faith that Goldman Sachs or Merrill Lynch acted in their interests, despite the obvious financial incentives not to do so.

“Giant investors” would include – yes, that’s right – public pension trust funds.

Like the NH Retirement System Trust Fund… which was 100% funded, as recently as 1999.

Or Detroit’s public pension systems, which were fully funded as recently as 2008 – but are now being used as the “reason” that the City “has” to go through bankruptcy.

Wonder where your retirement has gone?

Read about Wall Street’s “dark pools”… then get really, really mad.

Can You Help Send Matt To Netroots Nation?

DONATION REQUEST
matt

Matt Murray

Here’s the thing: my friend Matt Murray runs New Hampshire Labor News on a strictly volunteer basis. All the hours he puts in – on the blog site, on the Facebook page, the Twitter Feed, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pintrest – all his time is donated.  And he usually ends up paying costs out-of-pocket. Matt does this because he believes in the Labor Movement.  He saw a communication gap and decided to fill it: all of New Hampshire’s labor-related news in one place, 24/7/365.

DSCF0145

Matt Murray and Richard Trumka
(President of the AFL-CIO)

But Matt hasn’t just “filled the gap” here in the Granite State, he’s given workers a voice.  He has helped hundreds of nurses in Orlando, Florida tell their stories.  Last year’s coverage of the Detroit bankruptcy went viral, and was quoted by the national AFL-CIO.  Privatization of the US Postal Service, public education, income inequality, CEOs dodging pension obligations at Patriot Coal and Hostess Brands, factory deaths in Bangladeshall these stories found a home at NH Labor News.

And Matt hasn’t taken home a penny for doing any of it.

NH Labor News Quoted

Matt has given the Labor Movement a lot.  I’d like to do something in return.  He wants to go to Netroots Nation 2014.  And I would like all those of us who benefit from Matt’s work at NH Labor News to chip in and send him there.

Matt Murray And Gov. Howard Dean

Gov. Howard Dean and Matt Murray at #NN13

Netroots is an annual convention of bloggers and social media communicators.  Matt has attended in past years, and he has brought home “best practices” and shortcuts.  He has also come back with renewed energy and enthusiasm (important things for a 24/7 volunteer to have). But in “real life” Matt is just another worker – he’s gotten hit by wage freezes, cutbacks, and increased pension contributions – and like most of the rest of us, his family budget is really tight. Can you help me raise enough money so that Matt can afford to go to Netroots Nation 2014?

Any amount, no matter how small, will help to get him there.

Thank you for helping me show Matt how much we value all his work on NH Labor News.

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson holds the First In The Nation presidential primary

sheldon_adelson

sheldon_adelson2Looks like New Hampshire is losing our “first-in-the-nation-Presidential-primary” status.

According to press reports, the FIRST “primary” for the 2016 Presidential campaign is being held this weekend in Las Vegas

…as each of the likely GOP candidates gets interviewed by moneyman Sheldon Adelson.

“Certainly the ‘Sheldon Primary’ is an important primary for any Republican running for president,” said Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush.

Reportedly, this weekend’s events include a poker tournament, a Scotch “tasting”, and a VIP dinner “hosted by the Adelsons in the private airplane hangar where Adelson keeps his fleet.”  In-between those events, “Adelson is scheduled to hold casual one-on-one chats — over coffee, at dinner or in his private office — with the prospective candidates.”

A senior strategist who has advised past GOP nominees said the 2016 hopefuls ‘are just falling at his feet.’

So… if Billionaire mogul Sheldon Adelson gets first crack at vetting the presidential candidates… where does that leave regular Republicans, here in the Granite State?

103 years later: profits are STILL more important than people

triangle_shirtwaist

Cartoon refers to the Triangle fire and depicts a woman weeping over a grave, and asks the reader: "How soon will they be all forgotten?"Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, when 146 garment workers were trapped behind locked doors.  Some of the young women burned to death; others died of smoke inhalation; still others jumped out of windows to certain death.

The good news is: this year even some mainstream media outlets are remembering the anniversary.

The bad news is: workers are still dying on the jobBangladeshChina … Pakistan … Nigeria… Italy

… even, still, here in the United States.  About 150 American workers die each day from workplace accidents or occupational illness.  (Yes, you did read that right: 150 each day.  But since they don’t die in the same place, from the same thing, these deaths don’t make the headlines.)

When will we stop thinking of profit margins as more important than people?

[Be warned: this video is graphic and may be disturbing]