About Matt Murray

Matt Murray is the creator and an author on the NH Labor News. He is a union member and advocate for labor and progressive politics. He also works with other unions and members to help spread our message. Follow him on Twitter @NHLabor_News

America’s Largest Pharmacy “Inverts” To Avoid Paying Their Fair Share

Walgreens (Image by Mike Mozart Flickr CC)

Walgreens (Image by Mike Mozart Flickr CC)

The right wing has cut billions out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, claiming that our country can’t afford to feed hungry children.  But at the same time, some of our country’s biggest recipients of federal aid – corporations such as Walgreens – are taking advantage of tax loopholes to avoid paying their fair share in taxes.

For decades we have watched our jobs be shipped offshore in corporate restructuring. They take the jobs from hard working Americans and send them to China or India to boost their corporate profit margins. However there is a new trend in Corporate America that is sweeping across the nation. It is called “inversion.”

Inversion is where an American company buys a foreign company and the renounces their US citizenship to avoid paying US taxes. The best part is that it is all done on paper, so they do not even have to pack a box from their corporate headquarters.

Walgreens started over 100 years ago in the small town of Galesburg, Illinois and has grown into the nations largest pharmacy chain, with revenue in the billions. Walgreens, which is still based in Illinois, announced that they are considering renouncing their “corporate citizenship” to move to Switzerland, a tax haven for corporations.

By renouncing their citizenship, Walgreens will avoid paying $4 billion dollars in corporate taxes annually. This is treasonous when you consider that one-quarter, $72 billion dollars, of Walgreens annual revenue comes from taxpayers in the form of Medicare and Medicaid payments. Walgreens is happy to take the taxpayers’ money but do not feel they should have to pay their fair share.

“Much of Walgreen’s financial success was built on programs and infrastructure provided by the U.S. government and paid for by U.S. taxpayers,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in a letter to the Walgreens CEO and Board of Directors. “If you and Walgreen’s board of directors decide to invert to avoid U.S. taxes, you will be turning your backs on the very people that have allowed Walgreens to thrive and prosper.”

“Inversion schemes are bad for shareholders and bad for America,” said LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “They erode tax money that should be used for support U.S. infrastructure, education, national defense and other crucial programs. They potentially tarnish the reputation – and thus the value – of companies. And they can make it more difficult for shareholders to hold a company, its officers or directors accountable.”

LIUNA used their pension fund to send a letter to the Walgreens board of directors to institute a policy barring inversions.

“We need to start demanding a little more patriotism from these so-called American corporations,” said Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO. “If they want to keep benefiting from everything our great country has to offer, they need to start showing a little more loyalty to the people who live and work in America. And they need to stop threatening to desert the United States and stop paying their taxes altogether unless we give in to their demands.”

Inversions are not new, corporations have been offshoring their corporate citizenship to avoid paying taxes for many years. Thanks to these corporate tax loopholes, 26 profitable corporations including Verizon and GE, paid zero in income taxes from 2008-2012. The most egregious part of this is that some of these highly profitable corporations actually got rebates and refunds from the federal government making their effective tax rate -10%.

We need to close these corporate loopholes that are letting billions of dollars slip through our fingers. It is also sickening to hear how the corporate tax rate is too high, when many of these highly profitable corporations pay less percentage wise than the average American.

Why does this type of activity not outrage more small business owners? These main street shops do not have the ability to invert to avoid paying their taxes. When will Congress start working for the people on Main Street instead of the people on Wall Street?

“Key members of Congress have introduced legislation based on Obama’s plan. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Chairman of a subcommittee that has investigated tax avoidance by Apple and other corporations, has introduced the Stop Corporate Inversions Act of 2014 (S. 2360). Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) has introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives (H.R. 4679) that would raise $19.5 billion over 10 years,” reported the Americans for Tax Fairness.

“The President, Senator Wyden, Senator Levin and Representative Levin have all proposed solutions to plug the loophole and the Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing on the issue today. Let’s get it done,” concluded Trumka.

Are we as Americans going to accept this treasonous activity from our nations largest pharmacy chain? We must close these corporate loopholes that allow corporations to skip out on paying their fair share.

 

UPDATE 8-5-14
Walgreens backs down on plan to invert.  Read more here.

Organize The South To Change A Nation

Organize The South NN14Organize The South

“The only way to win economic justice in America is to organize the South,” according to MaryBe McMillian, Secretary-Treasurer of the North Carolina AFL-CIO.

During this year’s Netroots Nation, one panel discussion focused on how labor and progressive organizations are building a movement to effect real social change in America.

Those of us in the labor movement often think of “organizing” as recruiting new members to join our union ranks. While organizing workers is a crucial part of “organizing the South”, the panel’s broader message is that we need to organize people to push for progressive values.

Reverend Dr. William Barber explained what these progressive values are in a recent speech at the AFT convention. He repeated them as he spoke at Netroots Nation:

  1. Rev Dr William Barber NN14Protecting workers and their rights to organize and form unions.
  2. Protecting women’s health and reproductive rights and the rights of the LBGT community.
  3. Protecting our Constitutional right to vote, making it easier for everyone to vote.
  4. Strengthening our public education system.
  5. Ensuring everyone has access to affordable healthcare.

For example, progressive organizations in North Carolina are coming together in weekly protest marches, in what they call “Moral Mondays.” McMillian explained “We have been successful in organizing multiple groups to participate in Moral Mondays because we are all under attack.”

“The South has always been ground zero for the civil rights movement,” Planned Parenthood Federation’s Carol McDonald told the Netroots Nation audience, before describing some of the most legislative “wins” that came from the Moral Mondays movement.

To effect real economic change throughout the United States, we have to stop the exploitation of workers in the South. “Organizing workers from Texas to North Carolina, we will change the South and in turn change the nation,” said McMillian.

UAW and VW

The UAW Fight For VW

In recent years, labor unions throughout the South have been working to organize workers like Will Branch, an employee at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga TN who was part of the panel discussion.

Inside the facility, UAW’s organizing efforts were welcomed by both workers and plant managers. In Germany, all of Volkswagen’s plants are unionized. They have “works councils” where labor leaders meet with mangers to discuss plans to make the plant more efficient, to make a better product, and how they can make sure that the needs of both sides are satisfied. This is exactly the type of labor-management relations that Volkswagen was trying to build in Chattanooga.

“With a local works council, workers would have a voice they can use to make Volkswagen stronger; in safety, job security and efficiency,” said Jonathan Walden, Volkswagen paint technician. “Global representation means Chattanooga workers may have a strong voice in seeking new products and bringing more jobs to Tennessee.”

Despite Volkswagen’s encouragement of the organizing efforts of the United Auto Workers, many of the local politicians were not so happy.

  • Misleading stories ran in the local media, hinting that if the workers voted for the union, their plant could be closed. (This of course was news to Volkswagen, who tried to reassure workers and their new community that they were here to stay.)
  • U.S. Senator Bob Corker made outrageous claims that VW would only expand their plant if workers rejected the union.
  • Tennessee’s Governor Bill Haslan offered $300 million dollars of taxpayer money, in the form of an “incentive” to Volkswagen, provided that the plant was not unionized.

“It’s essentially saying, ‘If you unionize, it’s going to hurt your economy. Why? Because I’m going to make sure it does,’” said Volkswagen worker Lauren Feinauer. “I hope people see it for the underhanded threat that it is.”

“Politicians subjected Volkswagen workers to a two-week barrage of anti-UAW propaganda, outright lies, distortions, and threats about the viability of their plant.  [T]heir allies… refused to reveal their funding sources and …openly republished the illicit threats in the media and among the Volkswagen workforce,” the UAW said in a written statement.

The union representation election process resulted in a National Labor Relations Board challenge, which was dropped the UAW and Volkswagen announced that they have created “UAW Local 42”, a new union local that will represent the workers at the newly created works council.

“What is best for the worker, is what is best for the company,” VW employee Will Branch told the Netroots Nation audience. “It is not the money that keeps America going, it is us, the workers.”

(That sentiment on full display in the Market Basket protests, here in New England.)

Raise Up NC (@MoralMonday Twitter)

Raise Up NC (@MoralMonday Twitter)

Workers Unite For A Living Wage

Throughout the country, workers have begun to take collective action to highlight the fact that they are being abused and underpaid.

For instance, “Raise Up for $15” is working to organize low wage workers, mostly in fast food restaurants, to push for a living wage.

Cherri Delesline has worked at McDonalds for nearly a decade to support her family. She told the crowd at Netroots Nation, “After ten years with McDonalds, I only make a little more than I did when I started.” Delesline went on to say, “Mangers at my store only make a little more than $8.00 an hour.”

Do the math. A minimum wage worker working full time only makes $15,500 a year. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $23,850. These workers are working full time – and are still living in poverty.

These fast food workers are calling for North Carolina – and the country – to “Rise Up” by paying workers a $15 per hour minimum. Raise Up has also been working to help these fast food workers in their efforts to form unions. However, these workers are not waiting for the NLRB to say they are officially represented by a union, they are going “old school.” They are speaking out collectively, holding wildcat strikes and walkouts, until store management listens to their demands.

Their fight for a living wage is only just beginning. These workers are taking a big risk by stepping out against their employer, but they also know it is the right thing to do.

UFCW Logo

Organizing For Human Rights

In North Carolina, it is not just fast food workers who are seeing the benefits of union representation. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) have been organizing at food processing plants throughout the state. They successfully organized the Smithfield Foods plant in 2008 after a decade-long campaign. Now they have turned their eyes to the Mountaire chicken processing plant, 20 miles down the road.

“Slaughterhouse work is particularly dangerous. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report states that poultry and slaughterhouse workers suffer on-the-job injuries and illnesses at a rate more than twice the national average,” wrote Aaron Lake Smith in an article for INDY Week.

The UFWC members from the Smithfield plant are using their free time to explain to the workers at the Mountaire plant just how much the union has changed their lives. But management at Mountaire is not taking this organizing drive sitting down. They are fighting back, using union busting firms and pushing the envelope of the legality of opposing workers’ right to organize. (Read the story of Isom, who is a present-day version of “Norma Rae”)

For more than a decade, the Farm Laborers Organizing Committee (FLCO-AFLCIO) has been locked in a heated battle with R.J. Reynolds over the slave-like treatment of workers who harvest their tobacco.

“While big tobacco corporations make billions, tobacco farm workers live in poverty, face racism, harassment, nicotine poisoning, lethal pesticides, miserable housing in labor camps and denial of basic human rights and labor protections,” the FLOC wrote on their website.

The FLOC has chalked up a few wins, with contract agreements with Campbell’s Soup, produce growers in Michigan and Ohio, and the 2004 contract agreement with the North Carolina Growers Association – but R.J. Reynolds still eludes them.

Some people say that, “once upon a time unions were needed to protect workers, but we have laws for that now.”

But listening to the workers in the fields, in the plants, and behind the counters, it is obvious that unions are needed now more than ever. These corporations are not just blatantly violating workers’ organizing rights, they are violating their rights as humans. The unions are helping show workers they do not have to stand for this type of treatment, and to notify the public and regulatory agencies when these corporations are violating the law.

The South will not change overnight, but after decades of struggle, unions in the South are slowly rising again.

Image Donkey Hotey on FLCKR

Image DonkeyHotey on FLCKR

Overcoming Obstacles

The Netroots Nation panel discussed some of the significantly high hurdles that will need to be overcome while “organizing the South.”

“There are lots of barriers to our organizing efforts here in the South, but cannot let that deter us,” said MaryBe McMillian (Sec-Tres of the NC AFL-CIO).

“The biggest barrier to the organizing efforts in The South are the right wing politicians,” said Will Branch (UAW Local 42). “These politicians would use their religious beliefs to push their agenda.”

Right-wing religious groups are another major obstacle. Groups like “Right To Life” are working against women’s health and reproductive rights, explained Carol McDonald.  Someone once told me, “if you’re gonna play ball in the South, you have to know the rules of the game” – and then he pointed to the Bible.

This is exactly why the Moral Mondays movement has gained such a strong foothold. Rev. Barber is showing people through passages in the Bible, and passages from our Constitution, that what these right-wing extremists are doing goes against our faith, and against our democracy.

Another of the major obstacles to overcome is race, with right-wing groups trying to pit one race against another, just like they try to pit the middle class family against the lower class family. “We are saying ‘NO’ to the race baiting by the right-wing politicians,” said MaryBe McMillian. “They are afraid of middle class white women standing with low income immigrant workers.”

McMillian talked about how they are using the diversity of the South to their organizing advantage. “African-American workers know the struggles of the new immigrant workers, and they are out educating others,” McMillian said.

“There is no need to fight each other, black, white, or brown, because we are all being mistreated by rich white men,” said Cherri Delesline, a McDonalds worker who was recently arrested when she marched on a McDonalds shareholders meeting demanding a living wage.

 

Bold and Progressive

To win back the South, we have to “be bold and think big,” said McMillian. “We need to unite people from all walks of life.”

McMillian was disappointed that some of the national labor unions and progressive organizations do not see the potential in organizing the South. “We will not only create a new south, but a new labor movement,” she said.

As they say at the closing of every Moral Monday event, “Forward Together, Not One Step Back!

 

 

Side note: MaryBe McMillian read an amazing poem called “Labor’s poem for a Moral March.” It is too long to include in this post, but here are the first few lines:


There’s too much corporate greed
And we have families to feed.

There are so few jobs, no decent wages.
Inequality tops the news pages.

Unions Applaud President Obama’s “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” Executive Order

White House PensToday is a monumental day for federal workers and those who work for federal contractors.   Today President Obama made it very clear that he would no longer tolerate the mistreatment of workers who are being paid for with money from the US Government.

The White House Press Secretary explains:

“As part of this Year of Action, the President will sign an Executive Order that will require prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations and will give agencies more guidance on how to consider labor violations when awarding federal contracts. Although many contractors already play by the rules, and federal contracting offers already must assess a contractor’s record of integrity, these officers still may not necessarily know about companies’ workplace violations. The new process is also structured to encourage companies to settle existing disputes, like paying back wages. And finally, the Executive Order also ensures that workers are given the necessary information each pay period to verify the accuracy of their paycheck and workers who may have been sexually assaulted or had their civil rights violated get their day in court by putting an end to mandatory arbitration agreements at corporations with large federal contracts.”

“By cracking down on federal contractors who break the law, the President is helping ensure that all hardworking Americans get the fair pay and safe workplaces they deserve.”

While Congress is rushing around to finish their last sessions before leaving on a month long vacation, the President using his executive authority to do what Congress is incapable of doing.

“Once again, the President is leading by example. Establishing the principle that if you are breaking the law, you don’t get to do business with the biggest employer in the country — the federal government,” said Joseph Geevarghese, deputy director of Change to Win. “Just like the executive order raising the minimum wage had a ripple effect across the economy, we hope that this bold step by the President sends a clear signal to the private sector that you need to do right by your workers.”

“Taxpayers shouldn’t reward lawbreakers that bust unions, steal wages and endanger workers,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “President Obama is right to make it harder for companies that abuse workers to receive federal contracts.”

Many who have worked for years, if not decades, pushing for an Executive Order that would protect workers, paid high praise to President Obama for his leadership.

“From raising wages to workplace protections, President Obama is showing strong leadership where it’s needed most,” said Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO President. “Today’s executive order is a common sense measure that will make our contracting system fairer. Preventing tax dollars from being funneled to chronic violators of workers’ rights is good for workers, our economy and companies who play by the rules. When Congress shows the same leadership, all workers will be better off.”

“By signing this executive order, President Obama has demonstrated his continued commitment to protecting the rights of American workers,” said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry. “This action will help protect the wages and lives of millions of Americans by giving the government tools to identify and fix workplace violations committed by companies that hold federal contracts. President Obama is right to use his authority to ensure that the federal government leads in the fight for good jobs, protects taxpayer dollars and makes sure the government gets good value for the goods and services it purchases.

“I commend President Obama for signing an executive order that will hold companies that receive significant taxpayer dollars more accountable for their actions,” said Dennis Williams, President of the United Auto Workers. “The president’s order will help tens of millions of workers have a better workplace environment and will create a level playing field for businesses that do the right thing. Today’s announcement is yet another example of the president’s tireless work to improve workplace safety and employees rights.”

“The UAW is proud to stand with President Obama — a president who has stood by hard working Americans! This is another step in the right direction to help rebuild the middle class and strengthen our economy,” Williams said.

“Today, President Obama took a stand for American workers by signing an executive order that will promote fairer and safer workplaces for employees of government contractors,” said Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworker Union. “While many federal contractors already play by the rules and try to treat their workers fairly, thousands of hard-working Americans end up being denied the pay they deserve, or being exposed to health and safety risks, because some contractors insist on cutting corners in the name of profits.”

This is a major step forward to ensure that all workers get what they rightfully earned and those who cheat will not be rewarded. Here are some of the ways the President Obama is going to be cracking down on government contractors.

  1. Hold Corporations Accountable
  2. Crack Down on Repeat Violators
  3. Promote Efficient Federal Contracting 
  4. Protect Responsible Contractors
  5. Focus on Helping Companies Improve
  6. Give Employees a Day in Court
  7. Give Employees Information About their Paychecks
  8. Streamline Implementation and Overall Contractor Reporting

    (You can read the full press release with expanded descriptions of each of these points here.)

“Holding contractors to basic labor standards not only ensures that the federal government is getting the proper value for its dollar, it will protect responsible contractors in the marketplace from unfair competition by unethical employers who profit from their violations of the labor and employment laws that all employers are required to respect,” continued SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.

The SEUI and Good Jobs Nation have been working to organize low-wage fast food workers both inside and outside the government. Yesterday, low-wage federal contract workers who are part of Good Jobs Nation went on strike for the 9th time to call for an end to wage theft, living wages and benefits, and the right to collectively bargain. They are on the front lines when it comes to the horrors of wage theft and maleficence from government contractors.

“The current system doesn’t do enough to ensure taxpayer dollars only go to responsible employers. It’s difficult to know about a company’s record of compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act and others laws that protect working families. That’s why President Obama’s action today is so important. With more than 20 percent of Americans working for companies that do business with the federal government, this executive order will have a real impact on the lives of workers,” concluded Kay Henry.

“Today’s announcement builds on years of work by UFCW members and our partner unions to create a system that is fairer for workers and encourages a race to the top when it comes to labor standards,” said Joe Hansen, International President of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW). “These efforts included a 2013 resolution passed unanimously by delegates to the UFCW convention calling on the creation of a ‘High Road’ procurement process.”

All in all this order is about protecting workers in every sector of the government.

“In the last several years, the meat and poultry industries have received over 1 billion dollars from taxpayers. Many workers in these industries work full-time yet are not paid enough to support themselves or their families. They also must endure dangerous workplace conditions and chronic underreporting of injuries by their employers,” continued Hansen. “This executive order sends a message that companies who engage in this type of anti-worker activity must change the way they do business or lose access to their government contracts.”

Others took this announcement as chance to once again to highlight the dysfunction of our current Congress.

“With this order, President Obama has sent the message that in the United States, we put people ahead of profits, as he has throughout his time in the Oval Office,” continued USW President Leo Gerard. “Sadly, we have a Republican Congress that takes the opposite approach. Because they are more interested in giving handouts to their wealthy donors than in helping working Americans, the President is forced to take action on his own.”

“We welcome this action by President Obama and call on everyone in Washington to follow his example and start working together to make life better for all American workers and their families,” concluded Gerard.

All in all it was a good day for workers, a bad day for corporations who cheat, and a good day for the American taxpayers who will see savings from the new contracting process.

“I want to thank President Obama, Secretary of Labor Perez, and all those involved in crafting this executive order. Today’s announcement is an important first step in ensuring our government is doing everything in its power to protect America’s workers,” concluded UFCW President Joe Hansen.

Related post: The Government Is The Largest Creator Of Low-Wage Jobs – by Matt Murray

The Government Is The Largest Creator Of Low-Wage Jobs

Rep Keith Ellison at NN14“The government doesn’t create jobs,” said Mitt Romney about one month before he suffered a blistering defeat in the 2012 Presidential election.

Of course this out-right lie has been repeated over and over and over. “Government doesn’t create jobs, the private sector does,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

As a former Governor, and a (soon to be former) Congressman they should know that the government does create jobs.  The federal government alone spends $3.6 trillion dollars annually, state and local governments spend another $3.2 trillion.  Eventually all of that money goes into our economy, creating jobs and providing much needed services to our communities.

The federal government spends over $500 billion dollars on government contractors alone.  For spending all this money, the federal government is “the largest creator of low wages jobs” said Joseph Geevarghes, Deputy Director of Change to Win, a labor coalition and strategic organizing center.

These government contractors created over two million low-wage jobs.  “Over 70% of these workers are women and nearly 45% are people of color,stated Demos in a report created for Change To Win.

So we create a lot of jobs, but they are crappy low wage jobs.  We are like a Super-Wal-Mart!!! Wait, that is not really good at all.

Take for example, Erika Gales.  Erika works for the government contractor who runs the food court at the Pentagon.  She makes a whopping $7.50 an hour.  Erika told the crowd at Netroots Nation that she had to drop out of college because she could no longer afford it.  She is now responsible for taking care of her mother whose health is deteriorating.

Erika was one of the many workers who walked off the job in protest last year calling on President Obama to raise the minimum wage for government contractors.

Or take Aaron, who is a wheelchair assistant at the Minneapolis Saint Paul International Airport.  He makes $7.25 an hour with no healthcare, no time off, and no benefits at all.  To support his wife and two children, Aaron was forced to take a second job.  Now he works 60-70 hours a week, and still has to collect food stamps to feed his family.   “I work so much, I hardly get to see my children,” Aaron told the crowd at Netroots Nation.

Congress is always looking to protect your tax dollars, by always choosing the lowest contract bidder.  They appear to save the government money by slashing wages, stripping workers of their healthcare, retirements, and sick days, and then putting back in the same job they had before.   That is pretty much how government contracting works at every level.

On the surface it may appear that the government is saving money by privatizing these services, however they are merely trading a reduction in one area for an increase in another.  When employers do not pay a living wage, workers are forced to collect money from the government’s social programs just to feed their families.

Congressman Keith Ellison thinks we should be using our tax dollars more efficiently, and protecting workers at the same time.  Ellison and the rest of the Progressive Congressional Caucus have successfully added an amendment to four of the five appropriations bills that have come through the House to block contractors who violated labor laws from entering into contracts with the government.

If you have a history of wage theft you may not participate in this appropriations budget,” Congressman Ellison said to the crowd at Netroots Nation.

It is very simple, if you have ever been caught stealing from your workers in any way, then you will no longer be allowed to work as a contractor for the federal government.

Congressman Ellison also told the crowd that he plans to submit legislation making the right to form unions a “civil right,” allowing workers to take employers to civil court.  Workers inside and outside the government are working to form unions, and are being met with massive resistance.  The National Labor Relations Act protects workers from discrimination and retaliation as they work to form unions.  However the process is very slow, and very expensive leaving many workers to decide, “Is it worth it to fight for this job?” In many cases, workers are fired for their organizing efforts, and never take their case to the NLRB.

Do not fret there is hope, and John Nichols has a few suggestions to get us started.  As I stated before, the federal government spends over $500 billion dollars annually on government contractors.  “That is 14% of our national budget,” Nichols told the crowd. “That is enough money to leverage some serious social change.”

Just imagine the difference in our economy, if the worlds largest spender only shopped at places like COSTCO, instead of places like Wal-Mart.  COSTCO is now famous for their corporate model that pays workers almost twice the minimum wage, provides sick time and vacation time, healthcare, and retirement options all while bringing in strong annual profits.

Nichols said, “No private company would spend $500 billion dollars without setting demands on the investment.”  The government must ensure that anyone who enters into a contract with the government pays a living wage, provides healthcare benefits, time off, and the ability to learn and progress up the social ladder.  These simple demands would reverse the government’s race to the bottom.

By using the federal budget to ensure that contractors pay a living wage and provide health benefits, we as taxpayers will win in the long run.  Good Jobs Nation reports, “We will see additional GDP growth of about $31 billion annually along more than 260,000 additional jobs; $6.8 billion in new tax revenue and nearly $9 billion in fiscal savings from the SNAP, EITC, and Medicaid programs can be expected annually”

If we want to build a better community, a better economy, and a more effective use of our tax dollars then we need to push policies that create good paying jobs.  Just by using our tax dollars more effectively we can help to lift 21 million people out of poverty, create new jobs, invest in our economy, and reap a few fiscal rewards at the same time.

Teachers, Postal Workers, and Public Employees Cry Out, “The Mail Is Not For Sale”

Via twitter @DeniseSpecht

Via twitter @DeniseSpecht

Last night at their bi-annual convention, the American Federation of Teachers adopted a resolution to support of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) in a national boycott Staples Inc. for their attempt to steal jobs from dedicated postal employee’s and continue the race to the bottom.

It resolves “that members of the AFT, along with friends, colleagues and family members, are urged to no longer shop at Staples stores until further notice.”

Read the resolution here.

Staples and the USPS are set to begin pilot program in 82 retail stores that would have “postal counters” that would provide most of the safe services as a local post office.  These postal counters would be staffed by Staples low-wage, non-union workers, and not by the dedicated clerks of the APWU, who take care of you at you local post office.

These postal counters could mean the end of our local post offices.

Similar resolutions were passed by the California Teachers Union, AFT Michigan, AFT Massachusetts and AFT New Hampshire asking members to shop somewhere else when it came time to buy their “back to school” supplies.

“Postal workers are the most amazing public servants,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “Who does Staples really want and need to come into its stores every single day? Teachers. The best way we can help is if we say to Staples: ‘You do this to the postal workers, and we aren’t buying supplies in your stores.’”

AFT President Randi Weingarten (Image by @AFTunion)

AFT President Randi Weingarten (Image by @AFTunion)

School supplies are a key market for Staples, accounting for up to one-third of the company’s sales, according to some estimates. The company, faced with declining sales and revenue, has announced plans to close 225 stores by 2015.

After adopting the resolution, AFT members joined their APWU brothers and sisters in a massive rally outside Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. AFT President Weingarten and thousands of AFT convention delegates joined members of the American Postal Workers Union and other community members in a rally telling the United States Postal Service and the Staples corporation that the “Mail Is Not for Sale.”

This action is a continuing part of the AFT’s effort to reclaim the promise of an America where consumers are safe, workers are valued and well trained, and middle-class jobs are protected.

APWU President Mark Dimondstein addressed the importance of America’s middle class standing together against the effort to privatize and demonize U.S. postal workers. He said, “We too are in the public sector, we too are meeting the needs of people. We’re facing some of the same problems you are—I call it divert, defund, demoralize, demonize and dismantle.”

APWU President Mark Dimondstein (image by @AFTunion)

APWU President Mark Dimondstein (image by @AFTunion)

I applaud Randi Weingarten and all of the AFT members who adopted this resolution and will show their support for postal workers by boycotting Staples!

Below are pictures taken at the AFT/APWU rally last night.  All images are from twitter.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

America’s Moral Crisis: A Video Of Rev. Dr. William Barber’s Epic Speech At The AFT Convention

Screen shot 2014-07-12 at 10.15.51 AM

Rev. Dr William Barber Image from AFT’s video below

“There is a moral crisis in the country”

These are the bold words of Rev. Dr. William Barber who is one of the many faith leaders leading the “Moral Monday’s” campaign in North Carolina. Yesterday Rev. Barber was a keynote speaker at this year’s American Federation of Teachers convention in Los Angeles.

“We are declaring that we will go forward together and not take one step back,” Rev. Barber said in his opening.

Rev. Barber warned everyone of a new moral crisis engrossing our country.

“Whoa unto those who legislate evil, and rob the poor of their rights, and make children and women their prey,” Rev. Barber quoted Isaiah 10:1-2

The basis of the Moral Monday’s campaign is push back against the immoral attempts from right-wing conservatives in North Carolina [and other states] to attack voting rights, worker’s rights, women’s rights, immigrant rights, and LGBT rights.

“The same people who are fighting voting rights are fighting women’s rights. The same people who are fighting women’s rights are fighting worker’s rights. The same people fighting worker’s rights are fighting immigrant rights. You and I must be smart enough to hook up, and you ‘hook-up’ with an agenda,” bellowed Rev. Barber.

To combat these attacks, progressive groups throughout North Carolina have been protesting for 62 consecutive weeks, and are slowing changing the perception of North Carolinians that the extremist right-wing agenda is leading North Carolina in the wrong direction.   Recently Rev. Barber and AFT President Randi Weingarten led 80,000 people in a march on the North Carolina capitol in Raleigh, making this the largest single protest since the march in Selma, Alabama for voting rights.

“This immoral agenda goes against our faith and against our democracy,” Rev. Barber said.

“Too often we overestimate their power, and underestimate our own power!”

Together labor leaders, community activists, and the faith community have created their own agenda. (Minute 23:00 of video below)

  1. A pro-labor, anti-poverty policy that creates economic sustainability.
  2. Educational equality by ensuring the every child receives a high quality well funded public education.
  3. Healthcare for all
  4. Fairness in our criminal justice system by addressing the continuing inequalities in the system
  5. We must “hook-up” to protect and expand voting rights, women’s rights, LBGT rights, immigrant rights and we must hold on to the fundamental promise of equal protections under the law.

With this agenda we can be “hooked together with our principles of hope,” said Rev. Barber.

Rev. Barber concluded his epic speech with a monstrous call to action. He called for everyone to “rise up” and “hook-up” together with this agenda and march on your own state capitol between August 21st and Aug 28th. Seven straight days of action, pushing our agenda to the front page of every newspaper.

“Together we will fight for the soul of this nation, and we will challenge anyone who tries to tear us apart!”

This forty-minute video, courtesy of AFT, is one of the best speeches I have ever seen. This speech should be shown at ever labor meeting, church service, and progressive community organizing event until every man, woman, and child has seen it.

Until that happens, you can share this post.

The Second Wind Foundation For Pulmonary Fibrosis Proudly Announces The “Breathe Easy” Program To Help Families Suffering From Pulmonary Fibrosis

The Second Wind Foundation For Pulmonary Fibrosis Proudly Announces The “Breathe Easy” Program To Help Families Suffering From Pulmonary Fibrosis 

The Second Wind Foundation to provide gas cards to families who are suffering from Pulmonary Fibrosis.

Filling-Gas-Tank-KOMUnews-CC-Flikr--e1403865096128

Note: The Second Wind Foundation for Pulmonary Fibrosis, was started by Ron Geoffroy, the former local President for NATCA, when his wife got diagnosed.  Also I, Matt, am a board member and proud to help promote our cause.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Encourage your biker buddies to join our ride.  This is a press release, so repost on your blog, just be sure to credit the Second Wind at  http://secondwindforpf.com/

Auburn, NH – The Second Wind Foundation for Pulmonary Fibrosis proudly announces the start of a new program designed to help families who are suffering from Pulmonary Fibrosis.

Pulmonary Fibrosis is a rare lung disease that creates scar tissue inside the lungs, making it harder and harder to breathe.   Pulmonary Fibrosis currently effects more than 500,000 people in the US.  After being diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis, patients must meet with their doctors regularly to monitor their condition.  The increase in doctor visits, home healthcare, and oxygen tanks put a significant financial strain on patients and their families.

Ron and Marylou Geoffroy started the Second Wind Foundation for Pulmonary Fibrosis, after Marylou was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis.

“As Marylou’s condition deteriorated, we were traveling to Boston for doctors appointments a few times a month,” said Ron Geoffroy President of the Second Wind Foundation for Pulmonary Fibrosis. “This is exactly why we started the ‘Breathe Easy’ program, to give some monetary support to families suffering from Pulmonary Fibrosis.”

To help families deal with the financial strains that a chronic disease can have, the Second Wind Foundation for Pulmonary Fibrosis created the Breathe Easy program to provide $50 gas cards to qualified recipients.

The Breathe Easy program is open to anyone who suffers from Pulmonary Fibrosis or for those who are caring for someone with PF.  The Breathe Easy application can be downloaded at http://secondwindforpf.com/breathe-easy-program/.

Right now there is no cure for Pulmonary Fibrosis, and thanks to donations from the Second Wind Foundation for Pulmonary Fibrosis, new research is helping to find a cure.

To help raise money for this new program the Second Wind Foundation is hosting a charity motorcycle ride this September. The “Give A Gift Of Breath” motorcycle ride will be held on September 13th 2014 and begins at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Hall, 161 Londonderry Turnpike, Hooksett, NH.

Enjoy a scenic ride through the tree-lined roads of central New Hampshire, and then enjoy some great food courtesy of the Puritan Back Room.

Registration for the ride begins at 8:00 am with kickstands up at 10:30 a.m.  The cost is only $25 per bike and $10 for additional riders.

“The Give a Gift of Breath motorcycle ride is one of our biggest annual fundraisers for the Second Wind Foundation,” said Geoffroy. “To encourage people to sign up early for the ride, we are offering a $5 discount if you register now.”

For more information about the Second Wind Foundation for Pulmonary Fibrosis, and to register for our upcoming ride, go to http://secondwindforpf.com/.

UPDATED: NH’s Congressional Delegation Is Outraged Over The Hobby Lobby Decision (Well Most Of It Anyway)

In a very unsurprising decision, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby.  The case was to determine if Hobby Lobby could be forced to have an insurance plan that would cover contraceptives that the Green family – the evangelical owners and operators of Hobby Lobby – say they disagree with on religious grounds.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that because Hobby Lobby was a privately owned corporation that is run by a small group of people who have the same religious beliefs that forcing their insurance plans to cover certain types of birth control infringed on their closely held religious beliefs.

“Americans shouldn’t be forced to comply with government mandates that violate core principles of their faith,” said Senator Kelly Ayotte. “This case is fundamentally a matter of religious freedom, and this ruling affirms Americans’ religious liberties as protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”

This ruling means that the religious rights of the employer are more important than the personal rights of the employees.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lashed out in an epic dissent:

“The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage.”  She continued by stating, “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

This case is also chalk full of hypocrisy.

I guess “God’s will” only matters when it affects a woman’s right to choose, and not when it affects a man’s inability to perform.

“The Supreme Court’s decision today is incredibly disappointing,” stated Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter. “The debate over birth control was seemingly settled decades ago, and most companies and institutions had been offering birth control coverage as part of a health care package without controversy. This decision will only make some women’s lives even more difficult, and leaves me wondering what’s next from this activist Supreme Court.”

“Women should be making decisions about their health care with their doctors, not their employers,” said Senator Jeanne Shaheen. “Today’s Supreme Court decision unfortunately jeopardizes basic health care coverage and access to contraception for a countless number of women and I’m very disappointed by the ruling. Blocking access to contraception will have economic and public health consequences that our country cannot afford.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision on the Hobby Lobby case is a step backwards for New Hampshire women and their families,” said Congresswoman Annie Kuster. “Not only will this decision limit access to health care coverage for Granite State women, it will allow some employers to dictate a woman’s health care choices – something that can and should only be decided by each individual woman for herself. We must ensure that all women have access to comprehensive health coverage, and that they have the freedom to make choices about their own individual health care needs.”

The Affordable Care Act pushed insurance companies to fully cover preventative care for women – including contraception, when prescribed by a medical provider.  It also prohibits insurance companies from charging higher premiums for women than for men.  Before Obamacare, insurance companies could – and did – discriminate against women.  Charging women $1 billion more than men each year – and then giving them less coverage – was unfair and discriminatory.

One of the birth control options that Hobby Lobby disagreed with is the Internal Uterine Device (IUD). An IUD prevents a woman’s egg from implanting on the uterine wall, which prevents pregnancy.  Hobby Lobby makes the claim that this is abortion, because “life begins at conception.” But conception does not occur until after the egg is implanted.  So if an IUD prevents implantation, it prevents conception – and that means it’s contraception, just like the pill and condoms.

An IUD is extremely effective and has very low risk for women who choose to use it, although it can be expensive.

“It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage,” wrote Justice Bader Ginsberg in her dissent.

“Access to family planning services is critical for the health and economic security of women and families, as contraception costs are one of the biggest health care expenses for women and their families,” said Governor Maggie Hassan. “While today’s Supreme Court decision is disappointing, I’m optimistic that employers will continue providing coverage for family planning services because it’s the right thing to do for workers, it will help businesses attract high-quality employees, and it will strengthen the economic security of working families.”

This attack on women’s reproductive rights is nothing new.  Conservatives have been trying to limit a women’s right to choose since the Supreme Court ruled on Roe v Wade over 50 years ago.  When Republicans took control of the New Hampshire House in 2011, a new firestorm of attacks on women’s right was initiated.

“In 2011, the Executive Council took the radical step of eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, blocking access to health services for thousands of Granite State women,” stated Executive Counselor Chris Pappas. “That was the wrong decision for New Hampshire families then just as the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is wrong now.  Access to contraception and basic family planning services is critical for women’s health and economic security.  As an employer and owner of a family-run business, I know first-hand that important health decisions must be left up to women and their physicians.” (Emphasis added)

It continues to show that this Supreme Court and their conservative majority are out of touch with real working families, and are basing their rulings on their ideological positions.

More and more, it seems that the majority of the Supreme Court better represents the interests of the Chamber of Commerce than it does the values and aspirations of working Americans. Workers’ rights should not depend on whether their employer—while buying and selling to everyone regardless of religion—wants to limit their reproductive rights based on privately held religious beliefs,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “That this decision, which disproportionately affects women, coincides with the Harris v. Quinn decision, which limits rights of home healthcare workers in Illinois—the vast majority of whom are women—is a throwback to another age. Working families, especially working women, have lost here.”

There is no doubt our national healthcare system was broken.  The Affordable Care Act was a step in the right direction, fixing some of the major wrongs.  An insurance company can no longer deny coverage if you get sick; they can no longer deny coverage because of a pre-existing condition; their profits are limited by the 80/20 rule; and many more.

In my opinion the problem is that we are still relying on private insurance companies for health care.  For-profit institutions are making decisions about what our healthcare should be.  The problem is only compounded by our reliance on employer-supplied healthcare.

In Justice Alito’s decision, he implied that if the government truly wants to find a way to cover all of these contraceptives then the government is going to have to find a way to pay for it themselves.

To me, the solution is simple: Medicare for all.  If everyone were on Medicare, or any other version of a single payer system, the opinions of an employer would be moot.  An employer would never be able to restrict coverage for its women employees (or its men employees, for that matter).

Arnie Arnesen, a local radio personality summed it all up perfectly, “If Medicare is good enough for a 65 year old man, then why is it not good enough for a 6 year old girl?”

Why It Is A Bad Idea For Teachers To Be “Packing Heat” At School

It seems like every few weeks we are hearing about another school shooting or unstable individual attacking innocent people in the streets.

For some people the answer is always the same, more guns!

Fact: More guns do not mean people are safer. Research shows the exact opposite.

More Guns = More Accidental Shootings: People of all age groups are significantly more likely to die from unintentional firearm injuries when they live in states with more guns, relative to states with fewer guns.”

To counter the increase in schools shooting some school boards have approved allowing teachers to carry weapons in schools. Are you prepared for teachers in your local schools to be carrying concealed weapons, ready to shoot at any moment?

In 2012, less than one week after the horrific shootings at Newton, the NRA called for more guns in our schools. The American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who represented the teachers at Sandy Hook and thousands more across the country, issued a statement.

AFT President Weingarten  (Photo by Bruce Gilbert)

AFT President Weingarten (Photo by Bruce Gilbert)

This is both irresponsible and dangerous. No matter how much money the NRA spends or propaganda it tries to spread, one thing is clear—the NRA is not serious about confronting the epidemic of gun violence in our nation.”

Schools must be safe sanctuaries, not armed fortresses. Anyone who would suggest otherwise doesn’t understand that our public schools must first and foremost be places where teachers can safely educate and nurture our students.”

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Vice President of the National Education Association, completely rejects the idea, being pushing by legislators and school boards, of arming teachers.  As she phrased it, “People that would put our children, teachers, and janitors at risk do not deserve their office.”

Woman Shooting at Target (Image by Jimi Lanham CC Flickr)

Image by Jimi Lanham CC Flickr

If you live in Kansas, armed teachers will very soon be a reality! They are already using taxpayer money to pay for training programs.

Read this, “Armed Missouri teachers will have ’90 percent’ accuracy, firearm instructors promise

I am personally appalled by this idea because I read every day about another person who is killed by accidental gun violence. I do not want to read about how a teacher accidentally shot their second grade student.

“Shield Solutions training supervisor Don Crowley vowed that his students would have an accuracy of 90 to 95 percent at the end of five days of training.”

Really? A 90% accuracy after just five days of training? Hogwash!

I will concede that someone who is training for five days straight may be able to pass a test with “90%” accuracy, but that does not mean that in a month, or a year, that those gun-wielding teachers will still have the same accuracy.

Consider this, a study of New York City police officers involved in a ‘fire fight’ have an accuracy rating of only 18%. These are trained professionals who go through rigorous weapons training, regular accuracy tests, and yet they only average 18%!

What makes anyone think that a one week training class for teachers would make them more accurate that the entire New York Police department? There is serious difference between standing on a range, firing bullets at a paper target, and a person holding a gun, that is pointed at you, and is shooting back.

31,000 Americans died from gunshot wounds in 2010, and another 73,000 Americans were hospitalized with non-fatal gunshot wounds.   “From 2005-2010, almost 3,800 people in the U.S. died from unintentional shootings.” Over 1,300 of those were people under the age of 25.

What about the teacher who is careless and leaves their gun in a desk, unlocked, unguarded, where children are definitely present? Do not lie to yourself by saying this would never happen, because you know it would only be a matter of time.

The New Yorkers Against Gun Violence reported:

“The majority of people killed in firearm accidents are under age 24, and most of these young people are being shot by someone else, usually someone their own age. The shooter is typically a friend or family member, often an older brother.”

There are dozens of other examples of “responsible gun owners” who have shot themselves or others accidentally.

Do we really want this remote possibility in our schools???

I don’t.

+   +   +

In a side note: New Hampshire Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter and Mike Thompson (CA-05)  lead  163 House Members in Calling for a Vote on Gun Violence Prevention Legislation

The SCOTUS Rules On “Recess Appointments” To The NLRB

Yesterday the news broke that the Supreme Court of the United States had issued a ruling on whether or not the President could make “recess appointments.” A recess appointment is when the Senate is officially in “recess,” and the President nominates someone to an official Executive Branch position, like the National Labor Relations Board.

“Today’s ruling clears up the legal landscape on a question both Democratic and Republican presidents have faced for decades – the circumstances under which the United States Constitution allows them to make temporary recess appointments to executive branch positions,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

“President Obama made the recess appointments to the NLRB because obstructionism by Republican senators was about to make the National Labor Relations Board inoperable due to a lack of NLRB members,” continued Trumka. “The President did the right thing and acted on solid legal authority in making these appointments. Had he not acted, millions of workers would have been deprived of their rights under our labor laws.”

This ruling did clear up a few things:

1) The President can make a recess appointment if the recess is longer than ten (10) days.

2) They ruled that the parliamentary trick of holding “pro-forma” session – a session where nothing gets done but technically there is a session – would be enough to break to officially keep the Senate “in session”, and would reset the clock on the any recess timetables. The effectively means that if the Senate held a “pro-forma” session every nine days during long breaks, the President would not make any recess appointments.

3) They ruled that President Obama appointments to the NLRB were unconstitutional. This means all the cases where these NLRB appointees issued a ruling (before they were fully confirmed by the Senate), are now invalid.

Trumka pointed to the filibuster rule change that is allowing appointments to move through better than they were before. “Fortunately Senate leaders successfully changed Senate rules so that Executive Branch nominees can now be confirmed by a majority of the Senate and cannot be blocked by a minority of senators.”

“While today we have a fully functioning National Labor Relations Board to act on behalf of workers, this ruling invalidates countless other NLRB rulings that must now be decided again,” stated Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “This not only puts an additional burden on the NLRB, it creates uncertainty and additional pain for those workers who believed they had found justice. We are confident the NLRB will act swiftly on these cases”

Weingarten was very critical of the real people who were inhibiting the appointments to the NLRB.

“Let’s be clear—this case was the result of Republicans’ relentless obstructionism and their efforts to interfere with President Obama’s ability to make our government work and ensure the NLRB functions on behalf of working people,” continued Weingarten. “While the Senate reached a temporary compromise on presidential appointments, this ruling could embolden a minority of senators to take action in the future to prevent the president from making the appointments needed to ensure our democracy can function fully on behalf of the American people.”

The Communication Workers of America have been working diligently over the past few years to bring awareness to the problems with the antiquated filibuster rule that is allowing the minority to block important pieces of legislation and major appointments. They used their massive network of members to start a national conversation to “Fix the Senate” and pushed to “Give Us Five” referring to a full five member NLRB.

CWA released the following statement

Today’s Supreme decision is a sharp reminder that the U.S. Senate functions under archaic procedures that must change. That’s especially true of the rule requiring a super-majority, or 60 votes, for the Senate to recess.

The Senate rules are at the heart of this decision and the Constitution is clear that the Senate has the right to set its own rules.

In every other democratic meeting, from the local city council to any major parliamentary body, proceedings are recessed by a majority vote. Only the U.S. Senate requires a super-majority to proceed to debate on most motions, legislation and including the motion to recess.

We have seen the consequences of this rule. It’s been a key tactic used by the Senate minority to block confirmation of the president’s executive and judicial nominations. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made his party’s intentions clear when he said his goal was to make President Obama a one-term president. When that didn’t succeed, the Senate minority stepped up a campaign of delay and obstruction, of appointments and any progressive legislative advances. The minority’s strategy of refusing to proceed to a vote for any recess has made a mockery of the Senate’s role in government.

The Senate’s constitutional duty is to review the president’s nominees through “advice and consent” – not use parliamentary tricks to impede his policy agenda.

For thousands of workers, this decision has real-life consequences. Some 120 decisions made by the National Labor Relations Board in the period contested by the Noel Canning lawsuit may be challenged and justice for thousands of workers will be delayed, and in practice, denied.

The need for real Senate rules reform has never been clearer, or more urgent. CWA and our allies, working together in the Democracy Initiative, are keeping up the fight for Senate rules changes. Critical is an end to the super-majority vote requirement that blocks debate and discussion of nearly all Senate business, even the motion to recess.

We need a functioning government if we are to ever recover from this economic slump, and the bitter partisanship that is crippling Washington. It just may be time to go “nuclear” on the filibuster rule, so we can make some real progress.