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Berry Craig: Unions Will Appeal Kentucky ‘Right to Work’ Ruling

 By BERRY CRAIG AFT Local 1360

The Kentucky State AFL-CIO and Louisville-based Teamsters Local 89 will lose no time in appealing today’s Franklin Circuit Court decision that upheld the state’s “right to work” law, according to Bill Londrigan, state AFL-CIO president.

The court dismissed a suit to overturn the law that the state federation and the Teamsters filed last May.

The unions argued that the law violates the state constitution by “taking” from unions because under federal law, they must represent all workers in a unionized workplace–even those who won’t join the union and pay dues or pay the union a service fee to represent them.

The year-old law represents an “attack on Kentucky’s hard-working men and women and the unions that fight for their interests” by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin and the GOP-majority legislature, Londrigan said in a statement.

All but a handful of Republicans joined the Democrats in opposing the measure, which quickly passed in January, 2017. Bevin eagerly signed it. He was elected governor in 2015 after boosting a RTW law on the campaign trail.

When Bevin was sworn in, the GOP had a 27-11 edge in the Senate, but the Democrats controlled the House.  In the November, 2016, elections, the Republicans held their Senate majority and flipped the House to 64-36, GOP.

The House had been all that stood between Kentucky and RTW.

The RTW bill “was rushed through the General Assembly…to avoid a full debate on the important questions it raised and to silence its critics,” Londrigan said.  “The law denies union members the equal protection of the law afforded to other Kentuckians and other Kentucky organizations, it imposes onerous requirements on Kentucky unions and their members not imposed on others, and it takes unions’ property without just compensation.”

Also in the statement, Londrigan said unions believe “Kentucky’s higher courts will understand that this law violates our state constitution and causes real harm to our workers and the unions they represent.”

Londrigan said the court “failed to consider the undisputed testimony of nationally-recognized experts in labor economics who uniformly proved that RTW laws lower wages, hurt workers and fail to add new jobs.  Instead, these laws serve to increase profits and weaken the strongest voice workers have to speak on their behalf.”

Added Londrigan, “We believe our higher courts will recognize the harmful effect that this unjust and discriminatory law has on our workers and their unions, which are required under federal law to represent all workers in a bargaining unit, including those who choose to withhold dues and fees.”

Londrigan vowed that “Kentucky unions will continue to fight for all Kentucky’s hard-working women and men to mitigate the detrimental consequences which RTW laws have had on workers in other states – lower wages, fewer workers with health care benefits and retirement plans, and more fatalities on the job – all while failing miserably in their empty promise of more jobs.”

Also today, Kentucky Democratic Party Chair Ben Self issued a statement of solidarity with Bluegrass State unions:

“The Kentucky Democratic Party will continue to stand and fight alongside union workers for Kentucky’s working families. Gov. Bevin’s budget director spoke yesterday on budget shortfalls under the current administration. It proves right-to-work legislation hasn’t economically benefited the state but has only weakened the bottom line and bargaining rights for every working man and woman in the state.”

The RTW measure, HB 1, made Kentucky the 27th “right to work” state. Click here to view the ruling.

Leo W Gerard: CEO Tax Con

By Ivan Bandura/Flickr

Apple CEO Tim Cook announced this week that the company would repatriate $252 billion, give or take a few billion, then invest in America and create some American jobs – for a change.

This is a result of the massive tax cut Congressional Republicans awarded corporations like Apple that were hoarding trillions in profits overseas.

Corporate lobbyists told Congress to lower the tax rate on those overseas caches or companies like Apple wouldn’t pay a cent of the taxes they owed on those profits. Congress complied. That is highly productive corporate extortion.

As a result, Apple’s announcement that it would invest some of the repatriated profits in U.S. operations is tainted. Also sullied are the brags by other corporations that they’ll use small parts of their annual tax savings to pay workers one-time bonuses and tiny wage increases – only to turn around and lay off thousands of workers.

The corporate extortion and maltreatment of workers defy the advice that BlackRock CEO Laurence D. Fink offered the CEOs of the world’s largest companies in a letter delivered Jan. 16. Fink’s words carry some weight since his firm is the largest investor in the world with more than $6 trillion. The letter described as flawed the CEO-favored philosophy of shareholder capitalism, under which corporations shirk responsibility to everyone but shareholders.

Fink said stakeholder capitalism, under which corporations are accountable to employees, customers and communities, as well as shareholders, is a more effective long-term strategy. “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society,”  

But CEOs at the likes of Apple, AT&T and AFLAC don’t want to hear that. These executives want their corporations to be considered people for the legal perks. But they don’t want their firms to assume humans’ citizenship obligations. These CEOs are trying to make Americans think corporations should get good citizenship awards because a handful of the nation’s 30 million employers are paying bonuses to workers from the gargantuan tax savings Congress gave them.

But it’s a con. The bonuses are fine, but they’re one-time events and trivial compared to the bountiful and permanent tax breaks corporations reaped from their years of lobbying Republicans.

In addition, the President’s Council of Economic Advisors said that slashing the corporate tax rate would boost the average American’s wages between $4,000 and $9,000 a year. A one-time bonus of $1,000 doesn’t get close to that.

Apple, for example, held $252 billion in profits off shore, refusing for years to pay the 35 percent corporate tax rate that would be required to return it to the United States. Now, however, Republicans in Congress have slashed the rate corporations will have to pay on overseas profits to 15 percent. Republicans also cut the rate that corporations must pay on U.S. profits to 21 percent, giving firms like Apple that moved work offshore a better deal than corporations that remained exclusively American.

It means Apple will pay only $38 billion in taxes on its overseas profits and get to keep $43 billion that it otherwise would have owed the federal government. For actual-human American citizens, as opposed to corporate-humans like Apple, that means the federal government will have $43 billion less for important services like the Children’s Health Insurance Program, opioid addiction treatment, federal school funding for special-needs children, adoption services for foster kids and workplace safety inspections.

Cook tried to sound like a Boy Scout in a statement about bringing the money home: “We have a deep sense of responsibility to give back to our country and the people who help make our success possible.” But if the corporation really had a deep sense of responsibility to the United States, it would have paid the taxes it owed and not moved all of its manufacturing off shore.

But, hey, Apple will invest its ill-gotten gains in the United States, right? Well, maybe not so much.

Apple, which had more money stashed overseas than any other American corporation, projected that its direct impact on the U.S. economy over the next five years would be more than $350 billion, but the New York Times determined, based on Apple’s past spending and projections, that its investment would be only about $37 billion more than what Apple would be expected to spend over that time in the United States. That’s good. But it’s not $350 billion in new dollars. It’s a con.

Apple says its investment will include a new headquarters and 20,000 new hires. And that’s great too. But it pales before Amazon, which had 10 percent of what Apple did overseas.  Long before any tax break, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos promised a second headquarters and 50,000 new high-paid positions.

BlackRock CEO Fink told Apple’s Cook and other large company CEOs this week that they have a duty to explain to investors and shareholders what they will do with the extra cash that the Republican tax break will afford them and how they’ll use it to create long-term value.

Fink, whose investment firm is looking for sustainable, enduring growth, not illusory, short-term profits, warned, “Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential. It will ultimately lose the license to operate from key stakeholders. It will succumb to short-term pressures to distribute earnings, and, in the process, sacrifice investments in employee development, innovation, and capital expenditures that are necessary for long-term growth.”

But the vast majority of executives who announced they’d share the bounty of the Republican tax breaks with their employees didn’t explain how they’d spend their windfalls or offer workers long-term value.

The conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, which supported tax breaks for the rich and corporations, compiled a list of about 125 companies that announced their workers would benefit this year from some portion of the corporate tax break.

The overwhelming majority of these are one-time bonuses. It’s true that the average worker will appreciate an extra $200 to $1,000. But none of the companies promised that $1,000 would arrive in workers’ paychecks every year, even though corporations will enjoy the tax breaks every year.

Some firms, mostly banks, said they would increase the wages of their lowest-paid workers to $15 an hour. That bank workers, responsible for the correct calculation of savings and withdraws and for safekeeping depositors’ life savings, are making starvation wages of less than $15 an hour, is frightening.

In addition, the list of financial institutions includes big ones like Wells Fargo, Capital One and PNC Financial, all of which pay their CEOs more than $12 million a year, raising the question of why those fat cats made sure they got the big bucks but never got around to paying the workers who handle the money a living wage.

Other big names that have announced one-time bonuses or pathetic wage increases are Walmart, AT&T, Comcast, Boeing and AFLAC. Again, it’s great any time additional money finds its way into the pockets of those whose labor creates corporate profits. But all of these companies were involved in a massive public relations con.

Comcast and AT&T announced $1,000 bonuses, then laid off workers. Comcast dumped 500 and AT&T dumped thousands.

Walmart pulled the same trick. It boasted of bonuses ranging from $200 to $1,000 and raises for its lowest-paid workers to $11 an hour. That’s still not a living wage and was done only to keep up with Target, which announced in September a base wage of $11. And Walmart topped it off with layoffs. About 11,000 former Walmart workers won’t be around to get those raises.

AFLAC said it would place a one-time contribution of $500 in workers’ 401(k) accounts amid allegations in lawsuits that it lied to applicants about the pay they would receive and failed to give workers commissions they had earned.

Boeing got in on the good publicity by saying it would spend $300 billion on workers, but its workers will see no new money. Instead of raises or bonuses, Boeing will spend the money on worker training, upgrading its factories and matching workers’ donations to charities – for which, of course, it can claim another tax break.

Clearly, none of these con men CEOs actually care about their workers. Maybe, however, they will care about what activist investor BlackRock thinks. And its CEO has made it clear he believes good corporate governance takes into consideration worker, community and environmental needs.

AFL-CIO and Broad Coalition File Amicus Briefs in Janus v. AFSCME

(Washington, DC) — Today, the AFL-CIO joined unions, public and private employers, elected officials from both parties, religious organizations, academics and civil rights organizations filing amicus briefs in Janus v. AFSCME, defending working people’s right to effectively organize and negotiate.

“Working people have always had to fight for the freedom to work and retire in dignity. Corporate CEOs and special interests have spent millions in their attempts to strip that away,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “Today, working people are taking this fight to the Supreme Court. We’re standing up for the freedom to sustain a family while still being able to take time off to care for a loved one, receive quality health care and enjoy a secure retirement.”

Working people’s freedom to join together in strong public-sector unions has been protected since a unanimous Supreme Court ruling more than 40 years ago. That ruling secured these unions’ ability to effectively advocate and negotiate on behalf of their members.

Now, a Koch-backed network of corporate interests is challenging those longstanding legal precedents. Their goal is to undermine working people’s right to organize—and they’ve said so themselves. These same right-wing special interests have previously attacked LGBTQ rights, voting rights and women’s health care.

The AFL-CIO was joined today by the State of California, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, several U.S. senators, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 20 state attorneys general, Republican elected officials, former presidents of the District of Columbia Bar Association, distinguished law professors and others. This action comes as organizers prepare to stand against the corporate interests behind this case during a Working People’s Day of Action on Feb. 24. This will mark the 50th anniversary of striking African American sanitation workers’ first march with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee.

Educators File Amicus Brief With Supreme Court In Janus v. AFSCME

WASHINGTON — The National Education Association and the American Association of University Professors submitted an amicus brief today with the Supreme Court in the case of Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31. The National Right to Work Committee, which is behind the case, is asking the Court to read into the First Amendment a right to work law for the entire public sector.  As the brief explains, the First Amendment has never been so interpreted and doing so would conflict with the Court’s long established deference to state decisions about their public workforces.  At issue in Janus is whether non-union members who share in the wages, benefits and protections that have been negotiated into a collectively bargained contract may be required to pay their fair share for the cost of those negotiations.

“Strong unions help to create strong schools for students and even stronger communities that benefit all of us,” said Lily Eskelsen García, a sixth grade teacher from Salt Lake City, Utah who was elected to serve as the president of the National Education Association. “For generations, unions have been the best path to the middle class for working people, but in this rigged economy, unions are under attack, and those attacks are coming not just from the White House and Capitol Hill. They’re happening at the ballot box and at the Supreme Court with cases like Janus v. AFSCME.”

A comprehensive report issued last year by the Economic Policy Institute detailed how collective bargaining plays an essential role in the labor market, by raising working people’s wages and supporting a fair and prosperous economy as well as a vibrant democracy. Unions and their ability to bargain collectively are an important force in reducing inequality and ensuring that low- and middle-wage workers receive a fair return on their work. Another recent report titled, “Strong Unions, Stronger Communities,” reviewed numerous case studies where members of labor unions have used their freedom to join strong unions and collective voice to fight for improvements that benefit all working families in communities throughout America.

“The Supreme Court should not ignore the fact that state and local governments have a vital interest in the benefits of collaboration that come from robust collective bargaining and unionization. Those benefits for all public citizens include improved government services, better educational outcomes and higher economic mobility,” said AAUP General Counsel Risa Lieberwitz. “The court also should not ignore the fact that outside dark-money groups, which include many of the groups who filed briefs in support of Janus, want to manipulate and weaponize the court’s decision to attack unions and deprive state and local governments of broad societal benefits that accompany collective bargaining.”

The Janus case presents a real test for the Supreme Court. If facts, merit and law are considered, then the justices must rule in favor of upholding 40 years of precedent that support the authority of state and local governments to choose to have strong public sector systems of collective bargaining.

“The politically-motivated backers behind Janus know this case is nothing more than a smokescreen for what they’re really trying to do,” added Eskelsen García. “Point blank, this case is an assault on the freedoms of working people to earn a better life for themselves and their families while it works to right the rules further in favor of their own special corporate interests and other billionaires. The justices on the Supreme Court cannot allow themselves to be fooled.”


About the National Education Association

The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional employee organization, representing more than 3 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

About the American Association of University Professors

The American Association of University Professors is a nonprofit membership association of faculty and other academic professionals with members and chapters based at colleges and universities across the country. The mission is to advance academic freedom and shared governance; to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education; to promote the economic security of faculty, academic professionals, graduate students, post‐doctoral fellows, and all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education; to help the higher education community organize to make our goals a reality; and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good.

Don’t Be Fooled By Walmart’s Promotional Stunt About Increasing Wages

This week the nations largest employer made national news by announcing they would raise their minimum wage to $11 an hour and provide a $1,000 bonus to 1.5 million American employees. They say that this move to increase wages and provide employee bonuses is all thanks to the Republican Tax Plan that President Trump signed into law this month.

However a closer review of this new announcement shows that it is all a publicity stunt.  They are also using the publicity stunt to cover up the news that they are closing 60 Sam’s Club stores across the country.

Making Change at Walmart director Randy Parraz explains what is happening in his statement: 

“While pay raises are usually a good thing, this is nothing but another public relations stunt from Walmart to distract from the reality that they are laying off thousands of workers and the ones who remain will continue to receive low wages. The fact is that Walmart is not permanently investing the estimated $2 billion it will receive annually from Trump’s tax giveaway to its workers – it is keeping almost all of it. This announcement is attempt to repair a crumbling image, while ignoring thousands of its workers who struggle year after year to pay their bills or depend on government assistance.

Once you crack the veneer, you see that Walmart’s wage increases does not raise hourly wages for many of its workers. Hourly wages for those workers making above $11 dollars will essentially stay the same. Workers will get a one-time bonus or raise, but not both.

Instead of taking Walmart at its word, we would hope that the Members of Congress, civic and state leaders, and the media, ask Walmart for actual facts about what this means for workers. Empty words will not lift Walmart workers out of poverty, an actual living wage will.”

Looking deeper into Walmart’s own statement you can clearly see that this is nothing more that publicity stunt to continue the myth that tax cuts somehow help corporations fuel wage increases.

The Wage Increase

Walmart’s press release further explains how this pay increase will into effect.

An increase in Walmart’s starting wage rate to $11 an hour, effective in the Feb. 17, 2018, pay cycle. The change is in addition to wage increases already planned for many U.S. markets in the coming fiscal year. The increase applies to all hourly associates in the U.S., including stores, Sam’s Clubs, eCommerce, logistics and Home Office.

Facing backlash over low-wages and protests from OUR-Walmart, Walmart announced they would raise wages from $7.25 to $9 in 2015 and raise them again to $10 in Feb of 2016.  Logic would dictate that a pay raise to $11 was overdue at this point.  Not to mention that Target, one of Walmart’s biggest rivals, announced last September that they would be raising their wages to $11 in January of 2018 and would continue to push wages up to $15 by 2020.

The Bonuses

Praising the newly passed tax cuts, Walmart said they would be giving out $1,000 bonuses to their “associates.”  As Parraz already explained, those bonuses are along going to the people who will not be getting a wage increase.  The devil is in the details.

“A one-time bonus benefiting all eligible full and part-time hourly associates in the U.S. The amount of the bonus will be based on length of service, with associates with at least 20 years qualifying for $1,000.”

So to qualify for one of Walmart’s generous bonuses, you would have to be a full-time employee, making more than $11 already and have at least 20 years with the company.  Since less than 50% of Walmart’s employees are full-time, combined with the high turnover of the retail industry, it really makes you wonder how many of Walmart’s 1.5 million employees will even see that bonus.

The Cost

There is no denying that raising wages and giving away bonuses is going to hit Walmart’s bottom line. But when you put it into perspective, it will not hurt them as much as you might think.

“This increase in wages to associates will take effect in February and will be approximately $300 million incremental to what was already included in next fiscal year’s plan. The one-time bonus represents an additional payment to associates of approximately $400 million,” said Doug McMillon, Walmart president and CEO.

That is $900 million dollars in payouts. Yes, that is a lot of money.  It looks like a ton of money.  However when you take into account that Walmart did $482 billion dollars in revenue last year and collected $13.6 billion in profits. $900 million is less than 10% of their profits. The wage increase would only be about 3% of their profits.

Maybe we should also take into account that in October of 2017, Walmart used $20 billion of its own profits to “buy back” their own stocks to artificially increase their stock prices.

Joe Ciolli from Business Insider wrote:

“Walmart is sweetening the pot for shareholders before its annual meeting, using the oldest trick in the book.

The retailer on Tuesday morning announced that it had authorized up to $20 billion in stock buybacks over the next two years. That’s a massive amount of capital to be allocated for repurchases, which are frequently used by companies to boost shares during times devoid of other positive catalysts.”

According to our research, that $20 billion dollars would do a lot for Walmart workers.

Layoffs

On January 12, the day after Walmart announced they would be increasing wages, they announced that they would be closing 63 (or 10%) of their Sam’s Club stores across the country.

“We know this is difficult news for our associates and we are working to place as many of them as possible at nearby locations,” said John Furner, president and CEO of Sam’s Club.

So far this year, Sam’s Club has closed two stores in my area and kicked 250 people out of a job.  Given both of the stores had about 125 employees, it would be safe to assume that nearly 8,000 workers are going to lose their jobs with the closing of these 63 stores.

The Tax Cuts

Walmart is praising the new Republican Tax Cuts for their ability to raise wages. Of course they neglect to mention that they spent millions lobbying Congress to oppose a minimum wage increase and to lower their corporate taxes.

The corporation will shed an estimated $2.2 billion dollars from their annual tax bill next year thanks to Republicans.  That cuts their tax bill by nearly 40%.  I won’t even go into how much the Walton Family is worth and how this tax bill will greatly benefit them. I will say that the Walton Family saved an estimated $670 million just because their income comes from dividends paid out from their Walmart stock holdings which are taxed at a drastically reduced rate compared to “regular income.”

So you see, Walmart the corporation is going to pocket $1.8 billion dollars this year in tax savings even after they spend $300 million to raise wages in their promotional stunt.

Do not be fooled by Walmart’s newly found generosity. They were going to raise wages anyway but now they can use this tax cut as a promotional stunt at the same time.  The Walmart executives are going to use this Tax Scam to line their pockets and continue to pay their low wages. Everyday.


After this post was first published, Walmart announced that they would be laying off an additional 3,500 “Co-Managers” and replacing them with lower paid “assistant manager” position.  Those who are being laid off are encouraged to apply for the new position.

Talk about a slap in the face.

Read more from ThinkProgress


Update: Original publication had the incorrect profit numbers. 

 

Taxpayers Defrauded Out Of $90 Million Dollars, Union Wants Investigation Into VA “Choice” Contractors

Morehead City VA Employees Hold Demonstration to Protest VA Vacancies (Image by AFGE FLICKR)

The Union For Workers At The Department of Veterans Affairs, Pens Letter To Congress Calling For An Investigation Into Contractors Running “Choice” Program. 

WASHINGTON – Yesterday the nation’s largest federal union, the American Federation of Government Employees, sent a letter to the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs leadership calling for an investigation into the two main contractors running the controversial Choice program which have defrauded taxpayers by nearly $90 million.

AFGE, which represents 250,000 front-line workers – more than 100,000 of whom are veterans themselves – at the Department of Veterans Affairs, sent the letter from National President J. David Cox Sr. to House Committee of Veterans’ Affairs Chair Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee, Ranking Member Rep. Mark Takano of California, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chair Rep. Jack Bergman of Michigan, Ranking Member Rep. Ann Kuster of New Hampshire, and Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chair Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Ranking Member Sen. Jon Tester of Montana.

In a September memo by the VA Office of Inspector General, titled “Accuracy and Timeliness of Payments Made Under the Choice Program Authorized by the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act,” it was found that at least two third-party administrators of the VA Choice Program had led to $90 million in improper charges to the American taxpayer.

National President Cox said in the letter that “The questionable practices used by third-party administrators of the VA Choice Program, TriWest and HealthNet, including double billing and improper payment rates, have directly harmed veterans and undermined the capacity of the VA health care system to provide them with the exemplary care that they have earned with their service.” Adding that the union “respectfully requests that the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the Sub-Committee on Oversight and Investigations conduct oversight hearings into the contractors’ billing practices and the VA’s effectiveness in overseeing these contracts.”

The revelations of overcharging by third-party administrators is just the latest controversy plaguing the negligent Choice program. Last month, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted along party lines to pass H.R. 4242 – VA Care in the Community Act – which would continue to funnel funding away from veterans’ first and best choice for health care, sticking them in the back of the line at unaccountable, private, for-profit providers.

Rep. Takano attempted to submit three amendments to H.R. 4242, to increase hiring and improve accountability of the Choice program, but Committee Republicans voted down each on party-line votes.

“Thank you to Rep. Takano and to the Committee Democrats who all tried to stand up to Republicans and protect veterans’ health care. This year we have continued to hear veterans and their service organizations tell us how important VA care is, and how we cannot let it be dismantled and auctioned off to unqualified for-profit providers,” said Cox.

“H.R. 4242 is a terrible piece of legislation that not only chips away at the only health care system tailored to the unique needs of veterans, but it also insulates private, for-profit providers from being accountable to veterans or taxpayers. We keep hearing from Congress and the Administration that there needs to be a greater level of accountability, but when it came down to making sure these private providers would be accountable to the men and women who served this country, party politics won out,” he added. 

Republicans Ram Through Unconstitutional School Voucher Bill

The House of Representatives voted today to pass SB 193, legislation establishing a school voucher program allowing parents to use Education Trust Fund dollars to subsidize tuition to private schools including religious institutions.

House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook) released the following statement after the vote:

“Simply put, this bill is an unconstitutional attempt to weaken confidence in public education and reduce funding to public schools.”

“Because funding for this program will come directly from the Education Trust Fund, the total amount distributed to school districts throughout the state will be reduced.  To participate in the program, parents of children with disabilities must waive their right to special education and related services.”

“This legislation was written to deliberately circumvent the New Hampshire Constitution, which clearly and distinctly prohibits the use of tax dollars for religious education.  The pass-through scheme concocted by this bill is an embarrassment to the founders of this great state.”

NHDP Chair Ray Buckley issued the following statement:

“Governor Sununu’s SB193 school voucher bill is an irresponsible, fundamentally unfair bill that violates our obligation to treat all students equally. It means private and religious schools that are under no obligation to follow state or federal education standards would receive our taxpayer dollars. It means students with disabilities would be subject to schools that are ill-equipped to take on their unique challenges. It means that parents of transgender students would have to give their taxpayer money to schools that ban their children.

The bill promises additional revenue to make up for the losses public schools would inevitably incur, but we’ve yet to see where this money will come from. Will Sununu and the Republicans raise our taxes just to give more money to private and religious schools or will they take money away from crucial services that so many depend on? SB193 is a key part of Governor Sununu & Commissioner Frank Edelblut’s attempt to overhaul the New Hampshire education system, moving the focus away from public schools. They should focus instead on growing and strengthening our public schools to make sure every student has a chance to succeed.”

AFT-NH’s President Doug Ley released the following after yesterday’s vote:

“Despite a powerful speech by Rep. Robert Elliott denouncing the bill as in clear violation of Article 6 of the NH Constitution which explicitly bars spending public monies on religious or sectarian schools, a majority composed almost entirely of House Republicans took a major step towards dismantling the State’s commitment to funding public education. By siphoning public tax revenues into private schools SB193 erodes the State’s commitment to maintaining and providing a quality public education to all children and sets up a separate system of funding for private schools. With all assessment and accountability left in the hands of a private agency that also handles transferring public monies to private schools via “Education Savings Accounts,” the incentive to rake in more revenue by ignoring any serious assessment or accountability is clear. It is a case of the fox guarding the henhouse and ultimately, local taxpayers will bear the additional costs.

“SB193 now moves to the Finance Committee, which must somehow figure a way to fund the program without local property tax increases or raising additional State revenues. As one member of the Finance Committee noted on the House floor, SB193 is a jumble of half-baked financial schemes and unanswered financial questions which will pose great challenges for the committee. There is no clear timeline, though the committee will need to report the bill to the House no later than March 2018.”

President Trump Disbands Sham Voting Commission

President Trump officially disbanded what was left of his so-called “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity” yesterday.  The commission’s main act during its tenure was to attempt to procure voting information on millions of registered voters, including Granite Staters.  The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire (ACLU-NH) successfully prevented New Hampshire’s Secretary of State from sharing electronic voter information from the centralized voter database with this so-called commission. Over two hundred Granite Staters came out in vocal opposition when the commission held its second meeting at St. Anslem’s in September.

Devon Chaffee, executive director of ACLU-NH, had this reaction to the news of the commission’s dissolution:

“The dissolution of this commission reaffirms what Granite Staters have known all along, and that is that New Hampshire conducts fair, honest, and democratic elections, and there is no evidence of significant voter fraud here. This commission proved to be a distraction to the real issues facing our electoral system. Now that this distraction has been rightfully disbanded, we can focus on action that will actually secure our electoral system and protect our voter data from hacking and tampering. This must include ending New Hampshire’s participation in the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which continues to imperil the security and accuracy of NH’s voting rolls. The ACLU-NH looks forward to working with legislators to end New Hampshire’s participation in Crosscheck and to secure our electoral system.”

Senator Jeanne Shaheen appeared pleased that the commission was disbanded but chastised Republicans for their continued attempts to suppress the vote.

“The President’s decision to dissolve this commission, once again, reaffirms the lack of evidence for widespread voter fraud,” said Senator Shaheen. “This commission was established to sow doubt regarding election outcomes and help lay the groundwork for voter suppression efforts. And while this commission has been suspended, unfortunately, voter suppression efforts continue unabated. Republican politicians, in both Washington and Concord, should focus their efforts on appealing to eligible voters rather than purging them from the rolls.”

The announcement to disband the commission comes after months of silence, scandals and reprimands by federal judges on top of pending litigation filed against it by its own members. The commission paid New Hampshire a visit in September, preceded by Kobach accusing Granite Staters of voter fraud with no evidence. The commission, of which New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner was a member, also requested private, personal voting information from all 50 states. Most states declined, but Sununu agreed to send it along to the leak-happy commission.

NHDP Chair Ray Buckley had this to say about the announcment:

“New Hampshire got played. It’s an absolute shame that this sham commission tried to drag the First in the Nation primary state’s sterling reputation through the mud as Governor Sununu nodded his head in support. It’s embarrassing that Sununu and the Secretary of State’s office went along with this commission’s request for voter info, putting Granite Staters’ safety at risk in the process. It’s despicable that the commission tried to discredit legitimate Democratic wins with zero evidence.

As we said from the outset, this commission was designed to undermine integrity in our election system and create the pretext for Republican voter disenfranchisement legislation. To that end, it succeeded in pushing through voter suppression law SB3, the first law of its kind in the Trump era and creating the pretext for HB372, a poll tax bill that passed the New Hampshire Senate today. The fact that President Trump dissolved this commission is proof that it was nothing more than a partisan tool. Hopefully Governor Sununu and any others supporting the commission are more cautious next time before engaging in Trump’s reckless efforts to wield his office to disenfranchise voters.”

Jason Kander, the former Secretary of State from Kansas and President of the Let America Vote coalition summed up the announcement perfectly:

“President Trump created his sham voting commission to substantiate a lie he told about voter fraud in the 2016 election. When he couldn’t come up with any fake evidence, and under relentless pressure, he had no choice but to disband his un-American commission. President Trump won’t stop lying about voter fraud, or end his assault on voting rights, but today is a good day for democracy. Good riddance.

Republicans In The New Hampshire Senate Pass “Poll Tax” On Voters

The Senate voted to change the residency requirements when registering to vote that could cost new voters hundreds of dollars. 

Today, the Republican-controlled New Hampshire Senate voted along party lines to pass HB372, the voter suppression legislation that would create a de facto poll tax by redefining residency in the state. Governor Sununu was pressured to oppose the bill after struggling to walk back his widely debunked voter fraud claims from the 2016 election. Sununu did, however, sign voter suppression legislation SB3 into law in July. The NHDP is currently suing the state to undo SB3.

“HB 372 is a political ploy to slow progress by making it harder for young people to participate in our democracy. This legislation creates a de facto poll tax and disenfranchises eligible New Hampshire voters. This bill clearly targets college students, who have every legal right to vote here. We should be encouraging students to stay here and remain a part of their communities after college, but HB 372 does the exact opposite,” said Senator Jeff  Woodburn, the Democratic Leader from Whitefield.

“It is disappointing to see Senate Republicans take another step toward voter suppression, building on the SB 3 voter suppression law, which was signed into law just six months ago and which is still being challenged in court. Governor Sununu has opposed HB 372 and he would be wise to veto it if the bill makes it to his desk. We urge the governor to keep that promise for the sake of protecting the right to vote in the Granite State,” Woodburn added.

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair, Ray Buckley blasted the Republicans in the Senate after they voted for this “Poll Tax”.

“Less than six months after Governor Sununu signed the last voter suppression bill into law, Republicans are at it again. Today, they voted for a bill that would create a de facto poll tax and redefine state residency. Once again, Republicans offered no evidence of voter fraud or rationale for disenfranchising eligible voters, instead relying on voter fraud lies propagated by President Trump and Governor Sununu.”

“This bill is only a priority for the elected politicians who stand to gain from disenfranchising voters who aren’t likely to vote for their reelection,” said Jason Kander, President of Let America Vote. “If every state passed a law like HB 372, college students may not be able to vote at all. Instead of including folks in their agenda who aren’t likely to vote Republican, the New Hampshire GOP has launched a sustained attack on the voting rights of groups who disagree with them. Governor Sununu already said he would never support anything that suppresses the student vote and that he opposes this bill. If HB 372 passes the House, Governor Sununu must make good on his promise. We’re opening a Let America Vote office in New Hampshire to make it clear to politicians like Senators Birdsell and Gray that if they make it harder to vote, we’re going to make it harder for them to get reelected.”

The bill now heads to Governor Sununu, who when asked about the bill last month said he “hates it” and “hoped the legislature would kill it.” Since the video was made public, Sununu’s opposition has wavered and has failed to confirm that he will veto the bill.

“At a time when our state needs to be attracting and retaining young people, It’s incredibly disheartening to see Republican leadership push Millennials away with bills like HB 372,” said New Hampshire Young Democrats Executive Director Amelia Keane. “Even Governor Sununu agrees that HB 372 ‘could result in the suppression of the vote‘ and ‘would never survive in court.’ Rather than focusing on these restrictive measures, we should be working towards modernizing and securing our elections.”

“We urge Governor Sununu to stay true to his word and veto HB 372,” Keane added.

Court Upholds New OSHA Rule On Silica Dust Exposure, Garnering Praise From Worker Safety Groups

Workers’ Right to Protection from Deadly Silica Dust Affirmed by DC Appeals Court

National COSH says this decisions is “A Huge Win For Millions of Workers”

Yesterday, the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia released their decision on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) groundbreaking worker protection rule limiting exposure to Silica. OSHA instituted the new rule in 2016 sharply lowering the permissible exposure limit (PEL) for worker exposure to silica dust to 50 micrograms of silica per cubic meter, reducing dust levels two to five times lower than the current permissible exposure.

Silica is found in stone, rock, brick and other common building materials. Cutting, drilling, shaping, molding and other operations expose more than two million workers each year to the hazards of silica dust in construction, foundries, mining, shipbuilding and other industries.

Silica dust is a known human carcinogen. Exposure can also lead to silicosis, an incurable and potentially fatal disease that interferes with basic lung functions, making it difficult for an affected worker to breathe. Between 1999 and 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 2,000 workers died from silicosis, just one of the diseases linked to exposure to silica dust.

“This is a huge win for millions of workers in construction, foundries, mining, shipbuilding and many other industries. Low-wage workers and those in the informal sector can now be assured of safer working conditions,” said Jessica Martinez, co-executive director, National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. “The U.S Court of Appeals has upheld OSHA’s finding – based on extensive research and expert testimony – that silica dust is significant risk to workers’ health. The silica standard remains in effect, with feasible, affordable requirements to reduce dust in the workplace and protect workers from silicosis and other potentially life-threatening diseases.”

“Now that industry’s challenge to this sensible, life-saving rule has failed, OSHA must focus on rigorous enforcement. National COSH will continue our efforts to inform workers about how to exercise their right to a workplace free from harmful dust and other hazards,” Martinez added.

OSHA estimates the new rule will prevent nearly 700 deaths each year, saving the U.S. economy between $2.8 and $4.5 billion a year due to reduced costs for illness, injury and death of affected workers.

The new OSHA standard requires employers to use cost-effective measures to reduce silica dust, including wetting down affected areas, vacuuming up dust before workers can inhale it, and improved ventilation. Employers must also monitor workers’ exposure to silica, provide medical exams for those with high exposure, and train all potentially exposed workers about the hazards of silica dust and how to avoid them.

“Working people won a huge victory today with the court’s decision fully upholding OSHA’s 2016 final silica standard. This will protect millions of workers from disabling disease and save thousands of lives,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “The court rejected industries’ arguments and directed the agency to further consider additional union safety recommendations.

“The labor movement worked for decades to win these lifesaving measures, and we are proud to see these standards remain the law of the land. I want to thank all of those who contributed to this great victory, including the Obama administration and the career staff at the Department of Labor.”

“Now we must turn our efforts to making sure this standard is put into full effect, enforced and protected from further attacks so that workers are finally protected from deadly silica dust,” Trumka concluded.

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