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Patrick D. Longley: Standing Strong While We Strike Against FairPoint

By Patrick D. Longley 

Patrick on Day 1 and Day 75

Patrick on Day 1 and Day 75

I wrote this essay after being on strike for just a few weeks. It has now been over three months. At the time this was written, I was experiencing many of the same feelings that are now a part of my daily routine: fear, uncertainty, and disappointment; however, these days there is deeper anger and stronger resolve. The strength and unity of the IBEW and CWA throughout this strike is inspirational and historical. While this essay is very personal, I feel that it is representative of the fight we are all actively participating in – as a union.

November 2014

I was hired for employment as a Splice-Service Technician for Bell Atlantic on August 3, 1998. I was happy to have secured a union job with the potential to provide me with a good life. I started my career in Fitchburg, MA at a garage that was within walking distance of my apartment. I was assigned to the oldest open-back utility truck in the fleet, an early ‘80s three-speed manual GMC with over 200,000 hard miles on it. Seasoned technicians from the monopoly-era New England Telephone Company trained me. The early years were learning years. I accepted that in order to make a life for myself I had to be realistic and settle into a job that perhaps was not aligned with my “dreams,” but would be tolerable if not gratifying.

As it turned out, I found much gratification in this job, most notably through interactions with customers. In 2004, I leaped at an opportunity to transfer job location to Milton, VT. I’ve felt privileged to live within the beauty of Vermont’s landscape. I have become well acquainted with many of the towns in Northern Vermont and have been in many homes throughout Chittenden, Franklin, and Lamoille Counties. I have always tried to be respectful to each customer that I visit. Respect is the foundation of good working relationships.

In 2008, FairPoint Communications took over as my employer. They made many promises but the transition made my job less gratifying. Problems with systems caused service delays and unsatisfied customers. On October 26, 2009, FairPoint Communications filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection. The company emerged from bankruptcy in January 2011, thanks in large part due to tireless efforts by its union workforce.

Rainy October 18In April 2014, with a contract set to expire in August, the IBEW and CWA (the unions which represent FairPoint’s workforce) formed a bargaining committee with the goal of negotiating a contract that would be fair for both parties. The unions presented comprehensive proposals that would have saved the company $200 million. Throughout the process, FairPoint did not actively participate in meaningful negotiation. The company’s unwillingness to negotiate demonstrated disrespect for its employees. In May, 25 percent of us in the Milton garage were forced to take on a new shift with only 2 weeks notice. This inconvenience to workers and our families seemed born of spite rather than a necessity of the business.

When our contract expired on August 2 of this year, the company and the union agreed to work under the old contract for an undetermined time period. But at the end of the month, the company declared an impasse and imposed an invariable contract devoid of compromise. The union filed unfair labor charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The climate at work was in no way gratifying.

As weeks progressed, the unions continued to attempt negotiation. FairPoint’s representatives maintained rigid adherence to their original proposal. The workload was heavy and so was the stress of the whole situation. The company’s demonstrated disrespect for its workforce was taking its toll on those of us who maintain the network.

On October 16, the union and the company met and no compromise was met. The union called a strike and on Friday the 17th I was walking the picket line in Milton. The company claimed that strikers “jammed” call center phone lines and caused service interruptions by vandalizing equipment. No evidence was ever presented. A full-page advertisement was placed in major newspapers stating that the average FairPoint worker is paid $115,000 annually – a blatant embellishment. (Before the strike, I had worked over 400 hours of overtime and, even so, fell far below that salary.)

Since this strike commenced, I’ve heard all the pro-union and anti-union arguments. I’ve read horribly negative remarks by the uninformed. I’ve had middle fingers pointed in my face. I’ve witnessed replacement workers doing my work in an inefficient and unsafe manner. But what sticks with me most is the support I’ve received from my fellow workers and our community. As a union, we are standing strong while facing middle fingers and invective. We are documenting unsafe work practices by replacement workers. We are making our case and receiving positive support from our elected officials. On October 28, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders held a press conference at his office in Burlington urging FairPoint to get back to the bargaining table. Governor Peter Shumlin made an encouraging visit to a picket line in St. Albans and listened to some of my fellow worker’s side of the story. It is time for FairPoint to show some support for its union workforce and focus on real negotiation. Respect is the foundation of good working relationships.

 

Patrick D. Longley

Underhill,VT

 

An Argument For Eliminating The Tipped Minimum Wage

(Screenshot College Humor YouTube)

(Screenshot College Humor YouTube)

Every morning millions of Americans wake up and get ready to go to work as servers in restaurants, hoping that today will be a busy day, and that they will have extra generous patrons who tip very heavy. These workers must rely on the generosity of strangers because their employer only pays them $2.13 an hour.   That is right servers are paid far below minimum wage, and 43 states approve of this.

The restaurant industry is one of the fast growing markets in the entire country bringing in over $600 billion dollars annually, and that trend does not appear to be stopping any time soon. Even during the Great Recession the restaurant industry continued to grow by an average of 9%.

This thriving industry relies on the fact that they can legally pay workers below minimum wage, which in most cases barely covers their taxes. The time has come to end this antiquated idea that servers should not be covered by the same wage requirements as every other employer.

Would you pay an extra dollar for that Chicken Parm if you knew that the server was being paid properly even before your tip? Would you even notice if they increased all their prices a dollar? Did you notice that they most like already raised their prices from this time last year? Servers in California are paid at least $8.00 an hour and people still go out to eat regularly.

Before you freak out over the idea of eliminating the tipped minimum wage, consider these facts from the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United):

  • Above-average employment growth occurs in the seven states that have already abolished the subminimum wage (Alaska, Montana, Nevada, Minnesota, California, Oregon, and Washington)
  • Per capita restaurant sales increase as the tipped minimum wage increases. Growth in tipped restaurant worker as a percentage of total state employment tends to be higher in the states that pay tipped workers above $5 per hour, and is higher still in states that have abolished the subminimum wage.
  • Eliminating subminimum wage does not decrease employment. In fact, the restaurant industry projects employment growth over the next decade of 10.5% in the seven states without a tipped subminimum wage, compared to 9.1% in states with a subminimum wage
  • Since 2009, tipped restaurant workers have grown in importance as a percentage of total employed workers in $2.13 states, states where tipped worker wages are higher than $5.00, and states without subminimum wage—but growth of tipped restaurant workers as a percentage of total employment is highest in states without subminimum wage.

Eliminating the tipped minimum wage would boost our local economy and help lift millions of people out of poverty. Here in New Hampshire, Representative Jackie Cilley has proposed a bold new minimum wage increase that would eliminate the tipped minimum wage and raise the floor to $14.25 over the next three years.

Enough of my facts and statistics about the tipped minimum wage, watch this hilarious video from College Humor that shows exactly why we need to eliminate the tipped minimum wage.

View the video on YouTube

Warning: Language!

Jackie Cilley: It Is Time To Raise The Minimum Wage

Jackie Cilley (FACEBOOK)

State Rep Jackie Cilley, Image from Cilley For NH on Facebook

An idea is rapidly gaining force around the country, finding support across the political spectrum. Red states Arkansas, Alaska, South Dakota and Nebraska voted last November to join bright-blue cities like San Francisco and Oakland in its support. President Obama and Mitt Romney have both expressed support and Gov. Maggie Hassan added it to her agenda at her inaugural. Liberal icon Ralph Nader and the Pied Piper of the right, Grover Norquist, have even teamed up to advocate for this measure. All these forces aligning can mean only one of two things: the netherworld has indeed frozen over or a good idea transcends political ideology.

While our weather might suggest the former, it’s actually a good idea that’s shifting the political winds: The idea is that American workers deserve a raise, and that increasing their wage can achieve many of the shared concerns of both Republicans and Democrats.

After watching the Legislature during my four years away, I didn’t suffer any illusions about the challenges facing my most important piece of legislation this session, a House Bill to create a livable wage for our New Hampshire workers, including those who make tips. This bill will raise wages to $14.25 over a three-year period and set the tipped minimum wage to the same level over a four-year period. Every year thereafter, if this legislation passes, the wage rate would increase according to the Consumer Price Index. This will take thousands of workers out of poverty and save tens of millions of dollars in public services.

Although states have voted directly to raise the minimum wage from its paltry $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers) and support for an increase enjoys the support of over 70 percent of New Hampshire voters, there has been a deep political divide over this topic, stalling attempts at the federal level for more than six years while Speaker Bill O’Brien completely eliminated the New Hampshire minimum wage during the 2011-2012 session.

Consider for a moment why the creation of a livable wage can bridge the divide between the parties. Both sides want to create jobs. Both want to move folks out of poverty. Both want a robust economy with opportunities for all. In fact, many of the goals of Republicans and Democrats are the same. The divide is in how to get there.

This isn’t pandering. It is rational economic policy, well supported by numerous studies and concrete results from states that have raised their minimum wage. Every business owner worth his/her salt knows the simple formula to expanding business and to hiring new employees: more customers must have the ability and willingness to buy your product or service. Setting aside whether you have something to sell that folks want, the ability of a consumer to buy your product is in large part determined by his or her financial resources. This is why three out of five small-business owners support a livable wage.

Let’s face it: Nobody can actually live on the $7.25 federal minimum wage. Even worse is the $2.13 minimum wage that employers of workers who make $30 or more a month in tips are allowed to pay their employees. There are 27,000 tipped workers in New Hampshire who make up 10 percent of our workforce, working in six of the 10 lowest-paid occupations in our state. These workers are disproportionately women; one-third are single moms.

Tipped workers are twice as likely to fall below the poverty line. In fact, the median wage of combined tips and hourly wages for tipped workers in New Hampshire is $8 per hour. These workers are also three times more likely to require public services such as food stamps, housing assistance and fuel assistance, than workers who make a more livable wage.

The economic arguments of opponents of these measures have largely been debunked. Aren’t most people earning minimum wage teenagers doing their first job? Seventy-two percent are no longer in their teens and fully 36 percent are 30 or older. Fourteen percent of minimum wage earners are parents, and 59 percent are women. Twenty-one thousand children in New Hampshire have a parent who would get a raise if the minimum wage were increased.

There are no compelling economic reasons for failing to set a state floor of livable wages. It has not been academic studies, but facts on the ground in states that have raised their minimum wage that proves this. Most recently, economists at Goldman Sachs, hardly a liberal think tank, reviewed the data on 13 states whose minimum wage was increased in 2013.

What they found was that in states where the minimum wage increased, there was faster employment growth than in those whose minimum wage remained depressed. It makes simple economic sense – more people with more money in their pockets means more customers for more goods and services, most notably at the local level where we need it most.

For more information on how to help pass this important legislation, please contact your senator and representatives at gencourt.state.nh.us.

Public Employees: Speak Up Knowing You Are Protected!

Written by
Terri D. Donovan, Esq.,
Director of Collective Bargaining and Field Services
American Federation of Teachers-NH

NH House Committee Hearing (Image by Christopher Schmidt CC on FLIKR)

NH House Committee Hearing (Image by Christopher Schmidt CC on FLIKR)

All of a sudden there are many meetings in our cities, towns and school districts consumed with budget hearings and deliberative sessions where funding decisions will be made about our schools and vital public services. You read the headlines. The loud voices to slash budgets seem to be heard above all. Will you sit on the sidelines or speak up about important public services and your schools?

You go to work every day and teach your students, plow the roads, answer a burglary call or respond to a house fire. You wonder do these naysayers really know what is happening every day in your workplace. Do your fellow community members realize the pride you take in your work? Or are you just a line item in a budget?

This time of year there are many questions from our members and other public employees if they are allowed to speak at a public meeting. If they speak, can they be disciplined? Fired? The answer is NO. As a public employee in NH you have a right to free speech. Just because your paycheck is from a city, town or school district does not diminish your right to be heard.

If you are covered by a union contract you have protections. In fact, AFT-NH Local #6214, Pittsfield Town Employees, filed an Unfair Labor Charge at the NH Public Employees Labor Relations Board in 2012 which addressed a gag order which had been imposed by the Pittsfield Board of Selectmen. The gag order was passed when union members spoke out against an egregious budget cut and actions taken to implement this cut. The Selectmen retracted this order shortly thereafter but the Union pursued the claim to stand up for public employees’ free speech rights. The NH PELRB was clear in supporting public employees in their rights to speak public about their collective bargaining agreements and their working conditions.

The NH PELRB ordered the following, “The Town shall cease and desist from any activity, including the development and enforcement of any policy, that would prohibit bargaining unit employees’ communications with the public or media on the issues related to collective bargaining or the terms and conditions of their employment.”

Also as a public employee in New Hampshire you have unique statutory protection under Chapter 98-E, Public Employee Freedom of Expression. If your employer is a county, city, town, school district, SAU, precinct or water district you are protected.

 98-E:1 Freedom of Expression. – Notwithstanding any other rule or order to the contrary, a person employed as a public employee in any capacity shall have a full right to publicly discuss and give opinions as an individual on all matters concerning any government entity and its policies. It is the intention of this chapter to balance the rights of expression of the employee with the need of the employer to protect legitimate confidential records, communications, and proceedings. 

Please check for important meetings in your city and town. Deliberative sessions and budget hearings are happening now! You may not be comfortable speaking but jot down a few notes so you feel more comfortable. Speaking from the heart and with sincere concerns will resonate with fellow community members. Your opinion does matter to them. Be sure to avoid disclosing any confidential information you may know as a result of your work. You should rely on your Union to advise when it is appropriate in the collective bargaining process to speak out publicly. Once a contract is presented to the voters for approval, it is very important for you to reach out for support in the community.

You can speak to what you would believe to be the impact of budget cuts and speak proudly of the work done in your district or municipality. When you speak out you offer encouragement and support for others in the community to also have their voices heard.

Please don’t be silenced!

 

 

 

MLK Day Message: the Power of the People can be Stronger than the Power of Money (InZane Times)

Dr Martin Luther King

I was honored once again to be invited to offer the “community update” at Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Breakfast.  Here’s what I said on January 19 at the Alpine Grove in Hollis:

Honor and pleasure to be invited back. Thanks to Irving, Linda, Ray, and Governor Hassan. And congratulations to OBU for the 31st annual breakfast.

I want to begin by saying a few words about inequality, and I’ve learned that a trick to effective public speaking is to tell people stuff that they already know.

We know that for most families, most workers, most ordinary people, take home pay has been stagnant since the 1970s, two generations.

At the same time we know that the rich are getting richer.

The ultra rich are getting ultra richer.

The mega rich are getting mega richer.

And the giga rich are getting giga richer.

This has caused economic inequality to rise to record levels.

And we know that when race is added to the equation the situation is even more unequal. Net worth of white families is five times that of black families.

I think we know what Dr. King would say about that. He would say,

“The misuse of capitalism can lead to tragic exploitation.”

We know what Martin Luther King would do because we know what he did. We know what he was doing at the time he was killed. He was supporting working people in a strike for dignity in the workplace and calling on the federal government to take sides with the locked out, the cast out and the left out.

What else do we know?

We know that fifty years ago at this time Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were engaged in a dramatic campaign in Selma Alabama to win the right to vote for Black people who had been denied their rights.

We know that after marches, arrests, beatings, and several murders of voting rights activists that the Congress approved the Voting Rights Act. At last it became possible for African Americans to use the ballot to elect people who would respond to their interests.

What’s the state of voting rights now? It’s not good.

We know that in state after state – including New Hampshire – legislatures have adopted laws like photo ID requirements and other restrictions that make it harder for people to vote when we ought to be making it easier.

We know that the US Supreme Court struck down an essential element of the Voting Rights Act.

And we know that five years ago this Wednesday, the Supreme Court declared that since corporations are people (really) and money is speech (yup), that restricting the ability of corporations to invest their money in the electoral system violates the first amendment protection of free speech. This widened the gates for floods of corporate cash into our electoral system. Instead of one person one vote we are getting a one dollar one vote democracy.

We know what Dr. King would say, something like, “Oh America, how often have you taken necessities from the masses to give luxuries to the classes. If you are going to be a truly great nation you must solve this problem.”

I want to suggest a couple ways we can help solve this problem.

First, at the State House this year there will be a mighty fight over the state budget. The question our lawmakers will face is whether they will protect the interests of the well off or take the side of the locked out, the left out, the least of these. They will also consider a range of bills dealing with voting rights, some to make it harder to vote, some to make it easier, and some to reduce the influence of money in our elections.

You may have heard about a group in North Carolina, headed by Rev. Dr. Barber of the North Carolina NAACP, that brings a prayerful presence into their state capitol every week. They call it “Moral Mondays.

We’ve got a group like that here. We call ourselves “New Hampshire Voices of Faith.” Mondays are pretty quiet up in Concord, so we’re more likely to show up for “Witnessing Wednesdays,” bringing a multi-faith, prayerful presence for justice into the State House. We’ll be calling on our lawmakers to let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

Look for us on Facebook at NH Voices of Faith. And if you are not receiving my weekly “State House Watch” newsletter by email, let me know and I’ll add you to our mailing list.

But we’ve got another big opportunity, one that comes around every four years.

New Hampshire has the eyes of the world on us because of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary. The candidates are already among us. You might need to set some extra tables for next year’s breakfast. That means we’ve got the opportunity – and with that the responsibility – to let them know what’s on our minds. As Governor Hassan said, “democracy is not an every other year sport.”

At the American Friends Service Committee, we’ve got a new project we call “Governing Under the Influence.” It’s about the excessive power in the hands of big corporations – corporations that profit from violence, corporations that profit from prisons, corporations that profit from war. It’s about demanding that the democracy believe in is rooted in the one person, one vote principle, not in rule by those with the most money. We’ll be keeping track of the candidates’ whereabouts. Get in touch if you want to get involved.

But by all means use every opportunity to tell the presidential wannabes what is on your mind.

We who lift up the example of Martin Luther King, Jr. know that the struggle can be hard. We know the struggle can be long, but that ultimately we have faith that the power of the people can be stronger than the power of money, that justice can prevail over injustice, that love can prevail over hate.

Will we let anybody turn us around?

Labor Unions And Financial Reform Groups Push For “Postal Banking” With New Coalition

postal image USPS

Expanding Low-Cost Financial Services through the United States Postal Service is a Way to Put More Money into the Pockets of Low-Wage Workers and to Provide Banking to Americans in Rural and Urban Areas with Few Banking Options

United for a Fair Economy, One of the Coalition’s Founding Members, Releases New Report On Martin Luther King’s Birthday, that Shows that Nearly 100 Million Poor and Working Class Americans Pay $89 Billion Each Year to Payday Lenders, Pawn Shops and Check Cashers 

WASHINGTON – Financial reform groups, joined by postal unions and others from organized labor, announced today the creation of a national campaign to expand banking services. “The Campaign for Postal Banking” proposes to expand access to affordable financial services through the United States Postal Service’s 31,000 retail branches.

Today, 28 percent of U.S. households, representing 93 million people, do not have access to affordable financial products such as the ability to cash a check, transfer money or pay a bill at a reasonable fee. Americans who lack these services, what some call the “unbanked” or the “underbanked,” find that traditional banks are out of reach due to geography or because of high fees and other obstacles. Limited access drives millions to rely on costly, predatory services such as check cashing stores and payday lenders, trapping many in a cycle of debt. Some payday lenders charge as much as 400 percent in annual interest. The average low-wage worker using these “legal loan sharks” pays an incredible $2,400 per year in fees for these services.

“Much of the national debate has focused on how wages have lagged for working Americans in recent years,” said American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein. APWU is one of the coalition’s members. “As a society we need to find ways to boost wages and create and keep living wage jobs,” said Dimondstein.  “We also need to find ways to cut costs for low-wage Americans. Postal banking is a way to cut costs and put money back into the pockets of people barely getting by.”

The APWU and other partner organizations that have formed the Campaign for Postal Banking find that the United States Postal Service (USPS) is in a unique position to provide basic, affordable, consumer-driven financial services to these underserved communities and individuals who live in what are often called “bank deserts.”  The USPS has more storefronts than any other retailer. A third of the nation’s zip codes have access to a post office but lack a traditional bank.

A report released today by another one of the coalition partners, United for a Fair Economy, entitled Underbanked and Overcharged, makes the case for how postal banking will benefit the poor and low-wage workers.

A report released last year by USPS’ Inspector General called Providing Non-Banked Financial Services for the Underserved explains how an expansion of financial services would fill a great social need and strengthen the finances of the Postal Service.

USPS is not a latecomer to banking services. From 1911 to 1967, the U.S. Post Office offered savings deposit accounts and currently sells more money orders than any other institution. Anyone who goes to a postal window and pays with a debit card anywhere in the United States also is offered the option of getting cash back.

Postal systems around the world – including France, Italy, Japan, China, Brazil, India, and New Zealand offer financial services and play important roles in advancing financial inclusion and literacy.

Campaign for Postal Banking is a coalition of consumer, worker, financial reform, economic justice, community, civic, and faith-based organizations building a movement to inform and mobilize the public to call on the United States Postal Service to take the necessary steps to restore and expand postal banking at its branches across the country.  Founding members include:

Alliance for Retired Americans

Americans for Financial Reform

American Postal Workers Union

Center for Study of Responsive Law

Coalition of Black Trade Unionists

Commonnomics

Essential Information

Interfaith Worker Justice

National Association of Letter Carriers

National People’s Action

National Postal Mail Handlers Union

National Rural Letter Carriers Association

Public Citizen

United for a Fair Economy

USAction

She Works Full Time For A Government Contractor, Earns Poverty Wages, And Then Became Homeless

Privatization leads the race to the bottom.

Report after report continues to show that workers and taxpayer lose when government jobs are contracted out to the lowest bidder.

Last year In The Public Interest released a biting report on the effects of privatizing public jobs.

“By slashing labor costs, a company may be able to show a city or state cost savings on paper,” the ITPI report states. “However, low wages often mean that the number of Americans on public assistance rolls increases and these supplemental income and healthcare costs, instead of being the contracting employer’s responsibility, are merely shifted onto other parts of the government budget.”

In the report IPTI highlighted First Transit a national contractor for local bus transportation services. First Transit makes their money by slashing wages and employee benefits.

“Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) outsources 47% of its fixed-route bus service to Veolia and First Transit. The general manager of the RTD admits that cost savings from the outsourced service is largely due to the cut in employee compensation. Starting pay for bus drivers employed by RTD is $15.49 per hour. The private contractors offer $12.25 in starting pay.”

“In 2009, the North County Transit District signed a contract with Ohio-based First Transit to take over maintenance and operations for its BREEZE bus line. In an effort to cut costs, the starting wage for a bus driver dropped from $14 to $10.50 an hour.”

“In Washington DC, public Metro workers can make $25 per hour with health and retirement benefits after 8 years of service. Workers for the DC Circulator, operated by First Transit, can make $14 per hour with fewer benefits. According to one worker who started his career as a bus operator with Metro almost 25 year ago, the starting salary is very difficult for a worker to live on in the Washington DC area, and impossible if that worker has a family to support.”

(In my home state of New Hampshire, First Transit is the contractor for the Manchester Transit Authority.)

Below is a very powerful video of a DC bus driver Karen Reed, who works for First Transit.  She talks about how her pay is so low that she cannot afford to pay her bills and feed her daughter.  Reed worked 12-13 hours a day for as many days a week as First Transit would allow and yet she still needed food stamps to keep her daughter from starving. Ultimately she spent three months homeless and still never missed a day of work.

Working full time, living on food stamps, and still ended up homeless. There is something severely wrong with this.

Watch this gut-wrenching video about how privatizing jobs pushes workers into poverty.

One Person, One Vote – The 1965 Struggle Goes On

This article was first published in the Concord Monitor, January 15, 2015

By Yoichi R. Okamoto, White House Press Office (WHPO) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Yoichi R. Okamoto, White House Press Office (WHPO) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

When President Lyndon Johnson reached Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by phone on January 15, 1965, it wasn’t to offer birthday greetings. The president wanted to strategize about voting rights.

The two leaders were at the peak of their popularity. King had recently returned from Oslo with the Nobel Peace Prize and was gearing up a voting rights campaign centered in Selma, Alabama. Johnson, elected by a landslide two months earlier, had boldly called for “enforcement of the civil rights law and elimination of barriers to the right to vote” for African Americans in his January 7 “State of the Union” speech.

“We take the position that every person born in this country and when they reach a certain age, that he have a right to vote, just like he has a right to fight. And that we just extend it whether it’s a Negro or whether it’s a Mexican or who it is,” the president told Dr. King. “That’s right,” King responded.

But between the two leaders and realization of voting rights stood the power of southern politicians and the often violent enforcement of white supremacy that blocked blacks from the voting rolls in southern states. In Dallas County, Alabama, where Selma was the major city, only 335 blacks were registered to vote by fall, 1964, despite repeated efforts. Outside Selma, black majority rural counties had no black voters at all. Attempts to register could provoke beatings, firings, or worse.

Before the Selma-based campaign led to passage of the Voting Rights Act, hundreds of people would be arrested for peaceful protests, dozens would be beaten, and at least three – Jimmie Lee Jackson, James Reeb, and Viola Liuzzo– would be murdered by white supremacists. In Jackson’s case, the killer was a state trooper. (Jonathan Daniels, a seminary student from Keene, would be murdered three weeks after President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.)

One Person, One Vote Principle is Under Attack

Fifty years later the principle of one person, one vote is again under attack, though the forces arrayed against democracy are less bloody.

For starters, federal election law been tilting toward the power of dollars and away from votes – just look at the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts. In a 2013 case, Shelby vs. Holder, the Court invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School calls “a critical tool to combat racial discrimination in voting.” Congress has power to rewrite the provision and restore this power to the Justice Department but has taken no action to date.

In its 2010 Citizens United decision, the Court famously affirmed the principles that corporations are people and money is speech, thus opening the gates for floods of corporate cash to pour into the election system. In 2014’s McCutcheon decision, the Court enabled donors to invest as much as $2.4 million in congressional candidates every two years. Then Congress piled on at year’s end with a last-minute amendment to the budget bill that raised the limits on contributions to political parties from $97,200 a year to $776,000.

Meanwhile the states have again become major battlegrounds for voting rights. According to the Brennan Center, 21 states, including New Hampshire, have approved measures to restrict voting since 2010. These include Voter ID requirements, laws making it harder to register, reduced voting hours, and measures making it harder for people with criminal records to regain their voting rights.

Race Still Drives Attacks on Voting Rights

“Race was also a significant factor,” the Brennan Center reports. “Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, 7 have new restrictions in place. Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, 9 passed laws making it harder to vote. And nearly two-thirds of states — or 9 out of 15 — previously covered in whole or in part by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because of a history of race discrimination in voting have new restrictions since the 2010 election.”

New Hampshire is likely to see further efforts to erode voting rights in 2015. Bills to restrict same-day registration and suppress student voting are on the legislature’s agenda.

It’s not like the country has a problem of too many people voting. Nationwide, only 35.9% of eligible voters cast ballots in 2014. In New Hampshire, 47.6% of eligible voters went to the polls – hardly a figure to be proud of if we really believe in government of the people by the people and for the people.

Fortunately, lawmakers and voting rights advocates are taking action. In New Hampshire, bills are being proposed to make it easier to cast absentee ballots and to allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 before the General Election.

A bi-partisan bill to put teeth back into the Voting Rights Act is likely to return to Congress. At the grassroots level, a growing nationwide movement is calling for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would establish clearly that the rights enumerated in the Constitution are intended for actual persons, not corporations, and that government regulation of campaign finance can be accomplished without infringing on political speech. In New Hampshire, more than 50 communities already have adopted resolutions backing such a measure.

The January 19 holiday marking Dr. King’s birthday and the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United decision on January 21 can be occasions for us to re-assert our commitment to democracy. Shall we overcome?

Unlikely Pair Team Up To End The Corruption Of Money In Politics

money-in-politicsBy Andrew Hemingway 
and Daniel Weeks

When it comes to politics, we generally disagree.

Take health care. One of us, a progressive, believes health care is a basic human right and government should see to it that everyone is covered when markets do not. The other of us, a conservative, believes government has a troubling tendency to get in the way and markets are capable of providing coverage when left to their own devices. (As it happens, we both go to church, love our mothers, and eat apple pie.)

But there’s something about health care – and politics in general – that we have found we have in common: a profound aversion to special interests calling the shots instead of the American people.

Although we disagree on political issues, we couldn’t be more aligned when it comes to the political process. That’s because when big money dominates the policymaking process, neither the progressive vision of universal, affordable coverage nor the conservative vision of competitive and efficient markets stand any chance at all.

Consider the bottom-line incentives.

To maximize their profits, drug companies naturally prefer monopoly pricing and prescribing of pharmaceuticals. As such, their lobbyists seek to bend the nation’s health care laws and standards of care away from alternative therapies and negotiated pricing. Billions of dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions later, they’ve more or less had their way since the 1990s, producing a return on investment that is hundreds or even thousands to one. The staggering rise in child prescriptions of psychotropic drugs and the bloated cost Medicare’s prescription drug benefit are a sobering case in point.

In similar fashion, incumbent HMOs and health insurance companies naturally seek to protect their market position rather than face competition. As such, their lobbyists have been hard at work simultaneously blocking a single-player system of “Medicare for All” and preventing relaxed regulations that could allow new entrants into the field. And like their friends in the pharmaceutical industry, the insurance lobbyists come armed with more than just ideas. Billion of dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions later, they too have had their way with an Affordable Care Act that isn’t particularly affordable for most American families.

In a political system based on dollars instead of ideas, where politicians are forced to spend countless hours raising money for their next campaign and policies are little more than the “sum of all lobbies”, these outcomes should come as no surprise.

What’s surprising to us is that more people on both sides of the aisle haven’t started working together to flush out systemic corruption in Washington. High ideals about democracy aside, there is no denying the fact that we, and the vast majority of Americans who share our views on either side, are getting taken to the cleaners time and again by a Congress that is adrift in special interest money.

The incentives to come together should be obvious. Try as the Democrats might to blame Citizens United, “Citizen Koch” and big corporations, they won’t be able to win this war until 60 U.S. senators and a majority of the House – both in Republican hands – get on the same side. And try as the modern Republican party might to pooh-pooh campaign finance reform or point the finger back at the likes of Tom Steyer and George Soros, the conservative commitment to smaller government and lower taxes doesn’t stand a chance in the face of crony capitalism.

Simply put, neither side alone can win this fight – and both sides together cannot lose.

That’s why, starting on Jan. 11, we’ll be joining hundreds of fellow citizens from across the political spectrum in a frigid march across our state that we’re calling the New Hampshire Rebellion. It’s a rebellion against big money, plain and simple. Its roots that are as old – and as bold – as our own state constitution, which states in Article 10 that, “whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered … the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government.”

Our march across New Hampshire from Nashua, Portsmouth, Keene and Dixville Notch will end in Concord on Jan. 21 with a unison declaration to the presidential candidates, and the nation, that our votes are not for sale. Our goal is simply this: to make the corruption of money in politics the leading bipartisan issue in 2016 so that the next president has no choice but to address it on day one.

It’s easy to disagree in politics. But disagreements alone won’t move our country forward. And forward we must go if we wish to leave a better nation and world to our kids.

On this matter, if nothing else, we see no reason to disagree and every reason to move forward as a nation. Our democracy must not be held hostage by Democratic fat cats; our republic must not be the preserve of the Republican elite. It’s time we fix our broken political system and restore our democratic republic once and for all.

That is reason enough to put on our boots and march through the snow together this January.

Andrew Hemingway, a former Republican candidate for governor, and Daniel Weeks, Executive Director of Open Democracy, are leaders of the New Hampshire Rebellion.

Progressive NH State Rep To Propose Minimum Wage Increase To $14.25 And Eliminating The “Tipped Minimum Wage”

Minimum Wage 101

Representative Jackie Cilley to introduce far-reaching minimum wage legislation

Fmr. State Senator and Gubernatorial candidate returns to Concord to pursue middle-class agenda

JackiePortrait(Barrington, NH) After a four-year absence from the New Hampshire General Court, newly-returned Barrington representative Jackie Cilley announced that her first piece of legislation – and her chief priority in the coming session – is to give New Hampshire’s struggling workers a raise with an increased minimum wage paired with the elimination of the so-called “tipped minimum wage.” This legislation would mark a return to a state-based minimum wage and move tipped workers into the economic mainstream with a raise from the current rate of $2.90.

Cilley, whose legislation would raise the minimum wage to $14.25 per hour over a three year-period and eventually tie the tipped minimum wage to the same figure, argues the move from both a matter of fairness and economic common sense.

“Most of use want to get paid what we are worth, what we contribute to the companies and organizations for whom we work,” notes Cilley.  “If the minimum wage had actually kept pace with worker productivity, it would be $21.72 today.  Instead, workers’ wages peaked decades ago because of partisan divide.”

“Conservatives and progressives should both want to see the creation of livable wages.  Set aside for a moment the argument of fairness to workers and just consider what each of us is paying to help an employer keep a worker at sub-livable wages.  These workers can’t actually live on those wages. They often need such support services as food stamps, fuel assistance, housing assistance and so on.   If the minimum wage were raised to just $10.10 per hour that would mean 1.7 million people across this country would no longer need public assistance, saving us $7.6 billion.  I don’t yet have the exact figures for this for New Hampshire, but simply pro-rating it per capita suggests a savings of more than $30 million.”

“This is long overdue: They were one vote away from making a substantial start in the last session and I want to keep that momentum moving, regardless of the partisan makeup of the new legislature,” Cilley said. “This doesn’t have to be a partisan issue – Mitt Romney supports an increased minimum wage, for example – but we have to make the case on economic, not just fairness grounds.”

“Bill O’Brien’s decision to put what New Hampshire businesses pay their workers in the hands of bureaucrats in Washington, DC was terrible choice. We need to have a minimum wage that reflects the economy and values of New Hampshire, not DC – This legislation puts the decision back where it belongs, in New Hampshire.”

Legislation pushed by then-Speaker Bill O’Brien repealed the state’s minimum wage law in 2011 and handed jurisdiction to the federal government. Gov. Lynch vetoed the legislation, but O’Brien’s allies in the House overrode the veto. The National Employment Law Project’s Christine Owens said at the time that “given the fact that minimum wage workers spend every penny they earn in their local businesses, a strong wage floor is also vital to stimulating the consumer spending necessary for real and lasting economic recovery.”

These economic facts of life haven’t changed. A study released in March of 2014 by the New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Institute echoes Owens words.

“Most notably, raising the minimum wage will increase demand for the goods and services sold by businesses operating in the Granite State. Low-wage workers, out of necessity, typically spend every dollar that they earn. As a result, the increased wages they will earn from a higher minimum wage will almost certainly be spent – and most likely be spent quickly – in the communities in which they live and work.”

About Jackie Cilley: Born in Berlin, New Hampshire, Jackie Cilley was raised with four siblings in a third-floor walk-up tenement before graduating from Berlin High School. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UNH and has served as an adjunct professor at the Whittemore School of Business and Economics since matriculating from there in 1985. In 2004 she ran for a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and won, serving one term in the House before being elected twice to the  New Hampshire Senate, representing the 6th District from 2006 – 2010. In 2012, she ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic nomination for Governor, losing to Gov. Hassan. She was re-elected to the New Hampshire House in 2014 where she serves on the Committee on Executive Departments and Administration. Rep. Cilley was recently named by veteran NH political reporter John DiStaso as one of the “‘Most wanted’ NH Democrats for the 2016 presidential campaign.”

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