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NH Alliance For Retired Americans Host Standing Up For The Senior Safety Net Conference

2013 conf logo NHARA

Can We Save Social Security From Congress?

Join the New Hampshire Alliance for Retired Americans for a free lunch and critical information on retirement at its conference on
Friday, October 18 from 9 am to 2 pm

at 161 Londonderry Turnpike, Hooksett, NH. (One mile north from Exit 1, Rt 101).

Speakers include:

  • “How To Prepare For Enrolling in Social Security and Medicare”, Becky May, ServiceLink
  • “Can We Save Social Security From Congress?”, Danielle Pere, Alliance for Retired Americans, Washington, DC
  • “Senior Investment Fraud”, Susan Arnold, FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), Washington, DC
  • “Busting The Myths About The Future of Social Security and Medicare”, Eric Kingston, Professor of Social Work, Syracuse University, and co-founder of the Social Security Works Coalition
  • “Retirement Outlook”, Mark MacKenzie, President, NH AFL-CIO

Please RSVP to Terry at (603) 545-9989 by Tuesday, October 15.

nhara2013@gmail.com

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The AFL-CIO Welcomes Progressive Organizations Despite Some Union Opposition

Richard Trumka (The Nation / AP-Photo)

Richard Trumka (The Nation / AP-Photo)

Recently the AFL-CIO held their quadrennial convention. The convention hosted thousands of union members and had speeches from many union supporters.  Over the last week almost every union has focused on a single event from the convention that specifically talked about a campaign project they are working on.  Some talked about immigration, others focused on income inequality.

One of the biggest stories that came from the convention is the AFL-CIO’s shift to include progressive organizations.  This is first time that organizations that are not specific to unions have been allowed to affiliate.  The AFL-CIO has always had their own affiliate organizations like Working America and the Alliance for Retired Americans.   The major difference is that these are organizations that were started by the AFL-CIO and became their own national entity.

Does anyone think that we would have defeated all of the extreme legislation from former NH Speaker O’Brien’s Tea Party legislature without assistance from these progressive organizations?  Together we packed the capitol steps with over 5,000 people in protest to budget cuts and anti-worker legislation.

Labor has relied on progressive organization to help get signatures on petitions that oppose anti-worker legislation. Likewise progressive groups rely on the massive number of union activists to help bring attention to their issues.  In many cases the people fighting for workers rights are the same ones fighting for women’s health rights.

This idea to allow progressive and liberal organization drew quick fire from some of the leaders of major unions.

Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), said he sees “great value” in labor finding different groups to align with politically. But the federation needs to stick to representing workers rather than become a social movement itself, according to the union chief. 

“However, to say that we are going to grow this labor movement by some kind of formal partnership, membership, status, place in this federation, I am against. This is the American Federation of Labor. We are supposed to be representing workers and workers’ interests,” Schaitberger said. “We are not going to be the American Federation of Progressive and Liberal Organizations.” (The Hill)

Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA) told The Hill, “Does that mean we are going to turn energy policy of the AFL-CIO over to the Sierra Club? I have concern about that, as well as I should.”

The AFL-CIO is right, we need the help of these progressive organization to help move our message and to help strengthen our ranks.  There are many examples of where labor and progressives have formed alliances that are working to combat issues not typical of labor unions.  One example is the Blue-Green Alliance.  The Blue-Green Alliance is a partnership between Carl Pope (former director of the Sierra Club) and the United Steel Workers union.  Together they are pushing to create new jobs by cleaning our environment.

Right now Carl Pope and the Blue-Green Alliance are pushing to replace coal burning power plants with new environmentally friendly natural gas power plants.  Replacing or refurbishing all of these power plants will save consumers money in the long run, while rebuilding our manufacturing base due to a high demand for building materials like steel.  Projects like this will also put hundreds of thousands of laborers back to work.

Unions are constantly under attack from organizations like ALEC and the Americans For Prosperity.  They are pushing anti-worker legislation like ‘Right To Work (for less)’ and a complete repeal of collective bargaining rights, effectively killing the unions at the same time.

It was not that long ago that Harold Schaitberger was here in New Hampshire fighting against Right To Work and a Collective Bargaining repeal.  He stood on the steps of the capitol in Concord on a cold winter morning and spoke to a crowd of union members and union supporters.  Those same supporters are the ones who are jumping at the chance to be a part of the AFL-CIO.

Nobody is trying to tell the AFL-CIO that they must take direction from these outside organizations.  This partnership will allow the AFL-CIO to continue to lead on workers rights issues. Just because these organizations are affiliated with the AFL-CIO does not mean they have any vote into the direction the AFL-CIO moves.  That is the job of the Executive Board.

With union numbers declining we need as many labor supporters as we can find. If this means we need to strengthen our partnership with progressive organizations I welcome that.

Duct Tape is No Substitute for Emergency Room: why workers need immigration reform

Immigrant Construction Carpenters (Photograph by Daniel Acker:Bloomberg)

(Photograph by Daniel Acker:Bloomberg)

Want to know why labor unions are pushing so hard to get immigration reform passed?

Get Eva Castillo and Liz Skidmore into a room together, and get them to start talking about undocumented workers here in New Hampshire.

Silver Needle and Golden Thread by CarbonNYC via Flickr2They’ll tell you about the undocumented construction worker who had his head sliced open – and his boss stitched it back together (needle and thread, no anesthesia, still on the worksite) and sent him back to work.

They’ll tell you about the undocumented worker who sliced his hand open with a power saw – and his boss patched him up with duct tape and sent him back to work.

They’ll tell you about the undocumented worker who was installing drywall at a prestigious private boarding school, fell from scaffolding and suffered a crush injury to his head.  This injured worker was taken to the hospital, in a coma.  When he was able to be discharged, the company owner’s wife picked him up, then left him alone at his apartment without medication.  After she left, he fell and stayed unconscious until the next day.  She came back to take him to the followup doctor’s appointment, where she acted as his translator and told the doctor that “everything was just fine”.  But everything wasn’t fine – and he couldn’t take care of himself, nevermind go back to work.  And if he couldn’t work, he couldn’t pay the rent on the company-owned apartment – and so the drywall company kicked him out.

That particular undocumented worker is back in his home country now: brain-injured, missing pieces of his skull and almost certainly not able to work again.  One more casualty of American’s economy.

Here in New Hampshire, 62% of undocumented workers do not know about workers’ compensationAlmost ten percent of those undocumented workers have been hurt on the job.

This Labor Day weekend, as you’re spending an extra day with family and friends, take just a few minutes to think about duct tape… worksite sutures… getting left completely alone after a life-threatening injury.

What a choice.  Go back to work – or go back to your home country.

Think about those workers, and you’ll understand why labor unions are pushing so hard for immigration reform.

——–

Eva Castillo is Coordinator for the New Hampshire Alliance of Immigrants and Refugees.  Liz Skidmore is a Business Manager for the New Hampshire Carpenters Local 118.  They routinely work with undocumented workers who would be otherwise voiceless and invisible.  Special thanks to them both, this Labor Day weekend.

 

Claremont Workers: Six Years Without A Raise Or A Contract

Today State Rep and AFSCME member Andrew O’Hearne and Jim Durkin (AFSCME Representative) went on the WNTK morning show to talk about the new radio ad highlighting the situation of the workers in Claremont, NH.  

Here is the AFSCME Council 93 ad that is running on WNTK.

Here is the 12 minute interview on WNTK this on 8-22-13

Below is a letter sent to the NH Labor News detailing the struggles that public workers in Claremont are facing right now.  

Thank You Linda for sending us this great local story. 

Claremont Workers: Six Years Without A Raise Or A Contract.

By Linda Horan

Claremont City workers have been without a contract and a raise for more than six years. An independent fact finder for the DPW and Police reviewed the bargaining proposal. After careful and thorough examination, he issued a report that called for a 3% pay increase, certainly modest, especially after going without for so long.The Union agreed with the fact finders report, the City turned it down cold. They want to keep denying pay raises-and losing veteran, experienced workers-until the workers cave in. That’s not going to happen!

What’s next? That’s up to the members! But make no mistake, they will not quietly accept whatever crumbs the City drops on the ground. We’ll be working with community supporters and other Unions who are concerned about the city and quality public services. The police who continue to serve and protect have already lost seven officers to better paying departments. the DPW in the trenches in all kinds of weather are also understaffed for the same reason. The Fire Department, who have also submitted a reasonable, modest proposal have been ignored by the city manager. They are anxiously awaiting their own neutral fact finder’s report. The Fire Service has lost at least 3 firefighters because of stagnant wages and low morale.

Claremont is not a wealthy city, the Unions understand that, so they are trying to be pragmatic and not have not been asking for a big bag of money. At the same time, City Manager Guy Santagate decided to give raises to department heads, some in excess of 6%, saying “these raises are needed as many in the city are underpaid. This is so we don’t lose key solid people.” Finance Director Mary Walter saw her pay rise from $80,103 to $85,176. Ms Walter said publicly that to accept the fact finder’s report the City would be forced to lay off 12-20 workers. The Fire and Police chiefs saw their base pay rise somewhere around $10,000 each. When asked how many would be laid off as a result of these exorbitant raises for the bosses, she reluctantly replied “none”. Interesting.

Obviously to Mr Santagate, this thinking does not trickle down to the folks actually doing the work.This is not only imprudent, it is shameful. It demonstrates a complete lack of respect, a slap in the face of those who risk their lives on a daily basis for the residents of Claremont with little thought for their personal circumstance. They continue helping and protecting Claremont’s citizenry everyday. It is time for the City Manager Santagate to do whatever is necessary to retain the City’s skilled competent workforce. As City Manager he has an obligation both to the residents and to the workers to do just that.

We’d like Mr Santagate and the City Council to understand that this is far from over. Activity will continue until the City goes back to the table and effectively bargains in good faith with City Unions.They all understand the City finances and are not asking for pie in the sky. All they want is for the City to respect it’s workforce enough to invest in them as well as it has invested in the the bosses.

We are asking for Union folks to help us keep the pressure on. Letters to Mr Santagate and the City Council (care of Claremont City Hall, Claremont, NH 03743) will help, Phone calls to Mr Santagate (603 542 7002) will help as well. Coming out to join us for visibility and informational pickets will help. Packing the City Council meetings with interested audience members will help. Letters to the editor of the Claremont Eagle times will help. With your soidarity this will not be swept under the rug at City Hall. Hopefully activity will escalate, Maybe with your help, we can have a show of force by rally or and/or press conferences. Bottom line: We’re Union, we’re proven and we will hang tough! With your help and solidarity, brothers and sisters, we can make a difference and hopefully the City will hear our one united voice!

For more information please contact chapter chair and State Rep Andrew O’Hearne AFSCME (603 558 1038), Brian Rapp IAFF (603 393 9651) or me, Linda Horan VP NH AFL CIO, retired (603 762 1331)

Workers At Orlando Health Hospitals Are Not Backing Down, Nor Should They

The struggle between Orlando Health and its employees has really started to make waves.

There has been mainstream media coverage, here and here.

Read the NH Labor News articles on the situation, here and here.

Just so we are all on the same page, let’s recap.  The CEO of Orlando Health, Sherrie Satirik, says the hospitals are loosing money and they need to save over $18 million a year.  To make these saving a reality, the CEO and Executive board have decided to cut all night and weekend differentials from their workers.  This is going to cost workers between $7,000 and $15,000 a year.

Let’s not forget that the that Orlando Region Medical Center (a part of Orlando Health) is home to John Hillenmeyer, ranked as one of the top 25 highest paid non-profit hospital CEOs in the country.  Add into the fact that executives at Orlando Health pocketed $10.3 million in compensation last year.

It sure seems like they could make a few revisions to their executive compensation package, and that would help to balance their budget a little.

As of now over 4,000 people have signed a petition started by a RN at Winnie Parker Hospital asking Orlando Health to reconsider cutting the workers’ differentials.

It appears they are getting noticed.  The CEO of Orlando Health, Sherrie Sitarik, announced that Orlando Health would be delaying the forced pay cuts for one month.   Despite the delay, a spokesperson for Orlando Health said the decision to make the cuts is final: “that cannot be changed.”

JAMASitarik also warned that if the workers really wanted to keep these differentials, that Orlando Health would be “forced” to make another round of layoffs – of more than 300 employees.   Fewer nurses means higher nurse-to-patient ratios, lower quality-of-care, and higher mortality rates.  (Read the JAMA article “Hospital Nurse Staffing and Patient Mortality, Nurse Burnout, and Job Dissatisfaction” here.)

Some are wondering if the corporation had planned to lay off more workers even before they announced the pay cuts.  On August 2nd. the Orlando Health spokesperson told WFTV:

“Efficiency enhancements, expense reduction, restructuring processes, and reorganization of staff, are expected as part of this ongoing process.”

 This was days before Orlando Health announced they would be cutting workers’ pay.

National Nurses United has offered assistance to the workers – and it looks like they may need the outside help.

Eilynn Mcgowan, a RN from an Orlando Health hospital, told me “there are many people behind the scenes offering support but are afraid to step forward.” They are afraid they will lose their jobs if they speak out.  While Mcgowan is also worried about losing her job, she said “At some point people need to stop being afraid because that is what they (Orlando Health) want.  I refuse to back down to them.”

Mcgowan – like other Orlando Health nurses and staff – is angry that these cuts are coming after employees worked so hard to get MAGNET Hospital status.  Mcgowan said a lot of the MAGNET status accreditation comes from nurse’s satisfaction.

“A Magnet hospital is stated to be one where nursing delivers excellent patient outcomes, where nurses have a high level of job satisfaction, and where there is a low staff nurse turnover rate and appropriate grievance resolution. Magnet status is also said to indicate nursing involvement in data collection and decision-making in patient care delivery. The idea is that Magnet nursing leaders value staff nurses, involve them in shaping research-based nursing practice, and encourage and reward them for advancing in nursing practice. Magnet hospitals are supposed to have open communication between nurses and other members of the health care team, and an appropriate personnel mix to attain the best patient outcomes and staff work environment.” (1)

Arnold Palmer Hospital was recognized as a MAGNET hospital in 2013.  It’s not that many months later.  How can these hospitals say they are “listening to their staff” while they arbitrarily cut pay and lay off workers?

Being a MAGNET hospital means a lot to workers and to patients.

An October 2011 study by Linda Aiken and colleagues found that Magnet hospitals “have better work environments, a more highly educated nursing workforce, superior nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, and higher nurse satisfaction than non- Magnet hospitals.” (2)

Click here for more information on why hospitals and staff push for magnet status.

There is another reason that Orlando Health and Arnold Palmer Hospital pushed for MAGNET status. Like everything else in the corporate world it all boils down to money.  MAGNET Hospitals become a part of the pay for performance system.

“Medicare will launch the hospital VBP program, in which pay-for-performance programs will receive incentives for demonstrated excellence and improvements in patient safety and effective care.” (3)

This means that MAGNET hospitals get more money in reimbursement and extra incentives.

Eilynn Mcgowan told me the she firmly believed that “Orlando Health must have been planning these cuts before they received their MAGNET status”.   Hindsight is always 20/20.  Corporate executives don’t make decisions like this overnight.  She is obviously correct.

In November of 2012 the Orlando Sentinel reported:

“In the largest staff reduction in its nearly 100-year history, Orlando Health is cutting up to 400 jobs starting immediately, hospital system officials announced Monday.  The move is part of a broader effort to position the hospital system for the health-care overhaul, CEO Sherrie Sitarik said.

The elimination of jobs will occur in two phases and represents a 2 percent to 3 percent reduction in the system’s 16,000-person work force, said Orlando Health spokeswoman Kena Lewis. The cuts affect all departments and all eight of the system’s hospitals, including Orlando Regional Medical Center and Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, two of the system’s better-known facilities.”  (Emphasis added)

The second phase of those cuts were announced on August 2nd of this year.

This whole thing sounds fishy.  They laid off hundreds of workers, while pushing the staff to tell the accreditation team that they were happy and respected in their jobs, all to get MAGNET status.  Then after they get MAGNET status, they stick it to the workers with more layoffs and pay cuts.

It makes you wonder: what would these workers say now, if they were asked those same questions today?

The workers at Orlando Health hospitals are not taking this laying down.  They started a petition and are quickly organizing to form a solid negotiating team to fight back against these cuts.  Even if you do not work for Orlando Health – if you support these hard working people, start by signing their petition.

Jobs Corp Groundbreaking Today. Thanks To An Anti-Union Congressman It Is Three Years Late

2013-08-20 Manchester Jobs Corp CenterToday was the big ground breaking ceremony of the long, long, long awaited Manchester Jobs Corp center.

Senator Shaheen released a statement today after the event:

“U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today celebrated the new Manchester Job Corps Center with a bipartisan coalition of federal and local officials at a ceremonial groundbreaking event. Shaheen was joined by Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Governor Maggie Hassan, Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) and Mayor Ted Gatsas where the group celebrated the investments in New Hampshire’s youth and economic future that the groundbreaking represented. Once complete, the center will provide low-income youth with education and job training to build successful careers in today’s economy.

Over the past 15 years, Senator Shaheen has led bipartisan efforts to build the new Job Corps Center in Manchester. As Governor, she created the state’s first ever economic development plan and one of its key recommendations was pursuing a Job Corps Center. Subsequently, Shaheen led the effort through her Workforce Opportunity Council to submit the proposal to the Department of Labor in 2001. In the Senate, Shaheen has continued her leadership on the project’s development and construction. Recently, she secured report language in an appropriations bill for construction of the project. The bill was passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee in July.

Since its inception in 1964, over two million youth have received academic and career training through Job Corps. The Manchester Job Corps Center, which will provide educational opportunities youth ages 16 to 24, is scheduled to be completed in December 2014 and enroll 150 students by June 2015. The Manchester Job Corps Center will provide vocational instruction in the advanced manufacturing, construction, health care, homeland security, hospitality and information technology industries.

I want to make something very clear. I have been a fan of Senator Shaheen since she was Governor Shaheen. My great uncle was the President of the NH chapter of the National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE). He would tell me stories of how he and Governor Shaheen had a very close working relationship. He was at her inauguration and that picture hung in his home office until he passed last year.

However I am not as happy about this new Jobs Corp center as she is or some of the other elected officials who were at the event. That is because I know the true story of the Manchester Jobs Corp center.

You may remember that it was bid out in 2009. Since the Jobs Corp center was going to be build with federal dollars that required a Project Labor Agreement and a prevailing wage. Then the Associated Builders and Contractor (ABC) raised their dirty hands in protest.

This angered Joe Casey President of the NH Building Trades Council.

“The selfish actions of North Branch and the ABC stand to harm hundreds of people in New Hampshire: Young people will not be able to benefit from participation in Job Corps programs. Area businesses will not benefit in the long term from a greater number or professionally trained workers and in the short term from the economic boost of a $35 million project. And construction workers that are struggling through one of the worst down periods in our lifetime will continue to struggle to find work.

The problems did not stop there. After ABC helped to get then Mayor Guinta elected to the US House of Representatives, Guinta went right after the unions and Project Labor Agreements.

Congressman Guinta used his new power to block the Jobs Corp Center. He had the entire project rebid without a PLA. Of course it is going to come back cheaper. When companies do not pay for worker safety equipment or workers’ compensation insurance or apprentice training, then they can obviously charge less money. Corporations don’t care about the workers, they only care about the profits.

One of the key points to blocking the PLA on the Jobs Corp center was the fact that New Hampshire has a very small unionized population, and that the union workers would not be local to New Hampshire. Just because our percentage is smaller than Massachusetts does not mean we do not have good workers. I know there are at least 4,000 union carpenters here in New Hampshire.

There are already rumors flying around that the sub-contracts for the Jobs Corp Center are going to out of state corporations.

So while everyone else is celebrating today, I remember the real story behind this Jobs Corp Center. I am glad that Congresswoman Shea-Porter is back in her seat in Washington, because she would have never screwed the hard working men and women the way that Congressman Guinta did.

To be fair, I am glad that the project is actually being completed. We need a place for these people to go and get good training in a field they can make a career. College is not for everyone and this could really be a stepping stone in the right direction for some people. Maybe after they learn some of the basics at the Jobs Corp center, they can join the largest training program in the entire country: the building trades union apprentice program.

Workers At Nissan In Canton Deserve A Voice In The Workplace

no threats no intimidationBeing a labor activist, I know how hard recent years have been for all workers.  The constant attacks on working families have been the foundation of many political campaigns.

Workers in unions have been fighting for survival against bills like “Right To Work” or repeals of collective bargaining rights.  Other workers are fighting to gain union representation — workers like the service agents at American Airlines who endured months of trials, NLRB hearings, and delayed votes in an attempt to unionize.

Workers in the recent fast food and retail walkouts are fighting for better pay and the right to unionize.  For these workers, collective bargaining is even harder because the industries have not previously been unionized.  They have to organize thousands of workers, most of whom are part-timers with no job security.

Union organizing is also much more difficult than it used to be.  Some employers routinely violate the National Labor Relations Act, figuring that they probably won’t be caught – and even if they are caught, they’d rather pay the fines than negotiate with a union.

The workers at the Nissan plant in Canton Mississippi have been fighting for months now to have a fair election for representation.

They want a fair election because they want workers to have a voice in the workplace.

“They need the security of knowing that when they speak up about safety or quality, their job isn’t in danger.

With a union, workers can sit down with management to discuss the important issues of working conditions, policies, pay and benefits, as well as ways to improve the company’s processes and products.

Workers would also use a voice in the workplace to ensure Nissan does right by Mississippi. Mississippi community members expect more from Nissan than intimidation in the workplace.” [From http://www.dobetternissan.org/why-workers-want-a-union/ ]

Historically, one of the main reasons worker organize is to seek fair wages.  The workers in Canton are no different.  Nissan has received $1.3 billon dollars in incentives for building their plant in Canton.  Even with all those incentives workers at Nissan are paid less than workers in the same jobs just 400 miles up the road.

In fact a new report issued by Good Jobs First revealed that Nissan collected nearly $290,000 for every new job it created in Canton.

Another major issue is the fact that Nissan is supplementing their workforce with lower paid, temporary workers.  These workers do the same jobs as “career” employees yet they are classified as temporary and that means they have no job security at all.  Imagine trying to get a auto loan after you tell the bank you are a only a “temporary employee” at Nissan.

“According to workers at Nissan’s Canton plant, almost all the new jobs Nissan is creating in production – nearly 1,000 – are being filled by temps. Nissan should immediately acknowledge that these “temp” workers are actually the same as Nissan technicians, and they should give up their “temporary worker” model of employment.” [From DoBetterNissan.org]

Since workers started to organize at Nissan they have been building community support, because the local economy relies on factory workers’ incomes.  Together, they have formed the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan.

“The Alliance believes that if Nissan management addresses workers, individually or in groups, on the issue of unionization, then the Nissan Workers Fair Election Committee must be afforded equal time and access to address Nissan workers” [From Do Better Nissan – Alliance]

The Alliance has strong support from local faith groups as well as Congressman Bernie Thompson.

Two-fair-election-signs

Actor Danny Glover with workers from the Canton Nissan plant.

Nissan workers have also received support from actor and activist Danny Glover.  Last year the UAW presented Danny with the UAW Walter Reuther Social Justice Award for his support of UAW members and all working people.

Local Canton residents are not the only ones who are fighting back against the injustice of not allowing workers to organize. College students have created Student Justice Alliances (SJAs) in various states including Mississippi, Florida and Georgia. They are a growing force supporting the campaign by Nissan workers to gain a voice on the job and stop the company from intimidating and threatening employees.

“The 150-plus members of the Mississippi Student Justice Alliance from Tougaloo and Jackson State University in Jackson, joined by supporters from other colleges in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, are taking the issue into neighborhoods, car dealerships, auto shows, on-campus rallies, the Internet and YouTube.” [From Facing South]

In partnership with the United Auto Workers, these students are helping to spread the word about the treatment of workers at Nissan.  Armed with signs and video cameras, these students have been holding informational pickets at Nissan dealerships throughout the south.

Check out the video of how these students were treated as they peacefully held a sign on the sidewalk.

The UAW had this to say about the video on their Facebook page:

“We now understand why Nissan has such a difficult time understanding that workers have a right to organize. It turns out that Nissan, through one of its Washington, D.C.-area dealers, also apparently has a hard time understanding another basic human right: the right to free speech.

Members of Concerned Students for a Better Nissan were bullied by dealership officials at Passport Nissan in Marlow Heights, Md., as they were raising awareness to consumers about Nissan workers in Canton, Miss., and Smryna, Tenn.

They were outside the dealership on public easement and held a banner that read “choosejustice.com” and urged Nissan to do the right thing by allowing workers at its plants a free and fair vote on organizing their workplace.

As this video shows, this bit of constitutionally protected First Amendment activity didn’t sit too well with dealership officials. One official took hold of the sign and wouldn’t let go, even as the student protesters begged them to release their sign. The sign was finally returned to the students after the police arrived.

Future awareness-raising events will be held at Nissan dealerships by these and other concerned students to let the public know about the injustices committed by the automaker.”

Workers deserve a voice in their workplace.  They deserve a fair election.  Nissan could learn a lot from the American auto manufacturers who have collectively bargained with the UAW for years.  The UAW helped the American auto manufacturers rebound after the 2008 recession, and now have the number one vehicle on the market (Chevy Impala).

Strong financial gains can be made when workers and management work together.  Together you can make an even better product, have safer and more efficient worksites, and be a more profitable company – all at the same time.

GOP to Voters: ‘We’re taking the ball and going home’

I'm taking my ball and going homeSay, what?!

The Associated Press is reporting that:

The Republican National Committee, responding to plans by two television networks for programs about Hillary Rodham Clinton, approved a resolution Friday to block CNN and NBC from hosting GOP presidential primary debates.

The unanimous vote affirmed RNC Chairman Reince Priebus’s threat against the networks if they went ahead with programs about Clinton, a possible Democratic presidential contender.

Let’s everybody stop, take a deep breath and count to 10 here.  It’s kind of embarrassing when one of our country’s two major political parties throws a temper tantrum:  “Do it MY WAY or I won’t play ball!”

It’s worth noting that this hoopla is about a television series that hasn’t even started filming yet.

And “Clinton herself has understandably not given her blessing to the show, which could easily end up focusing on things the former Secretary of State would rather not call attention to.”

And up until a few days ago, it looked like the series would be produced by Fox TV Studios (yes, Fox).

But RNC Chairman Reince Priebus didn’t want Clinton to have any additional airtime — positive or not.

So Fox pulled out of the project.  Then the RNC voted to block CNN and NBC.  And now it looks like the whole project is on hold.

The idea that one political party can dictate what gets aired on television should scare the heck out of all of us.  That’s not what America is about.  That’s not what democracy is about.

The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market. (Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1919)

Think about the precedent that this is setting.  If the RNC has, in fact, succeeded in stopping this miniseries project, what’s next?  Will the GOP threaten to boycott any media outlet that runs stories about the taking-it-to-the-streets protests by fast food and retail workers?  Will the GOP threaten to boycott any media outlet that runs stories about how Obamacare is actually helping senior citizens?

Think about this, and then get really, really mad.  These days, most voters get their news from television.  What will happen to our democracy if one side succeeds in silencing the other?

On the playground, the threat to “take my ball and go home” only works if the other kids let the bully get his way.

Isn’t it a shame that NBC didn’t tell this particular “kid” to go ahead and go home?  It’s not like everybody in America wants to watch the Republicans in action, anyway.  During last year’s RNC Convention, the fourth episode of Honey Boo Boo topped the ratings.

Philadelphia Charter School Teachers Fight For Union Representation

Fighting for a Voice at the Table, Philadelphia Charter School Teachers Rally for Unionization

By Sean Kitchen
(Originally posted on the Raging Chicken Press)

Photo Credit Sean Kitchen

Olney Charter High School Teachers
Photo Credit Sean Kitchen

Correction: With regards to the union organization efforts in Illinois, the teachers organizing against  Civitas Schools were ultimately successful in their union drive.

On August 13th, Olney Charter High School students and members from the community held a demonstration outside of ASIPRA for PA’s North Philadelphia headquarters – ASPIRA owns the charter of the school –  in support of the teachers’ union drive.  By organizing a union with the help of the Philadelphia Alliance of Charter School Employees and the  American Federation of Teachers of Pennsylvania (AFT PA), these teachers are on the frontlines of the education reform movement and among the first to seek to unionize the corporate education sector.  The teachers went public with their fight at the end of last school year and in response have faced threats and intimidation by principals and administrators.

To achieve union recognition,  educators have a long road ahead of them because of what and who they are up against.  In Pennsylvania, they are considered “at-will” employees, which means their contracts run on a year to year basis, and are subjected to termination at any time for any reason.  Forming unions in the corporate education sector has proven to be a difficult endeavor.  One example of a charter school organizationstonewalling a union’s right to organize occurred in Chicago throughout 2009.  Teachers and faculty working for Chicago International Charter Schools, which is operated by Civitas Schools, were granted union recognition by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, but since the Chicago International Charter Schools were considered private, Civitas wanted the issue taken up by the National Labor Relations Board.  The NLRB ruled in favor of Civitas, claiming that the charter school network was a private, not for profit entity. Therefore, the teachers would not be granted the same labor protections as their counterparts in the Chicago Public School District.  The union drive against Civitas Schools was ultimately successful.  Peoples’ World published an interview in December 2009 detailing the union drive and the eventual victory.

According to Crooks and Liars, ASPIRA controls one high school in Philadelphia, and during this union drive, the non-profit spent $400,000 to stop this union effort.  The article states:

ASPIRA, a non-profit organization, has committed $400,000 to fight back against any effort on the part of teachers to organize in the schools they manage. In a climate where schools in Philadelphia are closing on a daily basis, a not-for-profit charter school operator is committing nearly half a million dollars? That raises a couple of key questions for me.

Olney Charter High School Teacher Emily Guck.  Photo Credit: Sean Kitchen

Olney Charter High School Teacher Emily Guck. Photo Credit: Sean Kitchen

And, the Philadelphia Daily Newsreported that the non-profit has paid out over $17,000 in public money to repel the efforts.

At the rally, the teachers were pretty clear about what they were fighting for; and, it doesn’t revolve around pay and benefits.  Emily Guck who has been teaching at Olney Charter High School for two years explained that since teachers see how policy affects their students on a day-to-day basis, teachers at the charter school should be granted a seat at the table.  Other teachers at the rally expressed the same sentiment.  One teacher I spoke with said,

 [we’re] tired of decisions being made from the top down approach.  We see a lot of negative consequences that results from that.  All we’re asking for is a seat at that table.  We’re not saying we’re going to make those decisions.  We just want to know how they’re being made, why they’re being made, and we want some input in that.

A few Olney Charter High School students showed in support of their teachers. Tyler Starks, a junior who recently transferred from Olney Charter High School to Central High School, explained why he wanted to show solidarity with his former teachers.  Starks credits his Olney Charter High School teachers “for who [he] is today, because [he] wasn’t into activism until [he] met his teachers.” He felt the need to support them through their organizing efforts.

When reaching out to some of the charter school teachers via email, Ellen Pierson, who teaches twelfth grade Social Studies and tenth grade French, explained why unionizing at Olney Charter School was important.  Ms. Pierson explained:

One of the reasons we feel our charter school union drive is so important in the present moment is that over the last decade or so, as we’ve seen charter schools continue to proliferate, major changes have happened in terms of who actually gets to make decisions about public education.  Traditionally such decisions have been made through collaborations between elected officials, teachers, parents, and administrators.  Increasingly, they are now being made in closed-meetings by the unelected board members of private organizations, who may or may not have backgrounds in education, or children in the schools for which they are making decisions

All of these different interested parties – taxpayers, businesses, administrators, parents, students, teachers, etc – all of us deserve our appropriate place at the table, and that is exactly what we’re fighting for.  Teachers are majorstakeholders in schools.  Period (emphasis not added).

When asking Emily Guck about the importance of having community members and other stakeholders showing solidarity with the young teachers, she replied:

“Having the support of parents, alumni, teachers, and community groups in Philly means so much to me. We are forming a union to provide a better education for our students and promote transparency and communication in our school community. Our goals are very much connected to the goals of organizations like Fight for Philly, and I am grateful for their support.”

At this point, the future of teachers attempt to unionize their school is unwritten. However, with all eyes on Philadelphia’s efforts to privatize, characterize, and profitize public schools, their struggle is one to watch and support. These teachers – many in their 20s and 30s – give progressives an opportunity to support and nurture the next generation of education union activists. I will continue to report on their efforts in the coming weeks and months.

Footage from yesterday’s rally. 

Orlando Health, Balancing Bad Financing On The Backs Of Workers

Emergancy Room

Stop and think for a moment: who do you consider to be the hardest working people in any industry? I bet nurses are somewhere in your top five.  Nurses have a long and distinguished history of being hard working and caring individuals, who help people who cannot help themselves.

This is why I am disgusted at the actions being taken by the Orlando Health system.  Orlando Health is a non-profit hospital system in central Florida.  They are about to impose drastic pay cuts on these hard-working men and women.  I should say women and a few men.  Women make up over 90% of all registered nurses in the United States.  Another staggering fact is that the average age of a registered nurse is 46.  How many of them are mothers or grandmothers?

I know all about the work that these women do.  My mother was a registered nurse for nearly 40 years before she was forced into an early retirement due to chronic back problems.

Here is my problem with Orlando Health.  They are imposing drastic changes to the pay by cutting night and weekend differentials.  According to Sarah Collins a registered nurse at Winnie Parker Hospital for Women and Babies this means a loss of $600 per month, or $7000-$15,000 annually.

Why?  Why the drastic cuts to workers’ pay?  It’s not to increase their profit margins – this is supposedly a non-profit organization.  So where is all the money going? 

First: To the corporate executives.

The Orlando Business Journal reported:

“Becker’s Hospital Review’s list of top paid executives for non-profit health systems has two Central Florida names on the list. … John Hillenmeyer, former CEO of Orlando Regional Medical Center, made $1.25 million in 2010.”

According to Orlando Health’s latest Form 990,

  • Hillenmayer received more than $2.2 million in compensation in 2011; and
  • Orlando Health has 19 different Vice Presidents – including six who each received more than a half-million in compensation in 2011;
  • Orlando Health spent more than $10.3 million on compensation for “key” executives.

Second:  Into building projects.

Orlando Health is spending $297 million on renovation and expansion projects at the very same time they can’t seem to find the money to pay the nurses who actually take care of their patients.

To add insult to injury, these drastic cuts come after Orlando Health chopped hundreds of jobs last November.  Other workers had their hours reduced, during that round of cutbacks.

And now people are waiting over two hours in the emergency room.

If you are as outraged at these cuts as I am, then take one minute and sign Sarah’s petition.

On the petition site, Sarah says that Orlando Health refuses to negotiate with the staff.

Being a son of a union nurse, I know that at times efforts to negotiate can be very one-sided.  In my mother’s case, it wasn’t until the entire nursing staff and support staff walked out that the hospital really started to listen.  But when the hospital was nearly forced to close their doors due to a lack of staff, suddenly they wanted to talk.

Unfortunately, these workers at Orlando Health do not have any union representation – but even without a union, a collective voice will not be ignored.  Please take a minute and sign Sarah’s petition.

I think some union elections will be in their near future!

UPDATED 8-16-13

Read the response to this petition from CEO and President Sherrie Sitarik that was posted for all employees on the Orlando Health website.

UPDATED 8-17-13

National Nurses United a union that represents thousands of hospital staff workers throughout the country has sent a letter to inform everyone of their rights to organize a union.  Since the letter was not given to the NHLN you must read it on the Orlando Business Journal.

The union wants to help, and they can help.  Know your rights!

The letter begins…..

Dear Orlando Health RNs and other Health Care Providers:

Here are answers to your requests for information about your efforts to protect yourselves from pay cuts and other reductions in your working conditions. If you find this helpful, feel free to forward this message to others. You may contact NNOC-Florida at florida@nnoc.net.

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