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Free Keene from ‘Free-Keene’: A Story Of Harassment In The Workplace

If you live in New Hampshire you have probably heard about the Free State Project (FSP).  This group of Libertarians who vowed to bring 20,000 members to New Hampshire in an effort to increase their personal freedoms.  “What I propose is a Free State Project, in which freedom-minded people of all stripes…establish residence in a small state and take over the state government,” Jason Sorens the creator of the FSP wrote.  The FSP has caused a significant impact on the state.  While the FSP has not reached their 20,000 person goal, they already have a significant political presence in NH.

Keene NH has been a hot bed of activity for the FSP.  Many have congregated there.  The ones who have settled there are the most extreme of this extremist organization.  There have been stories of Free Staters openly carrying guns onto college campuses, women walking topless in the streets, and videotaping police arrests.

Now there is a new thing happening in Keene that some people like, and others do not.  The group of Free Staters calls themselves ‘Robin Hoods’.  They go around putting money into expired parking meters so that violators do not get tickets.

From the Free-Keene Website:

“Activists in Keene have been “Robin Hooding” for years now. (Here are all our Robin Hood related posts.) The purpose is to rescue motorists like you from being ticked by Keene’s “parking enforcers”. If your meter is expired, Robin Hood and the Merry Men and Women will place a coin into the meter to extend your time, presuming we reach the meter before the King’s enforcers. If a “parking enforcer” is on the street, the Merry Men and Women will usually be seen walking directly in front of him/her and check and feed meters before the enforcer.”

While I am not against the idea of dropping a quarter in a meter every now and then to help someone out, this goes much beyond that.  The part that the Free-Keene site does not say is that the ‘parking enforcers’ as they call it, are being harassed for doing their jobs.  This harassment has become so much that the ‘robin hood gang’ is now being sued.

“In court documents, city officials say the group has “…taunted, interfered with, harassed and intimated the Parking Enforcement Officers…”

The parking enforcement officers say they have been physically bumped. Some say they are considering leaving their jobs.
(CBS News) “

This is where a friendly gesture turns into something different.  Laura Hainey, President of AFT-NH, who represents the Parking Enforcement Officers (PEOs), had this to say about the ‘robin hood gang’.

“Members of the Free-Keene movement, calling themselves “Robin Hoods”, have repeatedly taunted, interfered with, harassed, and intimidated Keene’s Parking Enforcement Officers, (PEO’s), in the performance of their employment duties by following, surrounding, touching or nearly touching, and otherwise harassing the PEO’s in groups of one, two, or more in an attempt to prevent them from doing the job they were hired to do.

These employees have a right to do their job without intimidation, interference, harassment or taunts. AFT-NH strongly supports the city’s request for an injunction against the Free-Keene group to keep them at least 50 feet from an on-duty parking enforcement officer.

This has gone on long enough.  These workers are not the enemy of the Free-Keene movement, they are workers doing their jobs. Just because you disagree with their employer does not give you the right to harass an employee.  I do not agree with Wal-Mart but I do not take it out on people who work there.  I hope that the city brings the full extent of the law to prosecute these ‘robin hoods’ for harassing the police officers.

Everyone deserves a workplace free of any kind harassment.

UPDATE 5-19-13

After this post was written the Keene City Manger sent a letter to the public.  You can read it here.

The NH AFL-CIO Holds Bi-Annual Convention

On May 4th, the New Hampshire state federation of the AFL-CIO held their bi-annual convention at the Grand Hotel in North Conway, NH.  The event was attended by over 50 delegates, representing many different unions from around the state.  They were teachers from AFT, to film and sound techs from IATSE,  electricians from IBEW, to air traffic controllers from NATCA.  The focus of the convention was to talk about the great things that the NH AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions have done in New Hampshire over the last two years. And to talk about how we need to change and grow to move into a new generation of unions and organizing.

Over the past two years the NH AFL-CIO and organized labor have fought back against the extreme right wing of the New Hampshire Legislature who were pushing every anti-union and anti-worker bill they could dig up from ALEC.  Most notably was the nearly two year battle over Right To Work.  Upholding Governor Lynch’s veto was the single greatest legislative accomplishment for the NH AFL-CIO and all working families.

AFLCIO Convention Mark MacKenzieAfter a short trip down memory lane by NH AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie, the tone shifted.  “At no time has labor’s role been more important” said President MacKenzie.

Now we as organized labor need to work with our communities for real immigration reform.  We must ensure that every worker is treated fairly, is paid accordingly, and has the protections we fought so hard to get in place.

This theme also lead right into how do we begin to organize those places that have never been able to be organized before?  Places like Wal-Mart, Fast Food and Restaurant workers. These are the jobs that need help from organized labor the most right now.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler spent  most of her time talking about how we need to fight back against the attacks from the right wing extremists and expand our base.  This is a battle for all working people, not just those who are covered by a union contract.  We need to do everything we can to stop the austerity budget plans from Washington that are slowly pulling our country apart.  The Tea Party lead House is trying to continue this race to the bottom with more cuts to programs like Head Start and Meals on Wheels.  “What about the children who have been kicked out of Head Start due to the Sequester” said Shuler.  “Sequester is just a fancy word for stupid idea” Shuler continued.

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter knows all to well how the sequester is effecting people.  She hears about it every day.  People calling her office to get her to do something about it.  “Can’t you just pass something to end the sequester” people would ask.  Yes, she told the crowd, if we could get our bills onto the floor of the US House.  Congresswoman Shea-Porter told the crowd, “there are three political parties in Washington right now.  The Democrats, the Republicans and the Republican study group also know as the Tea Party.”  The power of the Tea Party and their leader, Speaker John Boehner is what is creating this disfunction in Washington.

The NH AFL-CIO also welcomed State Senator Andrew Hosmer to speak. He talked of the current situation in the NH Senate.  He pushed for the passage of the expanded gambling bill to help create new jobs for the NH Building Trades.   That message was echoed by State Representative (and former AFGE member and Federal Marshal) Steve Shurtleff.  Rep Shurtleff reminded us how times have changed now that Speaker O’Brien is not in control.  He ws there every session waiting for the Speaker to pull Right To Work up for a vote.  Both Sen. Hosmer and Rep Shurtleff said they would do whatever was needed to stand up for working families and the workers rights to organize.

(More in-depth stories on each of the speeches at the NH AFLCIO convention later this week)

Rep Annie Kuster Introduces Bill To Strengthen Workforce Development And Job Training

Training 21st Century Workforce Critical for Granite State’s Economy

Highlights new legislation that would strengthen workforce development, job training

 

After introducing the Workforce Development Investment Act to strengthen job training for students in the Granite State, Congresswoman Annie Kuster (NH-02) this week spoke on the House floor to underscore the importance of training a highly-skilled, 21st century workforce.

“The Workforce Development Investment Act would give tax incentives to firms that partner with educators to improve workforce development and job training for students,” Kuster said. “When we invest in our workforce, more employers will invest in the United States and in the Granite State; our students will be more competitive in the job market; our businesses will be more successful in the global economy.”

“Right now, there are companies like W.H. Bagshaw in Nashua, New Hampshire that are looking to hire, but struggling to find workers with the right skills for the job,” Kuster continued. “My bill would help close this skills gap by providing incentives for business to team up with educators to teach our students the skills they need to compete and succeed.”

The Workforce Development Investment Act would provide up to $10,000 in annual tax credits to employers that partner with community colleges or other institutions of higher education to improve workforce development for students by:

  • Helping develop curriculum;
  • Assisting with instruction in the classroom; and
  • Providing internships, apprenticeships, or other hands-on educational opportunities for students

Kuster has made workforce development one of her top priorities in Congress. Over the last few months, she has toured and met with staff and students at Keene State College’s Regional Center for Advanced Manufacturing (RCAM), Nashua Community College (NCC), and New Hampshire Technical Institute (NHTI), as well as advanced manufacturers all across the Granite State.

Is A Woman Only Worth 80% Of A Man? Then Why Are Women Still Fighting For Equal Pay?

Fifty years ago, President Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act that was intended to end the wage gap that exist between men and women.  In 1963, the wage gap was 59 cents on the dollar for women in the workplace.  That is just over half what a man made for the same job (assuming they would have even hired her for the same job).  With fifty years of growth and progress, surely we have ended this silly gap and no longer need laws like this, right?  Sadly, no.

From BLS

From BLS

Today, a woman makes on average 80 cents on the dollar to a man.  That’s is truly sad, that we are still fighting the same fight over and over again.  Why?  That I cannot answer. What I can say is that there have been people who have always worked to reduce the wage gap: labor unions.

Labor unions have always been fighting back against discrimination of any kind. They fight back against racism and sexism the same way.  They treat everyone equal in every way.  Every member gets the same one vote.  Every member gets their voice heard.  Every one is paid the same for the same work.

Unions negotiate starting pay for workers as part of their contract.  That starting pay does not change if you are a white man, an African-American women, or vice-versa.  The base pay is just that: the base pay.  Everyone starts at the same place.

Some people, like Nashua State Rep Jan Schmidt understand this.  Here’s what she told me:

“People ask me why there are unions today… people who have no memory or sense of history, people who blindly believe that a person alone has complete power to shape their own fate, people who have listened to too much talk radio with their constant pounding of union-hate paid for by corporations that know if unions gain a foothold, they may have a few pennies less in their Cayman bank account.

“This is one reason we need to remember Equal Pay Day, corporations willingly pay the people they expect to buy their goods with wages so low that they leave the state picking up the food stamp cost for that family. To them (the corporation CEOs)… the pennies in their accounts are worth more than the lives they sacrifice.”

So when you ask me, hey Matt, how do we solve the gender wage gap? I will give you the same answer I have given time and time before: JOIN A UNION!

 

Can You Help Matt Murray Of The NH Labor News Win A Scholarship To Netroots Nation 2013?

Matt Murray and Richard Trumka

Matt Murray (NH Labor News) and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka
Taken at Netroots Nation 2012

For over two years now I have been working to build the NH Labor News.  What started as a project with the NH AFL-CIO, the NH Labor News blog grew into a full social media presence.  The NH Labor News now has over 1000 Facebook fans and over 2100 followers on Twitter.

My main goal in creating the NH Labor News was to create a single stream of labor related information for union members (and union supporters), a place to get information about what is going in here in the Granite State and beyond.

Throughout the last two years we have covered everything from the funding problems with the USPS to local Public Employee Labor Relations Board hearings and everything in between. Over the last year I helped push for support of Governor Maggie Hassan, Rep Carol Shea-Porter, Rep Annie Kuster, President Obama and dozens of local NH candidates.

Now I am asking for you to help me.  I need your votes.

I along with over 3000 people, I  will be attending the annual Netroots Nation event in California this June.  For those who do not know about Netroots Nation, it is an annual event where bloggers and social media experts come to together to share their knowledge with everyone else.  This builds a large, strong social media presence when it comes to progressive issues.  The connections are invaluable, and the knowledge is unmatched.

Netroots Nation does have some costs associated with it. This is how you can help me.  Democracy for America is offering a scholarship to cover registration and lodging at NN13.  This would only mean that I would need to come up with transportation to California (if you want to sponsor my airfare contact me directly).

Please take one minute to Vote for MATT on the DFA website. http://nn13.democracyforamerica.com/applicants/64?complete=true

EVERY VOTE COUNTS

Then share this post on your Facebook walls and on your Twitter accounts.  The more votes I get the better my chances of winning a scholarship.  With you help I can attend this amazing event.

DSCF0045

Matt Murray attending a rally for President Obama in Manchester NH

 

Catholic Latino Should Be Natural Allies With The GOP? Yeah, Not So Much

Catholic church

The other day I was listening to “the Exchange” with Laura Knoy, and they were discussing the new GOP ‘Autopsy’ (read my full post on this show). One of the guests, Steve Duprey (RNC Executive Council), said something that really offended me.

Duprey was talking about how the GOP needs to do better to reach out to Latino voters.  He said that Latino voters should be natural allies with the GOP.

“…They tend to be Catholic. They tend to be faithful. They tend to have strong family units…”

This is not the first time I have heard this line.  It was very similar to the line that Senator Rand Paul proclaimed at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce a few weeks ago.

Being raised Catholic, I take great offense to this.  The idea that because I am Catholic, I should automatically have supported Mitt Romney and his policies in the last election?  This is the most ironic thing I have ever heard from the GOP.

Catholicism is based on the teaching of the Bible.  The Bible is full of stories of how Jesus cared for the poor, and urged his followers to do the same.  The Bible teaches us to be selfless, and to care for those who cannot care for themselves.  Does this sound like the message that the GOP is pushing right now?

The Catholic Church has always been there for the working and lower class: helping to feed the hungry, provide shelter to those who have none and teaching millions of Catholics to do the same in their lives.

The Catholic Church has always been supportive of those who work, and recognizes the need for labor unions.

In the first place, the worker must be paid a wage sufficient to support him and his family.  — Pope Pius XI, 1931

Yet the workers’ rights cannot be doomed to be the mere result of economic systems aimed at maximum profits. The thing that must shape the whole economy is respect for the workers’ rights within each country and all through the world’s economy. — Pope John Paul II, 1981

Pope after Pope has rejected the idea that companies should put profits over people. In fact, “the dignity of work and the rights of workers” is one of the Church’s fundamental teachings.

Contrast that with what Mitt Romney did as a vulture capitalist: selling companies and jobs overseas, and raking in millions of dollars at the same time.

Paul Ryan received the most flak as a Catholic.  There is an old saying, show me your budget and I will show you what you value.  This was exactly the case when you look at the budget pushed by the Romney/Ryan campaign.  The Ryan plan was torn apart by Catholics throughout the country.

This budget, frankly, acts like a schoolyard bully. It kicks those who are already down. It punches holes in vital social safety net programs, including food assistance for struggling families. It shoves aside the Medicare guarantee for seniors who deserve quality health care. It tramples Medicaid for low-income Americans by proposing inadequate state block grants at a time when most states are barely able to pay their bills.

For good reason, Ryan’s proposals have been strongly criticized by social justice leaders, evangelicals and many Catholics. Why? Because we know that budgets reflect stark moral choices about our priorities and values. (Public Theology)

The Ryan plan even pushed a group of Catholic nuns to travel around the country telling people that the Ryan plan was against what the Catholic Church preaches.  After a few stops, Sister Simone Campbell and her group were aptly named ‘the nuns on a bus’.

“Paul Ryan claims this budget reflects the principles of our shared faith,” Campbell said, as she took direct aim at Mitt Romney’s running mate, who has often cited his Catholic faith as the underpinning of his fiscal policies. “But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that the Ryan budget failed a basic moral test, because it would harm families living in poverty,” she said. (On Faith, Washington Post)

Catholics throughout the country rejected the GOP budget and rejected Paul Ryan for his part in creating it.  And yet the RNC wonders why Catholic Latinos are not lining up to join the Grand Ole Party.

 

The GOP Tears Itself Up, Just Not As Much As I Do

The internet is filled with political bloggers. Some lean left, some lean right.  Right now many of these political bloggers are talking about the new GOP “Autopsy” or as the GOP calls it, the “Growth & Opportunity Plan.”   This new report is giving a very in-depth look at what the GOP needs to do if they want to take back the White House.

The national political commentators and comedians have all had their fun with this already, but now the plan is starting to reach the rest of us.  Recently on “the Exchange” with Laura Knoy, they talked about this 100-page plan with Steve Duprey (former NH GOP Chair, and current RNC Executive Committee member), Jennifer Horn (current NH GOP Chair) and Dean Spiliotis (Civic Scholar in the School of Arts and Sciences at Southern New Hampshire University and author of the popular website www.NHPoliticalCapital.com).

The meat of this 100-page report was boiled down to a few main pieces by Dean Spiliotis.

  • Demographics
  • Tone vs Substance
  • Taking control over the primary process

NH GOP Chair Horn was the first to say it, “this report confirmed what we already knew.”

Actually, it is what everyone outside of the GOP leadership has been saying since last summer, including me. The GOP does not care about minorities, women and middle class workers.  When you cut those groups out of the demographics, you are left with exactly what everyone has been saying:  the GOP is the party of stuffy out-of-touch white men.   Shockingly, this is exactly what the focus groups and polling showed.

Horn believes that it is because the Republican “message was not well articulated” and the message did not get through.  But how could it be possible that your message did not get through? The GOP and sympathetic PACs spent $844 million dollars on the Romney campaign.

Horn believes the problem was the message delivery; I believe it was the message content.  You cannot tell undocumented workers to ‘self deport’ and expect them to vote for you.  You cannot tell women that there is such a thing as ‘legitimate rape’ and expect to win their hearts over.

The GOP’s leadership is very confused about who they are talking to.  Steve Duprey seemed bewildered by the fact that Hispanic voters did not support Mitt Romney in 2012.  He said:

“They should be natural allies. They tend to be Catholic. They tend to be faithful. They tend to have strong family units. They are entrepreneurial and hard working.”

But Latinos care about other issues, too – including healthcare and gay marriage.  “More than half of all Hispanics think that gay people should be allowed to marry.” Opposing those two issues are two of the key planks in the GOP party platform.  It is no wonder the GOP did not gain much Latino support.

The GOP realized that the Obama campaign was making real connections with voters of all ethnicities on the streets.  The Obama campaign had thousands of people hitting the street every day to talk one-on-one with people.  Even Jennifer Horn admitted that making these personal connections was the real way to gain support and turn out voters.

This is also where Steve Duprey got in his jabs about the New Hampshire unions and their role in the election.  The fact is that many of the unions in New Hampshire are regionally organized.  For example, Ironworkers Local 7 is based in Boston, but they cover all of NH, MA, and ME.  This is also true of the Carpenters Union, IBEW, and many more.  Because of the size of New Hampshire and New England, members can live and work in different states.

In all honesty, after listening to these three go on for an hour, I felt nauseous. They kept saying it was the way their message was being delivered that was the problem.  Jennifer Horn even said “I don’t think the problem is the message.”  Wrong!  Republicans are not the same party they used to be in the days of Reagan or Eisenhower.  What happened to Republican support for unions? Did that go away after Reaganomics took over?

One last thing, the issue of Gay Marriage.  For many this was just another example of why the GOP was viewed as a elitist group of bigots.  They call for freedoms, except when gay people are asking for the same thing.  The RNC has adopted the Tea Party’s line that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. This alienated many people who support the LGBT community. The majority of Americans believe gays they should be able to marry like anyone else.

The most ironic part of the GOP’s marriage position is that William Weld – a Republican from Massachusetts – was the first Governor to move the country forward on gay rights.

“William Weld, governor of Massachusetts signs an executive order granting lesbian and gay state workers the same bereavement and family leave rights as heterosexual workers.”

Not all Republicans are bad, and not all Democrats are good.  We need balance.  At the same time, neither party will win elections if they spew hate at me, then want me to vote for them.

 

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