Check Out These Videos on Collective Bargaining,the Economy and Protests in Madison

By Richard Thayer

The AFL-CIO has launched a new website that “serves up facts, fun and real-world stories about what the power to bargain means to working people.”

Then site features a trio of videos “designed to convey the importance of collective bargaining, showing just how bad things can get if workers don’t have a voice at the bargaining table.”

Among the videos on display is one where working men and women tell what collective bargaining means to them.

The new website is called “Collective Bargaining: Real People, Real Impact.”

Another video that will be of interest to activists is one of AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler speaking this past weekend at the Netroots Nation convention in Minneapolis. In this clip Shuler talks about the attacks being waged on collective bargaining and the importance of workers organizing. Her presentation begins at the 35 minute mark.

Our third recommended video of the day features former Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Entitled “The Truth About the Economy,” Reich explains, with illustrations, the problem with our economy is 2 minutes and 38 seconds.

And last, but certainly not least, a video featuring musician and proud union man, Tom Morello, at this past February’s union protests in Madison, Wisconsin as he gives a stirring speech before a crowd of protesters and sings “Standing Up and Standing Strong.”

Check ’em out.


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Republicans Introduce Legislation to Slash Federal Employment

By Richard Thayer

It had been threatened for quite some time now. On Monday (June 6) those voicing that threat took it one step closer to completion with a news conference on Capitol Hill.

The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell “The Ice Man” Issa (R-Calif), flanked by Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), unveiled details on house House Republicans propose to save taxpayers $127.5 billion over the next four years on the backs of federal workers.

Here’s the plan in a nutshell:

The government will only hire 1 employee for every 3 that retire. This would cut the federal workforce over the next four years by 10 percent.

The proposed legislation would require the Office of Management and Budget to keep tabs on the workforce and report to Congress if the number in any federal agency exceeds 90 percent of its 2011 employee level. Once that limit is reached, employment for that agency stops.

The only exceptions for this 90 percent threshold would be for war or national emergencies.

Rep. Ross, who is the chairman of a House subcommittee on the federal government, noted that there are currently 400,000 federal workers who are eligible for retirement and that “as these workers leave, we cannot let this opportunity to save taxpayer money pass.”

Although the Republican party is very zealous about whacking away at the federal employee “deadwood”, statistics show that federal agencies are right now operating with the fewest employees in the past 40 years.

Back in 1970 the government had 2.94 million workers or 14.4 workers for every 1,000 citizens. Last year, the government, including the Postal Service, employed 2.65 million workers or 8.4 employees for every 1,000 citizens.

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, called the plan “a short-sighted proposal that would only undermine the federal government’s ability to deliver vital services.”

Last week, National Active and Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) began airing radio ads in Washington, DC and around the country as part of its “Protect America’s Heartbeat” radio campaign. In an e-mail sent out Monday by NARFE President Joseph Beaudoin soliciting funds so that these ads could continue, he notes that former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said last week when announcing his candidacy for president that he would be going to Washington, DC “to remind the federal bureaucracy that government exists to serve its citizens, not its employees.”

Says Beaudoin: “I have news for Mr. Pawlenty–He doesn’t have to visit Washington, because federal workers and retirees are in Minnesota. And in Iowa. And in every state in our nation. And he doesn’t have to remind us about service. We were faithfully serving the citizens of this great nation long before he first decided he wanted to run for political office.

“We’re the middle-class families who protect our borders, keep our families safe and keep Social Security checks going out on time, often for less pay than we would have earned in the private sector.”

You can hear those radio ads and help keep them on the air by going here.

And to contact your congressman/congresswoman, go here.


Maine’s Governor Publicly Rebuked for Disrespectful Comments

By Richard Thayer

Here’s a story that you may not see on the evening news, but it’s certainly one worth reporting.

Amanda Terkel reports in The Huffington Post that Paul LePage, the governor of Maine, drew a rebuke Monday from eight of the state’s senators. The chastisement came as the result of comments LePage made concerning protests to his having a large mural removed a week ago from the state’s Department of Labor building. The painting depicted Maine’s labor history. When a reporter asked LePage how he might respond to the protesters forming a human chain around the mural he replied: “I’d laugh at them, the idiots.”

In the op-ed sections of both The Portland Press Herald and the Kennebec Journal on April 4, the eight politicians took the portly governor to task, expressing their “discomfort and dismay” with his derogatory comments.

The article says in part: (“We find ourselves) responding to yet another example of our chief executive picking a personal fight not worth fighting….Government by disrespect should have no place in Augusta (Maine), and when it happens, we should all reject it.”

Now you may be wondering, How is this news worthy? Rhetoric like this happens every day. Especially lately. Members of one party do something and then members of the other party respond to it.

That’s where this story is different.

You see, the state senators chastising the governor, are members of the same party. They’re all Republicans.

Chris Hall, a lobbyist for the Portland Regional Chamber, told The Portland Press Herald that in his 21 years as a lobbyist, this is the first time he’s seen a group of politicians write such an openly critical opinion piece of a governor who’s a member of their own party.

We would hope that other legislators in other states would take a cue from those in Maine and speak out against those of their own party when they are performing acts that are not only detrimental to their party but to the country as a whole. It’s hoped that Maine’s legislators, at least those eight, would set the example for others to follow.

This is by no means the first time that Governor LePage’s inflammatory rhetoric has gotten him into trouble. Back in January he made it known that he had no intention of attending a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event and that if the NAACP didn’t like it, they could “kiss my butt.”

Well, there may be some butt kissing going on in Maine, but the NAACP and those eight courageous GOP senators aren’t the ones doing it.


April Fools

By Richard Thayer

I rolled out of bed early this morning with the intention of posting a blog celebrating 2011’s April Fool — a public figure or institution that I deemed worthy of being labeled the biggest fool so far this year. Quite an accomplishment since this year is only three months old.

The first name that popped into my head was Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, the new Republican governor of that Rust Belt state who has managed to make a fool of himself by attempting (by hook or crook, as they say) to strip public-sector employees of their collective bargaining rights. In so doing, he has stoked the fires of the labor movement that had been un-stoked for many a year.

Then I got to thinking, are the Republican lawmakers in the Wisconsin legislature any less deserving of the April Fool award than their illustrious leader? After all, several of them have put their jobs on the line and face recalls in November. The good governor, on the other hand, can’t be recalled until 2012.

But what about Governor John Kasich of Ohio who just this past Thursday signed into law union-busting legislation that would also strip public sector unions of their bargaining rights? Is he any less a fool because he succeeded where Walker has thus far failed?¬† Plus, his law is even more far-reaching than Walker’s.

There is also Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan. Earlier this year Snyder cut corporate taxes by a whopping 86 percent while increasing taxes on working families. Of course the tax breaks he gave his corporate buddies was much greater than the money generated from taxes on the average Joe and Josephine. Foolish. And then, on top of that, he signs into law this past week legislation that cuts state unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks. This is an incentive to make these people find a job, I suppose.

And let’s not forget Governor Paul LePage of Maine. Last weekend LePage had a 36-foot mural stripped out of the state’s Labor Department building. It was obscene. Well, evidently it was obscene to the anonymous person who faxed LePage complaining about the artwork. Did it contain nudity? No. Were there dirty words? No. The mural, completed three years ago, depicted Maine’s proud labor history. Imagine that? In a Labor Department building, too. Mr. LePage, not one to rest on his past achievements, is now busy as a little beaver crafting a bill that would weaken Maine’s child-labor laws. Certainly a worthwhile project for a fool.

Also in contention was Governor Rick Scott of sunny Florida. Like the others, he’s a jewel too. Although he’s only been in office for a scant three months he’s racked up some rather impressive successes. Among these is his uncanny ability to alienate everyone around him, both Democrats and Republicans alike. He’s the guy who said Florida didn’t need a high speed railway system in Florida. Didn’t need the money, didn’t need the jobs. We’re just fine down here, thank you. Keep your money in Washington. He is quickly becoming the poster child for “Buyer’s Remorse.” The latest poll¬† shows that if the people of Florida could have a do-over in elections, Democrat Alex Sink would win by a 20 percent margin. It’s a shame there can’t be a do-over today. It’ll have to wait.

The freshman congressman out of Wisconsin, Sean Duffy, was also a contender for my April Fool award. Not long ago congressman Duffy told a group of attendees at a town hall meeting that he, like them, was struggling to pay his bills too. Asked how much he gets paid a year as a freshman congressman Duffy replied, without cracking a smile, “$174,000.” Yes, congressman Duffy would certainly be a worthy recipient of the April Fool award.

Then other names flooded into my head: Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachman, Donald Trump, the Tea Party, and several Mideast dictators who now find themselves under siege because they have been…foolish. All well-deserving of the April Fool award.

And it hasn’t just been political figures who have crowded into my head, waving their signs, shouting to be heard. Celebrity names have also popped in demanding attention, names like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity of Faux News Channel fame. They too would be worthy recipients of my award.

And the more I sat here trying to narrow it all down to just one name, more names flooded into my head. I became dizzy and nauseus.

So who, dear reader, was to receive this blog’s first annual April Fool award?

I finally decided that it would be….

None of the above.

I finally decided that the award should go to…..

Us.

You and me. If…..

If we don’t do something about those who have been elected to represent us. They have been elected to represent you and me, not the big corporations, not Wall Street, not the Koch brothers, not themselves and their interests — us. They have been elected to represent you and me. If they are incapable of doing that, then we need to elect people who will. In the meantime, until the next elections roll around — although they may be months away — we must make our voices heard, just as they have been heard in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Maine, Florida and other states where middle-class America is under attack. “We Are One” rallies celebrating the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and showing our solidarity with our union brothers and sisters in the public sector, will be held this coming Monday, April 4. For details on these, you may go to the North Carolina State Association of Letter Carrier’s website at nclettercarrier.com.

If we sit idly by and do nothing, we, not them, are the fools.


Unions vs. Corporate-Backed Politicians: A Golden Opportunity

By Richard Thayer

In Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his Republican-held legislature rammed through a law stripping public-sector unions of their bargaining rights despite the lack of a quorum and a judge’s temporary restraining order.

Over the weekend in Maine, Governor Paul LePage removed a 36-foot, 11-panel mural from the state’s Department of Labor, a mural depicting….laborers.

In the nation’s capital, Republican lawmakers have introduced a bill that would achieve nationally what several state legislatures are attempting to do individually: reduce unions to nothing more than a few pages in the history books.

All of this frantic (and in many cases, covert) activity begs the question: Are they succeeding?

Well, it looks like some of the corporate-backed puppets, like Walker and LePage, may have won some skirmishes. But at what price?

It seems that these battles over collective bargaining and the rights of workers have generally had the same effect on unions that water has on a gas fire: they have spread rapidly and strengthened in intensity.

A recent article on the AFL-CIO blog has labeled this as a “watershed opportunity for working people.” The author of the article, James Parks, notes in his blog that efforts by politicians like Governors Walker and LePage to decimate unions has, at least for now, created growing support for unions.

In the article, Joseph McCartin, director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and associate professor at Georgetown University, is quoted as saying that these efforts to take away union’s bargaining rights have opened the flood gates of opportunity for workers.

Referring to a New York Times poll showing that more than 40 percent of those polled had neither a positive or a negative view of unions, professor McCartin noted that this response indicated that the public’s opinion of unions is in flux and added:
“Suddenly you have an opportunity to explain…why unions are necessary; why they are vital in a democracy; and to do it in a way that connects to people’s realities. Walker has given you an opportunity to make a case that you haven’t had an opportunity to make on the national stage in a while….You must seize this opportunity and make the most of it.”

As I noted in an earlier posting, the current attack on working people has produced a lot of commentary, articles and letters to the editor concerning bargaining rights in particular and unions in general. I’ve noticed over the last few weeks that my local paper, The High Point Enterprise, has published several commentaries on unions, the majority of which have been negative. As a result, I saw it necessary to add my two-cents worth. My letter is in Tuesday’s paper and above it in bold type is this headline: “Unions Helped Build Our Nation’s Middle Class.” That’s a fact that’s hard to dispute (but, of course, there are those who will).

I would encourage those of you who are pro-union (and I hope the majority of you who read this are), would write a letter to your local paper letting the public know what unions have done for this country and for middle class workers. As professor McCartin points out in his column, we, as concerned unionists, must seize this opportunity and make the most of it.

And while I’m on the subject of union activism, I’d like to remind you that numerous activities are being planned for Monday, April 4, all over the country in support of those workers whose rights are under siege and in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated on that date 43 years ago in Memphis, Tennessee. It’s called “We Are One.”

If you would like to participate in one of those events being planned here in North Carolina, please go here.

If you would like to read Professor McCartin’s article, “Turning Point: An Address to the AFL-CIO Executive Council,” you may go here.

I’ll close today with this quote from Dr. King, they are words worth remembering:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”