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Labor Update: The Looting Of Art And Pensions

A portion of the north wall of Rivera's murals in the DIA
When Detroit became the largest U.S. city to declare bankruptcy last year, it triggered a process by which all the city’s assets would be thrown out on the lawn like a foreclosed home whose contents would be pilfered through by neighbors and strangers alike for their potential value.

And as the objects that made the house a home are reassessed in this new shameful context, what was once considered essential – priceless, in fact – is now valued at pennies on the dollar to expedite the financial settlement so everyone can quickly move on.

Such is the context for the extraordinarily painful negotiations taking place in Detroit right now as the Detroit Institute of Art’s collection has become the city’s main bargaining chip for the billions of dollars in unfunded debt on pension and health benefits owed to current and future retirees. The publicly-owned collection includes Bruegel’s “The Wedding Dance,” Rodin’s “The Thinker,” a self-portrait by Van Gogh, and Diego Rivera’s masterpiece mural depicting Detroit’s since-collapsed auto industry – more than 66,000 pieces altogether.

If accomplished, this will be the largest liquidation of public art in US history, and the most recent looting of art since Iraq’s Museum was vanquished in 2003.

Stealing art during moments of crisis is nothing new. In fact it’s the norm. This was sentimentally portrayed recently in George Clooney’s film, Monuments Men, in which a troop of loveable art historians are commissioned to protect and recover stolen art from the Nazis in the waning months of WWII.

But like any good art depicting a historic event, Monuments Men should have been a commentary on the present – a kind of plea to human conscience the way Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” was during the McCarthy Era. But it wasn’t.

Instead, Monuments Men was a pat on the back to the Good Americans for beating the Bad Nazis and Bad Russians. There was no subtext to help us understand the looting of both the public worker’s pensions and the Detroit Institute of Art’s collection taking place today by bankruptcy judges, lawyers, hedge fund managers, investment bankers.

It contained no metaphor for Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s unelected City Manager who was appointed by Michigan’s Republican Governor Rick Snyder under the state’s controversial Emergency Manager law. “Everything is on the table,” Orr has repeatedly said regarding the negotiations.

To his credit, Governor Snyder has proposed a “Grand Bargain” that would maintain the art in the museum under the management of a private foundation and prevent its liquidation. However, creditors have accused Christies Auction House of low-balling the value of the art in the $816 settlement that would monumentally underfund the pension obligations.

And the discussion of salvaging the art at the expense of workers’ pensions has caught the ire of union leaders fighting to protect workers’ pensions. “The elevation of the city’s art above our hard-earned pensions and health care is unfair, offensive and elitist,” said Jeff Pegg, president of the Detroit Firefighters Association, reading from a statement signed by four labor leaders representing the public sector workers.  “We appreciate the city’s art collection. But, stated bluntly: Art is a luxury. It’s not essential, like food and health care.”

So, in steps Financial Guaranty Insurance Company last Wednesday, which has asked the bankruptcy judge to force the city to instead sell all the Detroit Institute of Arts’ property (building included) to corporate buyout firms including Catalyst Acquisitions and Bell Capital Partners.

These negotiations are completely unprecedented, so it’s easy to forget that the monetization and liquidation of public art to ensure pensioners a dignified retirement is a most sublime corruption. We are expected to believe that the only option is to sell this art to fund constitutionally protected retirements.

Perhaps the acrimony caused by these insane negotiations will bog it down in so much red tape that people come to their senses and realize this entire bankruptcy is illegal, immoral, that the sale of the art that belongs to the people of Detroit is blocked?

Perhaps Congress will propose a federal bailout for the workers’ pensions, similar to the one they passed in 2008 to bail out the very banks who are now clamoring to get their hands on their very own Van Gogh?

Or perhaps Clooney will make another movie before he heads back to Darfur that more artfully depicts a public and cultural crisis of catastrophic dimensions?

The_Thinker,_Auguste_Rodin

South Slope And Union Reach Contract Agreement

no trespassing[For background click here]

South Slope Cooperative Communications and Communications Workers of America (CWA) Ratified a New Contract

We are pleased to announce that South Slope Cooperative Communications and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) have reached a collective bargaining agreement, effective through September of 2015. Members of the Union voted on Saturday, March 15, to approve a contract that includes wage increases, added flexibility, increased job security, improved vacation time, and a fully funded pension.

We believe the contract contains concessions on behalf of both parties and shows our combined commitment to excellent customer service in a highly competitive telecommunications environment. Our mutual goal is to ensure South Slope’s financial stability while continuing to offer quality jobs in our community. We remain focused on providing cutting edge telecommunications delivered with superior service to the Cooperative members.

CONTACT:

South Slope Cooperative Communications
Meredith King, Marketing Director
319-665-5357
meredith@southslope.com

Communications Workers of America (CWA)
Kay Pence, CWA Staff Representative
515-333-8965
mpence@cwa-union.org

McCutcheon v. FEC Events To Be Held in Des Moines, Davenport, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids

washington cartoon

politico.com

If you had all the money in the world, which candidate or race would you spend it on?

Personally, I’d give an enormous chunk to Elizabeth Warren to launch her Presidential Campaign for 2016. I’d also give sizeable amounts to state and local women candidates of diverse heritages because, well, we have a white man problem.  No offense to individual white men, of course, but even you gotta admit the stale, pale, male formula has become decrepit.

Of course, the recipients of my wealth would all be people who reflect my beliefs in an egalitarian society driven by compassion and scientific reason. Education would focus on the arts, culture and philosophy to mitigate the dehumanizing effects of modern technology. Above all, environmental preservation would be central to all decision making.

But me and my kind don’t have buckets of money to dole out to our wünder-candidates. And in our corporatist, finance-based, economic system, anyone with enormous wealth could only have gained it in ill-begotten ways that have exploited the environment and worsened social inequalities. Despite what Carnegie, Soros, Gates, et. al. want us to believe, their liberal fantasy of saving the world with money gained from wreaking havoc on it is rather idiotic and inefficient.

Since the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United that corporations can spend unlimited amounts on PACs because money is equivalent to speech, it was only a matter of time before someone extended that same logic to the rights of individuals to unlimited political campaign spending.

Which brings us to McCutcheon v FEC.   SCOTUS heard arguments last fall, and any day now they are expected to announce their decision in the case. Deciding in favor of McCutcheon – that his First Amendment Rights were violated by limiting the amount he could personally, directly spend on elections and candidates – would so completely upend campaign finance that yes, if I were Oprah rich, I could buy me a city council, school board or soil and water commission, possibly an Elizabeth Warren Presidency.

If SCOTUS maintains its absurd notion that money is speech, then yes, I agree, McCutcheon’s rights are being violated by any limitations on how he can spend it to talk to fellow voters. And he, like me, would spend it on supporting those who reflect his personal belief system.

But money is not speech, and corporations are not people. Money is a plastic concept reflecting power attribution, and corporations are its body.   Money once was a piece of paper, or a chunk of metal in exchange for labor or stuff. But more likely these days, the concept of money is just data tracked by a computer, updated daily as markets – another ephemeral concept – ebb and flow in response to other data tracked by the computers.

If SCOTUS decides in favor of McCutcheon, then we will be living in the most cynical society that ever existed on the planet.  The great Irish poet Oscar Wilde defined a cycnic with these words, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

Money has become so central to politics that people are misremembering how to evaluate a candidate on his or her own belief system anymore. They vote emotionally, based on the intensity of fear broadcast by the money-bought campaign ads.

Which is why it is so important for you, if you still, perhaps naively, believe that democracy is worth fighting for, need to come out on the day the McCutcheon decision is announced.

In Iowa, events are already planned for:

Des Moines:  West Steps of the State Capitol

Cedar Rapids:  Federal Building, 111 7th Ave., SE

Iowa City:  Clinton and Iowa Avenue, east of the Old Capitol building;

Davenport:  Federal Building, 131 E 4th St

Visit this website to sign up or  learn more about these and other events across the nation: moneyout-votersin.org/

Or find an event by zip code  here:  action.citizen.org

For a quick but pat explanation of McCutcheon: washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/supreme-court-takes-up-the-sequel-to-citizens-united/

Does America Need A Labor Party?

labor movementBy Rafael Ceja, Rank and File Union Member

Recently I saw an interview with former Florida Governor, Charlie Christ.  Years ago I would have called Mr. Christ a flip-flop or pancake, referring to his changing of parties so many times. But I believe that interview enlightened me in two ways:

#1 Mr. Christ is an unapologetic jerk. I believe he should have informed Mr. Romney of his change of endorsement in 2008 or at the very least displayed some form of regret for not doing so.

#2  It is tough to go Independent because of a lack of infrastructure like there is for the Democrats and the GOP.  And that is the part of the interview I would like to touch on.  The fact that in this country we have to choose between one party that is in bed with Corporate America and the other that is constantly climbing out of bed just long enough to convince the rest of America that they are here to help us. We need more political parties in America.

When the Republicans do something we don’t like we vote in the Democrats, then the Democrats proceed to do the same thing the Republicans were going to do.  The reason is that both parties realize more than ever that we only have two choices (for the most part), and that if they lose this time they will always have a 50% percent chance of winning the next time.

Mr. Christ did go Independent for a short period of time. However, one of his biggest complaints was that there was no infrastructure for Independents, and that made it difficult to run as one.  But there is one group that does have the infrastructure, the money, and the people to start a third party in this country:  UNIONS.  Most unions have political delegates at each local.  They also have people who are experienced in campaigning.  They also know how politics work on a local level and in Washington.

Now the problem. It is both sad and hard for me to face this fact, but unions are drawn to Democrats like a moth to a flame.  They know they are going to get burnt, but they don’t care because their line of crap sounds oh so good.  But if the Democrats had been defending Labor with the same vigor that the GOP has been destroying it, we would not be at less than 7% membership in the private sector.

It seems to me Organized Labor wants the Democrats to fight their fight. But one thing I have learned is no one is going to argue your points the way you are.  It’s like Organized Labor has been sitting around and waiting for a Superman to come out of the Democratic Party when they really should have been creating their own Superman or Superwoman.

I do want to make one point as I do believe there have been pockets of real help from the Democrats. However the two-party system only works for the two parties, and workers will never get properly represented by a system that only focuses on perpetuating itself.  This is not only a call for just a Labor party, we need closer to four or five different parties, but organized labor is the only group that I know of that could potentially start their own party and succeed.  I think it is time for Organized Labor to stop depending on those who are there to serve the interests of others.

Finally, I will leave you with this.  UAW President Bob King said at a conference the UAW has no future without the South.  I respectfully disagree with Mr. King. I don’t think organized labor has a future with its continued dependence on the Democratic Party and without creating a political party of its own.

UAW, VW And The Southern Man

tracy photo topSouthern change gonna
Come at last
Now your crosses
Are burning fast
- Neil Young

On February 12-14, the men and women who assemble the Volkswagen Passat at a plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, will get to vote on whether or not they want the UAW to represent them and implement a Work Council. Work Councils exists at every other Volkswagen plant in the world except for those in China and the one in Chattanooga.

This election is meaningful on so many levels, not the least of which is that there hasn’t been a major organizing drive at a plant in the south since UFCW organized Smithfield in 2009 after a 16 year struggle there. But it would also be fascinating to see how the Work Council will work in the U.S.  Though Work Councils are common in Germany, if the UAW/Volkswagen election succeeds, it would be the first Work Council established in the U.S.

Work Councils operate differently than how the majority of unions are organized in the U.S. A typical industrial or public sector union in the U.S. exists after workers democratically vote for a union to represent them. They elect the president and local officers, and the local unions’ delegates elect the International or council officers who then hire business managers who work with local leadership on the day to day business of unionism. This includes everything from bargaining a contract, holding labor management meetings and representing workers grievances.

The union (local workers with union staff) will then negotiate with management to establish a contract that covers wages, benefits and conditions of employment. They do not get to make decisions typically decided as management’s decisions, and most contracts usually start with a “Management’s Rights” clause laying out management’s rights to hire and make other decisions about how the plant/office will run.

In Germany, worker representatives serve in equal number as management on a council to make mutual decisions about how the plant will operate. This goes well beyond the U.S. model and may include such discussions previously categorized as “Management Rights” like what cars will be manufactured at what plants.  Read more here  and here

As UAW President Bob King describes it, “In Germany, work councils are a unique model of collaboration between workers and employers that simply doesn’t exist in the U.S. yet. Works councils and the German system of co-determination demonstrate how company management and a strong union can partner and thrive.” http://www.detroitnews.com/

UAW has declared that a majority of workers support the union, and Volkswagen, though not officially in support of the organizing drive, has neither launched an anti-union campaign like what you typically see during an organizing drive. Frank Fisher, chairman and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga said, “Volkswagen Group of America and the UAW have agreed to this common path for the election. That means employees can decide on representation in a secret ballot election, independently conducted by the NLRB. Volkswagen is committed to neutrality and calls upon all third parties to honor the principle of neutrality.”

tracy post photo 3This should make for a non-controversial organizing. However, politicians and right wing think tanks are not allowing the organizing effort to go unchallenged. Tennessee’s Senator Bob Corker said Volkswagen would be a “laughingstock” for not fighting the union. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has been a constant critic claiming it will hurt the state’s economy.   “I think that there are some ramifications to the vote in a terms of our ability to attract other suppliers,” Haslam told a regional newspaper’s editorial board.

Additionally, Center for Worker Freedom, an offshoot of Americans for Tax Reform the dark-money group headed by Grover Norquist, has reportedly bought radio ads and more than a dozen billboards in the area that are thinly veiled attempts to squash the effort using race and communist fears, an ugly regression of Southern stereotypes.

One of them has the words “United Auto Workers,” written in large black block print, but the word “Auto” is crossed out with what looks like red spray paint and replaced with the word “Obama.”  Underneath it reads, “The UAW spends millions to elect liberal politicians, including Barack Obama,” and it directs you to a website: workerfreedom.org.

tracy post photo 4Another enormous bill board has a picture of a crumbling former auto plant and reads, “Auto Unions ATE Detroit…Next Meal: Chattanooga?” It also directs to the workerfreedom.org website where you are warned that “UAW Wants Your Guns.”

Yet another billboard refers to a Reuters article which claims, “almost every job lost at U.S. car factories in the last 30 years has occurred at a unionized company.”

But I prefer what Pete Seeger had to say about what happens when workers join a union:

That if you don’t let red-baiting break you up
And if you don’t let stoolpigeons break you up
And if you don’t let vigilantes break you up
And if you don’t let race hatred break you up
You’ll win. What I mean, take it easy, but take it

 Pete Seeger 2

BFIA Book Review: “Mayor 1%”

Mayor 1 percent-cover_5_3-front.sm_“Mayor 1%”  by Kari Lydersen

In Nov. 2011, Iowa Democrats held their annual Jefferson Jackson dinner, their biggest event of the year attended by thousands of party leaders from across the state. The keynote that year was Rahm Emanuel, the newly elected Mayor of Chicago, also former senior advisor for President Clinton and Chief of Staff for President Obama.

Touting his credentials, then-state party leader Sue Dvorsky said, ““Mayor Emanuel has proven to be one of the great advocates for Democratic values and middle class opportunity throughout his service in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, as a leader in Congress, and now at the helm of the great city of Chicago.” [Read full transcript of Emanuel’s JJ remarks here]

Dvorsky couldn’t have been more wrong in describing Rahm this way, but one could hardly blame her. Very little up to that time had been written that was critical of the wunderkind who emerged into the national spotlight during the Clinton years. Pundits may have rightfully described Rahm as a cuss-wielding, politically-savvy lobbyist and whip, but few actually surveyed Emanuel’s public service from the vantage point of the poor or of a working class person oppressed by Emanuel’s neo-liberal Democrat Party policies.

But if Emanuel was invited to the JJ dinner to raise money, as the JJ dinner is meant to do, then Rahm was their man. It was this ability that first attracted the attention of Clinton in the early 90s, and which is well documented in the recently published book, “Mayor 1%” by Chicago journalist Kari Lydersen. The thoroughly-researched portrait that emerges is not of a populist advocate for democracy and that elusive mythical thing, the “Middle Class”, but of a cunning and cut-throat power broker, representing the investment class with a disturbing detachment and growing inaccessibility to his Chicago constituents.

The book spans Emanuel’s rise to power from his childhood in the wealthy Chicago suburbs and ends with him rebidding then-union janitor jobs at O’Hare Airport from the barely livable wage of $15.45 an hour down to $11.90 an hour with a non-union mob-connected firm.

Do not mistake this book as a partisan political lambast, à la Ann Coulter. Rather, Lydersen’s training and decades of experience as a professional journalist with the Washington Post populate the pages of the book with heart-wrenching first-hand interviews and dozens of pages of citations.

As Lydersen states in the introduction, “Although this is a book about Rahm Emanuel, it is also a story about organizations – like the Mental Health Movement and the Chicago Teachers union – made up of regular people who are finding it harder and harder to secure basic rights including housing, health care, and a voice in their governing institutions.”

The book speaks for itself (order it online through the non-profit, progressive book publisher Haymarket Books).  Some of the stories covered include:

  • How Rahm Emanuel earned $18 million during two years as an investment banker between the Clinton and Obama years
  • Was a key architect of NAFTA
  • Established the Infrastructure Trust that proposes to finance and manage municipal projects by a non-elected board that raises money through complicated financial mechanisms rather than the traditional bond market
  • Closed half of Chicago’s Mental Health Clinics and more than 50 Chicago Public Schools, almost all in black and Latino neighborhoods
  • Waged a contract battle against the Chicago Teachers Union leading to a week-long strike – first in more than twenty years
  • Passed constitutionally questionable city ordinance curtailing civil liberties during NATO Summit in Chicago.

 

Labor Update: Predictions For 2014

Dick TracyAs we approach New Year’s Eve, it’s tempting to write a year-end review of all that passed in the preceding twelve months related to labor and politics. But my memory is bad. And I’d sooner not have to think about most of what transpired so I can retain some holiday cheer (I personally had my pension raided by the Democrat-dominated Illinois legislature and Governor).

So here goes – while it snows, and while I remain grateful for food, a roof over my head, and all the exquisite people I know and have the good fortune to work with – are my not-so-scientific based predictions of what will come in the next twelve months.  May you have a Happy New Year. May you also stay angry at the condition of the state of things and motivated to change them, but not obsessed, so you still enjoy good people, good food, good times, and the wonder of the universe (this is why we struggle and not give in to apathy, isn’t it?).

Immigration Reform Won’t Get Passed

Not because it isn’t wise, humane, and simply the best way to evolve into a global economy, but it is an election year, and electeds do not like to take risks when they are under job-review. Recall the damage done to Democrats in 2010 after the extremely compromised ACA passed. If I were captain of the universe I would push hard for passage of the DREAM Act instead, forcing the bigots into saying the ugly ideas they hold in their hearts but rarely articulate (see Steve King prediction below). Then we can hope to pick up enough seats to push for meaningful comprehensive immigration reform in 2015

A Woman Elected to National Office from Iowa

Frankly, this is a battle that I am personally itching to get behind, and I know a lot of other smart, brass tacks ladies in the state ready to champion a woman who makes this the centerpiece of her strategy. Bitter attacks against women’s reproductive freedom hit a raw nerve, and there are plenty of men who care deeply about this cause as well, not the least of the reasons why is because their wives, girlfriends and daughters aren’t earning nearly as much as their male counterparts.

Stacy Appel can do it (women outnumber men in CD3 395,938 to 383,063). So can Janet Peterson. But only if they run aggressive non-traditional campaigns that tap into Iowa’s historic progressiveness. There are probably a half dozen other potential women candidates out there, says Pam Jochum, who are over overly qualified to run and win. I know she’s a journalist not a politician, but Des Moines Register Columnist Rekha Basu is so smart and would be a great any kind of elected official. Run Rehka, run!

A Latino/a Breaks the Glass Ceiling

Currently the highest serving Latina/o elected in Iowa history is Scott County Recorder Rita Vargas. And if the ratio of population matched elected positions, 5.3% of all elected officials would be Latino/a, instead of just eight. So who will be the one to finally crack the code? I’d put stock on Maria Bribriesco who is running for IA SD 47 to do it. She has enormous obstacles to confront, and any victory will be tighter than a Vegas slot machine, but Bribriesco earned a lot of local name recognition in her race against Linda Miller in 2012, and her foray into the race for the corresponding Senate District increases the likelihood as its demographic is a bit friendlier to Democrats. Plus, her biography is proof that with hard work and progressive government policies, the American Dream is still possible. Her down-to-earth personality also balances her intimidating career as an attorney for the Rock Island Arsenal and makes her immediately likeable at the door.

Branstad and GOP Legislators Push for Pension Reform

And some weak-in-the-knees Democrats will cave because they drink the Kool Aid pushed by right-wing think tanks despite actuarial evidence that IPERS remains among the strongest pensions in the country. At this point, there is no public clamoring for pension reform, but Branstad will use Illinois and Michigan as strawmen to demand reform. Cities, which will be cash-strapped thanks to property tax rollbacks passed last session, will have some legitimacy to complain here. But the answer isn’t to fix that bad legislation with another piece of bad legislation.  I can’t make a prediction on how the dust will settle on this, only a warning that we all need to lobby hard to honor our seniors and public servants and protect ourselves against the continued erosion of all our retirement benefits, from pensions, ripped off 401Ks as well as national attacks against Social Security.

Smart Watches THE New Fashion Rage

I personally think these gadgets that pair with your smart phone are suh-weet, and I want one but cannot afford it since they are so pricey. So like the Kindle, I’m predicting that soon the technology will race ahead and costs will plummet, then we can all become “that” person, annoyingly talking to our wrists in public.

Another 500-year Environmental Disaster

This is a terrible prediction, and I don’t mean to be a fatalist, but the increased occurrence of severe weather events makes this almost inevitable. Question is, how many 500 year storms, F5 tornadoes, and billions of dollars in severe weather event damage until climate change deniers pull their heads out of their asses and take responsibility? Maybe we should recruit folks in the insurance industry who will soon go broke from all their payouts to lobby with us.

EPA Enforces New CAFO Restrictions

Due to failures by the state legislature and the Branstad Administration to pass meaningful regulatory reform, the national EPA will enforce clean water protections against the explosive growth of industrial hog operations and increased manure spills from irresponsible CAFO owners. Federal regulatory framework exists, Congress just hasn’t funded it adequately. I’m hoping Obama starts to flaunt his Executive Branch authority more now that he has no future election prospects to plague him. Perhaps he’ll also have been emboldened by the usually trepid Harry Reid’s exciting but long overdue filibuster reform in the Senate.

Heroin Continues Spread Across the State

Another Debbie-downer prediction. I don’t mean to be depressing, but this is a deadly issue that is spreading across the state and not talking about it won’t stop this. Heroin’s cheap cost and extraordinary addictiveness will make meth look like candy. Heroin addiction is an epidemic related to increased poverty and marginalization, and unless the state reverses the trend of downward wages, and incarceration-as-answer-to-poverty, more people will be swallowed up by hopelessness. Please read about the damage being done in Waterloo here.

Schultz Will Lose

Whatever race he runs. He’s sure to lose Secretary of State now that his banner cause – Voter Fraud – has proven to be largely a ruse. If he chooses to run for IA CD3, he’ll lose there as well. Sorry, but the shelf-life on some one-trick politician ponies is very short.

Steve King Implodes

Allright, I admit this is purely aspirational, not predicated on any Nate Silver-esque methodology, but how long can one live under the pressure of so much hate and bigotry: Immigrant calves the size of cantaloupes? Hilary a communist? Electric fences to zap immigrants the way we do errant cattle? I’ve never personally heard of an incest rape victim getting pregnant, so the verdict is still out if that’s possible.

There’s always the chance that King will accidentally find himself on a tour of 3rd world poverty (found in spades right here in the US) with a bunch of Quakers whose kindness cures him of his hate.

You may say I’m a dreamer…but I’m not the only one.

Labor Update: Is Your Legislator A Member Of ALEC?

ALEC Snake Oil
Dark Money Casts Its Shadow Across Iowa

Article originally appeared in Iowa Federation of Labor News: http://iowalabornews.com

Americans usually associate large cash flows with lots of bling. But when it’s political money masquerading as grassroots politics, the result is much more obscure…hence the term Dark Money.

Thanks to funding from billionaire libertarian brothers David and Charles Koch, Americans for Prosperity is at the leading edge of dark money spending.  In 2012, AFP spent more than $33.5 million against Obama’s re-election bid, but altogether $122 million in all races. This was five times what they spent during the 2010 Election cycle, before the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision opened the flood gates to unlimited and unaccountable political spending from outside groups like AFP.

Dark money has had such a tremendous influence on American politics in recent years that the Koch Brothers have become household names. However, because they organize as 501 (c)(4) organizations, income tax codes do not force them to disclose who funds them. Consequently, Dark Money has emerged as one of the greatest threats to the US experiment in Democracy.

Former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie used to be critical of the undue influence of outside groups on political competitions traditionally fought between the two parties. Gillespie criticized these groups in 2007 saying they, “run wild, unfettered, unregulated, not subject to the same rules and regulations as the national parties. And I think that’s been incredibly unhealthy.” Regardless of his initial reproach, after Citizen’s United passed in 2010, Gillespie and former Bush aid Karl Rove founded Crossroads GPS and American Crossroad, which together spend $325 million in the 2012 cycle.

Dark Money groups are now competing to become the largest spenders in politics. In the two years since Citizens United, Dark Monday was responsible for 1/3 of all money spent in Iowa during the 2012 Election Cycle, and most of these came from out of state. According to People for the American way, “groups federally registered outside of Iowa accounted for 96.21% of all outside [non-party] spending.”

Because the public generally disagrees with large corporations and rich individuals essentially buying elections, more and more often these groups are having to take stealth measures to hide behind a complex funding web, where money is not only flowing from rich individuals and corporations into the groups, the groups themselves often dole out cash to smaller organizations, spread across the states.

And more and more often these groups have moved beyond the national races and are getting involved locally, in statehouse and municipal races, or lobbying under the auspices of the State Policy Network, a web of 64 right-wing think tanks.

Disguised under names like Priorities for Iowa, Iowa Public Interest Institute, Citizens for Responsible Growth and Taxation, American Energy Alliance, American Future Fund, and Iowans for Freedom, these groups pose as if they were local, concerned citizen groups.

In October of this year, Americans for Prosperity spent large sums of money trying to influence the outcome of the Coralville election. The news of AFP getting involved in a local election in a town of fewer than 20,000 people was so shocking that it was on the cover of the New York Times and covered internationally by Al Jazeera.

But Iowa wasn’t the only example of big money is small town America. Dark money groups were also involved in ballot initiatives in Gahann, Ohio (pop. 33,000), and in Fremont, Nebraska (pol 26,000) to block tax increases. AFP has also been involved in statehouse races in Arkansas and Kansas, judicial contests in Florida and North Carolina, and a mayoral election in Lakeville, Minnesota.

The 2014 mid-term Election Cycle is gearing up to be an extraordinarily high-stakes competition. With Gubernatorial, Senate and Congressional races all up for grabs, prepare yourself for a deafening swirl of activity.

TAKE ACTION

Please sign any of the various petitions supporting the Disclose Act and initiatives to pass a Constitutional Amendment overturning Citizens United (to learn more: Commoncause.org).

Lastly, when your friends, family or union brothers and sisters forward a Facebook post from Priorities for Iowa or any Dark Money funded astroturf group, ask them these questions:

1. Where is the organization’s money coming from?
2. If these organizations have Iowans’ interests at heart as they claim, why won’t they disclosure their donors?

Also, please contact your legislator as bills get debated in the 2014 Legislature:

1. Are you a member of ALEC?
2. Have you ever introduced, supported or voted for ALEC model legislation?
3. Has [INSERT LOCAL SPN THINK TANK] ever lobbied you on certain pieces of legislation or policy areas?
4. Do you support the mission of ALEC as an organization? Yes or No
5. If not will you take the following pledge:

The Right Priorities Pledge

I swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Iowa; and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of State Legislator to the best of my ability. I affirm that I will put my constituents first—before corporate interests and their lobbies. I affirm that I will hold this legislative seat and conduct all legislative business in the public light, honoring transparency and a commitment to full disclosure.

ALEC LEGISLATORS, PLEASE SIGN BELOW:

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Labor Update: Baseball Solidarity

epanding the strike zoneBook Review: Baseball as multinational and players as union

by Mike Matejka
Grand Prairie Union News, Bloomington, Illinois

Expanding the Strike Zone: Baseball in the Age of Free Agency by Daniel Gilbert, U. Mass Press

As this year’s U.S. World Series fades from memory and baseball fans’ hope turns to 2014, we often forget two things: 1) baseball is a business, and 2) baseball is not just the “All-American” game.

In a new book that weaves together baseball unionism, players’ rights and the international reach of America’s past-time, Daniel Gilbert’s Expanding the Strike Zone: Baseball in the Age of Free Agency examines the sport from multiple levels.

First, there is workers’ rights.  Gilbert traces how players established a union and with the leadership of the Cardinal’s Curt Flood, challenged baseball’s reserve system, where players could be traded without any input.  Although Flood lost his 1969 court case after he was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies, his battle was won with the establishment of the Major League Players Association (MLPA).

The great break through for the MLPA was their hiring of Marvin Miller, a United Steel Workers economist, as their director.   The MLPA was started in 1946, restarted in 1954, and became the premier sports union after Miller was hired in 1966.

Players saw the multimillion dollar deals being made for television, but had little bargaining power.  Plus, the reserve clause meant they could be traded at any point.

Miller channeled those frustrations and built a united front, striking in 1981 and winning not only free agency, but also greater control for players over their image and its use.

Gilbert deftly places this organization in the context of 1960s civil rights and other efforts.  Stars like Curt Flood entered the League when spring training housing was still segregated; in June 1965, the Baltimore Afro-American ran a statistical report that two-thirds of players hit by pitchers were African-American.  In 1962, Flood participated in an NAACP rally in Jackson, Mississippi.  With these experiences, it’s no wonder Flood equated the reserve clause with slavery.

Thanks to Miller and player solidarity, baseball players not only forged a strong union, but also gained a financial share in how their image is sold.

The other fascinating story here is how international major league baseball is.

When the major leagues expanded, then Vice-president Richard Nixon saw baseball as a positive U.S. influence, calling for major league affiliates in Havana, Montreal and Mexico City.  The Canadians soon won franchises, but U.S. baseball has not expanded further.

When Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line in 1947, not only did African-Americans gain big league opportunities, so did  players from Japan, the Caribbean and Latin America.

The 1964 San Francisco Giants not only boasted African-Americans Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, but Orlando Cepeda (Puerto Rico), Masanori Murakim (Japan), and from the Dominican Republic, Jesus Alou and brothers Juan and Mateo Marichal.

The L.A. Dodgers in 1981 featured Mexican Fernando Valenzuela and the 2001 Seattle Mariners succeeded with Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki.

Gilbert does more than trace the transnational careers of these baseball stand-outs.  He documents the business relationships Major League Baseball has made with leagues in other countries.

Baseball players is a leading export of the Dominic Republic, where impoverished youngsters vie for spots in baseball camps, some run by U.S. teams,   Just as U.S. companies have run off-shore for cheaper labor, is baseball doing the same in the Caribbean?

Professional baseball is more than sport — it’s entertainment and a business with a transnational reach.  Gilbert’s book thoroughly explores both topics and leaves one wondering at the end — will there ever be a real “world” series?

Labor Update: South Slope Phone Cooperative Locks Out Workers

no trespassing

Update: November 7 – The following media statement is available on
http://southslope.com/news-a-media-room

Statement from Justyn M Miller, South Slope CEO

“We are pleased that our employees represented by the union will be joining us at work on Monday. Although South Slope’s proposal was not approved, we will implement our Final Offer and continue to negotiate in good faith with our union representatives. Contrary to previous reports, South Slope never proposed to lower the hourly wages for current employees in their current positions. We believe the proposed changes to the contract address our competitive industry and regulated telecommunications environment. Our cooperative members are our primary focus and we will continue to provide excellent service.” 

Update:  Contract was rejected, but South Slope has allowed employees to return to work.  LINK

South Slope Uncooperative

Last Friday morning, 55 CWA workers at the South Slope Phone Cooperative in North Liberty, Iowa, were locked out of their jobs after the South Slope Cooperative contract with Communications Workers of American contract expired at midnight October 31st. CWA represents 55 workers in Outside Plant, Clerical and IT departments.

South Slope CEO Justyn Miller had announced to the employees last week that they would be locked out when the 31st contract expired until the membership voted on the Company’s Last Best and Final Offer which was scheduled for Sunday, November 3, 2013.

South Slope employees still showed up for work on Friday as scheduled despite the Company threat to lock the workers out. However, when dozens of workers showed up for their shift early Friday morning, CEO Justyn Miller, met them at the parking lot and told them they were “trespassing” and to get off the property.

The ratification vote scheduled for Sunday November 3 was then unanimously voted down by the workers.

On Monday, November 4, the workers intend to return to South Slope to their jobs – we will post an update once we know whether or not they were allowed to work.

BACKGROUND

The Union Bargaining committee is concerned the two tier pay structure being demanded by the company will negatively impact employee morale and the ability to attract and retain qualified employees. Among other non-starters in the company’s final offer, South Slope has proposed a 30% decrease in pay from existing wages for new hires or existing workers who transfer into new titles. This equates for newly hired workers to take as much as an $8 an hour pay cut (equals to $16,000 cut in average annual pay for full time workers).

Despite the presence of a Federal Mediator, the talks became contentious as South Slope insisted on forcing its proposals on the workers rather than negotiate fairly.

CWA recently filed charges against South Slope with the National Labor Relations Board for Bad Faith Bargaining and the unwarranted suspension of a union supporter. Prior to the contract expiration on October 31, South Slope also refused to continue bargaining or to extend the contract a few days in order to accommodate the ratification vote. South Slope workers previously authorized a strike, however they had notified the company they were willing to extend their contract or work without a contract until a legal vote could be held.

South Slope’s Board of Directors has made no public comments related to the lockout, neither do they serve on the negotiating committee which is composed of local company managers and their hired attorney, James Peters out of Cedar Rapids.
The union first sent notice to bargain in June, and they two sides first met September 26th. After meeting only a few times in October, and after a Federal Mediator attending the last negotiations, the company offered their last and final offer despite the fact that there are more than twenty outstanding proposals unsettled.

Among the issues is a company proposal to eliminate dues deduction – a proposal seen by many as a way to bust the union and which Governor Walker had pushed through the legislature in Wisconsin in 2011, a move that was met with weeks of protests in which hundreds of thousands of people protested in and around the State Capitol. Parts of that bill are still being litigated.

Kay Pence, Representative for CWA, commented that bargaining with this company has always been a challenge, but the current proposals are “ridiculous”. The company is clearly trying to “bust the union” she said, citing incidents in which basic requests for information like company profits and operating procedures have been difficult to get.  The company also has one non-member employee circulating a decertification petition.

The union has worked with the company in recent years in order for it to grow and make significant fiber optic improvements. In fact, the union workers took a wage freeze in the last contract with a wage opener only in the last year.

Annual report last year showed that South Slope remains a profitable company. IN FY 2012, company made $792,000 in profits. In FY 2011, made $1.1 million and in FY 2010 earned $1.4 million. Most of the recent losses however are due to the massive investment in fiber optic upgrades to keep the company competitive in the ever-expanding telecom, internet and internet television markets.

Current workers are offered one percent wage increase and have agreed to health insurance changes in exchange for these wages. But the two tier proposal is not grandfathered so current workers taking a different position in the company are not guaranteed their current wages.

The company has 30 managers, 55 bargaining unit members.

Please call CEO Justyn Miller (wearing jeans in the video) and ask him to respect his workers and bargain in good faith his office number is 319-626-2211 cell 319-936-7505 or email Justyn@southslope.com

For more information, contact: Mary Kay Pence, CWA Representative, mpence@cwa-union.org and 515-333-8965.