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 Iowa Policy Project has been watching Iowa’s job picture for more than 10 years with a monthly review of the state’s job data as it is released. Along with our annual reports on The State of Working Iowa, this monthly analysis — Iowa JobWatch — has been a frequently quoted feature of IPP work, and has established IPP as a place to turn when media, advocates or policy makers are looking for perspectives about what’s happening in Iowa’s job market.
As we aggressively maintain a nonpartisan approach to our work, the introduction of a blatantly political element to the official job data provided by Iowa Workforce Development has been disappointing. So our Iowa JobWatch reports in recent months have featured the actual count of net job change since Governor Branstad took office in January 2011 — with the caveat that there is a better approach.
The graph below represents the more appropriate alternative to job counting that we have encouraged Iowans, including the Governor, to consider. Provided by the well-respected Economic Policy Institute, this measure looks at net job change dating back to 2000. It shows where jobs dropped in our state during the last recession (red area), and shows how many jobs we are short given the increase in population since the recession began.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette recently reprinted an Iowa Policy Points blog post from IPP’s Mike Owen about why we need to take care with official data, and what we should be able to expect from official state sources on it.
Three other major Iowa newspapers have printed IPP perspectives on various issues in recent weeks. Last Wednesday, we appeared in two different newspapers about two different issues: the minimum wage and Iowa’s unchecked spending on tax credits. Here are links (Note, if any of these links expire on the newspaper websites, our published guest opinions also may be found on the IPP website):
— In The Des Moines Register, Heather Gibney’s “Iowa View” on the minimum wage: “Opportunity wage is a misleading term.”
— In the Quad-City Times, Mike Owen’s piece on the Research Activities Credit:
“Auto-pilot tax credits add millions to Iowa firms.”
In addition, IPP’s Peter Fisher had a guest opinion a week earlier in the Iowa City Press-Citizen about public-sector pension plans: “Strengthen, don’t break, Iowa’s public pension plans.”
Wage theft was the topic for David Osterberg last Thursday in our regular early-Thursday interview on Mike Devine’s “Devine Intervention” radio program (KVFD Fort Dodge) to discuss wage theft. That recording is available here on our website.
Thank you as always for your interest in our work, and for your support. Remember, you can always make a tax-deductible contribution to us securely online — even set up regular monthly or quarterly donations. Our work doesn’t happen without support from people who want to assure good information is produced and circulated in our state.
The IPP Staff
20 E. Market St. • Iowa City, IA 52245
(319) 338-0773 • (319) 331-1287 cell
[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.
South Slope Cooperative Communications
Meredith King, Marketing Director
Communications Workers of America (CWA)
Kay Pence, CWA Staff Representative
Happy Monday from BFIA! Before you do anything, please read everything Dave posted over the weekend, especially Thank You, Obamacare! and What Would The Greatest Generation Do? And don’t miss Dave’s Sunday Funday Quiz – Holy Daylight Edition. Click on the links or scroll down when you get to the bottom of this post. Thanks for reading Blog for Iowa and have a great week!
TPP Teach-in Ames March 13
Steve Abbott, President of the CWA Iowa State Council:
Join us on Thursday, March 13th 6:30 pm at the Ames City Council Chambers for a Trans Pacific Partnership Teach-In!
Teach-in on how trade agreements affect jobs, the environment, social justice and the ability of local governments to govern. Detailed talk on the Trans Pacific Partnership and what happens if “Fast Track” is enacted.
If you remember NAFTA, you will want to hear about the TPP.
Additional sponsors include Americans for Democratic Action, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Iowa Citizens Action Network, Progress Iowa, Iowa Federation of Labor, Iowa Alliance of Retired Americans, UAW Region 4 and Teamsters.
Be there to learn about the proposed policies that would send jobs overseas, take away the rights of workers, and destroy the environment — and how we can work together to fight for alternatives that create an economy that works for everyone, not just the Wall Street 1%.
Here’s what you need to know:
Who: open to the public — everyone!
What: community teach-in on the Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that continues NAFTA’s global race to the bottom, and how we can fight back. Light refreshments provided.
When: Thursday, March 13th, 6:30PM
Where: Ames City Council Chambers, 515 Clark Ave, Ames, IA
Let us know you’ll be there by clicking here.
See you on March 13th!
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.
NORTH LIBERTY, IA—The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has found sufficient evidence to prosecute South Slope Telecommunications Cooperative with three separate violations of federal labor law.
South Slope employees represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA) filed unfair labor practice charges against South Slope in November, 2013, after management locked employees out for one day and then imposed harsh new contract changes—including 30% wage cuts for new hires and transfers—that employees had unanimously voted to reject on two occasions.
This week the NLRB announced results of its investigation finding merit in CWA’s allegations that South Slope committed the following unfair labor practices:
· Threatening employees with the loss of benefits,
· Unlawfully locking out employees on November 1, 2013, and
· Unlawfully implementing a last, best, and final contract offer prior to reaching impasse in negotiations.
The NLRB will now attempt to negotiate a settlement with South Slope, allowing management the chance to remedy the violations and begin bargaining in good faith. If South Slope refuses to remedy and settle the charges, the NLRB will move forward with scheduling a hearing to prosecute South Slope with violations of the National Labor Relations Act.
“We hope the NLRB’s announcement serves as a wake-up call, and that South Slope management will take this opportunity to revoke their unlawfully imposed contract changes and return to the bargaining table with intent to bargain toward a fair contract,” said Kay Pence, CWA staff representative.
South Slope employee Matt Holub, who has been directly involved in contract negotiations, said he was “relieved but not surprised” by the NLRB’s announcement. “My co-workers and I have already witnessed first-hand our new management’s refusal to seek compromise or even follow standard procedures in this year’s negotiations. We sincerely hope the results of the Labor Board’s investigation will encourage South Slope to work with us to move bargaining forward. All of us are eager to reach a fair contract agreement and keep focusing on the quality customer service that makes South Slope successful.”
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.”
This 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.
Another 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
Apparently, locking out workers, once a rare practice, is the new normal for employers. Last November, South Slope Communications in North Liberty locked out 55 employees for 3 days after their union contract with the cooperative expired. Employees who came to work were told they were trespassing.
Employees were allowed to go back to work and now the question is: Should these decent people who have done nothing wrong other than try to make a living, really be expected to accept a proposed tired system involving a 30% reduction in wages for some?
If you would like to show support for your friends and neighbors, the Quad City Federation of Labor is sponsoring an event Thursday, January 23rd to help the workers.
“Co-op members and employees have built South Slope into a vibrant, local customer-oriented communications service. Now our co-op is in danger of being hijacked for personal gain.
We call on South Slope’s current Board of Directors to stop operating in secret, imposing harsh new contract terms without agreement from employees, and withholding information about upcoming Board elections.
We own the co-op, and together we can call for transparent co-op governance and better business practices. We care about South Slope’s future and are committed to saving our co-op!”
WHAT: Save Our Co-op Rally
WHERE: South Slope Cooperative, 980 N. Front St., North Liberty
WHEN: 4:30 PM, Thursday, January 23
WHO: South Slope Co-op members, employees, and concerned community members
WHY: This is OUR co-op! Together we can restore South Slope’s commitment to cooperative principles, member accountability, and employee fairness.
The [South Slope] offer reportedly includes a proposed 30 percent reduction in pay from existing wages for new hires or existing workers who transfer into new titles.
The CWA bargaining committee said it is concerned the two-tier pay structure will negatively affect employee morale and the ability to attract and retain qualified employees.
The Communications Workers of America contends South Slope refused to continue bargaining or extend the contract to accommodate the ratification vote.
South Slope Communications provides telephone, internet and cable television services to Amana, Ely, Fairfax, Newhall, North Liberty, Norway, Oxford, Solon, Shueyville, Tiffin, Watkins, Walford, and parts of Cedar Rapids and Coralville.
America’s unionized workers, buffeted by layoffs and stagnating wages, face another phenomenon that is increasingly throwing them on the defensive: lockouts.
“This is a sign of increased employer militancy,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University. “Lockouts were once so rare they were almost unheard of. Now, not only are employers increasingly on the offensive and trying to call the shots in bargaining, but they’re backing that up with action — in the form of lockouts.”
Employers are turning to lockouts to press their unionized workers to grant concessions after contract negotiations deadlock.
If you look around the cable system or the radio spectrum we see very little that one could say lies on the left side of the spectrum. MSNBC in the evening starting with Ed Schultz comes first to mind. I would not include Chris Matthews in there. Then there is Free Speech TV on DISH and Directtv and a few cable systems. DemocracyNow is carried on FSTV and many radio stations across the country. On the radio side, what little was left wing radio has been closed down by the owners of the stations, Clear Channel Radio and Cumulus Radio. There are but a few left wing stations left even though they delivered the numbers. NPR has long since been co-opted and tries to stay non-controversial and out of the light.
So for the most part we have few, mostly marginalized, left wing outlets on TV and radio spectrum. Expect that ASAP on the internet unless the FCC stands up and says STOP! If you have never stepped up to write a letter, write one now. or better yet call FCC Chair Tom Wheeler and tell him that America needs to have an internet that is not just one more purveyor of the corporate line. We need an open internet. It is our last lifeline to our heritage of a free press.
Contact Tom Wheeler: http://www.fcc.gov/leadership/tom-wheeler-mail
FCC Phone: 1-888-225-5322
Branstad: Proving The Adage About Crazy
If you say something that is wrong once it is a lie; if you say it over and over again hoping it will come true is the definition of crazy. Terry Branstad wants you to know that he continues to drastically inflate employment numbers because he really wants them to be true. Truth be told, Terry, Iowa is not even getting their fair share of jobs that have been created in the recovery. Pretty hard to screw that one up, but by golly Terry did it! (8 million new jobs in the country * 1% (Iowa share of population) = 80,000. Branstad actual new jobs = 54,000. That is 67.5% of where he should be.)
Legislators Unknowingly Signed Up To ALEC.
Well it looks as though Democrats in the Iowa House may have been signed up as members of ALEC without being told and after demanding they not be. My guess is this was meant to defuse ALEC as a campaign issue. I can only hope that each and every democrat goes after each and every Republican legislator as the puppet of a group outside of Iowa this fall. After all, if they are a voluntary member of ALEC, they have given their vote away to ALEC.
NLRB Charges Walmart.
Well it is about time. Walmart has been charged with labor violations including illegally firing or disciplining employees who took part in legal protest.
One thing that really, really irks me about Walmart, McDonald’s, Target and their ilk is that taxpayers make up the difference between their low wages and what their employees need to live through SNAP and Medicaid and other programs. I would think that could be easily calculated over the years and Walmart et alia presented with a bill. Remember what they did not pay to their employees trickled up to the top where the Walton clan claims more wealth than nearly 1/2 of America. They were literally stealing the life from their employees.
Senator Bernie Sanders has long been a critic of Walmart and the Walton family. At a panel discussion on this topic Thursday Sanders challenged Walmart defenders:
“The Walton family is the wealthiest family in America,” Sanders said. “Does anybody on the panel think that they need significant welfare help? And yet it turns out that they are the largest recipient of welfare in America.”
He accused the retailer of paying its employees “starvation wages,” which in turn forced working families into taxpayer-funded social welfare programs to help pay for their medical care, food and housing.
“Do you think the Walton family, worth a hundred billion dollars, is in need of welfare from the middle class of this country, or do you think maybe we should raise the minimum wage so that those workers can earn a living wage and not have to get Medicaid or food stamps?” Sanders asked the panel.
Iowans believe the income gap between rich and poor is getting bigger, and most do not have an equal shot at getting ahead economically.
Des Moines, Iowa — Progress Iowa today (Jan. 9th) released the results of a recent statewide survey testing issues expected to face the legislature during the upcoming session, scheduled to begin next week. The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) between January 3rd and 5th, 2014.
The results showed 53% of Iowans support raising the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour, while just 36% opposed. The minimum wage increase received support across the entire economic spectrum. 58% of Iowans who earn more than $100,000 per year supported raising the wage. Iowans also believe by wide margins that the gap between the rich and poor is getting bigger (60%-31%) and that not everyone in Iowa has an equal shot of getting ahead economically (56%-36%).
“The Governor and the legislature need to focus on closing Iowa’s income gap and make sure everyone has a fair opportunity to get ahead,” said Matt Sinovic, executive director of Progress Iowa. “They can start by raising the minimum wage, which would put more money in the pockets of 216,000 working Iowans without the state having to spend a single dollar.”
“Iowans see a widening gap between the rich and poor, and don’t believe everyone has the same chance to get ahead,” said Jim Williams, a polling analyst at PPP. “That’s why there is such an appeal for increasing the minimum wage among all income levels, even the top earners.”
Polling results also showed strong opposition to policies pursued by Governor Branstad:
67% of Iowans believe that the Governor’s method of counting ‘gross jobs’ is not honest. Only 13% believe it is an honest assessment of job growth.
65% of those polled do not want Orascom to receive additional tax breaks from the state. And 22% want the original tax breaks promised to Orascom rescinded. Only 24% want to continue the tax break as planned.
54% oppose the measure signed and supported by Governor Branstad, giving him approval for the reimbursement of Medicaid funded abortions. Just 18% support the Governor having such approval.
“Governor Branstad’s deceptive trick of counting only jobs gained and ignoring jobs lost is not fooling Iowans,” said Sinovic. “Two thirds of his constituents believe that the Governor is being dishonest about jobs. It’s unfortunate that the Governor doesn’t seem capable of honesty on this issue, especially because any discussion about improving Iowa’s economy must start with an honest assessment of job growth.”
When asked how the state should spend the $120 million in the new ‘Taxpayer Trust Fund’ more than 90% of Iowans believe it should be spent on something other than personal tax credits. Just 7% wanted every Iowan to receive a $54 tax credit with the funds, while 39% want the state to rebuild Iowa’s roads and bridges, 26% want the funds to be saved for potential future shortfalls, and 23% want the funds invested in public education.
Public Policy Polling surveyed 965 Iowa voters between January 3rd-5th. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.2%. PPP surveys are conducted using automated telephone interviews.