Archive for May, 2012

Macy’s workers organizing on key contract issues

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

By Will Parry

By Mother’s Day, the management of Macy’s Washington state stores will have received seven vivid reminders that their employees mean business in current contract negotiations.

Delegations of union Macy’s workers and community supporters have scheduled spirited actions at the company’s stores in Seattle (Northgate and Downtown), Bellingham, Tukwila, Everett, Federal Way and Lynnwood.

Members of the Puget Sound Alliance for Retired Americans, many of them Macy’s shoppers, will join the demonstrations at these two stores:

• Downtown, 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 8; and 

• Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood at 

3 p.m. on Sunday, May 13, 

Mother’s Day. 

The issues in the current round of bargaining are critically important.

“Increasingly, Macy’s is moving toward a part-time work force,” Steve Lansing, UFCW Local 21 community organizer, said. “As a result, workers struggle to earn a livable income and often find they do not receive enough hours to qualify for health care coverage. Even if they do qualify, the coverage is usually unaffordable.”

“Work schedules are not dependable, with the number and timing of hours varying from week to week. Workers are even disciplined for missing work when they are sick.”

Join with PSARA as we express our solidarity with the Macy’s workers.

New laws curb voter registration

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

By Mark McDermott 

Voting laws passed by Republican legislatures in a dozen states during the past year have sharply restricted voter-registration drives that typically target young, low-income, African American and Hispanic voters – groups that have backed the Democratic president by wide margins.

Another 16 states are considering bills that would end voter registration on election days, impose a range of limits on groups that register voters, and make it more difficult for people to sign up, according to the Brennan Center for Justice in New York University Law School.

Analysts say that the new laws – many of which include measures requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls – could carve into Obama’s potential support in Florida, Ohio and other politically-divided states likely to be crucial in the November 6 election.

Many if not most of these new laws follow model statutes developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the secretive, corporate-funded organization that gives direction to right-wing state legislators.

Massive registration drives in 2008 helped put millions of people aged 18 to 29 on voting rolls, and that age group – which makes up roughly one quarter of the U.S. electorate – voted 2-to-1 for Obama, helping propel him to victory

Rock the Vote, a nationwide organization that mobilizes young voters, said the new laws would make it more difficult to educate people on how to sign up to vote.

“The types of laws have varied, but state by state they’ve added up to the fact that it’s going to be harder for young people to get registered and vote in this election cycle,” said Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote.

The League of Women Voters and other groups have suspended voter registration in Florida as they challenge the new restrictions in court.

Hospitality workers demand fair treatment

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

By Mike Andrew

Eight people were arrested in a sit-in outside the Space Needle’s 50th Anniversary celebration on April 21.

While the eight, who included Space Needle workers and union activists, blocked the Space Needle driveway, more than 100 supporters chanted “U-N-I-T-E! We want job security!”

Atop the Space Needle, Seattle’s elite celebrated the anniversary of the iconic monument, the symbol of the 1962 World’s Fair, and looked forward to another 50 years of an expanding tourist industry.

Each year the Space Needle attracts over a million visitors making it one of the top tourist destinations in the region. The Needle’s Sky City Restaurant is the most patronized in Seattle, with dinners costing as much as $60 a plate.

Among those arrested were Lynne Dodson, Secretary-Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, and Erik Van Rossum, principal officer of UNITE HERE Local 8, the union that represents Space Needle workers.

Space Needle management has been negotiating with workers since May 2011. In February, workers rejected a so-called “last and final” proposal by management that failed to include job security provisions.

“I could be replaced any day with temporary workers making lower wages and no benefits,” said Space Needle server Sanjeet Thebe. “Living under this stress has not been good—for me and for my family.”

Workers have said they will not accept a new contract unless the employer pledges not to contract work to outside companies.

The Space Needle sit-in was the second action by hospitality workers in April.

On April 3, workers from the Hyatt at Olive 8 Hotel paid a visit to their management office to demand that management remain neutral in their efforts to organize a union.

The workers’ organizing committee was accompanied by 20 community supporters, including County Council President Larry Gossett, County Council member Joe McDermott, City Council member Nick Licata, and Port Commissioner Rob Holland.

PSARA President Robby Stern and other PSARA members were part of the delegation.

Mayor Mike McGinn sent Hyatt management a letter supporting the hotel workers’ demand for a fair process to move forward with organizing.

“I believe workers should have the right to decide whether to join a union, free of intimidation or improper interference,” McGinn wrote. “As this process moves forward, I am asking you to respect workers’ rights to freely choose whether to join a union.”

UNITE HERE 8 said the organizing drive at the Hyatt at Olive 8 was its first new grassroots unionization effort in many years. The Arctic Club Hotel was unionized in 2009 through a prior “card check” agreement with management.

“Card check” means that an employer agrees to recognize a union once a majority of the employees sign cards authorizing the union to represent them.

If an employer does not agree to remain neutral in the organizing drive and to accept card check, workers have a much harder time winning the right to unionize.

Hostile employers can and do resort to all sorts of tactics – compulsory anti-union meetings, one-on-one meetings to pressure employees, threats of being fired – to intimidate employees and try to prevent them from joining a union.

Although Hyatt at Olive 8 manager Michael Stephens promised the delegation that “of course we’ll remain neutral,” documents released by management the next day indicated they would not accept card check at the property. Organizers say that Stephens was involved in heavy-handed anti-union tactics when he managed the Hyatt property in Scottsdale, Arizona.

On April 18, Puget Sound SAGE released a new report titled “Our Pain. Their Gain: The hidden cost of profitability in Seattle’s downtown hotels.”

While Seattle’s hospitality industry is one of the cornerstones of the local economy, industry practices keep workers in poverty with low wages and sketchy health benefits that require public money to subsidize their health care costs, as well as their food and housing, the report reveals.

“We found that hotel workers, who are mostly people of color and family breadwinners, not only earn wages at poverty level,” said Howard Greenwich, research director for Puget Sound Sage and author of the report, “they endure pain and injury at higher rates than almost any other industry—some that may surprise you, such as construction or coal mining. Meanwhile, industry profits are rapidly growing.”

The scientists are right

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

By Will Parry

Yes, there was a heat wave in March, running in a broad swath across the United States, from the Upper Midwest to the Northeast. Weather stations reported that by March 21, more than 2,200 daily high temperature records had been broken.

International Falls, Minnesota, “the Icebox of the Nation,” exceeded its all-time historic high March temperature by 22 degrees. Weather historians say this may be the largest margin ever for any U.S. station with a century’s worth of records.

Veteran Minnesota weatherman Paul Douglas blogged that “ this is OFF THE SCALE WEIRD, even for Minnesota.”

Mother Earth has a message for us: the scientific community is right. The weather extremes that scientists forecast are with us. Not in some hazy future, but right now.

And we keep on generating carbon dioxide with our massive, ongoing, night-and-day consumption of fossil fuels.

Every day, from our kitchen window, I can see, two blocks away, the southbound lanes of Interstate Five, cars and trucks racing past. Endlessly. Endlessly. Endlessly.

Bill McKibben, the outspoken activist and environmentalist, has dedicated his life to saving the planet as a viable home for its multitude of creatures. McKibben’s organization is called 350. org. The scientific consensus is that 350 parts per million is the absolute upper limit of carbon dioxide that life on Earth can tolerate.

We’re bumping up against that limit right now.

McKibben calls our attention to the profound significance of the hot weather in March, “an early season outbreak of heat completely without precedent in its scale and spread.”

April and May frosts may kill off the plants that have budded early. Soil exposed by the retreat of snow will dry out much earlier, raising the risk of drought and forest fires. Reservoirs will start evaporating early.

“But the real fears are things we can’t anticipate, simply because we’re moving into uncharted territory,” McKibben says. “We’ve never seen anything like what we’re seeing in March.”

On May 5, McKibben and 350.org are planning a day for people on all continents to testify to the effects of climate change.

“There will be Pakistanis forced from their homes in the worst flooding the country’s ever seen, and Somalians dealing with a drought horrible even by the standards of the Horn of Africa. Thais, who watched flood do damage last fall equal to 18 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and El Salvadorans who watched 15 years’ worth of development wash away in a week of record rains,” McKibben says.

We in PSARA should find the ways to enlist in Bill McKibben’s valiant crusade to save our planet – for our own children, and for all the children of the world.

Emergency rooms confront chaos

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

By Rap Lewis

Hospital emergency rooms across the country are dealing with a spike in psychiatric emergencies – attempted suicide, severe depression, psychosis – as states slash funding for mental health services while the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression takes its toll.

The harrowing story is spelled out in a three and a half page report by Reuters correspondents Julie Steenhuysen and Jilian Mincer.

Emergency rooms have long been overburdened by uninsured patients who wait until their ailments become critical before seeking care.

What ER physicians are encountering now offers grim testimony about the ways that economic hardship is deepening the mental health crisis.

“These are people without a previous psychiatric history who are coming in and telling us they’ve lost their jobs, they’ve lost their homes, they can’t provide for their families, and they are becoming severely depressed,” said Dr. Felicia Smith, director of the acute psychiatric service at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Visits to the hospital’s psychiatric emergency department have climbed 20 percent in the past three years, and “we’ve seen actually more very serious suicide attempts in that population,” Dr. Smith said.

Patients with chronic mental illness have no place to go because of the severe cutbacks in mental health facilities. Doctors report seeing people whose most critical need is a warm bed.

Hospitals are not prepared for increased numbers of psychiatric patients, said Randall Hagar, director of government affairs for the California Psychiatric Association. Over the past two years, California cut $587 million in state-funded mental health services.

“They don’t have secure holding rooms. They don’t have quiet spaces. They don’t have a lot of things you need to help calm down a person in an acute psychiatric crisis,” Hagar said.

Back in 2006, the Institute of Medicine reported that U..S. emergency departments were already overtaxed and overcrowded.

“Now you are adding in patients who are unsafe to leave but yet have nowhere to go,” said Dr. Bret Nicks, an emergency physician at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston- Salem.

Festival honors Bread and Roses strikers

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

By Lynne Dodson 

The first ever US MayWorks festival is being launched in Washington State including art, video, theater, workshops and lots of music. And this inaugural celebration is dedicated to and inspired by the 100th anniversary of the Bread and Roses strike and victory.

In 1912, Lawrence, Massachusetts textile workers launched a militant strike that popularized the slogan “Bread and Roses.” The workers, mostly immigrant, mostly women, organized and fought for higher wages, but also for dignity, respect, and better working conditions.

The pivotal strike called into sharp focus the problems, child labor, workplace safety, and an increasingly unequal distribution of wealth. Though they faced formidable, well-funded opposition, the strikers united workers across the northeast to win major victories. For bread, and for roses too.

For our first MayWorks celebration in Washington, we have the inspiration of the “Bread and Roses” strike to remind us that we are more than the jobs we do.

Our MayWorks commemoration of the Bread and Roses strike starts with a short film contest, “We do the work”. We’ll have a significant presence at the PNW Labor History Association Conference, theater and musical performances, an exhibition at the South Seattle Community College library, labor movie night, and a Bread & Roses float to be debuted at the May Day Immigrant Rights March in Seattle.

MayWorks culminates at the FolkLife Festival with the Bread & Roses theme reflected in exhibits from artists Beverly Naidus, David Bacon, John Stamets, and students; screenings of the winners of our film contest; workers talking about their experiences building Seattle Center 50 years ago; oral histories; a discussion of current struggles that bring the lessons of the Bread and Roses Strike to today; and Labor, Occupy, and Bread and Roses performances.

(Lynne Dodson is Secretary-Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and a PSARA member.) 

A bill to revitalize America

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

By Alex Stone

Enactment of the “Rebuild America Act”, introduced by Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin, would do more to help the American economy and revitalize the middle class than any other bill currently before Congress.

This sweeping legislation would boost employment by investing in

infrastructure upgrades, promoting U.S. manufacturing, and ending tax breaks that encourage U.S. firms to move production offshore.

It would also have immediate and positive impacts for the middle class by increasing access to affordable, quality child care; establishing a fair national

minimum wage; allowing all Americans to earn paid sick leave; and strengthening and protecting Social Security, among other things.

It’s clear this legislation would provide considerable help to the American middle class, but its provisions to strengthen and protect Social Security are particularly noteworthy.

For Social Security beneficiaries, the “Rebuild America Act” would increase benefits by about $60/month for the average beneficiary – a boon for seniors, disabled workers and survivors living on fixed incomes. It would also change the way the Social Security Administration calculates benefits from the current Consumer Price Index for workers (CPI-W) to the Consumer Price Index for Elders (CPI-E), which more accurately reflects inflationary health care and other costs faced by seniors.

To pay for these changes, and to ensure Social Security is solvent and

soundly-financed well into the future, Senator Harkin proposes “scrapping

the $110,000 cap” on taxable wages, ensuring all Americans pay into Social Security at the same tax rate. High earners – who currently pay a much lower tax rate into Social Security than middle class earners – would then pay the same rate of 6.2%.

The “Rebuild America Act” is legislation that would address some of the most critical issues affecting middle class families today. Its provisions to strengthen and protect Social Security deserve special attention.

(Alex Stone is Communication Manager for the Economic Opportunity Institute and a PSARA member.) 

While millions…

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

…of working Americans get sick and suffer and many face bankruptcy because they have no insurance, no doctor, no money for prescriptions, nothing but staggering medical debt… a few – let’s call them the 1% — have come up with a new strategy to prolong their parasitic lives.

For a mere million bucks or so, these privileged folks can have installed in their luxurious homes a fully-equipped emergency room with all the gear the White House might have for the President. For an extra few thousand a month, they can get immediate anytime teleconferencing access to top-notch private physicians.