Archive for November, 2012

Legislative Conference is November 10

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

PSARA’s annual Legislative Conference will be held from 10 a.m until noon Saturday, November 10, at UFCW 21’s Joe Crump Hall, 5030 First Avenue South in Seattle. A light breakfast will be served.

The 2012 elections will be over and the 2013 legislative session will be around the corner. PSARA members will be preparing to give their legislators their views on fiscal matters, health care, the state bank and other issues important to our members and their families.

At the request of some of our working members, this year’s conference is being held on a Saturday to enable them to attend.

Our Executive Board has contracted with an experienced and highly respected lobbyist, Pamela Crone, to advocate for PSARA’s legislative goals. Pam will assess for us the impact of the election on the legislature. She will also discuss how the Governor-elect is likely to affect the 2013 session.

During the 2011/2012 legislative cycle, the“road kill”caucus of business-oriented conservative Democratic senators blocked many progressive bills. The election results will determine the relative strength of that caucus in the 2013 session. If Jay Inslee is elected governor, and if both house and senate have working Democratic majorities, our legislative goals and those of our allies are more likely to be within reach.

Implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in our state will be a major issue in 2013. Teresa Mosqueda will clarify for us the complex road ahead for the state’s work on the new federal law. Teresa chairs the Healthy Washington Coalition, is a member of the Washington Health Care Exchange Board, and ks Legislative and Policy Director for the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

The national election outcome will have an enormous effect on the Affordable Care Act. Teresa recently attended a White House Conference on the implementation of the ACA. She will discuss how the outcome of the presidential and congressional elections will shape our efforts to achieve quality and affordable health care coverage for all Washingtonians.

The recently organized Caring Across Generations campaign will bring major policy proposals before the legislature. Susie Levy, Coordinator for the Caring Across Generations campaign in Washington and an organizer with WA Community Action Network, will discuss the Caring Across Generations legislative proposals, and what PSARA can do to help.

Following the presentations by these three remarkable women, PSARA members will discuss and vote on PSARA’s legislative agenda for 2013. Then we will caucus by legislative districts to arrange to meet with our legislators to discuss our legislative proposals. All of this in just two hours!

At the time of the conference, we are not likely to have one crucial piece of information. A challenge to the constitutionality of Tim Eyman’s initiative requiring a two-thirds vote to raise revenue or to close tax loopholes is pending before the Washington State Supreme Court. We hope that the decision will be issued either before the session or very early in the session. The decision will give us a much clearer idea of what can be done to raise revenue in 2013.

Our conference will prepare us for what promises to be a very challenging legislative session.

‘Lame duck’ with a dangerous bite

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

By Will Parry

Immediately after Election Day, a mighty alliance of labor and community organizations will launch a campaign to block any congressional deficit-reduction deal that damages Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.

The allied groups are deeply concerned over the willingness of leading Democrats, including President Obama, to enter budget talks prepared to yield ground on the three vital programs to get a bipartisan deal.

The lame duck session, between Election Day and the installation of the new Congress, looms as the arena for the battle between the deficit hawks and the defenders of critical social programs.

Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action will be vigorously supportive of the campaign.

“People, groups, organizations and networks are working very hard to get Obama and the Democrats elected, and yet we are worried that it is possible that we could be betrayed almost immediately,” said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future.

During talks with House Speaker John Boehner in 2011, White House negotiators agreed to cut at least $250 billion from Medicare over the next ten years, and an additional $800 billion over the following decade, and to water down the formula for determining Social Security cost-of-living adjustments.

“We don’t want Obama putting on the table what he proposed to Boehner,” Hickey said.

The talks within the so-called bipartisan “Super Committee” also raised red flags.
Before the talks collapsed, Democratic senators on the committee proposed hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits, as well as Medicaid, while Republicans on the committee proposed even bigger cuts.

On the initiative of Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent, Vermont), 29 senators, including Washington State’s Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, have signed a “Dear Colleague” letter to other senators, urging them to hold the line on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Sanders, who chairs the Senate Social Security Caucus, has been the foremost member of that chamber in vigorous defense of the three basic programs.

The AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the Strengthen Social Securities coalition and dozens of other groups are expected to be active in the campaign to prevent the deficit from becoming the pretext for program cuts.

AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka declared that labor will “oppose any cuts to Social Security or Medicare benefits, or to the federal contribution to Medicaid.

“We call on politicians of both parties to stand firm and demand that Wall Street and the wealthy finally pay their fair share – given the extraordinary increases in corporate profits and income inequality in recent years,” Trumka said.

The AFL-CIO will stage a series of coordinated events around the country on November 8, to pressure lawmakers not to sign onto any deficit-reduction deal that raises the Medicare eligibility age or changes the Social Security cost-of-living formula.

In a related development, the Institute for America’s Future, after Election Day, will release a letter signed by 350 economists warning that austerity measures could derail the economic recovery.

PSARA Election Notice

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

At our December 20 holiday party and general membership meeting, we will elect/re-elect a number of PSARA officers. The position of Outreach Vice President is open. Additionally, the positions of Secretary, Treasurer and eight Executive Board members will be up for election.

We need people who are willing to put in some time to help PSARA be an effective community-based organization. If you are interested in donating time to PSARA, to help lead and represent PSARA for the next two years, call the PSARA office (206) 448-9646 and leave your name. Someone from the Election Committee will call you back, explain the duties of the position and confirm your interest.

Lessons from an old disaster

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

By Mike Andrew

George McGovern was the first presidential candidate I ever voted for. I was 20, and I meant my vote to be a vote against the war in Vietnam, and the toxic residue it was leaving in American politics.

The election of 1972 turned out to be a disaster. In spite of my vote, Nixon swept every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. McGovern couldn’t even carry his home state of South Dakota.

When I heard on Sunday that he was dead, I remembered how disappointed I’d been on election night 40 years ago. But I also remembered some other things.

First, I remembered how hopeful we’d been about McGovern’s campaign, even though all the evidence pointed to the fact that he was going to lose, and lose big.

I also remembered how terrified Nixon must have been of even the token opposition McGovern represented, so terrified, in fact, that he gambled – and lost – his presidency on a crackpot scheme to break into Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate Apartments.

Finally I remembered phoning my Republican father the day Nixon resigned to say “I told you so.” He said, “Yeah, you did.” It was the first time he ever acknowledged that I might be right about politics.

All this remembering is by way of asking you to become a PSARA member if you’re not already, and to recruit a new member if you are. Help us to meet our goal of bringing 250 new members into PSARA by the end of this year.

One of the lessons of that 40-year-old disaster is that corrupt and powerful leaders actually fear ordinary people, fear them under all circumstances, but fear them most of all when they are getting organized and are hopeful about the future.

Regardless of the outcome of this year’s election, if we still have hope for the future, we need to get organized to get ourselves there. You can help PSARA get where we need to be by joining today. If you’re already member, renew your membership and recruit a friend.

NAFTA on Steroids: Stripping the secrecy from The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

By Robby Stern

On Saturday, December 1, at 1 p.m., trade justice groups, labor activists, family farmers, immigration reformers, public health and net neutrality advocates, environmentalists, students, small business owners, and community activists from Canada, Mexico and the United States will gather at Peace Arch Park in Surrey, B.C. and Blaine, WA . These groups are united in their opposition to a new trade and investor rights agreement being written by U.S and other Pacific Rim country negotiators with the guidance of multi-national corporation representatives. Canada and Mexico recently joined the negotiations.

Negotiations have been going on for more than two years under extreme secrecy. Thankfully, there have been leaks and what we have learned is very very disturbing. This agreement represents a fundamental attack on the 99%.
Public Citizen and our local WA Fair Trade Coalition, led by PSARA member Kristen Beifus, have done terrific work in gathering information on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

NAFTA, WTO, Korus (Korea/US trade agreement) and now the TPP are only partially about “trade”. Rather, they are designed to set up a system of enforceable global governance to benefit large corporations.

The TPP would establish corporate run tribunals invested with the power to require that tax dollars be used to compensate corporations if environmental and health laws in the Pacific Rim countries undermine “expected future profits” of multinational corporations.

TPP will also enhance the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing jobs and production to Vietnam and China. Twenty years of NAFTA, WTO and other corporate managed trade agreements have already helped lead to the loss of 5 million U.S. manufacturing jobs and 45,000 U.S. manufacturing facilities, In addition, millions of service sector jobs have been offshored. Tax bases have declined with subsequent cuts to education, vital services and infrastructure. Only the top 1 % has benefitted from this economic dislocation.

According to Public Citizen,  this “Mother of all Trade Agreements” could in one blow lead to the offshoring of millions of U.S. jobs, free the banks from the limited oversight they now experience, decrease access to medicine, ban Buy America policies that are now used to create green jobs , and empower corporations with new tools to attack our environmental and health safeguards.

Only two of the 26 TPP chapters address trade. The remainder create new corporate powers, limit domestic policy that would impact corporate profits and grant new monopoly rights. The rules are enforced by binding dispute resolution, overseen by corporate representatives with the ability to impose trade sanctions or cash payments to corporations.
The process by which the TPP is being negotiated is incredible. Over 600 official corporate trade advisors have access to the draft TPP text. But public officials and other representatives from civil society do not have access.

In July, 134 members of the House of Representatives, including Rep. Rick Larsen, sent a letter to U.S. trade Representative Ron Kirk requesting that the appropriate Congressional committees be consulted and that a draft of the text be released. The letter received no response.

Reps. Adam Smith and Jim McDermott sent their own letters calling for more transparency and authentic stakeholder involvement in the negotiation process.  Journalists, unions and others in civil society are excluded from seeing draft TPP texts or knowing the positions of U.S. negotiators.

Information about the TPP has been leaked. The Public Citizen web site, http://www.citizen.org/ TPP or the WA Fair trade Coalition web site , http://washingtonfairtrade.org/ contain more information. Here are just a few highlights.
The TPP will assure higher drug prices for pharmaceutical companies and actually decrease access to medicines by extending patent monopolies on prescription drugs. It empowers pharmaceutical companies or their trade association, PhRMA to challenge medicine pricing formularies such as those used with Medicaid/Medicare and national healthcare systems. It allows the companies to raise the costs of drugs for programs such as PEPFAR (Presidents Emergency plan for AIDS Relief).

The assistance the agreement provides to pharmaceutical companies would also be mirrored in provisions related to Wall Street (rolls back regulations and actually prohibit bans on risky financial products) and †large scale agricultural corporations (food labels considered “trade barriers” and food corporations can directly† challenge domestic standards).

The fight against the TPP has begun throughout the Pacific Rim. We can join with our sisters and brothers who are already in motion in Malaysia, Japan, Australia and other Pacific Rim countries.

December 1, is an opportunity for PSARA members to get involved in the fight.  There will be buses and carpools heading to Peace Arch Park. Contact Kristen Beifus at kristen@washingtonfairtrade.org , or call 206.227.3079 if you would like to participate.

Workers shake up mighty Walmart – Prepare for action November 24!

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

By Mike Andrew

In a series of strikes spreading across several states, and involving hundreds of workers, Walmart employees are taking the initiative against unfair and unsafe working conditions.

The strikes began in June when immigrant “guest workers” shut down Walmart supplier CJ Seafoods in Louisiana. In July, the Department of Labor ruled in favor of the workers, demanding CJ Seafoods pay over $248,000 in back wages, fines, and penalties for wage theft and forced labor.

In September, Southern California warehouse workers walked out and set off on a 50-mile pilgrimage to dramatize issues within Walmart-controlled warehouses. By the end of the month, the strike had spread to warehouses in Illinois. Warehouse workers did not return to work till their employers agree to pay them for the 21 days they were out on strike.

On October 3, Walmart union members from around the world – including Argentina, Brazil, Central America, Chile, India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, as well as OURWalmart members from the US – met in Los Angeles to form the Global Walmart Alliance.

The next day, more than 70 Walmart workers from Southern California walked out in protest against Walmart’s unfair labor practices in the first multi-store strike in†Walmart’s history. They returned to work the next day without incident.

On October 8, Walmart struck back with threats of legal action against pickets at its stores. In a letter to several UFCW locals and community allies, an attorney for Walmart said the company “reserves the right to pursue appropriate remedies with local law enforcement…”

On October 10, in a National Day of Action against Walmart, hundreds of striking workers converged on Walmart headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, to demand an end to threats of retaliation, and a response to their concerns of unfair, unsafe working conditions.

The Day of Action included a picket line at Walmart headquarters, a flashmob at Walmart’s original store, Walmart #1, and hundreds of actions across the nation by community, and labor allies.

Locally the Making Change at Walmart, Puget Sound coalition, including PSARA, led leafleting and delegations at Walmart stores throughout†our†region. In all, 185 people protested at 23 Walmart stores in a single day.

On October 13, Huffington Post published a leaked Walmart management memo revealing their fear of strikes and Unfair Labor Practice charges resulting from retaliation against strikers.

On October 17, Walmart employees in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, who had not previously been organized by OURWalmart, walked out of their local store with home-made signs protesting cuts in hours.

Walmart workers have promised that if retaliation against striking workers does not end, they will go ahead with another Day of Action on Black Friday, November 24 – the busiest day of the year for retailers.

To date only a small fraction of Walmart’s 1.4 million US employees have gone out on strike. But the work stoppages have been what UFCW campaign director Dan Schlademan calls “a strike of leaders” that promises future action. Each one of the strikers, Schladerman said, will mobilize more of their co-workers for the Black Friday actions.

By walking off the job together, Walmart workers sent a signal about their deep discontent, and – more important – about their capacity for collective action. They have already achieved historic gains in demonstrating their rights to organize and to defend themselves against retaliation by the employer. And they have set the stage for a new round of actions against unfair and unsafe conditions at Walmart.

$29 a week in food stamps

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton observed Hunger Action Month by living on a $29 food budget for one week. “I’m tired, and it’s hard to focus,” the Mayor said on Day Four. “I can’t go buy a sandwich because that would be cheating … I’m facing a long, hungry day and an even longer night.”

Mayor Stanton now knows what $29 in food stamps will put on his table for an entire week.

Meanwhile, in Congress, the deficit-happy, budget-slashing Republicans who control the House have drafted a budget that would deny even that $29 in food stamps to millions of Americans.

The GOP budget-cutters would also cut the deficit by eliminating the funding for school lunch programs for hundreds of thousands of children.

Maybe members of Congress should emulate Mayor Stanton and go without lunch for a while. Say, for a full school term. They, too, might find that they’re “tired and it’s hard to focus.” Or they might focus – on restoring money for the food stamp and school lunch programs.

– Rap Lewis

A tough, self-critical assessment to clear the way to a better future

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

By Mark McDermott

The outcome of the 2012 election is extremely important, but even avictory for President Obama and the congressional Democrats will not ensure that our nation moves towardanew shared prosperity and genuine economic opportunity and security for all. For more thanyears, corporate America’s relentless attacks and its economic and political domination have been growing and will not stop regardless of the election results.

What is the way forward? First and foremost, we progressives from many movements need to do an-depth self-criticism of how we are organized and carrying forward the fight for a better future. We need to ask ourselves tough questions about our vision, values, agenda, strategy and collective organization. I include myself in this tough self-critical examination.

I submit that the progressive movements lack the critical collective organizational capacity to the develop an overall coherent vision of a better future and to proactively map the road forward. We are a multi-limbed organism that lacks a well-developed brain and central nervous system. If hard work, dedication, and a deep commitment to justice were all that were needed, our nation would look very different. Unfortunately much more is needed.

What does this deep self-criticism look like? Major league professional sports teams study game films every week. They study the offense and defense on every play. They analyze the strategies, tactics, timely adjustments, quality of the players, and the role of random luc. Their study leads to decisions to rebuild the team, to fundamentally shift strategies or tactics, to add a few new players and/or persist with the current strategy.

For political and economic movements, history itself is the game film. Let’s look at the 30-plus years of the game films of the origins of the financial collapse and the Great Recession. Most importantly we need to look hard at what we, the progressive movements, did to combat the financial deregulation origins of this economic catastrophe.

For decades, Corporate America, its Republican and Democratic allies, and many elite economists and commentators aggressively pushed deregulation of the banks and financial industries. President Carter and the ruling congressional Democrats started the process in the late 1970’s. President Reagan and Congress continued. President Clinton and most of Congress delivered massive deregulation in the late 1990’s. Bush, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and their cronies mismanaged the weakened regulatory protections in the 2000’s.

It added up to a largely bipartisan selling out of the American people. Final score: Big banks bailed out — for the people, massive pain.

Studying the game films of our opponents is easy. Deregulation took place in broad daylight. We know what they did if we care to look. Here comes the uncomfortable part for the movements and for me personally. What was our collective offense and defense over the past 30+ years?

Our offense and defense were largely non-existent. If you doubt this, try to recall how many demonstrations and protests of any size took place across the country in opposition to deregulation and the need for greater regulation. I can’t remember any. Why? Deregulation took place publicly. Brilliant progressive economists and some progressive Democrats warned us of the great dangers. Let me be blunt. We were not paying attention. We can’t blame our opponents for this. Why were we so unprepared?

The progressive movements are splintered up into literally thousands of organizations focused on single issues. We have labor, health care reform, immigration reform, hunger, poverty, human services, senior issues, reproductive and gay/lesbian rights etc. etc. etc. What mass movement is in charge of ensuring that we don’t have unnecessary economic collapses? None. More importantly, we lack a central organizational structure to discuss these matters across movements to ensure an effective vision and strategy to prevent crises and lead us forward to a better future. The institutional Democratic Party failed miserably in this historic task.

All progressive movements and their constituencies have been hit hard by the five-plus years of economic hard times. For decades, we have lacked the collective capacity to ensure that economic policy and financial regulation serve the people and not the wealthy elites. When the collapse came, we were both powerless and largely clueless regarding what to do.

All of us want a brighter, more secure and sustainable future. We must recognize our collective strategic organizational failure as the first step in laying out our positive vision for the future and how we will get there. More on this in later articles.

Remembering Bette Reed

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

PSARA and the broader community of housing advocates lost a valiant champion with the death on September 24 of Bette Reed. Bette died of complications following a stroke, at the age of 78. A woman of quiet dignity, modesty and quick wit, she became a crusading dynamo when she sought housing justice for the thousands of low-income families for whom she spoke.

Bette was elected to the PSARA Executive Board in 2006 and was elected Community Vice President (later called Outreach Vice President) in 2009. She was serving as Outreach Vice President at the time of her death.

She also served as president of the Tenants Union of Washington board and was active in its leadership for seven years.

“Bette was a visionary for advancing the cause of housing justice in our community, with a sharp wit and tremendous source of energy, both for herself, and anyone else who had the fortune of working alongside her,” said Jonathan Grant, Executive Director of the Tenants Union of Washington.

“Her leadership was instrumental as a part of a core group of tenants organizing to bring accountability to Seattle Housing Authority and to reform the Section 8 grievance hearing process,” Emil Paddison of the TU board said. “Thanks to her leadership as Board President of the Tenants Union, the organization has reached new heights, and she will be greatly, greatly missed.”

Bette was a visionary for advancing the cause of housing justice in our community, with a sharp wit and tremendous source of energy, both for herself, and anyone else who had the fortune of working alongside her,” said Jonathan Grant, Tenants Union Executive Director. “Thanks to her leadership as Board President of the Tenants Union of Washington State, the organization has reached new heights, and she will be greatly, greatly missed.”

In earlier years, Bette worked as an aide in the Justice Department Civil Rights agency and in a law firm specializing in worker’s compensation cases. She also served as director of a vocational training facility.

She had established a record of exemplary housing activism years before coming to PSARA. John Fox, head of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, told of working closely with Bette on housing issues over 15 years.

“She made an enormous contribution to the efforts of the Seattle Displacement Coalition and to the cause of seniors, low-income residents and tenants,” Fox said. “Whenever there was a meeting or hearing before elected officials to address critical economic justice issues, I could count on Bette to join us, speak out, and carry the word back to fellow senior residents to help get them involved.”

Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen relied on Bette when he chaired the Council’s Housing Committee.

“She was a tireless and consistent advocate for low income people and for seniors,” Rasmussen said. “You could always count on Bette. You need people like that to get things done.”

Fox identified campaigns in which Bette played a leadership role.

  • She led in organizing CASHA, the Coalition for Accountability at the Seattle Housing Authority. This ad hoc coalition of seniors, labor representatives and housing advocates secured the state law that requires representation on the SHA board for SHA tenants and labor representatives.
  •  Her role was critical in a successful campaign to block rent increases on SHA Senior Housing Bond units above what the low-income residents could afford. “To this day,” Fox said, “rents on those one thousand units remain accessible and affordable to the poor – only because of her work.”
  • She organized meetings in her building (Blakely Manor) including city-wide meetings that drew hundreds, to keep rents low and to demand accountability from SHA. She also traveled by bus (she had no car) to all 23 senior housing buildings to meet with resident councils on tenants’ rights issues.
  • She worked to organize and keep together the “SSHP Advocates,” a loose-knit but effective group of senior housing activists.

Based on their 15 years of common struggle on behalf of low-income tenants, Fox paid Bette Reed this tribute: “She set an extraordinary example and sent us all a message by virtue of her unwavering commitment to the cause of social and economic justice.”

Hinda Kipnis is a fellow resident at Blakely Manor and one of Bette’s many friends. She considered Bette an “indestructible” woman who “would give you her all.” Kipnis remembers a time when she was planning a midwinter trip to Chicago. Bette knitted her a hat and scarf to protect her against the biting Chicago cold.

Bette is survived by a son, Alexander Sibbald, and two daughters, Christy and Katherine Sibbald.

The Supreme Court rules on age discrimination

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

By Will Parry

A 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court in 2009 has virtually destroyed workers’ right to sue under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

The decision, in Gross versus FBL Financial, shifted the burden of proof so that workers have to show that their age was the deciding factor — not simply one of multiple factors — in an employer’s decision to discharge or demote an older employee.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito.

Before the Supreme Court decision, if a worker showed that age was a factor in an employment decision, the employer would have to demonstrate that he acted for valid and nondiscriminatory reasons. Since the decision, the New York Times reports, “lower courts have applied its onerous standard of proof to deny thousands of age discrimination claims.”

Some courts have even applied the ultra-tough standard to cases involving disabilities and to those alleging discrimination based on race, sex, national origin and religion.

To address this sweeping injustice, Iowa’s two senators, Republican Charles Grassley and Democrat Tom Harkin, have introduced legislation to reverse the Supreme Court’s ruling and restore older workers’ rights.

The legislation is urgently needed. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says age-related charges make up a growing number of complaints filed with EEOC.

Gerald Maatman is a Chicago attorney who represents employers in age discrimination cases. He admits that employees have a hard time bringing cases. “Those claims are very, very difficult to prove, in that the smoking gun evidence that needs to exist to prove a successful claim is very difficult to find in those circumstances.”

The Gross decision has had a chilling effect, according to Dan Kohrman, an AARP Foundation senior attorney.

“These kinds of decisions scare off workers and scare off lawyers,” Kohrman says. “The clear trend is, its harder to prove an age case.”