Archive for July, 2013

UFCW Negotiation Update: or Why I find PSARA so Intriguing

Monday, July 1st, 2013

By Bob Shimabukuro, PSARA Executive Board member & Associate Editor 

It seems so … well, 1950s stuff. I was about 7 when I heard this stuff all the time: good wage for families; insurance (meaning health insurance); time and a half for overtime; pension, perhaps. Words that still resonate in my ears.

Flash to 2013: UFCW 21, along with UFCW 367 and Teamsters 38 are in collective bargaining for, guess what? Protecting health insurance, living wages for families, holiday pay, good pension. Is this for real? I would have hoped that there’d been more progress.

Flash to 1970: I was back home talking to my uncle (a steamfitter), who was asking me what community organizing was. I briefly replied it was like labor organizing, only it was organizing people with similar interests and communities, ethnicity, in neighborhoods, districts, bent on improving their lives.

“Oh,” he said. “Sounds hard. Harder than laborers. Have to be careful about how leaders are chosen.”

Flash back to June 19, 2013 at the UFCW 21 headquarters when the three unions hosted a breakfast meeting to strategize ways in which community support could help the stalled negotiation process which has been held up by the failure of the big national grocery store chains Safeway, Kroger (Fred Meyer and QFC) and Albertsons to propose a new contract.

At the meeting, representatives from the community groups heard from workers both in informal conversations and from speakers who addressed the group as a whole regarding the main issues. Bread and butter stuff: pay, hours, medical care benefits, pension. With medical benefits being very high on the list. But the speakers also emphasized that many of the workers were very close to their customers.

But what about the community groups? Needless to say, PSARA is one of the groups. I wanted to ask representatives from the other groups about why they were participating. I didn’t get a chance to at the meeting, and other events left me out of touch for a week, so I’ll give my 7 . cents about why I think it’s important.

I’m intrigued about this seemingly scattered approach by PSARA to get involved in a lot of things, from Social Security reform (administratively and fiscally), basic universal health care, environmental, immigration, labor, civil rights, etc.

But adding our support to the largest private sector union in the state makes real sense. They’re taking on some real heavy hitters in Safeway and Kroger, and they (the unions) need all the help they can get.

While all these different groups may have different ideas on why they believe it is important to join in this particular struggle, I’m positive they all believe that we are fighting the same big picture struggle: to ensure we all have a decent place to live, eat, sleep, work, play and yes, die. So in the big picture, PSARA is not scattered at all. Fight anywhere you can. We cannot let the power of the one percent drown us in their greed.

Postscript: It seems silly and quaint, but whenever I think about my dad and labor I think about the Pajama Game movie, which he took all of us kids to see. I don’t remember much about the movie, but afterwards Dad (with my older sister sometimes) would just break out singing:

Seven and a half cents, doesn’t buy a heck of a lot,

Seven and a half cents, doesn’t buy a thing,

But give it to me every hour, 40 hours of the week

That’s enough for me to be living like a king.

It was hilarious. He certainly wasn’t Doris Day.

Carbon Tax: A Win-Win Solution for Washington

Monday, July 1st, 2013

By Bobby Righi, a member of PSARA’s Environment Committee 

The news on climate change is not good. The observatory on Mauna Loa in Hawaii, says the atmosphere is now over 400 CO2 parts per million. A new study of temperature records from Oregon State has shown that the planet is now hotter than any time in the past 4000 years and temperature is rising fifty times faster than at any point in the last 11,000 years. We are in for some nasty weather. We have relied on “cheap” fossil fuels for the past 100 years or so to fuel our economic growth and are now facing the consequences.

Oil and gas and coal are not cheap. Though it is hard to believe with gasoline prices at $4.00 per gallon, we do not pay enough for gasoline and other carbon-based energy sources. While funding the costs of production and distribution and handsome profits for the oil and coal companies, the price for carbon-based energy sources does not pay for the social costs of extracting, refining, and burning oil and gas.

Who pays for the devastation to the environment from drilling and mountaintop removal, the air and water pollution from the refining process, and the millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions released when we burn these fuels to generate energy? We do. The costs of pollution and climate change are born by the public – via rising health care costs, higher insurance payments because of increasingly drastic weather events, and taxes funding disaster clean-up efforts and environmental remediation. Big oil and coal ignore these costs and their profits soar.

Scientists fear these alarming problems are not reversible. Can we lower the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions enough and in time to alleviate the changes to the climate that are becoming more and more obvious to everyone? What can we do here in Washington?

We can begin by charging ourselves a “carbon tax” which would more accurately reflect the social cost of using these fuels. This would tax something harmful and remove or lower taxes on things that hurt the economy and working families – e.g. the sales tax. Our neighbors in British Columbia established a carbon tax in July 2008 and have reduced CO2 emissions while the economy continues to grow.

How does a carbon tax work?

  • It is a direct tax on the carbon content of fossil fuels. Some fuels produce more CO2 emissions and are taxed at a higher rate. It would be introduced at a rate of $10 per million tons of CO2 (MTCO) and increase $5 per MTCO each year until a certain level.
  • Because of the higher cost of using carbon fuels, investments in buildings’ energy efficiency, road improvements, and alternative energy sources would become more financially attractive and necessary.
  • Tax revenues from the carbon tax will be distributed to low-income families who would be disproportionately affected by the tax. There is a Washington State plan for a working families tax rebate that has not been funded. Revenue from carbon taxes can fund this and make it possible to lower the regressive state sales tax.
  • A carbon tax generates revenue to pay for cutting the B&O taxes on small businesses and lowering or eliminating the state sales tax. These changes would help the economy and job creation.

As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest energy source, we’ll continue to rely on them, the fossil fuel industry will continue to reap the benefits, and we will pay the costs. A Washington state carbon tax will lower the use of carbon-based fuels, and provide funds to build the economy and provide meaningful, union-wage jobs. It is a “win-win” situation.

Paid Sick and Safe Time for Tacoma

Monday, July 1st, 2013

By Alex Stone, Communications & Technology Manager, Economic Opportunity Institute, and a PSARA member 

Soon, we hope, there will be fewer people in Tacoma sending sick kids to school and showing up to work when they should be home in bed.

Under a new proposal announced by Healthy Tacoma, a coalition of more than 30 groups representing communities of color, labor, small business, civic, and faith organizations, all people working in Tacoma will be able to earn Paid Sick and Safe Time that can be used to care for their own illness, a sick family member, or to deal with the effects of domestic violence and stalking.

Currently, two out of five people working in Tacoma – 40,000 workers – can’t take a paid sick day when they or a family member is sick. Childcare workers, restaurant staff, and elderly caregivers often in contact with the public and vulnerable populations are least likely to receive paid sick days.

The proposal has strong support from Tacoma City Councilmembers Anders Ibsen and Ryan Mello, who are preparing to introduce an ordinance that will allow all workers in Tacoma to earn paid sick and safe days.

Speaking at the campaign kickoff in late May at the Pierce County Labor Council, Tacoma Councilmember Anders Ibsen made his support for paid sick days clear. “People shouldn’t have to choose between their health and their paycheck. This common sense proposal will limit the spread of infection in schools and workplaces, and keep us all healthier.”

If the measure passes, Tacoma would become the first “medium” size city in the nation to pass such an ordinance and join larger cities like Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, New York, and Washington, D.C. that already have passed paid sick days standards.

However, the measure is already receiving pushback from the Washington Restaurant Association and the Association of Washington Business – two business associations that get significant financial backing from large corporations.

During the campaign that brought paid sick days to Seattle – and in the current Tacoma campaign – spokespeople for these organizations and their affiliates are trotting out the same old “job killer” arguments. The problem is they’re simply not true. Take Seattle, which passed a paid sick days law nearly 2 years ago, and now has an unemployment rate under 5%. It seems paid sick days are a job creator!

Lobbyists for big business groups are trying hard to undermine paid sick days laws here in Washington and across the nation because they think corporate bonuses are more important than letting people stay home when they’re sick. Here’s what you can do to help:

  • If you live in Tacoma, please write letters to your Councilmembers and let them know you support paid sick days. If you have family or friends in Tacoma, please ask them to send a letter.
  • Sign the online petition: Type this link into your internet browser to sign a petition that will be delivered to the Tacoma City Council in support of paid sick days:

40,000 workers in Tacoma thank you for your support!

Free Speech

Monday, July 1st, 2013

“Free speech is something we must pay to have. We have to pay for every opinion we are free to utter by putting our bodies in town meetings, open forums, hearings, rallies (especially rallies).

“The internet is a fantastic organizing tool, but it can’t replace real and vocal dissent.”

— Phyllis Baker, PSARA member