Weekly Audit: A Recall Fight Brewing in Wisconsin?

 

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Tens of thousands of people continue their peaceful occupation of the Wisconsin state capital to protest a bill that would abolish most collective bargaining rights for public employees. As the protests entered their eighth day, GRITtv with Laura Flanders was broadcasting from Madison, Wisconsin in collaboration with The Uptake.

Flanders interviewed Nation journalist and seventh-generation Wisconsinite John Nichols. Nichols and fellow guest Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive noted that the bill isn’t just an attack on collective bargaining rights. The bill would force public sector unions to hold recertification votes every year, which would put their very existence on the line annually. “The unions realize that this is a threat to their very existence,” Rothschild explained.

A game of chicken

The Wisconsin state Assembly begins debate on the bill on Tuesday, but 14 Democratic senators remain in hiding in Illinois, depriving the Senate of the quorum it needs to vote on the bill. According to an obscure procedural rule, the state Senate can still pass bills on non-fiscal matters.

The result is that a game of chicken is about to begin, in which the Republicans will attempt to pass as many non-fiscal bills hated by Democratic senators as possible, such as legislation mandating photo ID for voters, in an attempt to provoke their colleagues into coming back home to vote on the fate of public sector unions.

The Democrats don’t control the state Senate at the best of times, so it’s not clear why they would be more eager to come home to lose on voter ID and public sector unions. As of Tuesday, the legislators in exile showed no signs of wavering, telling CBS that they were waiting to hear from the governor.

“I think if this [bill] gets pushed through, we’re going to have a recall effort and take this governor out,” Rothschild predicted.

Solidarity

An estimated 80,000 protesters gathered in Madison, Wisconsin to protest a Republican-backed budget bill that would abolish collective bargaining rights for most public employees, Democracy Now! reports.

The bill would spare the bargaining rights of unionized police officers and firefighters. However, Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Wisconsin Professional Firefighters Association, tells host Amy Goodman that Wisconsin’s firefighters and police officers stand with other public sector workers. “An assault on one is an assault on all,” Mitchell said.

Union busting, not budget fixing

Matthew Rothschild in The Progressive argues Gov. Walker’s real agenda is union busting, not budget repair. Walker claims that he is forced to abolish collective bargaining rights because the state can no longer afford them. But this is a matter of priorities, not a true fiscal emergency. Walker is asking working people to pick up the tab for his economic agenda. During his brief tenure in office, Walker refused $800 million in federal funds for high speed rail, which would have created jobs and stimulated the economy. He has also pushed through $117 million in tax breaks.

The captain of the Superbowl-winning Green Bay Packers, the NFL’s only non-profit team, has come out in solidarity with the protesters in Wisconsin, Dave Zirin reports in The Nation. Captain Charles Woodson said in a statement:

Last week I was proud when many of my current and former teammates announced their support for the working families fighting for their rights in Wisconsin. Today I am honored to join with them. Thousands of dedicated Wisconsin public workers provide vital services for Wisconsin citizens. They are the teachers, nurses and child care workers who take care of us and our families. These hard working people are under an unprecedented attack to take away their basic rights to have a voice and collectively bargain at work.

“Budget crisis” theater

Forrest Wilder in the Texas Observer notes that the Lone Star State is facing a $27 million shortfall of its own. He argues that Republicans are construing this relative small shortfall as a “budget crisis” in order to imbue their crusade against public services with a false sense of urgency. The budget gap could be bridged with a small and relatively painless tax increase, Wilder notes, but Republicans only want to talk about cuts.

Raise our taxes

Fifteen thousand Illinoisans massed in the state capital with an unusual demand for their state legislators: Raise our taxes! The Save Our State rally was one of the largest citizen assemblies in the history of the state legislature, David Moberg reports for In These Times. The event was organized by the Responsible Budget Coalition (RBC), an alliance of more than 300 organizations including social service agencies, public employee unions, and religious and civic groups. The RBC is calling on legislators to fix flaws in the Illinois tax structure that threaten essential services and the long-term financial health of the state.

No help for 99ers

Rep. Barbara Lee’s (D-CA) bid to attach a 14-week unemployment insurance extension for Americans whose benefits have run out (known as 99ers because they have already been unemployed for at least 99 weeks) to the continuing resolution to fund the government proved unsuccessful last week. Ed Brayton of the Michigan Messenger reports that the provision foundered late last Wednesday due to a procedural objection.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

On the Ground in Ohio

cross-posted from Sum of Change

COLUMBUS, OH: I am on the ground in Ohio, here to cover the protests for the couple days that I can afford to be away from DC. Today, despite a persistent rain, demonstrators lined the sidewalk outside of the Capitol Building in Columbus to voice their opposition to Senate Bill 5 which threatens state employees' bargaining rights. Today's protest was a lead up to tomorrow, when thousands are expected to descend on Columbus.

I also want to include the full interview I did with one of the teachers:

Some helpful facts about Ohio and collective bargaining (from the Examiner , not directly quoted)

• Ohio public employees make the same or less than their counterparts in the private sector (although a higher percentage of state workers have college degrees)
• In the last 9 years, state workers have taken 5 years of pay freezes (that's with collective bargaining)
• Budget gaps are higher, on average, in states that do not allow collective bargaining
• State employee payroll in Ohio equals only 9% of the state budget

We'll be here for part of the protest tomorrow too!

The Ignoratti are Becoming the New Ruling Elite

One frequent criticism from many on the right is that “the elites” run the country. And as with many things the right does and says, it does it without seeing the tiniest speck of irony. The irony being that in their unrelenting war on education and intellectualism, they are becoming the new elite running the country.

America was once a land of mostly illiterate agricultural workers – a whole country of disadvantaged migrant farm workers like the right so hates today. But those agricultural workers realized – like the migrant workers of today – that education was the way to pull themselves and the country out of the intellectual dark ages. Unschooled and sometimes illiterate parents made many sacrifices to educate their kids to develop the raw knowledge and skill to move themselves and the country forward.

Insane Amounts of Belly Button Gazing
The right may have a point that a society too dependent on intellectualism is a society frozen by insane amounts of belly button gazing and an over-dependence on books at the expense of the real world. But that is where the point ends.

Successful societies need thinkers and doers because a society without thinkers doesn’t have the ability to help provide the knowledge and technology to the doers. The growing attack on intellectualism works like a photocopier that has made a copy from a copy from a copy. Each succeeding generation gets weaker and weaker until, at last, the final copy becomes unreadable.

Over the past few decades, the right has been unrelentingly chipping away at our educational infrastructure. From the abysmal Every Child Left Behind Act, to a steadfast refusal to approve taxes for schools, to rewriting textbooks to follow Christian teachings rather than actual history or science, we’ve reached a tipping point where we can no longer function. Instead of bellyaching about the minimum wage, that money and time would be better spent figuring out how to improve education than to fixate on obliterating it. Give people knowledge and we wouldn’t need to set a minimum wage.

Then Came the Ignoratti
This nation is well on its way to becoming an anti-intellectual wasteland ruled by the ignoratti instead of the intelligentsia or the commonsentsia. We’ve produced a crop of “leaders” without the good sense to come in out of the rain. The Christine O’Donnells, Sarah Palins, Sharron Angles, and Michele Bachmanns of the world recoil at the mention of anything requiring more thought than their many bubbleheaded Tweets.

Present the ignoratti with immutable facts and they’re congenitally unable to process them. Producing an Obama birth certificate 47 ways from Sunday (along with assurances of its legitimacy from the Republican governor of Hawaii) and their answer is, “but it isn’t the right birth certificate”. They refuse to believe scientific data only to assure us the world is merely 6,000 years old. And, the list goes on.

You don’t have to be an egghead to see this problem. You don’t have to belong to the intelligentsia. You don’t even have to be a moderately intelligent person with a poor education. You only need to do this:

Listen to speeches by the leaders of the ignorigentcia and openly think about what they say – lest you become its newest member of their elite.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

The Road Ahead on Jobs and Income

Two new government reports illustrate the complex and troubling state of opportunity in America, but also the right way forward.

The first set of data, by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, found that the gender pay gap is at a historic low, with women earning almost 83¢ for every dollar earned by men—compared with 76¢ a decade ago and until fairly recently.  The change is due in part to young women’s progress in the workplace—they increasingly are better educated and out earn their male counterparts—but also to depressed wages and, especially, more rapid job loss by men.  

There's more...

Depending on A Global Workforce

This is the second and third parts in a series of blogs Nourishing the Planet will be writing about workers in the food system. Nourishing the Planet research intern Ronit Ridberg recently spoke with Erik Nicholson, National VP of the United Farm Workers of America. In the first part of this two-part interview, Erik talks about the global agricultural system and the role American consumers play in it. Cross posted from Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Name: Erik Nicholson

Affiliation: National Vice President, United Farm Workers of America; International director of the Guest Worker Membership Program. Founded in 1962 by Cesar Chavez, the United Farm Workers of America is the nation's first successful and largest farm workers union currently active in 10 states.

Location: Tacoma, Washington

Bio: Erik Nicholson has worked extensively on pesticide issues affecting farm workers and their families as well as child labor, housing, consumer outreach, education and legislative issues. He currently serves as one of two national farm worker representatives to the Environmental Protection Agency's national pesticide advisory committee, the Pesticide Program Dialog Committee.

Nicholson led the two-and-a-half year organizing campaign at the national guest worker labor-contracting firm Global Horizons, resulting in the first national guest worker union contract in the history of the United States. He currently is working to develop an international infrastructure to better advocate on behalf of guest workers.

Can you please contextualize the work you do, in what has become a global system of agriculture?

We are now importing the majority of the food we eat. The overwhelming majority of workers who harvest the food we eat in the United States are not from this country. And many if not most of the workers employed in the fields in the United States are displaced farmers from their own countries (mostly Mexico but not exclusively.)  So we're seeing that many of the same pressures and challenges that are facing farmers in the US are the very same ones that are displacing small farmers in the global South and resulting in them coming in search of employment to the United States, Canada, Australia, and European Union. At the same time, farmers and sometimes their spouses in the US are looking for second jobs in more urban settings.

When Vietnam entered the global market with coffee we saw an unprecedented exodus of coffee farmers out of eastern Mexico. When NAFTA was signed, mass exodus of corn farmers - so we see a direct correlation between these international trade policies and agricultural practices and kind of the global crisis of agriculture that we're facing.

Within that context you look at agriculture in the United States and pretty much anyone born in this country has no aspirations to work in the fields. And I think if we're honest with ourselves, the reason is because we all know the conditions are not good, the pay is pretty bad, and there's really no benefits. As a result we have depended on immigrant workers to come up and do the work that we haven't wanted to do. And so if you look at the history of the United Farm Workers, we've had workers literally from around the world as members - from Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Yemen, African Americans and of course, Mexicans, Central Americans, and the internationalization of the work-force continues. We now have workers working under contract from Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, and it's very much become a global workforce that is harvesting the food we eat.

UFW recently hosted an international gathering of farm workers from 14 different countries. Can you share some of your impressions of that gathering?

It was just amazing to have people who are doing the same work we've been doing for fifty years in the United States, together in the same room. We were in awe of just how bad it is out there. We think it's bad here, and then you talk to folks from Ecuador or Peru, who come to the States telling us, "What are you guys complaining about? You don't know the half of it." And so as we really compared notes, the contexts were different but it was appalling just how bad it is for farm workers across the world. That was sobering.

But at the same time, it was tremendously exciting to meet people who give a damn, and who are actually out there in the trenches trying to make a difference. It was a very lively conversation. We did a lot of work just getting to know each other and the different contexts in which we're working and actively looking for ways to collaborate. One of the first things that came to mind for all of us was that we need to educate the world about how bad it is for farm workers and why everyone who eats should care! We've established relationships that have never existed before, and are actively working to build upon those to see what we can do for workers globally.

What do the popular "food movements" of today have to do with farm workers' rights, and how can individual consumers get more involved in supporting change around the world?

Just look at the whole conversation about "sustainability", the Buy Local fad, and that was preceded by the organic fad, and the whole mythology that was erected around those concepts that included somehow that workers were going to be treated better. When the reality is there are local farmers I would never ever in a million years buy something from, and gladly pay a premium to have it flown in 2000 miles because I know workers are treated well. And while workers aren't exposed to as many toxins in organics, there are still toxins in the organic world that are allowed, and organics does nothing on the labor front. So I think we need to make sure that labor is part of the equation.

I've found that people are frequently reluctant to dirty their hands because you're dealing with three very politically charged issues: the sustainability of small farmers, immigration policy, and labor. If you really want to stand with the people who are out there right now in the field, rather than projecting a better future theoretically, find out who's picking your food and how you can stand with them. Boycott Arizona and let your voice be heard that those types of laws are unacceptable. Support immigration reform, so we can provide legal status to the hundreds of thousands of people that put food on our table. And then really be an advocate to help support the people that are here, now, in their struggle to make a better life for themselves.

It is incumbent on us as people who care about food and care about the viability of small farmers, to understand that these realities are the same for hundreds if not millions of people worldwide.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing farm workers?

Two of the biggest issues are a lack of legal status and lack of economic viability. And so you have hundreds of thousands of people that we depend on, that have no vehicle currently to obtain legal status. And they're literally dying to be able to be here legally, but we've offered them no way to do it.

We find labor is still one of the few costs that growers consider to be a flexible cost, rather than a fixed cost. There's not a lot of space in terms of negotiating what you're going to pay for diesel fuel, or what the newest and greatest pesticides are going to cost, but there's a constant search for the cheapest labor. And as a result we continue to see, from our perspective, widespread violations of workers' rights in the fields. So things like 15 workers literally dropping dead in the fields in California, just under the administration of our current governor, due to farmers' failure to provide a shaded rest area and adequate drinking water. On top of that, and depending on who's statistics you're looking at, you add that agriculture has  a 4-7 times higher injury and fatality rate than non-agricultural industries, and you get a sense of just how bad it is out there.

We're not unsympathetic to the economic pressures that US producers are facing. But unfortunately the way that the response has been is for farm workers literally to subsidize the cost of our cheap food with their lives, with their family's well-being, and make this industry a profoundly unsustainable one. Documented or undocumented, the average wage in agriculture is somewhere between $15,000-18,000 a year. That's just not economically sustainable. So we've got to figure out a way that the folks that pick our food can have a true livelihood.

The other issue that I guess we shouldn't beat around the bush is, is race. It's not a coincidence that the overwhelming majority of people that work in the fields are people of color. I would put out that if we had a majority of Anglos out there, there would be an absolute outrage if 15 people dropped dead in the fields in California due to heat stress. But there's barely a sound made. So I think we've got some serious obstacles in terms of making sure that literally everybody is at the table in this conversation. We need to raise those sensibilities and the awareness that workers have an important voice - that is the foundation on which any kind of true sustainability in our food production has to be based.

What kinds of changes would you like to see in agricultural, labor, or immigration policies?

First of all, we need to break down the national barriers, and recognize that it is a global system, regardless of what we think about it. That is just a reality - people are in boats right now, crossing to the Canary Islands, they're in boats right now, crossing to the Dominican Republic and Haiti to Puerto Rico, and crossing the desert as we speak. And so the first thing we need to figure out is how to support those people who, due to primarily economic desperation, are searching for better lives for their families, and minimize the deaths, the debt peonage, the trafficking that's occurring.

We have got to start talking to each other across boundaries. Respect the national differences and the work, and how we do it, but understand for us and Mexico, we're tied at the hip. And so it's incumbent upon us to care about a small Mexican producer who's scrounging up $5000 to pay a recruiter so he can get a H2A guest worker visa, and then he shows up here and is subjected to slave-like conditions. That reality is bi-national, and our work needs to reflect that. So I think that's the first challenge.

The second challenge is to recognize that we have global opportunities as a result of this global system. We could work collaboratively to hold multinational companies accountable and raise the standards for workers and producers in all those countries. Same goes for supermarket chains: There are very few supermarket chains that are only active now in one country. Increasingly, they're active in a multitude of countries. That's an opportunity for us to approach those chains and say hey, it's not okay for you to be sourcing products from workers who are mistreated or held in debt peonage or worse. And to collaborate across borders to hold those supermarket chains accountable.

And then I think the third component is we've got to figure out a way to support these producers so their livelihoods can be sustainable. And that the workers they employ, regardless of the country, also have a sustainable future. Because at the end of the day, we need people to work the fields. And our perspective is it's a very dignified job and one of the most important jobs out there because absent those folks, we don't eat. But we've got to get to a point where at a minimum, those working in the fields need to earn a fair wage, get fair benefits, and have improved working condition. That's a responsibility that we all bear throughout the supply chain from consumers to retailers to farmers, all the way through. If we were to boil it down to economics and immigration, and be able to make changes there, that would revolutionize the industry.

To learn more about innovations in fighting for farm workers' rights and livelihoods, and how consumers can get involved, see Giving Farm Workers a Voice,  New Frontier Farmers and Processor Group: Reviving Farmland and Improving Livelihoods, Making Sure the Food Industry Works for its Employees and Meet the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group: Shayna Bailey

Thank you for reading! As you may already know, Danielle Nierenberg is traveling across sub-Saharan Africa visiting organizations and projects that provide environmentally sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty.  She has already traveled to over 18 countries and visited 130 projects highlighting stories of hope and success in the region. She will be in Burkina Faso next, so stay tuned for more writing, photos and video from her travels.  

If you enjoy reading this diary, we blog daily on Nourishing the Planet, where you can also sign up for our newsletter to receive weekly blog and travel updates.  Also, please don't hesitate to comment on our posts, we check them daily and look forward to an ongoing discussion with you.

 

 

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