Look for the Union Bunny

 

                                  by WALTER BRASCH

 

            Bullied, harassed, and lied to, District 1 of the Amalgamated Association of Easter Bunnies, AFB-CIO (American Federation of Bunnies–Cottontails International Organization) went on strike, forcing a halt to this year’s Easter egg hunts in Wisconsin.

            At Bunny Headquarters, Solomon P. Bunny, union executive secretary, and a militant corps of Easter bunnies were preparing picket signs. I walked in, notepad in hand.

            “Excuse me, Mr. Bunny, why aren’t your members delivering eggs this week?”

            Bunny looked up from the papers on his desk, chomped harder on his cigar, looked at me, scowled, and answered harshly, “Don’t you know!?”

            “No, sir,” I replied apologetically. “I always thought you were happy and content delivering Easter eggs.”

            “We love it,” growled Bunny, “but the Wisconsin Legislature doesn’t love us.”

            “I will admit the newly-elected governor and the newly-elected conservatives in the Legislature were a bit authoritarian in what they did to the rights of the workers.”

            “Authoritarian, heck!” said Bunny, “they’re the models of a fascist government in how they took away our rights.”

            “But don’t the people have a right to balance their budget without excessive union demands?” I asked.

            “Listen, Ink Breath, Wisconsin had a $120 million surplus just three months ago. The deficit isn’t because the public employees’ pensions and wages but more than $140 million in tax breaks the Republicans gave businesses, and another $200 million it pays every year to Wall Street investors. Add in all the travel perks and legislator benefits and you have a pile of money to stack your lies upon.”

            “But I read that public sector employees make more than those in the private sector.”

            “You read it where? In newspapers?” When I didn’t answer him quickly, he continued. “Yeah, thought so. The Center for Economic Policy Research—that’s an independent think tank—independent, you get it?—Independent, as in not funded by FOX News or Progressive Democrats of America—said that public sector workers, when compared against the same criteria as private sector workers, actually earn 4 percent less.”

            “Even with these facts, I doubt you’d have much support,” I said, noting that while most taxpayers want programs they don’t want to pay taxes and think union workers are greedy opportunists who deserve to be thrown on their tails, even if made of cotton.

            Bunny went into one of his files, pulled out a sheaf of papers, and slammed it on the desk. “Read it!” he commanded. Not wanting to further upset a furious bunny, I skimmed  the report that revealed about two-thirds of Americans support the rights of collective bargaining, even if they have serious problems with unions and how unions operate.”

  1.             “But those are polls,” I challenged. “Numbers can be manipulated to say anything.”           “How’s this for a number? In Madison one day, 100,000 citizens went to the capitol to explain things to their legislators. Even the cops and firefighters who had endorsed Republicans during the election were there as part of the working class.”

            “And the legislators heard their concerns?”

            “You crazy? Most snuck in and out of their offices, like the weasels they are. America is being mocked by other countries for what it’s doing to the workers.”

            “But we have the highest standards of living,” I countered.

            “Listen, Lead-type-for-brains, collective bargaining is one of humanity’s most fundamental rights. Says so in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by 48 countries in 1948.”

            “But the Wisconsin governor says he never planned to kill all collective bargaining, just the public sector ones. And only because it would help the people.”

            “You’ve got to be the dumbest piece of cow excrement walking around,” said Bunny. First you believe the newspapers, and then you believe some politician!”

            Humbled, I apologized. “I can see your point,” I said, feeling a little sorry for the bunnies, but I quickly recovered, reasserting my spine as a hard-hitting investigative reporter. “I assume you want everything. More wages, vacation days, sick days, larger pensions, no-pay medical benefits, shorter work weeks.”

            “You been sniffing newsprint? Haven’t you learned anything?! Sure, we want better work conditions. But, most of all, we want the right of collective bargaining negotiation. We ask for stuff. They don’t want to give us stuff. We negotiate. Just like unions have done for two centuries.”

            “There’s still the matter of the Easter eggs. Are you so self-centered that you would deny the people of Wisconsin the right to hunt and capture hard-boiled cholesterol?”

            “We don’t want to harm the decent people of Wisconsin, whether or not they’re in a union.”

            “So you will deliver Easter eggs this week!” I said, thrilled that the bunny union was relenting.

            “This is off-the-record, but everyone will get their eggs. It’s just that some people in Wisconsin may be getting 20-year-old eggs. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to preparing for a demonstration.”

            As I left, Solomon P. Bunny was multi-tasking on three different phones and two computer screens. But, he warned if the rotten eggs of the Legislature and their buddies in corporate industry don’t stop pretending how religious and patriotic they are, while consistently violating the principles that Jesus stood for, “this will be the last Easter they will ever celebrate.”

 

[Walter Brasch is a social activist and award-winning journalist. His next book is Before the First Snow, a look at America’s counter-culture and the nation’s conflicts between oil-based and “clean” nuclear energy. The book is available at amazon.com]

 

 

 

Look for the Union Bunny

 

                                  by WALTER BRASCH

 

            Bullied, harassed, and lied to, District 1 of the Amalgamated Association of Easter Bunnies, AFB-CIO (American Federation of Bunnies–Cottontails International Organization) went on strike, forcing a halt to this year’s Easter egg hunts in Wisconsin.

            At Bunny Headquarters, Solomon P. Bunny, union executive secretary, and a militant corps of Easter bunnies were preparing picket signs. I walked in, notepad in hand.

            “Excuse me, Mr. Bunny, why aren’t your members delivering eggs this week?”

            Bunny looked up from the papers on his desk, chomped harder on his cigar, looked at me, scowled, and answered harshly, “Don’t you know!?”

            “No, sir,” I replied apologetically. “I always thought you were happy and content delivering Easter eggs.”

            “We love it,” growled Bunny, “but the Wisconsin Legislature doesn’t love us.”

            “I will admit the newly-elected governor and the newly-elected conservatives in the Legislature were a bit authoritarian in what they did to the rights of the workers.”

            “Authoritarian, heck!” said Bunny, “they’re the models of a fascist government in how they took away our rights.”

            “But don’t the people have a right to balance their budget without excessive union demands?” I asked.

            “Listen, Ink Breath, Wisconsin had a $120 million surplus just three months ago. The deficit isn’t because the public employees’ pensions and wages but more than $140 million in tax breaks the Republicans gave businesses, and another $200 million it pays every year to Wall Street investors. Add in all the travel perks and legislator benefits and you have a pile of money to stack your lies upon.”

            “But I read that public sector employees make more than those in the private sector.”

            “You read it where? In newspapers?” When I didn’t answer him quickly, he continued. “Yeah, thought so. The Center for Economic Policy Research—that’s an independent think tank—independent, you get it?—Independent, as in not funded by FOX News or Progressive Democrats of America—said that public sector workers, when compared against the same criteria as private sector workers, actually earn 4 percent less.”

            “Even with these facts, I doubt you’d have much support,” I said, noting that while most taxpayers want programs they don’t want to pay taxes and think union workers are greedy opportunists who deserve to be thrown on their tails, even if made of cotton.

            Bunny went into one of his files, pulled out a sheaf of papers, and slammed it on the desk. “Read it!” he commanded. Not wanting to further upset a furious bunny, I skimmed  the report that revealed about two-thirds of Americans support the rights of collective bargaining, even if they have serious problems with unions and how unions operate.”

  1.             “But those are polls,” I challenged. “Numbers can be manipulated to say anything.”           “How’s this for a number? In Madison one day, 100,000 citizens went to the capitol to explain things to their legislators. Even the cops and firefighters who had endorsed Republicans during the election were there as part of the working class.”

            “And the legislators heard their concerns?”

            “You crazy? Most snuck in and out of their offices, like the weasels they are. America is being mocked by other countries for what it’s doing to the workers.”

            “But we have the highest standards of living,” I countered.

            “Listen, Lead-type-for-brains, collective bargaining is one of humanity’s most fundamental rights. Says so in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by 48 countries in 1948.”

            “But the Wisconsin governor says he never planned to kill all collective bargaining, just the public sector ones. And only because it would help the people.”

            “You’ve got to be the dumbest piece of cow excrement walking around,” said Bunny. First you believe the newspapers, and then you believe some politician!”

            Humbled, I apologized. “I can see your point,” I said, feeling a little sorry for the bunnies, but I quickly recovered, reasserting my spine as a hard-hitting investigative reporter. “I assume you want everything. More wages, vacation days, sick days, larger pensions, no-pay medical benefits, shorter work weeks.”

            “You been sniffing newsprint? Haven’t you learned anything?! Sure, we want better work conditions. But, most of all, we want the right of collective bargaining negotiation. We ask for stuff. They don’t want to give us stuff. We negotiate. Just like unions have done for two centuries.”

            “There’s still the matter of the Easter eggs. Are you so self-centered that you would deny the people of Wisconsin the right to hunt and capture hard-boiled cholesterol?”

            “We don’t want to harm the decent people of Wisconsin, whether or not they’re in a union.”

            “So you will deliver Easter eggs this week!” I said, thrilled that the bunny union was relenting.

            “This is off-the-record, but everyone will get their eggs. It’s just that some people in Wisconsin may be getting 20-year-old eggs. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to preparing for a demonstration.”

            As I left, Solomon P. Bunny was multi-tasking on three different phones and two computer screens. But, he warned if the rotten eggs of the Legislature and their buddies in corporate industry don’t stop pretending how religious and patriotic they are, while consistently violating the principles that Jesus stood for, “this will be the last Easter they will ever celebrate.”

 

[Walter Brasch is a social activist and award-winning journalist. His next book is Before the First Snow, a look at America’s counter-culture and the nation’s conflicts between oil-based and “clean” nuclear energy. The book is available at amazon.com]

 

 

 

Look for the Union Bunny

 

                                  by WALTER BRASCH

 

            Bullied, harassed, and lied to, District 1 of the Amalgamated Association of Easter Bunnies, AFB-CIO (American Federation of Bunnies–Cottontails International Organization) went on strike, forcing a halt to this year’s Easter egg hunts in Wisconsin.

            At Bunny Headquarters, Solomon P. Bunny, union executive secretary, and a militant corps of Easter bunnies were preparing picket signs. I walked in, notepad in hand.

            “Excuse me, Mr. Bunny, why aren’t your members delivering eggs this week?”

            Bunny looked up from the papers on his desk, chomped harder on his cigar, looked at me, scowled, and answered harshly, “Don’t you know!?”

            “No, sir,” I replied apologetically. “I always thought you were happy and content delivering Easter eggs.”

            “We love it,” growled Bunny, “but the Wisconsin Legislature doesn’t love us.”

            “I will admit the newly-elected governor and the newly-elected conservatives in the Legislature were a bit authoritarian in what they did to the rights of the workers.”

            “Authoritarian, heck!” said Bunny, “they’re the models of a fascist government in how they took away our rights.”

            “But don’t the people have a right to balance their budget without excessive union demands?” I asked.

            “Listen, Ink Breath, Wisconsin had a $120 million surplus just three months ago. The deficit isn’t because the public employees’ pensions and wages but more than $140 million in tax breaks the Republicans gave businesses, and another $200 million it pays every year to Wall Street investors. Add in all the travel perks and legislator benefits and you have a pile of money to stack your lies upon.”

            “But I read that public sector employees make more than those in the private sector.”

            “You read it where? In newspapers?” When I didn’t answer him quickly, he continued. “Yeah, thought so. The Center for Economic Policy Research—that’s an independent think tank—independent, you get it?—Independent, as in not funded by FOX News or Progressive Democrats of America—said that public sector workers, when compared against the same criteria as private sector workers, actually earn 4 percent less.”

            “Even with these facts, I doubt you’d have much support,” I said, noting that while most taxpayers want programs they don’t want to pay taxes and think union workers are greedy opportunists who deserve to be thrown on their tails, even if made of cotton.

            Bunny went into one of his files, pulled out a sheaf of papers, and slammed it on the desk. “Read it!” he commanded. Not wanting to further upset a furious bunny, I skimmed  the report that revealed about two-thirds of Americans support the rights of collective bargaining, even if they have serious problems with unions and how unions operate.”

  1.             “But those are polls,” I challenged. “Numbers can be manipulated to say anything.”           “How’s this for a number? In Madison one day, 100,000 citizens went to the capitol to explain things to their legislators. Even the cops and firefighters who had endorsed Republicans during the election were there as part of the working class.”

            “And the legislators heard their concerns?”

            “You crazy? Most snuck in and out of their offices, like the weasels they are. America is being mocked by other countries for what it’s doing to the workers.”

            “But we have the highest standards of living,” I countered.

            “Listen, Lead-type-for-brains, collective bargaining is one of humanity’s most fundamental rights. Says so in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, approved by 48 countries in 1948.”

            “But the Wisconsin governor says he never planned to kill all collective bargaining, just the public sector ones. And only because it would help the people.”

            “You’ve got to be the dumbest piece of cow excrement walking around,” said Bunny. First you believe the newspapers, and then you believe some politician!”

            Humbled, I apologized. “I can see your point,” I said, feeling a little sorry for the bunnies, but I quickly recovered, reasserting my spine as a hard-hitting investigative reporter. “I assume you want everything. More wages, vacation days, sick days, larger pensions, no-pay medical benefits, shorter work weeks.”

            “You been sniffing newsprint? Haven’t you learned anything?! Sure, we want better work conditions. But, most of all, we want the right of collective bargaining negotiation. We ask for stuff. They don’t want to give us stuff. We negotiate. Just like unions have done for two centuries.”

            “There’s still the matter of the Easter eggs. Are you so self-centered that you would deny the people of Wisconsin the right to hunt and capture hard-boiled cholesterol?”

            “We don’t want to harm the decent people of Wisconsin, whether or not they’re in a union.”

            “So you will deliver Easter eggs this week!” I said, thrilled that the bunny union was relenting.

            “This is off-the-record, but everyone will get their eggs. It’s just that some people in Wisconsin may be getting 20-year-old eggs. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to preparing for a demonstration.”

            As I left, Solomon P. Bunny was multi-tasking on three different phones and two computer screens. But, he warned if the rotten eggs of the Legislature and their buddies in corporate industry don’t stop pretending how religious and patriotic they are, while consistently violating the principles that Jesus stood for, “this will be the last Easter they will ever celebrate.”

 

[Walter Brasch is a social activist and award-winning journalist. His next book is Before the First Snow, a look at America’s counter-culture and the nation’s conflicts between oil-based and “clean” nuclear energy. The book is available at amazon.com]

 

 

 

Weekly Audit: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing--The Myth of Fiscal Conservatism

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Fashionable pundits like to say that the Republican Party has shifted its focus from “social conservatism” (e.g., banning abortion, shoving gays back in the closet, teaching school children that humans and dinosaurs once walked the earth hand-in-claw) to fiscal conservatism (e.g., tax cuts for the rich, slashing social programs). But is that really true? Tim Murphy ofMother Jones argues that the old culture war issues never really went away. Rather, the Republicans have simply rephrased their social agenda in fiscal terms.

For example, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) is quite upfront about the fact that he hates Planned Parenthood because the group is the nation’s leading abortion provider. Yet, he seeks to de-fund the Planned Parenthood and the entire Title X Family Planning Program in the name of balancing the budget. Never mind that the federal money only goes toward birth control, not abortion, and research shows that every dollar spent on birth control saves $4 in Medicaid costs alone.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly surveys the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls in Iowa and agrees that reports of the death of the culture war have been greatly exaggerated.

But the key takeaway here is that fiscal issues have largely been relegated to afterthought status. That’s just not what these right-wing activists — the ones who’ll largely dictate the outcome of the caucuses — are focused on. Indeed, even Ron Paul, after pandering to a home-school crowd last week, conceded, “I haven’t been asked too much about fiscal issues.”

Budget cuts

Sarah Babbage writes in TAPPED that Obama and the Democratic leadership in Congress seem poised to grant an additional $20 billion in spending cuts for FY 2011, in addition to the $10 billion in cuts they’ve already pledged for this fiscal year. Babbage notes that, after weeks of negotiations, we’re right back to the $30 billion in cuts the GOP initially demanded. She warns that these cuts will have a trivial impact on the $1.6 trillion deficit, but they could have a devastating effect on the fragile economy.

Taxes for thee, but not GE

General Electric raked in $14.2 billion in profits last year, $5.1 billion of which came from the United States, yet the company paid $0 in U.S. income tax, Tara Lohan notes in AlterNet. Despite its healthy bottom line, and its sweet tax situation, GE is asking 15,000 unionized U.S. workers to make major concessions at the bargaining table. GE wants union members to give up defined benefit pension programs in exchange for defined contribution programs.

As we discussed last week in The Audit, defined benefit plans guarantee that a retiree will get a set percentage of her working salary for the rest of her life; defined contribution plans pay the worker a share of the revenue from a pool of investments. As the fine print always says, investments can decrease in value. So, if the stock market crashes the day before you retire, you’re out of luck.

Generation Debt

Higher education is supposed to be a stepping stone to a better standard of living, but with unemployment hovering around 10%, many college graduates are struggling to find jobs to pay their student loans. Aliya Karim argues in Campus Progress that the government should compel colleges and universities to be more transparent about the realities of student loan debt:

The government should require colleges to provide information about graduation rates, college costs, and financial aid packages on college websites, enrollment forms, and guidebooks. This information should be easy to find and understand. Without such information available to them, students may not be aware that their future college has a graduation rate lower than 20 percent or that its graduates face close to $30,000 in debt.

The government has a lot of leverage over public and private schools because so much student debt is guaranteed by taxpayers. Greater transparency will enable students to make more informed choices, and give colleges with low graduation rates a greater incentive to clean up their act.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy bymembers 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 MulchThe Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: Hostile Takeover Threat Spurs Concessions from Michigan Unions

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Michigan’s new Emergency Manager Law is already forcing major concessions from unions. The law gives the governor the power to declare a city insolvent and appoint an emergency manager with virtually unlimited power to reorganize every aspect of city business, including dissolving the city entirely. The emergency manager even has the power to terminate collective bargaining agreements.

As a result of these expanded new powers, public employees unions in some Michigan municipalities are already making large preemptive concessions to keep their cities from tripping any of the “triggers” in the new law that might give the governor an opening to send in a union-bustingemergency manager, Eartha Jane Melzer reports in the Michigan Messenger.

In Flint, the firefighters’ union agreed to increase contributions to health insurance and give up holiday pay and night shift differentials. Flint Firefighters Union President Raul Garcia told the Wall Street Journal that these concessions were driven by fear of a state takeover of Flint. “I would rather give concessions that I would like than have an [emergency financial manager] or something of that magnitude come in and say this is what you are going to do,” Garcia said.

The new law also gives the Emergency Manager the power to privatize prisons, Melzer notes.

Detroit grows green

The citizens of Detroit aren’t waiting around for an emergency manager to take over. The city’s industrial economy is dying, but its grassroots economy is stirring to life, Jenny Lee and Paul Abowd report in In These Times. Detroit residents have been growing their own food in town for decades, but recently activists and the city have joined forces to link many small producers into a network that will provide food security for the city.

Wal-Mart and wage discrimination

Next week, the Supreme Court will take up the case of 100 women who are suing Wal-Mart for wage discrimination. As Scott Lemieux explains in The American Prospect, the Court will decide whether these women can band together to sue the nation’s largest retailer, or whether each must sue the firm individually.

Lemieux argues that, for the sake of women’s rights at work, it is very important that these Wal-Mart employees be allowed to sue together instead of one at a time:

Given the compelling stories these individual women can tell, does it matter whether they can file suit collectively? Absolutely, for at least two reasons. First of all, only a class-action suit can properly create a record of the systematic gender discrimination at Wal-Mart. Any individual case can be dismissed as an anomaly or a misunderstanding, but the volume of complaints makes clear that gender discrimination was embedded deeply within the culture of the corporation, a very relevant fact for a discrimination suit.

Litigation is expensive and time-consuming, for the individuals and for the court system. Forcing victims of discrimination to sue one by one makes it less likely that they will seek justice, especially if they’re suing because they were underpaid in the first place. Wal-Mart claims that the class is too large to be allowed to proceed, and that the women couldn’t possibly have similar enough claims. But as Lemieux points out, the class is huge because Wal-Mart is huge.

War and the deficit

Jamelle Bouie writes at TAPPED, in response to the United States’ new military commitments in Libya:

I just wish we could at least acknowledge the obvious truth: conservatives don’t care about deficits but will use them to cut spending on poor people. When it comes to things they like — wars, for instance — they’re willing to pay any price.

The U.S. fired 110 Tomahawk Missiles at Libya on Saturday, at an estimated total cost of $81 million, or 33 times the annual federal funding for National Public Radio.

Sally Kohn of TAPPED notes that the United States scraped together $2.3 million worth of “blood money” to pay off the families of the victims of Raymond Davis, a rogue CIA operative who shot and killed two men who tried to rob him in Pakistan. Laura Flanders of GRITtv calculates that $2.3 million ransom for a single killer would have paid the salaries of 45 Wisconsin public school teachers for a year.

Public pensions 101

We often hear that public pensions are unfunded. On the Breakdown, Chris Hayes of The Nation asks economist Dean Baker what this actually means. Baker explains that s0-called “defined benefit” pensions have become rare in the private sector, but remain relatively common in the public sector. A defined benefit pension guarantees the pensioner a certain income. Most private sector pensions are so-called “defined contribution” plans, which means that employer puts aside a certain amount of money each month for the employee, but there’s no guarantee how much return the pensioner will eventually get on that investment.

A state pension fund is considered unfunded if the assets the fund has today aren’t sufficient to cover the defined benefits that are due to workers over the next 30 years. Baker notes that many funds are a lot healthier than they look because their values were calculated at the nadir of the stock market in 2009. The market has since made up a large percentage of that ground. A handful of states were mismanaging their pension funds, but most states have been responsible.

Ethical outlaws

Bea is a manager of a big-box chain store in Maine. The company pays her staff between $6 and $8 an hour and many are struggling. Even as she tries to keep a professional atmosphere in the store, Bea has been known to bend the rules to help an employee in need, as Lisa Dodson describes in YES! Magazine:

When one of her employees couldn’t afford to buy her daughter a prom dress, Bea couldn’t shake the feeling that she was implicated by the injustice. “Let’s just say … we made some mistakes with our prom dress orders last year,” she told me. “Too many were ordered, some went back. It got pretty confusing.” And Edy? “She knocked them dead” at the prom.

Andrew, a manager in the Midwest is quietly padding his employees’ paychecks because he knows their wages aren’t enough to live on. Andrew knows he might be accused of stealing, but he does it anyway because the alternative is unthinkable.

Dodson interviewed hundreds of low- and middle-income people about the economy between 2001 and 2008. Along the way, she stumbled on what she calls “the moral underground,” a world where managers bend the rules at corporate expense to enable their low-wage staff to get by. It is legal to pay people less than a living wage, but increasing numbers of people like Bea and Arthur have decided that the situation is morally unacceptable, and quietly acted accordingly.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy bymembers 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 MulchThe Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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