Archive for February 10th, 2012

‘Nonsense fact’ about union workers used in Super Bowl ad

Posted February 8, 2012 at 10:55 am by Lawrence Mishel

That’s how the Washington Post fact checker, Glenn Kessler, put it in his review of the following assertion used in the Super Bowl ad (watch below) by the Center for Union Facts*: “Only ten percent of people in unions today actually voted to join the union.”

Kessler dug in to see where that came from and apparently it is an “estimate [of the] the proportion of employees who both would have voted for the establishment of a union at their companies and were still in their jobs.” As Kessler points out, this has no bearing on the extent to which workers currently covered by collective bargaining would vote to maintain collective bargaining. It is as relevant, as Jared Bernstein points out, as “saying Virginia isn’t a state because none of its current residents voted for statehood.”

What are the facts? Richard Freeman (Harvard University) and Joel Rogers (University of Wisconsin) report on page 69 in their book, What Workers Want, that 90 percent of union workers wanted to keep their union based on their answer to the question, “If a new election were held today to decide whether to keep the union at your company, would you vote to keep the union or get rid of it?”

Union workers have many special legal rights and protections. For instance, union workers by law have the right to vote for union officers and any dues increase, initiation fee or
assessment. The laws protecting internal union democracy are far stricter than those for corporate governance and shareholder rights. Plus, workers also have clear rights to decertify unions. This ad and this “fact” do not capture what union worker rights are nor even attempt to reflect what union workers’ views are of collective bargaining.

In fact, a much larger share of the non-managerial workforce wants a union than has a union. Freeman wrote in 2007:

“Given that nearly all union workers (90%) desire union representation, the mid-1990s analysis suggested that if all the workers who wanted union representation could achieve it, then 44% of the workforce would have union representation.”

So, if workers could freely have a union when they wanted one, union representation in the United States would be on par with that of Germany.

*By the way, the CUF is just a small part of an array of misleading public relations efforts conducted by Richard Berman on behalf of special interests.

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Graduate Assistants Speak Out On Union

Posted on February 10, 2012 by Richard A. Levins

 One of the most annoying things about being a professor is the day you realize that your graduate students are smarter and more articulate than you are. At first, it bothers you terribly. Then, as time goes on, you come to accept it more gracefully. At least that’s how it’s been for me.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a few comments on my last posting on unions for graduate research assistants at the University of Minnesota. Some were in favor, some objected, but all were thoughtful and worthy of our attention.

I sent out a call for help in putting together my response. Sara Nelson, a graduate assistant and doctoral student at the University of Minnesota, offered something that I can’t improve upon.  So, I will simply quote verbatim:

“The bargaining unit is defined in Minnesota law – the only way to have a union is to have a union for all teaching and research assistants and graduate instructors.

“It is true that, as grad assistants, our work across the university varies greatly – but we are all grad assistant employees, and we are all affected by terms and conditions of our employment determined at the level of the upper administration (though the specifics of our employment are – and would continue to be with a union – determined at the department level). A union would give us the opportunity to negotiate on equal footing with the administration over these basic terms and conditions; a contract would be able to establish base pay, benefits, and job protections for all workers, but this does not mean a flattening of wages across the bargaining unit – above these minimums, diversity among departments is maintained and the functions of individual departments in setting competitive compensation is not curtailed. The fundamental point is that all graduate assistants across campus have the opportunity to provide their input on an initial contract and to vote on this contract, and grad assistants will not approve a contract that is not beneficial to them.

“Further, regardless of differences in pay and benefits, the union is able to give all graduate assistants democratic control in setting the terms and conditions of their employment, which are enforceable in a legally-binding contract.  Regardless of whether we feel satisfied with the status quo, the fact is that it can be (and has been) changed at the whim of the administration. My biggest concern, personally, is less increasing my compensation (though a cost of living increase every few years would be nice) than gaining this democratic control.

“Regarding strikes: strikes are extremely rare (more than 98% of contract negotiations are settled without a strike), and involve a sacrifice for any worker – they are a serious decision that no one takes lightly. Those of us in the social sciences and humanities who may not be funded on external research grants are still required to make progress in order to maintain our positions, and take our work as research and teaching assistants seriously enough not to abandon it except under the most dire of circumstances. A strike requires a 2/3 majority vote, in order to make sure that a super majority of members feel that a strike is absolutely necessary. Further, in the extremely rare case that grad assistants decide they need to strike, no one can be forced to participate in a strike or to discontinue work. The 2/3 majority is designed to ensure that a strike would have strong enough support to succeed.”

I thank Ms. Nelson for her help with this posting. More than that, I thank her and all of you graduate students who are working to find ways that a union can give each and every one of you a stronger voice in administrative decisions. You need it now and, believe me, you will need it much more when you take the next step in your careers.


This entry was posted in Economic Policy, Labor Unions and tagged graduate student assistants, graduate student union, Richard Levins, UAW by Richard A. Levins. Bookmark the permalink.

The Injustice: What A Rip-Off Bank Settlement Highlights the Feds’ Foreclosure Flop

The $26 billion settlement that 49 attorneys general wrested from the big banks today is a pittance compared to the damage done—but they were forced to act by inaction in Washington.

Go a head and hate the deal the federal government and 49 of the country’s 50 attorneys general just finalized with five of the country’s largest banks over foreclosure fraud. There’s plenty to dislike about the settlement, starting with the price tag: $26 billion. That’s a slap on the wrist given the reckless, sometimes criminal behavior of the banks, and a pittance compared to the trillions of dollars homeowners collectively lost during the subprime debacle. Wade into the fine print and the deal seems even more disappointing. One settlement site says that it can take up to three years for homeowners to know if they’re even eligible for a cash payment. Victims losing their home in a foreclosure can expect a cash payment of between $1,500 and $2,000—enough to maybe cover the costs of a rented truck and storage once they got the boot.

Be mad, but make sure to be angry at the right people. Bank regulators in Washington, and not the country’s attorneys general, should have been cracking down on banks that were routinely evicting people despite incomplete documentation. It’s the U.S. Justice Department and other federal agencies that should have gone after the banks when they were caught fabricating legal papers and routinely “robo-signing” thousands of affidavits at a sitting. The Obama administration also might have added teeth to HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program) rather than relying solely on incentives, which explains why HAMP has helped only a small fraction of the 3 million to 4 million homeowners it was created to help.

Bank regulators in Washington should have been cracking down on banks.

The $26 billion settlement that 49 attorneys general wrested from the big banks today is a pittance compared to the damage done—but they were forced to act by inaction in Washington, Susan Walsh / AP Photo

“The attorneys general shouldn’t be here, but Obama fell down on the job,” says Prentiss Cox, who in 2006 led the successful case against Ameriquest, an investigation that cost the lender $325 million in fines, when he ran the Minnesota attorney general’s consumer-enforcement division. (He now teaches at the University of Minnesota Law School). “The Obama administration abdicated responsibility. So while many of us are colossally disappointed with where we are, you can’t blame the AGs. The AGs were at least willing to step to the plate.”

And the AGs did a pretty good job, all things considered. As written, the final deal pertains only to the wrongs the five banks (Wells Fargo, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and GMAC/Ally) committed while booting people from their homes. It won’t tie the hands of any AG seeking to investigate subprime frauds beyond the foreclosure mess. The country’s more aggressive AGs, such as Delaware’s Beau Biden (the vice president’s son) and New York’s Eric Schneiderman, can still pursue claims against the banks over origination (fraud committed when making the subprime loans in the first place) or securitization (the packaging of these loans by the large Wall Street firms and the deceptive means they often used to peddle them to unsuspecting customers).

Attorney General Eric Holder, center, announces a settlement regarding mortgage-loan servicing and foreclosure abuse, at the Justice Department in Washington, Feb. 9, 2012, Cliff Owen / AP Photo

“I’ve said from the start,” Beau Biden told me back in September, “I’m only willing to sign off on a deal if it allows us to continue looking into misconduct in the areas of securitization and origination.” The deal also doesn’t prevent individuals from suing their bank or stand in the way of the many private class-action suits that have been filed over improper foreclosures.

And the deal is about more than just money, even if the dollar amount seems about the only issue most people are focusing on. It’s little solace to those who have already been unfairly booted from their home, but it establishes the steps that any bank must take before seizing someone’s home—or face the consequences of more legal action. It will help those millions of people still facing foreclosure, which has been a priority of old hands in the fight against subprime abuse such as Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

“The most important thing for people like me is fixing the damn system,” Rheingold says. “It’s making sure people who can save their homes have the right to save their homes.” And with the sigh of someone who has been fighting this fight for a long time, Rheingold adds, “I think sometimes we lose sight of what’s possible to achieve.”

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Gary Rivlin is a special correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is the author of five books, including Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc.—How the Working Poor Became Big Business. He has worked as a staff reporter for The New York Times, where his beats included Silicon Valley and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

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Stop HB 56 No Juan Crow

Peterson Beadle on Feb 8, 2012 at 9:45 am

Because a portion of Alabama’s harmful immigration law makes it a felony for undocumented immigrants to enter into a “business transaction” with the state, some public utility companies have interpreted this measure so broadly that they have prevented undocumented immigrants from receiving water or power at their homes. And a library has even required people show proof of citizenship before they can sign up for a library card because of the “business transactions” provision.

Now U.S.-born children with undocumented immigrant parents even have been denied food stamps because of this portion of the anti-immigrant law. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reports that five people have called the group’s hotline to report that they were denied food stamps under the law because of their immigration status even though the benefits are for their American citizen children. SPLC President Richard Cohen said the civil rights group is considering suing the state over the denial of food stamps because of the “business transactions” portion in HB 56. Barry Spear, a spokesman for Alabama’s Department of Human Services, told Yahoo News that demanding proof of citizenship from the guardians of Americans who need food stamps is not the agency’s policy. “We are unaware of any violations of the policy,” Spear said.

But last month, Kansas changed its food aid program to deny benefits to children who are citizens if their parents are undocumented, removing more than 1,000 mixed families. “This policy not only hurts these families, it hurts us, too, especially because we’re talking about U.S. citizen children,” said Elena Morales, who works at El Center, an anti-poverty agency in Kansas City.

In the U.S., roughly 4.5 million American citizens under 18 years old have at least one undocumented parent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. So while undocumented immigrants cannot access most welfare programs, their children are still able to access the programs as citizens. Policies like the one in Kansas and the interpretation of Alabama’s immigration law only serves to harm these American citizens who, through no fault of their own, happen to have undocumented parents.

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50,000+ Sign Petition For Undocumented Immigrant To Receive Kidney Transplant | In less than a week, more than 54,000 people have signed a petition to push the UC San Francisco Medical Center to allow an undocumented immigrant to have a kidney transplant. ThinkProgress wrote last week about how administrators at the medical center denied Jesus Navarro’s procedure, even though his wife offered her own kidney and he will die without the procedure. “UCSF hospital has told Jesus that the only reason he would not be able to get a transplant is becuase of his immigration status,” writes Donald Kagan, who started the petition on February 2. “As I see it, this is a matter of life and death.” The petition calls on hospital officials to allow the transplant and “do the right thing.” Sign the petition here.

By Amanda Peterson Beadle on Feb 7, 2012 at 6:30 pm


Alabama GOPer Pushes Bills Repealing Some Of The Worst Parts Of Anti-Immigrant Law

By Amanda Peterson Beadle on Feb 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm

When Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) and Attorney General Luther Strange (R) both called for changes to the state’s anti-immigrant law last year, it was a hopeful sign that the state might roll back the law’s most harmful effects. According to one projection, the state GDP could decline by $2.3 to $10.8 billion because of HB 56, and the state could lose up to 140,000 jobs.

And state Sen. Gerald Dial (R) agreed with the governor and attorney general and other legislators who called for changes to the law. “It’s just common sense. Let’s step up and say we’ve made some mistakes,” Dial said in November. Now he has filed a bill that proposes some of the broadest changes to HB 56 that, while far from perfect, would address some of the most harmful aspects of HB 56:

  • Would Not Require Schools To Collect Data: Dial’s bill removes a provision that requires schools to collect data about the citizenship or legal resident status of newly enrolled students. Following the implementation of HB 56, schools reported a spike in absenteeism among Latino students because some current students feared that their parents could be deported if they were asked about their citizenship.
  • Redefines “Business Transaction”: HB 56 includes a measure that prevents the state from entering into a “business transaction” with undocumented immigrants. Some public utility companies took this to mean that they could not provide service to anyone who cannot prove they are a citizen or legally in the United States. It effectively made it a felony for undocumented immigrants to take a bath in their own homes. Dial’s bill redefines “business transaction” more narrowly to include issues related to driver’s licenses or non-driver identification cards, license plates, or business licenses.

Dial’s bill also repeals a provision that would deny bail to undocumented immigrants, but he does not propose any changes to a section of the law that requires Alabama police officers “to ask for immigration papers from anyone they come in contact with who looks or sounds foreign.” The Supreme Court will hold a hearing this spring on SB 1070, Arizona’s extreme immigration law with the same “papers, please” requirement as Alabama’s law.

Fully repealing the state’s immigration law — Democrats have filed bills in the Alabama House and Senate to do just that –would be the best option for Alabama. But that option is unlikely while Republicans control the Alabama legislature along with a Republican governor. Nevertheless, Dial’s bills are an important admission that the state erred when enacted HB 56′s declaration of war on immigrants — the state should not hesitate one second before rolling back as much of the law as it can.

Oakland Politics: The Green Party Rises In Post-Occupy Oakland

Occupy Oakland has given rise to a party that, for a long time, seemed almost dead in Oakland: The Green Party.

Oakland Politics – or to be clear, politics in Oakland, California – has always been marked by wild, turbulent events and eras that left the city vastly different than it was before.  Arguably, this first started with the Civil Rights Movement and the emergence of the Black Panthers, which gave birth to a non-profit community watchdog tradition.  A habit reflected in the actions of organizations like OCCUR, for “Oakland Citizen’s Committee For Urban Renewal.”  Oakland now has a long history of politics as political dissent.  A history continued with the Occupy Movement.

Occupy Wall Street gave birth to it’s more militant brother, Occupy Oakland.  Occupy Oakland is a movement such that its proponents claim it’s not political, but one political group has flurished because of it: The Oakland Green Party, which had its campaign kick-off today in front of Oakland City Hall.


For the first time in some years, The Oakland Green Party presents more than one or two people running for office in Oakland. The Greens have four candidates: Theresa Anderson will run for the Oakland City Council At-Large Seat currently held by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan; Donald McCleay, who ran for Mayor of Oakland in 2010, is running for the Oakland City Council District One Seat; Randy Menjivar is taking on Oakland City Council President Larry Reid in District Seven; Vicente Cruz II is running for the Oakland School Board District Three Seat.

The Oakland Green Party circa 2012 is supportive of the basic idea of the Occupy Oakland Movement, and wants to channel its more constructive message of helping those who need assistance into a more supportive urban policy.  That’s certainly clear in the message of Ms. Anderson, who says her reason for running is her concern for Oakland’s youth and her assertion that not enough is being done to make Oakland a healthy place for them.   That’s a platform that could work for the long-shot candidate, who’s going up against a person, Kaplan, who has made running for office an art form, and ran for Mayor of Oakland in 2010, coming up third place in a close race defined by Rank Choice Voting.

Where the Oakland Greens go in 2012 will be marked by how well Theresa Anderson does.  If she can stir the kind of grass roots excitement the Occupy Oakland Movement seems to have created, and is now looking for a candidate to back, she and the Greens could alter Oakland’s political course for some time.

Left to right; Vicente Cruz II, Thresa Anderson, Donald Macleay, Randy Menjivar..


Beverly Rvas –

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