Local and Michigan Headlines: Capitol News Coverage Dying; Bill Targets Teachers Who Strike

Here are some interesting stories published elsewhere on the web in the past twenty-four hours. Feel free to discuss them in the comments or let us know if we missed anything:

  • Capitol news coverage dying – This column from the Lansing City Pulse by MIRS editor Kyle Melinn looks at the dramatic decline in news coverage at the capitol. Over the past several years, media outlets across Michigan have dramatically reduced the number of reporters covering the state capitol. With important issues before the legislature–such as the upcoming budget–Melinn says that people want to know what is going on in Lansing, but he isn’t sure if there will be reporters to satisfy their interest.
  • Health and Hope – This is an interesting article from Rapid Growth Media about a dentist who was inspired by a trip to Africa to give up his lucrative dental practice in the suburbs to provide dental care for low income patients in the Burton Heights neighborhood as part of Health Intervention Services. The clinic is part of the Free Clinics of Michigan network. To be sure, it’s going to take a lot more than individual acts of charity and selflessness to fix the health care system in the United States, but it’s great to see things like this.
  • GRIID Interviews Kathy KellyThe Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) interviews activist Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Non-Violence. Kelly was in Grand Rapids last night to speak about her recent trip to Pakistan and what she learned from talking with refugees who have been displace by U.S. drone attacks.
  • War Funding Coverage Full of Omissions – Over the past week, MediaMouse.org has reported on the debate over war funding in the House of Representatives. In particular, we have looked how the Democratic Party has been willing to sellout its anti-war constituents. In this piece, the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID) looks at how the war funding bill was covered in the Grand Rapids Press. Not surprisingly, it was barely covered, but what can you really expect from a newspaper that has no national reporters?
  • White House Says, ‘Stand Tall, Michigan!’ – The Obama administration’s so-called “green jobs czar” says that Michigan has everything it needs to make it “a green energy capital of the world.” The only thing missing is the political will to adopt green policies.
  • Proposed bills tell teachers one strike, they’re out – Two proposed bills in the Michigan House of Representatives will make it easier to punish teachers who participate in strikes. The bills would enact new penalties–including loss of certification for two years–on teachers who strike. Teacher strikes were made illegal under a 1994 law.
  • Dow dioxin cleanup in mid-Michigan could take years – This article from the Detroit Free Press describes a pretty typical pollution scenario. A corporation–in this case Dow Chemical–contaminates a large swath of land with a toxic chemical–in this case dioxin. After several years of citizen complaints, the EPA finally decides to investigate the issue. First, they promise a study. Then, they decide how to clean it up, then they actually (more often, a maybe) start doing the work. It takes years before the pollution is ever cleaned up. In this case, clean up could last until 2018.
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Employee Free Choice Act Still Alive

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After a lot of hope following the election of President Barack Obama, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)–a measure aimed at making it easier for workers to form unions–seemed destined for failure in March. A key Republican Senator–Arlen Specter–withdrew his support for the bill and a group of CEOs offered an alternative proposal that would effectively neuter the bill by removing a key provision–“card check”–that allows workers to form a union once a simple majority of workers support it.

However, there are recent indications that the fight for the Employee Free Choice Act is back on track. According to an article in Roll Call, months of negotiations in the Senate (http://www.theittlist.com/site/ittlist/ind/5456/) are starting to pay off with some sort of deal apparently being near. Senator Tom Harkin says that the bill may be ready by next month. The newspaper further reports that Specter is now looking for a way to support the legislation in order to fend off a Democratic challenger in the next election.

While negotiations are taking place in the Senate, unions are also increasing their efforts in support of the legislation. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has launched an ad campaign targeting five Senators whose votes are considered key in the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. The ads assert that the vote for the EFCA is a choice between supporting working people and the greedy CEOs that were responsible for the current economic crisis.

Hopefully grassroots pressure from labor and social justice groups can keep the Employee Free Choice Act intact, but with how recent “compromise” efforts seem to be going on things like war funding and global warming legislation, I’m not terribly optimistic.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Mackinac Center Attacks Organized Labor (Yet Again); Poll Finds Support for Gay Marriage in Michigan

Here’s some interesting Grand Rapids and Michigan headlines from today and over the weekend:

Local and Michigan Headlines: Community Supported Agriculture in Michigan; The GRPS Teacher Contract Dispute

Here’s some interesting articles pertaining to Grand Rapids and Michigan from elsewhere on the Internet:

  • Michigan Will Lead the Green Industrial Revolution – Governor Jennifer Granholm takes to the Huffington Post to talk up Michigan’s work addressing climate change. Specifically, she is championing efforts to make cars made in Detroit more fuel-efficient. I’m really as excited about it as she is, but at least she’s out there making the effort to improve Michigan’s reputation.
  • Details of new UAW deal with General Motors – Not surprisingly, the UAW leadership made many concessions to GM on the union health plan, raises, and medical benefits for retirees.
  • EPA pledges ‘expeditious action’ on Dow dioxin clean-up, but Superfund status not in the works – While promising to hold Dow Chemical accountable for dioxin pollution, the organization failed to place the contaminated Saginaw Bay and Saginaw River watershed on the Superfund list. Nevertheless, environmental groups are cautiously optimistic that the EPA will finally hold Dow accountable.
  • Employee Stock Ownership, But Not Control – While not about Michigan per se, this article looks at union stock ownership in the auto industry and what that has meant for unions. This is particularly interesting as it relates to the Chrysler bankruptcy and the likely GM bankruptcy. The article was published in Labor Notes, so it is more focused on the perspective of workers and unions than what we typically see in the corporate press.
  • Cox: Top priority as governor would be tax cut – Attorney General Mike Cox has announced that he is running for governor of Michigan in 2010. His main goal would be to enact a $2 billion tax cut which include a 50% reduction is business taxes. Less revenue? That sounds just like what a struggling state government needs.
  • Arab Americans discuss profiling with security chief – Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano recently met with members of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) and the Michigan chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to discuss their concerns about profiling of Arab Americans at Michigan’s border crossings. The groups want the Department of Homeland Security to collect statistics on the race, national origin, and gender of those stopped at border crossings.
  • Kentwood police identify Michael Sulewski as pedestrian struck on 28th Street – Another pedestrian was hit by a car recently. Drivers really need to look out for cyclists and pedestrians–this is getting ridiculous.
  • What gives in Grand Rapids Public Schools? Either union or district must budge in contract dispute – Here’s the Grand Rapids Press’ look at the ongoing dispute in the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) over contracts for its teachers. It’s a decent summary of some of the issues in the nearly two-year old labor dispute.
  • Policy change works to provide permanent housing for the homeless, rent payments to those on brink of evictionThe Grand Rapids Press reports that a new state policy shift will allow Emergency Shelter Partnership funds to go towards rent subsidies to keep people in their homes rather than shelters. The Grand Rapids Area Coalition to End Homelessness applauded the move.
  • Community farms sprouting up across areaThe Muskegon Chronicle has a nice story on Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and its popularity as more people look at the health and cost-saving benefits of locally grown produce.

If we missed anything, let us know in the comments.

Report: Anti-Union Behavior has Intensified

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A new study by labor expert and Cornell University Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner has found that employer opposition to labor unions has intensified in recent years and has become more punitive.

The new report–titled “No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing“–looks at five years of employer behavior in elections supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The study found that it is standard practice for workers to be subject to threats, interrogation, harassment, surveillance, and retaliation for union activity. In campaigning against unions, corporations frequently engage in a combination of the following tactics:

  • 63% interrogate workers in one-on-one meetings with their supervisors about support for the union
  • 54% threaten workers in such meetings
  • 57% threaten to close the worksite
  • 47% threaten to cut wages and benefits
  • 34% fire workers

Moreover, even in instances when employees are able to form a union, corporations are able to continue to drag their heels. 52% of employees are still without a contract a year after they win a union election and 37% remain without a contract after two years.

Bronfenbrenner compared the results of this study to past studies and found that employers are using a combination of ten common anti-union tactics in 49% of unionization drives, up from 26% twelve years ago.

The report also looks at the difference between private-sector and public-sector unionization rates. In the public-sector, 37% of workers belong to unions compared to just 8% in the private-sector. Public-sector workers often have more freedom to form unions as coercive anti-union tactics are considerably less common. In many cases, they can form unions through a majority sign-up process rather than through elections.

The report blames employers’ anti-union tactics for driving down the unionization rate to 12.4% in the United States.

Study Likely to Fuel Debate over Employee Free Choice Act

Bronfenbrenner’s study and its conclusions will likely contribute to the ongoing debate over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). The Act would make it easier for workers to form unions and would reduce the advantages that employers currently hold (such as using anti-union intimidation tactics). Moreover, it would mandate that contracts be signed quicker and allow unions to be formed either through the elections process–which has been thoroughly manipulated by corporations over the years–or through a majority sign-up.

Not surprisingly, the Employee Free Choice Act has been opposed by major corporations and business groups, including some here in West Michigan. The United States Chamber of Commerce rejected this study, saying that it was skewed in favor of labor, although it was peer-reviewed by other academics in the field.

Starbucks Targeted for Anti-Union Activity

Over the past several years, MediaMouse.org has regularly reported on efforts aimed at organizing Starbucks workers both here in Grand Rapids and around the country. The Starbucks Workers Union just celebrated its fifth anniversary despite an ongoing campaign of anti-union intimidation by Starbucks.

Since the union’s formation, Starbucks has been convicted multiple times of violating the National Labor Relations Act. At the same time it is waging this aggressive anti-union campaign, Starbucks is also working to prevent the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, a measure that would make it easier to form unions. The Act would also increase sanctions against companies like Starbucks.

Brave New Films has produced a very good short video that looks at organizing efforts at Starbucks and the company’s anti-union behavior:

In addition to the film, Brave New Films has also launched a new website, StopStarbucks.com that aims to place the company under increased scrutiny.

As part of the new website, there is a petition that demands that Starbucks allow its employees to form unions and asks that it stop opposing the Employee Free Choice Act. Signing it is a great way to follow-up on the organizing done by the Grand Rapids Starbucks Workers Union.

Local and Michigan Headlines: Detroit Free Press Cutting Its Staff; Auto Worker Contracts

Here are some interesting stories from the past 24 hours:

If we missed anything, let us know.

Starbucks Workers Union Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

Starbucks Workers Union

The Starbucks Workers Union–which has been active here in Grand Rapids–celebrated its fifth anniversary on May 17. To commemorate the union and its organizing efforts to improve conditions for Starbucks baristas, the Union issued the following statement:

May 17, 2009 marks five years since baristas at a Starbucks in New York City announced their membership in the Industrial Workers of the World and launched a campaign open to employees throughout the company. A worker-led organizing effort with the legendary IWW at the world’s largest coffee chain could have been a flash in the pan- brilliant and inspiring, but brief. But a fire was lit and a movement began. The idea that Starbucks workers could organize themselves and speak in their own voice, independent of company executives and union bureaucrats, could not be restrained.

The bosses did their best to defeat us, to bury any indication of our existence under a heap of lies and retaliatory firings. They tried to stamp us out, even as the campaign for secure jobs and a living wage burst from New York into Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota and beyond.

While Starbucks used the economic crisis as a pretext for an all-out assault on our already meager standard of living, our struggle gained momentum this year amidst a stark decline of the company’s brand and widespread store closures. Baristas around the country and around the world made the decision to organize and fight back against severe cuts in work hours, chronic under staffing, and a new “Optimal Scheduling” program which forces many workers to be available to Starbucks for over 80 hours a week without being guaranteed a single work hour.

This journey has been full of set-backs and tests of will. Progress has been made yet much remains to be done. But one thing is certain: our voice for dignity is firmly planted and our union’s future is bright.

The biggest battles remain ahead, but every day our ranks deepen. We are confident in our solidarity and could not be more proud to be associated with our fellow workers across the IWW and like-minded unionists around the world. This year, courageous baristas in Chile became the first Starbucks workers in Latin America to raise a union banner.

The corporate-controlled economic, social, and political model has been exposed everywhere as a failure for working families. And everyday workers are bolder and more assertive in the fight against injustice and exploitation. The notion that democracy has no place at work has been exposed as a lie.

To every worker who loves liberty: this is our time!

Together we organize. Together we struggle. Together we win!

http://www.StarbucksUnion.org

http://www.iww.org

http://www.starbucksunion.org/node/2122

Local/Michigan Headlines: Superintendent Contract Didn’t Include Teacher Critique; Michigan Adds 69 Species to Endangered List

Here’s some interesting articles covering Grand Rapids and Michigan that were published in the last twenty-four hours:

  • Grand Rapids Superintendent Bernard Taylor’s evaluation didn’t include critique from teachers, staff – Surprise, surprise – the Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) evaluation of Superintendent Bernard Taylor largely glossed over his relationship with district staff. Teachers in the district have been working for over two years without a contract due to an ongoing labor dispute.
  • Granholm reported among 6 considered for U.S. Supreme Court seat – According to The Detroit Free Press, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm is among six people being considered by President Barack Obama to replace retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
  • Michigan adds 69 species to endangered list – The DNR added 69 species to Michigan’s endangered species list, bringing the total up to 396. The DNR prohibits killing, collecting, or harming species on Michigan’s list.
  • Deal OKs 90-day reprieve on foreclosures – Homeowners facing imminent foreclosure could receive a 90-day reprieve to modify their mortgages under a deal struck between the state House and Senate on Wednesday. The measure would give homeowners rights to be notified of foreclosures and to be told who to contact for more information. Right now, the lack of transparency in the process is a major problem.
  • Senator Stabenow voted against limiting credit card rates – Michigan Liberal reports that Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow voted against a measure that would have limited the rates that credit card companies charge. It isn’t much of a surprise given that she has been supported by the financial sector to the tune of $1.7 million over the past few years.
  • Pete’s Pilgrimage – A Return to More of the Same from the Mackinac Center’s Man – Representative Pete Hoekstra–who is now campaigning to be governor of Michigan–visited the rightwing Mackinac Center. While there, he said that he supports eliminating the Michigan Business Tax. How would the state replace the money? Hoekstra said only that it would come from the state’s “assets.” For Hoekstra, this could include leasing state land for cell phone towers or planting and baling hay along the state’s highways.
  • Michigan Budget Will Fall $2.1 Billion Short for 2010 – A new report says that Michigan’s budget will fall $2.1 billion short for 2010. It’s hard to imagine what could be cut to keep the state afloat.
  • Friends of Grand Rapids Parks volunteer effort will give spring cleaning to 16 locations – Even as Grand Rapids pursues it’s “Green Grand Rapids” initiative, the budget for the city parks department has been reduced by 40% over the past three years. In response, a new group called Friends of Grand Rapids Parks has formed and is working with the city to improve and maintain the city’s parks. This weekend its hosting a park clean-up.
  • GM’s 36th Street stamping plant in Wyoming to end production May 29, earlier than planned – General Motors stamping plant in Wyoming will close at the end of the month–three months earlier than originally planned–leaving some 805 employees to decide whether or not they are able to transfer to other GM facilities.
  • Former FDIC chairman, GVSU donor Bill Seidman dies at age 88 – The Grand Rapids Press reports on the death of Bill Seidman who worked as an economic advisor to President Gerald R. Ford, was had of the FDIC, and a major donor to Grand Valley State University. He was a lifelong Republican. Not surprisingly, the Press contained a glowing portrayal of Seidman complete with recollections from other prominent white men in the city. Seidman served as a commentator for years on the cable financial channel CNBC.
  • Dorm costs up for fall – Michigan’s universities are raising room and board rates by an average of 4%.

    Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments.

May Day: Celebrate Workers Power

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Today is May Day, a day that around the world is celebrated as a celebration of workers’ rights and the power of collective action. In Europe, protestors celebrated the social and economic gains of the labor movement, while also criticizing the world’s elites over the economic crisis.

In the United States, we’ve largely forgotten that history with May Day’s relationship to workers’ rights being scrubbed in the 1950s hysteria over communism and instead christened “Loyalty Day”.

When we lost that history, working people lost part of an inspiring history of grassroots action. Things like the 8-hour day, the end to child labor, and the right to collectively bargain all came out of the struggles of unionized and non-unionized workers and their allies. Radical historian Howard Zinn said in a recent interview:

“Think back to 1886,” he urged, ” … that last part of the nineteenth century, when corporations were growing more and more powerful … And workers were working ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day in factories, and mills, and mines.” “Particularly in the period, in the 1880s, workers decided they would have to win the eight-hour day by their own efforts, by direct action, by going on strike. And they did, they went on strike all over the country. And the result was, they did win the eight-hour day in many places at that time.”

“It wasn’t written into law … until the 1930s, until the New Deal. But it was the unions, the strikers, who did it first. And so it’s very important to understand that May Day is a symbol of protest against terrible working conditions, and of workers’ solidarity to change that.”

So celebrate today as a day of power, and more importantly, (re)commit yourself to the struggle for social justice. Join a progressive group in West Michigan, call your legislators in support of the Employee Free Choice Act (which would make it easier for workers to form unions), or start a new group or project. History shows us that we have the power to change things–we just need to make the effort.

It’s also worth noting that in recent years, May Day has had a resurgence in the U.S. as a day of protest in support of immigrant rights. Since 2006, massive protests have taken place annually in cities across the United States that have in many cases link immigrant rights and workers rights and forged a broader sense of solidarity across movements.