Education Action Group Mailing Warns Against “Union Puppets”

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When I opened up the mailbox today, I was greeted by a postcard from a group called the Education Action Group urging me to vote against the “union puppets” running for the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board. The mailing says that the Grand Rapids teachers’ union “wants expensive health insurance and a 6-10 percent raise.” According to the post card, that’s something that the district can’t afford and we need to vote to stop the “union takeover.”

Of course, it’s open knowledge that the Grand Rapids Public Schools and the Grand Rapids Education Association are engaged in an ongoing dispute over the state of the contract between the union and the Grand Rapids Public Schools. Even as the candidates seek to talk about other difficult issues facing the district, the media is largely defining the race based on the contract dispute.

A lot has been said about the Education Action Group and its agenda elsewhere. But it’s worth noting once again that the organization is engaged in a statewide campaign to undermine the Michigan Education Association and to attack teachers’ unions. To that end, it has a secret donor list that funds a variety of outreach activities including these mailers, videos featuring the rather slimy consultant Dick Morris, travel expenses, and it pays an organizer to oppose teachers’ unions across the state.

The Education Action Group claims to be “a struggling group fighting for our children” that is heroically taking on the unions in defense of the proverbial “little guy (or gal).” They say they are advocates for the silent majority that opposes the teachers unions. They claim to be “an independent, non-partisan organization.”

However, they have close ties to the Republican Party and the rightwing establishment in Michigan. The group’s head–Kyle Olson–was paid $29,000 by the group to lead its efforts. Olson’s a Republican and he was a lobbyist for the Michigan Association of Realtors, he managed Republican Gerald VanWoerkem’s campaign for state Senate in 2002, and he ran unsuccessfully for the Muskegon Board of Commissioners. He was also on Republican Mitt Romney’s Michigan presidential campaign.

The Education Action Group doesn’t divulge its board of directors or donors, but there are links to other prominent rightwing groups in Michigan. The organization’s incorporator, Eric Doster, is on the board of the Great Lakes Education Project a group that is part of Dick and Betsy DeVos’ ongoing efforts to promote school vouchers and attack public education. This has fueled speculation that the Education Action Group might have ties to the DeVos family and the rest of the anti-public education forces in Michigan. Kyle Olson’s brother Ryan Olson, was Director of Education Policy at the rightwing Mackinac Center which has long been critical of public education in Michigan and that advocates a wider agenda of privatization. Back in 2000, it was involved in a failed effort to adopt a statewide school voucher campaign.

For those who want a more balanced look at the Grand Rapids Public Schools Board election, check out the voters guide produced by the League of Women Voters.

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Headlines: Government, UAW Might Become Major GM Shareholders; 2008 Was Deadliest Year For Palestinians Since 1948

Democracy Now Headlines: Government, UAW Might Become Major GM Shareholders; 2008 Was Deadliest Year For Palestinians Since 1948

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Government Might Become Majority GM Shareholder

General Motors has offered its final plan to reorganize in an effort to avoid bankruptcy. The car company has proposed slashing bond debt, cutting over 21,000 more U.S. jobs and emerging as a nationalized automaker under majority control by the U.S. government. The proposed restructuring would also shut down GM’s Pontiac operations. As part of the restructuring, GM is asking the Treasury Department for an additional eleven point six billion dollars in loans, in addition to the fifteen point four billion it has already received.

GM CEO Fritz Henderson: “I do think that General Motors will remain a global corporation without a doubt, but I think there’s no question in my mind also that the nature of those global relationships will change.”

Henderson said GM would probably declare bankruptcy if the bondholders reject the terms. By the time it is finished, G.M. expects to have only 38,000 union workers and 34 factories left in the United States, compared with nearly 400,000 workers in more than 150 plants at its peak employment in 1970.

Report: UAW To Own 55% of Chrysler Under Restructuring Deal

There are major developments in the proposed restructuring of Chrysler. The car company and labor leaders have agreed to a tentative deal where the United Auto Workers union’s retiree health-care fund would become the majority shareholder of Chrysler in exchange for cutting in half what the automaker owes the health care trust.

WHO Raises Pandemic Threat Level Over Swine Flu Fears

The World Health Organization has raised its pandemic threat level one notch as more cases of swine flu become known. In Mexico officials say 149 people have died from influenza but only 26 of the deaths have been confirmed to be swine flu. Nearly 2,000 people have been hospitalized with serious pneumonia. In the United States, the Centers For Disease Control has doubles it s number of confirmed U.S. cases to 48. Cases have also been confirmed in Canada, Spain, Britain and Israel but no deaths have been reported outside Mexico.

Flu expert Dr. John McCauley: “I think we are facing the danger of pandemic for the following reasons. One, this is a new virus that humans have not seen before. We have not come across a virus exactly like that. We have seen other H1N1s but not this particular variant. And so it’s a new virus to which humans appear to have no significant immunity. Secondly, it is spreading human to human. And so these are the hallmarks of a virus that could become a pandemic virus.”

CDC Dismisses EU Travel Advisory

Mexico has responded to the outbreak by shutting down all schools nationwide for more than a week and placing limits on public gatherings. The European Union has urged travelers to avoid the United States and Mexico “unless it is very urgent for them.” Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control, criticized the EU travel warning.

Richard Besser: “Based on the situation in the United States right now, I think it is quite premature to be putting travel restrictions on people coming to the United States. We have 20 cases of swine flu, we’re doing active surveillance. So far we’ve seen one hospitalization.”

Researchers believe the outbreak of swine flu may have occurred near a Mexican factory pork farm partly owned by Virginia-based Smithfield Foods, the largest producer of hogs in the United States. At the United Nations, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warned poor nations may be hit particularly hard by the flu outbreak.

Ban Ki-Moon: “The swine flu outbreak shows yet again that in our interconnected world no nation can deal with threats of such dimension on its own. Poor nations are especially vulnerable. They have been hit hard by other crisis this year-food, energy, the global economy, climate change. We must ensure that they are not also hit disproportionately hard by a potential health crisis.”

380 Same-Sex Couples Marry in Iowa

In Iowa, more than 380 same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses Monday following a state Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Dozens of couples held weddings Monday after being granted waivers of Iowa’s three-day waiting period.

Jennifer Waldron: “I’m actually quite overwhelmed right now with emotion which actually really surprises me. but just to have the validation from the public that we are in a loving and committed relationship and that it’s important.”

91 Disability Rights Activists Arrested Outside White House

Over 100 people were arrested in Washington on Monday during a series of unrelated demonstrations. 91 disability rights activists were arrested after members of the group ADAPT chained their wheelchairs to the White House fence. The protest was held to raise awareness of the Community Choice Act, pending legislation that they said would allow disabled individuals to use their Medicaid payments for community-based services.

Five Members of Congress Arrested At Sudanese Embassy

Five members of Congress were arrested Monday outside the Sudanese embassy during a demonstration condemning Sudan’s decision to expel 16 aid agencies from Darfur.

The arrested included Democrats John Lewis of Georgia, Keith Ellison on Minnesota, Lynn Woolsey of California, Donna Edwards of Maryland and Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. They were charged with crossing a police line, a misdemeanor, and released.

Seven Greenpeace Activists Arrested

Also on Monday seven Greenpeace activists were arrested for scaling a construction crane and unfurling a banner with a picture of Earth and the message “Too big to fail.”

Blackwater Training Site in Illinois Picketed; 22 Arrested

In Mt. Carroll, Illinois, 22 people were arrested Monday at a protest outside a training site run by Xe, the company formerly known as Blackwater.

30,000 Pakistanis Flee Fighting in Northwest Region

In Pakistan as many as 30,000 people have fled Northwest Pakistan in recent days to escape fighting between the Taliban and Pakistani military. Al Jazeera reports civilians left their homes after the Pakistani military began their assault on Sunday against Taliban fighters in Lower Dir, near the Taliban-held Swat valley. The military action in Lower Dir comes weeks after the government allowed the Taliban to implement their interpretation of Islamic law in the neighboring Swat valley. Critics of Pakistan’s deal with fighters in Swat say that it has only emboldened the Taliban.

Sri Lanka Blocks UN Aid Mission

The Sri Lankan military has blocked a United Nations aid mission from entering the area where the Sri Lankan military continues to attack Tamil Tiger separatists. Some 50,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in the conflict zone. John Holmes, the UN humanitarian affairs chief, failed in his attempt to bring a halt to the fighting.

John Holmes: “I think our view is that the key point is when this conflict comes to an end, however it ends, I think it is much better if it ends without more civilian bloodshed, then there is a real need to address the political issues, to define solutions to the political problems which underlie all this, to react in a generous way to make sure that not only win the military victory but win the peace as well. Obviously that is the solution.”

Meanwhile Sweden’s foreign minister has been refused entry to Sri Lanka. Carl Bildt was due to visit Sri Lanka on a European mediating mission aimed at bringing about an immediate ceasefire between the Sri Lankan military and the LTTE. On Sunday the Sri Lankan government rejected a Tamil Tiger call for a unilateral ceasefire.

Obama Admin Seeks Reversal of Mountaintop Mining Rule

The Interior Department said Monday it will try to overturn a Bush administration rule that made it easier for coal mining companies to dump mountaintop debris into valley streams. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he will ask the Justice Department to go to the courts to withdraw the Bush regulation and send it back to Interior to stop the policy.

Report: Israel Built 9,000 Homes in Occupied Territories Under Olmert

A new report has determined the Israeli government under Ehud Olmert built or issued bids for some 9,000 settlement homes for Israelis in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. The Israeli watchdog groups Peace Now and Ir Amim urged President Barack Obama to step in quickly and pressure Israel’s new prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to halt further settlement expansion.

Group: 2008 Was Deadliest Year For Palestinians Since 1948

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights says more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed in 2008 in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, making it the deadliest year since Israel was founded in 1948. A total 860 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops in Gaza and the West Bank. Another 161 Palestinians were killed in factional fighting.

Detained Iranian-American Journalist Continues Hunger Strike

The Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi has entered her second week of a hunger strike protesting her imprisonment in Iran. She was sentenced earlier this month to eight years of imprisonment this month on charges of spying for Washington. Her father, Reza Saberi, said she plans to continue her hunger strike until she is released. Roxana turned 32 on Sunday.

Conde Naste Closes Portfolio Magazine

And in media news, Conde Nast has decided to close the two-year-old magazine Portfolio. Meanwhile newly released statistics show paid weekday newspaper circulation has fallen seven percent over the past six months.

Press Runs Guest Column in Support of Employee Free Choice Act

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After publishing yet another editorial against the Employee Free Choice Act earlier this month, the Grand Rapids Press published a guest column on Friday by Buckley Geno of West Michigan’s Friends of Labor and West Michigan Plumbers, Fitters, and Service Trades Local Union No. 174.

The column calls out the lie that the Employee Free Choice Act eliminates secret ball elections:

The Employee Free Choice Act does not eliminate elections. It gives working people the freedom to make their own decision about forming a union and how to accomplish that task without the fear of retribution. Currently, working people are struggling to make ends meet. The Employee Free Choice Act will allow more people to bargain for better wages and working conditions, which will help rebuild our middle class and create an economy that will benefit everyone.

Today big business dominates our economy, which enables corporations to insist that employees organize unions through so-called elections on their terms, even when a majority of employees have stated they want a union. The result is intimidation and coercion, which leads to “elections” that are more like fake elections in dictatorships.

However, while it is nice to see the Grand Rapids Press finally publishing something in support of the Act, it doesn’t make up for the fact that its coverage of the issue has been very one-sided and anti-union. It has editorialized against the Employee Free Choice Act four times and run columns from conservative commentators against the Act. Similarly, in its news coverage, it has spoken primarily to critics–business owners and Republican politicians–rather than supporters.

NBC’s Today Show Repeats Anti-EFCA Falsehoods, Relies on Anti-Union Wal-Mart CEO for Analysis

Wal-Mart Opposes the EFCA

NBC’s Today show is the latest media outlet to include reporting that distorts the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) by relying on falsehoods touted by the bill’s opponents.

The media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) issued a media alert on Tuesday about a segment in which Today show host Matt Lauer repeated falsehoods about the EFCA:

The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would make it easier for workers to form unions by increasing penalties for employers who violate workers’ right to organize, and by giving workers the right to form a union if a majority signs cards declaring they want one–the so-called “card check” provision.

NBC’s Lauer declared that EFCA “would do away with secret ballots.” This is inaccurate; under the proposed law, workers would still have the right to vote in a National Labor Review Board (NLRB) “secret ballot” election if 30 percent of the workforce signs cards, just as they do now. Under current law, employers rather than workers get to decide whether unionization requires a card check or a vote. The false claim that EFCA would eliminate secret ballots has been a major talking point of anti-EFCA campaigners.

After this, Lauer asked the Wal-Mart CEO what he thought about the EFCA. Not surprisingly, the Wal-Mart CEO said it is “really one of those bills that would be damaging to the American economy long-term.”

Back in 2008, Wal-Mart–anticipating the likely election of a Democratic president–began forcing its employees to attend meetings that argued against the EFCA

Wal-Mart acknowledges that it summoned employees around the country to warn them about the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow unions to organize companies if more than half the workers signed cards agreeing to join, dispensing with the need for a secret ballot.

Wal-Mart is an incredibly anti-union company and has violated labor laws numerous times in recent years. Wal-Mart has even gone so far as to close stores rather than see them unionized. It’s no surprise that they would actively campaign against the act. Nor is it a surprise that NBC–which is owned by General Electric–would give them a platform to promote these views, as media coverage of the Employee Free Choice Act has repeatedly emphasized business voices over labor voices.

Average CEO Earned $10.4 Million in 2008

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The AFL-CIO has launched its annual “PayWatch” website which reports that the average CEO received $10.4 million in total compensation in 2008.

According to the AFL-CIO:

Even as the U.S. economy went into a tailspin, the median salary for CEOs of 200 large corporations increased by 4.5 percent to $1.08 million. On top of that, these corporations keep plying executives with generous freebies, despite the public outcry over private jets and other executive perks.

…the perks for executives rose on average by 12.5 percent in 2008 to $336,248–or nine times the median salary of a full-time worker. Even more appalling is the practice of rewarding executives who drive their companies into the ground.

For example, the site reports that in 2007–the year the financial crisis began to unfold–the top 10 recipients of the federal government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) collectively paid their CEOs a combined $242 million in total annual compensation. That averages nearly $25 million per CEO to run companies that might have gone bankrupt if not for billions of dollars in taxpayer assistance.

While CEO pay is down from 2007, it still dramatically outpaces earnings by workers. CEO pay has grown at an astronomical rate since 1980 when the average CEO earned 42 times what the average worker earned. In 2007, that had grown to 344 times.

The AFL-CIO also highlights a number of practices from stock options to retention bonuses that are keeping CEO pay high even as public outrage of CEO pay grows.

All of this is another reminder of why we need reforms like the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) to level the playing field between workers and CEOs. Strong unions and a revitalized labor movement are essential to reversing this dynamic.

Another Michigan Publication Comes Out Against the Employee Free Choice Act

Pass the Employee Free Choice Act

We’ve recently reported on The Grand Rapids Press’ numerous editorials opposing the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), as well as other right-wing efforts to oppose the law here in West Michigan.

Now, the publication MiBiz–which focuses on business news–has published an editorial against the Employee Free Choice Act.

Like the editorials in The Grand Rapids Press and those being written by business groups across the country, the MiBiz editorial repeats many common falsehoods myths and distortions about the EFCA. The editorial was written by Chuck Hadden of the Michigan Manufacturers Association. Given his position as a leader of an organization representing business owners, it’s really no surprise that he is speaking out against the legislation–they clearly have a vested interest in keeping labor laws as they are: favoring employers.

Hadden argues that, “One of the most compelling arguments against the EFCA is that employees would, for all intents and purposes, lose their right to a secret ballot for union representation.” Of course, this argument has been shown to be false time and time again, as Hadden admits one sentence later when he says that workers could still use the so-called “secret ballot” for elections if they want. So, what’s the big deal? It would give workers the choice and take away the current pro-employer bias in labor law.

He further argues that workers would lose their privacy when he says that:

“It is important to remember that privacy in the election process provides important protections for both employers and employees and those protections would be stripped away under the EFCA if unions get their way. Those signed cards would be viewed by both employers and union representatives. Under the guise of “freedom” and “choice,” employees would be forced to openly declare their affiliations or intentions with regard to unionization efforts which is an open invitation for harassment, intimidation and coercion.”

However, like most critics of the EFCA, Hadden completely ignores the frequency with which employers intimidate and harass workers trying to form unions. They can do it because penalties are so low, the Employee Free Choice Act would help reverse that.

Hadden also argues that other changes including arbitration and timelines for elections, would hurt employers and employees:

“the National Labor Relations Board already has strict procedures to ensure fair private ballot elections, free of employer or union coercion. These existing procedures are no threat to unions; they lead to swift and fair elections.”

Again, he ignores criticism of the NLRB process which University of Oregon political scientist Gordon Lafer, Ph.D argues has little resemblance to democratic process.

It’s important to keep the spotlight on the Employee Free Choice Act–union membership should be a basic right and its historically been responsible for many gains in wages and the expansion of the middle class, both here in the United States and globally. It’s essential that union organizers, progressives, radicals, and workers work together to promote the act because we’re up against quite an array of forces, namely corporations and their allies in the government and the media.

Headlines: U.S. Reportedly Planning to Increase use of Drones in Pakistan; Democrat Opposes Employee Free Choice Act

Democracy Now Headlines: U.S. Reportedly Planning to Increase use of Drones in Pakistan; Democrat Opposes Employee Free Choice Act

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

At Least 179 Killed in Italian Earthquake

Rescue workers in Italy continue to search for survivors from yesterday’s earthquake that killed at least 179 people. More than 1,500 people have been injured. Tens of thousands have been left homeless. The quake devastated the city of L’Aquila and surrounding towns. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi declared a state of emergency in the region.

Silvio Berlusconi: “At this moment, we are most concerned about rescuing people who are still under the rubble. We are not using machines for this, because experience has shown us that it is important to dig by hand.”

Monday’s earthquake was the deadliest to hit Italy in nearly thirty years, but it did not come as a surprise to all. An Italian seismologist had predicted a large earthquake was on the way, but authorities forced him to remove his findings from the internet.

Red Cross: US Medical Personnel Involved in Torture of Prisoners

In its once-secret report, the International Committee of the Red Cross concluded US medical personnel were deeply involved in the CIA’s torture of prisoners held in overseas prisons. The Red Cross report said the actions of medical personnel “constituted a gross breach of medical ethics and, in some cases, amounted to participation in torture.” The Red Cross’s secret 2007 report was published in its entirety yesterday by the New York Review of Books. The Red Cross also called on the United States to “investigate all allegations of ill-treatment and take steps to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate, and to prevent such abuses from happening again.”

Report: Senate GOP Threatens to Block Nominees Over Torture Memo

Attorney and blogger Scott Horton is reporting that Senate Republicans are threatening to filibuster two top Justice Department nominees if the Obama administration releases secret Bush administration memos that authorized the torture of prisoners. The nominees are Dawn Johnson as chief of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice and Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh as State Department legal counsel. Horton writes, “It now appears that Republicans are seeking an Obama commitment to safeguard the Bush administration’s darkest secrets in exchange for letting these nominations go forward.”

Obama: US Not at War with Islam

In a speech before the Turkish legislature, President Obama vowed Monday to improve US relations with the Muslim world.

President Obama: “I know there have been difficulties these last few years. I know that the trust that binds the United States and Turkey has been strained, and I know that strain is shared in many places where the Muslim faith is practiced. So let me say this as clearly as I can: The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam.”

President Obama went on to praise Islam’s contribution to civilization and said America’s relationship with it must extend beyond fighting terrorism. Turkey is the first predominantly Muslim nation Obama has visited as president.

US to Increase Use of Drones in Pakistan

The New York Times reports Obama administration officials are proposing to step up its use of drones to carry out strikes inside Pakistan and start bombing targets deeper inside the country.

Gates Calls for Pentagon to Spend More on Counterinsurgency

This comes as Defense Secretary Robert Gates is requesting a large increase in funding to build unmanned drones like the Predator. Gates wants to increase spending on unmanned drones by 127 percent over a year ago. On Monday, Gates proposed making sweeping changes to the military budget by halting several Cold War era projects, including the F-22 stealth fighter, while increasing spending on counterinsurgency and fighting guerrilla wars.

Robert Gates: “There’s broad agreement on the need for acquisition and contracting reform in the Department of Defense. There have been enough studies, enough hand-wringing, enough rhetoric. Now is the time for action.”

As part of his plan, Robert Gates proposed increasing the size of the Pentagon’s Special Forces by five percent. Gates also proposed reducing the Pentagon’s dependence on private contractors by hiring 30,000 new civil servants over the next five years to replace contractors. Overall, Gates wants Congress to spend $664 billion on the Pentagon, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is a $9 billion increase over the current budget.

122 Aid Workers Killed in 2008; Highest Total on Record

2008 was the most dangerous year on record for aid workers, this according to a new report by the Center on International Cooperation. One hundred twenty-two aid workers died last year while carrying out their work. Forty-five aid workers died in Somalia alone. Another thirty-three died in Afghanistan. The overall number of aid workers killed has soared nearly fourfold in the past decade.

Arkansas Democrat Opposes Employee Free Choice Act

In labor news, efforts to pass the Employee Free Choice Act have been dealt a major setback. Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas said Monday she cannot support the bill. Lincoln represents Arkansas, the home of Wal-Mart, a leading opponent of the legislation that would make it easier for workers to form unions. Wal-Mart recently hired one of Lincoln’s former aides to lobby against the Employee Free Choice Act. Supporters of the bill need a filibuster-proof sixty votes.

Hedge Fund Faces Charges Connected to Madoff Ponzi Fraud

In economic news, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has brought civil fraud charges against a hedge fund manager, saying he secretly steered $2.4 billion in client money into Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi fraud. Ezra Merkin is a well-known investor and former chair of the GMAC finance company.

15th Anniversary of Rwandan Genocide Marked

In Rwanda, ceremonies are being held today to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the 1994 genocide in which more than one million people died. Twenty thousand Rwandans gathered today in Nyanza, where thousands of people were slaughtered during the 1994 massacre.

Tamil Protesters Stage Protest in London

In London, nearly a thousand Tamil protesters blocked Westminster Bridge next to the Parliament buildings early today to demand the Sri Lankan government halt an offensive against Tamil Tiger separatists. The Sri Lankan military claims it has killed 453 Tamil Tigers over the past four days. It is unknown how many civilians were killed.

British Police Accused of Hitting Man Who Died at G20 Protest

The Observer newspaper of London reports a British man who died during last week’s G20 protests was assaulted by riot police shortly before he suffered a heart attack. This according to witness statements received by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. At the time, the forty-seven-year-old Ian Tomlinson was walking home from work and not taking part in the protests. At least two eyewitnesses said Tomlinson was hit by police officers before he collapsed.

Motorola Boycott Organizers Claim Victory

Activists organizing a boycott of Motorola are claiming victory after Motorola sold a part of its company that sells bomb fuses, communication devices and surveillance equipment to the Israeli military. Last month, the New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel launched a boycott of Motorola, accusing the company of supporting Israel’s military occupation. The boycott is still ongoing.

Antarctic Ice Bridge Collapses

In science news, an ice bridge which had held a vast Antarctic ice shelf in place for hundreds of years has shattered. Scientists said it may herald a wider collapse linked to global warming. Temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula have risen by up to about 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past fifty years, the fastest rate of warming in the Southern Hemisphere.

Vermont Governor Vetoes Same-Sex Marriage Bill

And in Vermont, Republican Governor Jim Douglas has vetoed legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage. The House and Senate are expected to try to override the governor’s veto today.

Grand Rapids Press Comes Out Against Workers (Yet Again)

Employee Free Choice Act

Once again, The Grand Rapids Press has editorialized against the Employee Free Choice Act. The act would make it easier for workers to form unions and is being supported by a broad range of labor and progressive groups.

However, a variety of right-leaning business groups are opposing the legislation, including several in West Michigan. The Grand Rapids Press–a newspaper that has historically prioritized the interests of employers over employees (see its business section on any given day for anecdotal evidence, how many stories do you see on workers?)–published its fourth editorial against the Employee Free Choice Act yesterday.

Press Editorial Rests on Debunked Arguments

The editorial is titled “Ballot privacy for workers” and it essentially offers nothing new to the debate. It applauds the fact that the legislation is now facing an uncertain future in Congress due to the recently announced opposition of Senator Arlan Specter.

The Press editorial trots out a familiar refrain among critics of the Employee Free Choice Act–that it will eliminate “the secret ballot.” The Press writes:

“The legislation would do away with an employer’s right to demand a fair, secret-ballot election when employees seek to form a union. In place of that time-tested method would be a “card check” process allowing a union to establish if more than 50 percent of employees simply signed a card — absent a private election.

The list of opponents should include anybody who values ballot box sanctity and worker privacy. Depriving employees of the right to make the significant decision about joining a union in the same way they decide who will be mayor or president of the United States would be a dramatic step backward for worker rights. Where the case for a union is strong, organizers should be able to confidently sell certification, regardless of how ballots are cast.”

This is a flawed argument that has long been debunked by supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill allows workers to form a union once a majority sign cards indicating they want to–or they can use the current voting system. The bottom line is that it is their choice. Under current labor law, employers are allowed to demand an election.

Recently, after years of saying that the Act would eliminate “the secret ballot” the business-friendly Wall Street Journal was forced to admit that the law would not eliminate the option.

A careful reading of The Grand Rapids Press‘ editorial shows the real problem that critics have–it removes the preference that current labor law gives to employers. Employers frequently spy on workers, engage in one-on-one meetings aimed at influencing union election results, and more. The “secret ballot” barely exists now and employers have been all to willing to interfere in its use.

The Press also criticizes the Employee Free Choice Act for increasing penalties aimed at employers that violate labor laws:

“Besides changing the rules on ballots, the proposed act would make several other substantial changes to labor law. Under current law, there is no deadline for first contract talks. Nor is there a requirement that if talks fail, the negotiations move to arbitration. But under the proposed law, a strict timeline would be set. Talks would have to begin 10 days after a union is formed. The sides would have 90 days to reach a deal. If no deal is reached, an arbitrator is brought in. If labor and management are still deadlocked after 30 days, the matter goes to binding arbitration to set the terms of the first two-year contract.

Also, the proposed law sets tougher fines for companies that mistreat employees involved in union activity. The law would assess triple back pay and a $20,000 fine for each infraction. Right now, companies that harass workers have to fork over back pay, offset by subsequent income, and they have to post a public apology in the workplace.”

The Grand Rapids Press is predictability silent on the fact that under current labor laws, companies can drag their heels and delay contracts for years. Similarly, The Press neglects to mention that the current penalties are too weak and that many employers fire workers attempting to organize unions as a result. We’ve seen this in Grand Rapids, with the termination of a union organizer at Starbucks.

Overall, The Grand Rapids Press has provided relatively little news coverage of the legislation and has run two columns critical of the legislation. It’s pretty clear where their interests lie…

CEOs Offer So-Called “Alternative” to Employee Free Choice Act; Key Senator Withdraws Support

Corporate CEOs Offer a Weakened Alternative to the Employee Free Choice Act

This week, supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act–a measure that would make it easier for workers to form unions–faced two setbacks, with several major retailers coming together to offer a watered-down compromise and a key Senator withdrawing support for the bill.

CEOs Outline Alternative Proposal that would Weaken Employee Free Choice Act

Three retailers–Costco, Starbucks, and Whole Foods–are supporting an alternative proposal to the Employee Free Choice Act. The proposal would weaken the Act by eliminating provisions that require unions to be recognized once a simple majority of workers agree to a union (called “card check“) and eliminating a requirement for arbitration if a contract is not reached within 120 days. However, it would improve union access to workers and set a fixed time period in which a union election must happen.

Labor unions and the bill’s sponsors have rejected the proposal saying that it originates from employers who are not serious about labor law reform.

Starbucks and Whole Foods have a history of anti-union intimidation efforts. For example, here in Grand Rapids, Starbucks fired a union organizer working at the East Grand Rapids Starbucks location and engaged int other anti-union efforts.

Key Senator Withdraws Support

A key Republican Senator, Arlen Specter, recently withdrew his support for the bill. In the past, Specter has co-sponsored the Employee Free Choice Act but he said this week that he would not help stop a Republican filibuster of the bill.

Some Republicans have vowed to keep the bill from becoming law, while Democrats have struggled to convince their caucus to support the legislation. By many accounts, Democrats need Specter’s support to overcome a filibuster.

MI-OSHA Starbucks Trial Postponed

Starbucks Workers Union Michigan

From the Grand Rapids Starbucks Workers Union:

Starbucks has been granted a postponement for the trial that was to begin today [Monday].

This latest announcement comes a couple months after Starbucks settled charges with the National Labor Relations Board over a wrongful termination of an IWW Starbucks Workers Union member in Grand Rapids. In that settlement, the Board allowed Starbucks to forgo a trial by agreeing to rescind the write-ups and termination of Cole Dorsey, the IWW member.

Starbucks offered $3500 to withdraw all charges from the beginning.

The Union has always maintained the only solution is full and immediate reinstatement of Dorsey to his former position.

Although the NLRB agreed Starbucks violated the law they did not require reinstatement.

That marked the third time, in two years, Starbucks signed a settlement with the NLRB claiming they would end “anti-union intimidation in Grand Rapids.

After an independent investigation the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration also found that Dorsey was wrongfully terminated for filing a safety complaint.

That trial is slated to begin April 29, 2009 9 am.

In related news, the Starbucks Workers Union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board after a pro-union barista in Chicago was laid-off following his attempt to speak with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.