organized labor

Spring Summit Conference Draws Protesters that Outnumber ALEC Members

Spring Summit Conference Draws Protesters that Outnumber ALEC Members

By Bob Sloan

ALEC Ok 3

Every Spring the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) holds a meeting where their legislative and corporate members are wined and dined and commingle as they develop model legislation intended to provide financial or polictal benefits to corporations.  Model bills are proposed, discussed and voted upon by state lawmakers and their private sector corporate counterparts.  If adopted by the full membership, these policies and models are then sent back to individual states and proposed as new laws for those states – and if passed, will apply to you and I.

This year at the annual ALEC Spring Summit conference held in Oklahoma City , it appeared that for possibly the second time in as many years, protesters, workers and marchers outnumbered corporate and legislative ALEC members in attendance.

The day’s events were organized and planned by the Teamsters, AFLCIO and International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).  Activists and workers carrying signs provided by ALEC Exposed.org and others bearing handwritten placards joined with the union workers marching and chanting in front of the ALEC meeting place.  Though the crowd of protesters were as vocal about telling ALEC it was not okay to be in OK, they were not unruly or obstructed by police as had been the case at previous ALEC protests.

In Phoenix in November 2011 hundreds of protesters showed up to demonstrate, march and inform the public about ALEC.  Police cordoned off the Kierland Westin resort where the ALEC event was being held, refusing entrance to non-ALEC members or registered hotel guests.  Yesterday there was a police presence in OK City but it was minimal and marchers were able to surround the entrance to the Renaissance Hotel and Cox Convention Center.  No police were blocking the entrance or offering to spray protesters as they did in Phoenix – and before that in a New Orleans ALEC protest.

Outside the entrance to Cox Convention Center, a few ALEC members were standing watching the protesters march by on the sidewalk.  As they watched they smiled and some took pictures or video of the marchers passing by – with one ALEC attendee making faces at the crowd and at the media.  Of course, he had his name badge turned around so no one knew who he was or what outfit he represented.  Could have been a state lawmaker, for that matter.

ALEC Ok 4

One person wearing an ALEC “Private Sector Member” badge, was identified as “Dave”.AFP Com Dir on Right 2

When approached by a news reporter and asked if he was an ALEC member, the man was silent then when the reporter focused the camera on the man’s badge, saying “Your badge says you’re the communications and policy director with American’s For Prosperity…” the man at first tried to deny that, saying “No, I’m not.”  When the reporter asked him “What is the Communications and Policy Director for AFP doing here today,” Dave responded, “Oh, right now I’m just standing here.”

This was an important moment in a day of importance…American’s for Prosperity has previously not been identified as being a member of ALEC.  ALEC Exposed.org does not have AFP listed as a non-profit ALEC member…yet this man’s badge (though the video is shaky) clearly identifies him as an ALEC Private Sector Member and further identifies the organization he represents as AFP.

AFP was founded with the support of David H. Koch and Charles G. Koch, both of Koch Industries.[, and they are represented upon ALEC’s Private Enterprise Board (now called the Private Enterprise Advisory Council) by Mike Morgan of Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC

A full video of the day’s events was livestreamed over the internet and can be found at the AFLCIO site here.  The above confrontation between “Dave” and the media reporter occurs at between 49 and 52 minutes into the video.

All of us here at VLTP send out a heartfelt thanks to the organizers, unions, businesses and individuals who participated in yesterday’s events.  We need much more of this and hopefully as ALEC makes plans for their upcoming Annual Conference in Chicago in early August, a larger contingent will be on hand to again provide ALEC and all of their attending members – a great big Chicago “welcome”.

Below are some screen shots from the protest march yesterday… The first shows “Dave” with the sidekick that made faces at the reporter’s camera and had his name badge hidden.

AFP Com Dir on Right    ALEC Ok 2    ALEC Ok 1

Michigan Lawmakers Offer Opposing Opinions on EAA

Michigan Lawmakers Offer Opposing Opinions on EAA

Rep. Lisa Posthumus-Lyons recently editorialized on her qualifications for the position as the chair of the House Education Committee. The 32 year old farmer’s daughter didn’t cite her scant real estate background, nor her degree in agriculture, or even the closest she’s come to “leadership” in public education — her position as point guard on her high school basketball team.

Nope, the one shining skill Lyons boasted she brings to the job is her ability to successfully breed. Lyons postulated that as a mother of four children she has “a great interest in public education and an immense passion for the kids in our schools”. No doubt, she is a fine and loving parent, and most certainly cares deeply about all aspects of her offspring’s well-being — like, say, their dental health, but parental devotion alone does not imbue her with any special insights into orthodontia — nor does it to education policy.

Democracy Tree lauds her ability to replicate — but, not so much her knowledge of public education.

Take her pet project, the Education Achievement Authority, which is little more than a naked power-grab of the poorest performing schools in the state, which by-and-large will continue to be from Detroit Public Schools — a district that has fared poorly under ongoing emergency management with no end in sight. The EAA was the brainchild of the current DPS Emergency Manager, Roy Roberts. The scheme was sold to lawmakers as a compassionate helping-hand for those under-achieving schools. It is not lost on critics of the plan that this is a way to enhance the DPS measured performance, simply by cutting its “dead weight”. These schools are taken-over by force, by an unelected, state-appointed chancellor, who enjoys authority similar to an Emergency Manager, and in spite of Lyons’ mewing protestations that this is not a privatization scheme, claiming the schools will still technically be run by the state, the Chancellor has sweeping powers to privatize each school by component — teachers, staff, food service, transportation, and online learning. It’s like that old joke: here’s the axe that was used to chop down the cherry tree,…of course the handle had to be replaced,…and so did the head…but, intrinsically speaking, it occupies the same space.

The EAA is not yet codified into law, although the Michigan House passed its new 2013 version (HB 4369) last month. Currently there are 15 schools from DPS which have been under the pro tem authority of Chancellor John Covington.  He is discovering that funding issues are at the core of the problems these schools face, and has been begging for money in excess of what the state would allow for comparable schools.

Lyons concluded her defense of the EAA with a declaration of its (relative) success:

“Opponents say that since the EAA has only been operational since September, there isn’t enough data to prove its success and that we should wait. The facts are clear: student attendance and parental involvement have increased dramatically under the EAA.”

Well, actually Lisa, there is some data — but you failed to mention it. The MEAP database for the Education Achievement System – EAS, (the proper name of the “school district”) is scandalous. Sure, it’s early in the process, but it’s certainly not showing even a tiny bit of improvement. Their proficiency levels are as follows:

  • 3rd Grade proficiency in math is o.9 %, and reading 15.5 %
  • 4th Grade math is 2.1%, reading 11.8%, and writing 4.9%
  • 5th Grade math is 5.6%, reading 27.1%, and science 0%
  • 6th Grade math is 0.3%, reading 23.3%, and social studies 0.3%
  • 7th Grade math is 4.3%, reading 17.9%, and writing 7.5%
  • 8th Grade math is 0.5%, reading 21.6%, and science 0%
  • 9th Grade social studies 0.7%

Senator Bert Johnson, who represents the Detroit area, also recently penned an editorial on the EAA. It’s clear he doesn’t want Lyons calling the plays in his district. Unlike the Lyon’s piece, Johnson provides thoughtful content, with four pages of facts and figures. Here’s an excerpt:

“Because several EAA schools are in my district — and all of them are in my hometown — I’ve visited them multiple times and not on sanctioned dog-and-pony shows set up through Gov. Snyder and his appointee, the EAA chancellor. Here’s a brief look at the day-to-day realities of the EAA:

• Rather than putting experienced teachers in these “under-performing schools,” roughly two-thirds are Teach for America students — who get five weeks of “teacher training” the summer before they are assigned, with no other certification required.

• At Pershing High School, a dozen TFA students walked off the job, and I have received reports of several who have broken down in staff meetings, unable to handle the rigors of teaching. In some cases, athletic department staff are teaching students.

• Reports of student abuse, including a child whose mouth was taped shut for being too talkative.

• Abuse of special needs students, including unilateral changes to Individualized Education Plans without input from parents, therapists and counselors. This is illegal.”

In the mean time, the Michigan Senate remains poised to pass their version of the EAA.

What do you think the chances are that Ms. Lyons would consider sending her four children to an EAA school? Not drinkin’ the water….is my guess.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

Darden Restaurants Dumps ALEC in Favor of National Restaurant Assoc.

Darden Restaurants Dumps ALEC in Favor of National Restaurant Assoc.

From PRWatch by Rebekah Wilce

The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) reports that Darden Restaurants which operates Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and other chain restaurants has stated they have not renewed their ALEC membership as of 2010.  Darden representative Rich Jeffers, Director of Media Relations told CMD that the company had not renewed its ALEC membership since January 2010 because it “felt that different organizations like the National Restaurant Association would . . . serve us best.”

Unfortunately the “other NRA” continues to be a member of ALEC so Darden will still have representation within ALEC’s task forces and working group through representation by the National Restaurant Association. This NRA is involved in pursuing “ag-gag” bills and legislation eliminating paid sick days or leave for employees.

Read the full CMD article <- here ->

Prison Industry Bill Clears Nevada’s Senate Judiciary Committee

Prison Industry Bill Clears Nevada’s Senate Judiciary Committee

Senators move quickly to rein in runaway prison program

By Bob Sloan

On Wednesday a proposed bill amending Nevada’s Prison Industries was debated before the state Senate Judiciary Committee.  The bill, SB 478 was sponsored by the Senate Finance Committee, which is chaired by former Assemblywoman and now Senator Debbie Smith (D-13).  Senator Smith explained the bill to the Committee and why a revision to NRS 209.461 is needed to protect workers, private businesses and taxpayers from being unfairly compromised by prison industry operations.

Attending the hearing in support of the legislation, former U.S. Senator (and Nevada Governor) Richard Bryan outlined a proposal he’d submitted to the Board of Prison Commissioners last month that would help protect Nevada’s businesses and workers.  Proposed revisions to NRS 209 within SB 478 language would serve that purpose.

Sen BryanSuggested language includes requirements that the NDOC provide adequate notice and consult with private businesses and unions prior to entering into new contracts or developing new prison industries.  This would help protect Nevada’s workers from displacement and private businesses from unfair competition arising from the use of prison labor by private companies or state sponsored industry programs.

These requirements are already mandatory and annunciated under federal guidelines controlling prison-made products introduced into interstate commerce.  This is to protect workers and businesses in states receiving such goods.

Senator Bryan explained the reason such policy changes were necessary to first protect Nevada’s business and workers.  He stated that these protections were at the core of the proposal made to the BPC in March.

SB 478 includes a requirement that any private company applying to participate in prison industrial programs be required to provide a guarantee that operational expenses will be paid to the NDOC.  This provision requires the posting of a surety bond or personal guarantee:

“7. Before entering into any contract with a private employer for the employment of offenders pursuant to subsection
1, the Director shall obtain from the private employer:
   (a) A personal guarantee, surety bond in the sum of $1,000,000 made payable to the State of Nevada or security
agreement to secure any debt, obligation or other liability of the private employer under the contract including, without limitation, lease payments, wages earned by offenders and compensation earned by personnel of the Department.”

This clause seemed to draw the most concern and discussion from the Committee as they attempted to ascertain whether such a high bond was necessary.

Danny Thompsonsb 478 hearing conway

Other revisions require the NDOC Director to secure documentation pertaining to the impact upon private industry and labor in Nevada.  Before submitting such projects or new industries to the Interim Finance Committee’s Committee on Industrial Programs for recommendations or Board of Prison Commissioners for approval, these studies must be completed.

Also speaking in support of SB 478’s changes to policy requiring notice and consultation with labor, was Nevada’s AFLCIO Executive Secretary Treasurer, Danny Thompson and Robbie Conway of Ironworkers Local 433.

The Union Representatives spoke on behalf of unemployed union workers being displaced or unable to find employment because of prisoners used by Alpine Steel, LLC.  Alpine has been accused of using cheap prison labor to reduce labor costs and secure bids on projects, reducing the ability of other companies to compete fairly for the same jobs. One of those projects is the high profile construction of the Sky Vue Ferris Wheel on the Las Vegas strip.

SkyVue pic

Thompson raised issues of public safety due to using inmate labor to fabricate steel components used in building a public bridge over I-15 and the Wet ‘N’ Wild theme park in Summerlin. Thompson mentioned he’d made repeated requests for proof of required certification of the prison shop and inmate welders but Alpine and NDOC continues to withhold those documents.

Time for discussion opposing SB 478 was consumed by Alpine Steel owner, Randy Bulloch.  He vehemently opposed any requirement of posting a surety bond or consulting with unions, labor or competing businesses before starting up new prison industries.  He advised his company had been using inmates as a workforce for seven years before the operation was stopped early this year.

His argument was that requiring a bond would be cost prohibitive and “catastrophic” to prison industry operations.  Bulloch also claimed that noticing and consulting with unions and competing businesses and requiring approval of both would be impossible, “they’ll never agree to such projects.”  Presumably Bulloch’s persistent advocacy on behalf of prison industries demonstrates a desire to reopen the prison industry’s metal shop to Alpine Steel and regain access to that less costly workforce.

The proposed revisions do not include a requirement of “approval” by unions or competing businesses.  It only requires notice and an opportunity to participate in any discussion prior to submission of proposed new industries for approval. In addition until Bulloch repays nearly half a million dollars owed to the state it is unlikely authorities will consider allowing his company back onto prison property.

It’s interesting that Mr. Bulloch’s company was at the root of a controversy that ultimately resulted in the necessity of this legislative review of prison industries.  Actions of Bulloch and Alpine Steel placed the entire program in jeopardy by his refusing to pay incurred operational expenses owed to the NDOC.

Rather than open discussions of new industry operations to transparency, Bulloch seems intent upon keeping any new or proposed contracts shrouded in secrecy, and decisions regarding use of inmate labor made outside the view of obviously interested parties.

Alpine ran up a huge bill with the prison industries by failing to pay inmate and NDOC staff wages, utility costs, workers compensation or lease payments for nearly four years, accumulating a debt of $438,000 to the state.  After the story broke in the media is when officials closed Alpine’s operation at High Desert State Prison and forced Bulloch to agree to repay the state over the next four years.  Though Bulloch no longer has any inmates working for him in the prison shop and the facilities are closed to him, he continues to be the lone voice advocating for operating Nevada’s prison industries without any policy changes to ensure other companies are not able to operate with taxpayers footing the bill.

Competing steel companies protested lost business through unfair practices exercised by Alpine to secure contracts due to low-paid prison wages.  They also voiced concern that the state was unfairly subsidizing Alpine’s operations through a sweetheart lease agreement for prison facilities and a failure to collect the debts owed.  Both gave Alpine Steel a substantial advantage over all competitors in the steel industry there in Nevada.

NDOC Director Cox and Deputy Director Connett were present and stated they and the department was “neutral” on the legislation and will be submitting written statements to that effect.  Several former inmates attempted to speak in opposition, but time was short due to Bulloch’s lengthy statements in opposition and their discussion limited.

The following day, the Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to move the bill to the full Senate for discussion and vote.  It is unknown at this time how much support this legislation will get from the Nevada Assembly and full Senate.

Deja Vu – Repeat of Teapot Dome

Deja Vu – Repeat of Teapot Dome

We need to learn a lesson from history when it comes to natural resources.  Money, labor, privatization, and politicians operate the same.

Some things never change.

At the time of Presidents Harding and Coolidge, the oil companies, particularly Sinclair Oil was given our nation’s oil resources for a sweetheart deal – no bidding necessary. The oil was in reserve for the Navy in case of war – the Republicans in charge arranged for it to go to oil corporations for profit.

Some things never change.

In our day, international mining corporations are allowed to enter Nevada and stake claims for very small fees . The current Governor of Nevada most recently worked at Jones Vargas – the firm hired to mining lobby. Elected officials on all levels take campaign donations from mining. Mining pays barely anything for billions of dollars in gold and other minerals.

It is estimated that one trillion dollars worth of gold is in the center of the state.
________________.:.__________________

Taken from Coolidge, by Amity Shales, page 239-240

Out west, one of the navy properties was a great oil field that lay under a butte, officially Naval Petroleum Reserve No 3 but known as Teapot Dome for the butte’s funny shape. Some engineers were arguing that the surrounding private companies were tapping the oil out from under the Dome. The best thing to do might be to grant a concession to drill there; that would both allow commerce to take over the business there and reduce the United States’ dependence on oil drilling in Mexico …. Granting oil concessions to private companies was like granting a great company the right to operate Muscle Shoals, the dam that had been constructed to produce nitrates during the war. It was important to do this now, Harding and Coolidge believed. If they did not then these sectors might forever stay in public hands.

Some things never change.

Resource Land: international mining corporations are staking claims all over Nevada in a mighty land grab. They are allowed by fee simple to patent the land converting public land into private property. At least at teapot dome, there was a lease and they had to pay something. They are not paying anything to tie up the land.

Resource Water: The ancient water is dumped by mining into the the desert while Vegas fights with the North and other states over water rights.

Resource Clean Environment. British Petroleum owns the superfund site in Yerington. The radioactive site will cost billions to clean up. Water has to be brought in from outside for the people living close by to drink. Mercury is polluting the water, fish are not edible, and the EPA is fining the mining industry. Thousands of holes are dug all over the state and abandoned.

Corporations are costing the government and the tax payers billions in Nevada; corporations are reaping only benefits and profits.
_______________________.:.________________

Taken from Coolidge, by Amity Shales, page 240

Albert Fall, intended to lease the valuable Naval Petroleum Reserve No 3 without putting the project out for bids. The transfer to Interior from Navy had already taken place with the seeming endorsement of all, including the navy secretary and the navy assistant secretary, Theodore Roosevelt, the president’s son and Alice’s half brother …. The Wyoming reserves, some 200 million barrels of high-grade oil, would be leased to Mammouth Oil Co., a company created by Sinclair Oil, the company of a Harding campaign donor, Harry Sinclair

Some things never change.

Nevada is a leading producer of high quality gold. A cash cow for the billion dollar mining industry. Barely a soul spoke against their monopolies hidden out in the desert for decades. Campaign donations were hefty for many Nevada politicians.

Mining does employ a few mostly transient workers and adds some benefit to the immediate communities. It is by no means comparable to the benefit the corporations receive.

Nevada has become a place for out-of-state profiteers.

While leadership is asleep at the switch.

Nevada also has its own “Keystone Pipeline”. This huge natural gas line crosses Nevada leaving a huge scar on the old ground. Yes, we had temporary jobs and a short term boost in the economy. That boost is history. The federal government smoothly permitted the 48″ gas line. Nevada politicians can be proud that Nevada got the burden of the pipeline but not the benefit of buying one gallon of natural gas. North Dakota is not the only state that is covered with pipeline. If you really want to generate and sell electricity, cheap natural gas is the way to do it. Ask California – they got the gas.
_______________.:.______________

Taken from Coolidge, by Amity Shales, page 240

Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin was moving with alacrity to spotlight the transaction and demanded an investigation of the teapot Dome concession …. Coolidge watched from the Senate president’s seat.

Tax issues — the rich did not want to pay.

Some things never change.

The people of Nevada have to take the matter into their own hands because the politicians would not. SJR15 is before the Nevada Legislature. This would remove a cap placed in the Nevada Constitution by miners in ancient times. We hope this will be placed on the ballot and the people will vote — doing the job that our elected officials should have done.

Why has it taken Nevada so long? Mining law from 1872? These laws need to change.
_________________.:.____________

Taken from Coolidge, by Amity Shales, page 241

In June, the administration won a key case against violent strikers: United Mine Workers v Coronado Coal affirmed that strikers were liable for the damage they inflicted on companies property. On July 1, 300,000 rail workers walked out, shutting down commerce. The strikes halted the upward trend of business; the strike was taking the recovery hostage. The administration had begun to appoint conservative judges who would be a help in the endless battles between companies and unions.

Some things never change.

Under conditions of austerity, labor is taking to the streets, protesting, and becoming unsettled. Activists are activating. Organizers are organizing. Regular people are asking: Why are we giving resources away while we are experiencing severe financial crisis? Vegas experiencing the recession in many ways worse than the rest of the nation. Highest foreclosure. Highest unemployment.

Union busting was and is the primary goal. Profit margins widen as the rich take advantage of the work of people’s hands. In a right to work state, unions stand between working people and oblivion.

Resources are allowed to be siphoned away.
________________________.:._____________________

Taken from Coolidge, by Amity Shales, page 281

It was becoming clear now that the interior secretary had accepted cash via an intermediary. “Not in my time has the country been so startled by the act of a public servant as it has been by the disclosure that Secretary Fall actually took money in a satchel, ” wrote Morrow….

Some things never change.

Closed door legislative meetings. Decisions made at the last minute. Horse trading. Mining lobbyists boldly meeting in the middle of the legislative building as if they owned the place. Some people getting richer and the disadvantaged not part of the discussion.
____________________.:._____________

Taken from Coolidge, by Amity Shales, page 281

Longworth’s compromise was worse than the White House feared. Republicans teamed up with Democrats, 408-8, to pass a bill that diverged sharply from the Mellon Plan.

Some things never change.

In a move that surprised everyone this Nevada Legislative session a few Republicans are leading the charge to do something about remedying the taxation of Nevada Mining. They are questioning and standing up to the lobbyists.

Where are the democrats?
___________________.:._______________

Taken from Coolidge, by Amity Shales, page 281

But there again, despite the special prosecutors and the recent resignation of Navy Secretary Denby, the shadow of Teapot Dome was still long. If leasing Teapot Dome to Harry Sinclair had been a corrupt mockery of privatization, then was not the sale of Muscle Shoals to Ford the same? Governor Gifford Pinchot, who had negotiated the coal situation the prior autumn, opposed the sale. Progressives in the Senate found endless reasons to block it.

Some things never change.

In Nevada the progressives are activating around the mining issues. Sheila Leslie and Representative Steven Horsford worked on SJR15. US Representative Steven Horsford participates in the Mining Accountability and Oversight Committee, MOAC.

But the situation is progressing slowly, with the Nevada Governor appointing MOAC auditors and inspectors of the billion dollar mining industries – who do not attend the meetings. It’s lip service to oversight but it is not meaningful.

This reminds me of the Anderson Firm auditing Enron.
__________________.:._______________

Taken from Coolidge, by Amity Shales, page 295

The Teapot Dome investigations continued: the federal grand jury indicted Albert Fall, Sinclair, and Doheny.

________________.:._________________

Taken from Coolidge, by Amity Shales, page 296

“We are often told that we are a rich country, and we are,” Coolidge told the crowd. But as in the Gospel of Luke, “where more is given, more is required.” The President laid down the law for those departments that would not cut. “I regret that there are still some officials who apparently feel that the estimates transmitted to the Bureau of the Budget are the estimates which they are authorized to advocate before the Committees.” The only lawful estimates were the president’s Finally Coolidge again stressed his theme: “I am for economy. After that I am for more economy. At this time, and under present circumstances, that is my conception of serving the people.”

Some things never change.

Governor Sandoval is a leader in a state full of gold. The billionaires are allowed to hide, hoard, and stash the wealth. While the Governor cut 5,000 jobs his first months in office. Schools, hospitals, social services, mental health, are all cut cut cut. This definitely serves a few people – it is not serving THE people.
___________________.:. ______________

Taken from Coolidge, by Amity Shales, page 305

La Follete and Davis might be able to use Teapot Dome to bring Republicans down.

Some things never change.

Scandal will bring politicians down. Careful politicos – ethical consideration and disciplinary rules may bite you.
___________________.:.________________

Taken from Coolidge, by Amity Shales, page 321

The big question in the Veterans Bureau and Teapot Dome scandals was how much information Coolidge himself had picked up in the cabinet meetings. When Dawes made a show of avoiding the meetings, he raised the question of whether Coolidge had been compromised by attending. The alternative was that Coolidge had been ignorant of what had gone on among men he saw at the White House …. That surmise kept Coolidge’s name clear but also suggested that he was a simpleton.

Some things never change.

The people involved in Nevada Mining issues and allowing the corporations to take American resources like this are either not paying attention or not understanding?
___________________.:.________________

Taken from Coolidge, by Amity Shales, page 391

Charles Forbes, Harding’s original Veterans Bureau chief, was still in Leavenworth Prison for the fraud he had committed with federal moneys. All over Washington could be found the detritus of war-related scandal, such as the Teapot Dome decision relating to naval reserves.

Some things never change.

Enough is enough. We need to use our Nevada resources wisely and be responsible stewards.

This post was written by Angie Sullivan

BREAKING: Michigan Judge Allows RTW Lawsuit to Move Forward

BREAKING: Michigan Judge Allows RTW Lawsuit to Move Forward

A small victory was won today in the battle against Right-to-Work. Ingham County Circuit Court Judge William Collette refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and labor unions against the law. The ACLU argued that the law is invalid because it was passed while the public was locked-out of the capitol building in the 2012 lameduck session — a violation of The Open Meetings Act.

The Assoicated Press reports that Collette referred to the plaintiffs case as a “real uphill battle”. However, this development means the discovery process will move forward, with lawmakers, staff, and state police among those tentatively to be deposed. The Detroit News reports that the ACLU alleges that lawmakers filled the galleries with staff members to block the public from entering.

Legal discovery will be interesting to say the least.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

democracy tree-vltp

The Criminal Justice Industrial Complex: Seeking Transparency Through Revelation

The Criminal Justice Industrial Complex: Seeking Transparency Through Revelation

By Bob Sloan

Like the military/industrial complex, the criminal justice industrial complex is an interweaving of private business and government interests. Its twofold purpose is profit and social control. Its public rationale is the fight against crime.  To accomplish the goals the public must be made to fear their neighbors, fellow employees…to walk in a public park or to the corner store.  If the public is not made to fear all these things, they will not acquiesce to spending billions in tax dollars on more and more police, more judges, jails or prisons.

The business niche created to profit from imprisoning fully 5% of all Americans has become hugely rewarding.  Companies have pumped billions into expanding “system-gulag” here in the U.S. to generate similarly huge rewards in profits and investor dividends.  Companies such as Corrections Corporation of America have provided an incentive and way for the “small” individual investor to share in the wave of money made off of incarceration in all it’s forms.  Corporations long ago learned that to enable such schemes it was important to get the word “fear” – and what to fear – out to the public.

To accomplish this, those being made wealthy off incarceration diversified and began to buy media outlets; a newspaper here, a radio or tv station there, digital media was created and is now controlled by a handful of such individuals.  Now entire broadcast networks are owned by criminal justice entrepreneurs and they keep Americans fearful and willing to spend billions to overcome that fear…billions that flow smoothly into company coffers and can be used to continue to expand and enlarge revenue streams. Surrounding this criminal justice industry is a curtain that keeps society’s eyes from penetrating a web of intentionally created disinformation.  Think tanks such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) have been swept into the fold and used to craft and lobby for ever harsher laws, longer sentences and to “legalize” more privatization efforts.

All of this has been rolled into a cabal of companies, individuals, organizations and institutes dedicated to keeping the criminal justice industry functioning flawlessly and generating ever growing profits.  Articles and studies sometimes written by those who have had a taste of this industry from the inside, are kept from the public by the mainstream media refusing to print them.  Even when alternative outlets publish such articles and attract attention, the MSM immediately goes all out to discredit the facts given and the author.  In just such a non-MSM posting from “Transmissions”, the truth about the criminal justice industry was eloquently and factually stated back in 2001.  Don’t look for the subject or discussion reported by the MSM over the last dozen years, you won’t find it.  I’ve taken the liberty of quoting from that decade old article here:

“Not so long ago, communism was “the enemy” and communists were demonized as a way of justifying gargantuan military expenditures. Now, fear of crime and the demonization of criminals serve a similar ideological purpose: to justify the use of tax dollars for the repression and incarceration of a growing percentage of our population. The omnipresent media blitz about serial killers, missing children, and “random violence” feeds our fear. In reality, however, most of the “criminals” we lock up are poor people who commit nonviolent crimes out of economic need. Violence occurs in less than 14% of all reported crime, and injuries occur in just 3%. In California, the top three charges for those entering prison are: possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance for sale, and robbery. Violent crimes like murder, rape, manslaughter and kidnapping don’t even make the top ten. Like fear of communism during the Cold War, fear of crime is a great selling tool for a dubious product. As with the building and maintenance of weapons and armies, the building and maintenance of prisons are big business. Investment houses, construction companies, architects, and support services such as food, medical, transportation and furniture, all stand to profit by prison expansion. A burgeoning “specialty item” industry sells fencing, handcuffs, drug detectors, protective vests, and other security devices to prisons…

Research shows that many of the hundreds of companies holding memberships in ALEC, the NCIA, American Correctional Association or other affiliates, have been involved and raking in money off of incarceration in several ways.

“…Communication companies like AT&T, Sprint, and MCI are getting into the act as well “ gouging prisoners with exorbitant phone calling rates, often six times the normal long distance charge. Smaller firms like Correctional Communications Corp., dedicated solely to the prison phone business, provide computerized prison phone systems” fully equipped for systematic surveillance. They win government contracts by offering to “kick back” some of the profits to the government agency awarding the contract. These companies are reaping huge profits at the expense of prisoners and their families; prisoners are often effectively cut off from communication due to the excessive cost of phone calls…

In February of last year CCA’s extensive lobbying contributions to Florida’s Governor Scott and the GOP led legislature in an effort of privatizing the state’s entire southern prison system, failed.  In response, CCA distributed a letter to all Governors offering to buy their state owned prison facilities.  This proffer included terms that CCA would have an exclusive 20 year contract for managing and operating each facility and requiring the state to guarantee to keep the prisons at 90% of capacity during the term of the contract.

ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections “Task Force” is responsible for writing nearly every law that has been adopted nationwide to incorporate Three Strike (Habitual Offender Act), Mandatory Minimum sentences, Truth in Sentencing, Private Correctional Facility ActTargeted Contracting for Certain Correctional Facilities and Services Act,  Prison Industries Act…all to incarcerate more men and women, keep them in prison for the longest term possible and to replace parole with “privatized parole” in the form of a “Conditional  Early Release Bond Act” to allow profiting off the release of offenders prior to end of sentence completion.

“… Like any industry, the prison economy needs raw materials. In this case the raw materials are prisoners. The prison/industrial complex can grow only if more and more people are incarcerated even if crime rates drop. “Three Strikes” and Mandatory Minimums (harsh, fixed sentences without parole) are two examples of the legal superstructure quickly being put in place to guarantee that the prison population will grow and grow and grow…

It is no longer a “U.S.” effort.  This cabal or network of companies and investors micro-managing the criminal justice industry have realized the potential for an additional windfall of profits if expansion to the EU, UK, Poland, New Zealand, Australia and beyond can be accomplished.

“Correctional Corporation Of America, one of the largest private prison owners, already operates internationally, with 48 facilities in 11 states, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Under contract by government to run jails and prisons, and paid a fixed sum per prisoner, the profit motive mandates that these firms operate as cheaply and efficiently as possible… The basic transnational corporate philosophy is this: the world is a single market; natural resources are to be exploited; people are consumers; anything which hinders profit is to be routed out and destroyed. The results of this philosophy in action are that while economies are growing, so is poverty, so is ecological destruction, so are sweatshops and child labor. Across the globe, wages are plummeting, indigenous people are being forced off their lands, rivers are becoming industrial dumping grounds, and forests are being obliterated. Massive regional starvation and “World Bank riots” are becoming more frequent throughout the Third World.

Today the same cabal that created initiatives to outsource American jobs to foreign countries for cheap labor,  tax breaks and the ability to not pay taxes on foreign income, are hard at work here in the U.S. – again, led by ALEC – and working hard to take their network international.  They have been writing and lobbying for legislation to end collective bargaining, union organizing, to restrict or abolish minimum wage requirements and eliminate union dues – worldwide.

All over the world, more and more people are being forced into illegal activity for their own survival as traditional cultures and social structures are destroyed. Inevitably, crime and imprisonment rates are on the rise. And the United States law enforcement establishment is in the forefront, domestically and internationally, in providing state-of-the-art repression. For private business, prison labor is like a pot of gold. No strikes. No union organizing. No unemployment insurance or workers’ compensation to pay. No language problem, as in a foreign country. New leviathan prisons are being built with thousands of eerie acres of factories inside the walls. Prisoners do data entry for Chevron, make telephone reservations for TWA, raise hogs, shovel manure, make circuit boards, limousines, waterbeds, and lingerie for Victoria’s Secret. All at a fraction of the cost of “free labor.

Prisoners can be forced to work for pennies because they have no rights. Even the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which abolished slavery, excludes prisoners from its protections.”

The influx of manufacturing and service jobs to nations such as China has led to the creation of working or middle classes in those countries, just as it did in America in the middle of the 20th century.  Wages of these foreign nations have been climbing, labor has begun to organize and CEO’s of companies that have been created due to the integration of American manufacturing in their nations, have begun to seek – and receive – larger and larger salaries and benefits.  The cabal has realized it is no longer logistically possible to continue to manufacture overseas and transport products back to the U.S. due to increasing labor, utility and other costs associated with overseas production.  These rising costs cut into profits and have caused many of these labor-exploiting companies to contemplate a return to the U.S. with their manufacturing.

In order to do this, American worker’s wages must be controlled.  Through hidden legislation they have found a way to bring their manufacturing needs back to America and do it in a way that provides a huge, silent, captive and hugely underpaid workforce: prisoners serving sentences in state and federal prisons.  Through authorization from Congress in 2011 UNICOR secured the ability to participate in the Prison Industries Enhancement Certification Program (PIECP).  This allows all federally owned and operated prison factories the ability to “partner” with private companies, lease them manufacturing space and provide adequate labor via inmate workers.

Along with this new authorization came another “innovative” program titled: Repatriation.  Repatriation as used in this context is the return of U.S. manufacturing jobs to America – under a provision that products no longer made in the U.S. by American companies (or that a company says “may be moved offshore”) can be brought back to the U.S. by those companies.  The products will be made within the industrial facilities of the federal prison industries (UNICOR) by federal prisoners. at wages of between $.23 and $1.35 per hour:

“Federal Prison Industries — also known by the trade name UNICOR — is a self-sustaining, self-funding company within the US Bureau of Prisons. It is owned wholly by the US government and was created by an act of Congress in 1934 to function as a rehabilitative tool to teach real-world work skills to federal inmates. These inmates were historically limited to producing goods for government use, such as furniture, uniforms, even, believe it or not, components for Patriot missiles. “Indeed, FPI/UNICOR’s 2012 annual report states that the board of directors “has approved 14 pilot programs for repatriated products.”  It also details “substantial losses” incurred and asserts that “inmate employment levels have dropped precipitously.” To be sure, not every job being reshored will be filled by an inmate. But according to the report, “FPI anticipates these pilot projects will assist in further reducing its losses,” which would logically induce the Bureau of Prisons to funnel as much business as possible to its 109 existing UNICOR factories, which currently employ just over 21,000 inmates.”

Today with minimum wage jobs disappearing and no longer available to those without degrees or diplomas, work for young men and women has become harder to find.  Employers can pick and choose who to hire and how much they’re willing to pay in wages.  A young Black or Hispanic man with education but few skills, has little value to employers…but they do to the criminal justice industrial complex.  With each new admission to a private prison, taxpayers fork over an average of $32,000 per year for housing, feeding, medical care and clothing. Because of this, poor people of color are being locked up in grossly disproportionate numbers, primarily for non-violent and drug possession crimes. On average they serve 3.5 years of a 5 year sentence for the first offense.  Meals, health services and transportation needs, canteens, personal clothing and banking have all been outsourced so in addition to the private prison company, several other private companies profit off of providing those “services.”

Drug, alcohol and other counseling and rehab programs have been cut.  Education – especially higher education – have all been eliminated and no longer available to prisoners.  So there is no real effort of rehabilitation.  Instead they rely upon the possibility of a job paying as little as $20.00 every other week to keep prisoners behaving in the hope of getting such work – eventually.  And when they’re finally released it is back into the same community with now even fewer jobs and for the ex-convict with a record, any hope of acquiring work to support themselves or even a small family is nonexistent.

In this manner the cycle of incarceration is begun and becomes perpetual.  Those invested in incarceration continue to rake in huge profits as more than 6 out of every 10 prisoners released return to prison within 3 years and are put back to work churning out products and generating income for investors and corporate owners who reinvest their earnings by contributing to campaigns of those legislators responsible for creating more laws, harsher and longer sentences and other means of profiting off human miseries. As the article linked to above, “Prisons are Big Business” informed readers over a decade ago:

As “criminals” become scapegoats for our floundering economy and our deteriorating social structure, even the guise of rehabilitation is quickly disappearing from our penal philosophy. After all: rehabilitate for what? To go back into an economy which has no jobs? To go back into a community which has no hope? As education and other prison programs are cut back, or in most cases eliminated altogether, prisons are becoming vast, over-crowded, holding tanks. Or worse: factories behind bars.  And, prison labor is undercutting wages –something which hurts all working and poor Americans.

Those among our society who have supported “tough on crime” legislation and adopted the “lock ’em up and throw away the key” mantra have helped enrich those individuals and companies profiting off the hard earned tax dollars spent on incarceration.  That philosophy has to be stopped by citizens realizing how they have been manipulated by the MSM and others reaping huge rewards from imprisonment.  To those involved in incarceration, it is no longer a moral or societal duty, it has become a business and like any other business, it exists to make a profit for owners and investors.

Profiting off the misery of fellow human beings is immoral and creates the incentive to imprison more – for additional profit.

VLTP would urge readers to help us battle this means of widening the gap of inequality in our culture and society.  Spread the word about profiting off incarceration, the use of prisoners to rob us of our jobs and how this “system” has developed and works against us all.  Contribute to support our continued research, studies and reporting on this topic.  We do not have paying memberships, receive no corporate contributions or government grants to support our work.  You could not receive a better return for your investment in our work and your society.

FL Pension Changes Rooted in ALEC Model Legislation

FL Pension Changes Rooted in ALEC Model Legislation

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford

Overhauling the state pension system is a priority for Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-ALEC. (Photo courtesy of the Florida Legislature.)
A new plan that would overhaul the state’s pension system can be traced back to the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, The Palm Beach Post reported this week.

State lawmakers are changing the current state pension plan by eliminating it for any new hires. Instead, new state employees would choose from private plans, which are already offered to state workers.

Hundreds of thousands of teachers, police officers and firefighters currently use the state retirement program. However, plans to change the system have been made a top priority by legislative leaders including Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-ALEC (Wesley Chapel). The plan has moved through the GOP-led state House quickly, but members still need to broker a deal to get the more politically moderate Florida Senate on board.

The Post reported this week that the plans also come from an interesting place.

According to the Post:

Critics trace the campaign back two years — to New Orleans, where dozens of Florida lawmakers gathered for a conference hosted by a controversial advocacy group that helps corporations and conservative interest groups write bills for legislatures across the country.

Jonathan Williams, a policy director for the American Legislative Exchange Council, told The Palm Beach Post that the organization’s three days of meetings in August 2011 helped affirm the need among many legislators to take a hard look at public employee benefits.

“The momentum for pension reform is stronger today because many governments are still seeing the effects of the recession on investment returns,” Williams said. “It’s going to be a long time before things improve. Florida legislators are aware of this.”

Following contentious debate, pitting union-allied Democrats against ruling Republicans, the House last week approved legislation (CS/HB 7011) that would close the Florida Retirement System’s traditional pension to new employees.

Workers hired after Jan. 1 could join only 401(k)-styled investment plans, which opponents say would leave the retirement funds of lower-income public workers subject to wild swings of the stock market.

ALEC is a mostly corporate?funded group that pushes corporate-friendly laws. ALEC has been behind a slew of anti-worker, anti-environmental and anti-regulation bills in the past few years. The group was also behind many of the more restrictive voting laws that caused problem in several states in the last election.

According to a 2012 report by Progress Florida, about a dozen bills have been introduced in the Florida Legislature that have based on ALEC’s model legislation. Some, such as Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law, are on the books right now. Most Republicans in the state legislature are also dues-paying ALEC members.

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This article is written by Ashley Lopez and is published at http://fcir.org/2013/03/27/florida-pension-changes-rooted-in-alec-model-legislation/

Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

 

Michigan House to Punish Counties Over RTW

Michigan House to Punish Counties Over RTW

In a legislative frenzy only to be rivaled by the great lameduck circle-jerk of 2012, Michigan lawmakers are churning-out stop-gap bills meant to do nothing more than punish unions and employers for negotiating in good faith.

A number of laws, including Right-to-Work, are set to take effect this week. As Democracy Tree reported last month, numerous state universities were renegotiating their contracts for ten year terms in amicable agreements across the table designed to stabilize relations in the face of the pending contract wars that would otherwise ensue under RTW. Lawmakers quickly responded by entering a bill that would penalize these institutions 15 percent for bargaining in good faith prior to enactment of RTW, and the contentious chaos it will bring.

Last week, Washtenaw County, also acting in good faith, legally renegotiated their contract in an effort to avoid the predictable divisiveness of RTW. In another legislative temper tantrum, House lawmakers have again crafted a bill to similarly punish units of government for cooperating with their unions. what rtw laws actually do

Yesterday, the House General Government Appropriations Subcommittee approved a bill to withhold an un-specified amount of revenue sharing from units of government that work with their unions.

These bills make the GOP motive crystal clear:  They are intended to create tension between public sector workers and their employers. They are not the acts of statesmen — they are the petty and unprofessional misbehaviors of children dressed in suits.

Additionally, this demonstrates the woeful lack of knowledge of our elected leaders. Research found that Michigan public sector employers are happy with their union relationships, and that the premise behind RTW is utterly false.

The University of Michigan recently collaborated with Michigan Public Policy Survey late last year on an extensive research project that found that Michigan’s local units of government were satisfied with their union relationships and negotiations.

In a RTW study conducted by the Michigan State University School of Human Resources and Labor Relations, published in January 2011 by the Employment Policy Research Network, examined the economic impact in all 50 states over a three year period, comparing and contrasting RTW states to those that had strong labor standards. Among their key findings:

  • “…high wages increase aggregate demand in the state leading to increased economic activity.”
  • “Right-to-work laws and taxes seem to have no effect on economic activity. Similarly, unionization has little effect on economic activity.”
  • “…unionized firms are able to use productivity enhancements to offset any higher costs associated with collective bargaining.”
  • “…results suggest that the benefits of Right-to-work laws and tax reductions may be more political than economic.”

Michigan lawmakers should be ashamed of themselves.

Gov. Snyder has equivocated in his remarks about legislating penalties against the public sector for acting in good faith. If history teaches us anything, it is clear Michigan cannot predict what Snyder will do out of political expediency.

Amy Kerr Hardin from Democracy Tree

democracy tree-vltp

Will Your Job Be Reshored To A Federal Prisoner?

By Justin Rohrlich Mar 12, 2013 1:21 pm

From Minyanville…

“The good news for the jobless? US industry is now in the throes of a “reshoring” trend…

“The bad news? The Bureau of Prisons is angling to have as many reshored jobs as possible filled by federal prisoners.”

Journalist Justin Rohrlich and VLTP Executive Director, Bob Sloan have begun a project to fully expose the “new” face of prison industries and exploitation of prisoners, America’s workers and “genuine” small businesses.

images (7)

   PI workers, folsom state prison Oregon Prison Ind. Photo Inmate-Labor

 

This article presents the dilemma of a President and part of his administration working to put Americans back to work, while another part of that same administration is actively working to remove jobs from those who still have them, and put them in prison – the jobs, that is.

Unfortunately we are not describing the plot in a Grisham novel…or providing readers with a Roddenberry style “America in 2525” sci-fi mini-series…no, what is occurring now – right now in America – is a push by manufacturers and service providers for a workforce that can be made to work for pennies on the dollar, has no collective bargaining rights by law, is prohibited from unionization and requires no health or medical insurance, no paid vacations, has no representation in government and most importantly, the rest of working America has no sympathy for.  This workforce consists of the more than 2 million men and women incarcerated in state and federal prisons.

Unbelievably it is our Congress and a Federal Prison Industries board appointed by the President who recently opened up federal prison facilities and the labor of prisoners to well connected business owners.  Production lines will be assembled, prisoners assigned to work in newly built factories constructed by a private corporation wholly owned by the United States government.

We’re told by our Lawmakers and government officials that the purpose of these factories is for training of the incarcerated to make them better Americans, give them skills so they can leave prison and secure employment that lessens their desire to return to prison.  We’ll also be assured that these prisoners are not really taking jobs from our communities…the products they make will only represent a tiny segment of any consumer market.  Problem is we heard all this before thirty years ago when there were fewer than 5,000 prisoners working in less than 100 factories across the U.S.

Today there are more than 1,000 factories – and according to Professor Noah Zatz – between 600,000 and 1 million prisoners toiling away inside, making the goods we consumers purchase.  Yes, this is an entirely new era and in the future, this will be remembered as a sad benchmark in our history…when our government swung open the squeaking doors to America’s federal prisons and welcomed the corporate elite to march in and take over this slave-labor operation so each could enrich themselves even further…

…America’s workers…union leaders…don’t ever say you weren’t warned, and this could be the last opportunity you have to stop this exploitation and theft of YOUR jobs.  Please awaken to this danger, join the fight and help us save ourselves and our jobs.

Read the full Rohrlich/Minyanville article here