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“A Notorious Union Buster And Exploiter Of Working Families”: Why Build A National Monument To A Union-Busting Robber Baron?

Occasionally, I see something that is so bizarre, so out of place, so wrong that I have to assume I’m hallucinating. For example, I could have sworn I was delusional when I heard about the National Park Service’s Pullman National Monument in Chicago.

George Pullman? My mind boggled! Our tax dollars are being spent to build a national park in tribute to a narcissistic, paternalistic, brutalistic 19th-century robber baron? Incredibly, yes. Pullman, a notorious union buster and exploiter of working families, is having his history mythologized by today’s Powers That Be, portraying him as a model of the corporate order’s historic virtue. At the Feb. 19 official consecration of Pullman’s park, Chicago’s thoroughly corporatized mayor, Rahm Emanuel, even gushed: “This will be a monument … to Pullman’s role in building the American dream.”

“History,” as the old adage goes, “is written by the winners,” even when they’re losers as human beings. Pullman was most certainly a loser as a human being for this “dream,” as Rahm refers to it, was a nightmare to Pullman’s workers. They toiled in his factories making rail cars, including the luxury “Palace” sleeper for elite train travel. Pullman considered himself a beneficent employer, having built a 600-acre town for the workforce and vaingloriously naming the new home-place for himself. PullmanTown included houses he rented to his workers, churches, schools, a bank, library, and parks — all owned by his company. Indeed, when officials announced this year that Pullman’s town was becoming an honored part of America’s park system, officials attested to his generosity by hailing the town as a place he created “to provide his employees a good life.”

The workers in the town of Pullman, however, were less charmed, for he ruled the burg as autocratically as he did his factories. No saloons or “agitators” were allowed, nor did he allow any public speeches, town meetings, independent newspapers or even open discussions. In a letter residents wrote to the American Railway Union, they offered an example of Pullman’s greed and exploitation of his workers: “Water which Pullman buys from the city at 8 cents a thousand gallons he retails to us at 500 percent advance … Gas which sells at 75 cents per thousand feet in Hyde Park, just north of us, he sells for $2.25.”

The resentful residents created a little ditty that summed up the surreal feel of the place: “We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman schools, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die, we shall go to Pullman hell.”

In 1894, the workers got Pullman’s hell on Earth. Not only did he drastically cut his workers’ (he referred to his workers condescendingly as his “children”) wages five times, he also refused to lower their rent. He had guaranteed a 6 percent return to the wealthy investors who financed the town, he explained — and the investors’ needs came first. What a dysfunctional father! The suffering imposed by this feudal lord on his workers led to the historic Pullman Strike that quickly spread nationwide, led by union icon Eugene Debs.

This uprising was not a problem for Lord George, though. He and other railroad royals rushed to the White House and got President Grover Cleveland to dispatch the U.S. Army to join police and militia forces to crush the labor rebellion. Thirty workers were killed, Debs was arrested on a trumped-up conspiracy charge and all laborers who’d joined the strike were fired and blacklisted.

Now, 120 years later, we taxpayers are financing a monument to this loser’s greed. The only way that Pullman National Monument can have any legitimacy is for the grounds to be strewn with sculptures of the 30 dead workers he killed.

 

By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, September 2, 2015

September 4, 2015 Posted by | George Pullman, National Monuments, Union Busting | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Rendering Unions Toothless: Supreme Court Aligns Against The Have-Nots

Among the causes most frequently cited for the dizzying rise in American inequality in recent decades — globalization, technology, de-unionization — one culprit is generally left off the list: the Supreme Court. But the justices (more precisely, the conservative justices) must be given their due. In cases ranging from Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010, they have greatly increased the wealthy’s sway over elections — which, in turn, has led to public policies that have reduced taxes on the rich, curtailed regulation of Wall Street and kept workers from forming unions.

On Tuesday, the justices were presented with a golden opportunity to further increase inequality. The court heard arguments in Harris v. Quinn , a case testing whether home-care providers who work under a union contract with the state of Illinois can avoid paying dues that support the union’s collective-bargaining work. (Under the law, they already can decline to pay the share of dues that goes to the union’s political work.)

Home-care workers are hired by aging or disabled individuals and their families, some of whom are eligible to have the expense picked up by Medicaid. That arrangement means the home-care workers’ pay levels are set by the states — making both the state and the individual a worker’s employer of record.

Over the past two decades, an increasing number of states, acting as employers, have given home-care workers the right to vote on whether they wish to form a union. Home care costs states one-third the amount they spend for comparable care in nursing homes or long-term-care facilities. The wages won by those workers’ unions ensure less employee churn and better care, which is why disability advocacy groups such as the American Association of People With Disabilities have submitted amicus briefs in Harris supporting the union.

It’s no mystery why a majority of home-care workers in Illinois and many other states have voted to form unions. In 2012, the median hourly wage for direct-care workers hired out by agencies was $10.21. Such workers covered by union contracts in Illinois are paid $13 an hour and get health insurance. In Washington state, according to an American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees official, the unionized workers make $14.34; in Oregon, $13; in California, $12.20.

The eight workers who brought the lawsuit the court heard Tuesday don’t want to pay dues to the union that won them their raises, though I’ve seen no reports suggesting they’ve volunteered to give back this additional money and forgo health insurance. In the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education , the court ruled that members of public-sector unions were required to pay the portion of union dues that went toward bargaining and administering their contracts. Two years ago, however, an opinion by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., joined by the court’s four other Republican appointees, suggested that the court should reconsider Abood.

The effects of such a reconsideration could be far-reaching. If workers can benefit from contracts without paying even what it costs the unions to secure those contracts, those unions would suffer revenue declines that could render them toothless. Once their unions lost power, home-care givers — a group that is overwhelmingly female, disproportionately minority and almost universally poor — would be highly unlikely to get any more raises. Turnover rates within the care-provider workforce would surely rise.

Such a reconsideration could be of even greater consequence if Alito & Co. go further and rule that no member of a public-employee union should be required to pay the dues that go to securing his or her contract. With the decline of private-sector unions, ­public-employee unions have become the preeminent organizers of voter mobilization campaigns in working-class and minority communities, the leading advocates of immigration reform, the foremost lobby for raising the minimum wage and the all-around linchpin of the modern Democratic Party. A sweeping, party-line ruling by the five conservative justices in Harris could significantly damage the Democrats.

Whatever its effect on the nation’s partisan balance, a ruling that neuters the organizations that poor, working women have joined to win a few dollars an hour more would put a judicial seal of approval on the United States’ towering economic inequality. Well into the New Deal, the Supreme Court consistently overturned laws that enabled workers to win higher wages, helping to delay the advent of the middle-class majority that emerged after World War II. It now has the option to speed that middle class’s demise.

 

By: Harold Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 21, 2014

January 23, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Supreme Court, Union Busting | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Blatant Power Grab”: Right To Work Laws Don’t Create Jobs

We hear a lot of talk from politicians in Lansing about creating jobs and making education a top priority, but Michigan’s middle class families know talk is cheap.

Last year our elected officials cut more than $1 billion from our K-12 schools, community colleges and universities so they could provide a $1.7 billion tax cut for businesses. These cuts won’t reduce class size, they won’t address barriers to student success, and they won’t put people back to work.

Now a small group of anti-union politicians and corporate special interests like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are trying to make Michigan a so-called right-to-work state.

Let’s be clear. This is nothing more than a blatant power grab that will weaken the middle class and won’t create jobs.

As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “It is a law to rob us of our civil rights and job rights.”

A right-to-work law in Michigan would give even more profits to CEOs at the expense of our jobs, our retirement security and our kids’ future.

In states with right-to-work laws, employees earn an average of $1,500 less per year, have a lower standard of living and no job security. Currently, six of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates in the nation have right-to-work laws on the books.

Of course, we all know this isn’t really about rebuilding Michigan’s economy. If it were, middle class families in states that have passed right-to-work laws would be better off, but that’s simply not the case.

In fact, in right-to-work states like Mississippi, Texas and Idaho, workers’ pensions were gutted. Thousands of workers who had been contributing to their pensions for decades were left with broken promises and no retirement security.

The politicians and corporate special interests who are pushing this unfair legislation know that unions are a check on corporate greed, and they are working overtime to silence the collective voice of our teachers, nurses and firefighters.

Corporate CEOs spent more than $1 billion to elect politicians who are willing to do their bidding and give them free rein over our economy.

If these attacks succeed in weakening unions, what will be left to check corporate power and fight outsourcing? CEOs will be able to rob workers of their voice, to lower wages and to ship even more jobs to China.

Gov. Rick Snyder has said he doesn’t want Michigan to become a right-to-work state, and I couldn’t agree more.

This issue is far too divisive, and will tear Michigan apart at a time when we should be focused on creating jobs and investing in public education to give our kids a better future.

When it comes to rebuilding our economy, talk is cheap. And since right-to-work is all about shortchanging workers, it’s clear this flawed proposal is wrong for Michigan.

 

By: David Hecker, Guest Columnist, Detroit Free Press, February 12, 2012

February 12, 2012 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Union Busting | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Koch Industries Buys Anti-Koch Web Addresses

In the eyes of the American public, Wichita-based Koch Industries is coming to stand more for right-wing string-pulling than for its blockbuster oil and gas business. For years, David and Charles Koch spent millions mostly behind the scenes to advance anti-environmental and anti-labor policies and to attack Democratic candidates for office. In the last two years, however, their expenditures have routinely made news. In the wake of the high-profile standoff in Wisconsin– where Gov Scott Walker was caught explaining to a prank caller impersonating David Koch his plans to break public employee unions– Koch Industries has dedicated time and money to mitigate fallout from the politics of the men in charge. The company’s website includes an op-ed and a video defending Koch politics. Today comes news that the company has been buying up anti-Koch web addresses as part of its new brand-management strategy.

Researchers at the progressive group One Wisconsin Now found that, on August 17, the day after the last of the recall elections in the state forced by Democrats aghast at Walker’s politics, Koch Industries bought up “at least three anti-Koch domains: StopKoch.com, StopKochIndustries.com, and AntiKoch.com.”

The domain name “StopKoch.com” for example has now been “parked” by an “online brand protection” firm called Melbourne IT on behalf of an administrator working from 37th Street in Wichita, Koch headquarters, and connected to a @KochInd.com email address.

“After spending over $40,000 to get Gov. Scott Walker elected less than a year ago and $250,000 on Republicans in Wisconsin’s recall effort, the billionaire Koch Brothers are already on the defensive against the ‘Stop Koch, Save Wisconsin’ buzz on the internet,” writes One Wisconsin Now.

One of the groups the Kochs presently bankroll is the activist organization Americans for Prosperity. AFP was a major pro-insurance industry player in the anti-health reform push last year, organizing tea party rallies and funding literature and commercials that made wild claims about the proposed legislation being a totalitarian assault on liberty.

Today, AFP is touring Colorado to rally support for favorable policies for big oil and gas companies. In a release announcing the “Running on Empty Tour,” AFP Foundation President Tim Phillips resurrects the kind of reaching anti-Obama rhetoric that characterized AFP’s contributions to the health care debate, where the president was viewed as a statist dictator seeking to euthanize Americans through “death panels.”

“Obama’s hostility toward domestic production and his desire to use high gas prices to change Americans’ driving behavior are contributing to the escalating cost of fuel,” Phillips is quoted to say in the release.

In fact, the Obama administration has made bold moves to open up drilling in the U.S. and has drawn criticism for doing so. Oil and gas companies own leases on tens of millions of acres onshore and offshore that they have yet to develop. A recent study by the Interior Department reported that half of all onshore federal leases are not currently being utilized by the industry.

At the top of the “newsroom” section of the Koch Industries website, the company runs a quote by Charles Koch that, to an increasing number of people, may serve mostly to bring to mind the sketchy political strategery funded by the brothers over the years.

“A positive reputation is built by behaving consistently with sound principles, creating real value, achieving compliance excellence and living up to commitments.”

By: John Tomasic, The Washington Independent, August 24, 2011

August 25, 2011 Posted by | Businesses, Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Corporations, Elections, Energy, Environment, GOP, Health Reform, Ideologues, Ideology, Insurance Companies, Jobs, Koch Brothers, Labor, Politics, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, States, Teaparty, Union Busting, Unions, Voters, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Deceitful And Strange Bedfellows: After Months Of Rancor, Two Governors Alter Tones

After Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican in his first months in office, announced early this year that he wanted to cut collective bargaining rights for public workers, relations between political parties in his newly red State Capitol fell into a long, deep frost.

But after six months of bruising partisan fights, Mr. Walker seemed to issue an utterly different message this month. He said he wanted to meet with Democrats and to find shared agenda items — an invitation that has been met with polite acceptance and deep skepticism.

“My thought is, you start out with small things, you build trust, you move forward, you keep working on things and you try and pick as many things that are things that people can clearly work together on,” Mr. Walker, who may face a recall election next year, said in an interview.

In the months after a flurry of Republican wins of governors’ offices and state legislatures in 2010, perhaps nowhere was the partisan rancor more pronounced than in the nation’s middle — places like Wisconsin and Ohio, where fights over labor unions exploded. But now, at least in those states, there are signs that the same Republicans see a need to show, at least publicly, a desire to play well with others.

In both states, critics dismiss the moves as desperate attempts to shore up sinking popularity ratings or disingenuous, tardy strategies to appear agreeable after already ramming through their agendas.

“It’s all P.R. — none of it is substantive,” Mark Miller, the Democrats’ minority leader in the Wisconsin State Senate, said earlier this month, before Mr. Walker held what some described as a “cordial” meeting with the Democratic leaders last week.

Whatever the true substance of the offers, the recent tones in Ohio and Wisconsin do appear to show one thing: With threats of recalls and bill repeals, with public dismay in recent months over the partisan stalemate in Washington on the debt ceiling, and with battleground-state presidential politics looming in 2012, governing with majorities has turned out in some states to be more complicated than it may have first appeared.

Across the nation, partisan relations in statehouses where Republicans made significant gains last fall have varied widely, and in many cases there are no signs of softening messages — or even the need for such a thing. But leaders in other states, including some that are expected to consider limits to unions in the months ahead, are closely watching what unfolds now in Ohio and Wisconsin, the states that became the unexpected battle zones for an earlier season of discontent.

In Columbus, Democrats and union leaders were enraged this year when Gov. John R. Kasich, another first-term Republican governor, and the Republicans who now control both chambers of the legislature pushed through — mostly along partisan lines— a law that would limit the rights of public workers to bargain collectively.

Republicans in Ohio advocated for the measure as the logical response to shrunken budgets in towns, cities and counties. But union leaders and Democrats — and a group calling itself We Are Ohio — spent months collecting more than 900,000 valid signatures (hundreds of thousands more than needed) to put the law to a vote in a statewide referendum in November. A campaign, which is expected to draw significant interest and spending from political groups in Ohio and nationwide, is likely to begin in earnest soon.

Last week, Mr. Kasich and Republican leaders sent a letter to the union organizers, calling for a meeting to discuss a compromise. The leaders said they still believed in the law they had passed, and a spokesman for Mr. Kasich would not say precisely what areas the Republicans were willing to give in on. “We are prepared to move forward immediately with legislative action to implement any agreement on changes we are able to reach together,” the letter read.

“We ought to get to the table and we ought to talk about it,” Mr. Kasich told reporters on Friday, meeting with them in a room full of empty seats and placards for the absent organizers, although the organizers said they had turned down the invitation. “Is it too late?” Mr. Kasich asked. “It’s never too late.”

Rob Nichols, a spokesman for Mr. Kasich, said the new invitation did not mark any shift in Mr. Kasich’s approach; the governor had sought to talk to labor groups during the legislative fight, Mr. Nichols said, and some representatives had engaged in private discussions over the issue again in June before the unions ended those talks, he said. “He, more than most, has a long history of working across party lines,” Mr. Nichols said.

But critics balked at the notion that any real talks had been offered before or that any true, concrete compromises — not just photo opportunities for a public fatigued by partisan rancor — were being offered now.

“If they’re honestly coming forward for a compromise, repeal the bill and then we’ll talk,” said Melissa Fazekas, a spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, explaining why representatives for the group had declined to meet with Mr. Kasich on Friday. “If they wanted to get along, they probably should have tried to during the legislative process instead of locking people out.”

In Wisconsin, partisan relations — and that state’s fight over limits to collective bargaining — have proved still uglier.

In the weeks after Mr. Walker proposed the limits in February, state lawmakers, newly dominated by Republicans in the Capitol, split in two. The minority Senate Democrats fled the state to try to block a vote on the measure. The Republicans issued the lawmaking equivalent of warrants against them, and at one point, threatened that the Democrats had to collect their paychecks in person — or not get them at all. And, as protesters screamed outside his closed office door, Mr. Walker firmly defended the bargaining cuts and said his administration was “certainly looking at all legal options” against the other party.

But after a summer of expensive, brutal recall election efforts against nine state senators — Democrats for having fled the state, and Republicans for having supported the bargaining cuts — Mr. Walker seemed to be sounding a different, softer note. He said he had called Democratic leaders in the Legislature even before the polls closed in some of this month’s recalls, which, in the end, maintained the Republican majorities in both legislative chambers, though by a slimmer margin of 17 to 16 in the Senate.

Democrats in the state had harsh theories about what was behind Mr. Walker’s sudden wish to get along. Some said he had already accomplished a stunningly partisan agenda, including the bargaining cuts, an austere budget, a voter identification law, a concealed-firearms provision and a redistricting map that favored Republicans, and was now hoping to appear to be reaching out. Others said he feared a different recall election effort — against him — next year, as well as creating a drag in the state on any Republican presidential ticket.

“This is totally phony — a totally unbelievable act of desperation,” said Graeme Zielinski, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party. “It will fade away and return soon enough to the scorched-earth method that has marked his career.”

Reflecting on the start of his term, Mr. Walker said that he wished he had spent more time “building a case” with the public for why collective bargaining cuts could shore up budgets, but that he remained a firm supporter of the cuts themselves — a fact that seems certain to complicate any effort for bipartisanship now.

“I’m not thinking that just because we snap our fingers that suddenly everybody’s going to run out and work together and it’s all going to work perfectly,” the governor said.

By: Monica Davey, The New York Times, August 21, 2011

August 22, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Gov John Kasich, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Governors, Ideologues, Ideology, Labor, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, Public, Public Employees, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, State Legislatures, States, Teaparty, Union Busting, Unions, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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