Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘layoffs’

12 Things We've Learned About the GOP Tax Bill

Monday, April 16th, 2018

President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans rushed to pass the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017, leaving very little time for public scrutiny or debate. Here are a few things we have learned since the GOP tax bill passed.

1. It Will Encourage Outsourcing: An April 2018 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirms that two “provisions [of the GOP tax bill] may increase corporations’ incentive to locate tangible assets abroad.”

2. It Has Not Boosted Corporate Investment: The rate of investment growth has stayed pretty much the same as before the GOP tax bill passed.

3. Few Workers Are Benefiting: Only 4.3% of workers are getting a one-time bonus or wage increase this year, according to Americans for Tax Fairness.

4. Corporations Are Keeping the WindfallAmericans for Tax Fairness calculates that corporations are receiving nine times as much in tax cuts as they are giving to workers in one-time bonuses and wage increases.

5. Corporations Are Using the Windfall to Buy Back Stocks: Corporations are spending 37 times as much on stock buybacks, which overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy, as on one-time bonuses and wage increases for workers, according to Americans for Tax Fairness.

6. Corporations Are Laying Off WorkersAmericans for Tax Fairness calculates that 183 private-sector businesses have announced 94,296 layoffs since Congress passed the tax bill.

7. It Costs More Than We Thought: The GOP tax bill will eventually cost $1.9 trillion by 2028, according to an April 2018 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. And we know some Republicanswill call for cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to pay for it.

8. We’ve Fallen Behind When It Comes to Corporate Tax Revenue: Thanks to the GOP tax bill, corporate tax revenue (as a share of the economy) will be lower in the United States than in any other developed country, according to an April 2018 report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

9. Extending the Individual Tax Cuts Would Benefit the Wealthy: The GOP tax bill’s temporary tax cuts for individuals expires by 2025, and some Republicans are now proposing to extend them.  An April 2018 report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that 61% of the benefit from these extending individual tax cuts would go to the richest one-fifth of taxpayers.

10. It Is Shoddy Work: In March 2018, a leading tax expert concluded that the GOP tax bill’s new rules for pass-through businesses “achieved a rare and unenviable trifecta, by making the tax system less efficient, less fair and more complicated. It lacked any coherent (or even clearly articulated) underlying principle, was shoddily executed and ought to be promptly repealed.”

11. It Is Still Unpopular: The GOP tax bill polls poorly, with a clear majority disapproving.

12. The Outsourcing Incentives Can Be Fixed: In February 2018, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) introduced the No Tax Breaks for Outsourcing Act, which would eliminate the GOP tax bill’s incentives for outsourcing by equalizing tax rates on domestic profits and foreign profits.

Recognizing Signs of Age Discrimination in the Workplace

Friday, June 30th, 2017

In the ideal workplace, employees would be evaluated based on their knowledge, skills, and work ethic.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Employment discrimination and other forms of discrimination can plague a workplace.

For an employer, it’s not only a bad idea to discriminate against someone because of his or her age – it’s also against the law.

The Employment Act protects employees who are 40 years of age or older. Employers that discriminate against an employee on the basis of age (or inclusion in another protected class) can be held responsible for their conduct.

Examples of age discrimination

Can you recognize signs of age-related discrimination? Any of these employer actions may indicate that age discrimination is occurring in your workplace:

  • Treating older employees differently than younger employees
  • Failing to promote older workers
  • Targeting older employees in layoffs
  • Targeting younger applicants in job recruitment efforts (such as “seeking young and energetic employees”)
  • Asking an applicant’s age or date of birth in an interview
  • Repeatedly inquiring about an employee’s retirement plans
  • Encouraging an employee to retire
  • Age-based name calling (calling an employee “old man” or “grandma”, for example)

If age discrimination has occurred, a federal employee may be eligible for compensation to cover back pay, front pay, job reinstatement, attorney fees, court costs, and more. It is advisable for an employee to promptly discuss his or her legal options with an employment law attorney.

This blog was originally published at Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law on June 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Authors: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

Labor and Community Allies Fight for Jobs and Public Safety in Atlantic City

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Atlantic City, New Jersey, may be the gambling capital of the East Coast, but there are certain things that shouldn’t be left up to chance, namely public safety. However, bureaucrats in charge of the state takeover of Atlantic City are now ready to impose drastic budget cuts that will result in 50% fewer firefighters and the smallest police force since 1971.

The New Jersey State AFL-CIO has joined with various labor and community allies to oppose these cuts that threaten safety and also undermine the economic recovery of Atlantic City. This community-based coalition has launched a campaign called “Don’t Gamble on Safety AC” that seeks to raise awareness of the impact of budget cuts.

During the campaign launch last week, one of the most salient voices was that of Officer Joshlee Vadell, who was shot in the head while heroically intervening in an armed robbery last year. Under the plan proposed by the state of New Jersey, disability payments for officers like Vadell could be cut, and the officers who rushed to save his life would face layoffs.

Watch Officer Vadell’s press conference speech, and be sure to check out highlights from the event.

Without ensuring safety, residents, businesses, visitors and workers are all put at risk. The New Jersey State AFL-CIO will stand with our brothers and sisters and the Atlantic City community to ensure that this fundamental community need is met.

The campaign will include billboards, direct mail, online advertising and multiple grassroots activities, including leafleting on the boardwalk and door-to-door canvassing to inform residents. For more information on the campaign, visit DontGambleOnSafetyAC.com.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on March 28, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

This week in the war on workers: SoftBank investment is not necessarily something to look forward to

Monday, December 19th, 2016

 

Donald Trump’s claim that, because of him, SoftBank would be investing $50 billion in the U.S. and creating 50,000 jobs was greeted somewhat less credulously than his Carrier claims. But it’s still worth an extra look at the details. It’s not just that SoftBank had already planned a major investment fund before the election:

Worse yet, this deal is lose, lose, lose for the domestic economy. First, this inflow of foreign capital will bid up the U.S. dollar, which will reduce the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing by making imports cheaper and exports more expensive. This will increase the U.S. trade deficit and reduce employment in U.S. manufacturing. The U.S. dollar has gained about 25 percent in the past two-and-a-half years, and one-fifth of that increase has occurred since the election. As a result, the trade deficit in manufactured goods increased sharply in 2015 and is poised for another increase after the recent run-up in the dollar. Meanwhile, the United States has lost 78,000 manufacturing jobs since the first of the year due, in part, to the rising trade deficit.

Second, foreign investment in the U.S. economy is dominated by foreign purchases of existing U.S. companies. Between 1990 and 2005, foreign multinational companies (MNCs) acquired or established domestic subsidiaries that employed 5.25 million U.S. employees. The vast majority (94 percent) of jobs associated with those investments were in existing firms acquired by foreign MNCs. However, 4 million of those jobs disappeared through layoffs or divestiture of part or all of those companies […]

SoftBank provides a clear example of plans to acquire and merge existing U.S. businesses.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on December 17, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

Wisconsin’s “Smoking Gun Of The Rigged Economy”

Wednesday, September 14th, 2016

dave.johnson “Outsourcing is the smoking gun of the rigged economy.”
— Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

Companies extort tax breaks and subsidies by threatening to withhold jobs. After their demands are met, they instead outsource the promised jobs. For the workers who remain, the threat of outsourcing causes their wages to fall. As Donald Trump said, if companies outsource jobs to places where workers make less, then “… you’ll come back … because those guys are going to want their jobs back even if it is less.”

But lately people have been figuring out ways to start doing something about these kinds of things. People are organizing to build power, making noise that the public and elected officials can hear and making clear demands that force politicians answer the question, “Whose side are you on?”

Wisconsin’s Privatized Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)

One group organizing people and forcing public officials to declare whose side they are on is Citizen Action of Wisconsin, a People’s Action affiliate. They are an “issue focused coalition of individuals and organizations committed to achieving social, economic, and environmental justice.” Citizen Action of Wisconsin is taking on the Republican Scott Walker administration over their privatization and use of the state’s “jobs agency” Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to subsidize corporations even as they move jobs out of the state.

In 2014, Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch laid out the background in Madison’s The Cap Times, in “Only 5,840 ‘actual’ jobs from Walker’s WEDC”:

… In July 2011, WEDC was launched “with the mission of elevating Wisconsin’s economy to be the best in the world.” The quasi-public agency is run by a 15-person board chaired by the governor.

The agency was soon caught up in controversy. In July 2012, allegations of bid-rigging forced it to cancel a planned award to an information systems company. In October the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported WEDC had lost track of some $8 million in funds. In May, WEDC was slammed by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for misappropriating $10 million in federal funds.

In May 2013, the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau found that WEDC had awarded a portion of these grants, loans and tax credits to ineligible recipients, for ineligible projects and for amounts that exceeded specified limits.

WEDC controls an extraordinary amount of taxpayer funds. In fiscal year 2011-12 alone, Walker’s WEDC administered “30 economic development programs through which it authorized local governments to issue $346.4 million in bonds, awarded $41.3 million in grants and $20.5 million in loans, and provided $110.8 million in tax credits to businesses and individuals,” says the audit bureau.

With all that taxpayer money, how many actual jobs have been created?

The answer, in 2014, was, “Two official state data sets indicate that for every verifiable job Walker’s WEDC managed to create, the state lost more than two to plant closings and layoffs.” Then 2015 audit found that the problems had only gotten worse.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Takes On WEDC

In July of this year Citizen Action of Wisconsin announced what they found from an open records request of the privatized agency. In “WEDC Safeguards Against Outsourcing Completely Nonexistent”:

In response to a series of outsourcing scandals Governor Walker’s troubled jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), adopted in 2014 a 30 day advanced notification policy. This policy is supposed to give state policymakers early warning if a corporation receiving state economic dollars plans to outsource jobs or downsize more jobs than they are paid to create.

An open records request by Citizen Action of Wisconsin found that despite a series of additional incidents of WEDC funded corporations outsourcing Wisconsin jobs, there are zero 30 day notifications in WEDC’s files.

They followed up in August, in, “At Least 11,331 Wisconsin Jobs Outsourced Overseas Over the Last Five Years,” which explains how “Governor Walker and Senator Johnson have aided and abetted multinational corporations in selling out Wisconsin workers for short-term profits.”

Data kept by the U.S. Department of Labor shows that at least 11,331 Wisconsin workers have had their jobs outsourced to other countries since Governor Walker’s scandal ridden jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), was launched July 1, 2011. This is a very low-end estimate of the impact of outsourcing in Wisconsin because it only accounts for groups of workers who successfully applied for Trade Adjustment Assistance from the federal government by proving their jobs were eliminated because of global trade agreements. It does not account for outsourcing to other states, or downsizing where it is not possible to prove the jobs landed in a foreign country or were impacted by global trade deals.

Both Governor Scott Walker and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson have consistently supported a rigged economic system which allows multinational corporations to pit Wisconsin workers against low-wage foreign workers.

Also in August, a Wisconsin Public Radio report, “Citizen Action Of Wisconsin Claims WEDC Misrepresented Jobs Created In Sherman Park,” found that the agency was reporting success in creating 500 jobs in the very neighborhood where lack of opportunity contributed to two nights of disorder following the police shooting of Sylville K. Smith.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin reviewed a database on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation website and found the agency reported supporting and investing in the creation of 483 jobs in Sherman Park located on the city’s north side. When the nonprofit researched the companies adding those jobs, it found the companies to be located outside Milwaukee.

Summary: Republicans privatized the state economic development agency, awarded subsidies to companies that included campaign donors, stripped safeguards, and “lost track” of where millions of taxpayer dollars went. Meanwhile, companies receiving subsidies intended to create jobs in Wisconsin were actually shipping jobs out of the state and country, as part of an effort to pit state workers against low-wage workers and force down wages. WEDC aided that effort by misrepresenting the jobs numbers, and even reporting nonexistent job-creation.

Outsourced Wisconsin Tour

In response Citizen Action of Wisconsin has launched what they call the “Outsourced Wisconsin Tour” to “focus attention on corporate outsourcers who are taking public job creation dollars.”

The announcement, “Outsourced Wisconsin Tour Launched” explains:

Following last week’s revelation that over 11,000 Wisconsin jobs have been outsourced in the past five years, advocates for good jobs launched a statewide tour on Thursday of corporations who are outsourcing while taking public job creation dollars.

The first company on the tour is the Rexnord Corporation in Milwaukee:

At a news event today community leaders detailed how Rexnord outsourced Wisconsin jobs at the same time it took millions in public job creation dollars from Governor Walker’s scandal plagued Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

[. . .] According to data from the U.S. Department of Labor and WEDC, Rexnord has actually outsourced more jobs than it has been paid with public dollars to create. The company has received $2.75 million in WEDC funds, but has so far outsourced 130 more jobs than it is has created.

“The Smoking Gun Of The Rigged Economy”

Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin explained the reason for the tour.

“Outsourcing is the smoking gun of the rigged economy. It would stun most Wisconsin workers to learn that state leaders are aiding and abetting economic treason by giving public dollars to corporations who are outsourcing more jobs than they create. It’s long overdue for federal and state government to side with workers by using it leverage to build an economy where everyone who wants a good job can get one.”

You can join their effort to end outsourcing, and say, “Enough!”

Click here: 11,331 WI jobs Gone Overseas in Last 5 Years – Tell Madison: Enough!

“With so many Wisconsin workers struggling to find family supporting jobs, our state and federal governments ought to be focused on creating an economy where everyone who wants a good job can get one. Shamefully, elected leaders who are supposed to work for us often aid and abet corporate outsourcers, helping them rig the economy against average people. They vote for trade deals which make it easier for multinational corporations to ship more of our good jobs overseas. In Wisconsin Scott Walker gives huge subsidies and tax giveaways to unpatriotic CEOs engaged in outsourcing our jobs.”

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on September 12, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

New Rules Needed to Solve Steel Crisis

Friday, September 9th, 2016

China is gorging itself on steelmaking. It is forging so much steel that the entire world doesn’t need that much steel.

Companies in the United States and Europe, and unions like mine, the United Steelworkers, have spent untold millions of dollars to secure tariffs on imports of this improperly government-subsidized steel. Still China won’t stop. Diplomats have elicited promises from Chinese officials that no new mills will be constructed. Still they are. Chinese federal officials have written repeated five-year plans in which new mills are banned. Yet they are built.

All of the dog-eared methods for dealing with this global crisis in steel have failed. So American steel executives and steelworkers and hundreds of thousands of other workers whose jobs depend on steel must hope that President Barack Obama used his private meeting with China’s President XI Jinping Saturday to press for a novel solution. Because on this Labor Day, 14,500 American steelworkers and approximately 91,000 workers whose jobs depend on steel are out of work because China won’t stop making too much steel.

A new report on the crisis, titled “Overcapacity in Steel, China’s Role in a Global Problem,” by the Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness flatly concludes that existing policies to stop China from building excessive steel capacity have failed.

steel-overcapacity-table

Since 2007, China has added 552 million metric tons of steel capacity – an amount that is equivalent to seven times the total U.S. steel production in 2015. China did this while repeatedly promising to cut production. China did this while the United States actually did cut production, partly because China exported to the United States illegitimately subsidized, and therefore underpriced, steel.

That forced the closure or partial closure of U.S. mills, the layoffs of thousands of skilled American workers, the destruction of communities’ tax bases and the threat to national security as U.S. steelmaking capacity contracted.

Although China, the world’s largest net exporter of steel, knows it makes too much steel and has repeatedly pledged to cut back, it plans to add another 41 million metric tons of capacity by 2017, with mills that will provide 28 million metric tons already under construction.

None of this would make sense in a capitalist, market-driven system. But that’s not the system Chinese steel companies operate in. Chinese mills don’t have to make a profit. Many are small, inefficient and highly polluting. They receive massive subsidies from the federal and local governments in the form of low or no-interest loans, free land, cash grants, tax reductions and exemptions and preferential access to raw materials including below market prices.

That’s all fine if the steel is sold within China. But those subsidies violate international trade rules when the steel is exported.

These are the kinds of improper subsidies that enable American and European companies to get tariffs imposed. But securing those penalties requires companies and unions to pay millions to trade law experts and to provide proof that companies have lost profits and workers have lost jobs. So Americans must bleed both red and green before they might see limited relief.

The Duke report suggests that part of the problem is that market economies like those in the United States and Europe are dealing with a massive non-market economy like China and expecting the rules to be the same. They just aren’t.

Simply declaring that China is a market economy, which is what China wants, would weaken America’s and Europe’s ability to combat the problems of overcapacity. For example, the declaration would complicate securing tariffs, the tool American steel companies need to continue to compete when Chinese companies receive improper subsidies.

The Duke report authors recommend instead delaying action on China’s request for market economy status until China’s economic behavior is demonstrably consistent with market principles.

The authors of the Duke report also suggest international trade officials consider new tools for dealing with trade disputes because the old ones have proved futile in resolving the global conflict with China over its unrelenting overcapacity in steel, aluminum and other commodities.

For example, under the current regime, steel companies or unions must prove serious injury to receive relief. The report suggests: “changing the burden of proof upon a finding by the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement panel of a prohibited trade-related practice, or non-compliance with previous rulings by the WTO.”

It also proposes multilateral environmental agreements with strict pollution limits. Under these deals, companies in places like the United States and Europe that must comply with strong pollution standards would not be placed at an international disadvantage as a result, and the environment would benefit as well.

In addition to the family-supporting steelworker jobs across this country that would be saved by innovative intervention to solve this crisis, at stake as well are many other jobs and the quality of jobs.

The Congressional Steel Caucus wrote President Obama before he left last week on his trip to Hangzhou for the G-20 Summit asking that he secure the cooperation of China and pointing out the large number of downstream jobs that are dependent on steel.

Also last week, the Economic Policy Institute issued a report titled “Union Decline Lowers Wages of Nonunion Workers.” It explained that the ability of union workers to boost nonunion workers’ pay weakened as the percentage of private-sector workers in unions fell from about 33 percent in the 1950s to about 5 percent today.steel-overcapacity-table-2

The EPI researchers found that nonunion private sector men with a high school diploma or less education would receive weekly wages approximately 9 percent higher if union density had remained at 1979 levels. That’s an extra $3,172 a year.

Many steelworkers are union workers. If those jobs disappear, that would mean fewer family-supporting private sector union jobs. And that would mean an even weaker lift to everyone else’s wages.

America has always been innovative. Now it must innovate on trade rules to save its steel industry, its steel jobs and all those jobs that are dependent on steel jobs.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on August 25, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

This week in the war on workers: Chicago teachers protest planned cuts and layoffs

Tuesday, February 9th, 2016

Chicago schools and teachers are once again under serious attack from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, and once again, the Chicago Teachers Union is showing that it is a powerful force. Thousands of teachers and supporters rallied Thursday, with 16 people arrested, protesting massive proposed cuts and layoffs:

Officials with Chicago Public Schools said Tuesday they’re ready to cut $100 million from school budgets and force teachers to pay more pension costs after their union rejected the latest contract offer, ratcheting up the tone of contentious negotiations that have lasted over a year. […]

The latest flare-up followed an offer a CTU bargaining team rejected Monday, after both sides had deemed it “serious.” The proposal included pay raises and job security, but union officials said it didn’t address school conditions or a lack of services.

The teachers have authorized a strike, though that wouldn’t happen until spring if it happens at all.

? Weeks after the West Virginia Senate passed an anti-union bill, the state House followed suit. A PPP poll conducted for the state AFL-CIO found high support for unions and opposition to laws weakening them.

? A union has filed a National Labor Relations Board petition to represent New York Uber drivers.

? Speaking of which, New York Uber drivers are pissed, with good reason.

A crowd of 600 drivers gathered outside the Uber office in Long Island City, Queens, to protest a 15 percent reduction in fares last month, which also means 15 percent lower wages. That pay cut is on top of Uber’s 20 percent slashing of fares in 2014. All things being equal, drivers who began less than two years ago have seen their pay tumble a whopping 35 percent.

Actually, it’s not just New York.

Last September, Dallas-area drivers for UberBlack, the company’s high-end car service, received an email informing them that they would be expected to start picking up passengers on UberX, its low-cost option.

The next day, when the policy was scheduled to go into effect, dozens of drivers caravaned to Uber’s office in downtown Dallas and planted themselves outside until company officials met with them.

? Indiana repealed prevailing wage protections to let them lower wages on public construction projects … and costs have gone up since then.

Not your typical Alabama labor story:

The state’s largest employer – the University of Alabama at Birmingham and UAB Medicine – plans to raise employees’ minimum wage to $11 an hour beginning in March.

UAB employs more than 23,000 faculty and staff. The institution currently pays $8.24 an hour, about a dollar higher than the federally mandated minimum wage.

? For union members: seven steps to opening up bargaining.

?

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on February 6, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.

Philadelphia School Layoffs are Endangering Students' College Prospects

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Laura ClawsonIt’s college application time for high school seniors around the country, and Philadelphia public school students are facing more than the usual “will I get in?” stresses. That’s because last summer’s massive layoffs in the Philadelphia schools left them understaffed and without enough counselors to guide students through the application process—in some cases without enough counselors to even write recommendation letters for every student who needs them:

Many students at Central High shoot for top-tier colleges, but counselor Tatiana Olmedo has had to warn college officials not every student will have a letter of recommendation.The math just doesn’t add up, Olmedo said – 2,400 students, two counselors. Eight counselors used to work at the school. Students who want an appointment to see a counselor can count on a two-week wait.

“We don’t know all the students, and we don’t have a way of meeting them in a timely fashion,” Olmedo said. Schools including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brown University indicated that might affect students’ chances.

And forget about counselors having the time to help students figure out what colleges they should apply to, advice that can be especially important for teens seeking to become first-generation college students, whose parents aren’t familiar with the application process. Also falling by the wayside as counselors struggle to help hundreds or thousands of students make it through high school are little things like teaching students how to tell if their friends might be suicidal.

Philadelphia’s schools are being hit by a funding crisis created by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett; their teachers are paid less than teachers in surrounding suburbs, they receive less funding per student than schools in Pittsburgh and many of the state’s other cities, and school closings are disproportionately hurting low-income and black students. Now, kids who’ve nearly made it through and are trying to move on to college are being hurt by Corbett’s cuts.

This article was originally printed on Daily Kos on January 6, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.

Dark Days for Philly Schools As Cuts Threaten to Decimate District

Monday, June 17th, 2013

P5034697Despite educators’ best efforts, urban school systems are bleak places to work at and learn in these days, no matter the city or one’s position in the school. But Philadelphia offers a particularly grim view of the dismantling of public education in the austerity era. Few American city school systems have faced measures as devastating as Philadelphia’s—at the very same time the state government has passed massive corporate tax breaks and increased funding for incarceration.

Citing a budget deficit of $304 million in the coming fiscal year, the city’s School Reform Commission voted in March to close 23 public schools, about 10 percent of the city’s total schools. And this week, the district announced a staggering 3,783 layoffs—676 teachers, 769 assistants and 1,202 school safety staff—if additional funds cannot be generated from the city, the state and concessions from public sector workers.

The closures were not Philadelphia’s first, nor were the layoffs—nine schools were closed andmore than 3,000 jobs were eliminated in 2011. In that year, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett slashed more than $1 billion to public education in the state’s budget (along with other brutal cuts to the social safety net throughout Pennsylvania).

Those measures were considered devastating at the time. The currently proposed closures and cuts go even deeper.

“Philadelphia schools are on life support,” says Ron Whitehorne, a retired teacher and activist with the community-labor group Philly Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, “and they’re about to pull the plug.”

The district is seeking $313 million before the end of the month. It is requesting more tax dollars—$60 million more from the city, $120 million from the state. But a plurality of its plan to close the deficit comes from union concessions and givebacks, to the tune of $133 million, most of which come from Philadelphia teachers.

Even at a time of widespread austerity, the scope of concessions demanded of Philly teachers is jaw-dropping. Under the district’s contract giveback demands, teachers earning more than $55,000 a year would receive a 13 percent pay cut, along with a 13 percent hike in health care contributions. Tenure and sabbaticals would be eliminated, the workday would be lengthened (and teachers would be forced to work additional hours off the clock without pay). Librarians would be eliminated, and schools would no longer be required to have counselors. Limits on class sizes would be lifted.

The proposal led Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch to write:

The time to stop this downward spiral of bulls–it is right now. … If this really is the deal, Philadelphia teachers need to walk off the job. That’s right — strike. And anyone who cares about the ability of the middle class to raise a family — particularly a well-educated family — needs to stand behind them.

City and state politicians might be able to justify the measures as painful but necessary decisions at a time of “shared sacrifice” if they weren’t simultaneously handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to corporations and Wall Street, upping their contributions to charter schools, and building a new prison. Last month, for example, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a corporate tax cut that would cost the state $600-800 million per year, more than double Philadelphia schools’ deficit for the next fiscal year.

“How can you call for shared sacrifice while huge businesses are getting a tax break?” says Whitehorne.

The district spends more than 10 times the national average servicing its debt, with an astonishing $280 million—12 percent of its entire budget—going to interest payments and $161 million going to Wall Street firms in what have been called ”toxic” interest rate swaps, under criticism in other cities for unjustly robbing schools of resources.

“This is a [gubernatorial] administration that has bent over backwards to accommodate corporate interests,” says Whitehorne.

Charter schools have had to make some cuts over the years, but their percentage of the district’s total education budget—30 percent, at $729 million for FY 2014 (PDF)—continues to grow, with an estimated 40 percent of the city’s students slated to attend charters by 2017. And perhaps most incredibly, within days of the layoffs announcement, the state began work on a $400 million new prison north of Philadelphia.

The expansion of prisons at the time of massive school budget cuts makes some sense, since the 3,783 layoffs include the total elimination of all 1,202 of the district’s school safety workers, who monitor cafeterias, hallways and other areas of schools to de-escalate conflicts and violence between students, a longstanding problem in Philadelphia. If safety workers are eliminated, only police officers will remain in the schools, which could easily accelerate what activists call the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Doris Hogue works at South Philadelphia High. She has worked as a school safety worker for 20 years, and is a member of UNITE HERE Local 247.  “At one time, there were interracial fights going on,” Hogue says, referencing widespread violence between African American and Asian American students in the school system several years ago. “We developed rapport with the children. They began to trust us, and we were able to help diminish much of the violence.” She says the number of violent incidents is down in her school. In a report released by UNITE HERE, 40 percent of student safety staff reported recently witnessing a violent incident where there were not enough safety personnel present to address it. If the layoffs go through as planned, there won’t be any.

“We’re not just safety staff—we’re like their mothers,” Hogue says. “They come to us if they hear a fight’s going to happen, or if they’re being bullied. I don’t think the district recognizes what will happen in September when the children come back to school without us there.”

Philadelphia was subject to what the Rand Corporation called “the nation’s largest experiment in the private management of public schools.” As reporter Daniel Denvir notes, that project included the takeover of Philadelphia public schools in 2002 by the state, which then established the School Reform Commission (SRC) “to oversee the district and turned 45 schools over to private managers, including for-profit educational management organizations.” But according to Rand, despite the massive number of schools privately managed, student achievement did not improve—and the school’s deficit only deepened. Rather than pull the district out of the red, privatization plunged Philadelphia schools further into it, thus justifying the need for further austerity measures.

Students, teachers and other education workers, and community members seem to be stepping up their pushback to the draconian cuts. In March, 19 people were arrested at the SRC meeting where the closures were voted on, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. (Whitehorne says those charges were dropped yesterday.) Students have ledmultiple walkouts throughout the city. Protests are continuing to ratchet up, including a scheduled rally in Harrisburg, the state capital, at the end of the month. But with almost half of the $323 million to plug the deficit coming on the backs of public-sector workers, the options for Philadelphia schools seem to range from bad to worse.

“If they don’t work anything out, and the money doesn’t come in, I feel it would be so dangerous for any schools to open,” says Hogue, the school safety worker. Come September, “I can’t imagine what it’s going to look like. It’s not going to be good.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on June 14, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Micah Uetricht is an In These Times contributing editor. He has written for SalonThe Nation,The American ProspectJacobin, and the Chicago Reader. Most importantly, he is also a proud former In These Times editorial intern.

Gunmaker Holding Gun to the Head of UAW Members in Connecticut

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Union workers at West Hartford’s Colt Firearms plant are scared for their jobs after the company announced they will open a new manufacturing plant in Central Florida. The move can’t help but remind one of this year’s NLRB complaint against Boeing for moving a plant of theirs to South Carolina from Washington as retaliation against their union workers.

After 175 years in Hartford, Colt’s move to Kissimmee, FL marks the first time that Colt has considered any U.S. operations outside of Connecticut. According to The Hartford Courant, United Auto Workers (UAW) members met on Sunday in Newington where they learned that part of the company’s plan is to freeze jobs at the West Hartford plant and begin cutting them in the New Year. The UAW represents 350 workers at the plant.

In June of 2010, 128 union workers were layed off. Since then, though, all but 26 have been hired back. But the news that the company will begin operations in “Right-to-Work” Florida has bleakened the outlook of the Local 350 members:

“They told us to expect more layoffs after the holidays,” said Mike Holmes, the shop chairman at Colt’s for UAW Local 376.

“The members are strongly opposed to this and we consider it a direct threat to jobs in Hartford, especially at a time when we’re losing jobs,” Holmes said Monday.

Let’s review the situation. Three months before their contract with union workers is set to expire, Colt Firearms and its sister company Colt Defense announce they will build a new manufacturing plant in “Right-to-Work” Florida and start ditching jobs in union-friendly Connecticut. It is now the job of UAW rep. Mike Holmes to convince the company that it is better for them to stay with union workers in Connecticut.

“We have had a strong contract and we’ve had a good working relationship here,” Holmes said. “And that’s why … we find it disturbing that jobs are being created elsewhere,” Holmes said.

The intentional and committed weakening of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by Tea Party-backed Republicans has left the agency on the brink of dissolution and emboldened companies like Colt’s zeal with respect to anti-union practices. The union feels the company is taking advantage of the situation by moving into a state where they can pay their workers less and sweep exploitative practices under the rug.

Colt Firearms has adopted the anti-worker strategy of hostage-based negotiation. They have a contract to renegotiate in March and they know that, even if they stay in Connecticut, they will get more concessions from workers if they begin making threats in advance.

“We were really caught off guard by this big unveiling of Colt down in Florida,” Holmes said. “We would like the opportunity to create the jobs here. … We believe in our workforce and the skills of our workforce and we pride ourselves that we make the best firearms in the world.”

NOTE: Florida Governor Rick Scott has committed $1.6 million to the new facility in order to lure it away from Connecticut.

This blog originally appeared in Union Review on December 13, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Steve Cooper is the editor of We Party Patriots. He educates union members on the benefits of social media, offering instruction on engaging on Facebook and Twitter. When not ruining his posture and finger muscles through endless computer use, Cooper is an avid chef and musician.

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