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Posts Tagged ‘Arkansas’

Arkansas Teachers Went On Strike. Here Are the Corporate School Privatizers They’re Up Against.

Monday, November 18th, 2019

Image result for Gin Armstrong"Image result for Derek Seidman"Teachers of Little Rock, Arkansas went on strike Thursday over the state’s decision to strip their collective bargaining rights and curtail local control of the school district. It was the teachers’ first strike since 1987, and only their second strike ever.

The Arkansas State Board of Education, whose members are appointed by the Governor, voted in October to end its recognition of the Little Rock Education Association, the city’s teacher’s union. The ending of the recognition of the union came as its contract expired on October 31. The Little Rock Education Association is the only teachers union in the entire state of Arkansas.

The teachers are demanding the return of bargaining power from the state. They are also want full local control of the district returned. The state took oversight over Little Rock schools in 2015, claiming low test scores at some schools, and earlier this year sought to create a two-tiered school system that many believe would have, in effect, racially segregated the city’s schools. While that effort by the Board of Education was defeated, it responded by withdrawing recognition of the union. (For further details about the lead-up to the strike and the issues behind it, read Eric Blanc’s helpful column at Jacobin).

Governor Asa Hutchinson has defended the state’s continued takeover of the local school district, and he appointed 8 of the 9 state Board of Education members who voted to end recognition of the teachers’ union. As we discuss below, several of the board members are tied to corporate backers of school privatization in Arkansas.

Like other teachers who have recently struck – from Los Angeles and Chicago to Arizona and West Virginia and beyond – Little Rock’s teachers are pitted against a billionaire-backed school privation agenda that wants to crush collective bargaining rights and advance charter schools. As in those strikes, Little Rock students have the backing of their students, thousands of whom recently staged a “sick out” protest in support of their teachers.

A major backer of the anti-union, pro-charter agenda in Arkansas is the Walton family, whose foundation is a huge funder of the school privatization infrastructure that exists across the state. In addition to the Waltons, corporate elites from Murphy Oil, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette and others are backers of the school privatization efforts. These corporate interests are close to Governor Hutchinson, who supports their agenda, and they have close ties to the state Board of Education. In addition, they are also interlocked with a host of lobbyists and academics that push their agenda.

The Walton Family Foundation and the Arkansas “School Privatization Empire”

A major driver of the school privatization agenda in Arkansas is the billionaire Walton family. The Waltons owns WalMart, which is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas. As of 2018, the three children of Jim Walton, the late founder of Walmart, were worth a combined $163.2 billion.

The Waltons are major advocates of charter schools nationally, and they carry out their school privatization agenda through their Walton Family Foundation, which showers hundreds of millions on pro-charter groups and schools. The foundation claims it has invested a whopping $407 million into pushing charter schools since 1997. According to a recent report put out by the Arkansas Education Association, the Waltons pump millions into propping up the state’s school privatization infrastructure – or what the report calls the “Arkansas’s School Privatization Empire.”

It’s not just that the Waltons give big money to a few groups – it’s also that these groups then distribute that money to other organizations, lobbyists, consultants, and academics, creating a vast network of billionaire-funded activity to attack unionized teachers and push charter schools.

For example, the Walton family Foundation gave $350,000 to the Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation (AERF) in 2017 – around 80% of all the contributions the organization took in that year.

The AERF board includes other powerful funders and advocates of school privatization in the state, such as Claiborne Deming, the former CEO of Murphy Oil, a big backer of charter schools in Arkansas; William Dillard III, part of the Dilliard family that owns the Dilliard’s department stores; and Walter Hussman, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the state’s flagship newspaper. Jim Walton is also on the board.

In addition to the $350,000 that the Walton donated to the AERF in 2017, Deming gave $60,000 and Dilliard III gave $10,000, while the National Christian Foundation gave $15,000, according the the group’s 2017 990 form.

AERF has in turn used the money it receives from the Walton billionaire fortune and other Arkansas elites to fund other school privatization efforts. For example, it gave $115,000 to Arkansas Learns, which describes itself as “the Voice of Business for excellent education options – including industry-relevant career pathways…” The CEO of Arkansas Learns, Gary Newton, is also the Executive Director of the AERF (for which he earned $189,639 in compensation in 2017).

In turn, Arkansas Learns has the same board members as AERF, and Randy Zook, the CEO of the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, whose wife Dianne Zook is on the state Board of Education that decided to end recognition of the Little Rock teachers’ union, is also a board member. Dianne Zook is also the aunt of Gary Newton.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on November 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Gin Armstrong is a senior research analyst focused on regional and state power mapping. Previously, she spent several years in the bike industry to recover from her research roles at Media Matters for America and GMU’s Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. She is based in Buffalo, NY.
About the Author: Derek Seidman is a power researcher and historian who lives in Buffalo, New York. He works as a research analyst for the Public Accountability Initiative and littlesis.org.

Arkansas’ minimum wage fight will be on the ballot in November

Monday, August 20th, 2018

A proposal to raise Arkansas’ minimum wage to $11 an hour by 2021 gained enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in November. The group gathered over 16,000 more signatures than necessary to make the ballot.

The current minimum wage is $8.50, and the last time Arkansas voters approved of a minimum wage raise was in 2014. The Arkansas minimum wage is not among the lowest state minimum wages in the country and is higher than many of the states that surround it. Kansas and Oklahoma, for example, have a $7.25 minimum wage, the same as the federal minimum wage. Missouri’s minimum wage is $7.85. Still, supporters of the measure — which will be Issue Five on the ballot this year, according to the Associated Press — say that it’s unacceptable for Arkansas to live on only about $18,000 a year.

Stephen Copley, executive director of Faith Voices Arkansas, said in a release to the Arkansas Times, “Today’s minimum wage is about $18,000 a year for someone working full time. With prices going up all the time, you can’t raise a family on that.”

Some economic policy experts say that the federal minimum wage is far too low. According to the Economic Policy Institute, despite productivity roughly doubling since 1968, workers who are paid the federal minimum wage now make 25 percent less than workers making the federal minimum wage that year. As Rajan Menon recently explained in The Nation, over the past decade, the $7.25 federal minimum wage lost almost 10 percent of its purchasing power, thanks to inflation, which means that for someone to make the same as the 2009 minimum wage, they’d have to work 41 additional days.

A 2016 analysis from the White House Council of Economic Advisors that looked at 18 states that raised the minimum wage above $7.25 found that these raises “contributed to substantial increases in average wages for workers in low-wage jobs, helping to reverse a pattern of stagnant or falling real wages” and that “this has occurred without any sign of an impact on employment or hours worked.”

Arkansans for a Fair Wage is leading the effort behind the initiative. David Couch, a lawyer in Little Rock who leads the ballot committee, told the Arkansas Times that the group raised $155,300 and spent $101,000 to pay canvassers to gather signatures. The Fairness Project, a nonprofit founded for the purpose of getting minimum wage increases on the ballot, gave $100,000 in funding to the group and the National Employment Law Project, a nonprofit workers rights group that conducts policy research, gave $500,000. The Fairness Project is also working on a minimum wage initiative in Missouri, and has worked on campaigns for raising the minimum wage in Arizona, Colorado, California, Maine, Washington state and Washington, D.C.

There is also an initiative to get a minimum wage raise on the ballot in Michigan, gradually raising it from $9.25 to $12 in 2022 that is supported by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC). ROC also supported Initiative 77 in Washington, D.C. to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers. Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda have come out in support of the wage increase. In July, the board of state canvassers were deadlocked on approval for the ballot proposal. In Missouri, Proposition B is on the ballot, which would raise the state minimum wage from $7.85 to $12 in 2023. Some of the same organizations support this ballot initiative as the one in Arkansas. The National Employment Law Project and the Fairness Project and local officials and mayors, such as St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, have supported it.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on August 17, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Democrats Likely Have the Signatures to Get a Minimum Wage Vote in Arkansas

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

Laura ClawsonChances are looking good that Arkansas voters will have the chance to vote on a minimum wage increase come November, Greg Sargent reports:

Dems organizing the initiative tell me they have now amassed at least 10,000 more signatures than the approximately 62,000 required — which, if true, suggests they have a shot at getting them certified, though this is far from a done deal.“We’re in the 72,000 range, and we still have some volunteer efforts going on in the state, so we’re going to add more on top of that,” Robert McLarty, petition director for the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance, a lead group organizing the effort, tells me. “There could be a challenge from somebody, but we are confident we will get this on the ballot.”

The increase in question, taking the Arkansas minimum wage to $8.50 by 2017, is pretty puny by the standards of recent increases like Seattle’s $15 or the $10.10 passed in a growing number of states, but it’s also substantially better than the state’s current minimum wage of $6.25 an hour, which applies to workers at some small businesses, or the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

Having the minimum wage on the ballot could also have electoral implications. Conservative Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor is facing a tough challenge, and he has endorsed the $8.50 minimum wage (though raising the federal minimum to $10.10 is just too much for him). Getting people out to vote for above-poverty wages could help Pryor defeat Rep. Tom Cotton.

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on Jume 3, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

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

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