Sisters of St. Joseph and Hospital Workers

So many of us have a hard time living up to our own values. Here is a story of one example.
The Sisters of St. Joseph have a proud history of fighting for human rights and human dignity and improvement of conditions for working people. But like so many progressives — and people in general — the Sisters of St. Joseph appear to be having trouble living up to these values when they apply to themselves.
A few days ago Julia Rosen wrote a Calitics post titled, Sisters of St. Josephs it’s time to make peace with your workers. I urge readers here to go read that post. Julia writes,

It is a dirty little secret, but often times the more virulently anti-union employers are religious orders that run health systems. Such is the situation with the Sisters of St. Joseph who run the St. Joseph Health System. They have been resisting the efforts of their service employees to join SEIU-UHW for the past three years.

And at Huffington Post Delores Huertes has a post titled, Together We Marched in Solidarity. I also urge readers to click through and read it. She begins,

This week I’m joining St. Joseph Health System workers, Attorney General Jerry Brown, Father Eugene Boyle, actor Ed Begley Jr, and community and religious leaders to call upon the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange to make peace with their workers.

next she makes the important point,

For decades, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange have fought for justice for California’s workers. In the summer of 1973, they marched in solidarity with Cesar Chavez and farm workers during the brutal Grape Strike. I witnessed the Sisters putting their personal safety at risk. They walked picket lines and even went to jail with more than 3500 striking farm workers. I was inspired by the Sisters’ commitment to stand with the farm workers, even in the face of violent provocation.

Yes, it appears that the Sisters of St. Joseph are ready to stand by workers, walk pickets lines, and fight for the rights of workers. But this time they are holding back when it involves their own workers. Huertes continues,

Over the last three years, workers in the St. Joseph Health System (SJHS) who care for the sick and vulnerable in our community, have been working to form a union with S.E.I.U. — United Healthcare Workers West (UHW) so they can have a real say in the decisions that affect their patients, their families and themselves.
But the Sisters, who founded and hold majority control of the Board of SJHS, a $3.5 billion system of hospitals and clinics, sadly are using heavy-handed tactics similar to those used by other major corporations to deny workers a free choice about whether to form a union. SJHS workers have told me directly, that the SJHS management is fighting their efforts and violating federal labor law by threatening union supporters with arrest and job loss – and denying them free speech. Public records show that SJHS has hired some of the most notorious union-busting firms to fight their employees. Meanwhile, government officials have cited SJHS for violating its employees’ basic labor rights, including illegally firing, spying on, and intimidating workers who want to form a union. These heavy-handed tactics leave workers feeling threatened, intimidated and disregarded.

While looking into this I came across a December, 2007 article at the Catholic News Agency, Catholic health workers’ effort to unionize could crowd out Catholics. Please read to article to learn about the subtexts of this unionization battle. From the story,

A political activist in Sacramento [. . .] said the UHW takeover would be a “done deal” if the employees’ demand for a fair election agreement were met.

If you read the story it is clear that the activist mentioned is very much against unionization and supports the Sisters’ efforts to keep the workers from having a unionization vote. But if allowing a vote for a union means that a union is “a done deal” then it means the workers want a union.
Any way you look at it, it is a shame that the Sisters are trying to keep their workers from voting on whether to have a union. The Sisters need to understand that they are role models for their community. They were positive role models standing up for their values when they supported the farmworkers. They can again be positive role models by showing that even when it affects their own interests they are willing to stand by their values and support worker rights and human rights.
It is time that the Sisters of Saint Joseph allow their workers to vote on whether they want a union.

This Week’s Kaiser Security Guard Strike and the Bigger Picture

This last week I worked with SEIU to help publicize a strike by security guards at Kaiser Permanente facilities in California. (That work was sponsored by SEIU, but this is not a sponsored post.)
The security guards at Kaiser facilities in California work for a company named Inter-Con Security, which then contracts with Kaiser. All other employees at Kaiser are unionized, and Kaiser is a responsible company with their employee relationships. And in other states like Oregon, the Kaiser security guards are unionized. But, for some reason, the security guards in California are not employees of Kaiser and the contractor, Inter-Con, is fighting unionization. In fact they are engaging in tactics that are not legal, including intimidation, interrogation of employees to find out who is trying to form the union, and other anti-union tactics. (It is legal to form a union and supposedly protected by law.) This week the guards went on strike to demand that these illegal tactics stop, and that laws against such tactics be enforced.
There are, of course, bigger issues in any strike and any drive to unionize. What it comes down to is that corporations are able to amass incredible power and wealth, while individuals on their own are not. So when individuals find themselves up against corporations they have little to no ability to stand up against this massed power and concentrated wealth. Employees are just one example of this dilemma. Most employees are not in a situation that makes it possible to ask for fair pay, benefits, sick pay, health insurance, etc.
Over time, though, workers learned that if they can organize into a single unit and act together they are able to fight back. This is known as organized labor, or unions. And by going on strike, shutting down the corporation’s ability to bring in the bucks, they gain leverage over the corporation and can improve their situation. This is, in fact, what brought America its middle class — weekends off, 40-hour workweeks, sick leave, vacations, pensions, raises, reasonable pay, etc. And, in fact, you can see that since the decline of the labor movement many of these benefits have been disappearing. We have been losing pensions and health care and raises, etc.
But it is not just employees who have a difficult time standing up against corporate power. Look at the vast power of the tobacco and oil industries to set the country’s priorities. As many as 3-400,000 Americans still die each year from cigarettes that were marketed to children who did not have the maturity to resist while addiction to tobacco is especially strong if it begins at an early age. Yet we are still unable to fight back against the horror this industry inflicts.
And the oil companies and coal are able to fight efforts to reign in their power. We are unable to get our government to fund sufficient alternatives to automobiles, like urban rail systems and other mass transit, or high-speed trains between cities. And alternatives to oil and coal energy generation like solar, wind and research into others are all stymied or severely underfunded even though we know entire, new job-creating industries could be launched.
Our hopes for one-person-one-vote ideas about democracy continue to suffer from the one-dollar-one-vote corporate assault. It is not clear what the eventual outcome of this battle will be.

Why We Need Strong Unions

It has been a long time since the general public has heard about the benefits of unions. If we read or hear anything from the corporate media today it is usually about “corrupt” unions “driving up prices,” “taking” dues from wages or “causing companies to leave” the state or country. And who would expect a corporate-controlled media to ever say anything good about unions or bad about corporate rule!
Have you heard the saying, “The labor movement – the people who brought you the weekend?” Think about that seriously for a minute. The reason we have weekends off, vacations (such as we do have them), an 8-hour workday, sick leave, child labor laws and so much more is because people organized into unions and demanded those things.
Do you know why manufacturing jobs have “traditionally” paid good wages? The reason is because unions organized the manufacturing industry.
In fact, unions are the reason we have a middle class in America.
Do you know why unions were formed? Before there were unions wages, working hours, worker safety rules, worker rights and general working conditions were terrible. This is because there is a huge imbalance in our economic system. Corporations have the ability to organize huge amounts of money and resources as well as to influence the government. But individuals are on their own. And in the 19th and early 20th century a very few people used the power and influence of corporations to perpetuate a system that enabled them to collect most of the proceeds of the industrial revolution and the work of millions largely for themselves, sharing very little with the regular people of the country. So to counter the power and influence of the big companies workers learned that they needed to organize themselves to help each other. And so the labor movement was born.
The unions were able to bring millions of regular people together to fight back against the consolidated power of corporations. Slowly over time working conditions, wages, etc. improved. And through this organized effort the government became more responsive to regular people as well.
But the owners of the corporations fought back. In the late 1960s and early 1970s a corporate-sponsored conservative political movement was organized. They used modern marketing techniques to influence people and persuade them to yield more and more power back to the corporations. In the decades since they have been able to largely take over the government and to wear down the unions to a fraction of what they were.
And we can all see the results. When unions were strong people had retirement pensions and health insurance and good wages they could count on. When unions were strong our government was much more responsive to the will of the people not the corporations.
Why can you do about this? You can join a union and start to fight back!
Why should you join a union? I’ve been looking around online for info and arguments to help make the case, and here is a compilation of some of them. (Each link means the info following it is from a different website. Click through the links for more.)
Cause trouble where you work – print this out and stick it on bulletin boards around the workplace when no one is looking.
Union Workers Have Better Health Care and Pensions
Union workers are more likely than their nonunion counterparts to covered by health care and receive pension benefits, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In March 2007, 78 percent of union workers in the private sector had jobs with employer-provided health insurance, compared with only 49 percent of nonunion workers. Union workers also are more likely to have retirement and short-term disability benefits.
Dignity: The presence of a union means employees must be treated fairly by their employer, and that you have a voice and vote in important decisions that effect you.
Power: An employee has little power and almost no way to improve wages, benefits, or working conditions. Collective Bargaining balances the power that an employer has over its employees even in a “Team” or high performance work environment.
Protection: Without a union there is no due process at work. Unions provide a grievance & arbitration procedure which ensures fairness for all employees.
Here are five good reasons to join your co-workers in uniting to form a union:
# 1 – Working together, union members have the strength to win better wages, affordable health care, a secure retirement, and safer workplaces.
# 2 – The “union advantage” is substantial. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, union members are much more likely to have health benefits and pensions.
# 3 – For people of color and women workers, the union impact is even greater. Women workers who are union members earn nearly $9,000 a year more than their non-union counterparts. For African-American workers, the union differential is also about $9,000, and for Latino workers the yearly advantage is more than $11,000.
# 4 – In addition to helping workers win better wages and benefits, unions help all workers by giving working families a stronger voice in our communities, in the political arena, and in the global economy.
# 5 – By joining together, we can build the strength to hold elected officials accountable, stop the “race to the bottom” by employers who cut wages and benefits in favor of bigger profits, and win improvements such as affordable, quality health care for all.
Union members earn better wages and benefits than workers who aren’t union members. On average, union workers’ wages are 30 percent higher than their nonunion counterparts. While only 14 percent of nonunion workers have guaranteed pensions, fully 68 percent of union workers do. More than 97 percent of union workers have jobs that provide health insurance benefits, but only 85 percent of nonunion workers do. Unions help employers create a more stable, productive workforce–where workers have a say in improving their jobs.
Unions are making a difference. With most of the economic benefits of our economy going to corporate America, working people are using the power of collective action to get their fair share.
Workers never got anything without uniting for it.
* The 40-hour workweek
* The 8-hour workday
* Overtime
* Sick Leave
* Paid Vacation
* Employer-paid health insurance
* Pensions
* Safety and health protections
* Grievance procedure for wrongful discharge and discipline
* Fairness in promotions
* Higher wages
Just think of what you and your coworkers may be able to win if you had a union contract.
And, finally, it’s time for the wealthiest to share the pie: Income for the Wealthiest Is off the Charts.

From Take Back America – Monday

I am at the Take Back America conference in Washington DC.
One common discussion here at Take Back America is that conservative economic policy chickens are coming home to roost. Another phrase I am hearing is Wild West Banking. People here are talking about the big story in the news right now: an economic and financial crisis that some economists are saying is the worst since the depression.
For decades, as conservative economics increasingly led to lower wages, loss of pensions and health insurance, and general “you’re on your own” economic insecurity many people have been using up their savings while other people turned to borrowing to make up the difference, taking out second mortgages or running up credit cards.
Meanwhile the financial system, increasingly deregulated, cooked up riskier and riskier schemes — like loaning money to people and companies to use to make their payments on their existing debt.
Now we appear to be reaching the limit of people’s ability to borrow. And when people and companies have been borrowing to meet their payments this can mean a collapse. When people can’t pay the mortgages the financial companies aren’t receiving their payments. So they can’t make their payments, and the companies they aren’t paying can’t make their payments. Think of this as a spiral of debt extending from the overextended consumer at the bottom to the biggest financial companies at the top. Now that spiral is beginning to “unwind.”
This is happening because of so many years of conservative government focused on deregulating and on protecting the interests of the corporations and the wealthy instead of protecting the interests of the public from the moneyed interests. This is what conservatives do. A while back I wrote a very short post titled Republicans and Economics:

…there was a REASON that Americans were loath to elect a Republican into the government for an entire generation after the Great Depression: They remembered.

But eventually the public forgot, and the moneyed-interests used their money to again become the dominant voice in the public discussion. They used this dominance to persuade people to dislike unions, accept 401Ks as alternatives to pensions, and all the rest of the things that have led to another economic crisis. But even many of my progressive readers didn’t understand what I meant. So I had to add an update,

Previous generations REMEMBERED. There was nothing to add. Over time people have forgotten how Republican economics caused the depression, and how they fought every single program that helped the people at the expense of the wealthiest and the powerful corporations. (And in fact led to the prosperity that the wealthiest and corporations enjoyed since.)
But now people do not remember how concentration of wealth, corporations preying on citizens, anti-union policies, etc. LED TO the economic collapse.
The depression was ended by pro-union policies, redistributive taxes, REGULATIONS on businesses and the fuinancial sector, and an understanding that We, the People run the government, and the reason we have corporations is for OUR benefit, not just the benefit of the few.
Over time, as I said, people forgot. And here we are again.

How do we help the public understand what is happening and how conservative policies are responsible?
One possible way is to use a shorthand — call this the “Iraq Recession.” It isn’t entirely accurate, but it does lay the blame exactly where it belongs. Up to three trillion dollars will be spent by the time we are out of Iraq, assuming it ends soon. And Iraq is entirely a Republican enterprise. So this shorthand places the blame where it belongs. What do you think?

The “Job Killer” Soundbite

During my tenure in the California legislature, I found it somewhat humorous that every bill calling for greater corporate accountability and responsibility to the health and well-being of the public or workers was called “a job killer”by the California Chamber of Commerce. This appellation was almost always not only overly simplistic, but wildly dishonest and inaccurate. When I brought a bill to require that we consider the health impacts on women and children of various chemicals and compounds when we establsih acceptable health standards, and not just consider the impacts on the average 6 foot 175 pound male, the bill was attacked as being a “job killer”.
The first time I heard this, I thought the accuser was just kidding. But then I realized that the allegation came from a package of “talking points” handed out by the California Chamber of Commerce as part of their propoganda campaign to defeat any measures that would otherwise regulate their big business bosses. How in the world could you otherwise justify defeating a measure designed to protect the health of our people, and especially our children?

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Celebrating Women’s Equality through Workforce Justice

Now that the budget impasse is over (we’ll have more to say on that subject in this coming week’s update,”While California Dreams” ),we are focusing on Women’s Equality Day. This Sunday, August 26th marks the 87th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution which gave women the right to vote after a 75 year struggle. There are many ways to mark the occasion. In California, there are at least two such ways we can ensure that victims of employment discrimination continue to have the opportunity to seek redress in the courts. For that to happen, our legislature should pass Assemblymember Julia Brownley’s AB 435 and Assemblymember Dave Jones’ AB 437 Both of these measures are pending in the California State Senate.
Brownley’s bill, AB 435, specifically extends the statute of limitiations within which women can file suits for gender-based wage discrimination. It requires that all employers maintain their records of wages, wage rates, job classifications and other terms and conditions of employment for five years, and extends the statute of limitations for a civil action to collect back wages to four years, or, in the case of willful misconduct, to five years. The current statute of limitations is two years, unless the violation is willful in which case it is three years.
The Jones bill, AB 437 is necessary because the current US Supreme Court has demonstrated a commitment to overturn, and thus destroy, many hard-fought gains for women, minorities and other “protected classes” of people in this country. One such effort occurred in May of 2007 when the Court voted, by a 5-4 majority, to overturn decades of precedent in the Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. In doing so, the Supreme Court severely limited workers’ ability to bring pay discrimination claims against employers who break the hard-fought laws prohibiting discriminatory compensation practices on the basis of gender, race or other prohibited criteria.

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The Big Corporate Bullies Are At It Again

The Big Corporate Bullies are at it again! Just when we thought they’d be embarassed and hiding from their latest shenanigans—pawning off bad medicine (think VIOXX) or seeing their Chinese competitors getting caught trying to sneak tainted pet food, toothpaste and fish into the U.S., they’re back themselves trying to slam the courthouse doors shut so they can’t be prosecuted for their own often dangerous antics.
What is it now? It’s a new initiative they’ve just filed with the California Attorney General’s office which will allow them to avoid accountability when they get caught doing things like discriminating against their employees on the basis of race, gender, age or disability. If this initiative makes it to the ballot and passes, they’ll be able to get away with refusing to pay their workers for their earned pay, be passing off known damaged and dangerous products, illegally pollute our air and water with inpugnity. The list goes on and on.
How are these profiteers planning their next attack on protecting the public? They’re staking out an initiative which will all but end class action lawsuits in the state of California by making them so hard and expensive for the little guy to bring to court, that they’ll all but vanish. Using Bush-like double-speak to hide their true identity, these greedy CEO’s and corporate polluters go by the totally misleading title of ” Civil Justice Association ” otherwise known as C-JAC. Like Bush’s cronies, they’re anything but seeking justice—it’s just more and more about their profits and the public be damned.

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Cal State Faculty Strike Looks Like a Go

With the Cal State University faculty having voted overwhelmingly to strike as a result of the impasse with CSU’s adminstration over its contract, Speak Out California has called for support of the Faculty’s efforts to negotiate a fair contract with the CSU administration. If you didn’t receive our ACTION ALERT, please go to our HOME page and click on the TAKE ACTION link at the top of the page. From there you’ll find a model draft of a letter to go to state legislators urging their support for the Faculty Association in its efforts to receive a fair contract. In addition, Speak Out is seeking your support for legislation which will add sunshine to the CSU’s compensation practices which have given favored administrators raises of up to 60% in the past two years while faculty salaries lag up to 35% below counterparts in other state university systems.
The California State University system is one of the key educational components to our state’s future so we’ve been following this closely. Here’s the most recent update from Speak Out Board member and Assistant Professor at Cal State Sacramento, R. Stanley Oden as to where the situation stands now.

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Lettuce, Vioxx, and Cigarettes in a perfect world

If this were a perfect world, putting these three items in the same sentence might not rouse any kind of negative response. For some who don’t read the newspaper or haven’t been personally impacted by any of these products, lumping them together might seem puzzling. But for those who realize that these are just examples of what happens when industries are not regulated in how they function and are able to set their own “voluntary” standards in dealing with the public health impacts of their goods, it becomes quite clear that “voluntary” participation in protecting the public doesn’t hold a candle to the concern for profits in our oh-so imperfect world.
There are so many examples of the public learning too late to save the lives of those who were unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of corporate indifference to public health and safety that it would take far too long to list them. But we do know that one of the important functions of government is to regulate industries and businesses that produce goods and services that can be potentially harmful. Sadly, we see over-and-over again instances when we simply end up closing the barn door after the animals have fled. Unfortunately, when we’re dealing with leaders who would rather let these businesses regulate themselves (i.e. letting the fox guard the hen house), the door often doesn’t get truly closed until more damage and death occurs and the public cry becomes too loud to ignore. Enter State Senator Dean Florez who represents portions of the Central Valley and is seeking to protect the public health by introducing his “California Produce Safety Action Plan” designed to create and enforce effective safety standards in the growing and processing of leafy vegetables in California.

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In Sunday’s SF Chron, clever seeming anti-urbanist critic Joel Kotkin tells an increasingly familiar story about the tarnished reputation of the Golden State:

Our magnificent state may still be the home to Silicon Valley, Hollywood, the nation’s largest port complex and the world’s richest agricultural valleys, but by many critical measurements the state is slipping.

What are the problems, and how can we move forward through them? Is Mr Kotkin or anyone else in the state proposing serious solutions?

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