Friday, December 5, 2014
► In today’s Seattle Times — Workers rally across region to demand higher minimum wage — “What do we want? 15!” chanted the marchers, “When do we want it, now!” It was a slogan that echoed across the region as workers gathered at other restaurants in Aberdeen, Bellevue and Kent — as well as at the Capitol building — to rally against income inequality. Jordan Thomas, a 21-year-old who works at the Popeyes in Kent told demonstrators at the Capitol that he’d walked off his job so he could be at the rally: “I’m doing this today because I’ve got family back home, and we’re about to lose our apartment… You can’t survive (on the minimum wage), you can’t do it.”
► From KPLU — Low-wage workers rally in Olympia in support of $15 minimum wage — Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, a Democrat, indicated that he would like to move a minimum wage bill in the upcoming 2015 legislative session. But with Republicans in charge of the Washington Senate, it seems likely that that effort would face roadblocks going forward.
► In today’s Seattle Times — Education funding needs to be for more than K-12 (editorial) — As state lawmakers address mandates to boost funding for kindergarten through 12th grade schools, they must also consider the needs of early learning and higher education students.
► In today’s Seattle Times — Exchange, insurance commissioner at odds over glitches and transparency — The day after the latest glitch was disclosed, state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler sent a pointed letter to Richard Onizuka, CEO of the Washington Health Benefits Exchange, which manages the exchange.
► At Think Progress — Emboldened by midterms, ALEC’s anti-environment agenda worse than ever — ALEC may have suffered some serious funding blows, but that the same time the group has been emboldened by the November elections in which Republicans gained seats. This is especially true at the state level… One item on the agenda is an act requiring state legislatures to approve any state agency’s plan to implement carbon guidelines on existing power plants — a process that would basically take away a level of approval that most state environmental agencies already have.
► In today’s Peninsula Daily News — Judge rules against attempt to change Sequim labor negotiation process — A Clallam County Superior Court judge has spiked — again — an attempt to change the city of Sequim’s process for labor negotiations with its employees. Judge Erik Rohrer on Thursday granted the city’s and Teamsters Local 589’s motions for summary judgment, ruling that the city had been correct to challenge a bid for an initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot that would have required Sequim to bargain in public with its union employees and allowed employees to opt out of union representation. “We’re disappointed in Judge Rohrer’s decision,” said a spokesman for the Freedom Foundation, which has not decided if it will appeal.
ALSO at The Stand — Right-wing Freedom Foundation swept, but still suing away (Oct. 17, 2014) — The Freedom Foundation has now gone 0-for-4 — a sweep in baseball playoff parlance — in its campaign to politicize city governments’ collective bargaining negotiations and to weaken unions. But the litigious right-wing think tank has only just begun its legal assault on the targeted cities, as it attempts to accomplish in court what has been unanimously rejected by elected city leaders, including many conservatives, throughout the state.
► In today’s P.S. Business Journal — Providence lawsuit raises questions about Catholic health providers’ church pension plans — Employees of Providence Health & Services, the state’s largest health care provider, are suing the Catholic health system in federal court alleging it is using a religious tax exemption to skirt federal pension law. The question is about whether Providence should be allowed to operate its church pension plan instead of a standard pension plan.
► In the WSJ — House lawmakers near deal on multi-employer pension plans — House lawmakers were nearing a deal Thursday to avert a potential pension crisis that threatens hundreds of thousands of retirees from trucking, mining and other industries. The measure to shore up so-called multiemployer pension plans still faces numerous political obstacles and could be derailed… According to a summary, the measure would give deeply troubled plans the ability to reduce benefits for current retirees, enabling the plans to survive without a federal bailout. It would provide safeguards for the most vulnerable retirees, including those 75 and older. The measure also would give plan participants the right to vote to block benefit cuts. But it would give PBGC the ability to override participants for plans that pose a systemic risk to the pension safety net.
The proposal appeared to be dividing labor. The director of the nation’s second-largest multiemployer plan said he supports the proposed changes. “The fact is, benefits will be cut,” said Thomas Nyhan, executive director of the Teamsters’ Central States Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund, which has more than $18 billion in assets. “The question is when, and how much.” The United Mine Workers of America was taking no position on the legislation, according to a spokesman. Other labor unions were opposing the measure.
► At GoIAM.org — Machinists slam Congress over sneak attack on U.S. pension law — In a stunning betrayal of America’s highly vulnerable retiree population, lawmakers are preparing legislation for the lame duck session of Congress that would overturn a key tenant of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and allow drastic cuts to the pensions of current retirees and surviving spouses.
ALSO SEE IAM’s online action against the proposal.
► MUST-READ in today’s NY Times — A strategy for pensions at risk of extinction (by Floyd Norris) — When people are old, should governments guarantee they have incomes? Forty years ago, President Gerald Ford signed the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which enshrined the concept that pension promises were sacred. Companies could change, or even eliminate, pension plans, but workers were entitled to the benefits they had already earned. A government agency was set up to guarantee that pensions would be paid even if the sponsoring company went broke. This year may well be remembered as the one when the fundamental tenet of Erisa, as the law came to be known, was abandoned… (That’s) the spirit that defined the progress toward income security of the previous two centuries. Then there was a willingness to believe that those who had failed to navigate the road to comfortable retirements deserved at least some minimal level of public support. Now, with retired coal miners in danger of losing meager pensions, the political system seems unwilling to even consider a taxpayer-supported solution.
► In The Hill — House votes to bar Obama from limiting immigrant deportations — The 219-197 vote, with three lawmakers voting present, was largely symbolic as the measure is headed for certain death in the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said he won’t take up the legislation. The White House has also threatened to veto the measure.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Washington’s Congressional delegation voted on strict party lines, with all four Republicans voting for the measure and all six Democrats voting “no.”
► In The Hill — House passes $585 billion Defense bill — It passed in a largely bipartisan vote, 300-119. The legislation now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved next week before the end of the lame-duck session.
► At AFL-CIO Now — SEC caves in to pressure, postpones rule requiring companies to disclose ratio of CEO-to-worker pay — Caving to pressure from business groups and Republicans, the SEC decided to postpone implementing the requirement that was part of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act that President Barack Obama signed into law in July 2010.
► In today’s NY Times — Democrats against reform (by Paul Krugman) — No, Obamacare wasn’t a mistake. Democrats should be celebrating that they did the right thing.
► In today’s NY Times — More jobs and higher pay: U.S. recovery starts to hit home — The Labor Department reported Friday that employers added 321,000 jobs in November — a much stronger number than expected — but perhaps even more significant was the biggest gain in average hourly earnings since June 2013. Hourly earnings rose by 0.4 percent in November, double what economists had been expecting even as the number of hours people were working ticked up a tenth as well.
► From Workday Minnesota — Worker fired by Delta for public remarks supporting an airport minimum wage — The organization 15 Now is reporting that Delta Airlines has fired Kip Hedges, long-time Minnesota labor activist and Delta baggage handler, for statements he made in a Workday Minnesota video in support of a $15/hour minimum wage at the airport. Hedges has been a baggage handler at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport for 26 years and was active in the IAM when they represented workers there.
► MUST-READ in The Atlantic — How companies hide spoils of winning government contracts — General Electric, the venerable maker of light bulbs, refrigerators, and other appliances, recently announced that it was selling off its consumer products division because the profit margins are too low. While GE bids that division goodbye, it’s holding onto its highly lucrative government-contracting business, in which a less-demanding customer leaves room for higher margins. Between 2007 and 2012, GE secured more than $16 billion worth of federal contracts, which might have something to do with the fact that it spent $150 million on lobbying during that period… Journalists and critics frequently bring up the dizzying totals that special interests put into elections — one estimate was that $3.7 billion was spent on last month’s midterms — but it’s much less common to hear about the impact of that money on the government’s decision making.
► Mark Oliver Everett is a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist known as “E.” He has a band called Eels. This band is responsible for the following lovely song, a favorite of The Entire Staff of The Stand.™ While you’re listening, ponder this…
E is the son of renowned physicist Hugh Everett III, the father of the many-worlds interpretation of quantum theory. (Which makes E this concept’s brother.) The many-worlds theory is that all possible alternate histories and futures are real, each representing an actual “world.” In other words, everything that could possibly have happened in your past, but did not, has occurred in one of an infinite number of alternate worlds. If that’s true, then all you time-travel plot dissectors — I’m looking at you, Star Trek fans and Interstellar critics — are wrong to suggest that altering the course of events in the past jeopardizes the future as we know it, including one’s very existence. Altering past events doesn’t create a world with different circumstances. That world would have existed anyway. Just be careful choosing which world you go home to. Thanks, E’s Dad, for the clarification!
The Stand posts links to Washington state and national news of interest every weekday morning by 10 a.m.