April 2008 Archives

Are you following the election coverage? Here are some recent stories: The media pounds candidate Hillary Clinton to release her tax forms, because the public has a right to know. And she does release her and her husband's returns, going back a decade. The media trumpets how much income they have been receiving, how rich they are, and drills down into details. If you follow the news, it is inescapable. At the same time candidate John McCain releases only partial forms that show all assets are now in his wife's name, and he won't release his wife's tax returns. The media is mostly silent on this; most of the public has little opportunity to learn of this.

Another story: Candidate McCain won't release his medical records. Again from the media there is mostly silence; most of the public has little opportunity to learn of this.

And here is the big story: Unless you have been in a coma you know that for several weeks video clips of statements by Barack Obama's former minister have been aired nearly 24 hours a day on the news shows, especially on FOX News. These clips are considered scary by certain demographic groups who are not familiar with the speaking patterns of black ministers

Interestingly, at the same time as this "Obama's minister" story is saturating the news there is another Presidential candidate with a "scary minister" problem of his own. But the news media is not providing the public with any information at all about the things this minister has said. In this case the Presidential candidate is John McCain and the minister is John Hagee. This minister has issued statements condemning Jews, is described as "virulently anti-Catholic," and says that 9/11 and Katrina are examples of God punishing America. Yet John McCain sought out this minister's endorsement and insists that he is "proud" to have received it.

While saturating the airwaves with scary video clips of Obama's scary minister the corporate media is providing the public with almost no information about McCain's. In the article, The McCain-Hagee Connection, the Columbia Journalism Review asks, "Why is the press ignoring this hate-monger?"

Why, indeed?

A well-functioning democracy depends on an informed public. There is no question that the public deserves to know these things about Senators Clinton and Obama. The information in the examples cited here could and should have an effect on the election, because the public will weigh these factors into their voting decisions. But the public also needs the information about Senator McCain, presented with equal emphasis. And clearly this isn't happening.

So with nearly identical stories -- a relationship with a minister who makes scary and hateful statements -- the corporate media chooses to present the information about only one to the public, and does so in a way that is guaranteed to scare the ... excuse me ... bejeesus out of everyone. The other is given a pass and a free ride, and the public is left without the information it needs to make an informed choice.

Why is this happening? Here is some background on our media:

In the United States the broadcast media used to be required by law to serve "the public interest" ahead of profits. Use of OUR airwaves was licensed out to private interests that were allowed to use them to profit to a limited extent in exchange for providing the public with information and news. We did this because it served our interests and those of our democracy.

The rules allowed very limited commercialization of this public resource. For example, in exchange for the license to make a profit from the use of the public airwaves the companies were required to provide educational content for children, news coverage, documentaries, arts and other public interest content. And by law the information had to be objective and balanced.

At certain times of the day the companies could then present commercialized content. But even then the commercialization was to be limited. They were limited in how much time during a show could be used for commercial advertisements -- and the shows themselves were not allowed to be commercialized. There were even restrictions on what the commercial advertisements could say. Public benefit was the priority, commercial profits were limited.

It was an exchange - they get to make some money using our resource, and we get news and information that educates us and strengthens our democracy. Why else would we have allowed private companies access to our airwaves, but to serve the public?

This changed. In the early 1980s the Reagan administration unilaterally dropped the requirements that broadcast media serve the public interest and these companies promptly stopped serving the public interest and started serving their own corporate interests. As happens with any for-profit corporate interest commercialization became the only use of our public airwaves.

Shocked by this seizure of a public resource for corporate commercial interests the Congress immediately voted to restore the public benefit requirements, but Reagan vetoed this. Then, under President George H.W. Bush the Congress again voted to restore the public benefit requirements, and this was again vetoed. Under President Clinton the requirement was against brought before the Congress and again a majority voted to restore placing the priority on public benefit but Senate Republicans filibustered and blocked the bill.

So today there is no requirement that our mass media serve the public interest. Instead the only interests that are served are private, corporate interests and the only information the public receives through these outlets is information that benefits the corporations that control them.

Is this why we are seeing such dramatic disparities in the way information about the candidates is presented to the public? Should we be surprised?

Control of our information sources is now in the hands of corporations with no requirement that they serve the interests of democracy. So shouldn't we expect that corporate interests are placed ahead of the public interest? If for-profit enterprises control the information the public receives then why wouldn't they promote candidates who would be more favorable to their commercial interests?

Let me provide a clear example of how this affects all of us: When was the last time you saw or heard on a corporate outlet information about the benefits of joining a union? Of course you haven't, and you wouldn't expect to. And, in the years since the requirement that the broadcasters serve the public interest by providing balanced information, we have seen a dramatic decline in the percent of the workforce that is unionized. At the same time we have seen a dramatic increase in commercialization of everything, and in the power of corporations over the decision-making of our government.

What else should we expect?


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It is a popular misconception that taxes add to the squeeze on the middle class. But it isn't tax increases that have squeezed the middle class, it's tax cuts. It may be hard to believe (after so many years of constant anti-tax rhetoric) but here is why.

The middle class IS squeezed these days. There are pressures and long hours at work, long commutes, health insurance costs, housing costs, food and gas prices rising, and wages are not keeping up -- they haven't been for a long time. But it is not a coincidence that the middle-class squeeze began at the same time as the corporate-funded anti-government, tax-cutting fervor. In fact a good case can be made that many of the reasons the middle class feels squeezed are the result of pressures brought about almost entirely FROM the effects of tax CUTS and cutbacks in government services, regulations and enforcement that went along with the tax cuts.

There are direct and indirect relationships. One example of a direct relationship is the dramatic rise in the cost of a college education. Sending kids to college has become extremely expensive. And this places a very hard squeeze on parents who want their children to get a degree. But here in California tuition was very, very low before Proposition 13. Tax cuts directly led to this squeeze on the middle class. (And remember, most of the property taxes that were cut were on business property.)

Indirect results include rising energy prices from cutbacks in government R&D and subsidies for oil alternatives as well as longer commutes as the government cuts back on transit solutions like buses, trains and roadbuilding or improvements. Health care costs continue to rise because of government inaction and deregulation -- the result of the anti-government sentiment encouraged as part of the the anti-tax campaign. And insurance costs rise while coverage is reduced or even denied as the government cuts back on regulation and enforcement. (My wife is the one who brings in the health insurance for our family. Every year she gets a raise, but every year the amount taken out of her check to cover her portion of the health insurance payment goes up by more than her raise, and her take-home pay is lower. So more squeeze.)

Other areas where the anti-government, anti-tax campaign has increased pressure on the average person is at work. Anyone that works for a corporation is feeling the extra pressures there. As government of, by and for the people declines corporate power fills the vacuum.

And there are so many more areas where we are squeezed by this increasing dominance of corporations in our lives. As government -- the power of We, the People -- diminishes, the corporations swoop in to pick us clean. How many examples of corporate power coming to dominate over people power can you think of?


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On the same day that Barack Obama raised one million dollars in one minute for his campaign George Lakoff's Rockridge Institute announced that they will be closing their doors.

In the comments at the OpenLeft blog post, The Rockridge Era Ends, Paul Rosenberg wrote,

As If We Needed Any More Proof That Democrats STILL Don't Get It!
This is really terrible news--not just because of the loss of Rockridge, as if that wasn't bad enough, but because it shows so clearly that there is NO recognition of the need to build progressive infrastructure.

Just look at how many millions have been raised by the Presidential campaigns this cycle. And just a tiny fraction of it could have not just kept Rockridge afloat, but DOUBLED it in size. ...

I want to say this about that:

Donating a dollar to a progressive infrastructure organization like Speak Out California today is like giving ten dollars to EACH progressive candidate in every local, state and nation race this November, two years later, and every election following.

Let me explain what I mean. Progressive infrastructure organizations like Speak Out California and Commonweal Institute and information outlets like California Progress Report and Calitics are working to help the public understand and appreciate what progressives are about. By explaining the benefits of a progressive approach they help build public acceptance of and demand for progressive policies and candidates -- across the board. As more people understand why progressive solutions benefit them more than conservative proposals, they develop a lasting positive identification with the progressive "brand." Then later, during the election cycle, they vote for progressive candidates -- across the board.

This is how the conservatives have been so successful. They work year-round to convince people to identify as conservatives. (You've probably complained or heard people complain that that have managed to turn "liberal" into a bad word in people's minds.) When election time comes around it's as though all that their candidates have to do is point at the opponent and shout "liberal" to win. They ride a wave of nationally-advanced propaganda convincing people to support "tort reform" or "tax relief." This has been going on for years, so at election time everything is laid out for them on a silver platter, with the public prepared and primed.

Progressive candidates, on the other hand, are generally on their own, starting from scratch for each election. Their general campaign begins in the late summer or fall, they have to decide what "issues" to run on, they have to develop a message from scratch, by themselves, and then they have to reach their voters from scratch. And they have to do all of this on their own in just a few months. No wonder conservatives, even with their awful "you're on your own" philosophy, have managed to do so well and gain so much traction.

This is why building up a national progressive advocacy infrastructure would leverage all of those campaign donations and help us build a sustainable progressive majority. A few dollars to progressive advocacy organizations on any given TODAY builds long-term support for every progressive candidate on any given TOMORROW. It provides leverage -- lowering the need for massive election-cycle funding.

The demise of Rockridge Institute demonstrates that the Democratic Party donor base hasn't yet gotten that message. Instead, masses of money have to be raised for candidates at the very last minute -- for example a million dollars in one minute, the day before the big Pennsylvania primary. And almost all of that money will just literally go up in the air to pay for TV ads that leave nothing behind to show for the money. They don't build the brand, they don't tell people about the benefits of progressive ideas, they don't help other candidates... But almost nothing for the Rockridges and Speak Out California's and Commonweal Institutes.

Please think about donating to help build a solid progressive infrastructure of organizations that will work year-round to help the public understand why progressive policies and candidate are better for them than the conservative solutions. This will help build a sustainable progressive majority in America. Please help these organizations grow. It's about building a progressive ecosystem that benefits all of us.


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Tax Cuts Make Us Poor

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Some years ago the corporate-funded anti-tax, anti-government advocates paid their way to become the dominant voice in our civil discourse. They said there was a magic, simple formula that would lead to shared prosperity. All we had to do was cut taxes, and everyone would have more money.

Everyone wants to have more money so this sounded wonderful. It is always a seductive argument to tell people that you have a magic formula that can make things better for them. One example is machines that create as much energy as they use -- or more. A common myth is that doctors are conspiring to hide the cure for cancer because it would put them out of business. Another is that there is a formula that turns water into gasoline -- or lead into gold.

"Just cut taxes, and we will all have more money." "Taxes take money out of the economy." "It's your money and you should decide how to spend it."

"But," some people asked, "where will the money come from to pay for our roads and schools and all the things that have made us so prosperous?" The seductive response from the tax-cutters was that government is an anonymous, incompetent, inefficient "them" that spends too much money that we could all have in our pockets, and if we just cut out waste everything would be all right. Just cut the waste.

The thing was, whenever one tried to pin them down on specifics of this waste they would never really explain where all that fat really was that they were going to cut -- at least not in quantities sufficient to match their tax cuts. Don't worry, put us in power, cut the taxes, and it will all sort itself out.

So eventually we fell for it and cut taxes and put the anti-government people in power. When we noticed that their tax cuts went mostly for corporations and the very rich, they said don’t worry, the money would trickle down to the rest of us. So we quieted down and waited for the magic to happen. When we noticed that the corporations and wealthy were getting richer and richer while we were losing our pensions and health insurance and jobs, they said don't worry, tax cuts make us richer. We still didn't understand that you and I and the regular people of California were not part of their "us" that would get richer.

The fact is the public officials that We, the People had elected had done competent jobs and there just wasn’t really much waste to cut. Why would there be? The people that we had elected had been good managers of our money. Democracy and accountability require open, transparent processes that the corporate anti-government, anti-tax advocates labeled as "inefficient bureaucracy." That was the waste they had been talking about - the oversight and transparency of good government! Our elected officials had put these systems in place and they had made sure there was no waste -- it was a myth.

Our government had been humming along, paving the roads, educating our children and investing in projects that led to modern wonders like the Internet. And we had been enjoying the resulting prosperity. California had the best public schools, colleges and universities in the country. We had the best roads, courts, parks, libraries, health care system, water projects and most innovative and open government and this investment had led to a thriving economic ecosystem.

So instead of cutting imaginary waste we started cutting out this engine of prosperity. We cut the schools and the road maintenance and everything else. The education system started getting worse and the roads and other infrastructure started deteriorating. California fell from first to near the bottom on many scales. Companies started leaving the state because of the deteriorating infrastructure and lower education levels.

Then when cutting our own services wasn't enough we borrowed money to cover those tax cuts and pay for what government was left. We borrowed and borrowed and borrowed. We were just like the homeowner who refinanced every year as prices went up it seemed like the gravy train would run forever.

Today the borrowing is catching up with us. As so many homeowners are learning to their dismay: borrowing means payments. And borrowing more means larger payments. In California the payments on our borrowing just happen to be pretty close to the amount of our budget shortfall. The same is true of the federal government.

Now we approach a day of reckoning for our tax cuts. The bill has to be paid, and the people who received the big tax cuts are pointing the finger at you and me. We can continue to cut out government and lay people off. We can continue to cram more and more children into classrooms with fewer and fewer teachers. We can have longer and longer lines at the DMV. We can close parks. We can have fewer police patrols and fire stations and ambulances and health and safety inspectors. We can just get poorer and poorer.

Or, we can start to close loopholes like the one that lets wealthy people avoid sales taxes on yachts and private jets while the rest of us pay sales taxes on everything we purchase. We can start to close loopholes like the one that lets oil companies pump our oil out of the ground without paying us and then sell our oil to us. We can start to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations who prosper because of the roads and financial and legal system we built, and whose taxes were cut leading to this mess. They need to stop simply taking and start paying their fair share. We can do these things and start to restore the thriving economic ecosystem we once had.


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Have you ever bought something online, had a problem, and tried to reach the company's customer support line? Could you even find a phone number to call? If there was a phone number to call did you reach a phone tree or a person? Were you on hold for a long time? If you ever did reach a human, was the person in the United States or did they at least speak English (or Spanish) clearly enough to be able to help you?

A local store employs people in your town, boosting the local economy. The local store either owns or pays rent for their space, which means they pay local taxes to support police and fire services and schools, etc. The local store has people who can help you when you have a problem.

But buying something from your local store usually costs a bit more. This is because they pay to have actual employees to help you, pay rent, pay to maintain a building, etc. And, finally, the goods cost a bit more because you have to pay sales taxes when you shop at your local store.

The state of California, in its wisdom, has chosen to provide a huge tax subsidy to anonymous internet businesses, at the expense of your local retailers. You pay sales taxes locally, but not online.

Shouldn't it be the other way around? Shouldn't the state want to promote local stores, local employment, local police and fire services, local schools and a prosperous local economy? Shouldn't the state be promoting a thriving local economic ecosystem? Instead the state provides a huge competitive advantage to anonymous internet businesses.

With a huge budget deficit, with the Governor calling for 10% across-the-board cuts in your children's schools, police patrols, fire protection, parks, and all the other things our state government does for us, the state still hands the anonymous internet businesses a huge competitive advantage over our local retailers by letting them no charge sales taxes.

You owe it to yourself and your local community to find out if YOUR Assemblymember or Senator supports a requirement that internet companies charge the same sales taxes as your local businesses charge.


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Hating On We, the People

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At Speak Out California, we have been writing quite a bit about democracy and about the meaning of the words "We, the People."

Decades of conservative/corporate marketing has convinced too many of us to think of ourselves as passive consumers rather than participatory citizens. This thinking has brought with it numerous negative consequences. But if we work to restore our understanding that WE are "the government" we can start to see our state and country the way the founders intended. We can see that we are in control and can make decisions that increase the benefits we receive as citizens.

In a recent post, The Power of the Words "We, the People", I wrote,

As an experiment, try substituting the words, "We, the People" every time you read or use the word "government." Or use the word "our" instead of "the" when you say "the government." Our government, us, we, the people.
Later in that post I wrote,
Conservatives have worked hard to make "government" a bad word. They complain about "big government." They complain about "government schools." But what happens when we substitute a form of "We, the People" into their slogans? The whole meaning seems to change.

With that in mind, lets take a look at an opinion column in April 2's Orange County Register by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal: California Focus: No tax loopholes merit closing. The column is your standard conservative anti-government screed, arguing against closing tax loopholes that benefit corporations and the very wealthy to solve the state's budget problems. It begins,
In recent weeks, Gov. Schwarzenegger, legislative leaders and the Legislative Analyst's Office have called for eliminating what they term "tax loopholes" to help close California's staggering $16 billion budget deficit.

But one person's loophole is another person's legitimate advancement of public policy. This is especially true with those tax credits or deductions that are both broad-based – benefiting large segments of society – and which result in a significant societal benefit.

The specific tax loopholes under discussion include one that allows the very rich to avoid paying sales tax on new yachts and private jets, while the rest of us have to pay. Another lets oil companies pump our oil out of the ground without paying the state, and then sell it back to us. Another lets sales over the internet go untaxed, giving them a competitive advantage over local businesses that pay rent for a storefront, employ sales clerks, etc.


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Justice For ... All?

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You hear a lot in the news about big corporate lawsuits. If you closely followed this week's business news, for example, you may have read about a jury ruling that Microsoft has to pay Alcatel-Lucent $367.4 million for violating patents. Imagine the money that must have gone into lawyers, research and experts -- even the copying bill must have been enormous. And these cases take months to hear.

There were also court rulings about the drug Prevacid, another covering dialysis machines, and many, many others.

All of them big-money corporate cases with millions, even billions of dollars at stake. These big companies have the money to take these cases to court.

But what if you or I need to go to court? Are we on an equal footing?

A recent issue of The Progressive States Network’s newsletter, Stateside Dispatch, says,

According to Access to Justice: Opening the Courtroom Door [PDF file] by the Brennan Center, federal funding for legal services in real dollars has declined dramatically over the last twenty-five years. In 2004, federally-funded programs turned away at least one person seeking help for each person served, leading to approximately one million cases per year being turned away due to lack of funding.
In fact, the Brennan Center report states that “most low-income individuals cannot obtain counsel to represent them in civil matters.” On top of that, government-funded legal aid services are now by-and-large prohibited from helping people when they are harmed by corporations.

What do you do if you are a regular person injured by a product, or denied a job because of your age, or defrauded out of money, or any of things that can happen to people? It used to be that a law firm might take the case based on a contingency fee, where they receive a percentage of any award resulting from your case. But more and more these fees are restricted or awards are "capped." So attorneys cannot afford to take your case. Even if you can find an attorney willing to take your case "pro bono" there is still the cost of research, depositions, expert witnesses, etc. to consider.

Is this fair? Is there anything more fundamental to our American concept of democracy than equal justice? Access to the courthouse is an example of democracy leveling the playing field and providing fairness. But we no longer have equal access. And this means we no longer have fairness.

So what can we do about this? First, we need to restore our own understanding of democracy and our individual stake in its preservation. We must all recognize that equal justice is a fundamental requirement of a democratic society. One reason this country was founded was to level the playing field between the rich and the poor. So we all need to demand equal treatment under the law.

In California we must demand a rollback of the "tort reform" measures that have taken away equal access to the courts and removed a regular person's ability to fight back when harmed by a big company. We must either remove the award "caps" and limits on attorney fees or implement a system of government funding for attorneys who represent regular people. Is there an alternative to these approaches that levels the playing field and lets regular people stand a chance against the big money of corporations and the wealthy? If there is I don't see it.


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The U.S. House will be considering the National Landscape Conservation System Act next week. This act will permanently recognize a conservation system that protects 26-million acres of our West's wildest lands. This includes California's Pacific Crest Trail.

This video, "Hidden Treasures of the American West," explains:

You can take action by visiting The Wilderness Society's Action page at: http://action.wilderness.org/campaign/nlcs_general


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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.


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This page is an archive of entries from April 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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