Friday, May 22, 2009

Symbolic Change...At A Seemingly Glacial Pace

Finally, a symbolic victory for change in the town best known for the murders of three civil rights workers back in 1964. Link from There is still a long way to go...

More Tough Economic News From Up North...

Let's hope these folks can find something...

From WEAU TV-13:

Hundreds of layoffs are moving from temporary to permanent at Jeld-Wen windows in Rusk County.

The company notified the state that 247 people will lose their jobs. The plant, in Hawkins, has been temporarily laying off workers since the start of the year.

Now Jeld-Wen says the slumping economy is forcing it to make the layoffs permanent since it can't bring the workers back within six months. The layoffs are effective in July.

The layoffs hit hard in Rusk County, where it has the highest unemployment rate in the state at more than 16%.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Amen Brother...

The Vice President is right. Congressional obstructionists need to realize that elections have consequences-the same things they have saying to us for the past eight years! Quit holding up EFCA! You lost and now it's time to get out of the way. Workers deserve, yes DESERVE, better treatment at the hands of their bosses and EFCA will level the playing field to a more even keel. Unions are what made America an economic engine for average people and we can get back there with a more robust union membership.

updated 1:14 p.m. CT, Tues., May 12, 2009

WASHINGTON - Vice President Joe Biden, making a renewed pitch for a major change in labor law, told union leaders Tuesday that the best way to rebuild the middle class is to help labor unions grow.

Biden said it's time to "level the playing field" for unions by passing a bill that would make it easier for workers to organize.

"You've got to climb up a hill with so many roadblocks on the way to organize that it's just out of whack," Biden told a conference of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has about 1.6 million members.

"If a union is what you want, then a union is what you should get," Biden said.

The Employee Free Choice Act — also known as "card check" — is organized labor's top priority this year, but business groups are adamantly opposed. It would allow a majority of workplace employees to sign cards to join a union instead of holding secret ballot elections.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Words Simply Cannot Describe...

What can you say about this?...absolutely amoral. So much for being the "party of life"...

From today's DailyKos:

Missouri GOP uses cancer center for leverage

"In a House Rules Committee hearing Monday, House Republican floor leader Steve Tilley amended the bill to strip Ellis Fischel [Cancer Center] of its funds. Tilley drafted the amendment after Democrats, including Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, walked out of the hearing after a spat over rules and procedures.

Republicans then voted 6-1 to wipe out Ellis Fischel's funds..."

In case that wasn't clear enough, what happened was that Democrats became upset over the way Republicans were running roughshod over procedure and walked out of a committee hearing. The Republicans then responded by taking away funding for a cancer center that happened to be in a Democratic district.

The system of stripping funds from institutions and projects in Democratic districts has become the standard means for Missouri's GOP majority to bludgeon Democrats into obedience. This isn't the first time that even medical facilities have been denied funds so that the Republicans can get the minority to sign away their every concern.

Fortunately, in this case Republicans were forced to put the money back after their maneuver got public attention. Though Tilley, the guy who jerked the cancer funds away, wasn't happy about it.

"On Monday, Tilley said he shouldn't have to defend Webber's district after the lawmaker walked out."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Congratulations to the Great State of Maine!

Earlier today, the governor of Maine, John Baldacci, signed a bill into law that allows for civil marriage rights to be conferred to same-sex couples. This makes Maine the fourth state in the union to recognize such marriages...and hopefully not the last.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Real People Need Help Now...Not Months From Now

It is stories like this that make the petty obstructionism of the Republicans in Congress on issues of health care, education, job training, and unemployment relief so Mickey Mouse and, dare I say, immoral... It also makes you appreciate all of the great work so many selfless individuals are doing to help others. If you can afford to, drop a local food pantry a donation.

From WEAU TV 13:

"I'm just thankful that it's here,” says Amanda Tew, standing in an aisle of the St. Francis Food Bank in Eau Claire.

Tew doesn't just work at there—She shops there, too.

"I have been looking for work since December and even with my work history and with one class shy of an associate's degree I can't find work," says Tew.

Since February, she's seen the need increase.

"Some days the line is out the door for quite awhile. Last week we had a line out the door for two hours at the beginning of the day. It's helping a lot of people right now,” says Tew. “They don't qualify for food stamps but still qualify here."

Tew says anyone making less than 1500 dollars a month, regardless of employment or family status, can get help at St. Francis Food Bank.

Chippewa County Economic Support Manager Mark Nelson says the number of people applying for state-run Food Share programs has skyrocketed 15 percent in the past two months.

"For all the factory closings that you see, we can almost predict how many people we'll see by how many get laid off,” says Nelson.

Nelson says 11, 333 people currently are enrolled in Badger Care or some other state assisted health program; the amount of people applying increased 20 percent over the past year. That’s around 20 percent of the population of Chippewa County. Not all the people on Badger Care are unemployed or lower income. Many people are middle income but do not have adequate health insurance through their own employer.

Eau Claire County has seen also seen a 12 percent increase in the past 6 months in people applying for Food Share, and many of them are first timers.

"You'd be surprised. It can happen to any one of us,” says Linda Struck at Eau Claire County Human Services.

Eau Claire County has seen a 23 percent increase in people applying for Badger Care in the past six months. Struck says the applicants come from all walks of life.

Those helping people in need say the economic downturn has done one good thing—It’s broken down some of the stigma of seeking public help.

"There's no reason to be embarrassed,” says Tew.

"You can apply online, or over the phone,” says Nelson. “That way they're not seen at the welfare office, so to speak.

More Area Layoffs

Bad news for west-central Wisconsin families and the economy. We're hoping these folks get back into the shop quickly...

From WEAU TV 13:

OEM Fabricators says it laid off more than 80 workers temporarily.

The company laid off 49 workers in Woodville, and 32 in Neillsville on April 30 and May 1. It says all the affected workers are expected to be recalled. OEM says workers in every department were affected, not just manufacturing. The company's H.R. Manager says it's because of declining demand for OEM’s customers' products. OEM makes steel components for several industries.

Simple Solution...And The Leader-Telegram Gets It Wrong

From the Eau Claire Leader Telegram Editorial Page: Pension, health guarantees are now impractical
(5-5-09) Analysis Below the Fold

"Our view: Many factors hurt car sales, but high "legacy costs" put domestic automakers at a huge disadvantage.

Everyone has their theories as to what led to the problems at Chrysler and General Motors, and to a lesser extent (so far) at Ford: short-sighted management, overly aggressive and inflexible unions, outrageous executive bonuses, high gas prices, more and better competition, the recession - or a combination of all of the above.

The blame game can go on forever, but it's not going to solve the problem at hand: saving U.S.-owned auto companies from extinction.

U.S. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., appearing Monday on CNBC, made a good point. He said as long as U.S. automakers spend 60 percent of their budgets on labor and 40 percent on materials to make better vehicles, and competitors spend 40 percent on labor and 60 percent on materials, the U.S. companies will lose.

If the recession has taught us anything, it's that pyramid schemes can't work forever. And frankly the guaranteed pensions autoworkers received are an example. The system works fine as long as the company they retired from has strong profits. But when the economy softens and people buy fewer new cars, the prior promises made to retirees can no longer be met.

That's why guaranteed pensions and health care benefits for life aren't viable, as nice as they are to have. Most employers now set aside a percentage of their workers' wages for retirement, which workers are encouraged to match with their own money. If the company is successful, they get more; if it isn't, they get less.

Wisely, a deal between Ford and the United Auto Workers to take effect next year will make retiree health care the UAW's responsibility. That will put Ford's labor costs much closer in line with its Japanese competitors.

Ridding domestic automakers of burdensome legacy costs should help level the playing field. Any other organizations - public or private - still operating under "guaranteed" retirement systems are courting disaster."

- Don Huebscher, editor

Now, there is one very obvious solution to this problem, but the conservatives who are lamenting the "legacy" costs and defined benefit pensions designed to provide security for workers that made the automobile manufacturing industry great will likely fight it tooth and nail: government provided or subsidized health care. So, people would rather complain than actually take proactive steps to take care of America's working families. We see this a lot in the editorial section of the Leader Telegram...

As far as forcing people into defined contribution programs (i.e. 401K)...that is simply unacceptable. People made life plans based on the guarantee of a defined benefits (pension) programs. You simply can't change the rules this late in the game--whether it jives with your political ideology or not. Conservatives need to embrace a government-sponsored health care system in order to bring solvency back to pension programs. Workers have sacrificed enough!

Definition of Insanity

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Sage advice...if followed. Perfect explanation for the latest GOP political move.

OK, seriously? Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is the man the Republicans want on point for the fight over President Obama's upcoming Supreme Court nomination? The same Republican party that has, according to many pols, become a regionalized party? The party that is currently on a re-branding tour of America to improve their image with, well, everyone but the most conservative American voters?

Probably not the best choice...

MSNBC, today, points out at that Sessions was nominated for a federal judgeship by President Reagan over twenty years ago, and subsequently turned down for several reasons pertaining to his attitudes regarding civil rights. The network cites sources that have accused Sessions of participating in "politically motivated" charges of voter fraud against African-American leaders while he was a U.S. Attorney in Southern Alabama. MSNBC also cites others who claimed to have heard Sessions refer to a white civil rights lawyer as a "disgrace to his race".

Probably not the best choice. However, if the GOP wants to continue wandering the political nether regions for the foreseeable future, then by all means they need to stick with this strategy. It appears that Republicans are more than content to continue charging the windmill that is changing American demographics--a decision that can only lead to more lost elections--and isolation from the majority of America.

General Grant once said, "“In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins.” Apparently that GOP is taking his advice. This is probably not the context he in which he would have offered it though...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Spewing Anti-Union Drivel

From 2 May 2009 Eau Claire Leader Telegram Editorial page:

Unions bleeding us dry

Unions appear to be fighting hard for the best interest of their membership while ignoring the country as a whole.

Many if not most companies have instituted wage freezes while unions simply say leave us alone - we have a legal contract. The spirit of worker rights and fair compensation that unions originally organized under was an attempt to bring dignity and a reasonable wage to workers in difficult jobs.

Why are these unions now putting their nose up to the rest of the country as people struggle to pay bills with less income per household? More importantly, the very idea of the federal government sanctioning the practice of guaranteed wages or we walk, often at the detriment of American-based companies, appears to have caused much damage to the American economy.


Eau Claire

Where to begin, where to begin... Apparently this writer does not understand the nature of the contractual concept. Companies enter into negotiated agreements with their employees. Both sides sign the agreement. It is a legally binding contract. What is so complicated about this concept??? Next negotiating cycle, attempt to get worker concessions. Until then, tough. This writer's argument is similar to allowing a bank to come in and change the interest terms of a 30-year fixed mortgage because the bank is experiencing financial difficulties. I suspect the writer would not be too happy about that...

Facts Can Be So Inconvenient

In the 2 May 2009 edition of the Eau Claire Leader Telegram's editorial page, an Eau Claire resident lamented government intervention in setting wages for executives of companies receiving TARP money.

"But now, Congress seems to have outdone itself in trying to right the previous wrong, and has passed the Pay for Performance Act of 2009. The bill aims to limit compensation at financial institutions receiving TARP funding. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described it this way: "The taxpayers now have an ownership stake in these companies. And owners of companies set salaries for their employees. Any company bent on paying its employees unreasonable and excessive compensation can do so after the American taxpayers get their money back."

But if the government can limit salaries of employees of companies receiving TARP funds, might they ever try to limit or retroactively confiscate "excessive" salaries of others whose income is even partially derived from tax dollars?"

Here's the problem with her argument: the government in Wisconsin HAS been setting wages for teachers since the QEO was established in the early 1990's. This is not something new, in fact, wage restriction is something that people like this have been arguing for re: teachers in area districts in recent months.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the law, the QEO allows district's to offer no more than 3.8% increases (pay and benefits together) if they so choose. Teachers are therefore the only employee group in the state that has their negotiating power clipped by government. I wonder if she would argue that teachers should have their true collective bargaining ability reinstated??? In today's political climate...I doubt it!

When economic times are good, let's restrict teacher wages.....when they're bad.....restrict teacher wages.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Michelle Bachmann, Really?

Historian Michele Bachmann Blames FDR's "Hoot-Smalley" Tariffs For Great Depression

By Eric Kleefeld - April 29, 2009, 11:08AM

"Make no mistake: When it comes to economics, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) knows her history -- even if that history is from another planet.

On Monday night, our friends at Dump Bachmann reported, Bachmann took to the House floor and paid tribute to the economic policies of Calvin Coolidge and the "Roaring 20s" (the era that ended with a massive monetary contraction and the Great Depression). One particular line really does stand out, though -- saying Franklin Roosevelt turned a recession into a depression through the "Hoot-Smalley" tariffs:

Here's what really happened: When Franklin Roosevelt took office, unemployment was already about 25%. And the tariff referred to here was actually the Smoot-Hawley bill, co-authored by Republicans Sen. Reed Smoot of Utah and Rep. Willis Hawley of Oregon, and signed into law by President Herbert Hoover."

Now, as a history teacher, this simply embarrasses me. This is something that one of my 15 year old U.S. History survey students would get right. I am hoping that she was simply using this for political points and not expecting anyone to fact check her. Dumb. Plain and simple.

Great call Minnesota! Winona State probably isn't in any hurry to publicize their alum's latest historical imaginative affectation. Her behavior reminds me of an observatory quote about Union General George McClellan during the Civil War. It was something along the lines of that he had the rare ability to realize hallucinations. That's her to a tee...

General Motors Cutting 21,000 Jobs

I want to take a moment to express solidarity with the 21,000 of our union brothers and sisters losing their jobs as a result of General Motors cuts. We're hoping for the best for you.

Locally, I also want to express my regret that Weather Shield is shuttering it's Greenwood, WI plant; disrupting the lives of 190 workers and their families. This is most unwelcome news for Clark County, whose unemployment rate rose to 11.5% in March (Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development).

Additionally, Hutchinson Technology (HTI) has announced that it is laying off an additional 50 employees at the Eau Claire, WI plant. This comes on the heels of significant earlier cuts in employees. Once again, the deeply painful impact of this cut will be felt by workers, their families, and the metro area which is now suffering through a 8.7% unemployment rate (up from 4.8% this time last year) (WI DWD).

Justice Souter's Retirement Presents an Opportunity

I, for one, would like to see President Obama nominate Wisconsin's very own Senator Russ Feingold for the soon to be open Supreme Court vacancy. Feingold has proven himself, time and again, to be a supporter of progressive ideals, constitutional limits on government, and a friend of labor. He would make an outstanding Supreme Court justice.

Ridiculous Propagada Against EFCA

Absolutely shameless. An unnamed company with an unspecified $50 million project. Give me a break. Looks like anti-union smears to me.

From the Eau Claire Leader Telegram (3/26/09)

Economic director: Bill stalls large local project

By Leader-Telegram staff

Proposed federal labor legislation has derailed a large Eau Claire County development, according to a local economic development official.

The project - for which no name or description was given - would have brought a $50 million investment to Eau Claire County in the next five years, along with creating up to 800 full-time jobs, Brian Doudna, executive director of the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp., said in a news release Wednesday evening. Construction was expected to begin this year. The first employees were to begin work in early 2010, with about 100 new jobs being created.
The project has been placed on hold indefinitely because of the Employee Free Choice Act, federal legislation that would require binding arbitration to resolve contract disputes and make it easier for workers to join unions. The bill has been introduced in the House and Senate.
The bill would require binding arbitration if management and a union cannot agree on a first contract. It also would allow a majority of employees at a company to organize by signing cards - a change from the current practice that allows employers to mandate secret-ballot elections - and boost penalties for retaliation against workers seeking to organize.

Doudna said if the bill is approved, the project will not occur - at least not in the U.S.
"While debating topics and issues are an important part of the U.S. political process, our ability to grow, retain and recruit jobs to our marketplace is now being impacted," he said.
"Proposed federal and state legislation, as shown by this company's decision, can impact location decisions and limit the private sector's ability to create quality jobs for Eau Claire area residents. This is especially disappointing given the condition of our current national, regional and local economies."

Doudna could not be reached for further comment Wednesday evening.
Bob McCoy, president of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, said the government essentially is stopping growth in the Chippewa Valley.

"I think it's one of those situations when the state starts trying to generate additional revenue or put certain criteria on business, it can reverse itself," he said. "There's a potential for the Employee Free Choice Act, and (businesses) can't afford those types of consequences.
"If we want to grow our economy, we can't continue to grow our government. If you start causing businesses to have more costs and expenses, they have to cut back."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.