Thursday, March 29, 2007

Wal-Mart Walks Away

Good news for New York City - Wal-Mart is picking up it's ball and going home. From the New York Times:
Frustrated by a bruising, and so far unsuccessful battle to open its first discount store in the nation's largest city, Wal-Mart's chief executive said yesterday, "I don't care if we are ever [in New York City]."

H. Lee Scott Jr., the chief executive of the nation's largest retailer, said that trying to conduct business in New York was so expensive - and exasperating - that "I don't think it's worth the effort."

Mr. Scott's remarks, delivered at a meeting with editors and reporters of The New York Times, amounted to a surprising admission of defeat, given the company's vigorous efforts to crack into urban markets and expand beyond its suburban base in much of the country. In recent years, Wal-Mart has encountered stout resistance to its plans to enter America's bigger cities, which stand as its last domestic frontier.
And Lee has a childish explanation for why Wal-Mart has failed in New York City:
But as Mr. Scott sees it, there is another reason Wal-Mart has such a hard time making inroads into some of the nation's biggest enclaves. Speaking about what he sees as snobbish elites in New York and across the country, Mr. Scott added, "You have people who are just better than us and don't want a Wal-Mart in their community."
Or maybe it's Wal-Mart's poverty wages. It could be Wal-Mart's policy of pushing workers onto public assistance instead of providing real benefits. It's definitely the way Wal-Mart uses its size to undercut local businesses and drive them under to eliminate competition. Don't forget the gender-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart. There's also Wal-Mart's punitive sick leave policies where a worker can be fired for taking care of a sick child. Frankly, when you're talking about reasons to not want Wal-Mart in your community, it's a pretty long list.

So here's some free advice to Mr. Scott : instead of sticking your head in the sand and insulting potential customers because they won't shop at your store, try treating your employees decently.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Two More Nassau Election Wins

There were two special elections in Nassau County yesterday, one for State Assembly to fill Tom DiNapoli's seat and one for County Legislature to fill Craig Johnson's seat.

The Working Families-endorsed candidate won both races, and the WFP was the biggest third party in each race.

Here are the results:

Assembly District 16
Candidate NamePartyResultsCandidate Total
Michelle SchimelD4,735
Michelle SchimelI243
Michelle SchimelW4065,384
Ryan D DeCiccoR899899

County Legislator District 11
Candidate NamePartyResultsCandidate Total
Wayne WinkD2,539
Wayne WinkI135
Wayne WinkW1982,872
Louis F ChisariR513
Louis F ChisariC86599

Congratulations to our two new elected officials, the Nassau County Working Families Chapter, and everyone else who worked hard on these campaigns!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

In The News: Family Leave Insurance

The March 2007 American Prospect has a special report titled "Mother Load: Why Can't America Have a Family-Friendly Workplace?" The need for Family Leave Insurance is a running theme in the various articles. Here's a sample:

From The Architecture of Work and Family:
Although it was a critical first step, the [Family and Medical Leave Act] is fairly meager . . . the fact that the FMLA is unpaid renders it moot for large numbers of workers.
From What About Fathers?:
Although U.S. family-leave programs like the Family and Medical Leave Act have increased available options, because they are unpaid and available to only those working in large firms, they have not substantially relieved the burden on working fathers and mothers.
From Responsive Workplaces:
Many employers that offer workplace flexibility say that these practices improve their bottom line -- and research bears them out, in the form of fewer employee absences, lower health-care costs, and higher rates of worker retention.
. . .
Paid leave and supports such as child care carry costs, but these costs come with benefits, too. Paid sick days prevent contagion, paid family leave significantly enhances retention, and child care can improve worker productivity.
. . .
So, if family-friendly practices are good for business, are most employers offering paid family leave and child care? Far from it. Only 8 percent of workers in the private sector get these assistance programs from their bosses.
. . .
Some state and local governments have taken the lead in moving private employers forward. In California, a new law relies on the state's temporary disability insurance program to fund up to six weeks of paid family medical leave, with wages replaced at 55 percent of salary up to a cap.
Working Families aims to make New York the next state to offer Family Leave Insurance. Family Leave Insurance has gone a long way toward making workplaces more family-friendly in the countries that have implemented it. Which is to say, almost all of them - the US is one of just 5 countries in the world without Family Leave Insurance.

We can implement Family Leave Insurance by expanding New York's Temporary Disability Insurance program to also cover family needs. Workers would receive 12 weeks of benefits to care for a newborn or newly adopted child or for a seriously ill family member. This is a solution whose time has come.

Tell your Assemblymember to be part of the solution.

Got questions? Check our page of Frequently Asked Questions.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

Budget Deadline Draws Near

New York is still headed toward a late budget after a weekend of negotiations. From Newsday:
With the state budget due in a week, negotiators for Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the Assembly and Senate majorities failed to reach critical agreements Sunday.

Closed-door talks will continue Monday. All sides agreed a deal will have to be struck early in the week to leave enough time to print budget bills and approve them in both chambers to pass an on-time budget. The budget is due Sunday, April 1.
Education and health care are the main sticking points. Instead of forcing a choice between these two top priorities, we need to expand the debate. 44,000 New York taxpayers have yearly incomes over $1 million. Together, they take in more than New York's entire middle class. It's time for a sane discussion of taxes.

Maria Lisella is one of the people helping start that discussion, with a letter printed in the Sunday "Voice of the People" section of the Daily News:
New York is a wealthy state, but you'd never know it to listen to debates over the state budget. Instead of arguing over education vs. health care, both essential services, there's a better way: For every $500,000 you earn, you're taxed one day's pay (about .4% of your income). Make $1 million, be taxed two days' pay. Lucky enough to make $2.5 million per year? You're taxed a week's salary. We could put in a cap when salary reached $10 million. This plan would let Spitzer make good on property tax reductions and increased school funding and do health care reform right by covering everyone with no exceptions.
Right on.

Write your own letter.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Pew Study Finds Income Inequality Rising

A major study by the Pew Research Center looking at "political values and core attitudes" over the past 20 years finds that working families are having a hard time making ends meet (via Working For Us PAC). From the summary:
More broadly, the poll finds that money worries are rising. More than four-in-ten (44%) say they "don't have enough money to make ends meet," up from 35% in 2002. While a majority continues to say they are "pretty well satisfied" with their personal financial situation, that number is lower than it has been in more than a decade.
The stark difference between people who can't make ends meet and people who are pretty well satisfied shows the growing income inequality in our society. More on that:
In addition, an increasing number of Americans subscribe to the sentiment "today it's really true that the rich just get richer while the poor get poorer." Currently, 73% concur with that sentiment, up from 65% five years ago. Growing concerns about income inequality are most apparent among affluent Americans; large percentages of lower-income people have long held this opinion.
This issue is playing out in the state budget fight going on in Albany. Our elected officials are fighting over essential services like schools and health care, but left out of the equation are the superrich. As long as that's the case, they are the ones who will keep winning the debate.

Read our solution.

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

New York's State Budget

April 1st is not just for fools. It's also the day the New York State budget is due.

The state budget is likely to be late because of the Governor's decision to force a choice between health care and education.

We shouldn't have to choose between these two top priorities. 44,000 New York taxpayers have yearly incomes over $1 million - that's over $20,000 a week. Instead of fighting over a shrinking pool of resources, the wealthiest among us must pay their fair share in taxes.

Here's our idea: One day's pay for every half-million.

For every $500,000 you earn, you pay one day's pay in taxes (about 0.4 percent of your income). Make $1 million, that's two days pay. Lucky enough to make $2.5 million per year? That's five days' pay, or a week's salary. And you still have another 51 weeks at $50,000 per week to get that $2.5 million. We can cap the number of days when we get to $10 million.

This proposal would let us reduce property taxes for working families, increase school funding, and provide everyone - no exceptions! - with health care.

Help put this idea in the papers by writing a Letter to the Editor on the state budget.

And be sure to let us know if your Letter to the Editor gets published.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Decency and Tolerance Win In Suffolk County

Last night, Working Families suceeded in defeating proposed anti-immigrant legislation in the Suffolk County Legislature by a vote of 10 to 6.

Hopefully this win signals the beginning of a change in political discourse. Here's Brian Schneck, Co-Chair of the Suffolk Chapter of Working Families:
"The tide is turning in Suffolk County . . . After several years of grandstanding politicians riding a wave of anti-immigrant animus, people are starting to return to their senses. Common-sense values of decency and tolerance prevailed last night.
. . .
Legislators need to know that working families are looking for real solutions to the problems facing us here on Long Island, not useless political grandstanding.
. . .
There are many victims of our nation's inadequate immigration policies, as well as the failure of government to enforce labor laws. But this bill only fueled the flames of misunderstanding and intolerance."
Working Families organized opposition to the bill, including:
  • A public letter to the bill's sponsor, Jack Eddington, that said that support for the bill would be a factor in the party's endorsement process.
  • Robocalls to constituents of undecided legislators that connected them directly to their legislators to register opposition.
  • Grassroots lobbying of swing legislators, including in-person visits and phone calls.
  • Bringing members to testify against the bill at public hearings and press conferences.
  • Mobilizing opposition from progressive and labor allies.
Our thanks to the 10 legislators who voted "no":
  1. Kate Browning
  2. John Kennedy, Jr
  3. Thomas Barraga
  4. Steven Stern
  5. Louis D'Amaro
  6. William Lindsay
  7. Jon Cooper
  8. Ricardo Montano
  9. Vivian Viloria-Fisher
  10. Elie Mystal
Congratulations and thanks to everyone who made calls, came to speak at legislative hearings, lobbied swing legislators, and a special congratulations to Brian Schneck, Michele Lynch, Regina Corby-Graham, Bill Page and Susan Steinmann, as well as affiliates UAW, SEIU 32BJ, Laborers Union, LIPC and UNITE HERE for all your hard work against this bill!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Suffolk Votes on Anti-Immigrant Bill

Debate has started in the Suffolk County Legislature on proposed anti-immigrant legislation, with a vote scheduled for tonight. Last Thursday, the Suffolk County Legislature's Public Safety committee voted 4-3 to advance the bill out of committee.

Working Families oppose this bill, and, in addition to our grassroots organizing against it, we've gone into the field with a robocall in the districts of four swing legislators. Our robocall calls the bill what it is - meaningless political grandstanding that won't help workers and won't help our communities. The robocall ends with the option for people to call their county legislator.

More on this as it develops.

Update: We won! Only six votes for the anti-immigrant bill, they needed 10. More in the morning, but I wanted to share the good news.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Tonight at Tweed

200 parents from the Put the Public Back in Public Education Coalition will attend tonight's Panel for Educational Policy meeting at the Tweed Courthouse to call on Chancellor Klein to listen to the public and stop the reorganization of the New York City's schools.

The public wants fair funding, accountability and quality teaching in all schools. But Chancellor Klein refuses to listen as he moves forward with a proposal that won't accomplish those goals. Instead, we're getting more internal reorganization of the org chart and chaos for parents, teachers and students.

Coalition for Education Justice parent leader Lenore Brown asks the question,
"Why not follow the lead of City Council Speaker Chris Quinn on middle grades and establish a task force composed of key stakeholders to examine best practice from around the country, hear testimony from parents, students, and teachers, and come up with a widely agreed upon and comprehensive plan to, once and for all, transform public education in New York City?"
Tonight's protest comes after a Quinnipiac poll found widespread public dissatisfaction with how parents have been shut out of New York City's schools (via the Politicker). The key numbers:
Voters disapprove 43 - 33 percent of the job Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is doing.
This poll and tonight's protest both show a continuing and clear desire for the public to have a say in how our public schools are run.

Mayor Bloomberg, are you listening?

Sign the petition.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

How Many Sides In Iraq's Civil War?

That's the question raised by a Pentagon report on Iraq:
The war in Iraq has been characterized by fighting between the majority Shiite Muslim sect and the minority Sunni Muslims, who were in power under Saddam Hussein's regime.

But the report also cites Shiite-on-Shiite violence; al Qaeda and Sunni insurgent attacks on coalition forces, and "widespread criminally motivated violence" as features that complicate the designation of civil war.
So Shiites are fighting Shiites, Shiites are fighting Sunnis, Sunnis are fighting us and violent crime is running rampant. Why are our troops left in the middle of this? It's time to bring them home.

Email your Representative.

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Working Families Oppose Anti-Immigrant Bill

Working Families is fighting proposed anti-immigrant legislation in the Suffolk County Legislature. Suffolk County Working Families Chapter Co-Chair Brian Schneck called out the bill's supporters,
"Legislators need to know that working families are looking for real solutions to the problems facing us here on Long Island, not useless political grandstanding,"
The Suffolk County legislature's Public Safety committee is meeting today for a public hearing on the bill, at which we'll distribute a letter opposing the bill signed by us and SEIU Local 32BJ, UNITE HERE, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Asbestos Lead & Hazardous Waste Laborers Local 78 and Mason Tenders/Demolition Laborers Local 79.

Here's the letter:
Dear Legislator:

As affiliates of the Working Families Party, we write to register our strong opposition to Intro. Res. No.1022-2007, the so-called anti-soliciting bill. This legislation is the worst kind of political grandstanding: it exploits anti-immigrant animus while accomplishing exactly nothing of value.

The net effects of Res No. 1022 would be to (1) move day laborers from county highways to local roads, (2) score political points for its proponents with rabid nativists, (3) hurt labor’s ability to hold collective job actions, and (4) possibly infringe on the civil liberties of New Yorkers engaged in grassroots political activity.

The congregation of day laborers raises real problems. This bill solves none of them. Constructive solutions like regulated work centers would.

As affiliates of the political party to which the bill's co-sponsor belongs, we are particularly galled that this legislation is now being associated with Working Families.

Comments by the bill's prime sponsor, Legislator Eddington, make clear the intent of the legislation:
Eddington . . . told reporters that the problems of rising taxes and illegal immigration were "two sides of the same coin," and warned illegal immigrants, "You better beware." "If you're here in Suffolk County illegally, you will not stay here," Mr. Eddington said. "If you are on the street looking for work and causing unsafe conditions, you will not stay. Suffolk County residents will not be victimized anymore."
There are many victims of our nation's inadequate immigration policies, as well as the failure of government to enforce labor laws. But this bill only fuels the flames of misunderstanding and intolerance.

We've got a good chance of beating this bill, Newsday runs down the vote count. More on this as it develops.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

To Do Health Care Right, Rich Must Be Taxed

I want to share an op-ed in today's Albany Times-Union from Working Families State Co-Chair Bob Master and Executive Director Dan Cantor:
A lot of things happen in Albany, but the most central is the state budget. It's through the budget that our elected leaders discuss and decide what's important. What do we favor, and who should pay for it? That's the real meaning of the budget document.

Gov. Spitzer's budget proposal has a lot of good stuff in it: Education funding. Better allocation of economic development funds. Expansion of health care programs for children and the poor.

But there are two big problems. The first is the health care cuts. And the second is an unwillingness to raise taxes on the superrich.

On the health care side, there is cause for praise as well as blame. The new governor's commitment to clear away the bureaucratic obstacles that keep hundreds of thousands of eligible New Yorkers off Medicaid is a major step forward. Unfortunately, while Spitzer is extending health coverage with one hand, he is yanking away a lifeline from the state's hospitals and nursing homes with the other.

No one denies that New York's health care system is in need of reform. No doubt, some of New York's aging hospitals have not kept pace with social and technological change. But fixing a system as vital and complex as New York's health care system takes the delicate tools of a surgeon. The governor's budget proposal applies a sledgehammer.

The second problem with the budget is closely connected to the first. New York is a state of fabulous wealth, but you wouldn't know it to listen to our budget debates.

Every year, we are whipsawed between the need for public goods and essential services -- that's what schools and health care are, after all -- and the equally powerful want for reduced taxes. In an age of stagnant wages for the middle and working class, a tax cut is one of the few ways people can get a little more money.

Left out of the equation are the rich. They are the ones who actually keep winning this debate, because they depend less on the public goods and services that go underfunded, and make out like bandits from counterproductive tax cuts at the state and federal level.

Take a breath and consider this: There are approximately 44,000 New York taxpayers with incomes more than $1 million a year -- that means they earn more than $20,000 per week. They claim an astonishing $225 billion each year, a full quarter of all income in the state. In other words, this elite club takes in more than New York's entire middle class, the 2.5 million households earning between $50,000 and $150,000 a year. The inequality in wealth that results is even more astonishing.

Some people may say this is the natural result of a vibrant free-market economy. But others know it is the result of political and social choices -- specifically, the retreat from fair taxes, and the retreat from any sense that enough is enough when it comes to the rich. Unfortunately, the case for fair taxes is seldom a political winner, so the extremely wealthy become the eternally wealthy, and we are forced to choose between funding education or funding health care.

It's time for a sane discussion of taxes. Here's an idea to start that discussion: One day's pay for every half-million.

For every $500,000 you earn, you give back to New York -- because that's all taxes are -- one day's pay (about 0.4 percent of your income). Make $1 million, give back two days pay. Lucky enough to make $2.5 million per year? That's five days' pay, or a week's salary. But remember, you still have another 51 weeks at $50,000 per week to get that $2.5 million. We can cap the number of days when we get to $10 million.

This proposal would produce more than $11 billion in revenue. That would let us do health care reform right (cover everyone, no exceptions), pay off some bonds and still let the governor make good on property tax reduction and school funding.

Spitzer's first budget proposal suggests he'll be a good governor. If he backs off his misguided health spending cuts and his unwise no-new-taxes commitment, he'll be a great one.
Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Hold Democrats' Feet to the Fire

Iraq is in utter chaos. It's a civil war, with American troops caught in the crossfire. The Bush Doctrine of "preemptive war" was morally and strategically stupid, and the dead and wounded are the visible result of his hubris. It's past time for the Democrats running Congress to force Bush to change strategy and bring the troops home.

This war won't end until Congress uses its power of the purse to limit the use of funds to protecting our troops' safety and bringing them home. Non-binding resolutions are not enough. And it's a mistake to continue to let Bush and Cheney have their way.

Last month, the House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution opposing George Bush's plan to escalate American involvement in Iraq. Next up: A vote on funding for the war. Democrats want to take a baby step forward, Working Families is pushing them to do better and do the right thing for our troops.

Tell your U.S. Representative to limit the use of funds to protecting our troops' safety and bringing them home now.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

House Dem's Supplemental Made Public

Talking Points Memo has posted the House Democrats' Leadership Bill for the supplemental budget. The short version is it includes a deadline for bringing the troops home, but doesn't have the teeth to make it stick. From TPM:
House leaders will argue that the bill does do its job, because it declares the war illegal beyond a certain date. But liberal House sources say this removed language was critical in ending the war in practice, because it would enforce the war's end with the power of the purse rather than requiring a trip to court to force an end to the war should Bush insist on keeping it going in defiance of the legislation.
If this is the best the House is willing to pass right now, it's not enough. We need to keep pushing, and they need to do better. It's past time for Congress to limit the use of funds to protecting our troops' safety and bringing them home now.

Email your Representative

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Bistricer Back From the Dead?

We called it a temporary victory, and now David Bistricer and Clipper Equities LLC are trying to resurrect their proposal to buy Starrett City and turn it into luxury condos. From Crain's (no link):
Starrett City bidder makes last-ditch pitch
Clipper says plan ensures low rents; foes want Mitchell-Lama protected

The prospective buyer of Starrett City is making a last-ditch effort to save its bid for the Brooklyn housing complex . . .

But housing officials and politicians - many of whom came under fire for failing to block the recent $5 billion sale of affordable housing complexes Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village - have condemned the deal. They blast Mr. Bistricer's record, citing thousands of violations at his other properties. They also say the price tag, which amounts to $221,000 a unit, makes no economic sense unless the buildings are turned into luxury residences.

"It will be impossible for someone paying this price not to convert the units into high-priced rentals or ritzy condominiums," Sen. Charles Schumer observed in a statement recently.
More as the situation develops.

Sign the petition.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Release: Working Families Determined to Press for Yonkers Living Wage Law

For immediate release: March 11, 2007

Working Families Determined to
Press for Yonkers Living Wage Law

Expressing “disappointment” at Mayor Phil Amicone’s veto of the Living Wage Law passed by the Yonkers City Council, Patrick Welsh, chairman of Westchester-Putnam Working Families, announced today his party’s determination to continue to press for a law on behalf of low-wage workers.

“We take literally the Mayor’s statement that 'the notion of a locally mandated living wage is certainly a creditable concept,’” Welsh said, “and we look forward to working with him and the City Council toward that end. We are driven by the belief that it is immoral to use city funds – taxpayer dollars – to pay workers wages that keep them in poverty. Moreover, we know from the experience of more than 140 other localities that living wage laws are good for the economy.”

Welsh specifically disputed Amicone’s contention that a living wage law would make it almost impossible to settle fair labor agreements with the city’s municipal unions. “Our brothers and sisters in the uniformed services and other unions deserve a raise, but so do people making $6.00 and $7.00 an hour,” Welsh stated. “Nobody can live on those salaries.”

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Van Down By The River

Mixing funny and depressing, here's a Gothamist post about one man's affordable housing alternative - namely living in a van:
When you realize that the $1300 you're forking over for rent results in an apartment the size of a shoebox, where are you to turn? In the case of a Brooklyn man, you buy a bread truck.
Of course, even that wasn't entirely affordable:
They were unable to settle in Manhattan because it was too difficult to find parking.
So, basically, a guy living in a parking space got priced out of Manhattan.


Sign the petition.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Time for a Progressive Income Tax?

Property values are shooting through the roof, which means the property tax burden is weighing more heavily on working class families. So it's no surprise that a Marist Poll released today of Dutchess and Ulster Counties found that:
"65% think [school] funding should be based on the state's income tax to achieve a more equitable contribution among taxpayers."
This poll is another demonstration that the public is ready to replace the school property tax with a progressive income tax. It's time for legislators who are serious about reforming our school funding mechanism to look at a progressive income tax as the solution.

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Grandstanding in Suffolk

The Suffolk Working Families Chapter sent this letter to Suffolk County Legislator Jack Eddington today by fax (631-854-1403) and email (
The Hon. Jack Eddington
90 W. Main St - Suite 2N
Patchogue, NY 11772

Dear Legislator Eddington:

We write to register our strong opposition to Intro. Res. No. 1022-2007, the so-called anti-soliciting bill. This legislation is the worst kind of political grandstanding: it exploits anti-immigrant animus while accomplishing exactly nothing of value.

The net effects of Res No. 1022 would be to (1) move day laborers from county highways to local roads, (2) score political points for its proponents with rabid nativists, (3) hurt organized labor's ability to hold collective job actions, and (4) possibly infringe on the civil liberties of New Yorkers engaged in grassroots political activity.

The congregation of day laborers raises real problems. Your bill solves none of them. Constructive solutions like regulated work centers would.

As leaders of the political party to which you belong, we are particularly galled that your legislation is now being associated with Working Families.

Your quotations in the New York Times leave no secret of the bill's aim:
Eddington . . . told reporters that the problems of rising taxes and illegal immigration were "two sides of the same coin," and warned illegal immigrants, "You better beware." "If you're here in Suffolk County illegally, you will not stay here," Mr. Eddington said. "If you are on the street looking for work and causing unsafe conditions, you will not stay. Suffolk County residents will not be victimized anymore."
Your terrorizing rhetoric is embarrassing. There are many victims of our nation's inadequate immigration policies, as well as the failure of government to enforce labor laws. But congratulations to you for joining the ranks of the perpetrators.

Unless you withdraw Res. No. 1022-2007, it is very unlikely that you will receive the endorsement of Working Families' Suffolk chapter for your 2007 re-election bid.


Brian Schneck, Co-Chair
Suffolk County Chapter of the Working Families Party
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Labor Matters

This chart was published in today's Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Counting the Cost at Home

Time for a quick quiz: How many days of current military spending would it take to expand health care coverage to every child and pregnant woman in the U.S.?

Answer in the comments.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Mayor Bloomberg, Please Listen

Mayor Bloomberg was busy this weekend responding to frustrated parents who want a say in their kid's education and the city's latest school reorganization. From the New York Times:
The Bloomberg administration has been battered with criticism over its handling of the schools in recent weeks, from parents irate over midyear changes to school bus routes and from a coalition of elected officials and parent and community groups who say they were not sufficiently consulted about plans to further restructure the school system.
We're already making progress in bringing the Mayor to the table. From the Daily News:
Since he was reelected in 2005, Bloomberg has had few Sunday events other than parades. For a mayor who has staked much of his legacy on turning around city schools, his appearance at New Jerusalem and Mount Moriah AME Church in St. Albans came after a rough week.

Last week, more than 1,000 parents and activists rallied against the Education Department's reorganization plans and complained their opinions are being ignored.
And even Chancellor Klein is finding it harder to downplay parents' concerns. From a Daily News interview with the Chancellor:
[Klein:] "That said, I know we need to do a better job. Many parents have completely legitimate concerns, and we need to hear those more clearly. I want someone to be able to report directly to me so that if parents believe something isn't working, we hear it and respond to it at the highest levels."
But parents won't be satisfied until we're heard. From the New York Post:
[Bloomberg's] comments about reforming the schools were met with lukewarm applause.
And we need to keep speaking out, or else we won't get a say. From NY1:
So despite whatever confusion there might be, this reorganization plan is moving ahead full steam with schools expected to choose within the next two months their path for September.
The public wants a say in what goes on in New York City schools, and we'll continue to mobilize until we're heard. Parents are ready to talk. Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, please listen.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

A Temporary Victory for Affordable Housing

We won a temporary victory last week when U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Alfonso Jackson rejected the proposed sale of Starrett City to David Bistricer and Clipper Equities LLC. From their proposal to pay almost a quarter of a million dollars per apartment, it was no secret that Bistricer and Clipper Equities planned to make money on the deal by throwing out the working families that live in Starrett City now and converting their homes to luxury condos.

Done enjoying the moment? Good, because one shot victories won't cut it, and there's still a lot of work in front of us. We need a long term plan to protect affordable housing in New York.

Making that point, the current owners of Starrett City are threatening to do an end run around the tenants and take Starrett City out of federal and state affordable housing programs. Bistricer might be out of the picture, but his plan lives on. From the New York Times:
The current owners, Starrett City Associates, are likely to leave the federal and state housing programs, much as Mr. Bistricer would do, according to real estate executives.
If we're going to secure New York's affordable housing, we need to start with the state legislature passing the Save Starrett City Law, which would protect nearly 65,000 Mitchell-Lama apartments, including those at Starrett City. The problem's getting worse, but it's still a problem we can solve.

If you haven't already, sign the Working Families petition for Affordable Housing.

More soon.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

It's a Drumbeat

Is it full crisis mode at City Hall?

Wednesday's massive Working Families public schools rally forced Mayor Bloomberg to preemptively rush out with a new parental engagement staffer at the Department of Education.

Chancellor Klein reacted to the rally by performing an ostrich-like maneuver, planting his head firmly in the sand:
"I don't accept your numbers," said Klein. "There were about a thousand people but there weren't many parents there. And I've met more parents in these last months to talk about these issues."
Klein's mood won't be improved by reading Andrew Wolf's column in the almost-always supportive NY Sun:
The Working Families Party and the teachers union president, Randi Weingarten, a powerful influence in Albany, have formed a coalition of local elected officials - including Comptroller William Thompson Jr., a possible 2009 mayoral hopeful, and a bevy of City Council members - that is calling for an education overhaul of its own making. Although not all in the group are seeking a complete rollback of mayoral control, many say the system needs to change drastically.
or from this piece of friendly-fire from the Charter Schools Association:
People are indeed fuming. I've been getting emails from all sorts of people who attended this week's Working Families Party/UFT rally, most of whom are arguing that dismissing the collective anger as the mere political work of the unions isn't doing the frustrations justice. Even the Bloomberg administration, which from day one has proudly thumbed its nose at any suggestion that public support is necessary in school reform, seems to understand the gravity of what is playing out right now.
All this prompted Daily News columnist Bill Hammond to blog late today: "How far [h]as the worm turned on mayoral control of New York City's public schools?"

It doesn't have to be this way. All parents want is a seat at the table. They're ready to talk; they just need Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein to agree to listen.

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What Do 1,500 People Look Like?

If you came to the Working Families rally for public schools Wednesday night then you know the answer to that question.

And if you weren't at St. Vartan's Cathedral Wednesday night then you missed seeing 1,500 parents, teachers and students gather with elected officials to voice their growing frustration with the recently announced reorganization of New York City's schools and a lack of voice in how decisions in the schools are made.

Over the course of the night we heard from a lot of great speakers. While there were to many for me to quote them all, here are a few that stuck in my head. United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten talked about the need to engage the community:
"I hope that tonight we will help the Department of Education learn that both the creation of good policy and the execution of it are achieved by engaging people who have a stake in the outcome. The people gathered here tonight care deeply about our schools. We can help make our schools better and stronger if we are given the chance."
Chancellor's Parent Advisory Council Chair Tim Johnson explained the high turnout:
"Parents have turned out in record numbers tonight because parent organizations have been systematically disenfranchised and treated with contempt by this administration. Parents need to be welcomed and respected throughout the school-system bureaucracy."
Though it came as no surprise, one person who didn't come was Mayor Bloomberg. From Working Families Party Co-Chair Bertha Lewis:
"Once again, they got the whole thing backward . . . If they were serious about engagement, they would have come here tonight, listened to what these people had to say, and engaged them in the process of developing a plan to make things better."
New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. laid out the challenge going forward:
"We owe it to the people gathered here tonight to hear their concerns and do our best to make sure the Department of Education hears them. We know that schools don’t work unless parents, teachers and students are all involved, engaged and committed. We need to get this right."
The topics that people wanted to talk about included:
  • lack of engagement with parents, students and teachers
  • excessive focus on restructuring and lack of focus on instruction
  • restoring the balance between teaching and testing
  • the need for smaller, safer classes
  • making sure the Campaign for Fiscal Equity funds are spent on programs to improve academic achievement.
Here are some pictures from the night, head over to the WFP flickr account for even more.

WFP Public Schools Rally

WFP Public Schools Rally

WFP Public Schools Rally

WFP Public Schools Rally

WFP Public Schools Rally

WFP Public Schools Rally

WFP Public Schools Rally

WFP Public Schools Rally

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Why We Fight: Employee Free Choice Act

Yesterday, the U.S House of Representatives passed the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would restore workers' freedom to form unions so they can unite to bargain for better pay and benefits for themselves and their families.

In a nutshell, the Employee Free Choice Act would:
  1. Require employers to recognize a union if a majority of workers sign authorization cards saying they want union representation.
  2. Provide mediation and arbitration if there's a dispute over the first contract.
  3. Strengthen penalties for companies that illegally intimidate employees to prevent them from forming a union.
This bill has been in the House for years, but the Republican Congressional leadership refused to allow it to come up for a vote. Now, with Congress out of Republican hands, legislation that helps working families is moving again.

And that brings us to Representative Randy Kuhl (NY-29).

Back in the days when the Employee Free Choice Act wasn't coming up for a vote, Rep. Kuhl said he supported it. He even co-sponsored the bill. Then, a few days after he won re-election by 2 points in 2006, Kuhl took his name off the bill.

If you were holding out hope that Kuhl would do the right thing and vote for the bill, you were disappointed yesterday. Kuhl voted against the Employee Free Choice Act, one of only two New York Representatives to vote against the bill (Tom Reynolds was the other).

So why did Randy Kuhl tell the working people in his district he would vote for the Employee Free Choice Act and then turn around and vote against it? Kuhl's not saying (though some are speculating that he fears a Republican primary challenge from an opponent even further to the right than he is), but his vote shows that we still have work left to do to make sure New York's Congressional delegation stands up for working families.

The Fighting 29th and Rochester Turning have more.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

How Do You Choose Between Family and Work?

A young mother in the Bronx should not have to face the choice of spending time with her newborn daughter or putting food on the table. A working man in Buffalo should not have to risk his family's economic security to take care of his father after a stroke.

Not in New York. Not anywhere.

But working families in New York face these choices every day. That's because the U.S. is one of only five countries in the world without a national policy allowing working families to take paid time off to care for newborn children and seriously ill relatives.

That's wrong and, together, we're going to do something about it.

We're going to fight for our vision of family values: Working families take care of each other.

Families have changed dramatically over the past 30 years, but our workplaces have not kept pace. Today, few families include stay-at-home mothers (or fathers) and more and more working New Yorkers have to take time off to care for elderly relatives. But few jobs allow workers to take paid time off to fulfill their family duties, and many workers cannot afford to take unpaid time off, even for a family emergency.

A bill being drafted in Albany would provide paid family leave for parents of newborns (or newly adopted children) and adults who need time to care for ailing relatives. We can expand an existing social insurance program - temporary disability insurance - so that working New Yorkers would be able to receive a portion of their wages to maintain their family's economic security during their time off.

With your help, and with our allies at the Paid Family Leave Coalition, we are going to persuade the state legislature that in New York, working families should be able to take care of each other. It's time to leave the company of Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, Lesotho and Liberia and join California and the rest of the world in enacting uniform paid family leave.

How we talk about this bill will be an important part of winning public support, and so we want you involved. Here are the bill names being considered:
  • Family Responsibility Act
  • Paid Family Leave Act
  • Time to Care Act
  • Working Families Leave Act
Please take a moment to vote for the bill name you like best - and if you've got a better name, we want to hear it.

In April we'll announce the winning bill name and give you ways to start lobbying your state legislators and Gov. Spitzer to move New York towards a policy that gives working families time to take care of each other.

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