Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Turnaround Week for KS Legislature

The other night, February 27th, I attended a legislative listening session in Derby with some friends. Members of the Kansas House and Senate came to listen to their constituents talk about the things of concern. More than a dozen members of the legislature were there and the large meeting room in the Derby City Hall was full. The meeting began promptly at 7:00 and ended at 8:30. Each speaker was given three minutes to present their concern. Twenty-four people spoke.

A number of the speakers voiced concern about the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the Kansas legislative chambers and the statehouse. According to one speaker 46 members of the House and Senate have ties to ALEC, a corporate organization that drafts legislation favorable to corporate interests. It is well known that some members of the administration work closely with ALEC. We are all encouraged to ask our representatives if they have ties with ALEC, and what if any legislation they have sponsored that was written with the help of ALEC. Transparency and accountability are good things to have in a democracy.

A number of people voiced concern about proposed changes in community health care and assurances that legislation to maintain these services and improve them was given by a number of the legislators present.

Speakers also voiced concern about proposed changes in funding for education. Those who spoke said plainly that the proposed legislation is taking us “down the wrong path.” No one spoke in favor of the proposed changes.

Support was expressed for passage of Senate Bill 219, which would make wage theft a crime punishable by stiff penalties. The KS Department of Labor documents 1,800 cases of wage theft, resulting in a loss of $10 million in wages.

People spoke in opposition to House Bill 2531, which changes the both the number and the composition of members on the worker’s compensation and unemployment appeals panel. And there was opposition to the proposal to change the voter registration law, which is called the voter suppression law by its opponents.

You can read about all this legislation and find out more details at the Working Kansans Alliance website. This is Turnaround Week in the Kansas Legislature, marking the halfway point in the session. Representatives and Senators at the meeting agreed that email is effect but the best way to get their attention and voice your concern is a phone call.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Why We Must Organize: Democracy and Demographics

If the Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) training event in Atlanta that I attended on February 11-12, 2012 is an indication of the depth and breadth of organizing going on across the country today, then we have good reason to be encouraged. The event was attended by 30 people, 18 women and 12 men. All but one of the participants now lives in the United States, but the gathering had the feel of a new diaspora. People came to the United States from Mexico (5), Guatemala (1), El Salvador (1), Nigeria (1) and Germany (2). Spanish was the first language for approximately one-third of the participants and all discussion was bilingual.

One of the participants, Glory Kilanko, now living in Atlanta, organized Women Watch Africa in 1994 when she lived her native land, Nigeria. Since leaving Nigeria she has participated in UN conferences on women’s rights. Another participant, Carlos Rosales, was an organizer in El Salvador in the 1980s before moving to the U.S. He is now the Coordinator for the Immigrant Worker Center Coalition in Boston and also serves as a consultant with United for a Fair Economy. Five people came from Nashville, where in 2006 twenty thousand people marched for immigrant rights. Stacy Arnold is organizing fast food workers in Florida. She is motivated by her personal experience, and inspired by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. In 2001 this coalition launched the Campaign for Fair Food with the first-ever successful farm worker boycott of a major fast-food company.

The organizers attending this IWJ training event came not only from many parts of the world but also from several states: Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Michigan, Massachusetts and yours truly from Kansas. Depending on local conditions and priorities, people are organizing around health care, immigration, construction, race or gender discrimination, wage theft, gay rights and worker justice. The workshop covered best practices for recruitment, fundraising, coalition building, methods for organizing campaigns and the use of social media. In addition to the information shared, I especially appreciated the opportunity to network with people around the country. I want to thank the AFL-CIO Wichita-Hutchinson Labor Federation for their generous support, which made it possible for me to attend this event.

I returned to Kansas in time to attend the rally on Feb. 15, 2012 in Topeka, which was organized by Sunflower Community Action and Kansans Concerned. Voter suppression, immigration rights and support for public education were some of the issues that galvanized the 300 people who attended this rally. I talked with six leaders that I knew of the faith community that I knew who attended this event. Reverend Tobias Schlingensiepen, the pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Topeka, was one of the featured speakers.

On Sunday night, Feb. 19, I attended the 10th anniversary celebration at the Hindu temple in Wichita. At the celebration dinner I had a conversation with a small group of Muslims from Turkey who now make Wichita their home. The keynote speaker at the celebration identified herself as a member of the new Asian diaspora living in the U.S. In her remarks she spoke several times of the need to fight against racism and bullying, and of the imperative to prepare a new generation of leaders ready to take their place in the struggle to create a more generous and open society. In her address she mentioned Ronald Takaki, an emeritus professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

In his book, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1993, 2008), Takaki makes the point that demography is destiny. I experienced the truth of this statement in these first two weeks of February. No political party is going to change the demographic reality of the United States where by the end of this century the majority of people will trace their origin to Latin America. It is estimated that by 2050, one-third to one-half of the U.S. population will come from the South. Mexico, the largest Spanish speaking country in the world, will be the primary source of this new population.

Immigration, economics, education and human rights are all interrelated. Moving toward equalizing living conditions between countries and among racial and ethnic communities within the U.S. is against the current trend, which now leads in the direction of a greater concentration of wealth in the hands of a small percent of the population. The way to create greater equality is to bring together the resources of faith communities and labor and social justice advocates around shared values of human dignity, the dignity of work and democracy. This is what I learned at the training in Atlanta, experienced during the gathering in Topeka and celebrated at the Hindu temple.

Now is a hope-filled time for hopeful people to come together. Interfaith Worker Justice is one of the local and national organizations dedicated to the cause of improving the lives of all working men and women and their families. I urge you to get involved and I invite you to contact me for more information about Interfaith Worker Justice Kansas.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Call for Action on Pending Legislation

The Working Kansans Alliance (www.wokingkansans.com/take-action/) is calling for action on the following legislative bills. Check out the website, read about the legislation, contact your representatives and let them hear from you. It is important. You can help protect workers and their families.The voice of the faith community is needed. Your voice will make a difference. Votes will be taken soon so there is no time to lose. Thank you.

HB2515 the "Competitive Protection Act" would prohibit the use of protected labor agreements in Kansas and outsource jobs.

HB2531 changes the composition and selection process for the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board judges and Employment Review Board members. Currently there is a balanced process with equal representation from labor and business. The proposed change enlarges the nominating committee from 2 to 7 members with 5 coming from business and two from labor. Keep the balance which has been in place since 1993.

HB2130 would prohibit the use of union dues deductions for political activities, effectively silencing the voice of labor. The Chair of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee refused to bring the bill up for a hearing in the committee. This bill, and a similar bill, HB 2581, are in the House.

HB 2592 would prohibit any unit of local government to enact ordinances, programs or eco devo projects which require employers to pay prevailing wages or offer paid leave or benefits other than those required by the state.

SB 352 changes the Employment Security Law which governs unemployment compensation. Workers would be ineligible for unemployment insurance unless they were part of a direct lay off.

SB 355 deletes language in the Wage Payment Act that requires the Secretary of Labor to appeal wage payment decisions on behalf of the employee if the payment is under $10,000.

Support for SB219 the Wage Payment Act

Interfaith Worker Justice and Sunflower Community Action are asking you to join in urging passage of Senate Bill 219, the “Wage Payment Act” and stop wage theft in Kansas.

Wage theft is the illegal underpayment or nonpayment of wages. It forces workers to make tough choices because of illegally reduced wages. It robs the government of tax-generated revenue. It puts ethical employers at a disadvantage. The Economic Policy Foundation estimates that the national cost of wage theft is $19 billion annually.

If you want to have a congregational study on wage theft study material is available at wagetheft.org, or on this website. Guadalupe or Rev. Hansen would be happy to visit with you about wage theft. Call 316-264-9972 ext. 23 for Guadalupe Magdeleno, or 316-612-6910 for Rev. Hansen.

We are asking you to cut, paste and sign the attached letter with your name and address and send it to Guadalupe Magdeleno, Lupe@sunfloweract.org, Sunflower Community Action, or to Reverend David Hansen, davidhansen44@gmail.com. We will take the signed letters to Topeka on February 15, 2011.

In advance, thank you for your support of this important legislation.

Dear Senator,

I am writing to urge passage of SB 219, the Wage Payment Act. Stop wage theft in Kansas.

Wage theft, the underpayment or nonpayment of wages, forces workers to ma It forces workers to make tough choices because of illegally reduced wages. It robs the government of tax-generated revenue. It puts ethical employers at a disadvantage.

Our faith tradition teaches us people should be paid honest wages for honest work. It is wrong to steal; it is right to treat each person with respect. We urge passage of SB 219.

Please vote for this important legislation.

Thank you.


(Your name)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Legislating for Worker Justice and Fairness

The legislature is in session. I have collected some data and links that will be useful to everyone interested in worker justice and fairness. I ask you to share the information widely and thank the sources cited for their good work. Please contact me if IWJ can be of assistance to you or your faith community.

Federal Legislation

HR 3630 is titled the “Job Creation Incentive Act” and is also called the “Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act.” The bill has four major subsections. Subtitle B deals with “Unemployment Compensation.” If the bill becomes law it will hit those who need it most the hardest, and states with the highest unemployment will suffer the most. IWJ encourages you to contact your representatives and urge them to defeat this proposed legislation and to call for the renewal of unemployment benefits with no cuts and no barriers. Here are a few items I pulled from the bill as I read it on line (go to House Resolution 3630 and scan down to Subtitle B).

  • Section 2122 requires jobless workers without a high school education or a GED to pursue a degree unless they get a state waiver. It may seem reasonable but it means that workers without a high school degree or a GED could be denied benefits.
  • Section 2125 allows for mandatory drug testing of recipients of unemployment insurance. It is not a crime to be unemployed. The mandate implies guilt and stigmatizes jobless workers.
  • Section 2142, the “Extension and Modification of Emergency Unemployment Compensation” actually reduces the compensation period from the present 53 weeks to 33 weeks in most cases.
  • Section 2162 requires jobless workers to participate in re-employment services and allows states to make them pay for the service.

You can find out more at UnemployedWorkers.org. Call 888-245-3381 to let your representative know you support renewing unemployment insurance with no cuts and no barriers.

Kansas Legislation

HB 2437 “Voter Repression” bill
will be considered by the Kansas House Elections Committee on Monday, Friday 6th at 9 a.m. in room 5465 in the capitol. This is the Voter Registration bill, which is also known as the Voter Suppression Act. Notice was sent out too late for me to get it posted so that you could submit written testimony. If you are able to attend the hearing contact Louis Goseland, Director of Organizing at Sunflower Community Action, 316-264-9972, or Louis@Sunfloweract.org.

The Kansas League of Women Voters is hosting a “League Day” on February 15th from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Kansas Bar Association, 1200 SW Harrison, Topeka. The session will discuss bills dealing with taxes, voting, school finance, health care, women’s choice and immigration. If you are attending let the League know and contact your legislator and let her or him know you are attending this event and would like to meet.

Kansans United in Voice and Spirit will also be holding a rally in Topeka on February 15th. Type the name into your search engine for details.

Governor Brownback’s Tax Plan: check out the site for the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (www.itepnet.org; itep@itepnet.org). They have released their analysis of the governor’s proposed budget and it is not pretty—unless you are in the top income brackets. According to their analysis people earning under $20,000 will pay an increase of $209; wage-earners with incomes between $20-35,000 will pay $246 more; Kansans with incomes between $35 and 57,000 will pay $146 more; and those with incomes between $57 and 90,000 will pay $14 more. Those with incomes between $90 and 165,000 get a tax break of $244; incomes between $165 and 400,000 enjoy a $2,054 reduction; and over $400,000 benefit with a $16,993 reduction in state taxes. Adding to taxpayer woes, the proposed budget does not allow taxpayers to deduct state income taxes on your federal return—meaning higher federal taxes for all.

The League of Women Voters notes that there is not a single requirement in the tax plan to create jobs. It will reduce the income of lower and middle income families, cost the state money to the tune of $90 million dollars next year, and reduce the ability of the state to make job-creating investments.