2 years of sunshine

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This weekend in Chicago, protestors will descend on ALEC’s Summer Conference. ALEC has taken some serious hits over the last year, losing some of it’s biggest corporate members, but this has lead to it becoming even more scary, retaining some of the most problematic (tobacco companies, gun companies, energy companies). I want to take a minute to do two things: brag, which is something I rarely ever do, and tell the story of how we in Cincinnati organized for the first protests against ALEC and accidentally created something bigger than we ever expected. I hope this encourages those participating in the actions this weekend, and every action for that matter.

I remember when I first heard about ALEC. It was Mid-March, 2011. It was at a dance party in a house my friends were renting near UC’s Campus. My friend Aliya was spinning some vinyl and I was getting wasted and moving with my awkward Elaine-like dance moves. Another friend, Adam, who I met on a trip the previous summer to the Detroit US Social Forum, was there, clutching a beer and engaging Aliya on something that was clearly very serious. To me, anything Adam and Aliya, two of the most political people I know, were discussing was something I could be confident I wanted to hear about. I moved in closer and listened for a few minutes. I caught the occasional word in the dub step filled room. ALEC. Bill Cronin. John Kasich. Paul Weyrich. Scott Walker. Shannon Jones. SB5. Ok, I thought, this is something I want to be a part of.

Adam turned to me: “Are you in for April 29th?”

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Young Cincinnati Activists Help Spark International Exposé

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Published in the July 27th to August 4th Edition of Streetvibes

In April, hundreds of mostly young activists converged on Fountain Square in Cincinnati to protest the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC, whose members were meeting in the Netherland Plaza Hotel downtown, is a group consisting of think tanks and corporate members who produce model legislation to be introduced in local, state and federal government.

The protest was the first of its kind, even though ALEC has been around as a powerful right-wing front-group since 1973 (when it was founded by rabid capitalist-conservative Paul Weyrich) and on its Corporate Enterprise board sit representatives from some of the largest corporations in the world; EXXON, Peabody Coal, Glaxo Smith Kline, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola, Altria (Phillip Morris), Pfizer and Koch among others (many are still undisclosed).

ALEC sees thousands of its pieces of model legislation introduced in statehouses around the country each year, and sometimes entire bills. ALEC model legislation was used in Arizona’s SB1070 “show me your papers” law. Closer to home, Governor John Kasich is one of the founding members of ALEC and it is believed that SB5’s anti-union provisions, like Wisconsin’s recently-enacted State Act 10, were straight out of the organization’s playbook.

Though the public can view the names of many model bills on ALEC’s website, the actual language in the bills is behind password protection, available only to high-paying members.

That all changed when, after the April protest, Aliya Rahman, one of the organizers, leaked over 800 of the previously unavailable documents. On Wednesday, they were released by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) at ALECexposed.org. Later in the day, The Nation was the first media outlet to provide in-depth analysis.

One bill that could prove influential in Ohio is the “Education Accountability Act”. This would mean school districts deemed underperforming could be declared “Educationally Bankrupt” and taxpayer-subsidized vouchers provided for parents to enroll their children in private schools, rather than providing funding and other assistance to the district. One owner of a for-profit online school who would benefit from the voucher program is an ALEC corporate Co-chair for 2011.

ALEC model legislation like HB 1021, introduced by Rep. Chris Dorworth (an ALEC member) in Florida in February, directly attacks public workers’ last bastions of defense, union representation, denies them the right to political activity, and seeks to further privatize local and federal government in the interests of a business takeover of public policy.

ALEC openly advocates privatizing transportation and deregulating public health, consumer safety and environmental quality, including bringing in corporations to administer: foster care, adoption services and child support payment processing, highway systems (through heavy tolls resistant to green energy), drinking water, and solid waste services and facilities, etc.

ALEC has a long history of regressive environmental policies that hinder the effectiveness of regulation, protect big business polluters, promote climate change denial, and also threaten the ability of environmental activists to speak out.

“The Groundwater Protection Act,” for example, would limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to stop polluters.

“The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” would establish an “eco-terrorist” registry that would include activists who have committed, among other things, the new crime of taking photographs of factory farms.

The “Targeted Contracting for Certain Correctional Facilities and Services Act” allow states to contract prisons out to private corporations. Along with other bills that would ‘reform’ the prison industry, it would reduce regulation on private prisons and allow for the expansion of slave labor, particularly using immigrants and detainees processed as part of Homeland Security’s increased power, and the exploitation of prisoners.

The leaked documents help us understand how corporations like Koch Industries (who have given well over $1 million to ALEC) can make billions by demanding bailouts and taxpayer subsidies while corrupting government and polluting for free. ALEC gave the Kochs its Adam Smith Free Enterprise Award, and Koch Industries has been one of the select members of ALEC’s corporate board for almost twenty years. The company’s top lobbyist was once ALEC’s chairman.

The scope of the model legislation is large, ranging from concerted efforts to remove the public option on health care to voting rights, from corporate tax code to public services funding, and from workers’ rights to gun control. ALEC even wrote a resolution
in support of the horrendous Citizens United decision, which opened the floodgates for corporate money in our elections, and helped ensure that a socialized health care system was never considered.

In essence, ALEC has created a deceptive web of lawmakers and public employees who act as lobbyists/agents on their behalf and on behalf of their corporate and special interest members. The laws and the way in which they are written are entirely undemocratic and are an attack on our ability to work toward a more equal future during a time of financial crisis.

In recent years, ALEC has taken in about $6.5 million in tax-deductible donations, and reported $54,504,702 in “gifts,” “grants” and other contributions from its corporate and special interest members. Common Cause calculated that 22 of ALEC’s key member companies had contributed more than $317 million to state election campaigns over the last decade. It is time for ALEC to stop masquerading as a nonpartisan public interest group and receive a full investigation by the IRS.

Currently, their corporate backers can take a tax deduction by giving money to ALEC to push for more tax breaks and less regulation for their companies. The young folks behind the Cincinnati action are now working with organisations and public advocates across the country to organize a protest action at the ALEC August meeting at a luxury hotel in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Show up, send money, spread information, and ask the media to cover this event. You can make a difference. For more information, visit http://protestalec.org/

ALEC refused to comment on any aspect of the material covered here. Learn more at www.truth-out.org and www.greenpeace.org.

Teachers Strike to Demand Fair Work Environment at Cincinnati State

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Students gather outside of Cincinnati State to stand with their striking professors.

The 200 instructors who are members of the Cincinnati State chapter of the American Association of University Professors will return to work Friday after a week-long strike that brought the school to its knees. The strike was particularly significant at this time; Ohio Senate Bill 5, much like Wisconsin’s Budget Repair bill, strips unionized public sector workers of their rights to collectively bargain and makes the act of striking illegal in the name of saving the state money (on pensions and other benefits that the workers enjoy). A statewide vote will take place in November over whether to keep the highly controversial law in place, in the meantime, teachers, firefighters, nurses and other public sector workers retain these rights.

Over the course of the year, contract negotiations had been taking place, but with the backdrop of SB5 passing and going into effect, before it was stalled by petitioning, there had been limited headway made. Only in the last few weeks did the administration and board of trustees of Cincinnati state get serious about their proposals.

Other community colleges in the state would require only around 30 “contact” hours for each (two-session) semester, after the switch from quarters, the contract that Cincinnati State faculty were offered would have required them to work upwards of 40 contact hours. These increased hours do not come with increased compensation and professors were worried that they wouldn’t be able to devote the time they need to the classes they will have to teach. These contact hours are only the time that they are in the classroom with students, they don’t include grading assignments, preparing course materials, holding office hours or attending meetings. The faculty expect to work around 54 hours each week after the switch. Their workload would increase around 25% under the contract offered, severely limiting their ability to be effective educators.

“It’s about the students,” said one for the professors on the picket line Thursday. Another remarked that their “relationship with their students” would be in trouble, worrying that they wouldn’t be able to give the personal attention that students and faculty enjoy. After effectively shutting the college down for a week, they are returning because they don’t want the students to fall behind.

And the students have shown their support as well. As the picketing died down Thursday afternoon, a group of about a dozen students joined their professors on the line. On Wednesday over 200 students held a walkout of their classes in solidarity their professors. A group of students then walked up to the president of the university, O’dell Owens’s office and demanded answers. “We have failed you,” he said to them, clearly showing that it was the administration’s unwillingness to give the professors a fair deal that led to the strike. One faculty member on the line reported her American Sign Language class being taught by a Spanish instructor, there were also reports that an algebra class was taught by a chemistry teacher as well as some other mismatches. Most classes were only running for a few minutes: students would show up, attendance would be taken, and then they would be sent on their way.

The professors see themselves as the guinea pigs of the state’s new policy direction. The reactionary measures being pushed by Governor John Kasich at the state level, and the Board of Trustees (a few of which are outspoken Kasich supporters) at Cincinnati State effect all of the workers in the state, unionized or not. Cincinnati State’s AAUP is seeing some of the first clear repercussions of SB5; they are going back to work in good faith, but it appears that negotiations will not resume until after the statewide vote, clearly because of the administration’s hope that the measure will pass and SB5 will remain in effect. At that point, faculty won’t even have a seat at the table, and will be forced to sign whatever contract (probably the one they struck over) is given to them.

Though it is probably premature and misplaced to call this strike a victory — holding out until the administration caved would have been a much more ambitious (and, arguably, achievable) goal, a few valuable results did occur as a result. For one, it promoted a sense of consciousness among the faculty and they got an idea of how much power they have. Their numbers, together, made them a big fish on campus. It also helped the faculty develop a sense of camaraderie that, even though they were members of the same union and worked in the same place, was lacking. The faculty were dispersed in small groups at each entrance to the campus, upon talking to them about their feelings on the strike, each group  echoed variations on the phrase “we’ve grown closer to each other and to our students as a result of this.”

One professor likened the outcome of this strike and the SB5 referendum as a “domino effect;” if they are forced to make harsh compromises on their campus, then they will only be the first in a line of changes that threaten the entire public university system in the state. Another new state program, the enterprise university plan, which is being developed right now, would partially privatize public institutions in the state. Schools would get less money from the state and have to make it up from contributions from business interests. The fear is that these schools would indirectly become beholden to the will of these companies, effectively becoming charter universities. Not only does this plan threaten the programs which are socially minded, marginalized or unprofitable, it also threatens the affordability of an already expensive public education.

SB5 strips workers in the state of their basic democratic rights, and it is time people start using them. The “ripple effect” as one professor called it, can have consequences on all sorts of rights, not only for workers, it is worth noting that there is also a voter suppression bill that citizens turned in over 300,000 signatures to have a referendum over in 2012. The staff at Cincinnati State successfully got their message across and made their value clear to the university, this is the example that workers should take with them as they find their jobs threatened. And the community must support them. No one should be happy with their situation until all enjoy justice.

This post also appeared on the blog of the Cincinnati International Socialist Organization and on  SocialistWorker.org

Back to Finish the Job: Ron Young’s history with ALEC

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Since the leak of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s model legislation. Journalists, bloggers and policy researchers have been scouring the documents to make connections with legislation that in statehouses across the country. Already, hundreds of matches have been found across the United States, and in Ohio those interested are doing their best to match the documents. Hoping that the identification of the matches will help halt the passage of legislation, a lot of the attention has been placed on bills currently in deliberation, however, attention needs to also be paid to bills based on ALEC model legislation that have already become law.

One bill currently in deliberation is HB 102, introduced by Ron Young. The bill deals with labor requirements for public works projects, and is part of this year’s anti-union push that has been spearheaded by other lawmakers like State Senator Shannon Jones and Representative John Adams. On first glance, the bill looks like ALEC’s model legislation titled “The Open Contracting Act.” However, the bill itself only inserts a few new words to the existing Ohio revised Code section that it is amending, the sections that are parallel to the ALEC document are actually already law, in fact, those sections of the Ohio Revised Code were amended in 1999, according to the ORC online.

Young was in office from 1997 to 2004, and was reelected again last year. Over the course of his first years in office, he sponsored a number of laws, among them was HB 101, during Ohio’s 123 congress. 12 years ago, HB 101 passed,  and it is the bill that added the original sections to the Ohio Revised Code. Young is back now, amending laws that he originally sponsored. 123’s HB 101 shares language with ALEC’s Open Contracting Act, this congress’s HB 102 is a less clear connection, but it must be examined to determine why Rep. Young would come back 12 years later to change things.

The language Young adds appears to be placed there to ensure that labor laws are relaxed for all state institutions, including universities. This is very deliberate, as the universities often have unionized staff and have labor agreements that prioritize local labor or protect prevailing wage for workers. Sustainable labor policy has been an important issue for many years in these institutions. In 2003, the staff at Miami University went on strike, demanding a living wage, which they only marginally received in the end. More recently, members of The Ohio State University’s staff held a walkout over the latest attacks on their livelihoods under the governorship of John Kasich. The public servants that work as universities, that is, housing and dining staff, maintenance staff, builders and other workers, are already threatened by SB5 which denies them the right to collectively bargain for things like healthcare and pensions.

Theoretically, the law on the books should have already affected those workers, but Ron Young is coming back around a second time to finish the job. This bill removes the special agreements that universities have with labor. Interestingly, he attempted to revise this bill in the 125th congress as well, but failed to pass the bill in the house. The new bill differs from that first revision attmpt and it also adds a section to the revised code specifically exempting private businesses from the regulations, in effect, ensuring that the better-paid, better-organized union labor has no place to hide.

This is not Young’s only use of ALEC model legislation. Also in 1999, he successfully sponsored a bill that added a new felony to the law books: HIV assault. HB 100, based on ALEC’s HIV Assault Act, classifies the body of a person who is HIV positive as a “deadly weapon” and makes intimate contact by that person criminal.