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Keith Ellison running for relection, video of BBQ

by Eric Ferguson on September 2, 2013 · 1 comment

At his annual Labor Day BBQ on Sunday Sept. 1, US Rep. Keith Ellison, MN-05, announced that he plans to run for reelection in 2014. The video below includes Keith Ellison, Gov. Mark Dayton, and a performance by folk singer Charlie Maguire.

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Good & bad news for labor in poll

by Dan Burns on August 2, 2013 · 0 comments

The_hand_that_will_rule_the_worldActually, mostly not all that good. This is from about a month ago.

Favorable opinions of both business corporations and labor unions have rebounded from record lows reached in the summer of 2011.
Overall, more Americans now hold a favorable (55%) than an unfavorable (39%) view of business corporations; two years ago, opinion was reversed (52% unfavorable, 38% favorable). Similarly, views of labor unions have returned to positive territory, with 51% holding a favorable view and 42% holding an unfavorable view – far better ratings than the 46% unfavorable/41% favorable balance of opinion registered in 2011.
(Pew Research – PDF)

51% approval of unions is nowhere near where it needs to be. We’re not effectively countering the despicable union-bashing that is endemic in the “public discourse.”
I figure that the use of “business corporations” led many respondents to express approval of their nearby small-to-medium-sized businesses, which is of course cool. Had they used something like “gargantuan, disgracefully greedy and criminally exploitative multinational corporations,” positive assessments presumably would have been fewer. But I don’t know that for a fact. A lot of people work for those corporations.


Sure, that headline is an overgeneralization. I’m sure new state chair Keith Downey cares about finding a way back into politics or he wouldn’t have run for chair. I mean he doesn’t care about the effects of the policies he wants to put in place. That’s how you can recognize an ideologue: they care that their policies are ideologically correct, and the actual effects are irrelevant.


I dug up the post I wrote about Downey last September, to see if there was any material in there still relevant. Obviously his bills died and he’s not in the legislature to propose them anymore, but in terms of how the new chair thinks, pretty much the whole post still applies.


State Rep. Keith Downey, the GOP Senate candidate in district 49, is probably best known for his 15×15 plan, mandating a 15% reduction in the state’s payroll by 2015. What’s so magical about 15%? It’s the same as the last two digits in 2015. 15 … and 15. See? Isn’t that clever? All the same thought that went into Herman Cain’s “9-9-9″ plan, which I believe was borrowed directly from a pizza pricing campaign. I’m not sure if Downey got his plan from a pizza sale, or a price war among sandwich shops.



For those that want it. Contrary to right-wing lies, people aren’t “forced” to join unions. Anyway, some time ago, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton tried to give some child care providers in Minnesota an opportunity to obtain collective bargaining rights. The exercise of those rights, currently under relentless attack all over this country, is basically what produced the American middle class. Dayton’s attempt to use an executive order was blocked in court. With the legislature back in DFL hands (at least nominally; there’s an additional remark on that, below), another effort is underway.


Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, chief sponsor of the Child Care Collective Bargaining Act, said providers should have a seat at the table, as they do in 16 states.


“They need a unified voice to have a direct impact in raising the standards and quality in the profession,” Pappas said. “To stabilize their workforce, improve their access to training and widening the availability of affordable care for children and working parents, they need a union.”


The bill would affect an estimated 9,000 in-home providers who receive state reimbursements under the Child Care Assistance Program, which is designed to serve low-income families. They would not be classified as public employees and would not have the right to strike.




More generally, in this legislature, will enough DFLers succumb to corporate special interest pressure to block progressive legislation like this, when the chips are down? Still too early to tell, I would say.


Attacks on unions are attacks on the middle class

by Jeff Rosenberg on December 12, 2012 · 4 comments

Once again, a state under Tea Party control is trying to destroy unions. First it was Wisconsin, then Ohio, and now Michigan. Conservatives say they support the free market, but they oppose allowing workers to fight for the best compensation they can get. This is a glaring inconsistency, and it begs the question: Why do they hate unions so much?

The answer is simple: Unions are the only ones who fight the class war on our behalf. Without unions, the super-rich and massive corporations would take all the wealth, instead of just almost all. Attacks on unions are a direct attack on the middle class, led by the party that represents the wealthy oligarchs.

Strong unions and middle-class income gains are closely related. But that’s not all unions have done for us. Labor’s greatest victories are such a fundamental part of our society that we often take them for granted. We expect 40-hour weeks and 2-day weekends. We expect holidays, vacations, and paid overtime. We expect to receive at least a minimum wage. We expect that our children will go to school, instead of going to work in a factory.

But we should never be lulled into thinking that these hard-fought gains are permanent. In fact, they’re constantly under attack. Big business and the rich are hard at work trying to undermine the foundation of the middle class, and they’re succeeding handily.

The battle against our unions needs to be seen in the proper context. It’s a major front in the class war being waged against us by corporations and wealthy oligarchs. Whether or not you’re a union member, you benefit enormously from the work unions do. That makes this an attack on you and your way of life.


     In  surprising article, the right wing group Freedom Foundation of Minnesota actually makes a strong case for increasing teacher’s salaries.  The Freedom Foundation recently looked over the financial disclosures of Education Minnesota and reported that 49 members of the union made in excess of $100,000, with Tom Dooher topping out at $190,000.

   Meanwhile, the average teacher in Minnesota only makes about $54,000. (Please remember that fact the next time some conservative claims the average teachers makes six figures). This disparity seems, at first blush, pretty outrageous. The obvious and reasonable conclusion is that teachers simply do not make enough.

  Now, I know some of you may have come to a different conclusion. There are some conservatives who believe that if one group is making a good living, and another group is struggling, the moral thing to do is tear the successful group down. I cannot believe that the Freedom Foundation is that petty and juvenile. America is supposed to be about marketing your skills at top market value. A group with freedom in their name cannot possibly be against that. therefore, the only logical conclusion is the the Freedom Foundation wants to close this disparity, not by tearing down leaders, but by raising up teachers.

   The Freedom Foundation goes on to talk about how the leaders at Education Minnesota are paid by union dues. Teachers pay, in general, around 2% or less of their salaries in union dues. For that 2% they get representation in contract negotiations, representation in workplace disputes, and $1,000,000 in liability coverage. For 2% or less.

    Imagine if teachers had to hire a private party to negotiate for them. The going rate for private contract negotiation ranges between 5%-10%. Education Minnesota represents over 84,000 clients. Can you imagine a law firm that represented over 84,000 clients? Can you imagine a business being on retainer for 84,000 clients. Can you imagine the top dog at that firm earning less than a quarter million? In essence, the union is a private firm representing 84,000 clients at less than half the going rate. Free market libertarians like the Freedom Foundation should be wondering why Tom Dooher is working so cheap! Doesn’t he realize he should be giving himself obscene bonuses like the bankers?

     In closing, I would like to thank the Minnesota Freedom Foundation for pointing out that teachers just do not make enough money. While many folks might think they are just shamelessly trying to tear down unions, I believe better of them. I really think they want to close the gap by lifting up teachers, not tearing down leaders. Kudos to you Freedom Foundation of Minnesota!!


     Our economy needs more jobs, with better wages for our workers. In the bizarro world that is the national conservative movement, it is the janitor making $30,000 a year that is obscenely overpaid. It is the postal retiree making a $20,000 a year pension that is somehow destroying our economy. The hedge fund manager, making $20,000 per hour to destroy our economy, on the other hand, is underpaid.

    Today the Minnesota House passed HF 1974 in order to make it harder for workers to get a fair contract. This bill will ensure that during negotiations, current contracts are not enforced.

    What this means is that any scheduled raises or benefit increases will not take place. These scheduled raises were negotiated in good faith, by both sides. The MN GOP wants to take control of local negotiations and nullify the current contract. There is no incentive for management to settle the contract. In fact, every day they delay will save them money. Every day that management can delay is another day of lost benefits for workers. The MN GOP is giving incentives for making sure there is labor strife, for longer periods. The House Bill now goes to the Senate, where it will be reconciled with the Senate companion bill written by Mike Parry (R-A.L.E.C.)


Subjecting minority rights to majority rule

by Eric Ferguson on January 27, 2012 · 0 comments

The common theme in the constitutional amendments the legislative Republicans seem ready to put on the 2012 is the restriction of rights of people who tend not to vote Republican. Whether it’s marriage equality, reproductive rights, the right to organize, the right to vote, and whatever ever other noxious amendments they come up with, these self-proclaimed “constitutional conservatives” seem not the get that the American republic is built not just on majority rule, but on minority rights. These amendments are exactly the sort of attacks on our rights the US Constitution was meant to prevent.

We’re not the only state of course where this is happening. One state where the Republicans think rights depend on the momentary whim of the majority is New Jersey. The legislature is likely to overturn the gay marriage ban, and Gov. Chris Christie says he’ll veto it. Instead, he wants the question put to a referendum. In defense of subjecting minority rights to majority rule, he mentioned the civil rights movement, and said, “The fact of the matter is, I think people would have been happy to have a referendum on civil rights rather than fighting and dying in the streets in the South.” Right, let white people vote on whether black people should be allowed to vote, because the states that banned blacks from voting were so anxious to change those laws.

This gets to a video that’s a must-see for attacking this idea that minority rights should be subject to majority rule. Newark mayor (and possible gubernatorial candidate next year) Cory Booker was asked about Christie’s statement at a press conference. Though he was reacting to Christie’s remark specifically and addressing the bill in New Jersey, it applies to all the GOP efforts to take away rights from those who aren’t them.


Our politics is insane

by The Big E on December 22, 2011 · 0 comments

Why do Democrats buy into the Republican framing of issues

Here’s what baffles me about politics …

Sen. Al Franken (DFL-MN) is perfectly willing to allow corporate censorship of the internet. He’s bought the entertainment industry’s argument that the Protect IP Act will protect Hollywood union jobs. Despite the fact that industry profits are hitting record highs.

Why does Sen. Franken, who normally fights for the little guy, has been great on net neutrality and other tech issues, completely miss the boat on internet censorship? Why does Al of all people buy the corporate argument hook, line and sinker?

Unions are perfectly willing to destroy vast swaths of northern Canada so they get to build a pipeline to pump tar sand oil into tankers in the Gulf of Mexico which will then sail for foreign shores.

And Republicans love it when they can get unions to view environmentalists as their enemies. Divide and conquer. I understand why we need organizations like the Blue-Green Alliance. This is a great start.

Why can’t we all work together to create good union jobs that don’t destroy the environment. More mass transit projects? Anybody heard of green tech? Hello?

Why do Democrats buy into the bull**** argument that protecting the environment kills jobs?

Democrats in Washington, DC are willing to harm seniors and future generations because Republican proposals are so extravagantly insane that their proposals to damage Social Security and Medicare don’t seem nearly all that bad … at least in their myopic, inside-the-beltway minds.

These are just three examples. Our national and state politics are rife with this.

When will we collectively as Democrats get a clue and stop buying into the Republican framing of any given issue?


Jeno Paulucci: Once A Ranger, Always A Ranger

by keewatinrose on November 28, 2011 · 0 comments

Hard work. Family. Community.

All describe what Iron Range native and entrepreneur Jeno Paulucci valued most in life. The long-time advocate for social justice died on Thanksgiving morning, just four days after the passing of his wife and fellow philanthropist Lois Trepanier Paulucci.

Luigino Francesco Paulucci, known simply as Jeno to those of us in northeastern Minnesota, was born in the mining town of Aurora in 1918 and his story is similar to others in the region. His parents were immigrants from a small mining town in Italy who saw an opportunity for a better life for the next generation in the rich red ore of the Iron Range. And like many others, the Paulucci family endured incredible hardships in their new country.  They quickly found that the Steel Trust controlled every aspect of life and that the new immigrants were viewed as less than human and quite expendable. When the miners attempted to advocate for fair wages and safer working conditions, the mining companies did not hesitate to shut down the mines in retaliation, a practice that served to remind the miners how dependent they were on them for survival. Cave-ins and other accidents claimed many lives and countless other miners were injured, with many left unable to work. These deaths and injuries as well as sporadic employment caused significant economic hardship for the families. All family members pitched in to survive, with many women taking jobs and cooking for the numerous bachelors working in the mines and children doing whatever they could.  
Jeno’s childhood was not unusual for those living on the Iron Range at that time. When his father was disabled in a mining accident, they relocated to a 4-room house near Oliver Mining in Hibbing.  His mother opened a grocery store in the front room of their small home and also cooked meals for bachelor miners.  Like other Range children, Jeno did his part with a job unloading boxcars and gathering coal along the railroad tracks to heat the house. In addition, the Pauluccis bootlegged wine and ran an illegal bar out of their home during Prohibition. This is not as scandalous as it may seem; for all intents and purposes, Prohibition did not exist on the Iron Range and many families engaged in similar practices both in order to survive and to preserve their cultural traditions. In fact, another famous Iron Ranger, Oscar Mondavi of Virginia, got his start in the wine business during the same period of time.

It was in this environment of deprivation and domination by the mining companies that young Jeno began his career as an entrepreneur by selling iron ore samples to tourists, relying on his own ingenuity rather than another for a source of income. Hard work was necessary to survive on the Iron Range, and Jeno continued to work until the end of his life.  Unlike other millionaires, that drive came not from greed, but likely from a Ranger’s fear that it all could be gone tomorrow.

Indeed, the kind of poverty and oppression endured by those early miners tends to stay with one for a lifetime. Paulucci lived his Iron Range values throughout his career, supporting unions in his businesses and long advocating for an increase in the minimum wage:

The federal minimum wage is a damned disgrace….The minimum wage should be raised at least 50 percent and then pegged to the cost of living.

He also insisted that businesses must give back to the community:

I would like to impress on the business community that they not only derive a measure of power and prestige as leaders within their community, they also acquire a degree of responsibility to use those advantages for the common good.

Businesses large and small should dedicate up to 5 percent of pretax profits for projects that would benefit the general public, from tearing down rat-infested buildings to replacing them with low-cost housing and day care centers — without waiting for the government to do it, at higher cost.

Beyond that, businessmen need to reach out to the disadvantaged — the so-called unemployables.  Hire them and train them, turn them into loyal workers and contributors to the economy. I’ve been doing that for more than 40 years and believe me, it works.

Indeed, Jeno never forgot how important jobs are and took great care to hire those with disabilities, criminal records and others turned away by most employers. And he did so before it became popular, earning the United States Employer of the Year award from the President’s Council on Employment of the Handicapped and the National Association of Manufacturers in 1972. His reason was simple:

What more can you want to do for someone?

I remember Jeno as a man with a contagious  laugh, strong convictions and great passion. Occasionally, that passion got the better of him, leading to many stories about his legendary temper. But that same passion was reflected in his determination to fulfill the obligation to work for the common good so deeply ingrained in Iron Range culture.

Paulucci has often been criticized for speaking his mind on various subjects and for his practice of taking out full-page newspaper ads if he didn’t like a certain public policy or what the newspaper wrote, or if he felt a government official was an obstructionist. This too can perhaps be traced to his Iron Range roots. The early mining families found themselves completely at the mercy of the mining companies and had absolutely no voice against the powerful Steel Trust, which also controlled government officials and, until Veda Ponikvar established the Chisholm Free Press in 1947, the newspapers. Well, a kid from one of those families who had suffered so many injustices finally had the ability to speak out and it’s not surprising that he did so,frequently going against the grain and advocating for community activism, trade unions and philanthropy. And who could argue that his full-page ads supporting the Taconite Amendment weren’t for the common good?

Despite his incredible successes, Jeno Paulucci remained true to his roots, describing himself as “just a peddler from the Iron Range.”  Whether it was acting as a presidential emissary to evaluate disasters in Italy, sending water to victims of Hurricane Katrina, or creating union jobs, the outspoken Ranger was simply too busy fulfilling his obligation to make a better life for others to worry about what people thought of him. It seems appropriate he and Lois should pass at this time of thanksgiving, for they remained ever mindful of their humble beginnings and thankful for their many blessings.

There is hardly an organization or a project in northeastern Minnesota that the Pauluccis haven’t contributed to in some way, from the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, Bayfront Park, Canal Park and the Hibbing Planetarium to the region’s food shelves and battered women’s shelters, and we are all the poorer for their loss.

We need more people like them in this world.