That’s Quite a Prevailing Wage, Mr. Spitzer

In early March the Development Accountability coalition was hitting a roadblock with Governor Spitzer. We were saying that IDAs (like COMIDA) should require businesses to pay decent wages if they are receiving tax breaks. Spitzer was opposing living wages and prevailing wages. Meanwhile, in an interesting twist of fate, it turns out he was paying several grand an hour for god knows what. That’s quite a prevailing wage!

Whatever you think of Spitzer, he won’t be opposing prevailing wages anymore.

The pressure is building around the state for IDA reform. For ten years Metro Justice has been pointing an spotlight on COMIDA, pointing out how the agency continues to hand out tax breaks to businesses that don’t hire local labor and don’t create jobs. And COMIDA does all this without consulting the towns and school districts that will have to forfeit the tax revenue.

Things have got to change and change is gonna come.

Why do we think that this will be the year? Two reasons. One is that some provisions of the law have expired. This means that dozens of development projects around the state will be stalled until the state legislature does something. The pressure to address the issue is rising.

The other reason to be optimistic is that the Republicans in the NYS Senate have reason to be nervous about losing the majority. With the stunning, unexpected victory of Democrat Darryl Aubertine in Oswego (the North Country district has 7 registered Republicans for every 3 Democrats), Joe Bruno’s Republican majority in the Senate has just been whittled down to one seat. Bruno has always been concerned about keeping Joe Robach, (R-Greece), in office. Robach is the only Republican Senator in New York in a district with a majority of registered Democrats.

Within two weeks of Aubertine’s victory Bruno had appointed Robach as chair of the Senate Labor Committee. Robach then published an op ed in favor of IDA reform (including prevailing wages). Local labor unions will want to hold Robach, the new Labor Committee chair, accountable. There will be considerable pressure on Robach to deliver an IDA reform package that includes wage standards.

As we go to press we don’t yet know where Governor Patterson is on IDA reform and the prevailing wage issue but we do know that he was the sponsor of the Clean Elections bill while he was Senate Minority leader. We think this could be the year that the state legislature takes the first step toward taking big money out of politics. This is not an incremental reform. It literally transforms the system, changing the balance of power between big money and the grassroots. Metro Justice’s full page ad in the Democrat in Chronicle created a lot of buzz and generated a lot of emails to Assemblymembers. Our phone banks are also giving constituents a chance to give feedback to elected officials. Please help Metro Justice with the phone calling and get on the bus when we head to Albany for Reform Day on April 29th.

White Progressive Don’t Get to Ignore Race and Professional Class Progressives Can’t Win Without Labor

In the December edition of the Metro Justice Newsletter Danielle Ponder and I wrote about the systemic ways in which our society maintains the privilege of white citizens over citizens of color. Institutional and public policies have been woven together to form a system of racial injustice producing disparities in health, wealth, and opportunity along racial lines. White supremacy is “baked” into the system.

White progressives don’t get to ignore this reality because conservatives have always used racially-coded issues to divide and conquer our electorate. As Paul Krugman points out in “The Conscience of a Liberal”, during President Truman’s attempt to establish national health insurance, southern conservatives torpedoed attempts at creating a universal health care system because it would have integrated hospitals.

Time after time conservatives have used race to grab power to preserve corporate dominance. Nixon took a page from George Wallace and said he would “get tough on crime.” Bush Sr. pushed his Willie Horton ads. Steve Minarik kept his Republican majority in the Monroe County legislature after mailing out flyers graphically displaying the “threat” posed by Arab immigrants. And the current crop of Republican presidential candidates somehow have come to the conclusion that a crumbling healthcare system, global warming and economic insecurity (a subprime housing hurricane gathering strength offshore) all pale in comparison to the threat of brown skinned immigrants coming across our southern border. Race, race, and more race. And the conservatives ride these racially-coded messages to victory.

Yet conservatives want us to view our society through their race-neutral frame. They want us to think that America has moved beyond race; that if you are having problems, it’s your own fault because “You’re On Your Own.”

If progressives are going to be successful in reforming our society around the concept that “We Are All in This Together” then we are obligated to strategically challenge structural and institutional racism. It’s not just the right thing to do. It’s how we bring together a winning majority.

The same is true with organized labor. We won’t stop the ice caps from melting without putting corporate domination in check. And, we can’t do that without organized labor. Ralph Nader sums up the challenge thusly:

What do all these movements have in common? The anti-slavery movement, the women’s right to vote movement, the worker trade union movement, the farmer, populist, progressive movement, the civil rights, environmental, women rights movements of recent decades, other civil rights movements, disability rights– they had one common theme: They took power away from people and institutions who had too much power and made that power be shared by the many.

That is what made it possible. It wasn’t just the documentation of injustice. It wasn’t just the feeling by people that they had to have a better life. It was the strategy of power. It was the strategy of deconcentrating power. It was the strategy that confronted the dominant business powers of our history which uniquely were always in the forefront of saying no to social justice movements.

Who opposed the anti-slavery movement? Who opposed the women’s right to vote movement? It wasn’t just some men. It was the railroads, it was the liquor industry, it was industrial interests that didn’t want women to speak out with voting power against child labor and the injustices of the Industrial Revolution.

And who opposed the workers in the steel, coal, textile and other areas trying to unionize? It was the corporations. And who opposed the farmers, dirt-poor farmers coming out of Texas? It was the big banks and the insurance companies.”

The corollary to Nader’s indictment of corporate power is that a critical part of the resistance to corporate power has come from unions.

When George Bush decided to stop in Rochester during his 64-city Social Security Destruction Tour, Metro Justice called a rally. Over 1,000 people turned out. But it was the unions and their organized infrastructure that turned out over half of the crowd. When the Alliance for Quality Education needed an analysis of Joe Bruno’s education funding proposals, they turned to the labor-funded Fiscal Policy Institute. And our campaign to end industrial development agency boondoggles is dependent on the power of unions to move key legislators in the Senate.

As Peter Dreier and Kelly Candaele note in a article, “When labor unions educate and mobilize their members, they are very effective… Union members are more likely to vote, more likely to vote for Democrats, and more likely to volunteer for campaigns than people with similar demographic and job characteristics who are not unionized. In the November 2004 presidential election, union members represented 12 percent of all workers, but union households represented 24 percent of all voters.”

Union members are less likely to fall for conservative wedge issue gambits. In the 2004 presidential election, gun owners favored Bush by almost two to one. But a majority of union members with guns voted against Bush. Bush also attracted the votes of white males by similar margins, while white male union members overwhelmingly rejected Bush.

Dreier and Candaele also point out that the decline of union membership in recent decades has contributed to the falloff in voter turnout, because unions have traditionally been the most effective vehicle for mobilizing low income and worker class voters. If the United States had just 15% of its workforce unionized, we might never have had to suffer through eight years of George Bush. We wouldn’t be inIraq right now.

So let’s come together. Let’s build a majority that can stop the social Darwinism let loose by corporate forces. How we build our new future will determine what that future looks like. We have to build it together.

Maggie Brooks’ COMIDA does it Again!!!

It’s time once again to pack the COMIDA board meeting

COMIDA Board Meeting
Tuesday, January 15
47 South Fitzhugh Street, downtown Rochester

Behind closed doors (geez- did COMIDA violate the state open meeting law AGAIN?), Maggie Brooks’ COMIDA just changed the requirements for local workers, making it twice as easy for a contractor working on the Wegmans culinary facility to bring in workers from outside the area. And this contractor is doing this with the tax breaks the county is giving them. And you were wondering why your property taxes were so high!

That’s right folks, the same team that made headlines for attempting yet another self dealing operation (this time involving the creation of a local development corporation- LDC- to purchase Monroe County property tax liens) is bragging in the D&C out one side of their mouth about their ability to create jobs, while out the other side they are cutting deals to allow anybody and everybody to feed at the public trough, regardless of the effect on the lives of local residents.

This is actually standard operating procedure for the county. They’ve created half a dozen LDC’s to sell off or operate public assets, (Monroe New Power, to buy up the Iola Power Plant, Monroe Tobacco Securitization, to buy up the Tobacco Settlement funds, Civic Center Monroe County to take over the county parking garage, and the Greater Rochester Outdoor Sports Facility Corporation which currently owes $16 million to Monroe County in unpaid taxes on Frontier Field, etc). These LDC’s operate out of the COMIDA office. And in the cases of the Iola Power Plant and the Civic Center parking garage, the companies that now run these facilities were awarded COMIDA tax breaks (while we’re paying more to park our cars at the Civic Center garage). The League of Women Voters just released a report about these local LDC deals. These LDC’s operate beyond the scope of public scrutiny and can reward contracts without a transparent bidding process.

So that means that the Maggie Brooks team can decide who gets the contracts behind closed doors and, voila, contributions pour into the Republican Party housekeeping fund (Siemens Corp delivered a wheelbarrow filled with cash to Minarik around the same time they got contracts from two of these LDC’s).

And who is at the center of these LDC deals? That would be Michael Townsend, COMIDA’s attorney. Townsend is an employee of Harris Beach, the same legal corporation that got a COMIDA tax break to move out of the city into Bushnell Basin. That’s right, your tax dollars subsidized one of the most powerful law firms in the area to move out of the city and into the outer ring suburbs.

But wait, there’s more…

Harris Beach’s partners own the Granite Building which is now half empty. While the rest of us mere mortals are left holding mortgages on our depreciating homes (and some of us are experiencing variable rate mortgage increases), the folks at Harris Beach can rest assured that, when the Renaissance Square plan goes through, their Granite Building will be bought up in full by the Main and Clinton Local Development Corporation. And yes, you guessed it right, the Main and Clinton LDC, which will bail out Harris Beach on the Granite Building, was set up by Harris Beach employee, Michael Townsend.


Will you be able to join us Tuesday, January 15, at 11:30am? We are doing a press conference before the meeting.

The COMIDA meeting is at 47 S. Fitzhugh St. downtown Rochester.

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Let’s stop

Uncle sam say’s bring home the troops

We can do this

Rochester area residents are in a unique position to push Congress to stop funding the Iraq war because Louise Slaughter is Chair of the Rules Committee and she meets with Nancy Pelosi frequently.

Metro Justice is starting up a sophisticated phonathon for peace to urge Slaughter to turn off the war funding and to block any plans to bomb Iran.

Can you help us by joining our phonathon team for two evenings?

“But I don’t do phoning”

We’ve marched, rallied and demonstrated. And now most Americans agree with us. It’s time to focus that anti-war energy on Congress. By directly reaching out, person to person, with Rochester area residents who are against the war, and then patching them through to Slaughter’s office, we can create a wave of direct pressure to make sure Congress is hearing where we’re at. Our enlisted soldiers and the people of Iraq are counting on us to do everything we can. We’ll have a script for you and we usually have fun doing these calls.

“Isn’t Congresswoman Slaughter already against the war?”
Louise has signed a letter pledging not to support any funding bill that doesn’t include withdrawing our troops. But she still hasn’t said that she’ll use her leadership position to block funding and she still hasn’t come out for full withdrawal and the removal of all bases.
There’s nothing like hundreds of phone calls to strengthen the resolve of an elected representative.

Weekday evenings 5:30 to 8:30pm at the Metro Justice office, 167 Flanders Street, Rochester
Monday, November 12
Tuesday, November 13
Wednesday, November 14
Thursday, November 15

Monday, December 3
Tuesday, December 4
Wednesday, December 5
Thursday, December 6

We aren’t on the sidelines. We aren’t complaining or whining. We are jumping into the fray and taking part in the direction of history.

Please join us,
Jon Greenbaum, Metro Justice Organizer

office 585.325.2560
cell 585.880.8731

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The Reification of Single Payer

I guess I don’t get it. Why is “single payer” seen as such a magic cure by American progressives?

Yes, the current American system sucks and yes the current crop of insurance company funded presidential wannabes don’t want to bite the hand that feeds them. And yes, government can provide health care more efficiently than the private sector.

But “single payer” is merely a payment mechanism. It’s just one component of a good health care system. And it isn’t quite accurate to say Germany and France have single payer systems. Private plans are part of those systems. England definitely doesn’t. They have socialized medicine (doctors work for the state). And Canada, which is lauded as the single payer example, has only slightly better health outcomes than the United States (of course their single payer system helps provide health care coverage MUCH more cheaply).

Single payer is not a panacea. It is a good tool for efficient payment but is only one tool. We also need to develop enough political power to regulate the pharmaceutical company prices, do preventive care, and force some planning on the market. And maybe we should address the absurd salaries of doctors (or just import cheap doctors from overseas- that ought to make the Thomas Friedman adherents apoplectic).

Of course we’d be better off if we got rid of insurance companies. We should also nationalize the energy industry and change our entire cheap food agriculture system. But these goals will require a fundamental shift in the current power dynamic and it don’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon.

Ask yourself what you have done in the last two months to lay the grassroots political groundwork for taking on a gazillion dollar industry that will shut single payer advocates out of policy discussions in the back rooms of DC and Albany? A good idea goes only so far in politics.

Most Americans have never heard of single payer and are suspicious of government solutions that are imposed on them. You can advocate for single payer just as much as you can advocate for mandatory car pooling and an end to product packaging. But speaking truth to power is not organizing. It might get you into heaven but it won’t budge public policy one iota.

Our system is totally screwed up and if we are really savvy and are able to build a powerful grassroots groundswell we might be able to budge the current system several degrees to the left and shrink the private sector and expand the public sector.

I’d love for the system to work a little bit better. I’m working two jobs while my wife goes back to school and we’re just trying to make it. Health care coverage is a huge problem. I know some upper middle class professionals (who own second homes) and they scoff at the idea of changing the system a little bit. They call it “incrementalism.” I don’t call it incrementalism. I call it health care for my kids.

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Richistan Border Index

$68,885                 The amount of wealth produced by the average U.S. worker in a year

$29,544                 Average annual income of American worker

$39,341                 Amount of wealth that the average American creates in a year but does not retain

1 day                      The amount of time the average CEO of a large American company has to work to earn the amount that the average American worker earns in a year

22,255                   Number of years the average American worker would have to work to earn the average annual salary of the top 20 private equity and hedge fund managers in 2006

84                           Percentage of American wealth owned by the richest 20%.

21.9                        Percentage of children living in poverty in the United States

$12                         Minimum wage in Ireland

$5.85                      New American minimum wage

7                              The percent decrease of the buying power of the new minimum wage compared with the old minimum wage ten years ago

45                           The percent increase in average American CEO pay over the last ten years

1:3                          The ratio of European CEOs’ income to the income of their American counterparts

33                           Percentage of Americans who don’t take their allotted vacation time

25                           Percentage of American in the private sector who do not get any vacation.

240                         Difference between the number of hours worked by the average American worker and average French worker in 2006

477 billion             Amount that Bush tax cuts give the wealthiest one percent of Americans

20                           Percentage of Americans with subprime mortgages expected to lose their homes

11                           Percent that Congress has cut federal funding for housing over the last two years

40.8                        Measure of income inequality (Gini coefficient) shared by three nations: United States, Turkmenistan and Ghana (The Gini coefficient measures income distribution. A score of 100 means that one person has all the wealth and a score of 9 means that everybody shares wealth equally. The United States is the only industrialized county with a score above 40).

33                           Percentage of federal revenue from corporate taxes in 1950’s

7.4                          Percentage of federal revenue from corporate taxes in 2003

17.7                                    Percent tax rate paid by Warren Buffett

30                           Percent tax rate paid by Warren Buffett’s secretary

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