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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

May, 2005

 

Arnold Wants To Crush Unions
By Karen Nakamura

On April 8, California teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters and state employees, i.e., the backbone of America, sighed a collective sigh of relief. In the class war being waged by the richest 1% against the working poor and middle classes, their poster boy, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, announced he was ending a campaign to scale back State of California employee pensions.
His proposal would convert secure retirement plans into individual risk accounts similar to President Bush's. The Governor's withdrawal, however, apparently now hinges on reworking language that eliminated death and disability benefits for widows and children of police officers and firefighters.
This move to place California's debt on the backs of our "first responders" lines up perfectly with the Bush administration's attempts to reduce benefits to the active military and veterans. Even, at one point, making some of the injured pay to get home from Iraq. It also fits corporate policies of squeezing every last penny out of their customers while retaining as much profits as possible in their own coffers by neglecting their employees.
But California unions in their traditional role of protecting worker rights and interests knew they'd won only one battle in a much greater war. While different unions represent these first responders, the Governor is assaulting each group, claiming he likes nurses, for instance, just not their union.
To prove the point, Schwarzenegger spoke on right-wing talk shows after the decision saying, "We pulled back the initiative temporarily. We're going to rewrite the language, resubmit it again and put it on the next June (2006) ballot.'' In San Diego on April 11, he again signaled he wouldn't back down from efforts to reshape the pension system, stating firefighters and police officers are wrong when they say they could lose death and disability benefits. Schwarzenegger went on to emphasize the state's contributions to public employee retirement funds soared from $160 million in 2000 to $2.6 billion this year, a figure that needs checking.
Labor groups, however, fear forced individual investment accounts will dilute the political and investment clout of the very powerful $182.9 billion California Public Employees Retirement Fund, the nation's largest with 1.4 million members. This fund invests huge sums in various stocks and because of its weight, can often call the shots on decision such as divesting from the former South African apartheid system or blocking big business goals. It's that power to hinder which is more than likely the real reason Schwarzenegger and Bush are trying to quell the clout of pension fundsÉ and unions.
What neither Bush nor Schwarzenegger want to acknowledge is that the very reason social security benefits and pensions were enacted was to avoid America's elderly from having to join soup lines or beg in the streets. What people are forgetting is how California got here in the first place. The dotcom bubble burst yes, but as important were the Texas energy companies, which ripped the state off for what former Gov. Davis estimated at nine billion dollars. Gov. Schwarzenegger seems to have forgotten the whole subject after his photo-op trip to Washington last year.
One of Schwarzenegger's biggest beefs is with the Service Employees International Union, SEIU, which represents public employees and is America's most active union. His view is unions are the enemy of the state and calls them "special interests" while never acknowledging that business is a special interest too and that the state belongs to all residents not just the powerful.
According to the SEIU web site, " The governor wants to double our pension contributions. For those in Tier 1, that means a 6 percent hike in out-of-pocket costs. He also wants to wipe out guaranteed benefit amounts, plus allow "opt-outs" which will weaken CalPERS [the pension fund] overall."
Other initiatives the Governor is seeking to qualify for a special, and expensive, November 2005 ballot are proposals to eliminate teacher tenure and gain approval to redistrict political precincts to favor Republican candidates. This move mirrors Tom DeLay's similar action in Texas. The twist here is that redistricting usually takes place right after the traditional US census taken every ten years and is under the jurisdiction of the legislature.
Redistricting also fits into what both DeLay and Dick Cheney state is a goal of establishing a permanent Republican majority. Similar systems have been found in Saddam's Iraq, the PRN's Mexico, Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Nazi Germany. The, at least, two party system is the basis of Democracy. A one party system is the antithesis. Business owners operating without enforced worker's rights tend toward indentured servitude like in Louis XIV's time.
Teacher tenure is a type of seniority system fought for by educators and long the bugaboo of the right wing. It was developed from endless negotiations and is meant to protect seasoned and proven teachers from being fired on the whim of politicians. Tenure is worked for long and hard by the teacher and not easily awarded.
Here are some of SEIU's positions on other infringements. These points are taken directly from their website, seiu.com.
"The "Schwarzenegger Health Plan" would destroy our current health care premium formula-the state pays 80 percent and we pay 20 percent. He'll propose a flat dollar amount, not yet specified. We're certain it won't keep up with skyrocketing premiums.
The governor wants the right to declare a fiscal crisis at any time and impose up to five unpaid days off. That's about a 2 percent pay cut!
Schwarzenegger wants to strip health coverage from new employees until they complete probation. That could be either six months or one year depending on classification.
Two Fewer Holidays In Proposed Budget: The specific holidays he wants to cut were not identified.
Remove Leave Time From Overtime Calculations: If you are off sick on a Tuesday, but work overtime the next Sunday - your regular day off - the governor says you won't be paid the overtime rate.
Limit Leave Accrual to 640 Hours Max: Even if you're denied the ability to take your vacation-the practice in many departments-you could only accrue 640 hours total.
150 Million To Be Slashed From State Operations: Schwarzenegger's proposed $150 million in service cuts will likely mean layoffs, more hiring freezes, and skyrocketing workloads that deny California taxpayers the services they need and deserve." In the meantime, conservatives are angry about the governor's temporary retreat on the pension issue. One talk show host chided Schwarzenegger for not going "to war full blast with the unions."

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