Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tell the Presbyterian Church leadership to treat its workers fairly

Tell the Presbyterian Church leadership to treat its workers fairly

Sometimes a small event can have outsize consequences. In the 1950’s, an African-American woman in a small southern city refused to give up her seat to a white person and sparked the Civil Rights Movement. In Tunisia earlier this year, a previously unknown merchant set himself on fire to protest government malfeasance and started a revolution that is still sending shockwaves throughout the Middle East.

I met some workers today who may not have the same international impact as the examples I cited above, but they certainly have their courage.

Last year, healthcare workers at Broomall Presbyterian Village voted to form a union at their nursing home. But in that year, their church-related employer has done everything they can do to bust their union, using tactics one would expect from notoriously anti-worker corporations like Wal-Mart. The workers, represented by Service Employees International Union Healthcare PA, have worked for this period without a contract.

The Presbyterians have not negotiated in good faith, offering the newly unionized workers a contract which gives them even less money than their not-yet-union co-workers. The Presbyterians have also proposed cutting the union employees retirement plan below what is being offered to other, not-yet-union employees. In the meantime, these low-wage workers have not had a raise in over two years. The

Presbyterians have even hired a union-busting law firm to manage their campaign against the low wage workers.

Things have gotten so bad that charges were filed against the employer with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the Presbyterians are retaliating against workers for forming a union.

Today, the workers took the very tough step of going out on strike. Striking is always a difficult decision, but it is even harder when the workers are barely eking out a living. When low wage workers go out on strike, the situation has to be extremely dire because they have no safety net. Missing even one day's pay can mean a family could lose their home.

“We didn’t want to go on strike, but we need to stand up for ourselves and our residents,” said Sandra Hutson, a certified nursing aide (CNA) who has worked at Broomall Presbyterian for six years. “Management is trying to punish us for forming a union, when all we want is to be able to support our families and improve the quality of care we provide our residents.”

This anti-union campaign is being led by Judee Bavaria, the CEO of the Presby’s Inspired Life. Broomall Presbyterian is owned by Presby’s Inspired Life, a nonprofit which describes itself as “a regional leader in senior living, providing continuing care and affordable housing to more than 2,600 residents in 25 communities through the dedicated, compassionate work of nearly 1,100 employees.”

Why is Bavaria attacking low wage workers? It doesn’t make sense, especially when her church has a reputation for standing up for workers.

Is it a case of standing up for middle class workers (like the state employees in Wisconsin), but ignoring the concerns of the working poor? The workers at Broomall Presbyterian are mostly people of color, largely immigrant and almost all are women. And, as you might expect, they are the lowest paid workers at the nursing home.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly has a Statement on Labor Relations that strongly affirms the right of workers to organize. It states, in part, "Justice

demands that social institutions guarantee all persons the opportunity to participate actively in economic decision making that affects them. All workers ... have the right to choose to organize for the purposes of collective bargaining."1

The PCUSA reaffirmed that stance in March, 2011 in reaction to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on workers, saying “As Presbyterians we base the rights of all workers, corporations and governments in a doctrine of covenant or mutual accountability that undergirds all contracts and includes our social contract in the United States. We share with many people of faith the conviction that collective bargaining is a concrete measure by which burdens and benefits are shared in a manner deeply consistent with both our faith and our democratic values.”2

The Presbyterians talk a good game, but their actions at Broomall Presbyterian do not match their words.

The workers at Broomall Presbyterian have made a courageous choice to stand up and stand together for justice. Now the Presbyterians have a clear choice to make. Will they be on the side of justice so eloquently proclaimed in their statements? Or will they join the ranks of Scott Walker, Tom Corbett and Glenn Beck in vilifying workers and exploiting low-income workers?

History, and higher authorities, will be their judge.

Michael Morrill

(You can write to Judee Bavaria, CEO of Presby’s Inspired Life by clicking here. Tell her to treat the Broomal Presbytarian workers with the justice and fairness they deserve.)

1 Presbyterian Church (USA) Selected Social Witness Policies on Work as Vocation, Unions and Collective Bargaining
PCUSA Stated clerk backs public employees’ collective bargaining rights

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hypocrisy Watch

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Have you had enough of state government of the special interests... by the politically powerful... for the well-connected?

So have we!

Hypocrisy Watch is here to hold the Harrisburg insiders accountable. We're a group of concerned citizens committed to shining a light on how decisions really get made and who stands to benefit. Please sign up below to get our daily updates.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Corbett to Speak at Right wing Group Dedicated to Destroying Public Education

Pennsylvania’s public schools are under attack by a group of multi-millionaires. Their plan? Privatize education, so that every family has to send their child to private schools.1

CorbettChoiceThis radical movement believes the first step toward their goal is a scheme called “School Vouchers.” Gov. Tom Corbett is one of the backers of this program. In fact he believes in it so strongly that one of the most radical groups supporting privatizing education is having Corbett as their keynote speaker on Monday.2 He’s being joined at the event by Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, he of the effort to destroy collective bargaining rights.

Tom Corbett is betraying the public interest by joining in this effort to destroy public schools.

That’s why Keystone Progress and PennAction are going to Washington on Monday to tell him that he needs to stay in Pennsylvania to protect public education instead of allying himself with people who have vowed to destroy our schools.

Please join us in Washington on Monday. We’re holding a rally outside the Washington Marriott from 11:30 AM until 1:00 PM. We have free transportation leaving this Monday, May 9 at 8:00 AM from Harrisburg, 7:00 AM from Bucks County and 8:00 from Philadelphia. We’ll be home by 5 or 6 that evening. Send us an email at to reserve your spot.

Don’t need a ride to DC? Let us know you’re coming by registering on Facebook here.

Can’t make it to Washington? You can stop the plan to privatize public schools by sending emails to the key State Senators.


Making a contribution to Keystone Progress to help us continue the fight to protect public education and to work for working family values.

Thank you for your support.

Together we will win,

Michael Morrill
Keystone Progress

1Rachel Tabachnick, Talk to Action,
2American Federation for Children,

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tonight’s GOP Pre-Debate Sponsored By Extremists: John Birch Society And The Oath Keepers

Tonight’s GOP Pre-Debate Sponsored By Extremists: John Birch Society And The Oath Keepers

In Greenville, South Carolina tonight, five presidential contenders will meet for the first GOP presidential primary debate. According to the pre-debate event’s official program, it is sponsored by several extremist groups, including the Oath Keepers militia group and the radical anti-communist John Birch Society. You can see a picture of the program here. Here’s the John Birch Society’s booth at the site of the debate:

See whole article at Think Progress here.

New AFSCME Report on Private Prisons: “Making A Killing”

A new report exposes how the private prison industry thrives in a pay-to-play culture; making our communities less safe and more prone to violent crime

WASHINGTON — This Wednesday, May 4, 2011, as correctional officers from around the country arrive in Washington for National Correctional Officers week, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) released a new report entitled, “Making A Killing: How Prison Corporations Are Profiting From Campaign Contributions and Putting Taxpayers at Risk.”

Each election cycle, America’s largest private prison companies pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into the campaigns of governors, state legislators, and judges, in the hopes of advancing their political agenda—establishing more private prisons and reducing the number of public ones. The report tracks the flow of money from the companies to the people in power, and details some of the worst cases of violence and death in the nation’s least safe facilities.

“Private prison companies have one goal, and that’s to maximize profits,” said Ken Kopczynski, Executive Director of the Private Corrections Working Group. “States considering privatization should be clear about the problems associated with these corporate facilities—high rates of violence, high staff turnover, lax security, and routine mismanagement. We should be securing our prisons, not selling them off to the highest bidder.”

“Making A Killing” was released on a press conference call today by Ken Kopczynski, Executive Director of Private Corrections Working Group, Glen Middleton, Chair of AFSCME Corrections United, Tom Jones, former Senior Manager of Quality Assurance at Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and Marty Hathaway, Correctional Officer at the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Coralville.

The report is now available at the following url:

Monday, May 2, 2011

DeVos talks about stealth school voucher strategy

School Voucher leader talks about their stealth strategy back in 2002 before the Heritage Foundation. The Devos family is part of the cabal that funds the astro-turf group Students first and others. Text of excerpt, and link to full speech, follow below. H/T to Bruce Wilson.

“Where’s the battle going to be fought, for the future? In my view it will be, and at this point it needs to be, fought at the state level--utilizing vehicles such as GLEP and others nationally but ideally these organizations must be constructed locally. They need to be constructed with individuals such as the staff we had in Michigan, who were intelligent and connected with the local grassroots politics of what was going on, that had the relationships, the insights, and the political sensitivity to know what was happening.
And so while those of us on the national level can give support, we need to encourage the development of these organizations on a state-by-state basis, in order to be able to offer a political consequence, for opposition, and political reward, for support of, education reform issues.
That has got to be the battle. It will not be as visible. And, in fact, to the extent that we on the right, those of us on the conservative side of the aisle, appropriate education choice as our idea, we need to be a little bit cautious about doing that, because we have here an issue that cuts in a very interesting way across our community and can cut, properly communicated, properly constructed, can cut across a lot of historic boundaries, be they partisan, ethnic, or otherwise.
And so we’ve got a wonderful issue that can work for Americans. But to the extent that it is appropriated or viewed as only a conservative idea it will risk not getting a clear and a fair hearing in the court of public opinion. So we do need to be cautious about that.
We need to be cautious about talking too much about these activities. Many of the activities and the political work that needs to go on will go on at the grass roots. It will go on quietly and it will go on in the form that often politics is done - one person at a time, speaking to another person in privacy. And so these issues will not be, maybe, as visible or as noteworthy but they will set a framework, within states, for the possibility of action on education reform issues. “
--Richard DeVos, speech at the Heritage Foundation, December 3, 2002

Our Responsibility to Struggle With Determination, In the Company of Others Without Timidity

Brothers and sisters, companeros, working people of the world. Thank you for this opportunity to celebrate together one of humankind’s greatest social achievements: the fight and victory for the eight hour working day waged by our predecessors in the streets of Chicago in 1886.

Much has changed since then. American workers, and workers across the globe – won the right to organize, to have dignity in the workplace. Women won rights. Children were not longer forced to work. Working conditions improved and so did society. As species on this planet, we moved forward. We adopted new norms of behavior with one another. We gained leisure time to pursue other human interests, to reconnect with the nature and the world outside of us. We strived, slowly at times, to be true to our spirit.

In these United States, the organizations of working people –those at the workplace and in the communities – were beacons of hope, symbols both of progress and security. And for many years, we believed that those hard-won gains, those solidified essential rights were built into the foundation of what America is, the very essence of its being, the organic components of its existence.

And for many decades, many in the organized labor movement of these United States, perhaps by design or happenstance, became both complicit and complacent with the economic system that at one time considered them to be nothing more than articles for the production of wealth for the few.

I believe you can trace this back to the cold war era, when the leadership of the American labor movement bought into and promoted a class collaboration policy abroad, to deny solidarity to workers in other lands who were still drawing inspiration from the struggle at Chicago’s Haymarket Square. May Day was then, and is still today, a national holiday in every country around the world, except here in the place of its birth: the United States. Those calamitous policies that harmed workers in other lands laid the foundations for the decline and rising ineffectiveness of the labor movement at home. It could not struggle against racism at home while collaborating with racist policies abroad; it could not defend against attacks by the bosses here while it cooperated with the bosses of other countries and US multinational corporations against the struggles for representation by workers in the developing countries; it could not advance in strength and numbers while it applauded the crushing of the national liberation movement in former colonies and neocolonialism in newly independent states.

That is history.

We have learned. A new generation of labor leaders and activists understands this inglorious past.

The world has changed. And so have we.

Today we fight against the most widespread, the strongest and most dangerous assault on working people in modern times. Our parents and grandparents cannot recall a greater threat.

Our very survival, as a class with the ability to defend ourselves and our children and communities, is at stake.

We have two choices. We can accept and oblige. We can behave, as we have learned to do over the last three decades, to be timid, to go at it alone, to demand less, to diminish hopes and aspirations. We could, today, as we have done in the past, use the language of our oppressors and say, for example, we cannot demand a single payer healthcare system in these United States because it is not the time for that. It is what we want, what the country needs, but it is not the right time. We could today – when immigrant families are torn apart, the rights of immigrant workers trampled, when people who speak with an accent and have tint on their skins are humiliated, beaten, shot and killed – today we could say, it is not the time for a comprehensive immigration reform change. Instead, we let racist Arizona-style laws proliferate and spread like cancerous cells throughout every institution in our society

We could be passive, accepting, and unimaginative and allow the education of our children to be offered up to the highest for-profit bidder while the courageous men and women who educate our children are considered criminals and treated like pawns. We could allow the new Roy Innises or Jonas Savimbis of Philadelphia to go to the side of vouchers to destroy public education, and treat those men and women as if they were still on our side just because once many years ago they voted with us for some piece of legislation. You know in the 70s and 80s they de-industrialized America. In this decade, they want to de-brain America.

We could be docile, individualistic, self centered, egotistical and go drink on our sorrows. But that is not who we are as a people. It is not reflective of the community we live in. It is not part of the dreams we still have and share.

It is not, and will never be us. We are like the people of Wisconsin who have risen up to inspire the nation and the world. We are like the people of Egypt, who despite being told “it is not the time”, have responded with a resoluteness bordering in the obtuse that “we are making our time”. We are like the indigenous people of Bolivia and Peru who for the first time in their modern history are taking matters into their own hands.

I am profoundly inspired by the actions of the young people of Tucson, Arizona, who this week chained themselves to the seats of the school board to protest the decimation of their right to be instructed about their cultural heritage. That is action, bold, determined, collective, untimid and effective. A lesson to us all as we move here in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania to regain our status as men and women with dignity and purpose.

I am reminded of the words of the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda speaking of the duty of a writer, an artist, an observer of human activity. He wrote “I determined that my posture within the community and before life should be that of in a humble way taking sides. I decided this when I saw so many honorable misfortunes, lone victories, splendid defeats. In the midst of the arena of America’s struggles I saw that my human task was none other than to join the extensive forces of the organized masses of the people, to join with life and soul with suffering and hope, because it is only from this great popular stream that the necessary changes can arise for the authors and for the nations. And even if my attitude gave and still gives rise to bitter or friendly objections, the truth is that I can find no other way for an author in our far-flung and cruel countries, if we want the darkness to blossom, if we are concerned that the millions of people who have learnt neither to read us nor to read at all, who still cannot write or write to us, are to feel at home in the area of dignity without which it is impossible for them to be complete human beings.

This friends, is our challenge today.

Thank you.

Pedro Rodriguez is a Keystone Progress Board Member.