Tags: California, Criminal Justice, human rights, hunger strike, john rudolf, pelican bay, prison conditions, prison inmates, prisoners, prisons, roger hollander, solitary confinement
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Published on Saturday, July 9, 2011 by the Huffington Post
Nearly 1,500 inmates at six California prisons have joined a hunger strike by prisoners confined in one of the state’s harshest isolation units, prison officials said Friday.
Demonstrators hold up a sign during a rally in front of the State Building in San Francisco, Friday to support prisoners at Pelican Bay State Prison. Inmates in an isolation unit at Pelican Bay State Prison are on a hunger strike to protest conditions that they describe as inhumane. Advocates say several dozen inmates in the Security Housing Unit declined to eat their morning meal on Friday. The unit holds about a third of the 3,100 inmates at the Northern California prison. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma) The hunger strike began a week ago and was organized by prisoners confined in the Security Housing Unit at Pelican Bay State Prison, a maximum security facility located near the Oregon border. Inmates there are held in windowless isolation cells for more than 22 hours a day and can have little or no contact with other prisoners for years and even decades at a time.
A core group of prisoners at Pelican Bay said they were willing to starve to death rather than continue to submit to prison conditions that they call a violation of basic civil and human rights.
“No one wants to die,” James Crawford, a prisoner serving a life sentence for murder and robbery, said in a statement provided by a coalition of prisoners’ rights groups. “Yet under this current system of what amounts to intense torture, what choice do we have?”
The hunger strike comes only weeks after the Supreme Court ordered California to dramatically lower its prisons population, because severe overcrowding was exposing inmates to high levels of violence and disease.
California prison conditions were so poor as to be “intolerable with the concept of human dignity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion.
The hunger strike is not a protest against overcrowding, however, but against the treatment of offenders who are segregated from the general population due to gang affiliations or crimes committed in prison.
In June, the Pelican Bay inmates provided prison officials advance warning of their intent to begin a hunger strike and made six key demands, including that the prison reform its policies on long-term solitary confinement.
The prisoners cited a 2006 report by a group of attorneys and law enforcement professionals that determined long-term solitary confinement practiced in U.S. prisons can create “torturous conditions that are proven to cause mental deterioration.”
State and federal courts have rejected prisoner lawsuits seeking to alter such policies, however. Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said that prisoners in the Pelican Bay isolation unit were held there due to their known affiliation with prison gangs or for violent acts committed in prison.
“The purpose of the Security Housing Unit is to remove gang members’ influence over other inmates and to keep our prisons safe,” she said.
The prisoners also called for an end to a policy allowing indefinite detention in the isolation unit for inmates suspected of continued involvement in gang activity. Gang-affiliated prisoners can be released from the unit if they “debrief,” or provide information on other gang members.
Those who choose not to “debrief” must serve a minimum of six years in the solitary unit and can be held there indefinitely if they engage in any activity that prison officials deem gang-related.
Tags: California, california hospitals, california strike, democratic unions, executive salaries, healthcare workers, hospital management, kaiser permanente, labor, labor unions, labour, mark brenner, nuhw, organized labor, patient care, roger hollander, salinas california, salinas valley memorial, seiu, workers rights
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Hundreds of workers at a central California hospital return to work today, after a two-day lockout that provoked a complaint from the state labor board.
Workers at the Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, two hours south of San Francisco, were locked out after taking to picket lines on Tuesday.
The daylong strike—the first ever in the hospital’s 58-year history—was called by members of the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) after stalled negotiations with hospital management.
The union, which represents techs, professionals, and service workers in the hospital, is fighting plans to cut more than 100 direct-care positions and trim pension and health care benefits for new hires.
The labor board’s complaint says the Salinas lockout was illegal retaliation for striking. A decision is expected within a month—and could net workers back pay for the days they were locked out.
It’s the third short strike this year by NUHW, which was founded in 2009 after SEIU placed its third-largest local, the dissident United Healthcare Workers-West, into trusteeship, prompting members and leaders to establish the breakaway union.
The struggles are a critical part of the union’s development, as NUHW members work against intense opposition from employers and their former union to secure first contracts for its 10,000 members statewide.
“We’ve never operated in the red,” said Ester Fierros-Nuñez, the Salinas union chairperson. “But now top administrators are treating this hospital, and the community, like their personal ATM.”
Hospital executives have been under close scrutiny after the union uncovered a deal which provided the recently departed CEO more than $5 million in pension and severance on top of the $150,000 a year he collects from the state pension plan.
Outrage over this taxpayer-funded golden parachute has spurred a state audit of the hospital’s finances. According to Fierros-Nuñez, six additional executives have the same kind of deal, which allows recipients to bypass IRS tax shelter rules by funneling money through multiple pensions.
“It’s like Enron,” she said. “They want to cut folks at the bottom so they can pay more to people at the top.”
NUHW has also criticized the hospital’s decision to spend $12 million on outside consultants, most notably Wellspring Partners, a Chicago-based firm. The consulting company, under prior ownership, was involved in the takeover and closure of St. Vincent’s hospital in New York City.
In St. Vincent’s bankruptcy proceedings, it emerged that the consultants had billed the hospital for everything from groceries and dry cleaning to opera tickets and club memberships. Union activists worry that Wellspring is milking their hospital as well.
LEAN AND MEAN
The biggest concern voiced on Tuesday’s picket line was for the hospital’s patients.
According to Debbie Prader, a 38-year licensed vocational nurse at the hospital, staff cuts that started a year and a half ago have sent workloads skyrocketing.
Previously, Prader typically worked her entire shift on a single floor, with an average of 10 patients. Now she’s covering two or three floors, and caring for up to 19 patients.
“They’re dismantling the whole hospital,” Prader said. “There’s no way to give good care in these conditions.”
Lily Garner, a 30-year medical transcriptionist at the hospital whose sister is currently a patient, said she’s seen the impact first hand. Basic help, like bathroom assistance, is lacking, she said.
“The people making all the decisions aren’t in contact with patients,” said Linda Vallez, a certified nursing assistant for 31 years at the hospital. “All they see is numbers on a spreadsheet.”
Salinas Valley Memorial is just the latest example of a profitable hospital looking to take advantage of the recession and lower staffing standards.
The same drive for concessions led 2,500 NUHW members in Southern California to launch their second one-day strike at Kaiser Permanente facilities on May 18. The health care giant made more than $1 billion in profits last year but is pushing for layoffs and major pension and health benefit takeaways.
“Kaiser executives are making more money than ever and are giving themselves huge raises, but they refuse to provide nurses with the staff we need to take care of our patients properly,” said Roxana Valadez, a pediatric nurse in Los Angeles. “And now, they’re not just keeping us understaffed, they also want to cut our benefits. Kaiser is becoming a worse and worse place to provide patient care.”
NUHW’S NEXT STEPS
The fights at Kaiser and Salinas hold the promise of stabilizing NUHW’s financial future, if they can win the union a first contract—and dues checkoff. (The union is hand-collecting dues in the meantime). Tight resources have hampered the union’s expansion, leading it to withdraw from numerous elections in recent months.
But even more important, the struggles are defining NUHW’s identity independent of SEIU.
There is no question the union will continue to run and win elections in SEIU bargaining units across the state, and extend their reach into non-union hospitals and nursing homes. NUHW’s recent victory in three of the four California Pacific Medical Center facilities in San Francisco is the latest example of its enduring appeal.
But the union’s most important challenge right now is to make good on its founding promise—that workers can build a democratic union willing to stand up and fight.
This task is doubly difficult when unions everywhere are ducking for cover, and when taking concessions is the norm. SEIU’s California leaders have agreed to health care cost-shifting and pension takeaways at health care facilities, giving management yet more reason to take a hard line against NUHW.
For NUHW’s members, there is no going back to the union they once had. And workers from Santa Rosa to San Diego have demonstrated they’re ready to build something new, and hopefully better, in its place.
Today’s Supreme Court Ruling on Prison Overcrowding Explained; Prison Photos From Decision May 24, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in California, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice.
Tags: California, california prisons, Criminal Justice, jon brooks, kqed, prison industrial complex, prison overcrowding, roger hollander, scalia, scotus, supreme court
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Update 3:16 p.m. From California Watch, a look at how the state might meet the order to drastically decrease its prison population.
KQED’s Joshua Johnson sat down with Scott Shafer, who covers criminal justice issues for us, to discuss today’s major SCOTUS ruling upholding a lower court’s order that California must reduce its prison population. (Listen to the interview here.)The Supreme Court declared the state must shed its prison system of some 46,000 inmates within two years. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the majority.
Shafer explains that state prisons are at 200% capacity, with twice as many inmates incarcerated as the system was built to hold. The ruling did not dictate how California should comply with the order — whether it should release inmates, transfer them out of state to for-profit prisons, change its parole rules, or take other actions. Cash-strapped California will not be able to simply throw money at the problem, Shafer says, and will probably have to decide on a combination of policy shifts that can meet the required reduction.
One thing that might help expedite changes: The ruling probably didn’t come as a surprise, Shafer says, as it was clear during oral arguments that a majority of justices had run out of patience with the state, giving policymakers a clear signal to start preparing for compliance.
Also of note: The majority took the extraordinary action of including three photos in the official opinion:
As for the dissenting opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, Shafer called it “bombastic and scathing.” Scalia characterized the 2009 order to reduce the number of inmates as “perhaps the most radical injunction issued by a court in our nation’s history,” and contended that its affirmation would put public safety at risk.
Tags: agriculture, California, california government, cesar chavez, darrel steinberg, edgar sanchez, farm workers, jerry brown, labor, labor relations, labour, roger hollander, ufw, union rights, unions, workers rights
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By Edgar Sanchez
SACRAMENTO – California’s farm workers would be able to vote without fear for union representation under a historic bill approved Monday by the State Assembly after lengthy debate.
SB 104 – the Fair Treatment for Farm Workers Act – passed by a 51-to-25 party-line vote, prompting applause from 160 farm laborers packing the Assembly Gallery. Another 100-plus farm workers and their supporters watched the debate on television, in a legislative hearing room.
The bill, previously passed by the Senate, now awaits the signature of Governor Jerry Brown to become law.
The measure, granting farm workers the same organizing rights enjoyed by all state employees, is strongly opposed by the state’s $36 billion agricultural industry.
Introduced by Senator Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), SB 104 would give the state’s more than 400,000 farm workers an alternative to on-the-job polling place elections to decide whether to join a union. The new option would allow them to fill out state-issued representation ballots in their homes, away from bosses’ threats and other interference. If a simple majority – more than 50 percent — of workers sign the ballots, their jobs would be unionized.
All elections would be supervised by the Agricultural Labor Relations Board, with the workers choosing the process.
In a bid to derail SB 104, opponents in the Assembly described it as a job killer, “an anti-democracy bill” and a tool to “blatantly stack the deck against employers.”
Supporters called it a long-overdue proposal to end years of abuse by some unscrupulous labor contractors and growers fighting the United Farm Workers Union.
“This is a great victory for us,” Felipe, a 30-year-old farm worker from Kern County, said after the vote. “There won’t be any more intimidation on the part of contractors or farm bosses when union elections take place.
“There won’t be because if 104 becomes law, the vote could be in your house, without anybody pressuring you,” he said.
Felipe – not his real name — requested anonymity because he fears reprisals from his employer, who he said intimidated workers into voting against unionization in 2006.
“Before the election, we were told we would lose our jobs if we voted for the union,” the $8-an-hour laborer said. “I came to Sacramento today without my bosses’ knowledge. They don’t know that I came here.”
The Assembly passed SB 104 on the third anniversary of the heat-related death of Maria Isavel Vasquez Jimenez, 17, who had collapsed on a vineyard east of Stockton. The pregnant laborer fainted after being denied proper access to water and shade in nearly 100-degree heat.
In all, 16 farm workers have died in the California heat since 2005, Luis A. Alejo (D-Watsonville), SB 104’s principal co-author, stated on the Assembly floor.
He cited two main reasons for the ongoing deaths: Employers, including Maria Isavel’s, intentionally disregard heat regulations and the state seldom enforces the laws.
Even the justice system failed Maria Isavel, Alejo said, expressing disbelief that no one went to prison after she was “killed.”
“Those responsible for her death were ‘sentenced’ to community service,” despite prior worker-safety law violations, he said. “Community service? For manslaughter? I don’t need to be an attorney to know that that is a disservice to our justice system.”
Noting that Maria Isavel’s uncle, Doroteo Jimenez, was in the Assembly Gallery, Alejo urged colleagues to “consider telling him that we will not let Maria Isavel’s death be for nothing … but, not with our words. But, with our actions today.”
Mariko Yamada (D-Davis), said that when Maria Isavel died, “her body temperature was over 108 degrees.”
“Members, can you believe that only six years ago there were no standards for working in the heat in California?” she said. “…Today, we have an opportunity to take another step on the long, tortuous path for civil rights in the farm worker community.
“I ask for your ‘Aye’ vote” on SB 104, she said.
Asking for a “No” vote was Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks.
“I rise in opposition to this bill, even though I support the cause of protecting the farm workers in the field,” he said. “Right now, we tolerate a system where (they) are systematically abused. They are exploited …
“SB 104 does nothing to protect farm workers,” he said.
Also blasting SB 104 was Bill Berryhill (R-Ceres), a longtime farmer who said that, if enacted, 104 would “get rid” of secret-ballot elections on ranches.
The bill runs counter to what Cesar Chavez fought for, Berryhill said, reminding that the UFW’s co-founder campaigned for farm workers’ right to choose a union through secret ballots.
William W. Monning (D-Carmel), responded to Donnelly’s and Berryhill’s remarks.
“Mr. Berryhill is right,” Monning said. “The philosophy of Cesar Chavez, (fellow UFW co-founder) Dolores Huerta and the union was to achieve secret-ballot protection for farm workers.”
That milestone came in 1975 when then-Governor Jerry Brown signed the Agricultural Labor Relations Act into law, he said.
Monning, a distinguished lawyer and former law professor, told colleagues he knows how the Act evolved. In the mid-1970s, he worked in the UFW’s Legal Department as it lobbied legislators for the Act’s passage.
But, Monning said, “under the current rules … once a petition for election is filed it sets in motion a wave of disparate power – the power of the labor contractor, the power of growers to maximize threats, intimidation, closed company meetings (to) dissuade workers” from voting for union representation, “even in the privacy of that secret ballot.”
“So now, by the time we get to election day, the election’s already been determined,” he said. “So we need to amend this law to level the playing field, to allow workers in the privacy of their homes, labor camps, to sign a card authorizing union representation” for themselves.
Then, in what appeared to be a direct rebuke to Donnelly, Monning denounced “those colleagues who say they oppose this bill because they care about farm worker rights.”
He continued: “When I look to an authority on farm worker rights, I look to farm workers. And farm workers are here today, here at their own expense, many missing a day of work asking us to give them the tools to end the exploitation of unscrupulous labor contractors who intimidate, bend the rules and violate the rights.
“Members, the legacy of Cesar Chavez is embedded in this legislation. I ask for your ‘Aye’ vote.”
The farm workers applauded enthusiastically.
Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, accused opponents of distorting the facts.
SB 104, he said, “does not eliminate the secret ballot. It simply adds card check … as another option for farm workers to choose collective bargaining.”
Sandré R. Swanson, D-Oakland, said SB 104 would make it easier for farm workers to organize and demand basic rights that other workers in California already have.
“We’re talking about the right for farm workers not to have to die of heat stroke, to have adequate water, available restrooms and decent pay,” he said. “That is fundamental to the opportunity to work in this state.”
After arriving in California’s capital from across the state, the farm workers had assembled at mid-morning in the basement of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, where they were welcomed by, among others, UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, several assembly members and Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento.
“You are pilgrims seeking a better way of life,” Soto told the gathering. “You deserve human benefits. And you are not alone in your struggle. Many people support you.”
Rodriguez said simply: “Today, we’ll be witnesses to history.”
With that, the farm laborers began a silent pilgrimage to the Capitol, a couple of blocks away.
After the vote, Assembly Speaker John Perez (D-Los Angeles), Assemblymember Alejo and other members of the Legislature addressed a cheering UFW crowd in the Capitol basement. The speakers vowed to do what needs to be done to ensure that Governor Brown signs SB 104.
Edgar Sanchez is a former writer for The Sacramento Bee and The Palm Beach Post
California To Observe First Harvey Milk Day May 21, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in California, Civil Liberties, Human Rights, LGBT.
Tags: California, Civil Rights, dan white, gay marriage, gay rights, george moscone, harvey milk, harvey milk day, lgbt, lisa leff, openly gay, roger hollander, same sex, san francisco politics, schwarzeneger, sean penn
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Lisa Leff, www.huffingtonpost.com, May 21, 2010
Presidential Medal of Freedom? Got that. A place in the California Hall of Fame and Sean Penn playing you on-screen? Those, too.
Now, Harvey Milk has a holiday of sorts to call his own. California will observe its first day of “special significance” Saturday honoring the slain gay rights leader on what would have been his 80th birthday.
It took two legislative tries and the 2008 movie “Milk” to help persuade Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign a bill last fall establishing May 22 as Harvey Milk Day. Memorial events are planned in 20 other states.
The California measure does not close state offices as an official holiday would but does encourages public schools to conduct activities commemorating the first openly gay man elected to public office in a major U.S. city.
Milk was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1978 when he and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated at City Hall by former supervisor Dan White.
Milk preached a message of pride that made him an inspiration to generations of gay rights activists, and he is credited with helping defeat a ballot initiative that would have prevented gay teachers from working in public schools.
The range of activities planned in his memory – concerts, voter canvassing to repeal California’s gay marriage ban, and students at some schools handing out malted milk balls and Milk Duds – speaks to Milk’s singularly iconic place in gay rights history and the public’s continued polarization on gay rights issues.
The day is shaping up to be even grander than its supporters anticipated. Demonstrations in St. Louis, Savannah, Ga., Fulton, Miss., and other cities are aimed at putting pressure on Congress to repeal the ban on gays serving openly in the military and to pass a law protecting gays and transgender people from job discrimination.
“The creation of the first official day of recognition for any openly gay person in the history of this country has really touched people, many of whom have been closeted in life or faced rejection or government discrimination which continues to this day,” said Geoffrey Kors, executive director of the gay rights group Equality California.
In Milk’s adopted home state, however, few public schools are marking the occasion, despite the language in the California bill that created it.
Having May 22 fall on a Saturday this year may have muted the celebrations. But a conservative group’s call for parents to pull their children out of class if any Harvey Milk activities were planned probably had an effect as well, said Carolyn Laub, executive director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, a San Francisco group that trains students to be gay rights advocates.
“We have heard from students and teachers who are facing resistance from school administrators who do not want to acknowledge this day,” Laub said.
Some students decided to sponsor movie screenings and other activities at lunch or after school in the absence of school-wide events, she said.
Zac Toomay, a 17-year-old junior at Arroyo Grande High School in central California, said he was surprised when his principal agreed to encourage history and English teachers to mention Milk during classes Friday.
“I encountered some apprehension, not because the principal or teachers are uncomfortable with it, but because they didn’t want to have too much of a controversy within the classroom,” Toomay said. “I said, ‘We have controversy in the classroom all the time, and if we are going to avoid that one, we are going to have to avoid all of them.’”
At in San Juan Hills High School in Orange County, Calif., where scheduled state achievement tests prevented classroom activities, 15-year-old Benji Delgadillo and other members of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance Club planned to sell Harvey milkshakes and to hand out fliers after school explaining who Milk was.
Besides Delgadillo, San Juan Hills only has one or two other openly gay or transgender students, he said. The club of about 25 members nevertheless persuaded the principal to change the dress code for dances so girls could wear suits and to cancel the annual “Battle of the Sexes” pep rally after some students said it was offensive to gender non-conforming students.
“Harvey Milk is a civil rights icon who sparked a movement that today is really helping to address the issues of harassment that lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer or gender non-conforming students face in our school and our community,” Delgadillo said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was scheduled to appear at a fundraiser Friday night tied to Harvey Milk Day and benefiting Equality California’s political action committee, which hopes to qualify a ballot initiative in 2012 that would repeal California’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Events planned for Saturday include the premiere of a musical based on Milk’s life written by Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter who won an Oscar for “Milk” the movie, and performed by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. The chorus plans to take the piece into high schools next year as part of project to prevent anti-gay bullying.
Stuart Milk, Harvey Milk’s 49-year-old nephew and one of the guardians of his legacy, thinks his uncle would be thrilled by the various tributes, but he also wants his day to be more about uniting all marginalized minorities than merely about gay rights or the accomplishments of one man.
“It’s still a hard concept for people to get,” Stuart Milk said. “This isn’t about having a Harvey Milk curriculum in every school. It’s an opportunity to talk about what discrimination means and why it’s important for everyone to feel included.”
Tags: California, david bacon, Homeland Security, Immigration, javier murillo, labor, labour, obama administration, racism, seiu, undocumented, unions, workers
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Friday 07 May 2010
(Photo: © David Bacon)
San Francisco, California – Federal immigration authorities have pressured one of San Francisco’s major building service companies, ABM, into firing hundreds of its own workers. Some 475 janitors have been told that unless they can show legal immigration status, they will lose their jobs in the near future.
ABM has been a union company for decades, and many of the workers have been there for years. “They’ve been working in the buildings downtown for 15, 20, some as many as 27 years,” said Olga Miranda, president of Service Employees Local 87. “They’ve built homes. They’ve provided for their families. They’ve sent their kids to college. They’re not new workers. They didn’t just get here a year ago.”
Nevertheless, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security has told ABM that they have flagged the personnel records of those workers. Weeks ago, ICE agents sifted through Social Security records and the I-9 immigration forms all workers have to fill out when they apply for jobs. They then told ABM that the company had to fire 475 workers who were accused of lacking legal immigration status.
ABM is one of the largest building service companies in the country, and it appears that union janitorial companies are the targets of the Obama administration’s immigration enforcement program. “Homeland Security is going after employers that are union,” Miranda charged. “They’re going after employers that give benefits and are paying above the average.”
Last October, 1,200 janitors working for ABM were fired in similar circumstances in Minneapolis. In November, over 100 janitors working for Seattle Building Maintenance lost their jobs. Minneapolis janitors belong to SEIU Local 26, Seattle janitors to Local 6 and San Francisco janitors to Local 87.
President Obama said sanctions enforcement targets employers “who are using illegal workers in order to drive down wages – and oftentimes mistreat those workers.” An ICE Worksite Enforcement Advisory claimed, “unscrupulous employers are likely to pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions.”
Curing intolerable conditions by firing or deporting workers who endure them doesn’t help the workers or change the conditions, however. And despite Obama’s contention that sanctions enforcement will punish those employers who exploit immigrants, employers are rewarded for cooperating with ICE by being immunized from prosecution. Javier Murillo, president of SEIU Local 26, said, “The promise made during the audit is that if the company cooperates and complies, they won’t be fined. So this kind of enforcement really only hurts workers.”
ICE Director John Morton said the agency is auditing the records of 1,654 companies nationwide. “What kind of economic recovery goes with firing thousands of workers?” Miranda asked. “Why don’t they target employers who are not paying taxes, who are not obeying safety or labor laws?”
The San Francisco janitors are now faced with an agonizing dilemma. Should they turn themselves in to Homeland Security, which might charge them with providing a bad Social Security number to their employer, and even hold them for deportation? For workers with families, homes and deep roots in a community, it’s not possible to just walk away and disappear. “I have a lot of members who are single mothers whose children were born here,” Miranda said. “I have a member whose child has leukemia. What are they supposed to do? Leave their children here and go back to Mexico and wait? And wait for what?”
Miranda’s question reflects not just the dilemma facing individual workers, but of 12 million undocumented people living in the United States. Since 2005, successive congress members, senators and administrations have dangled the prospect of gaining legal status in front of those who lack it. In exchange, their various schemes for immigration reform have proposed huge new guest worker programs, and a big increase in exactly the kind of enforcement now directed at 475 San Francisco janitors.
While the potential criminalization of undocumented people in Arizona continues to draw headlines, the actual punishment of workers because of their immigration status has become an increasingly bitter fact of life across the country.
President Obama, condemning Arizona’s law that would make being undocumented a state crime, said it would “undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans.” But then he announced his support for legislation with guest worker programs and increased enforcement.
The country is no closer to legalization of the undocumented than it was ten years ago. But the enforcement provisions of the comprehensive immigration reform bills debated in Congress over the last five years have already been implemented on the ground. The Bush administration conducted a high-profile series of raids in which it sent heavily-armed agents into meatpacking plants and factories, held workers for deportation and sent hundreds to federal prison for using bad Social Security numbers.
After Barack Obama was elected president, immigration authorities said they’d follow a softer policy, using an electronic system to find undocumented people in workplaces. People working with bad Social Security numbers would be fired.
Ironically the Bush administration proposed a regulation that would have required employers to fire any worker who provided an employer with a Social Security number that didn’t match the SSA database. That regulation was then stopped in court by unions, the ACLU and the National Immigration Law Center. The Obama administration, however, is implementing what amounts to the same requirement, with the same consequence of thousands of fired workers.
Union leaders like Miranda see a conflict between the rhetoric used by the president and other Washington, DC, politicians and lobbyists in condemning the Arizona law, and the immigration proposals they make in Congress. “There’s a huge contradiction here,” she said. “You can’t tell one state that what they’re doing is criminalizing people, and at the same time go after employers paying more than a living wage and the workers who have fought for that wage.”
Renee Saucedo, attorney for La Raza Centro Legal and former director of the San Francisco Day Labor Program, is even more critical. “Those bills in Congress, which are presented as ones that will help some people get legal status, will actually make things much worse,” she charged. “We’ll see many more firings like the janitors here, and more punishments for people who are just working and trying to support their families.”
Increasingly, however, the Washington proposals have even less promise of legalization, and more emphasis on punishment. The newest Democratic Party scheme virtually abandons the legalization program promised by the “bipartisan” Schumer/Graham proposal, saying that heavy enforcement at the border and in the workplace must come before any consideration of giving 12 million people legal status.
“We have to look at the whole picture,” Saucedo urged. “So long as we have trade agreements like NAFTA that create poverty in countries like Mexico, people will continue to come here, no matter how many walls we build. Instead of turning people into guest workers, as these bills in Washington would do, while firing and even jailing those who don’t have papers, we need to help people get legal status, and repeal the laws that are making work a crime.”
Is Pot Legalization Push in California a Trend That Will Spread? February 8, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, California, Drugs.
Tags: California, cannabis, drugs, jeff mitchell, marijuana, medical marijuana, medicinal marijuana, pot, pot legalization, roger hollander
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Sunday 07 February 2010
San Francisco – It’s almost a cliché these days that this city and its sister to the east, Oakland, stand as the primary incubators of some of California’s infamously wacky but later transformational social and political ideas.
From the Silicon Valley to Oakland and Berkeley to the Napa Valley – if it was at first weird, untested, illegal and/or controversial, it probably got its start right here.
Now a small but determined coalition of Bay Area activists and politicos are on a mission to have California be the first state in the union to fully legalize, regulate and tax the use of marijuana – and they’re approaching that goal from several different angles.
The groups began their quest by building on the foundation that the 1996 approval of Proposition 215 provided.
The statewide initiative, which made California the first state in the nation to legalize medicinal marijuana, broke down many long-held views on the drug – especially in its compassionate use for cancer patients and other chronic disease sufferers.
San Francisco and Oakland were among the first to see medical pot dispensaries pop up.
A whole section of Oakland’s downtown has willingly taken on the nickname “Oaksterdam” (a play on the name of the capital city of the Netherlands, where pot use has been legal since the early 1970s) because of its array of dispensaries and marijuana-related products and services.
City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said a political sea change on the issue of marijuana in California began in early 2009, when U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that federal drug officers no longer would target the operators or customers of legitimate medical pot dispensaries.
Then an April 2009 Field Poll showed that 56 percent of Californians now support full legalization, regulation and taxation of the drug.
“That decision plus the Field Poll has had a dramatic impact on how we look at pot in California these days,” said Kaplan, who believes full legalization and regulation of marijuana is just a matter of time. State and local governments, she notes, can use the new tax revenues that pot legalization would bring.
In Oakland’s case, the city already collects money from legal medicinal pot businesses located there as a result of the passage of Measure J last summer. The measure placed a special tax of $18 per $1,000 of sales on medical pot dispensaries in the city. In the process, Oakland became the first city in the nation to assess a tax on marijuana.
Now Kaplan wants to take it to next level. “It’s time we take the criminal element out of the pot business,” she said. “By having local government license and regulate these grow houses, the criminal element and the irresponsible operators can be removed from the equation, which will make our cities safer.”
Richard Lee, president of Oaksterdam University – a vocational school for future marijuana industry entrepreneurs – likens the current environment to the 1920s and early 1930s, when the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ensured that alcohol was available only through illegal and underground “speakeasy” drinking clubs.
It wasn’t until December 1933 that ratification of the 21st Amendment made alcohol consumption legal again.
“Alcohol prohibition ended slowly,” said Lee, who owns several other pot-related businesses in the Oaksterdam district.
Bay Area residents, in particular, are more sympathetic to legalizing pot than Californians in other parts of the state. More than 70 percent of the area’s registered voters supported the idea in last year’s Field Poll, more than any other region of the state.
“Maybe it harkens back to … the Summer of Love and the hippies” in 1967, Lee said.
Whatever the reason, it wasn’t by mistake that Lee chose Oakland and San Francisco to be headquarters cities for his Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 initiative effort.
Proponents recently filed an estimated 693,800 petition signatures to qualify the measure for the statewide ballot in the November election. To qualify, the measure needs 433,971 valid voter signatures, officials said.
If approved by the electorate, the cannabis tax measure would make limited private possession and cultivation of pot legal for those 21 and older. It also would allow local governments to permit, regulate and tax marijuana growing operations within their jurisdictions. Lee says the measure could generate billions in new tax revenue for the state in its first year.
“We think Californians are now ready to legalize marijuana in a controlled, safe manner, which will bring whole new streams to revenue to Sacramento and to our local governments,” Lee said.
The more permissive atmosphere helped Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, pass a pot legalization bill out of the Assembly Public Safety Committee recently.
If the Bay Area is ground zero for the effort to fully legalize pot, many other California communities are still struggling with issues surrounding the use of medical marijuana.
One recent example occurred Jan. 26, when the Los Angeles City Council voted to shut down an estimated 80 percent of that city’s 1,000 medical pot dispensaries.
Corey Cook, a University of San Francisco political science professor, said 2010 indeed may be the year that California legalizes pot and that Bay Area politicos and activists likely will be at the forefront of the effort. But he warned that political trends popular in San Francisco and the East Bay don’t always sell well in more rural parts of the state.
“If this gets painted as a Haight-Ashbury vs. the rest of California thing, there’s likely to be a backlash,” Cook said. “On the other hand if it’s promoted as a way to help a severely deficit-plagued state pay for schools and parks, then there’s a chance it will succeed.
“I’m going to be watching this one with great interest.”
Jeff Mitchell is a Bay Area-based journalist.
All republished content that appears on Truthout has been obtained by permission or license.
Biggest State Party to Obama: Get Out of Afghanistan November 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in California, Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, afghanistan invasion, afghanistan mercenaries, afghanistan occupation, Afghanistan War, California, california democrats, california politics, democratic party, mercenaries, norman solomon, Obama, peace, roger hollander, war
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This week begins with a significant new straw in the political wind for President Obama to consider. The California Democratic Party has just sent him a formal and clear message: Stop making war in Afghanistan.
Overwhelmingly approved on Sunday by the California Democratic Party’s 300-member statewide executive board, the resolution is titled “End the U.S. Occupation and Air War in Afghanistan.”
The resolution supports “a timetable for withdrawal of our military personnel” and calls for “an end to the use of mercenary contractors as well as an end to air strikes that cause heavy civilian casualties.” Advocating multiparty talks inside Afghanistan, the resolution also urges Obama “to oversee a redirection of our funding and resources to include an increase in humanitarian and developmental aid.”
While Obama weighs Afghanistan policy options, the California Democratic Party’s adoption of the resolution is the most tangible indicator yet that escalation of the U.S. war effort can only fuel opposition within the president’s own party — opposition that has already begun to erode his political base.
Participating in a long-haul struggle for progressive principles inside the party, I co-authored the resolution with savvy longtime activists Karen Bernal of Sacramento and Marcy Winograd of Los Angeles.
Bernal, the chair of the state party’s Progressive Caucus, said on Sunday night: “Today’s vote formalized and amplified what had been, up to now, an unspoken but profoundly understood reality — that there is no military solution in Afghanistan. What’s more, the vote signified an acceptance of what is sure to be a continued and growing culture of resistance to current administration policies on the matter within the party. This is absolutely huge. Now, there can be no disputing the fact that the overwhelming majority of California Democrats are not only saying no to escalation, but no to our continued military presence in Afghanistan, period. The California Democratic Party has spoken, and we want the rest of the country to know.”
Winograd, who is running hard as a grassroots candidate in a primary race against pro-war incumbent Rep. Jane Harman, had this to say: “We need progressives in every state Democratic Party to pass a similar resolution calling for an end to the U.S. occupation and air war in Afghanistan. Bring the veterans to the table, bring our young into the room, and demand an end to this occupation that only destabilizes the region. There is no military solution, only a diplomatic one that requires we cease our role as occupiers if we want our voices to be heard. Yes, this is about Afghanistan — but it’s also about our role in the world at large. Do we want to be global occupiers seizing scarce resources or global partners in shared prosperity? I would argue a partnership is not only the humane choice, but also the choice that grants us the greatest security.”
Speaking to the resolutions committee of the state party on Saturday, former Marine Corporal Rick Reyes movingly described his experiences as a warrior in Afghanistan that led him to question and then oppose what he now considers to be an illegitimate U.S. occupation of that country.
Another voice of disillusionment reached party delegates when Bernal distributed a copy of the recent resignation letter from senior U.S. diplomat Matthew Hoh, sent after five months of work on the ground in Afghanistan. “I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan,” he wrote. “If honest, our stated strategy of securing Afghanistan to prevent al-Qaeda resurgence or regrouping would require us to additionally invade and occupy western Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, etc. Our presence in Afghanistan has only increased destabilization and insurgency in Pakistan where we rightly fear a toppled or weakened Pakistani government may lose control of its nuclear weapons.”
Hoh’s letter added that “I do not believe any military force has ever been tasked with such a complex, opaque and Sisyphean mission as the U.S. military has received in Afghanistan.” And he wrote: “Thousands of our men and women have returned home with physical and mental wounds, some that will never heal or will only worsen with time. The dead return only in bodily form to be received by families who must be reassured their dead have sacrificed for a purpose worthy of futures lost, love vanished, and promised dreams unkept. I have lost confidence such assurances can anymore be made.”
From their own vantage points, many of the California Democratic Party leaders who voted to approve the out-of-Afghanistan resolution on Nov. 15 have gone through a similar process. They’ve come to see the touted reasons for the U.S. war effort as specious, the mission as Sisyphean and the consequences as profoundly unacceptable.
Sometime in the next few days, President Obama is likely to learn that the California Democratic Party has approved an official resolution titled “End the U.S. Occupation and Air War in Afghanistan.” But will he really get the message?
Norman Solomon is a journalist, historian, and progressive activist. His book “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” has been adapted into a documentary film of the same name. His most recent book is “Made Love, Got War.” He is a national co-chair of the Healthcare NOT Warfare campaign. In California, he is co-chair of the Commission on a Green New Deal for the North Bay; www.GreenNewDeal.info.
Los Angeles Accused of Criminalizing Homelessness July 15, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in California, Housing/Homelessness.
Tags: Antonio Villaraigosa, homeless advocates, homelessness, homelessness criminalized, la skid row, los angeles, los angeles homelessness, los angeles housing, panhandling, poverty, poverty criminalized, roger hollander, safer city, skid row, steve gorman
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LOS ANGELES – Two major advocacy groups for the homeless on Tuesday ranked Los Angeles as the “meanest” city in the United States, citing a Skid Row police crackdown they say has criminalized poverty and homelessness there.
L.A.’s so-called Safer City Initiative was singled out in the groups’ report as the most egregious example of policies and practices nationwide that essentially punish people for failing to have a roof over their heads.
Others include making it illegal to sleep, sit or store personal belongings on sidewalks and other public spaces; prohibitions against panhandling or begging; and selective enforcement of petty offenses like jaywalking and loitering.
Such measures are widespread in the face of a deep economic recession and foreclosure crisis that have increased homelessness over the past two years, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless.
Their report examined laws and practices in 273 cities across the country, with Los Angeles topping the list of the 10 “meanest cities” for what the study called inhumane treatment of homeless. A previous report, issued in early 2006 before the crackdown began, ranked L.A. as the 18th meanest.
According to “Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities,” the 10 Meanest Cities in 2009 are:
1. Los Angeles
2. St. Petersburg, FL
3. Orlando, FL
4. Atlanta, GA
5. Gainesville, FL
6. Kalamazoo, MI
7. San Francisco
8. Honolulu, HI
9. Bradenton, FL
Under the Safer City effort, thousands of L.A.’s most destitute residents have been targeted for harsh police enforcement, routinely receiving tickets for minor infractions such as the failure to obey crossing signals.
As a result, the study says, many are jailed and end up with a criminal record that makes it more difficult for them to find a job or gain access to housing.
A spokesman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement dismissing the report as “short-sighted and misleading.”
Los Angeles officials have touted their Safer City effort for sharply curbing serious crime in Skid Row, a 50-block downtown area inhabited by the biggest concentration of homeless people in the country. “The city’s first priority is to protect our most vulnerable residents from violent crime,” the mayor’s statement said.
But homeless advocates say a promised strategy to ease homelessness there, including new housing and services to go with the Skid Row cleanup, have largely failed to materialize.
An estimated 40,000 people live on the streets, in abandoned buildings or in temporary shelters throughout Los Angeles, more than 5,000 of them in Skid Row. Another 8,000 make their home in that area’s short-term residential hotels, or flop houses as they were once called.
Becky Dennison, co-director of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, said the homeless population in Los Angeles has ballooned due to a lack of affordable housing, a high poverty rate and “long-standing lack of local resources.”
Tuesday’s report cited a 2007 University of California study that found L.A. was spending $6 million a year to pay for the 50 extra police officers who patrol Skid Row while budgeting just $5.7 million for homeless services.
By comparison, Dennison said, New York City has a “right to shelter” policy and invests about $200 million a year in housing and other services for the needy, resulting in a homeless population half that of Los Angeles.
© Thomson Reuters 2009
Tags: blueberry pickers, california agriculture, california farm workers, california labor, cesar chavez, employeed free chocie, farm worker conditions, giumarra, giumarra vineyard, roger hollander, sb789, schwarzenegger, sunrise agriculture, ufw, united farm workers
Supposedly we have the water available, we have the shade available, we have bathrooms available but dare not use them for fear of being fired. It was as if we had none at all.
– Rigoberto Ramirez, Blueberry worker
We’ve shared stories with you about farm workers who’ve had no water to drink. This week we want to tell you about workers who do have water, but don’t have the opportunity to drink it because of the pressure put on them by the companies they work for. Please read their stories and then take action to help them by sending Gov. Schwarzenegger and your legislators an e-mail today.
The following is from a May 26th complaint the UFW filed on behalf of workers at Munger Farms, where 3 farm labor contractors employ more than 40 crews and 1,000 workers to harvest blueberries. Pickers are working hourly, but have a huge quota of 5 boxes a day–which forces them to work through their breaks, not drink water or go to the bathroom for fear of losing their jobs. This is not an imaginary fear. It happened to about 60 workers on May 26. The workers were promised 3 days of work. They were fired after one day before they even had the chance to acclimatize themselves to the brutal pace demanded. Here is the story of an experienced blueberry picker, Guillermo Cruz:
We started working at 8 am and we were asked to pick 5 boxes of blueberries for the day which is a total of 65 pounds of blueberries. I did everything that I could to meet the quota. Company supervisors were constantly on top of us and yelling at us if we dropped any blueberries on the ground which made us very nervous and confused on what to do. Workers could not afford to go to drink water or even go to the restroom because of the tremendous fear of losing their jobs. Some workers even worked through their lunch breaks to try to meet the quota. The company would not even allow us to take our third break. Many workers were running and going as fast as they could to try to meet the goal. I was one of the few that was able to make 4 boxes and could not understand why I would be fired if I had done everything in my power to meet the quota. The time we worked we saw crews of 60 workers going and coming because of the tremendous pressure to meet the quota and the company was firing workers every day.
This is not the only incident. On May 26, the UFW filed charges on behalf of Giumarra vineyard worker Francisco Farfan. Francisco was suspended and sent home for the day after the foreman said Francisco had gone too many times to drink water. He was keeping up with the workload demanded. It was hotter than 100 degrees that day. Francisco believes he was suspended for taking safety measures that did not impede his work performance and to which he is legally entitled.
Two days later the UFW also filed charges on behalf of vineyard workers at Sunrise Agriculture. Again, the about 100 workers there did have water. The problem was they were not allowed to drink the water unless they were on an official break (10 minutes every 4 hrs) or at lunch. These workers also did not have shade to protect them from the sun and were not trained in heat safety as required by law.
Such incidents show that workers need the ability to speak up without being afraid of losing their jobs. It’s why SB789 CA Employee Free Choice Act for Farm Workers is so vital. This bill will make it easier for farm workers to organize, speak up to improve working conditions and help enforce the laws that CA’s government cannot enforce. SB789 passed the CA state senate and will next be heard in the assembly and then go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.