Progressive Caucus to the GOP: Potential Extension Of Tax Cuts Leaves Out Middle Class, Hurts Climate

By Congressional Progressive Caucus

  WASHINGTON, DC – Representatives Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), released the following statement in response to a reported agreement in Congress on extending certain tax breaks.

The provisions that are included in the deal, such as permanent extension of tax breaks for corporate research and continued fossil fuel subsidies, will add nearly $450 billion to our budget deficit while providing little relief to the middle class and phasing out renewable energy credits.

“The tax extension package will once again be a boon for corporate profits while largely leaving out middle-class and low-income families who are struggling just to get by. If we can find hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to make corporate tax breaks permanent, we should be able to help those struggling to find work. We should be making permanent those tax breaks that help working families without adding restrictions that exclude children in need.  This deal is a permanent step backwards for those who think we have a system that is rigged in favor of the wealthy.”

Ambridge Citizens Meet with Sen. Vogel on Reservoir Protection

Sen. Elder Vogel Meets with Citizens to Protect the Ambridge Reservoir

November 20, 2014

Marcia Lehman addresses concerns with Sen. Elder Vogel.
Marcia Lehman addresses concerns with Sen. Elder Vogel.

Rev. Jim Hamilton said a natural gas fracking spill at the Ambridge Reservoir would put thousands of homes, businesses and schools who depend on the water at risk of closure.

“There may be no alternative sources of drinking water for Ambridge, Baden, Harmony Township, Economy, Edgeworth, Bell Acres, Leet Township and Leetsdale,” said Hamilton of Ambridge.

He was one of several from the Citizens to Protect the Ambridge Reservoir (CPAR) who addressed concerns to Sen. Elder Vogel during a discussion about protecting the reservoir from surface drilling, water withdrawals and other risks associated with natural gas fracking.

Vogel, R-New Sewickley, met with constituents Thursday at the Church of the Savior in Ambridge. Leaders of the organization presented Vogel a petition containing more than 4,500 signatures and 66 letters asking to protect the reservoir and watershed.

Marcia Lehman of CPAR pointed out that Republican Sen. Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County was proactive in ending Marcellus drilling operations in the Brockway Reservoir where he gets his drinking water.

Scarnati, the Senate president pro tempore, said in an August news release that he reached out to the state Department of Environmental Protection to express serious reservations with allowing any further drilling at the proposed site or any nearby site that could potentially compromise the reservoir.

“He put a stop to the drilling there immediately with 300 signatures. We’re giving you almost 5,000 signatures,” Lehman said.

Hamilton said the Service Creek Watershed and the Ambridge Reservoir are designated as protected for cold water fishes and specially protected for high-quality water by the state Clean Streams Law.

Vogel told the group he was unaware of what Scarnati did, but agreed he would look into it and talk to the senator.

“Obviously drinking water and water in general is a precious commodity,” Vogel said. “At the same time you also have the private landowners who own the property around the reservoir, so that’s another issue we’ll have to try to deal with at some point in time.”

This topical map shows the Service Creek watershed in red and the Ambridge reservoir in blue.

This topical map shows the Service Creek watershed in red and the Ambridge reservoir in blue.


SEIU, Workers Celebrate NLRB Ruling

Solidarity action vs UMPC earlier this year

By Kris B. Mamula

Reporter- Pittsburgh Business Times

Nov. 17, 2014 – Union and elected officials on Monday celebrated a National Labor Relations Board ruling that reinstated four fired UPMC workers and restored benefits and wages to fifth employee for union organizing activities.

"UPMC has been acting above the law," City Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak told union members and others who turned out for a news conference attended by a couple dozen people. "UPMC is not above the law."

The rally came as Mayor Bill Peduto has been reaching out to UPMC and other nonprofits in the city about voluntarily compensating the city for services in lieu of property taxes. Peduto was not at the news conference Monday, but he called for "long-term financing agreements" with the city’s nonprofits in an address to council Nov. 10.

Rudiak conducted the news conference at the City-County Building downtown and called on UPMC to "stop the intimidation, retaliation and legal maneuvers that keep us down." Separating the nonprofit contribution and unionization issues at UPMC would be "dangerous," Rudiak said.

The NLRB on Nov. 14 ruled that the hospital giant had disciplined and fired employees for try to unionize, which violates federal law. The Service Employees International Union has been trying to organize UPMC’s Oakland hospitals for nearly three years, but a vote by employees has not been scheduled.

Continue reading SEIU, Workers Celebrate NLRB Ruling

Massey CEO Blankenship Indicted for Upper Big Branch Mine

Longtime Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship Indicted

by Ken Ward, Jr. / West Virginia Gazette Blankenship

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Don Blankenship, the longtime chief executive of Massey Energy, was indicted today on charges that he violated federal mine safety laws at the company’s Upper Big Branch Mine prior to an April 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.

A federal grand jury in Charleston charged Blankenship with conspiring to cause routine and willful violations of mandatory federal mine safety and health standards at Upper Big Branch during a period from Jan. 1, 2008, to April 9, 2010, U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said.

The four-count indictment, filed in U.S. District Court, also alleges Blankenship was part of a conspiracy to cover up mine safety violations and hinder federal enforcement efforts by providing advance warning of government inspections. The indictment also alleges that, after the explosion, Blankenship made false statements to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about Massey’s safety practices prior to the explosion.

“Blankenship knew that UBB was committing hundreds of safety-law violations every year and that he had the ability to prevent most of the violations that UBB was committing,” the indictment states. “Yet he fostered and participated in an understanding that perpetuated UBB’s practice of routine safety violations, in order to produce more coal, avoid the costs of following safety laws, and make more money.”

The four counts charged carry a maximum combined penalty of 31 years’ imprisonment, Goodwin said in a prepared statement. Goodwin declined to comment beyond the prepared statement.

The indictment comes after a more than four-year investigation that began following the mine disaster on April 5, 2010, but expanded to examine a troubled safety record that critics have long argued put coal production and profits ahead of worker protections.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Ruby has led an unprecedented government effort to link major safety lapses at Upper Big Branch and other Massey mines up the corporate ladder to Blankenship, who was known for keeping a firm grip on every aspect of Massey’s operations during nearly two decades at the company’s helm.

Blankenship has previously denied any wrongdoing, insisted that Massey put the safety of its miners first, and promoted his theory that the Upper Big Branch explosion was fueled by an uncontrollable flood of natural gas that inundated the Raleigh County mine.

“If they put me behind bars … it will be political,” Blankenship wrote in a May 2013 article posted on a blog he has used to defend his record and attack his critics.

In a statement issued late this afternoon, Blankenship’s attorney, William W. Taylor III, said, “Mr. Blankenship is entirely innocent of these charges. He will fight them and he will be acquitted.”

“Don Blankenship has been a tireless advocate for mine safety,” Taylor said. “His outspoken criticism of powerful bureaucrats has earned this indictment. He will not yield to their effort to silence him. He will not be intimidated.”

Two government and two independent investigations, though, blamed the Upper Big Branch deaths on a pattern by Massey Energy of violating federal standards concerning mine ventilation and the control of highly explosive coal dust, both of which set the stage for a small methane ignition to turn into a huge coal-dust-fueled explosion.

Those investigations all generally agreed that the explosion erupted when the mine’s longwall machine shearer cut into a piece of sandstone. The resulting spark, investigators said, ignited a pocket of methane gas. Investigators concluded that worn-out bits on the cutting shearer contributed to the explosion, while missing water sprays allowed the ignition to spread. Illegal levels of coal dust had not been cleaned up, providing fuel that sent the blast ricocheting in multiple directions throughout more than two miles of underground tunnels, investigators said.

“While violations of particular safety standards led to the conditions that caused the explosion, the unlawful policies and practices implemented by [Massey] were the root cause of the tragedy,” the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration concluded in its report on Upper Big Branch. “The evidence accumulated during the investigation demonstrates that [Massey] promoted and enforced a workplace culture that valued production over safety, including practices calculated to allow it to conduct mining operations in violation of the law.”

Blankenship invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer questions from MSHA, the state Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training and an independent team appointed by then-Gov. Joe Manchin to probe the Upper Big Branch disaster.

Already, Goodwin’s investigation has produced four convictions — including plea agreements with an Upper Big Branch superintendent and a Massey unit president — and a more-than-$200-million settlement with Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey in 2011, that required Alpha to fund major safety improvements and create a foundation to support mine safety and health research.

For years, Blankenship has been not only a powerful voice in the coal industry, but a power broker whose involvement in West Virginia politics could cut both ways.

At a time when a major verdict against Massey was headed for the state Supreme Court, his personal funds helped defeat then-Justice Warren McGraw’s re-election effort and his personal friendship with Blankenship likely helped cost then-Justice Spike Maynard his seat on the court. Republican operatives who helped engineer their party’s takeover of both houses of the West Virginia Legislature in this year’s election got their start working for Blankenship-funded political efforts.

Less than a year after the mine disaster, Massey announced in December 2010 that Blankenship would retire from the company at the end of the year. The following month, Alpha announced its plans to buy Massey.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.

Labor-Community Push Wins Wage Hike in MN

Minimum-wage victory showcases potential of labor-community partnerships

Surrounded by legislative supporters and members of the Raise the Wage Coalition, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill increasing the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2016 – and indexing it to inflation.

On April 14, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill gradually raising Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2016 and indexing the wage so that it keeps pace with inflation beginning in 2018.

The bill signing was a victory for more than 350,000 workers statewide who are expected to see a raise as a result of the bill. But it also marked a victory for the coalition of unions, religious groups and other non-profits that united to push the minimum-wage hike across the finish line.

“We’ve seen what an impact we can make when we come together,” Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson said after the bill-signing ceremony in the Capitol rotunda. “It felt good.”

The Minnesota AFL-CIO, the state’s largest labor federation, was one of several union groups that took a leadership role in the Raise the Wage Coalition, which united more than 70 diverse organizations behind a minimum-wage increase.

After DFL majorities in the House and Senate failed to agree on a minimum-wage bill last spring, unions and labor federations pledged to invest energy, resources and political capital into seeing a meaningful increase pass before the 2014 session gaveled to a close. They made the commitment despite the fact, as Knutson pointed out, “the vast majority of Minnesota’s union workforce makes well above the minimum wage.”

“The labor movement is committed to improving the lives of all working people,” Knutson said. “Like Paul Wellstone said, ‘We all do better when we all do better.’”

RaisetheWageWeb_0A step toward ‘enduring partnerships’

Unions’ leadership role in the Raise the Wage Coalition reflected local action on a nationwide directive put forth at the AFL-CIO Convention in Los Angeles last year. Known as “Resolution 16,” the directive calls on state and local labor federations to build “enduring partnerships” with community groups that share values and goals with the labor movement.

With the minimum-wage campaign, Minnesota unions backed up the AFL-CIO’s talk with action, said St. Paul Regional Labor Federation President Bobby Kasper, whose office coordinated 96 volunteer shifts on behalf of the minimum-wage push this year.

“Building a movement for economic justice isn’t possible unless we look beyond our own unions and reach out to our allies in that struggle,” Kasper said. “Whether it’s fighting Right to Work or defending prevailing wage, our position will only be stronger if we have members of the broader community behind us, but we can’t expect their support if we don’t step up when they need us.”

Continue reading Labor-Community Push Wins Wage Hike in MN

Wolf’s Challenge: PA ‘One of the Worst’ in Funding Its Schools

Schools, Parents Sue Pennsylvania Over ‘Educational Caste System’

 By Deirdre Fulton

Beaver County Blue via Common Dreams

Nov. 11, 2014 – Six school districts, seven parents, and two statewide associations sued [1] the commonwealth of Pennsylvania on Monday, claiming legislative leaders, state education officials, and the governor have failed to uphold the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a system of public education that gives all children the resources they need to meet state-imposed academic standards and "participate meaningfully in the economic, civic, and social life of their communities."

According to the complaint [2] (pdf), "state officials have adopted an irrational and inequitable school financing arrangement that drastically underfunds school districts across the Commonwealth and discriminates against children on the basis of the taxable property and household incomes in their districts."

"The disparity in education resources has created an educational caste system that the Commonwealth must eliminate." —Wade Henderson, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

As a result, the plaintiffs claim that hundreds of thousands of students throughout the state lack basic educational supports and services—functioning school libraries, up-to-date textbooks and curriculum materials, reasonable class sizes, guidance counselors, school nurses, vocational-ed and college prep classes, academic tutoring programs, and more.

"My child is in classes with too many other students and she has no access to tutoring services or support from paraprofessionals, but our elected officials still expect and require her to pass standardized tests," said [3] Jamela Millar, parent of 11-year-old K.M., a student in the William Penn School District. "How are kids supposed to pass the tests required to graduate high school, find a job and contribute to our economy if their schools are starving for resources?"

The state NAACP and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools joined the suit on behalf of their members. Urban, suburban, and rural districts are represented among the plaintiffs. While the state-run Philadelphia School District did not join the legal action, two Philadelphia parents are part of the suit and the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers issued a statement in support on Monday.

Continue reading Wolf’s Challenge: PA ‘One of the Worst’ in Funding Its Schools

Progressive Democrats Call for Executive Action on Wages

Progressive Dems: Obama Should Push Economic Executive Actions After Midterm Losses

Posted: 11/10/2014 2:04 pm EST Updated: 4 hours ago
 WASHINGTON — Republican leaders have warned President Barack Obama that pursuing more executive actions after last week’s midterm drubbing would be like playing with fire. But Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on Monday that unilateral action by the president on economic issues is more necessary than ever.

“The president is in a pivotal position to go assertively with executive orders to create a political balance and an economic balance,” Grijalva told reporters on a conference call. “I’m one member that urges them to use that as a balancing tool and a leadership tool in these next two years.”

Grijalva and his fellow caucus co-chair, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), are putting their weight behind two proposals in particular: one executive order that would give federal contracting preference to firms that pay a living wage of $15 and provide basic benefits to workers, and another guaranteeing that contractors wouldn’t interfere with worker efforts to unionize. Branded as “More Than the Minimum,” the proposals are being pushed by Good Jobs Nation, a labor group backed by the Change to Win union federation, and other progressive allies.

Ellison and Grijalva, along with Good Jobs Nation, already have a couple of executive-action victories under their belts. They successfully pressured the White House to institute two executive actions that were signed by the president earlier this year — onesetting a minimum wage of $10.10 for federal contractors, and another that would effectively bar firms that have committed wage theft against their workers from receiving federal contracts.

Most of the president’s unilateral moves on the economy have been panned by congressional Republicans. After Democrats were trounced in elections around the country last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned Obama against formulating executive action on immigration reform, saying he was “going to burn himself if he continues down this path.”

Grijalva suggested that the president and fellow Democrats would burn themselves if they didn’t. The way for Democrats to regain power, the congressman argued, is by aggressively pursuing liberal economic policies that have broad support, like raising the minimum wage and extending sick leave to more workers. Despite the Republican gains, ballot initiatives based on those issues passed by wide margins last week, including in red states.

“The American people, I think, voted against the lack of an economic agenda for working families, against not having a clear vision of what we want and where the government should be in promoting income equality,” Grijalva said of the Democratic loss.

Under the proposal pushed by Grijalva on Monday, the White House would issue new guidelines that give preference to firms with higher labor standards in the federal procurement process. Such rules only apply to contracts involving federal money, rather than the private sector at large, but left-leaning administrations have often used procurement rules as a way to set standards in the broader economy.

Robert Borosage, co-director of the progressive Campaign for America’s Future, said on the call with Grijalva that Obama ought to continue promoting his wider agenda through his power of procurement rules.

“President Obama has already established his authority over federal procurement,” Borosage said. “Now he can and should take another bold step. He can put the government on the side of working people and good employers, rather than favoring exploitative employers.”