Economy

Richmond, California City Council Stands in Solidarity with Wisconsin Workers -- Ask Your Local Government to Do the Same

The Richmond resolution criticizes Governor Walker's union busting law as a continuation of the long war on working Americans.

On Friday, March 11, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed into law a bill which severely curbs the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin's public workers’ unions.  Police and firefighters were made exempt in a clear attempt to divide and conquer. 

In response, the City Council of Richmond, California voted unanimously to stand in solidarity with Wisconsin's public employees.  The solidarity resolution was introduced by Councilmember Jeff Ritterman and co-sponsored by Green Party Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Councilmember Jovanka Beckles.  Ritterman, McLaughlin and Beckels are all members of the Richmond Progressive Alliance.  The resolution will be sent to leaders of Wisconsin’s unions as well as to the city councils of neighboring cities.  

The Richmond resolution criticizes Governor Walker's union busting law as a continuation of the war on working Americans started by former President Ronald Reagan when he fired the 12,000 striking Air Traffic Controllers.  The resolution claims that Reagan's action ushered in a thirty year war by the wealthy against working class and middle class Americans.  Reagan's union busting efforts, the resolution asserts, were part of the most massive upward shift of wealth and income in United States history.  

Governor Walker cited Reagan's action as part of his inspiration in attacking Wisconsin's Public Employees unions during a recorded phone conversation with an activist pretending to be right wing billionaire David Koch.  The notorious Koch brothers are major financial backers of Walker.  They are major funders of the cynically named astroturf group Americans for Prosperity, the group which has organized the counter-demonstrations in Madison in favor of the right wing agenda.  The Koch brothers have also been major funders of climate change deniers groups.   

The economic claims made in Richmond's resolution come, in part, from the ground breaking research of University of California at Berkeley Economics Professor Emmanuel Saez who received both the prestigious John Bates Clark Medal and a MacArthur Genius Award for his work.  Professor Saez and his Paris based colleague, Thomas Picketty have reviewed U. S. income tax data dating back to World War I.  What they found is amazing and shocking and confirms the claim in the Richmond resolution.  Saez and Picketty found that the U.S. is now more unequal than at any time in the last one hundred years.  This unprecedented shift of wealth to those at the very top of the income pyramid has occurred over the last generation.  

The Richmond resolution goes on to explain that rising income inequality has devastating effects on both personal health and on our social environment.  Here again the resolution relies on hard data, this time from U.K. researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.  Their research shows that the U.S. is now the most unequal rich country on earth.  Wilkinson and Pickett have painstakingly shown that rising income inequality leads to a plethora of health and social problems including: lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, more drug use, less trust, more homicides, more teen pregnancies, lower scholastic achievement, more prisoners per capita, more obesity and even less recycling.

Governor Walker's attacks on Wisconsin workers have led to some of the largest demonstrations in recent U. S. history.  Will this right wing assault wake us all out of our slumber?  Will the demonstrations lead to lasting structural progressive change?  It is clearly a teachable moment.  It is also a moment where it is incumbent upon us all to do what we can to defend workers’ rights.  For an entire generation, wealth and power has been transferred to the very top.  It's time to reverse this trend.

Ask your City Council to Stand in Solidarity with Wisconsin's Public Employees.  

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Solidarity resolution and Agenda report follow: 

RESOLUTION NO. ______ 

RESOLUTION OF THE COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF RICHMOND SUPPORTING THECOLLECTIVE BARGAINING RIGHTS OF WORKERS IN THE STATE OF WISCONSIN

WHEREAS, collective bargaining is a process of negotiations between employers and unions aimed at reaching agreements which regulate wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment; and

WHEREAS, collective bargaining rights are integral to protecting workers and ensuring fair and stable working conditions; and

WHEREAS, organized labor has been an important force for positive economic reforms in theUnited States, which include the eight-hour work day, health insurance and Medicare, social security, pensions and minimum wages; and

WHEREAS, in 1959, Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to provide all public-sector workers collective bargaining rights; and

WHEREAS, the Wisconsin state senate and assembly have voted to approve a bill to sharply curb collective-bargaining rights for tens of thousands of the state’s public worker unions; and

WHEREAS, on Friday, March 11, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed the bill into law citing future budget shortfalls as the reason; and

WHEREAS, Governor Walker engineered the enactment of $140 million in new tax breaks for multi-national corporations in January of 2011; and

WHEREAS, Governor Walker is continuing the attack on organized labor started by President Ronald Reagan who fired 12,000 air traffic controllers soon after taking office in 1981 in order to break their strike and begin a new era of labor suppression; and

WHEREAS, the unremitting attacks on the labor movement, and the weakening of unions is a major cause of the most massive upward redistribution of income and wealth in US history; and 

WHEREAS, this upward redistribution of income has resulted in the United States becoming the most unequal rich country on earth; and

WHEREAS, rising income inequality is correlated with lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, more homicides, more teen pregnancies, more prisoners per capita, lower scholastic achievement, less civic trust, more obesity, and less recycling; and

WHEREAS, this de-unionization movement is a step toward further disinvestment in the public sector, trimming away vital government functions that serve ordinary families;

WHEREAS these public services include: public schools, public investments in infrastructure maintenance and repair, quality healthcare for all, and public job-creation programs; and 

WHEREAS, the severe curbing of their collective bargaining rights is detrimental to the welfare of Wisconsin State employees; and

WHEREAS, the City of Richmond wishes to show its solidarity with these Wisconsin workers; and

WHEREAS, if unopposed this anti-union agenda could erode the legal rights of public employees nationally and potentially adversely affect public employees in the City of Richmond;  

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that by the adoption of this Resolution, the City of Richmond supports the collective bargaining rights of workers in the State of Wisconsin.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the city of Richmond supports the courageous actions of the workers, students and other citizens of Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana who are taking a firm stand in the traditions of the great civil rights and labor struggles of the United States and struggles for democracy around the world. 

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Agenda Report:

The legislature of the state of Wisconsin has passed a bill which severely curbs the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin's public employees.  Collective bargaining rights are integral to protecting workers and ensuring fair, safe and stable working conditions. Wisconsin GovernorScott Walker has stated that he will sign the bill into law.  Governor Walker has justified the attack on workers rights as necessary to balance the state's budget.  This past January, however, Governor Walker had engineered the enactment of $140 million in new tax breaks for multi-national corporations. 

Governor Walker is continuing the attack on organized labor started by President Ronald Reagan who fired 12,000 air traffic controllers soon after taking office in 1981 in order to break their strike and begin a new era of labor suppression.  This attack on organized labor and the weakening of labor unions has been a part of the most massive redistribution of income and wealth in U.S. history.  This has resulted in the most unequal distribution of national income in the last one hundred years.  The last time our country was this unequal, the stock market crashed and ushered in the Great Depression.  Not only are we more unequal as a country than ever before, the United States is now the most unequal rich country on earth.

The devastating consequences of rising inequality are many and include: lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, more homicides, more teen pregnancies, lower scholastic achievement, less civic trust, more prisoners per capita, more obesity, and even less recycling.  Many of the social and health challenges which we face in Richmond and throughout California have been significantly worsened by this thirty year trend toward greater income inequality.  The ultimate solution to the problems confronting Richmond, the sate of California and our nation will require correcting this severe imbalance in wealth and income.   This will require the strengthening of our labor unions, not their decimation.  Other actions which will likely be needed to correct this financial structural imbalance include: raising the minimum wage, radical restructuring of the tax system, major investment in jobs creation, major investments in public education, significant lowering of bloated CEO salary and benefits packages.

This thirty year history of shifting wealth to the very very top of the income pyramid is the result of political and economic policies put in place during the last generation which favor the wealthy over everyone else in society.  The attack upon the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin's public employees is a new offensive by and for the wealthy which will worsen the already severe maldistribution of wealth and power.  It is worth noting that Governor Walker's major financial backers are the Koch brothers, billionaires who are funding a national astroturf campaign under the cynical and misleading name of Americans for Prosperity  aimed at further enrichment of those who are extremely wealthy at the expense of the poor, the working class and what little remains of a middle class.  The Koch brothers have also been major funders of organizations which deny the reality of climate change.

Given this destructive thirty year trend and the new offensive on the living standards of working people, it is vital that all people of conscience speak out forcefully for a more equitable and just society.  The city of Richmond supports the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin's workers and those of workers everywhere.  The city of Richmond supports the courageous actions of the workers, students and other citizens of Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana who are taking a firm stand in the traditions of the great civil rights and labor struggles of the United States and struggles for democracy around the world.  The city of Richmond honors the labor of hardworking men and women everywhere.  The city of Richmond also expresses support and appreciation for the hard work of all of our municipal employees and expresses solidarity with our own public employees unions.

This resolution has no fiscal impact.

 

Jeff Ritterman is a cardiologist practicing in Richmond CA and a member of the Richmond City Council.