Dick Meister

The Billionaires Bill of Rights

Billionaire corporate interests and other well financed anti-labor forces are waging a major drive to stifle the political voice of workers and their unions in California that is certain to spread nationwide if not stopped - and stopped now.

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Women Bringing New Strength to Unions

Women are well on the way to overtaking men in the ranks of organized labor -- and for good reason. As a new study shows, women who've joined unions have significantly better pay and benefits than working women who have not joined.
Although only about a fifth of women workers overall currently belong to unions, they already make up about 45 percent of all unionized workers. They're expected to become a majority within a dozen years, according to the study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
The study makes clear the advantages of union membership that have attracted increasing numbers of women.  Unionized women, for instance, average 11 percent or about $2 an hour more than non-union women.  Three-fourths of union women have employer-financed health care benefits, but only about half their non-union counterparts have those benefits. Three-fourths  of the unionized women have pensions, less than half of those outside unions have pensions.
Like other unionized workers, they also can expect paid holidays and vacations The union advantage is particularly strong for women in lower-paid occupations -- food preparation workers, for example, cashiers, stock clerks, child-care workers,  housekeepers, teaching assistants, security guards and others. About 11 percent of them are in unions, with median pay of $12 an hour. That's $3 an hour more than non-union women holding such jobs
There's an even greater advantage in benefits for the lower-paid women. About 60 percent of the lower paid women in unions have health care benefits, only a little over 25 percent of those who are not unionized. About 60 percent of the unionized workers also have pensions, only about 20 percent of the non-union workers.
Despite womens' growing presence and influence in unions, and despite the 45-year-old federal Equal Pay Act, women in general still lag considerably behind men in compensation. Women in unions generally work under contracts that guarantee them the same pay and benefits as men doing the same work, one of the most important advantages that unionized women enjoy.
Women who aren't in unions often have no such guarantee, despite the law and state laws like it. Overall, women currently average only 77 cents in pay for every dollar earned by men. That's a difference of more than 20 percent. If that difference is to shrink, if sufficient pressure is to be put on government to finally guarantee women the pay equity that the law has long And the pressure to get unions to act will have to come from women, as it undoubtedly will as the number of unionized women continues to grow. That growth is also crucial to the revitalization of the labor movement, as is the new growth in the number of younger unionists that was shown in another recent study by the Center for Economic Policy and Research.
As the economy has been worsening, workers aged 18 to 29 have been turning to unions, for the same reasons that more women in all age groups have been joining unions. The average pay of unionized young workers is more than 12 percent higher than that of non-union workers of the same age. They are twice as likely to have health care, three times as likely to have pensions.
Some say that the continuing increase in the number of women in unions combined with the continuing increase in the number of young members signals nothing less than a rebirth of labor. And it could be. It could very well be.

Will the Youth Movement Save the Labor Movement?

There's good news for unions attempting to attract the young members that they must attract if they are to grow. It comes in recent studies showing clearly that younger workers do better as union members and that increasing numbers of the workers agree.

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Early Voting Could Be Perilous

By the time the polls open on Election Day Nov. 2, as many as one-fourth of the votes may already have been cast.

The reason is the steady, and troubling, increase in absentee voting. It's bad enough that millions of voters are not taking part in the fundamental democratic exercise of joining their fellow citizens at the polls. But what's worse, many of the votes that are cast absentee may very well be fraudulent – cast by party operatives or with the hands-on assistance of operatives.

Absentee voting does increase overall voter turnout, as its advocates argue, by enabling people to vote at home, at their own time and pace. These are attractive features, especially for the elderly and disabled. No standing in line to vote, no need to face poor weather, no need to take time out from work. But the dangers posed by the growth of absentee voting far outweigh any possible benefits.

First used during the Civil War to enable Union soldiers to vote for the re-election of President Lincoln, absentee voting originally was limited to voters who were unable to get to the polls on election day and could prove it, usually by signed and witnessed affidavits.

It was that way for a century. But in the 1960s, state officials began changing the rules. They have acted in response to the growing mobility of Americans, pressure from political parties, the rising costs of the machinery and manpower required at the polls and the steady decline in voter turnout.

By now, voters in more than half the states are allowed to cast absentee ballots at will, without the need to give a reason for doing so. One-fourth of the states don't even require that their signatures on the ballot be verified by witnesses.

Most states, in fact, don't check the ballot signatures at all, or the signatures on the applications for ballots.

We should shudder at having millions of citizens voting in as easy, detached, isolated and passive a manner as they do in, say, voting by mail for their auto club's handpicked slate of directors. Do we really want our most vital act of citizenship reduced to that?

Do we want voters to cast their ballots before the final, usually most informative stages of election campaigns? Do we want to delay certification of elections until the lengthy and tedious process of counting absentee votes can be completed?

But the serious threat of fraud should be more than enough to discourage the spread of absentee voting.

It's already common for political parties, candidates and special interests to distribute masses of absentee ballot applications. They convince people to support them and help them mark and sign their ballots, sometimes at campaign rallies or at parties in senior citizen centers, union halls, bars and other neighborhood gathering places.

Some states actually allow political parties to collect and turn in the applications. In seven states, parties can even collect and return the signed ballots.

You can't police absentee voting as you can voting at the polls, where the rule is the secret ballot, that mainstay of democratic elections. Electioneering and any other attempts to sway or intimidate voters are prohibited at the polls.

With absentee voting, the possibilities for the intimidation of voters and other electoral mischief are many. Certainly, forgery is always possible. Even if the signatures on absentee ballots are legitimate, there's no guarantee that someone else didn't do the actual voting or didn't unduly pressure the signers – or perhaps bribe them.

The fears of fraud are not exaggerated. The results of a recent mayoral race in Indiana, for instance, were set aside and the election ordered re-run after it was discovered that some of the absentee votes that had given the incumbent his margin of victory were cast in exchange for poll-watching jobs paying $100 or more for the day's work. Voters in more than a dozen other states where criminal charges have been filed have also admitted getting cash, as well as concert tickets, liquor and other bribes.

"That's how I thought it was, you get paid to vote," one of the absentee voters told the New York Times.

The worst excesses have occurred in Florida. The winner in Miami's 1997 mayoral election was removed from office after a court found that many of the absentee ballots that helped elect him had been forged, coerced, stolen from mailboxes or were otherwise fraudulent. Four years earlier, a judge ordered a new election for mayor of Hialeah because of absentee ballot irregularities. Absentee votes also were part of the controversy over voting in Florida during the last presidential election, with Democrats claiming Republicans had misused them to help secure George Bush's victory.

A few states have moved to keep political operatives from handling ballots or ballot applications. Others once again allow only those with legitimate reasons for being away from the polls to vote absentee.

The number of absentee voters nevertheless will continue to steadily increase nationwide. Democratic and Republican leaders alike will make sure of that, for to them, absentee voting is an easy, irresistible way to generate votes.

Which means that the rest of us must be increasingly alert to the grave dangers it poses for our democratic society.

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