John Veen spoke at a rally to stop the effort by right wing forces at Fresno City Hall to privatize this communities commercial solid waste workers, which would have resulted in lower wages and benefits.

Progressive News Briefs

Mayor’s Privatization Scheme Defeated

Fresno’s commercial solid waste workers won an important victory when City Council members voted 4-3 to stop a privatization effort led by Mayor Ashley Swearengin. The plan would have affected more than 100 union workers and dramatically lowered their wages and benefits. Several workers would have lost their jobs.

John Veen, business representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 39, said, “If the vote had been last year, we would be singing a much sadder song. During the first critical vote in 2010, a Council member who had garnered labor support in the past, Mike Dages, voted for this misguided scheme.

“This year, we were fortunate to have Oliver Baines and Sal Quintero on the Council, and they voted against it. Blong Xiong stood his ground with a no vote. And we also benefitted from libertarian Clint Olivier’s opposition to this particular form of privatization—he wanted a truly ‘free market’ version, or he would have none of it. The defeated plan would have established a two-company monopoly heavily controlled by city managers, which Olivier objected to.”

Marina Magdaleno, another business representative for IUOE Local 39, said, “It got really ugly, where the mayor tried to solicit other unions to work against Local 39.” Magdaleno said “she [the mayor] went to the Fresno Police Officers Association (FPOA) and the firemen and had a meeting with them showing them the numbers and tried to get them to go and to talk to Council member Baines to vote yes on this. She enlisted members from the white-collar union FCEA [Fresno City Employees Association] to have them talk to Mr. Baines.”

Word that the mayor was telling other unions that their members would be targeted if they did not lobby for privatization reached Local 39, and all of the unions decided that labor solidarity was the best strategy. The unions stuck together, giving the mayor a stinging defeat.

Veen concluded that “after private truckloads of propaganda and sadistic political arm-twisting for over a year, the righteous have prevailed. Just barely. The mayor and her right-wing allies on the City Council will no doubt continue trying to pit one city labor group against another, and worker against worker in the larger community through their anti-public-sector hate speech. But we’ll stay vigilant. We know more attacks are coming. Hang in there with us—we greatly appreciate the support the community has given us.”

Kawaiisu Tribe Fights for Their Rights

The Kawaiisu tribe of Tejon (south of Bakersfield) is struggling against a corporation that is trying to claim that it owns the tribe’s ancestral remains and grave sites. In a lawsuit filed in November 2009, the tribe complained that the County of Kern approved an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that stated “the property owner (who is also the owner of the remains), and of any associated archaeological materials.”

The case ended up in a Fresno federal court last month and was heard by U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger. The judge gave the Kawaiisu Tribe of Tejon 15 days to amend their complaint and stated: “(6) Plaintiffs shall be afforded the opportunity to assert a land-based claim for enforcement of aboriginal title in any amended complaint.”

The ruling allowing further argument to protect Ancestral Graves, Sacred Sites and Indigenous title was seen as a victory for human rights, Indian country and the Kawaiisu people by indigenous advocates. To learn more, visit the Tribe’s blog at http://kawaiisutribeoftejon.blogspot.com/.

Free Social Media Workshops Available

If you work with a nonprofit, are a social justice activist wanting to expand your online presence, use Internet tools to connect to your community or simply find sustainable ways to organize communications around your work, this message is for you. Aspiration, a nonprofit that helps social change organizations use technology more effectively, is offering a series of free social media and online advocacy workshops to grassroots nonprofits across the Central Valley in 2011.

Training topics and locations will be based on the needs of the community, and Aspiration wants your organization’s input! Topics may include E-mail for Community Change, Coordinating Your Communication Channels and Social Media Basics.

If you know of organizations that might be interested in this training and/or have access to a possible venue (library, community center, office), contact Misty Avila at centralvalley@aspirationtech.org or 415-839-6456. For more info, visit www.aspirationtech.org/training/centralvalley.

ACLU Information Request Ends in Lawsuit

The American Civil Liberties Union requested the names of the two Fresno police officers involved in the 2009 beating of Glen Beaty, a homeless man. The attack was captured on video and news of the event went worldwide. The Fresno Police Department (FPD) did not immediately release the officers’ names.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit to force the FPD to release the officers’ names. The case was heard in court in late January. ACLU attorney Michael Risher argued that the City of Fresno should be obligated to comply with California Public Records Act requests. The judge’s tentative ruling was that the city was within its rights to withhold information about the names of officers, because of previous rulings where the courts have sided with police departments that claim the right to privacy is more important than the public’s right to know the names of the officers involved in excessive force and officer-involved shooting (OIS) cases. Ultimately, the judge stuck with his ruling (basically in favor of the city) and suggested that the ACLU could appeal the case.

But civil rights activists say that the FPD seems to have adjusted its policy voluntarily and will now release the names of officers involved in officer-involved shootings. The Community Alliance receives the FPD’s press releases, giving the names of officers involved in shootings on a regular basis, although they do not give that information in every case.

Attorneys for the city argued that they have the right to withhold the name—for example, if there was an Internal Affairs investigation of the officer involved. They can claim it was a personnel matter and it would violate the officer’s privacy to reveal his name. That was the essence of the argument about the officers in the Beaty case—that everyone knew the officers were under investigation, so it would violate their privacy rights to reveal their names. Of course, by knowing their names, which this newspaper eventually got, we found out that one of the officers was given a promotion and another was involved in a deadly shooting a short time after the Beaty incident.

Labor Board Fails to Protect the Rights of 10,000 Fresno Homecare Workers

The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) notified the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW) today of its decision not to overturn the results of a 2009 election for 10,000 Fresno County homecare workers between NUHW and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), dealing a major setback to the rights of workers to join the union of their choosing. NUHW has pledged to appeal the ruling.

“This is a horrible decision,” said homecare worker Florine Furlow. “This is a decision that puts freedom of association for workers at risk. It needs to be appealed and overturned.”

In objections to the election filed with the PERB in 2009, NUHW cited numerous, specific examples of unscrupulous tactics repeatedly employed by SEIU staff members, including

  • Threatening workers with loss of wages, benefits and employment as a direct result of voting to join NUHW.
  • Threatening physical violence against NUHW staff in front of workers.
  • Stealing or otherwise obtaining workers’ ballots and filling them out.

NUHW has further documented numerous instances of SEIU employees targeting Spanish-speaking homecare workers and threatening them with deportation if they refused to support SEIU, and of SEIU employees vandalizing the homes of NUHW supporters.

Today, the PERB ruled that despite the seriousness of SEIU’s misconduct, it is refraining from taking measures to hold SEIU accountable. The PERB agents cited the absence of the names of the specific SEIU organizers who perpetrated the violations in NUHW’s objection filing as the basis for its ruling.

NUHW officials disagree with the decision.

“The PERB’s decision makes no sense,” said John Borsos of NUHW. “Workers provided detailed evidence of ballot tampering and other illegal election interference. This testimony warrants an investigation, and yet the PERB is closing the case and refusing to investigate the crimes because workers can’t identify the criminals in advance. It’s as if the police refused to investigate a robbery because the robber was wearing a mask. PERB’s job is to investigate the charges, not abandon the victims.”

As a consequence of SEIU’s misconduct, combined with the $10 million war chest SEIU brought to Fresno County in 2009 (versus $250,000 expended by NUHW), SEIU won the Fresno election by just 250 votes, or about 4% of the number of votes cast.

Former SEIU staffers who worked on the Fresno election have testified that, far from a case of “bad apples,” the election misconduct was planned, conceived and articulated by top SEIU officials.

Since the Fresno election, SEIU has employed identical tactics in every election it has competed in against NUHW, most notably in last year’s contest for 43,000 Kaiser Permanente employees.

Watch this video of Fresno County homecare workers describing SEIU misconduct: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vg06CC1vkX8.

  • Mike Rhodes is a writer for the Community Alliance newspaper and author of the book Dispatches from the War Zone, about homelessness in Fresno. www.mikerhodes.us is his website. Contact him at mikerhodes@comcast.net.

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