Why activists in Philly are furious with Uber and the Democratic Party-Demos Conspiring With UBER To Screw Philly Taxi Drivers
Why activists in Philly are furious with Uber and the Democratic Party-Demos Conspiring With UBER To Screw Philly Taxi Drivers
Why activists in Philly are furious with Uber and the Democratic Party
THE PARTY OF UBER 7/27/16 4:22 PM
Why activists in Philly are furious with Uber and the Democratic Party
By Andrew Joyce
PHILADELPHIA—Activists in Philadelphia are accusing Uber of colluding with the Democratic Party and using the Democratic National Convention to stymie efforts to regulate ride-sharing companies in the city.
On the first night of the convention, members of a coalition called Fair Ride Philly gathered in front of the DoubleTree hotel to protest the Philadelphia delegation as it returned from the day’s proceedings.
“Seventy billion dollar app! Riders get table scraps!” they shouted as delegates were led through a police barricade into the hotel.
A police barricade between DNC delegates and Fair Ride Philly protesters
The coalition, made up of local cab drivers, disgruntled Uber drivers, and people with disabilities, is angry with local officials and the national Democratic Party for partnering with Uber during the convention. They see it as an effort by the ride-sharing company to expand its presence in the city and subvert worker protections.
“I’m really disgusted with the Democratic national party,” Ronald Blount, the president of the Philadelphia taxi union, told Fusion. “They’re supposed to represent us working people, people who are less fortunate, people with disabilities, but it’s like they’re just rolling over for a shrimp cocktail and a ham sandwich.”
The DNC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Philadelphia’s taxi drivers and Uber have been in a protracted battle leading up to convention.
Ride-sharing companies like Uber were not legally allowed to operate in Philadelphia until a few months ago. In December 2015, Uber backed a bill in the Pennsylvania Legislature to allow ride-sharing companies to operate in Philadelphia, but it never came to a vote.
Uber and other ride-sharing companies appealed to the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which granted temporary permission for them to operate. Activists challenged the authority’s power to grant permission, and won a favorable ruling from a judge.
Then, just before the Democratic National Convention, an amendment to the state budget was passed giving Uber and other ride-sharing companies permission to operate until Sept. 30.
Activists told Fusion that Uber had used the convention to pressure lawmakers and gain a foothold in Philadelphia. They argued that the DNC, by partnering with Uber, was interfering in state politics.
The coalition also claims that Uber’s presence is hurting efforts to expand taxi access to Philadelphians with disabilities.
Activists claim Uber doesn’t have nearly enough cars with accommodations for people with disabilities, and that some riders with disabilities have been charged more for their rides.
A spokesman for Uber denied that riders with disabilities are being charged more. He declined to say, however, how many wheelchair-accessible cars the company operates in Philadelphia, calling it proprietary information.
The DNC has allowed Uber to set up pickup and dropoff points at the convention, funneling business to the company. Uber also offers special car services exclusive to delegates.
Inside the convention, the Democratic Party has highlighted its support for people with disabilities. Anastasia Somoza, an advocate, gave a speech blasting Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, for having mocked a reporter with a muscular disorder. Members of the Fair Ride Philly coalition said the party’s embrace of Uber is at odds with its support for Americans with disabilities.
Rebecca Hamell, a member of the coalition and a person with a disability, expressed disappointment with the party.
“What [Democrats] have shown through their actions at this convention is that they can identify that really blatant kind of discrimination, but not the more subtle, structural things that prevent disabled people like from participating fully in society,” Hamell told Fusion. “It’s more than just not making fun of us. That’s a really low bar.”
Rebecca Hamell, a member of the Fair Ride Philly coalition and an advocate for people with disabilities.
The coalition also includes disgruntled former and current Uber drivers who are upset that Uber drivers do not have the same worker protections as regular taxi drivers.
Protesters brave the heat in Philly to say 'Bernie or Bust' as DNC starts
Dan Saliv, a driver who used to work for Uber’s black car service, Uber Black, claims he was suspended by the company for circumventing its system of pickups and dropoffs.
He said Uber was unfair to require drivers to take fares that would have barely covered expenses, and offered no recourse to contest the fairness of the suspension.
“I went with my daughter to their office. I asked them to give me a chance, at least, to find another job, and then they deactivated me,” he told Fusion.
Craig Ewer, an Uber spokesman, would not comment on that driver’s case. “We have zero tolerance for any fraudulent behavior that makes it tougher for the vast majority of honest drivers to receive ride requests,” he said.
At the Republican National Convention, last week in Cleveland, some Uber drivers Fusion told Fusion they were upset that the company had flooded the city with drivers, forcing driver earnings to below the equivalent of minimum wage. Uber stressed that it was providing the best fares for customers.
DNC Loves UB & Airbnb "Drivers and disability advocates—who are unhappy about Uber’s lack of wheelchair-available vehicles—have staged protests outside the Democrats’ convention hall."
Airbnb and Uber Lobby Democrats at Philadelphia Convention
Joshua Brustein, Bloomberg - Jul 26, 2016 6:15 pm
Nearly 7,000 people attending the Democratic National Convention are staying at Airbnb properties, according to the company. Airbnb
It may seem hard to believe, but analog technologies like walkie-talkies, pagers, and even pen and paper are still the norm for many hotel employee communications.
As usual, Uber and Airbnb are using all the leverage they have as they lobby Democrats to reduce restrictions on the sharing economy.
— Brian Sumers
The Democratic National Convention is relying heavily on Airbnb to house attendees, and the company wants to remind the visiting politicians that it could use their support, too.
About 40,000 people are in Philadelphia for the convention, and Airbnb says 7,000 of them are using its home rental services, staying in spaces rented out by 3,000 hosts. By contrast, people have booked about 15,000 hotel rooms, according to the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The Democratic convention drew significantly more guests than the Republican convention last week in Cleveland, in which 1,100 Airbnb hosts rented out rooms to 2,500 people. That tracks a partisan divide in Airbnb users from past political conventions. In 2008, there were 49 hosts at the Democratic convention in Denver. Just two people rented out rooms at that year’s Republican convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Airbnb and Uber, the two giants of the sharing economy, hosted a panel in Philadelphia Tuesday morning to remind Democrats that their growing popularity comes with potential political opportunities and risks. A survey the company released at the convention found that 80 percent of millennials support Airbnb operating legally in their area. To make sure no one missed the point, Airbnb’s release noted that this included millennials living in swing states.
“If you’re a candidate whether running for president or really any other office, to quote-unquote ‘speak millennial,’ you ought to be talking about the sharing economy, because it is core and central to their economic future,” said Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s head of policy and public affairs and a former aide to President Bill Clinton. He added that by 2025 about 75 percent of all “voters and consumers” will be millennials or the generations that come after them. “The politics of this country is really going to evolve pretty significantly, given the attitudes, perspectives, and approach of that generation,” he said.
Airbnb has been working diligently to solidify its political connections in recent weeks, as it faces blowback over its response to racially discriminatory behavior from some of its hosts, and continued political battles in its most important markets. Last week it announced that it had hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to help it address racism. Two days later, the company formed an advisory council of former mayors to help navigate local regulations. Michael Nutter, the former mayor of Philadelphia and a member of the council, appeared onstage at the event Tuesday. Airbnb is also hosting an event on civil rights with BET in Philadelphia.
Still, the Democratic Party’s attitude towards the sharing economy is complicated. Earlier this month, three Democratic U.S. senators asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Airbnb to determine how the short-term rental market was exerting housing shortages and driving up the cost of living in already expensive markets. When Hillary Clinton published her plan for technology and innovation in June, she said that the digital economy was providing new opportunities but also raising new questions about the future of work and the efficacy of the safety net. Clinton said she’d bring together business and labor leaders to discuss the issue.
Philadelphia officials have embraced Airbnb. But the situation is muddier for Uber. The company has struggled to operate its UberX and UberPool services legally, and faces legal action from taxi companies that say it unfairly avoids regulations. Early this month, Uber reached a deal with city officials allowing it to operate legally until Sept. 30 to help alleviate short-term stress on the transportation system. Drivers and disability advocates—who are unhappy about Uber’s lack of wheelchair-available vehicles—have staged protests outside the Democrats’ convention hall.
Uber’s and Airbnb’s biggest fights over the next four years are unlikely to be waged against a Clinton or Trump administration. Instead, they’ll involve local and state governments, which find themselves in a tricky political situation. As the companies took pains to note on Tuesday, many Democratic voters are personal fans of their services and also see them as a sign of broader innovation. But Uber and Airbnb also inspire strong opposition from traditional power bases of the Democratic Party, like labor and housing activists.
Nutter, the former Philadelphia mayor, dismissed this opposition as both self-interested and inevitable during his panel discussion: “I’m quite sure that the horse and buggy hired the appropriate number of lobbyists and lawyers to fight Henry Ford and folks coming along with these newfangled things called cars.”
To contact the author of this story: Joshua Brustein in New York at email@example.com.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Ajello at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A LOVE Letter to Philly
We’re proud that Philly’s playing host to the Democratic National Convention. This week, let’s revel in the diverse neighborhoods and delectable dining that have come to define our city and make it such an attractive destination—and place to call home.
On Monday, July 18, we’re kicking off a week-long celebration in the 215, bringing $2.15 uberPOOL flat rates and free food to several of Philly’s most unique neighborhoods.
Check out a sneak peek of the neighborhood lineup below and be sure to check here each day, as we reveal details on what we have in store.
• Monday - Spruce Hill
• Tuesday - East Falls
• Wednesday - Fishtown
• Thursday - East Passyunk
• Friday - Surprise!
SF Appeal to reinstate ‘failed’ tech shuttle provider of Cisco and Zynga employees delayed until late August-IBT 665 Protests Union Busting Bauer Transportation
SF Appeal to reinstate ‘failed’ tech shuttle provider of Cisco and Zynga employees delayed until late August-IBT 665 Protests Union Busting Bauer Transportation
Teamsters members and supporters block Bauer's IT tech shuttles at a stop outside Teamers Local #665 in San Francisco, Calif on Thursday in an effort to support the unionization of Bauer's drivers. July 21, 2016. (Rachael Garner/Special to S.F. Examiner).
By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez on July 25, 2016 1:00 am
A provider of technology industry private shuttles widely known as “Google Buses” was kicked out of San Francisco’s Commuter Shuttle Program in April.
Now the shuttle company wants back in — but it seems they’ll need to wait. Leaving transit service for hundreds of technology employees remains in limbo.
After a meeting between the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Mayor’s Office and Bauer’s Intelligent Transportation, Inc. on Friday, attorneys for the mayor asked for a continuation of Bauer’s appeal of a decision to deny it permits to use city bus stops.
The issue will be reheard in late August, according to the SFMTA.
The appeal follows an April decision by the SFMTA to deny Bauer’s a permit for the Commuter Shuttle Program. Without a permit, Bauer’s shuttles were essentially kicked out of Muni bus stops and some public curb spaces.
Bauer’s operates private shuttle buses to ferry tech workers from San Francisco to the corporate campuses of Electronic Arts, Zynga and Cisco systems, among other companies.
The SFMTA granted Bauer’s a grace period of three weeks in April to notify its riders of the upcoming disruption to service, but the agency was unable to tell the San Francisco Examiner before press time if service has yet been interrupted.
In a letter to Bauer’s, SFMTA wrote the company’s permit was denied because they received an outsize number of community complaints and is not in “labor harmony” with its drivers.
Mark Gleason is secretary treasurer for the Teamsters local 665, which has organized tech shuttle drivers across San Francisco. Bauer’s tried forming a “company union,” he said, to combat the Teamsters attempt to unionize Bauer’s drivers. This tactic came under fire from the National Labor Relations Board earlier this year.
“Other employers don’t do that,” Gleason said. With other shuttle providers “we sit down and have a reasonable talk.”
Thursday evening the Teamsters staged a protest against Bauer’s stopping shuttles along Franklin Street.
Bauer’s did not respond to requests for comment before press time.
Last Tuesday, the SFMTA Board of Directors also approved moving commuter shuttle stops from Van Ness Avenue to Franklin and Gough streets to accommodate construction of the Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit project.
A stop at Valencia and 25th streets was also moved to Cesar Chavez and Bartlett streets after nearby Synergy School complained of conflicts between shuttles and parents dropping off children.
Flarnie Marchan is a local tech worker who rides the shuttles. In public comment she said “Any potential stop elimination especially in the Dolores neighborhood might force me to reconsider whether I need a car to get to and from work.”
David Thomas is a building manager of an apartment building on Bush Street, where commuter shuttle stops were recently placed, he told the board.
He said, “I’d like you to consider how it’d be to have two hundred people outside your window and diesel engines fifteen feet outside your bed” every morning at 5:45 a.m.Tags: DriversBauer Transportationprivatization
UK Dockers' leader passed strike tactics to MI5 agents during national stoppage
Monday 1 January 2001 11.38 GMTLast modified on Wednesday 20 July 2016 05.33 BST
A former president of the Transport and General Workers' Union has admitted knowingly passing information on strike tactics to the security services, after MI5 reports on a national docks stoppage in 1970 released today detailed his views and attitudes.
Brian Nicholson, a London dockers' leader at the time who became a close ally of Neil Kinnock in the late 1980s, told the Guardian: "They used to play games with me and I used to play games with them. What I told them was not significant, unless to tell them things to let the other side know."
Mr Nicholson said MI5 agents "flitted around the docks posing as leftwing activists and do-gooders" during the industrial upheavals of the early 1970s, although others were associated with rightwing groups such as Catholic Action and Moral Rearmament.
"But I realised who they were," said Mr Nicholson, who had a leftwing profile and now runs a retired dockers' club in east London. "The establishment panicked easy in those days and they were on to me daily. People were paranoid at the time about leftwing takeovers. But I was never a communist - I'm a Catholic and a churchgoer."
Mr Nicholson features prominently in a string of MI5 reports to the newly elected prime minister, Edward Heath, about a two week national strike over pay by 50,000 dockers in July 1970, which led the government to declare a state of emergency and put troops on standby. The reports by MI5's director general, Sir Martin Furnival-Jones, which are stamped "top secret", are contained in Heath's personal file on the strike and are the first such accounts from the domestic spying service on trade unions in the postwar period to be released. They have been released to the public record office under the 30 year rule.
Focused mainly on the role of communists and their allies in the strike - which was led by the then TGWU general secretary, Jack Jones - the reports reveal the extent of MI5's undercover penetration and surveillance of the left at the time and contain a relatively sophisticated analysis of the private differences among the dockers' leaders.
Their release comes at a time when Stella Rimington, who headed MI5 in the early 1990s, is about to publish her memoirs in the teeth of fierce resistance in Whitehall.
Dame Stella worked for MI5's political subversion department, F branch, in the early 1970s, when its role was massively expanded in response to increasing industrial militancy on the left. She later headed MI5's "counter-subversion" operations against the 1984-85 miners' strike.
The 1970 docks strike was the first of a series of increasingly effective stoppages during the Heath administration, which culminated in the miners' strike of 1974, the three-day week and the Tories' electoral defeat.
The MI5 briefings on the July docks walkout - passed to the prime minister every couple of days and based on agents' reports, phone tapping and bugging - include accounts of private meetings between Communist party officials and dockers' shop stewards and even internal discussions about the editorial line of the Morning Star, described as "the subject of much anxious consideration".
Several parts of the reports have been blacked out, including phrases around the name of Brian Nicholson, whose views and dilemmas are described in detail, even though he was only one of several rank-and-file leaders in the London docks.
The deletions will have been made either because the words refer to "material given in confidence" or because of issues of "personal sensitivity".Tags: UK DockersMI5 Agents
Korea (South): Global union leaders to attend court to protest persecution of South Korean colleagues
All Aboard Korean ‘Train to Busan’ for Zombie and Class Warfare
TRAIN TO BUSAN
• NYT Critics’ Pick
• Directed by Sang-ho Yeon
• Action, Horror, Thriller
• 1h 58m
By JEANNETTE CATSOULIS
JULY 21, 2016
Gong Yoo, top, and Kim Su-Ahn in “Train to Busan,” a horror movie set on a bullet train. CreditWell Go USA
Elite passengers on a South Korean bullet train face a twitching, hissing threat from the cheap seats in “Train to Busan,” a public-transportation horror movie with a side helping of class warfare.
The setup is lean and clean. A flattened deer, mowed down in a quarantine zone in Seoul where some kind of chemical spill has occurred (echoes of Bong Joon-ho’s 2007 enviro-horror film, “The Host”), springs back to life. Then, in just a few swiftly efficient scenes, we meet a harried hedge-fund manager and his small, sad daughter (Gong Yoo and an amazing Kim Su-ahn), see them settled on the titular locomotive and watch in dismay as a vividly unwell last-minute passenger lurches onboard. And we’re off!
Sprinting right out of the gate, the director, Yeon Sang-ho, dives gleefully into a sandbox of spilled brains and smug entitlement. (“In the old days, they’d be re-educated,” one biddy remarks upon spying an undesirable fellow traveler.) As zombies chomp and multiply, an assortment of regular folks face them down while furthering an extended critique of corporate callousness. The politics are sweet, but it’s the creatures that divert. Eyes like Ping-Pong balls and spines like rubber — I’d wager more than a few chiropractors were required on the set — they attack in seizures of spastic energy. They’re like break-dancing corpses.
Often chaotic but never disorienting, the movie’s spirited set pieces — like a wriggling ribbon of undead clinging doggedly to the last compartment — owe much to Lee Hyung-deok’s wonderfully agile cinematography. Dipping and levitating, his camera injects air into tunnels and washrooms and luggage compartments, giving the action a hurtling vigor. Even more impressive is the train itself: marveling at its freakishly strong doors and dedicated staff, you might find yourself mourning the state of our own rail services more than the fate of the characters.Tags: RailKorean class struggle
Japan PM Abe’s maglev railway decision reflects political calculus over economics
July 22, 2016 at 12:20 JST
Few doubt Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's decision to invest public funds in a $90 billion (9.5 trillion yen) high-tech "maglev" railway makes political sense. Whether it makes equally good economic sense is less clear.
Proponents say lending government money to Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) to speed up the launch of a service linking Tokyo and Osaka with a high-speed, magnetically levitated train will spark growth in an economy still fragile after three years of an "Abenomics" mix of hyper-easy monetary policy, spending and promised structural reforms.
But critics counter the government is targeting the plan mainly because it has a big price tag, and doubt its economic impact and export potential.
"Abe needs to spend a lot of money and it's easy to spend on big projects," said Fujitsu Research Institute economist Martin Schulz. "Abe needs things that are linked to technology, the future of infrastructure and getting Japan into the next century. On paper, maglev ticks most of the boxes," said Schulz, adding the benefits might not stack up in practice.
Other private economists share those doubts. "It is highly questionable whether we need to fast-track this," said Hiroshi Shiraishi, senior economist at BNP Paribas Securities.
Abe's administration decided to back the project only after the Bank of Japan in January adopted a negative interest rate policy and the government got a Group of 20 go-ahead for more fiscal spending, interviews with local and national government officials, a JR Tokai executive and an Abe adviser showed.
Abe has pledged a stimulus package by the end of July, including using the government's Fiscal Investment and Loan Program (FILP) to help JR Tokai bring forward operation of the maglev line from Nagoya to Osaka by up to eight years to 2037.
The government is looking to lend 3 trillion yen over three years at 0.3 percent interest, to be paid back over 20 or 30 years, an LDP lawmaker said.
JR Tokai's original plan called for finishing a line from Tokyo to Nagoya, central Japan, by 2027 and--after an eight-year break to pay back debt--opening service to Osaka in 2045.
The maglev, with speeds of up to 500 kilometers per hour and running through tunnels deep under mountainous terrain, would cut the trip to Nagoya by one hour to 40 minutes, and to Osaka to just 67 minutes from 145 minutes.
‘GO IT ALONE’
Unable to find a powerful political sponsor and with big public works projects out of fashion, JR Tokai had abandoned efforts to get government aid about a decade ago. In December 2014 began construction for the Tokyo-Nagoya line using private funding.
That same year, business leaders, governors and LDP lawmakers in western Japan stepped up lobbying for a "national project" to finish the line to Osaka at the same time as that to Nagoya.
"Originally, JR Tokai said it would fund this itself ... but people in Osaka wanted to speed up the second stage and wondered if FILP could be used," said a senior government source.
FILP loans are financed by government bonds, but are not included in the regular budget so issuing them technically doesn't increase Japan's debt, already equal to more than twice the size of the economy. Such project-specific loans must be paid back by the firm that receives them.
That lobbying effort seemed to be going nowhere until early this year, when the government began eyeing a stimulus package.
"I proposed to Prime Minister Abe we make the best use of the negative rate environment to spur private and public investments," Abe adviser Satoshi Fujii, a Kyoto University professor, said.
Pushing forward completion by eight years would have an economic spinoff of "several tens of trillions of yen," Fujii added.
JR Tokai is considering the offer but some executives worry the government will try to butt into its plans for the maglev line.
"If they put in money, politicians will interfere for sure," one JR Tokai executive said. "I wish the president would say 'No.'"
A JR Tokai spokesman said fast-tracking the project by the full eight years would be tough given the need to assess environmental impacts and other challenges.
‘DREAM TECHNOLOGY’ FOR EXPORT
Some economists question how much speeding up the project would stimulate the economy anyway.
"I have to give them credit for vision, but I'm not sure the numbers add up," said Morgan Stanley MUFG chief economist Robert Feldman.
Abe, who is close to JR Tokai Chairman emeritus Yoshiyuki Kasai, has touted the maglev as a "dream technology" that could, for example, link New York and Washington in under an hour.
Experts, however, cast doubt on the extent of overseas demand.
"What is being sought is not super-high speed ... It's safety, convenience, network and environmental protection," said Reijiro Hashiyama, a University of Alabama professor emeritus.
"In short, the export potential is zero."Tags: Japan RailMaglev
California transportation IUOE workers reject sellout contract
By Isaac Finn
21 July 2016
In a vote earlier this month, maintenance workers employed by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) overwhelming rejected a sellout contract negotiated between the state government and the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE).
The roughly 12,000 electricians, window cleaners, aqueduct construction workers and truck drivers have been working without a contract since July 1, 2015. The state and IUOE Unit 12 came to an agreement last June, which include a 10 percent pay raise over four years that would translate into a pay decrease after adjusting for inflation and changes in benefits.
Union officials have not disclosed the number of workers who voted, but admitted that 67 percent of those voting rejected the contract. The vote also authorized the union to conduct a strike if ongoing negotiations reach an impasse.
In the face of this militant stand taken by workers, the IUOE offered no explanation about why such an unacceptable contract was offered or indicated how it would carry forward a fight for a better contract in the future.
Tim Neep, director of Unit 12 and the union’s chief negotiator, told the Sacramento Bee, “I did not believe (the tentative deal) would pass through the membership … I saw it coming, and I warned the state about it possibly not ratifying.” He also stated that there was no immediate plan for a strike, and that the union and state would return to the bargaining table.
The IUOE has served to keep maintenance workers isolated in order to avoid a confrontation between large sections of public sector workers with Governor Jerry Brown and the Democratic Party as a whole.
Earlier this month, public employees in San Joaquin County held a three-day strike over unfair labor practices before the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) sent them back to work without a contract.
Similarly, maintenance workers and faculty at California State University (CSU) system were kept separated by the unions that supposedly represent them. The California Faculty Association (CFA), which negotiates on behalf of the professors and instructors, called off a walkout based on a contract negotiated behind the backs of workers. Under the latest agreement the faculty raises are entirely dependent on the state legislature providing what the CSU administration deems adequate funding.
Based on the 2016-2017 state budget, the university system will remain funded below the levels in effect before the 2008 financial crash.
The same state budget also called for $100 million in “cost savings reforms” from “Caltrans efficiencies,” a euphemism for attacking the living standards and working conditions of Caltrans workers. Brown also proposes that the budget reduce the number of workers retiring into the Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS), and push for the use of private contractors.
The IUOE has effectively worked to subordinate workers to the needs of the Democratic Party, while pressuring them to accept any agreement at all by dragging out negotiations.
In April hundreds of Caltrans workers rallied across the state to demand raises and oppose the use of contract workers. Despite the hostility towards the political establishment expressed by many workers, who denounced the Democrats as “crooks,” the IUOE has repeatedly claimed that workers had to support the Democrats. The union has also given its support to multi-millionaire Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Unable so far to impose an austerity contract on workers, the IUOE has resorted to coercing workers through lengthy contract negotiations. As a result of not having a contract workers have gone a year without a raise, even as inflation is expected by rise by nearly one percent in 2016.
The overall rate of inflation is outpaced by soaring housing prices, and rising cost of living in California. Between May 2012 and May 2016 the average home price in California has gone up by 50 percent. According to Living Wage Calculator, a website created professor of urban planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Amy K. Glasmeier, a living wage for a single parent with one child in California would be $26.83 an hour, or an annual salary of $55,806.40 before taxes. In comparison the median annual income of IUOE Unit 12 members in 2015 was $48,404, according to a payroll analysis by the Sacramento Bee.
The decision by Caltrans workers to reject the contract is a reflection of the determination by workers across the country to fighting against growing inequality and exploitation. The actions of the IUOE and other unions in California, however, point to the bankrupt perspective these organizations, and the need for workers to build rank-and-file committees—independent of the unions—and work to unite teachers, nurses, and private sector workers in a common political struggle.
Wall Street Vultures At Goldman Sachs May Have Wrecked the Central States Teamster Pension Fund
THURSDAY, JUL 21, 2016, 2:10 PM
Wall Street Vultures May Have Wrecked the Central States Pension Fund
BY BRUCE VAIL
Some 3,000 people rallied in front of the U.S. Capitol in April to demand government action on threatened pensions. Alex Adams (left), a retired truck driver from Toledo, Ohio, and Dan Bollett (center), also of Toledo, talk legislative strategy with Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio). (Office of Rep. Kaptur)
Bowing to the demands of thousands of angry Teamsters, the federal Government Accountability Office (GAO) has agreed to conduct an inquiry into the past investments of the Central States Pension Fund, the organization that manages the retirement benefits for more than 400,000 union members, both retired and active.
One goal of the inquiry is to determine whether Goldman Sachs and other investment advisors caused the Fund to lose money, endangering the future pensions of retired truck drivers and other Teamster union members.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) hailed the GAO action as a victory for workers, many of whom have been pressuring Congress to take action on behalf of the pensioners.
“It’s astonishing to now read about how Wall Street firms hired by Central States invested retirees’ pension funds in Iraq in 2008, right in the middle of a full-scale war in Iraq. Or how they invested in unstable Russian banks, when the economy there is in shambles, or how they sunk $1.4 billion into risky Single A-rated mortgage-backed bonds in the middle of the housing meltdown. Something is simply wrong, and the GAO will get to the bottom of this,” she said.
Behind the GAO review is the conviction by some of the retirees that investment advisors like Goldman Sachs and the Chicago-based Northern Trust Corporation profited off the Fund by pushing questionable investment strategies while raking in exorbitant management fees. If true, a full accounting might lead to a return of some of the money lost and partial repairs to the damaged finances of the Fund, pension activists say.
“The pension plan lost $11 billion in a 15-month period,” while Goldman was advising the plan, and Goldman should pay some of the money back, said Leroy Goans, a retired union truck driver in Cincinnati.
Hopes that the GAO report will lead to a massive recovery that will ensure existing pension benefits may be overblown, but the inquiry is worth pursuing nevertheless, says Norman Stein, a senior policy advisor to Pension Rights Center, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that is advising the Teamster retirees.
Stein pointed to a lawsuit against Northern Trust that was settled last year, in which Northern Trust agreed to make good on pension plan investment losses involving some of its other clients, including the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund.
“I don’t have specific knowledge regarding Northern Trust, but the case illustrates that pension plans can sometimes recover losses when its advisors behave improperly," he says.
But Stein expressed doubts that a lawsuit brought by Central States, even if meritorious, could recover sufficient sums of money to make a real difference in the plan's financial health.
“Having the GAO look at this is a worthwhile thing to do. The question is open on whether it will wind up helping the pensioners,” who face the threat of benefit cuts in the future, Stein says. “We just need to be patient and let the GAO do its job” of a thorough review.
According to a spokesman at Northern Trust, it has served as a court appointed “named fiduciary” to the Central States Pension Fund since 2005, with responsibility and authority to control and manage the investment of certain assets of the Fund.
“From inception through Dec. 31, 2015, the Northern Trust portfolio has generated returns in line with its benchmark. The investment losses stemming from the global financial crisis of 2008 were fully recovered and are not a primary reason for the plan’s funding gap,” spokesman John O’Connell said in an email.
Goldman Sachs declined to comment for this story.
As reported by In These Times, chronic financial problems with the Central States Pension Fund are threatening to force cuts in the pension payments to hundreds of thousands of retirees. Rep. Kaptur summed up the problem by estimating the plan has about $16.8 billion in assets but long-term pension benefit obligations of $35 billion. Without benefit cuts, or an infusion of new money, the plan ultimately faces insolvency.
Kaptur was one of the first members of Congress to come forward as an advocate for the Teamster pensioners when they launched a grassroots campaign last year to block proposed cuts. Congressional supporters of the campaign have been growing steadily in number since then, and a formal request by Kaptur and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) for the GAO to review the records of Central States was co-signed by more than 40 House members and 10 members of the Senate.
A bill jointly sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kaptur—the Keep Our Pension Promises Act (KOPPA)—now has 10 co-sponsors in the Senate and 52 co-sponsors in the House. Because all of the co-sponsors are traditional pro-labor Democrats, activists like Goans are not optimistic the bill will pass in its current form, but believe that continued lobbying of Republican members of Congress could produce a compromise.
“I think there are Republicans who want to solve this problem. I don’t think anybody has hit on exactly the right solution yet, but maybe the GAO will move us in the right direction,” Goans says.Tags: Central States Teamster Pension Fundvulture capitalists