Tag Archives: unions

What Happened?

Today I thought I would share some of the political thoughts and feelings that I have been having lately.

Here we are, a month after the election. Barack Obama was re-elected and I was hoping that we would be able to get past all the bullshit that has been at the forefront of the news and media for the last year. Instead, it seems to just be getting worse.

Michigan just rammed through a “Right to Work” law that is anything but. The lame duck Republicans pushed it through in a single day, with no open discussion and after literally locking out their constituents. That is NOT democracy. That is NOT why these people were elected to office. That is why they weren’t re-elected in November.

So why did they do it? It can’t be because they think it is for the good of the people. The only people it serves are the corporations that will now be able to get rid of the unions and hire people at lower pay with no benefits. And that just makes things worse.

I read recently that the state of Wisconsin is one of the top states in corporate giveaways. Michigan is even worse. Every taxpayer in Wisconsin is forced to pay $268 of tax money every year to big business, and there is little or no benefit from doing so. There are no jobs created, and the companies that take the money have no requirements to even stay in the state. And meanwhile, despite having record profits, the corporations continue to demand more.

So even with the billions of dollars of corporate welfare, why is Wisconsin at the bottom when it comes to unemployment? And why, when the “governor” has promised a “laser focus on jobs”, has he done absolutely nothing about the problem?

Instead, the news from Scott Walker’s office is that he is spending half a million dollars on a new kitchen. He has stated that he is touring the state so he can talk to the people, but the stops on his tour are invitation only and not open to the general public. More and more of his associates are being arrested, tried, and convicted, with their fingers pointing directly at him, and yet he laughingly dismisses a serious call for his arrest as a case of sour grapes.

I got the idea for my NaNoWriMo project from my frustrations about the current political situation in Wisconsin and the country. And despite the Democratic wins in November, the Republicans are still pushing the same old crap that lost them their seat at the table.

It’s depressing.

It makes me think that there will be nothing left for our children. It makes me think that the country I grew up in is dead and gone, and I wonder why I am still here. There is no end to the insanity in sight.

It almost makes me hope that the people who say the world is going to end this month are right, because I’m not sure that we as a people still deserve to live.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, think about who is currently in power. The ones that are in charge of the country now are people who grew up in the eighties and nineties. The Yuppies of the “Me” generation. They grew up rich and privileged, thinking of nothing but themselves, so it is no wonder that now that they are in charge they are pushing for laws that benefit nobody but themselves.

And the whole thing is self-destructive. If they would just stop to think about it, they might realize that if they continue to take money away from the people who are supposed to be buying their goods, soon enough there won’t be anybody left that will be able to buy anything. They will end up closing their doors because their only customers will be people as rich as they are, and we all know that they aren’t spending their money. Instead, they stash it in offshore bank accounts, or give it to crooked politicians like Scott Walker and his gang of thieves, so they can continue to feed off the public teat.

So that’s my soap box speech for the day. Maybe someone can be nice and leave a comment to let me know that all isn’t lost. Or at least tell me that I am not alone in these thoughts.

And when you’re shopping this holiday season (if you can still afford it, I know I can’t), try going to a small, independent store where the owner greets you with a smile from behind the counter. Or better yet, buy direct from a local craftsman. Stay away from the big box stores. You know, the ones that pay their workers minimum wage with no benefits. They already have enough of your money, and odds are that it is going to a bank outside of the country.

See you Wednesday! Hopefully I’ll have something less depressing to write about. Does anybody have any suggestions?

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Why the Republican Agenda is Self-Destructive

Excuse me for a minute. After the disappointing results of the Wisconsin recall election last night, I felt that I had to vent about some things. I’m not normally a political person, but the events of the last 18 months have made the sidelines smaller and smaller, until there is no room for anyone to stand there. So here are some of my thoughts on the results of the new laws and changes that the Republican party has been pushing through recently.

Let me first start out with the thought that I don’t think that “Conservative” means what you think it means. The definition of conservative is “disposed to preserve existing conditions or limit change; cautiously moderate or purposefully low; traditional in style or manner, avoiding novelty or showiness.” In my opinion, nothing that has been rammed through the legislature recently has been conservative. It is all about shaking things up, reversing decades of progress, and in the case of Governor Scott Walker (yuck!), showing off on a national level. Walker has been called a “right-wing rock star”, which is a fairly good assessment. He has been touring the country instead of focusing on Wisconsin, showing off for all of the right-wing Republican business leaders and gathering most of his campaign contributions from outside the state. If he had been out there bringing in jobs instead of donations he may not have had to worry about the recall in the first place.

Speaking of jobs, let’s talk about the unions. I work for the State of Wisconsin Department of Revenue. I admit it, I am a tax collector. My job is to ensure that people comply with the tax laws of the state of Wisconsin, which means that I also have to sometimes forcibly collect money from people who can’t afford to pay it. It’s NOT a nice job. The only way I can rationalize it to myself is by saying I am helping people pay their taxes, whether they want to or not.

My position at DOR is covered by a union, and I support everything they do for me. That being said, I am also not a member of the union, and never have been. I have never paid dues to the union because my position was grandfathered in and I wasn’t required to join. So for the last seven years I have been enjoying the benefits of the union without paying the price. And I have felt guilty about it for the last seven years, but at the time my budget was so slim I couldn’t afford the extra expense. And then, last year, Scott Walker came in and stripped my rights away, completely castrating the Wisconsin unions and making it so they would be completely irrelevant.

Union detractors go on and on about how corrupt they are, and how union members are being forced to pay dues to out-of-state thugs that don’t do anything for them. They talk about how much better things would be if unions were banned. Either these people have no clue about how unions really work, or they are just plain lying on the behalf of corporate interests.

Unions were created by working people, in an effort to rein in the criminal activities of businesses that paid terrible wages for unsafe jobs. The employees would gather together as a group and elect a spokesperson to represent them at a bargaining table with their employer. Organized workers are the reason why people can now get a 40 hour work week, paid vacation time, sick leave, and job security. Even national unions still have local officers, elected by the people they represent. Union dues go mostly toward legal fees for people who have been wronged by their employers, as well as lobbying for things like increasing the minimum wage and instituting programs like OSHA, unemployment insurance, and workers compensation. The union promise has always been to protect the working class from corporate greed and carelessness.

So, back to the people who roll out the rhetoric about corrupt unions and laud the politicians like Scott Walker that attack them. These people rant about how the unions have given state workers “gold-plated pension plans” and health insurance at little or no cost, and how the benefits packages of state workers for things like vacation time and sick leave are so much better than what is available in the private sector. The truth about these things is that the reason the benefits are so much better is because we have given up pay increases in exchange for these things. The take-home pay of most state workers is well below the pay of people that do similar work in the private sector. Even when you add in the value of the benefits received, state workers average a lower annual compensation package than those in the private sector.

I guess the point I am trying to make about this is that, instead of working to take away the benefits that my union has fought hard to get for me, why aren’t these people trying to get the same benefits for themselves? Instead of complaining so much about the unions, why don’t they simply admit that they think the work that I do is not worth anything close to the amount I would get if I worked in the private sector? This type of attitude makes it that much harder for me to put up with the nut jobs that try to sue me for rejecting the payment that they sent drawn on a closed checking account.

I agree that the state and federal governments have become bloated, and their budgets are a recurring issue in all political campaigns. However, even if we have become a “bread and circuses” society, the fact of the matter is that every job cut is work that isn’t being done. If you want a highway to drive your car on, you need to pay for someone to manage it. If you want your car to be safe, you have to pay for safety inspections. If you want your governor to be held liable for his crimes (I wish!) you have to pay for the detectives and attorneys that will prosecute him. Reducing a budget often means cutting programs. The question is always, “which ones?”

When I started with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, my job was only part-time, working six hours a day to key in tax returns that were mailed in. It was a boring, repetitive job, and it was difficult to stay awake even for the six hours I was there. About a year later, my job was made full-time, but then just a few months after that they reorganized my section and my job was at risk. Thanks to the union contract, I was able to find another position at DOR, this time working as a typist for our attorneys. A much more interesting job, which also allowed me to develop some new computer skills. Those skills helped me out when after another year passed they eliminated that position as well. This time I was off to our new Workstation Support Unit, which was responsible for  keeping the limited number (at that time) desktop computers working. I showed promise in the position, and was soon tapped to replace a woman on maternity leave as the main network cabling manager. I flourished in that job for about ten years, until 2005 when once again budget cuts put my position at risk. At that time I had been working for DOR for 12 years, and yet I was in the position of putting my resume out there and praying that I would be able to support my family. That’s when I took my current position as a tax collector. And the only reason I am still in this job is because I am afraid of what might happen if I transferred to something less stressful. With the recent economy and Wisconsin being dead last in the country for jobs, I would be a fool to risk losing a secure position. And despite the stress, I am fairly positive that they won’t get rid of the people bringing in the money.

So where was I? Oh yeah, this post is supposed to be about how destructive the Republican agenda is. So how does that fit in with destroying the unions?

Well, for one thing, putting the power into the hands of the corporations is just one more way of inciting rebellion. Take a look at the Occupy movement that has been sweeping the country, and even other parts of the world. All of these demonstrations have been in protest of companies doing terrible things without being held accountable by our government. And most of the people demonstrating feel that the reason for the lack of criminal charges being brought is because these business have bought immunity along with the politicians.

If we look back in history to the founding of this country, there is one event that is widely recognized as the start of the American Revolution: the Boston Tea Party. It is ironic that the new Tea Party has taken this event for their own, since it was the idea of “taxation without representation” that caused the Colonials to rebel against their English rulers. And now the modern-day Tea Party is pushing forward an agenda granting more and more power to the businesses that already have too much control over the country, leaving the common people feeling powerless and pissed off. I believe that very soon there will be a tipping point, a time when one more law will be passed taking away the rights of the common man and giving them to the corporations he is forced to work for at a wage that barely keeps body and soul together. When that point is reached, the demonstrations will no longer be peaceful. The brutalities of the police forces involved in the Occupy movement will be replaced by death and destruction by both the new Rebel Alliance and the troops of the National Guard. There will be a second American Revolution, and as the old saying goes, “they will start by killing all the lawyers.”

Wow. This post is getting long. And there is so much more to cover.

My next talking point about the Republican agenda is about the attacks on education. Most of the Republicans will argue that they aren’t destroying education. Instead they claim they are just trimming the fat by getting rid of the teacher’s unions. I’m sorry, but when the school janitor makes more than the teachers, there is already something wrong. And when a professional athlete makes 100 times the amount a teacher does, the world has turned upside down. And I fail to understand how eliminating the bargaining power the teachers have to get better salaries helps fix this issue.

Another attack on education is the school voucher system. What this program does is to allow for any student to have a certain amount of money provided by the government to attend the school of their choice. It sounds good, doesn’t it? It seems like it would allow poor students to attend better schools, which would be a good thing. While it does do that, unfortunately the voucher amount doesn’t cover the cost of any of the private schools, which means that any poor student would have to come up with the rest of the funds on their own. And the vouchers are also given to rich students already attending those private schools, meaning the government is subsidizing the education of people who can afford to pay for it already. Meanwhile the money used for the vouchers are funds taken directly away from the public schools that need it the most, leaving them even less able to educate all of the lower and middle class students that can’t afford the private school tuition even with the vouchers.

The end result? The private schools remain available only to the upper class, and the public schools fall apart and fail to educate anyone. It will be interesting to see what the world is like in ten years or so, when the only people graduating high school or college are the 1%. How do they expect to keep all of their big businesses staffed with professional, white-collar workers, when nobody will be able to afford the education required to do the work? We will either end up with companies being run by people brought in from other countries, or the businesses will simply be bought out or replaced by foreign corporations. In either case, the middle class of America will vanish. There will only be two classes: the Haves and the Have Nots. And 99% of us will fall into the latter category.

I don’t think I can continue with this much longer. This post is way too long as it is. But there is one more quick point I have to make.

The Republican War on Women is insane. There is absolutely no reason for all of these new laws against birth control. And it is simply stupid to pass a law requiring doctors to lie to their patients. The entire country is looking for our duly elected political leaders to do something about the national jobs crisis, and instead they waste countless dollars and hours passing these stupid laws that don’t create a single job. And the dumbest part is that none of these people realize a simple, basic fact: If you start a war against women, you will lose. I would like to close by quoting from the pilot episode of the Wonder Woman television show, way back when in 1975:

“The Nazis don’t care about their women. They let you fend for yourself. And any civilization that does not recognize the female is doomed to destruction. Women are the wave of the future, and sisterhood is stronger than anything.”

I hope you at least think about the ideas in this post. I may be wrong about some of my predictions, and I hope I am, but I am very, very afraid that I am not.

See you on the other side!

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September 5 – Labor Day

Sorry for the late post today. Even though I started this morning bright and early with the start of a new short story, I only got a few paragraphs into it before stopping. I didn’t get back to it until just a couple of hours ago, and only managed another couple of paragraphs before putting it away again.

I was just feeling lazy today. I’m celebrating Labor Day here in Wisconsin, like most of the people in America. It’s a holiday that celebrates the common worker, and it is thanks to the unions that it is a nationwide holiday. Yes, the same unions that are now being dismantled and criminalized by Republican politicians across the country. Even though I am not a dues-paying member of a union, I am represented by one, and take full advantage of the protections they provide me in the workplace. That’s why the attitude I see by politicians and short-sighted voters makes me sick.

Okay, that’s enough of that soapbox. The other reason for the late posting is that I was hoping to have an answer on my last submission by now. Unfortunately there’s no word yet. I’m still hoping I make the cut and will have my second story published soon, but there is still almost a month before the deadline (September 30) so I’m sure there are many more stories that they will have to review before making their final choices. I know that my friend Zombie Joe is working on a submission as well, and I want to wish him luck. Hopefully I’ll get to hear his first draft tomorrow night at our critique group.

I’m not sure where the story I started this morning is going. I had a dream this morning that got me started, and I think I know where I want it to end, but there is an enormous gaping hole in the middle that I need to fill. So somebody pass me the shovel. I’ve got to get back to work.

See you again on Thursday!

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Politics and Policies – Part II

Another rant, and another day of wishing I could quit my job. Of course, if Walker gets his way, every public employee would either quit, retire, or as a last resort, he can lay them off. Ninety people (out of about 600) have put in their retirement papers at Revenue in the last few weeks. At least ten that I know of are leaving this week.

Things are still falling apart in Wisconsin. The Republican legislature has just proved that the battle over the “budget repair bill” was never about the money. They stripped out everything related to money so they could vote on it without having a quorum. This shows that they never had any plans to compromise. Without any warning or discussion they voted to destroy six decades of progress. The public is in a frenzy and has swarmed the capitol in protest. I wouldn’t be surprised if the end result is a riot.

And if you look at the “budget” that Walker has proposed, it not only cuts funding for education and Medicaid, but it also cuts the budgets of local governments and prohibits them from raising taxes to cover the shortfall. There are also provisions in the “budget” that allow for Walker to sell state-owned utility companies without any bid process or even approval. In other words, his buddy Koch can call him up and offer to buy all state utility companies for pennies on the dollar and NOBODY has to know. Now do you understand why he took the call from the person claiming to be Koch?

I am getting sick of all of this. I am a public employee and this hits me right in the gut. I feel disgusted that these “people” were elected to office. You would think that some of them might have some simple human decency. Or at least the sense to realize that if people have been taking the time to come and protest for the last three weeks that maybe this isn’t something that they should be voting for.

But they aren’t the only ones to blame. After all, every one of them was elected to office. That meant that a majority of people (albeit a very slim majority) thought that they were the right ones for the job. I don’t know about you, but I seldom feel like helping someone who has just kicked me in the balls.

Enjoy this while it lasts, Republicans. I can guarantee that there will be recall petitions circulating very soon, even if legally we can’t recall them until a year has passed. But then, at the rate that Walker and his buddies are going, very soon they could be impeached instead. Unless they vote first to change the Wisconsin constitution and all the laws that they are ignoring so far.

If this continues, I predict Wisconsin will drop from its current rank of second best state to live to somewhere in the forties. Education will be nonexistent, health care will be only available for the rich, jobs will all be at minimum wage, and there will be no unemployment benefits for anyone who loses their job. The “Walker Policy” is to look out for the rich, and let everyone else pay for it.

I need to get off my soapbox now. Thanks for listening. I hope you are paying attention, because this is going to affect every one of us. This is a sign of a deeper issue, and even people in other states will feel the aftershocks of this earthshaking event.

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ROW80 Status – Day 52 (Feb 22)

Goals:

  1. 500 words of new fiction every day
  2. Finish first draft of Finding Valhalla (DONE!)
  3. Start editing Dragons At Dawn
  4. Post to my blog on Monday and Thursday
  5. Post ROW80 updates on Sunday and Wednesday

Word counts:

  • 2/20 – 609
  • 2/21 – 653
  • 2/22 – 504

Six Days To Sabbath is at 12,159 words. Finding Valhalla is finished. Editing progresses slowly on Dragons At Dawn. Blog posts are all on schedule.

Things are looking bad for union workers in Wisconsin, and other states are starting to follow suit. I heard the situation in Wisconsin being called the “start of the American insurrection” today, and I have to say that I’m starting to think they may be right. You know, when people talk about the Mayan calendar ending in December 2012 and wondering if the world is going to end, something that they don’t think about is that nobody ever said it was going to be sudden. I’m not saying that I believe it’s going to happen on schedule, but the mess right now very well could be the beginning of the end. If nothing else, the end of some people’s illusions.

Well, if I’m going to get something published before doomsday I had better get back to work. Good luck on your goals, and see you back here on Sunday!

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Politics and Policies

This last week has been stressful. I work for the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, and the recent political crisis in Wisconsin is affecting me directly. This has made it very hard for me to work on my writing, but at the same time it has given me a very good reason to keep trying. After all, if things keep going they way they’re headed I may need the additional income that publishing might provide.

In case you have been living under a rock, here is my take on the situation. Last fall, Scott Walker was elected Governor of Wisconsin with 52% of the vote. Not exactly a landslide election, right? And yet, immediately after the results were announced he has acted as if he is God’s gift to the Dairy State. Before he even took office he started setting policy by sending a letter to the current Governor Jim Doyle demanding that he cease any efforts to finish off any policies that were currently pending. That included a union contract for state employees that had been in negotiations for the last two years and was close to being finished.

Once Walker took office in January he took official actions that resulted in the loss of millions of federal stimulus dollars and more millions in tax cuts for the wealthy, all while whining about the budget shortfall that he was trying to correct. Then in February he dropped the bomb of how he planned to fix the deficit that he had just made even bigger: by making state employees pay for it. He wanted us to pay a larger amount to our pensions and a greater percentage of health care costs, with no increase in pay.

Now, the main reason why the state employees have those benefits is because their pay is so low to begin with. Even with the benefits package that we have, our overall compensation for the work that we do is roughly 8% less than in the private sector. So with the changes he is proposing it will be like taking an additional 10% pay cut.

But that’s not enough for Walker. He has also proposed legislation that will prohibit state employees from forming a union to represent them in anything but wages, which would also be restricted to the Consumer’s Price Index and linked to inflation. The only unions exempt from this would be for police and fire fighters.

Is it any surprise that one of the first public comments that Walker made after announcing this bill was that he had informed the National Guard to be on standby? The protests of the last week have been peaceful so far, but it should tell you something about Walker. He knew that this was the wrong thing to do, and it was not going to be done without a fight, yet he attempted to ram this through as quickly as possible anyway, without giving the public the chance to speak. His initial plans were to have the bill out of the Finance Committee and through the legislature by Wednesday. The only reason why it wasn’t was because the Democratic Senators left the state to prevent a quorum and give people more time.

Now the unions have said that they are willing to accept the financial changes to the contracts in the interests of the state, but there is no compromise by the Republican Party. The sole intent of this bill is to kill the unions. Other states, and even the President, are watching the situation in Wisconsin very closely. If this passes in Wisconsin you can bet that it will be repeated soon somewhere else.

I don’t really care what your personal political stance is. Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t really matter. I have read blog posts that cover both sides of the issue, and both sides make some good points. The important thing about this mess for me is that Governor Walker is attempting to strip me of my civil liberties. Just because I work for the state doesn’t mean that I should be treated like a slave. In my experience most state employees are very dedicated to serving the public, and they don’t deserve to be treated in this manner.

More about me: As I said, I work for the Department of Revenue. I am a tax collector. My job is to get people to pay their taxes. This can mean taking some rather harsh actions, like garnishing wages or seizing bank accounts. My viewpoint was that I was helping people pay their fair share of taxes, whether they wanted help or not. That meant that I was also willing to help them when the collection actions that were taken were too harsh, like reducing the amount of their wages being garnished, or by returning some of the funds seized by a bank levy. If Walker’s proposal goes through, what reason will I have to make those efforts? Why should I care if someone loses their home, as long as their taxes get paid? Isn’t that what the Republicans want? They’re the ones in office, so why not act like them and concentrate solely on getting more money from the middle and lower class?

Thanks for letting me rant. It’s interesting being in the middle of history in the making. Keep watching the news. I’m sure this is just the start.

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