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- The West Virginia Senate has passed a bill “that could transform Cacapon state park into a corporate playground, allowing corporations to come in and build for profit pay to play amusement parks, racetracks, casinos, and large scale RV parks.”
- The Minneapolis teachers and support staff strike continues. Union leader Greta Callahan said on Saturday that what the city had brought to the bargaining table was “offensive,” and that instead of negotiating directly with teachers and support staff the city is using proxies.
- 36% of government workers are considering quitting their jobs, according to a new report.
First, the good news…
1) National: A massive spending bill has cleared the House, potentially opening the way for infrastructure funds to go to states and localities. But “it does not include provisions to grant more flexibility with state and local American Rescue Plan spending. Congress backed off proposed cuts to state aid—for now.” American Public Works Association CEO Scott Grayson said in a statement, “now that IIJA has been funded, public works departments throughout America can finally get to work repairing, upgrading or replacing aging highways, roads, bridges, water and wastewater systems.”
But there may be more drama. “The clash over the state funding may not be over though. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, predicted during a call with reporters on Thursday that Republicans could try to restore the state cuts to pay for the Covid-19 emergency measure when it comes to the Senate.”
2) California/National: California can once again set rules on vehicle emissions. “The move allows California to once again set its own strict clean car rules, something the state had done for nearly a half century in an effort to combat smog and, more recently, fight climate change. The EPA announcement is a reversal of a contentious decision by the Trump administration to revoke the waiver, which teed off years of fighting and lawsuits between the country’s top environmental agency and the leaders of its most populous state.” The transportation sector is the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions in California.
3) California: Workers at the BFI Ox Mountain Landfill have voted to ratify a new five-year collective bargaining agreement with Republic Services. “Some of the highlights include retro pay back to the expiration of the contract, an increase to the percentage in premium pay for leads, an eighth week of vacation, shortening the break-in rate for future members, reducing the amount of time a member can be potentially suspended, increasing compensation for weekend work and for the first time in this unit – providing personal days that can be used at the discretion of the membership separate from their twelve sick days and vacation. A collective effort which included President of Teamsters Local Sergio Arranaga, a former front-end loader for Republic Services and negotiating committee member Cesar Parreira, and Solid Waste and Recycling Division Representative and Teamsters Local 350 Vice President Larry Daugherty.”
4) Florida: The long arm of the law may be catching up with Jacksonville’s utility privatization schemers. Federal criminal charges have been unsealed against “former JEA chief executive officer Aaron Zahn and finance chief Ryan Wannemacher [for] conspiracy and wire fraud, casting the two men as the architects of a brazen scheme to secretly extract tens of millions of dollars of personal profit out of the city-owned utility before selling it off to a private operator. The 30-page indictment accuses the agency’s former top executives of devising a plot to enrich themselves by disguising it as a good-faith exploration of JEA’s financial future, burying their plan beneath layers of legitimate work product provided by consultants as well as opaque—and fraudulent—financial forecasting generated by Zahn and his team.” Here’s a useful timeline of the JEA privatization scandal.
5) Michigan: The Livingston County Board of Commissioners has signed a contract with a private, for-profit consulting company, MGT Consulting, to perform a wage study for 213 non-union employees. MGT is also active in the public school sector. “Burd said this will look a bit like the study they recently did for Commissioner wages, but expanded out. The RFP, he said, indicated that they want the contractor to use the 11 counties that have been historically used as comparable to Livingston County. In addition to that, Burd said they are also asking for the possibility of extending into non-county entities. The administrator told Commissioners that some of their staff have stated that they aren’t losing staff to other counties, but to townships, school districts, villages, and cities. MGT was selected with a recommendation from the bid review committee, which saw 3 companies submit a proposal for the contract. They are Tampa, Florida based, but have an office in Bay City and are said to have worked on hundreds of projects in Michigan, including similar studies for Gogebic, Dickinson, and St. Clair counties.”
6) Tennessee: A proposed charter school that hoped its ties to Hillsdale College, the private, right wing religious school, would juice its chances to get state approval, has withdrawn its application from Williamson County Schools. “In an email to families Monday, the school’s locally based board members said the school had been left out of a ‘strategic alliance’ formed as part of Tennessee’s push to ‘open dozens of charter schools in the next few years.’ ‘Based on this reality, it has become evident to our board that the path to approval to open in the 2023-24 school year, which was always expected to be a challenge, is now an impossibility with virtually zero backing and support from educational and governmental parties involved,’ the board wrote.”
7) National: The Minneapolis teachers and support staff strike continues. Union leader Greta Callahan said on Saturday that what the city had brought to the bargaining table was “offensive,” and that instead of negotiating directly with teachers and support staff the city is using proxies. “They’re not even pretending to avoid ending this strike… We have a real problems with the people at the table. It’s not OK when we have HR people, data scientists, and lawyers making decisions for the city of Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Public Schools,” Callahan said.
Education Support Professionals President Sean Laden said, “We need class size language in the contract, we need mental health supports in the contract, we need to see significant raises for our hourly [Education Support Professionals] and we need to have competitive pay for our licensed folks.” [Video, about 7 minutes; yesterday’s update, about six minutes]. MFT/ESP website.
The teacher and support staff strike comes against backdrop of a $9.3 billion state surplus.
Jacobin has just published a must-read in-depth article on food service workers in schools, “Lunch Ladies” Are Tired of Being Underpaid and Overlooked. Nora De La Cour, a high school social worker, former teacher, and “proud member of the Massachusetts Teachers Association,” writes, “Research has shown that outsourced K–12 cafeteria workers earn less per hour than those employed by districts. But as is true of transportation and other school support services, privatization in some areas tends to deteriorate wages and working conditions across the board. As Jennifer Gaddis explained, corporate takeover of school cafeterias has degraded “the ability of workers to care for the children they feed.”
8) Iowa: The bitterly divided House Appropriations Committee has voted to advance Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ voucher plan. “The governor’s proposal ‘obscures the vision of public schools to meet the needs of every student,’ according to Kelly Sawyer of Common Good Iowa, a research and advocacy group. ‘It panders to the emotional, narrow and uninformed attacks upon professional educators,’ she said. ‘Our schools must offer our students an environment to explore and understand a world of diverse cultures and rich if often unpleasant history. This bill will suppress critical thinking and challenging discussion” and lead to further racial segregation.’”
9) Louisiana: The New Orleans public school system, which suffered from a take-no-prisoners privatization drive after Hurricane Katrina, is searching for a new superintendent. “Candidates include public and charter school leaders from across the country, as well as a few non-traditional applicants. At least two of the candidates are from New Orleans.” One of the candidates is Orlando Ramos-Domenech, founding principal at REAL Journey Academies, a charter school network in California. Another is Marshall Tuck, the charter school champion who was defeated by Tony Thurmond for California’s superintendent of public instruction after the most expensive race in history for a state schools chief.
10) Tennessee: Writing in The Tennessean, the Tennessee Public Education Coalition explains how charter schools and vouchers harm Tennessee students. “Will Tennessee’s legislature and Governor Lee sell our children’s future to the highest bidder by expanding our already failing and corrupt privatized charter system? State leaders are considering opening 50 new charter schools in Tennessee, removing all local control of charter school approvals, giving charter school corporations sweetheart real estate deals, and codifying a preference for charter schools by embedding an extra funding weight for charter students in the new funding formula. (…) It would be wise to consider current outcomes before expanding school privatization across the state. Charter school performance is especially abysmal in Tennessee.” A new statewide voucher bill which was pending before the House was narrowly killed in committee last week.
11) Tennessee: NewsChannel 5 Chief Investigative Reporter Phil Williams reveals how billionaires, millionaires, and corporate interests are fueling the battle over Tennessee schools. “These days on Capitol Hill, the big drama playing out is a push by some to reshape public education here in Tennessee or, in the view of some, to destroy it. Advocates say that push is coming from families. But an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation reveals they’re not the ones paying for the multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign. In this case, our investigation discovered, the people writing the checks include billionaires and millionaires from outside Tennessee.”
So, who’s paying for the school privatization crusade? “The truth is the Tennessee School Charter Center employs a big firm that calls itself ‘Tennessee’s Lobbying Powerhouse.’ We had spotted that group’s lobbying team hitting the pre-session campaign fundraisers, trying to curry favor with legislative leaders. So far, NewsChannel 5 has counted at least 61 registered lobbyists on the school privatization side, compared to just 17 lobbying for traditional public schools.” The American Federation for Children, he writes, “appears to be funded by billionaire Betsy DeVos and her family.”
12) Washington: The Seattle Times reports that “Washington state auditors say a group of charter schools in the Puget Sound region allowed two dozen unlicensed teachers to instruct classes during the 2019-2020 school year, a violation of state law that resulted in the schools receiving a combined $3.89 million in ‘unallowable’ funds from the state.” State Auditor Pat McCarthy wrote “Our audits revealed an unprecedented disregard for Washington teacher certification requirements in these schools. They are public schools and they must follow the law.”
But it seems the charter network is still in denial. “But in a formal response, cited in the audits, Summit pushed back on the findings, arguing that the interpretation of the teacher licensing requirements were too narrow. It pointed to a provision in the law where unlicensed teachers could be supervised by someone who holds a certificate if they have exceptional qualifications. The organization didn’t share any evidence that it was intending to operate under this exception, said Jessica de Barros, the interim executive director of the charter oversight commission. ‘There was no documentation that this occurred,’ said de Barros.”
13) National: Inside Climate News reports that an 1872 law is allowing private interests to plunder public lands of minerals needed for the energy transition. “On the vast expanse of public lands across the West, a rush for the minerals needed for the 21st century technologies of the energy transition depends on a 150-year-old law. Those lands’ survival of the clean energy mineral rush may depend on rewriting it. A new open pit lithium mine was approved last year at Thacker Pass in Nevada, on publicly owned land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management, to tap into this country’s largest known deposit of the mineral, worth nearly $4 billion.”
14) California: The New York Times has an update on the difficulties of California’s biggest infrastructure project, a high-speed rail system. Jeff Davis of the Eno Center for Transportation “estimated that of a $36 billion ‘mother lode’ of money in the infrastructure law for states with intercity passenger rail, more than half will go to the Northeast, leaving what’s left to be divvied up among projects in other states. He said that if California’s project also competes for funding from smaller pots of money in the law, like one designated for rail safety, California could get $4 billion or $5 billion—‘maybe.’ Still, proponents say that the idea of scraping together as much as $105 billion should be stacked against the costs of expanding highways and air service an equivalent amount. The rail authority recently put that number at close to $200 billion, not including the escalating costs of dealing with climate change, like fighting wildfires…
“In the meantime, the Central Valley—the implied ‘nowhere’ when critics deride the project as ‘a train to nowhere’ — is changing rapidly. The region’s major industries, like farming, are facing generational shifts. And families priced out of coastal cities are arriving in pursuit of relatively affordable housing, driving up costs and pushing out poorer residents as part of an increasingly familiar cycle.”
15) Texas/National: Austin wants mass transit, but the new infrastructure law will give it a bigger highway, reports the Wall Street Journal. “Austin has ambitious plans for new light rail and rapid bus lines and a vision of covering a downtown stretch of Interstate 35 with acres of parks and public spaces. (…) What isn’t in question: a four-lane expansion of I-35 through Austin. Federal highway funding, including about $28 billion from the new law, means Texas has the money to begin construction soon on its Austin project. (…) Mr. Biden has repeatedly called his infrastructure law transformative and a chance to rethink public-works spending—financing the kind of projects Mr. Adler envisions for Austin. He and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg say they want the money spent to improve social equity and slow climate change; they want fewer new roads, more mass transit. The law’s fine print could make that mission difficult to achieve.” [Sub required]
16) West Virginia: The Mountain State, home of mountaintop removals (yes, it’s still happening) and masses of toxic mining pollution, is turning its state parks into amusement parks. The West Virginia Senate has passed a bill “that could transform Cacapon state park into a corporate playground, allowing corporations to come in and build for profit pay to play amusement parks, racetracks, casinos, and large scale RV parks.” The House passed the bill 68 to 29.
Mark Wylie, a retired parks district administrator and long-time superintendent at Babcock and Watoga state parks, warned West Virginians that the bills had dire implications, but lawmakers voted for them anyway. “The bills allow for an outrageous fifty-year contract term while also changing code to allow all other existing park facilities to be contracted to the private sector for up to thirty years with a twenty-year renewal,” writes Wylie. “How coincidental that this second proposed change potentially matches the same fifty-year contract period that would be allowed for new, privately built features. It is obvious that those behind these bills want the option to give investors entire parks along with any new facilities that might be built. These bills have no restrictions on what private developers might be allowed to construct and operate.”
Last summer Morgantown business leaders wrote to U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D) demanding he support the For the People Act. “The group said in a letter to Manchin that the bill ‘includes reforms to crack down on the corruption and self-dealing in government, reduce the influence of wealthy special interests, and restore fairness to our democracy.’” Manchin voted against the Act.
17) International: Unifor, the large Canadian union, is gearing up to fight back against efforts to privatize the VIA Rail corridor. “Public-Private Partnerships cost more, don’t work, and the facts speak for themselves,” [said] Scott Doherty, Unifor’s Lead Negotiator for Rail. “Privatization in transportation means higher costs, broken promises, worse service and route closures. P3s reward companies where workers are paid less and have job insecurity, and often leads to risks to health and safety risks. This proposed P3, like many other projects, is bound to go off the rails.”
18) International: Writing in Jacobin, Istanbul-based journalist Erin O’Brien says In Erdoğan’s Turkey, Privatization Means Corruption and Collapsed Infrastructure. “Deals such as the one struck by CK Akdeniz, AEDAS, and the AKP-led local administration are called ihale in Turkish, or ‘tenders.’ When Erdoğan and his party came to power in 2002, they struck a deal with the International Monetary Fund to privatize large swaths of the economy, allegedly to rescue Turkey from runaway inflation and financial crisis. The AKP touted privatization as a means of modernization and bringing success. However, in the intervening two decades, this privatization of government contracts has become a key means of enriching individuals and companies close to Erdoğan and his inner circle.”
Criminal Justice and Immigration
19) National: How many people were in prison this Winter? The Vera Institute of Justice has the numbers. “In this report, Vera researchers analyze data gathered from all states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons on the number of people incarcerated in state and federal prisons in winter 2021–2022. The data shows that the total number of people in prisons declined by a mere 1.1 percent from the end of 2020 to the end of 2021. This demonstrates that even as COVID-19, and especially the virulent Omicron variant, raged inside and outside of prisons, decarceration efforts stalled, and in some cases, reversed. In most states, there have been few intentional or sustained policy efforts to reduce the number of people in prison, despite a pressing need to release more people, which could protect public health without jeopardizing public safety.”
20) National: Over 100 House Democrats have told President Biden to halt immigration detention expansion. “The letter, which is led by Representatives Pramila Jayapal, Raul Grijalva and Jason Crow, states that after the White House Executive Order ending privately operated prisons, members of Congress called for President Joe Biden to expand the order to include ICE detention, but ‘it appears that ICE is moving in the opposite direction.’ It cites a September 29 ICE contract to detain up to 1,875 immigrants at the GEO Group-operated Moshannon Valley Correctional Center in Philipsburg, Pennsylvania and expansion of the Pennsylvania Berks County ICE detention center for use as an adult facility for women. The Democrats also said they are concerned that the private prison company CoreCivic may be looking to ICE to take over an expiring U.S. Marshals Services contract with the West Tennessee Detention Facility.”
21) National: The Guardian goes behind the scenes at the Anderson, Indiana, call center of BI, the GEO Group subsidiary that is trying to build out GEO’s electronic monitoring profit center. What they found is disturbing. “In reality, BI primarily runs a surveillance operation, one that discourages employees from providing immigrants with personalized services and is hampered by BI’s glitchy proprietary technology, interviews with 12 former BI employees, immigrants in the program, lawyers, advocates and immigrants’ sponsors, as well as internal BI documents, reveal. The for-profit scheme can work against those required to participate, these people say, and often prioritizes the company’s revenue-driving technology over helping immigrants navigate the process.”
22) National/California: Freedom for Immigrants, a group campaigning for an end to immigration detention, reports that “in a complaint filed today by a coalition of legal and advocacy organizations, 12 immigrants currently or previously detained in federal immigration custody at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility in San Diego have come forward to report severe mental health abuses at the hands of a psychologist whose pattern of negligence and misconduct further traumatized and endangered those who acknowledged risk of harm to themselves or others due to mental illness. ”
23) National/California: A legal class of immigrant detainees is fighting to keep their litigation going over GEO Group’s $1 a day wages.
24) Colorado: Michael Dougherty, the 20th Judicial District Attorney in Boulder, says it’s time to end private prisons in Colorado. “Allowing profit into the criminal justice system undermines its integrity, effectiveness, and the public trust. We would never tolerate profit incentives for judges, public defenders, or prosecutors; we should not do so for prisons. (…) The Department of Corrections is now asking for an additional $5.7 million so that CoreCivic can raise the hourly pay for new officers without cutting into its profit margin. Even if Colorado agrees to pay this exorbitant amount, the staff at these private prisons will still make $2 per hour less than their DOC counterparts. The Joint Budget Committee reviewing this request also acknowledges that wages may not be the only issue. Poor working conditions, housing options and other factors may be the reasons why people do not want to work there. Instead of the General Assembly handing out millions to a private company with a problematic track record for how employees and inmates are treated, it is time for us to end the use of private, for-profit prisons.”
25) Virginia: The sister of a man who died in an Arlington jail is suing Corizon, the private, for-profit prison health care corporation. “Since Becton’s death, Arlington has hired a different jail health-care provider and the county prosecutor has charged a nurse with falsifying medical records. But Julius Spain Sr., head of the Arlington branch of the NAACP, says the county has failed to properly address the problem. Seven men of color have died — one by suicide — in the Arlington County Detention Facility in the past seven years. The most recent death came last month, after Corizon’s departure.”
26) National: Corporations benefit from public transit. So why aren’t they paying for it? asks In the Public Interest’s Jeremy Mohler’s in ITPI’s Weekly Newsletter. “Corporate tax cuts have left the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA)—known as ‘the T’—heavily reliant on fare revenue from riders. During the pandemic, this has meant that low-income people and communities of color are paying a substantial share of this revenue. That’s just one of the takeaways in a new report from Public Transit Public Good, a Massachusetts coalition of transit riders and workers. (…) The report is a wakeup call not only to leaders in Massachusetts but also those around the country. Fares for trains, buses, and other public transit are ‘perhaps the most regressive way to raise public funds.’ They should be eliminated—or at least reduced for the low-income people who rely on public transit the most.”
The new report contains a wealth of information on the damaging effects of privatization on mass transit. For example (p. 6), “Under the MBTA’s much-delayed and controversial fare collection privatization contract, the hard-earned transit fares of essential workers and other working families will enrich two private equity owned, for-profit corporations, Cubic and the John Laing Group. The fare collection privatization contract has already been renegotiated for a 30% cost increase, to $935.4 million. In addition, riders will see costs rise, as Fare Transformation plans include a new charge of up to $5 for every CharlieCard.”
27) National: 36% of government workers are considering quitting their jobs, according to a new report. “Nevertheless, there is some good news: Nearly 60% of the survey takers said that they continue to work in the public sector during the pandemic because they ‘value serving their community during this difficult time.’” [Report]
28) National: From former Labor Secretary Robert Reich: “The CBO just conducted a report on single-payer health care. Here’s what they found: A government-sponsored health care system would boost the economy, help workers, and increase longevity. These are not progressives. These are the findings of a Republican-led federal agency.” But others say that “the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in a report last year that total spending under a single-payer system might be higher or lower than under the current system depending on the key features of a new system, such as payment rates for hospitals and doctors and whether patients would pay part of the cost of care.”
In a new report reviewing various studies just published in PLOS Medicine, the authors state that “we found a high degree of analytic consensus for the fiscal feasibility of a single-payer approach in the US. Actual costs will depend on plan features and implementation. Future research should refine estimates of the effects of coverage expansion on utilization, evaluate provider administrative costs in varied existing single-payer systems, analyze implementation options, and evaluate US-based single-payer programs, as available.”
29) California: It looks like Fullerton’s library system has dodged a privatization bullet. “The Observer received the letter below from retired Children’s Services Librarian Janine Jacobs after she learned about a proposed presentation to the Library Board of Trustees from a private company that outsources library services. Since receiving the letter, we learned from Ellen Ballard, Chair of the Library Board of Trustees, that the presentation by Library Systems and Services (LS&S) has been cancelled by the presenter due to a lack of support from policymakers. We print the letter in modified form as privatization of public services is an ongoing issue.”
30) Kansas: Workers at Waste Management, the private, for-profit trash and recycling company, which has contracts with municipalities all around the country, have charged the company with creating a “racially hostile” environment at Rolling Meadows Landfill and Recycling Center. “One plaintiff, who is Black, said co-workers said phrases like ‘Yessum Boss’ to him, showed him racially derogatory videos and taped a racist joke to his locker. The other plaintiff, who is from American Samoa, was often told, ‘That is the way we do things in America,’ according to the suit, and was passed over for a promotion due to his use of Family and Medical Leave Act leave. Both plaintiffs said they spoke with the human resources department and that HR failed to take ‘reasonable remedial action,’ including conducting an investigation. Waste Management did not respond to a request for comment by press time.”
According to Good Jobs First’s Violation Tracker, Waste Management has accumulated a whopping $518,706,019 in penalties—including $32,776,904 for employment-related offenses—over the last two decades. How many municipal governments are aware of this record?
31) Mississippi: The City of Jackson is seeking dismissal of a Waste Management complaint against them. “The documents show company leaders want to enter into contract negotiations with the city since council members rejected Richard Disposal’s bid for service. Attorneys for the city said since a contract has not been signed, the move is premature.” No hearing dates have been set for any of the lawsuits and complaints that have been filed.
32) Texas: Joe DeManuelle-Hall, writing in Labor Notes, tells the story of how Texas union activists are fighting against “microtransit” privatization, which he calls microprivatization. “Microtransit is a loosely defined term that combines on-demand service with flexible scheduling and routes—imagine replacing a bus system with shared Ubers. It is presented as a high-tech alternative to public transit, but in reality it’s an extension of the drive to privatize.”
33) National: Let’s Not Squander the Miracle of Yellowstone, says Writers on the Range’s Todd Wilkinson. “Five years ago, Dave Hallac, who managed the science division at the park, told me he was worried not just about the Yellowstone ecosystem suffering ‘death by 1,000 cuts,’ but death by 10,000 scratches, as more people scramble for their piece of paradise. The trend has only accelerated. What is the most enduring ‘value’ of Yellowstone? The park reveals that humans deeply appreciate this special place of wildness. But the park also has an urgent message to those same humans: Our consumption of wild places means we must deliberately decide to accept limits. This is a good thing—and an increasingly rare thing.” The column was published in 26 papers in the West.
34) International: Writing in The American Prospect, researcher Kelly Grotke says Putin’s invasion is tied to the privatization of political power. “With the invasion of Ukraine, Putin has confronted the world with a clear vision of privatized, unapologetic sovereignty, one that is not conjured into being via constitutions, but rather emanates from the royalist control central to his personalized, neo-monarchical conception of power,” she writes. “Perhaps putting pressure and sanctions on Russia’s oligarchs will provide a path forward for de-escalation of Putin’s war. It sounds like a good idea, certainly in comparison with a third world war, and it also has a populist appeal. But without acknowledging and dealing with the underlying problems presented by financialization and its entrenched regimes of secrecy all across the world, I fear that the model of power now presented by Putin will continue to hold peace hostage, something especially dangerous because of the global need for cooperation in confronting climate change.”
35) Think Tanks: POGO has kicked off Sunshine Week with a bang. “Every March, good government champions put on Sunshine Week, devoting several days to the importance of government transparency. We got started a little early by publishing the non-public, unclassified version of a report from the Pentagon’s testing office. In an extraordinary move, the Pentagon’s testing office created a special version of its annual report in which it included unclassified information about weapons like the troubled F-35 in an apparent attempt to hide unflattering data from the public.” Starting today, they will be participating in events and publishing content to raise awareness about these issues.
Photo by Barbara Friedman.