You need to know this. From pro-choice Texans, to the Moral Mondays in North Carolina, to striking fast-food workers in numerous states, people around are nation are starting to take to the streets to demand that their voices be heard. Yesterday, in San Francisco, 2,400 unionized transit workers went on strike when management refused to come to an agreement. Employees of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, locally known as BART, are protesting a five-year pay freeze after giving up over $100 million dollars in concessions. BART officials proposed a 2 percent annual raise to prevent the strike, but workers say it would barely keep up with the cost of living. Union members argue that they gave up raises and benefits years ago, to help the transit system weather the recession. After years of sacrifice by the workers, BART is now turning a profit - and workers believe that they have earned their fair share. The last BART employee strike was in 1997 when employees, through their collective action, were able to negotiate a four-year contract that included pay raises. The BART workers are now joining people around our country who are standing up and demanding a living wage for low-income workers, equal rights for women, and an end to corporate abuse. Right now, we're seeing our fellow citizens stand together as they realize that they can't fight these problems alone. These passionate, non-violent, and powerful protests, from California all the way to the East Coast, are bringing people together in a way that hasn't happened in decades. This is movement politics. And, it's anyone's guess as to where the next protests will spring up.
In screwed news... Republican lawmakers in Virginia are double-charging taxpayers in their state. According to the Think Progress Blog, state lawmakers in Virginia included a provision in their 2012 budget that outsources that state's taxpayer refund system to private banks. The Republican lawmakers claim the process will save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. The provision privatizes the tax refund process, handing a state, administrative duty, over to a private debit card company. The private bank will issue state tax refunds “only through debit cards, direct deposits, or other electronic means.” Virginia residents without bank accounts will be subjected to these corporate debit cards, which charge fees for money transfers, or using any customer service whatsoever. Virginia's privatized refund system shifts the cost from all Virginians, to those without back accounts, by hitting them with ridiculous debit card fees. The people who can least afford it, low-income workers, will now be forced to foot the bill for Virginia's state tax refund system.
In the best of the rest of the news...
Wal-Mart is getting dumped. Dutch pension administrator PGGM announced yesterday that it would no longer invest any of its $180 billion dollars in the low-price retailer because of poor labor conditions – and PGGM's concerns included the working conditions stores in the US. According to Reuters, PGGM repeatedly asked Wal-Mart about labor practices, bribery, and other scandals but “these questions were left unanswered.” So, PGGM, which is focused on employee pensions, national healthcare, and social work, will be taking their money elsewhere. As of March, the pension fund held 2.76 million shares of Wal-Mart stock, worth over $200 million dollars. It appears PGGM will now be trading in those shares for more stock in companies like Costco, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Target, whose practices don't raise concerns. Despite protests, strikes, and public-relations nightmares, few things have pushed Wal-Mart to improve their labor practices. But, perhaps $200 million dollars will get their attention, and finally get Wal-Mart to clean up their act.
It's official – same-sex married couples will be treated just like opposite-sex married couples for the purposes of immigration. After last week's historic DOMA ruling, the Department of Homeland Security has announced that gay and lesbian spouses of American citizens are eligible for green cards. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano released a statement, saying, “Effective immediately, I have directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouses in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse.” Already, at least one legally-married gay couple in Florida was pleasantly surprised by a notification from immigration officials. More notifications are going out around our nation. Apparently, “effective immediately” is the new favorite phrase of the equality movement.
And finally… First they tried warning labels, then they tried graphic pictures, but these efforts didn't do much to keep people from smoking. Well, now researchers in the U.K. are trying a new tactic – talking cigarette packs. No, really... Researchers at Stirling University are taking the technology used in “talking” greeting cards, and using it to record warning messages that play each time a smoker opens the pack. They've already tried out the devices on young women, and they're about to see how men and older people react to the new packaging. The recordings offer smokers phone numbers for help quitting, warnings about health effects, and tips on how to kick the habit. No word yet on how successful the recordings have been, but one has to wonder how long it will take before New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tries using the recordings on 16-ounce beverages in his city.
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