1-Newly Filed Bill Is Another Attack on Public Employees Who Speak Up Together

2-Joe Kennedy III Eloquently Responds to Ryan's Claim That Gutting Affordable Care Act Would Be 'Act of Mercy'

3-Bills on Improving Farmworker Housing Make an Impression

4-ULLCO Opposes 'Fox in the Henhouse' McGee Nomination; Hearing Held

5-Viva la Causa: Telemundo Performers Vote to Join SAG-AFTRA

1. As a cascade of proposed legislation floods the clerks' offices in the Texas Capitol ahead of tomorrow's 60-day deadline, a bill filed today has the look of a sequel to the Paycheck Deception bill.

   As you may recall, SB 13 (and the identical HB 510) would cancel the freedom of teachers, correctional officers, nurses and many other public employees throughout Texas to use payroll deduction to support the labor organization of their choice. The United Labor Legislative Committee opposes the measure and believes public employees should be free to do as they please with their hard-earned money.

   Today, Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Garland, filed HB 3540, which would require public employee labor organizations to file extraordinarily detailed annual financial reports with the Texas Ethics Commission.

   Generally speaking, the financial reporting requirement appears to apply to any labor organization that represents public employees, falls into the IRS's 501(c)(5) category and is not otherwise required under federal law to file annual financial reports with the U.S. Department of Labor. At this early stage, we are not certain based on the language of the bill exactly which labor organizations are included or whether the Texas AFL-CIO is one of them.

   The exhaustive list of what would have to be filed on an annual basis, after a required initial detailed registration with the Texas Ethics Commission, includes, among other things: 

  •   List of assets, divided into cash, accounts receivable, investments and building;

  •   List of liabilities, including any mortgage information;

  •   Accounting of dues, fees, sales, interest, dividends, rents, etc.

  •   Expenditures on salaries, allowances and expenses;

  •   For each employee earning more than $10,000, a breakdown of time spent on various activities;

  •   Disclosure of any investments;

  •   Disclosure of any and all payments, whether separate or in the aggregate, of $1,000 or more; 

   The reports would be public information. The Ethics Commission would gain the right to inspect union records, places and accounts as part of any investigation.

   A person who intentionally violates the filing rules could face jail time of up to a year and a fine of up to $10,000. 

   The measure is being championed by some of the same right-wing organizations that are promoting the Paycheck Deception attack on public employees. The information that would have to be filed under HB 3540 is not generally available from the organizations promoting Paycheck Deception, which include the likes of Empower Texans, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the National Federation of Independent Business.

   The United Labor Legislative Committee will consider whether to take a position on the bill. 

2. When the great-nephew of Ted Kennedy, an advocate for quality health care for all Americans throughout his historic service in the U.S. Senate, took aim yesterday at the House GOP plan to gut the Affordable Care Act, the words resonated across generations.

The Boston Globe reports U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Massachusetts, who is also a great-nephew of President John F. Kennedy and grandson of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, took umbrage at House Speaker Paul Ryan's description of the "repeal and replace" plan as "doing an act of mercy": 

   Kennedy, shall we say, does not share that assessment.

  "I was struck last night by a comment that I heard made by Speaker Ryan, where he called this repeal bill 'an act of mercy.' With all due respect to our speaker, he and I must have read different Scripture," Kennedy said as the House Energy and Commerce Committee dove into the details of the GOP effort.

  "The one I read calls on us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, and to comfort the sick. 

   "It reminds us that we are judged not by how we treat the powerful, but by how we care for the least among us," said the Brookline Democrat and scion of the most famous Massachusetts political dynasty.

  "There is no mercy in a system that makes health care a luxury. There is no mercy in a country that turns their back on those most in need of protection: the elderly, the poor, the sick, and the suffering. There is no mercy in a cold shoulder to the mentally ill," he said, appearing to read from notes.

   "This is not an act of mercy. It is an act of malice," he said.

 Read more:

3. Jeremy Schwartz, an Austin American-Statesman reporter who investigated the persistent problem of substandard housing for migrant farmworkers in Texas, posted an update on legislation addressing the subject.

 Photo from Austin American-Statesman

Photo from Austin American-Statesman

   As usual, Schwartz tells this story through the eyes of working people who are forced to live in completely unacceptable conditions:

   Last summer, Severiano Gutierrez and Dagoberto Lopez, two farmworkers who live in the Rio Grande Valley, arrived in the small northeastern Texas town of Crockett for the watermelon harvest.

  But when they got to the house where a labor contractor had arranged for them to live for the next two months, they found empty window frames without glass or screens, weeds growing into a second-floor living area, and an open-air toilet.

  The men said they often are provided housing that's in terrible shape as they follow fruit and vegetable harvests across the state. But they had never seen anything like what they encountered in Crockett.

  "They treat us like we are animals, and that is not OK," Gutierrez said.

  The men did not know it at the time, but such conditions violate a state law that officials rarely enforce.

  Though state law requires that facilities intended to house migrant farmworkers be inspected and licensed, meeting minimum standards of cleanliness and safety, a 2016 American-Statesman investigation found that Texas' unfunded inspection program ensures licensed housing for just a tiny fraction of farmworkers. Most housing facilities provided for workers, such as those in Crockett, are well off of inspectors' radars...

  Gutierrez and Lopez were at the Capitol on Monday to speak in favor of a series of bills that would overhaul and strengthen oversight of farmworker housing in Texas.

  Senate Bill 1025, filed by State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, and House Bill 2365, filed by State Rep. Ramon Romero Jr., D-Fort Worth, call for stricter housing inspections, tougher penalties for violators, and enhanced community outreach to growers and farmworkers in the state in hopes of uncovering unlicensed housing. 

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4. The United Labor Legislative Committee today OPPOSED the nomination of Josh McGee as Chair of the State Pension Review Board, joining Texas AFT and other unions that believe McGee's full-throated advocacy for ending traditional public pensions renders him an inappropriate choice to lead the board that advises pension systems.

   Senators of both parties peppered McGee with questions during his confirmation hearing.

   In an unusual move, two organizations - the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas and the Texas AFL-CIO - testified against McGee.

   Quorum Report noted Texas AFL-CIO Legislative Director René Lara's remarks on behalf of the state labor federation:

   Rene Lara of the AFL-CIO said the chair of the pension review board needs to be an impartial arbiter without an agenda. Arnold's high-profile advocacy for defined contribution plans should disqualify him from service, Lara said.

 René Lara - Texas AFL-CIO

René Lara - Texas AFL-CIO

  "Can a person wear two hats, in their capacity with the state and in their capacity with their private sector employer? We feel they cannot," Lara said. "As far as our rank-and-file members are concerned, I think they would be very concerned that someone with that type of conflict, from their perspective, would be in a position to influence public policy." 

   Lara was joined by CLEAT President Todd Harrison in opposition to McGee. 

   Chris Jones of CLEAT suggested on Twitter a discrepancy between McGee's testimony that he has never taken a position that public employee benefits should be reduced and an article McGee wrote last November calling for specific changes to Austin's pension system that would in some cases require legislation.

   From that paper co-authored by McGee in his role at the John and Laura Arnold Foundation, which wants to end traditional defined-benefit pensions for public employees as we know them: 

  The situation in Dallas should provide a cautionary example of how quickly debt can spiral out of control. In the brief, McGee and Diaz Aguirre call on Austin's leaders to make the changes necessary to ensure that the city is able to uphold its retirement promises to public workers. The authors present a number of recommendations that would help stabilize the system and address the plan's underlying structural flaws, including:

1. Making adequate funding non-negotiable and committing to pay down current unfunded liabilities in 30 years or less.

2. Establishing prudent and realistic funding and investment policies.

3. Establishing local control of the pension fund in order to improve oversight and accountability.

4. Consider enrolling new workers in plans that are simpler and easier to manage, like Defined Contribution or Cash Balance plans.

  McGee and his team have worked with more than 50 jurisdictions across the United States to help them analyze the true magnitude of their pension problems and develop solutions that are affordable, sustainable, and fair.

Read more: 

McGee's nomination was left pending.

5. From Ed Sills - Texas AFL-CIO's Communications Director, Daily E-Mail--

My late mother-in-law was once watching a telenovela, one of the Spanish-language soap operas, and my wife and I couldn't help but notice that one of the actors started out a scene with a mustache, lost the mustache as the dialogue progressed and regained the mustache by the end of the scene.

   It occurred to me that such an obvious problem with continuity could stem from the incredibly fast pace of producing a daily drama.

   Maybe the mustache escapade was also about long hours at low pay. Many years later, on-camera performers at Telemundo shows produced in the U.S. have after a long campaign voted to join SAG-AFTRA. Congratulations to all. Via the AFL-CIO:

   In a historic vote, telenovela performers at Spanish-language station Telemundo have voted to join SAG-AFTRA. The vote was 91-21 in favor of membership, and this is the first time in 65 years a group of performers at a major television network sought a unionization election. The new bargaining unit will cover actors, dancers, singers and stunt performers for shows produced in the United States. SAG-AFTRA will meet with the performers to discuss issues related to fair pay, residuals, benefits and on-set safety measures.

 Photo from Forbes - Telemundo Actors and SAG-AFTRA organizers celebrate the 91-21 vote to join the union at the NLRB Tampa office.

Photo from Forbes - Telemundo Actors and SAG-AFTRA organizers celebrate the 91-21 vote to join the union at the NLRB Tampa office.

  SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris congratulated the performers:

  This vote sends a powerful message of hope and solidarity at a critical moment in the history of our union and of the creative community. Regardless of the language we speak, we can all unite to improve conditions for performers working professionally in our industry. Telemundo performers have laid a foundation that will improve lives for generations to come.

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