TODAY'S FAIR SHOTS-April 2nd, 2017

1-Senators Blast SB 13 as Ill-Considered Attack on Teachers, Other Public Employees

2-Texas Senate Approves School Voucher Bill, But Limits Its Reach

3-North Carolina Repeals Key Portion of Bathroom Bill, But Leaves a Lousy Law In Its Stead

4-'Buy American' Bill Left Pending in House Committee

5-ULLCO Endorses Five Workers' Compensation Bills

6-'Voices at Work,' an Outstanding Labor Radio Show, Asks for Support

1. The Texas Senate gave final approval on Thursday to SB 13, the bill that takes away state and local public employees' freedom to support the labor organization of their choice through payroll dues deduction.

   Nothing changed in the final vote from yesterday's preliminary, pure party-line 20-11 margin. But Democratic opponents did not go quietly. They made another strong record on why it is wrong to take away a routine employer service from tens of thousands of public employees who want their labor organizations to advocate for better livelihoods.

   Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, argued that the exemptions for First Responders (but not all of them, it turns out) show that "what you're taking away in SB 13 has value." 

   Watson said he can't identify a problem with public employees speaking up about their working conditions, "unless you just don't like what they're saying and want to curb their speech."

   Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, pointed to "intended consequences" of the bill, including the potential for a drop in union membership.

   "What in the world are the proponents afraid of?" Whitmire wondered. "You're essentially running this place...It's not politically smart. You have wakened up a sleeping giant."

   Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, called SB 13 a "show of disrespect" for teachers and noted that his daughter serves as a guidance counselor in a public school. Lucio said she is so busy he can't even get her to return a text message during work hours, and now SB 13 is telling her she will have to make separate arrangements to pay dues to the organization of her choice.

   "Nothing is broken," Lucio said. "Nothing needs fixing here. All this is doing is antagonizing the most important group in our society once again."

   Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, took a political angle, declaring that "Elections have consequences" and he understands that the Republican Party wants the bill. 

   "If they have the power and it's an agenda item against unions, they are exercising their muscle to get it done," West said. 

   "What has changed? What's changed is the configuration of this body," West said of the Senate's partisan divide.

   As Texas AFL-CIO President John Patrick noted yesterday, the victims of SB 13 would be teachers, correctional officers, child abuse investigators, nurses, parks workers and other public employees who help cities, counties and school districts carry out their responsibilities. 

   SB 13 will now move to the Texas House. 

2. The Texas Senate on Thursday approved a school voucher bill, albeit one that was scaled back dramatically from what Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott had wanted to pass. 

   This time, the vote was 18-13, including three Republicans in the "no" category. To get even that margin on SB 3, Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendwood, had to offer a complete substitute to the bill that significantly narrowed its reach. 

   As with SB 13, many of you weighed in with senators against SB 3. It appears you made a difference.

   Not that we're celebrating. At heart, sending tax dollars to even one private school would break faith with Texans who expect the state to fund cutting-edge public schools that prepare Texas children for a challenging future (it hasn't) and to demand accountability from any schools that receive taxpayer funding (private schools provide no such accountability and, in fact, can occasionally be fly-by-night operations that defraud students and their families).

   The United Labor Legislative Committee strongly opposes SB 3. Based on leadership statements, the bill's prospects in the Texas House are not remotely as strong as they were in the Senate. But one never knows how the legislative process will turn. The fight to stop privatization of education for grade-school students will continue.

   The Houston Chronicle explained how the new version of SB 3 works:

  After weeks of negotiations to get support for a school voucher bill, the Texas Senate on Thursday passed a significantly scaled-back version of so-called 'school choice' legislation that would allow parents to use public school funds to enroll their children in private or parochial schools.

  Senate Bill 3, authored by Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood, passed on an 18-13 vote. Three Republicans -- Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, and Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston -- voted against it, while the bill won support from one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville.

  The legislation would create educational savings accounts for students who leave public schools and give their parents state money to pay for tuition, tutors and other educational materials. The public school district that a student leaves would be allowed to keep a portion of the per-pupil funding, according to the bill. It also would create student scholarships funded by contributions from businesses, which in turn would receive a tax credit...

  The revised bill would limit eligibility to students who have attended a Texas public school for one year before they use either program. It also would apply only to schools in counties with a population over 285,000 and would exclude home-schooled students.

  The population cutoff means the voucher program would only be available to parents in about 22 of the state's 254 counties.

  For students to be eligible, their family's annual income must be at least 175 percent below the federal poverty line, which amounts to about $78,000 for a family of four. 

  Defending the modifications, Taylor said they would reduce the bill's cost from $300 million to $9 million over the next two years.

  "It does not affect our public school finance system, but it does provide a small number of students the chance to consider something different," he said. "I hope by next session when we come back, people will be asking their senators and House members to expand this and put in more folks."

  Read more:

3. A key ingredient in Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's recipe for promoting SB 6, the "bathroom bill," has been the assertion that the North Carolina economy is not losing out because of its passage of legislation that discriminates against the LGBTQ community. The implication is that Texas would not suffer if it passes such a law.

   Patrick and others backing SB 6 have blasted a Texas Association of Business study estimating that the measure's cost to Texas in jobs and missed opportunities could rise well into the billions. A more recent analysis by AP pegged the potential loss of business at $3.7 billion over 12 years. 

   Patrick brought in the Lieutenant Governor of the Tar Heel State to make the case that the effect of the law there was small. But today, that notion appears to be blown up after that state's Legislature rushed to repeal a major portion of the law. The measure was hurriedly signed today by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. 

   With an assist from basketball madness, we can now officially discount the argument that North Carolina was not harmed economically.

   Today's action, however, does not repair the damage. The New York Times reports the new North Carolina repeal angered not just the right-wingers who passed the law in the first place but the LGBTQ community, which notes that the compromise preempts local anti-discrimination ordinances until 2020. 

   Texas can avoid the debate over just how badly our state will be hurt by SB 6 simply by killing the bill. Already, some lost business has been reported simply because the Legislature is seriously considering the measure. The United Labor Legislative Committee opposes SB 6 because it is discriminatory and because of the potential loss of jobs:

  The repealed law, known as House Bill 2, triggered a national backlash from companies, entertainers and sports leagues that considered it to be discriminatory. Performers like Bruce Springsteen canceled concerts, and the N.C.A.A., Atlantic Coast Conference and National Basketball Association have moved high-profile events.

  This week, a new flurry of action over the law came as the N.C.A.A. warned North Carolina that it could lose the opportunity to host championship sporting events through 2022, which could mean millions in lost revenue. The league had already relocated championship tournament games that would have been played in the state during this academic year, including the Division I men's basketball tournament.

  The compromise bill passed the Senate, 32 to 16, in a late-morning vote after only brief discussion. It passed the House in the afternoon by a vote of 70 to 48 after fiery denunciations by some conservative and liberal members.

  Phil Berger, a Republican and the Senate leader, acknowledged that many people were probably not pleased by the arrangement. However, he said, "compromise sometimes is difficult, and this bill represents that."

  House Bill 2 was signed in March 2016 by the governor at the time, Pat McCrory, a Republican. It curbs legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and, in perhaps its most contentious measure, requires transgender people in public buildings to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender on their birth certificate.

  The new bill would repeal House Bill 2, create a moratorium on local nondiscrimination ordinances through 2020 and leave regulation of bathrooms to state lawmakers.

  In a brief statement on Wednesday, Mr. Cooper - whose razor-thin victory over Mr. McCrory in November was due in large part to voter frustration over the national backlash over House Bill 2 - said that the measure was "begins to repair our reputation."

  In the House, Representative Deb Butler, one of the state's few openly gay legislators, was among those who said the compromise would not ameliorate "the stigma and suffering" associated with House Bill 2. "We would rather suffer HB2 than to have this body, one more time deny us the full and unfettered protection of the law," she said.

  Read more:

4. The House State Affairs Committee heard testimony on HB 770 by Rep. Yvonne Davis, D-Dallas, a "Buy American" bill that would establish preferences in taxpayer-funded construction projects for U.S.-made iron, steel and manufactured goods.

   The United Labor Legislative Committee has long supported the measure, and members of the United Steelworkers union came to Austin to deliver that message to the panel.

   Brother Lee Medley of USW testified that low-wage competition from China and Vietnam is "ruining" American manufacturing. Medley said a conscious attempt to buy from American companies when it make economic sense to do so would fortify our manufacturing base. HB 770 may be viewed as "an investment in society," Medley said.

   Others testifying in favor of HB 770 included Brother David Beard, like Medley a member of the Texas AFL-CIO Executive Board, and Derwin Royal of USW, whose plant size dropped from 8,000 in the 1980s to 300 today in very large part because of foreign steel.

   Medley reports a number of business interests opposed the bill, which was left pending.

5. The United Labor Legislative Committee voted to support five bills dealing with workers' compensation. ULLCO:

   ENDORSED HB 1477 by Rep. Armando Walle, D-Houston, which would require building and construction contractors to carry workers' compensation insurance in Texas. Texas currently does not require any employer to cover workplace injuries through workers' comp;

   ENDORSED HB 1983 by Rep. John Wray, R-Waxahachie, which would make firefighters and police officers eligible for workers' compensation coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder;

   ENDORSED HB 2054 by Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, which would apply an annual cost-of-living increase to workers' compensation death benefits;

   ENDORSED HB 2055 by Oliveira, which would eliminate the remarriage penalty for spouses with regard to workers' compensation death benefits; and

   ENDORSED HB 2326 by Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, which would reimburse doctors for "medical causation narrative reports" connected to workers' compensation cases.

6. As you hear in this space from time to time, Ron Gonyea, Joseph Davis, Monica Howland, Robert Lawrence, Victor Green and the crew at KPFT in Houston run one fine labor radio show called "Voices at Work."

   All are union proud. The show delves into topics from a perspective that you are not likely to hear on AM radio during your morning drive. "Voices at Work" airs 8 p.m. Friday on 90.1 FM and is available online for those of us who don't receive that station on the radio.

   Via Brother Gonyea, here is more information on the show. If you are in a position to help financially, this letter explains how to make an investment in talk radio that provides a real alternative for working people:

  Dear Sisters and Brothers:
  The fake news phenomenon has been a tremendous influence on the political and social views of many American citizens, which is evident from the defeat of labor's allies in the recent election. For nearly 15 years the labor radio show, Voices at Work, has been a major advocate for labor, airing on KPFT, 90.1 FM, in Houston, Texas. Our mission has always been to tell the stories of the workers and their unions from the worker's viewpoint. Each week Voices at Work airs a mix of "real" labor news, music and interviews with members of the labor movement, both locally and nationally. It is imperative that we all come together to ensure labor has a strong voice on the airwaves to counter the fake news.
  We all know that getting the major media outlets in Houston to cover labor issues, our issues, is almost impossible. That is why Voices at Work is so special - if it wasn't for our show, the community wouldn't know that we have a strong, vibrant labor movement right here in the Houston area! KPFT serves the Greater Houston and Galveston area, reaching almost 150,000 listeners every week.
  KPFT is also very special. It is one of only five stations that is part of the Pacifica Foundation. As KPFT no longer receives supplemental funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, nearly 100 percent of its funding comes from individual listener-members. KPFT has no large corporate sponsors and no commercials!
  This month we begin our spring membership drive and we need your support more than ever. Voices at Work remains on the air because of the hundreds of listeners who have supported our show during our past membership drive.

  There are several ways you can support Voices at Work:

  1. Your local union can declare its support by filling out the attached pledge card and mailing it back to Voices at Work, c/o KPFT Pacifica Radio, 419 Lovett Blvd., Houston, Texas 77006. In a few weeks, you will receive an invoice in the mail. (Checks must be payable to "KPFT Pacifica Radio". Mention Voices at Work on the memo line.)

  2. At your monthly union meeting, please introduce your membership to Voices at Work. We air every Friday night, 8:00PM to 9:00PM (central) on KPFT, 90.1 FM. Please announce the membership drive will be taking place on each Friday between March 23rd and April 12th (March 24th; March 31st; and April 7th). Encourage your members to call in a pledge at (713)526-5738. Basic memberships start at $40.

  3. Place the link on your union website.

  Thank you for your support to keep Voices at Work on the air! We are all volunteers and receive no payment for our participation with the show. We do it because we believe all workers should have a voice at work!

  Thank you!