TODAY'S FAIR SHOTS - April 4th, 2017

1-Long Hours Ahead for Texas House in Budget Debate

2-Senate Advances Bill Outlawing Project Labor Agreements That Do Not Exist

3-Fair Shot Texas Coalition Holds Successful Town Hall Meeting in Dallas

4-Pastors Criticize Payroll Dues Deduction Bill

5-Texarkana Fire Fighters Vote Overwhelmingly for Union Representation

6-Catch-up on National Developments

1. It's budget week in the Texas House, which on Thursday will consider its version of SB1, the 2018-19 state appropriations bill. 

   Traditionally, the Senate Finance Committee, which consists of nearly half the Senate, delivers a full-blown product to the Senate floor that may be debated but is rarely amended. That is not the case with the House, which will consider more than 400 amendments in a marathon debate. Most of those will fall by the wayside, but some key policy matters may be considered, including school vouchers. More on this in tomorrow's e-mail.

   Our friends at the Center for Public Policy Priorities offer a 10-point setup for the debate on the only must-pass bill, including these points:

  3.The good. T he 2018-2019 House budget proposal includes important investments in public schools, retired teachers' health care, child protective services, mental health and higher education. Many policies that the Legislature intends to pass need support in the state budget process, and we're glad to see common-sense, beneficial policies in these areas receive funding.
  4.The bad. We are concerned that the current proposal includes large gaps in Medicaid funding, that could translate into cuts to health care. The House's "federal flexibility" language cuts $1 billion from state Medicaid funding, which would also wipe out about $1.4 billion in federal matching funds. The House budget also calls for a $450 million state funds reduction to the Health and Human Services Commission's Medicaid and other contracts. Over 3 million Texas children receive Texas Medicaid today. Medicaid covers the delivery of more than half of Texas babies. And two-thirds of Texans living in nursing homes rely on Medicaid. The House justifies the "flexibility" reduction by assuming changes in federal Medicaid law will provide more funding or make it possible to do more with much less, but we'd prefer to see House budget writers build in some safeguards in case - as we suspect - neither is ultimately possible.

   Read more:

2. The Texas Senate on Monday gave tentative approval to SB 452 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, a bill that would effectively outlaw Project Labor Agreements in Texas where state funding is used.

   As noted repeatedly in this space over several legislative sessions, no such animal exists. There has never been a state-funded PLA, nor is one contemplated. The United Labor Legislative Committee OPPOSED SB 452. 

   The measure advanced with no debate on a party-line vote of 20-11. A final vote is expected on Tuesday.

   As the Texas AFL-CIO noted in a March 15 news release:

   PLAs have never been used on a public project in Texas, reports Leonard Aguilar, Executive Director and Secretary-Treasurer of the Texas Building and Construction Trades Council. Aguilar said preemptively prohibiting such agreements would remove a valuable tool for getting large projects done. If a local government wants to utilize a PLA on a public project, they should have the freedom to do so, Aguilar said.

   "Not only is this legislation a waste of time, but prohibiting PLAs on future public projects hurts taxpayers and construction workers," Aguilar said. "PLA projects have a track record of coming in on time and on budget. They save taxpayers money and they protect wages and working conditions."

   "There's a reason even anti-union companies like Wal-Mart use PLAs on their construction projects. They work," Aguilar said.

   Texas AFL-CIO President John Patrick said, "We should want our future schools, roads, and bridges to be built by highly trained, productive Texas workers, and PLAs help ensure those skilled workers are on the job. The truth is, the opponents of PLAs are unscrupulous contractors who want to cut corners and build our public projects with an easily exploitable workforce." 

Click here for background on what PLAs are and why they have an excellent track record:

3. The Fair Shot Texas Coalition, which includes the Texas AFL-CIO, held a Town Hall Meeting in Dallas on Saturday to discuss issues that matter to working people, including fully funding public schools, raising wages and protecting workers' rights.

   About 70 working people attended. Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, who had been invited, did not. Texas AFT President Louis Malfaro delivered the welcome.

   From the coalition's news release:

   "I'm disappointed that Senator Huffines refused to come to our town hall, especially after he voted to silence teachers this week. He needs to listen to his constituents like me, and we want him to focus on policies that improve our public schools. Instead, he's attacking teachers by draining money from their schools through vouchers and banning them from paying their dues through payroll deduction," said Debra Goheen, a librarian at South Garland High School. 

  Judy Bryant, a Dallas resident in Senator Huffines' district also attended the town hall, and she said "I wanted to ask Senator Huffines to support the bills that raise the minimum wage. No one should work full time and live in poverty, and if people don't make a living wage, they will never be able to retire."

  Following the town hall, community members wrote letters to Senator Huffines and talked about other ways to make their voices heard. 

   You can see the whole event, which was the object of a live Facebook feed, at this link:

4. The Texas Tribune published a column by 11 pastors that criticizes SB 13, the bill that would take away the freedom of public employees to support the labor organization of their choice through payroll dues deduction.

   The essay focuses on the effect SB 13 would have on teachers. The measure passed the Senate last Thursday and will next be considered by the Texas House:

  The latest legislative attack on teachers is Senate Bill 13, which removes teachers' rights to have voluntary association dues automatically deducted from their paycheck. Teachers have enjoyed this right for more than 20 years at almost no cost to the state. Many Texans enjoy this right at work, including many Texas public employees. Our legislators enjoy this right. SB 13 would allow law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS workers to continue this right. SB 13 mainly targets teachers. Why make teacher's lives harder by effectively weakening voluntary organizations that support them?

  The four teacher associations receiving these dues offer teachers a variety of important support services, one of which is representation in legislative actions affecting Texas teachers and children. In their repeated failed attempts to pass voucher schemes, some legislators have refused to hear that many Texans simply don't want private education paid from public funds. Many groups have opposed their efforts as damaging to Texas children overall, including the teacher associations. But of all these opponents, these legislators are blaming the teachers and attacking them through SB 13.

  PTC has over 2,000 members, urban and rural clergy joined in supporting a strong system of public education for all Texas children, and the excellent professionals who make that system effective. We support the minor convenience of an automatic payroll deduction for these professionals to join an association that meets their needs and representing their interests.

  Furthermore, we note the discriminatory exemption of male-dominated state worker groups in SB 13 - firefighters and law enforcement - and the attack on female-dominated public services such as public educators. We thank God for all our public servants in the helping professions of Texas. Why would our legislative leaders want to pit one against another in this petty way?

   Read more:

5. Congratulations to Fire Fighters Local 367 in Texarkana after firefighters in that city voted to affiliate with the union to speak up together on workplace issues.

   The Texarkana Gazette reports the union prevailed in the election by an overwhelming margin:

   Ninety-two percent of Texas-side firefighters voted for International Association of Fire Fighters Local 367 to represent TTFD in employment talks with the city, said Scott Robertson, the chapter's president.

  "A vote of 92 percent shows that the firefighters have faith in their union and are anxious to sit down with city leaders and negotiate a contract," Robertson said.

  Robertson emailed the results of the vote to City Manager John Whitson, who replied to acknowledge he received them.

  Robertson declined to comment on the union's next steps. By state law, it has until June 3-120 days before the end of the fiscal year-to deliver a written request for collective bargaining to the city.

  The city has until Oct. 30-30 days after the beginning of next fiscal year-to comply with all state law regarding collective bargaining with the fire department. What that entails is unclear.

  Read more:

6. As we keep a focus on the Texas Legislature, some recent national news stories are worth noting:

   --President Trump may be preparing to "renegotiate" the North American Free Trade Agreement as promised in his campaign, but it's not clear such talks are going to provide any substance that helps working people. 

   AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said a circulated draft of a new NAFTA deal fails working people:

  "President Trump said that NAFTA was the 'worst trade deal' and committed to rewriting the rules so that they work for workers and not the super-wealthy. The draft circulated by his administration does none of that. Even The Wall Street Journal says it's 'modest' and that it 'softens' President Trump's position. We agree. This draft leaves standing the worst and most oppressive parts of NAFTA. It leaves in place the right of foreign investors to sue the U.S. in private tribunals in order to skirt health, safety and environmental laws. On other important issues, including rules of origin for automobiles, labor and environmental standards, currency misalignment and procurement, the draft plan is either silent or so vague that it could be describing the now defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership-an agreement working people wholeheartedly opposed.

  "Rewriting the rules of our economy, and specifically changing the way we do trade, was one of the most important issues that voters went to the polls on. If the president wants to keep his promises, he needs to bring that same tough stance he had on the campaign trail to renegotiating America's trade deals."...

  Read more:

  --New York Times columnist Paul Krugman took the opportunity to gnaw on Trump over the colossal gap between his campaign promises and what he is actually doing on trade issues:

   Business seems to have decided that Mr. Trump is a paper tiger on trade: The flow of corporate relocations to Mexico, which slowed briefly while C.E.O.s tried to curry favor with the new president, has resumed. Trade policy by tweet, it appears, has run its course.

  Investors seem to have reached the same conclusion: The Mexican peso plunged 16 percent after the election, but since Inauguration Day it has recovered almost all the lost ground.

  Oh, and last week a draft proposal for revising the North American Free Trade Agreement circulated around Congress; instead of sweeping changes in what candidate Trump called the "worst trade deal" ever signed, the administration appears to be seeking only modest tweaks.

  This surely isn't what working-class Trump supporters thought they were voting for. So why can Trumpist trade policy be summarized - to quote The Times's Binyamin Appelbaum - as "talk loudly and carry a small stick"? Let me give two reasons.

  Read more:

  --In a victory for the same folks that nearly crashed the economy under George W. Bush, the Congressional GOP killed an Obama-era rule that allowed states to create retirement savings vehicles for working people with low incomes, The Hill reports. Several states were already in the process of doing so:

   Seven states have taken a steps toward creating programs under the Obama-era rule, and Democrats noted that another 23 states are currently considering the program.

  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) accused Republicans of trying to hurt working-class Americans, saying since the beginning of the year they "haven't put up for a vote ... a single piece of original legislation to help working families."

  "For years, the Republican-controlled Congress has done nothing to help the 55 million Americans who don't have an employer-provided retirement plan," she said.

  Read more:

  --Senate Democrats are poised to filibuster the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the GOP appears ready to change the rule to allow Gorsuch to be confirmed by a simple majority, The New York Times reports.

   It may be like talking to a brick wall, but Do Something! Call 1-844-899-9913 and ask Texas U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn to vote "No" on Gorsuch:

   The committee vote is the first step in what will be a long, rutted road for Judge Gorsuch's confirmation this week. Under current rules, Democrats can block Judge Gorsuch unless he receives support from eight non-Republicans to break a filibuster.

  If the filibuster holds, Republicans have hinted strongly that they will pursue the so-called nuclear option, changing longstanding practices to elevate Judge Gorsuch on a simple majority vote.

  The nomination fight has been shadowed, in large measure, by the treatment last year of Judge Merrick B. Garland, whom President Barack Obama nominated last March after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. Republicans refused to even consider Judge Garland during a presidential election year.

  Read more: