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Edward Snowden and the disaster of privatization

The Great Debate By Donald Cohen – REUTERS

In May, computer analyst Edward Snowden flew to China, handed over volumes of National Security Agency surveillance data to a reporter, and launched a heated national conversation about our nation’s surveillance state. Underscoring that conversation was the fact that Snowden was a private contractor, given access to a vast store of information despite having virtually no track record with the NSA or the private firm with which he was employed.

Snowden’s leaks exposed a widespread lack of oversight of the contractors working at every level of our government; outsourcing can be nearly as damaging at the state and local levels as it is for federal contracts. The same lack of transparency, accountability and oversight threatening our national security threatens public services provided each day across the country. Cash-strapped mayors and governors are handing over control of critical public services and assets to for-profit corporations and Wall Street investment banks that promise to handle them better, faster and cheaper. Too often, such deals entirely undermine transparency, accountability, shared prosperity and competition — the very underpinnings of democracy.

In fact, the fine print in these outsourcing deals often gives corporations the power to make public decisions for decades to come. It also often guarantees profits even when getting them conflicts with what was a bedrock value of America: public service provided for the public good.

In Chicago, a Morgan Stanley-backed consortium took control of 36,000 public parking meters in a 75-year lease. Taxpayers must reimburse the private company when spaces are closed for street fairs or emergency weather conditions. The contract also prohibits the city from operating or permitting operation of a competing public parking facility. Even more outrageous, the city cannot make improvements to streets that contain parking meters, such as adding bicycle lanes or expanding the sidewalk.

In Denver, the private, foreign consortium that operates the Northwest Parkway can prevent any public road improvements near their toll road because they “might hurt the parkway financially” by providing an alternative route for drivers. Taxpayers are stuck with that contract for 99 years.

In 2012, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the country, sent a letter to 48 states offering to buy public prisons in exchange for a promise to keep the prisons 90 percent filled for 20 years. While the letter was a public relations fiasco for CCA, it turns out that many existing private prison contracts actually include “occupancy guarantees” of 90 percent and even 100 percent. Governments must keep prison beds filled or taxpayers have to pay the prison company for empty beds.

Preventing horror stories like the above is precisely why my organization, In the Public Interest, developed the Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda – a series of state and local proposals to restore transparency, accountability, shared prosperity and competition. These common sense reforms are as basic as requiring any company paid with tax dollars to open its books and meetings to the public (just as public agencies do); requiring companies that receive public contracts to pay a living wage with reasonable benefits; and banning language that promises profits even if public services are no longer needed.

These reforms couldn’t come fast enough. As veteran newsman Ted Koppel recently said on National Public Radio, “We are privatizing ourselves into one disaster after another. We’ve privatized a lot of what our military is doing. We’ve privatized a lot of what our intelligence agencies are doing. We’ve privatized our very prison system in many parts of the country. We’re privatizing the health system within those prisons. And it’s not working well.”

Indeed, whether it’s outsourced security or schools, it’s not working well at all. And it’s time for taxpayers to reclaim control.

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District Council 33 President issues negotiations challenge to Mayor Nutter: Show up, in person, and let’s bargain in public

For Immediate Release

Dateline: Philadelphia, PA

Friday, July 12, 2013, 1:00 pm

Contact: Bob Wolper, 215-896-2970

Sources: AFSCME District Council 33

Philadelphia, PA – Pete Matthews, the President of AFSCME District Council 33, took to the airwaves today on talk radio station WURD-900 AM and issued a challenge to Mayor Mike Nutter to hold public negotiations with District Council 33 at the time and place of the Mayor’s choosing.

“The Mayor has not attended even one negotiating session for over five years and he has never acknowledged that our union has saved the City hundreds of millions of dollars,” said Matthews. “Now that he has gone public with his side of the story on this radio station and in other media, District Council 33 would like to issue this challenge to Mayor Nutter: Show up, in person, and let’s bargain in public so that the citizens and taxpayers of the City can get the whole story.”

“A recent study showed that every day this mayor fails to do his job, more people in our City are ending up in poverty, including the hard working women and men of District Council 33 who keep this city running,” said Matthews

The report, by Temple Associate Professor of Economics Michael Bognanno, indicated that since taking office and as a direct result of Mayor Michael Nutter’s refusal to negotiate fairly with the city worker unions AFSCME District Councils 33 and 47, the number of city workers living below the poverty line has doubled.

In 2007, 20.7% of city workers earned below the poverty rate, adjusted for the cost of living in Philadelphia. In 2013, more than 41.9% of District Council 33 and District Council 47 members now live below the poverty rate. Even more alarming, the study shows that fully 58% of District Council 33 members are working below the poverty line.

“We have been ready and willing to negotiate with this mayor, contrary to what he tells the media,” said Matthews. “He is the one who has refused to come back to the table, instead falsely claiming we are at an impasse and going to the PA State Supreme court to overturn collective bargaining rights for all public sector workers so he could impose contract terms on our union.”

“Now that the PA Supreme Court has turned down his union-busting request, it is time for our transparency mayor to do his job,” continued Matthews. “We think it is far past the time for him to show up in person at negotiations. Mayor Nutter can then tell our bargaining committee why he thinks the hundreds of millions of dollars we have saved the City don’t matter and why he thinks we don’t deserve a fair contract. We are willing to continue negotiations at any place open to the public of his choosing as long as he shows up in person and allows the media to cover the negotiations from start to finish. ”

Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO Hosts 26th Annual Tri-State Labor Day Parade and Family Celebration

The Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO’s 26th annual Tri-State Labor Day Parade and Family Celebration will take place on Monday, September 2nd. We will gather at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 union hall (1301 S. Columbus Blvd at Washington) starting at 8:30, with a rally to follow and the parade up to Penn’s Landing kicking off at 10:00 AM.

The Family Celebration at Penn’s Landing will start at 11:00 AM, featuring food, make-and-take crafts, live music, games, kids activities, and more!

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Take Action! Voting Rights Under Attack


Sign The Petition Now At:
And Tell Pennsylvania’s Lawmakers And Judges To Protect Our Right To Vote!

On Monday, July 15, voting rights advocates and injured parties are getting their day in court, with the trial set to begin which will determine the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law.  The timing of this trial will surely add to the national attention that it receives, just weeks after the US Supreme Court’s decision to gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Under the protections of the Voting Rights Act, Federal Courts had recently struck down voter ID laws in Texas, Mississippi and Alabama, because they would have disproportionately denied voting rights to minority voters.  Mere hours after the US Supreme Court rulings, Texas, Mississippi and Alabama all declared that they would immediately begin enforcement of their voter ID laws.  The laws in these states are substantially similar to our own voter ID law.  The fact that Pennsylvania did not require pre-clearance from the Federal Government to make changes to our voting laws, in no way mitigates the fact that our voter ID law would have exactly the same impact, of suppressing the votes of minorities.

And it is not just African Americans and Latinos who will be disenfranchised if this law were to survive a legal challenge in Pennsylvania; the elderly, including elderly veterans, young voters, the poor, and urban voters who rely on public transportation, are all less likely to possess a photo ID that would meet the State’s strict guidelines.

“The entire roll-out of the voter ID law in Pennsylvania has been marked with distortions and misinformation from this administration,” said Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale.  “The Governor’s office initially claimed that only 1% of Pennsylvanians lacked appropriate photo identification.  After passage of the bill, the Secretary of State revised that number upward by 800%, declaring that 758,000 registered voters do not have PennDOT IDs.  Our own analysis last summer proved that the real number was closer to 1.6 million, or nearly 20% of the voting population in the Commonwealth.”

These legitimate voters who are at risk of having their right to vote taken away are highly concentrated in urban areas, college towns, and in areas of high poverty.

“Nearly half the voting population of Philadelphia, 427,000 voters, could lose their right to vote under this law unless they spend time and money which they may not have, to obtain a new photo identification card that they may not know they need,” said Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Snyder.  “The motivations for this law could not be more obviously political.  Advocates for this photo ID voting requirements have been unable to identify a single case of voter fraud in Pennsylvania that could have been prevented by this law.”

Sign The Petition Now At:
And Tell Pennsylvania’s Lawmakers And Judges To Protect Our Right To Vote!

Here is why liquor privatization failed: Wendell Young IV

By Wendell W. Young IV

Having lived through the liquor wars for better than 30 years now, a handful of constants persist, most notably the Capitol’s late night equivalent of k-rations: greasy pizza and cold coffee.

Privatization produced plenty of tired sport clichés and countless rumors of deals for votes, some of which were actually true. And, once again, after the smoke cleared, a few interest groups promised that the “fight is not over.”

But this go round was different. For the most part, lawmakers waged more of a debate and less of a battle. Those who paid attention learned some valuable lessons about the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and the potential impact of privatization.

I believe that, this year, lawmakers can build on the work that has been done and make some important and lasting changes for consumers and all Pennsylvanians.

We learned that privatization will not deliver a huge windfall, as was promised by some proponents, who promised that an auction of the licenses was going to generate between $2 billion and $6 billion.

Those rosy estimates dropped and dropped to $800 million before ultimately disappearing entirely. Any ‘”windfall”’ will not make up for the lost revenue provided each year by the LCB.

In the fiscal year that just ended, the agency transferred more than $700 million in profit, taxes and other transfers, including, for instance, funding for the PA State Police Bureau of Liquor Enforcement, to the state.

The Liquor Control Board is too valuable to auction off in pieces, which is why a majority of the state Senate opposed dismantling the agency’s wholesale operations.

We learned that privatization will not ensure lower prices, greater selection and more convenience. Lawmakers from Pennsylvania’s rural areas are now keenly aware of what happened to consumers in West Virginia and Washington State after privatization.

Prices increased across the board, but especially so in rural areas, where few retailers purchased liquor licenses.

We learned that there is no single definition of privatization. The House and Senate considered two radically different pieces of legislation – both dressed up as privatization.

The chambers were not close to agreement – and for good reason. For some, privatization would force hundreds and hundreds of family-owned beer distributors out of business. Thousands of employees who work for these family businesses would land on unemployment, as well.

Dozens of lawmakers agreed that crippling small businesses makes no sense.

We learned that Pennsylvanians are paying attention. Throughout the debate, after each legislative hearing and debate about what privatization would actually do to our state, support plummeted.

Today, more Pennsylvanians support proposals to modernize the agency and/or keeping our current system intact than privatization, according to polling.

Modernization is not complicated – and it’s not ideological. It’s just common sense and, at one point in time, the Corbett administration agreed that it makes sense to improve the system we have in place.

Consumers have every right to demand direct shipment of wine to their homes – and we can give it to them. Sunday stores are a welcome improvement. We should have more stores open seven days a week and we should be able to expand Sunday hours.

Consumers want more convenience, and we can give it to them by having stores inside and next to grocery stores and beer distributors.

Many Pennsylvanians play the lottery, so why wouldn’t we offer self-service lottery ticket sales in our stores?

The Liquor Control Board should be allowed to take advantage of the same flexible pricing that virtually every other retailer uses to price goods based on consumer demand. The agency’s procurement guidelines need to be updated, as well, to generate more savings.

These are just a few of the many common sense and bipartisan proposals that were floated in recent months.

I am not naïve enough to believe there is universal agreement on what to do with the Liquor Control Board; or how beer, wine and spirits are sold in our Commonwealth. We barely have consensus on what day of the week it is.

On behalf of the 3,500 United Food and Commercial Workers union members who work in the wine and spirits shops, I am hoping that this year ends differently. Consumers and all Pennsylvanians deserve as much.

Wendell W. Young IV is the chairman of Local 1776 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

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