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So’s you can see the ax falling sooner

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, is an author and Workforce Protections Subcommittee Chairwoman Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, is among cosponsors of a bipartisan bill introduced today to strengthen a law requiring employers to notify workers and their communities of mass layoffs or plant closings.

“Workers deserve more than just a pink slip when they lose their job because of our nation’s economic difficulties,” Miller said in a news release. “Current protections for workers being laid off are both confusing and rarely enforced. While an early warning may not save their job, a meaningful early notice will help them prepare to find a new job or upgrade their skills for new employment.”

In recent months, laid-off workers have filed lawsuits over violations of the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act against companies such as Lehman Brothers, retailers like Sam’s Club and Goody’s, the electronics chain Tweeter, ABX Air, USA Jet Airlines, and major law firms, say Miller et al.

Congress passed the WARN Act in 1988 to give workers and communities 60 days notice to adjust to an impending plant closing or mass layoff, because evidence shows retraining and other readjustment efforts have the most success when such notice is given.

But the new bill’s sponsors say the law has been undermined by loopholes and weak enforcement. The Government Accountability Office found a few years ago that the WARN Act covers only 24 percent of all layoffs, and of those, employers only provided notice approximately one-third of the time. The WARN Act has several exceptions that employers can invoke such as unforeseen business circumstances and whether a company is trying to attract capital to avoid a shutdown. And the WARN Act is only invoked at companies with at least 100 employees that are laying off 33 percent or more of their workforce.

The GAO found employers failed to provide notice to employees in two-thirds of layoffs and closures where the WARN Act applied, yet the law requires violating employers only to pay an employee a day’s pay for every day of notice not provided and does not give the federal government authority to enforce workers’ rights.

H.R. 3042, the new FOREWARN Act, would give the U.S. Department of Labor authority to enforce the WARN Act, and would increase penalties for violation to double back pay. It also would reduce the mass layoff figure from 50 to 25; reduce the employer size from 100 to 75 employees; lower the mass layoff trigger; lengthen the notification period from 60 to 90 days; and require employers to give the Labor Department written notification including the reason for the plant closing or mass layoff, whether the employer has jobs elsewhere, and a statement of each employee’s right to wages and benefits. And the bill would expand notification recipients to include the Secretary of Labor, elected officials including the governor, members of Congress, and state representatives, and labor unions.

Posted on Thursday, June 25th, 2009
Under: economy, George Miller, Lynn Woolsey, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Your voices on Capitol Hill, speaking

Here’s Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, urging the House today to adopt an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2010 that would call for the Defense Secretary to report to Congress by Dec. 31 a comprehensive exit strategy from the war in Afghanistan:

The amendment later failed on a 138-278 vote: Lee, Pete Stark, George Miller, Jackie Speier, Anna Eshoo, Mike Honda and Lynn Woolsey voted for it; Ellen Tauscher and Jerry McNerney opposed it; and Zoe Lofgren and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi didn’t vote.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, spent some quality time today grilling Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing:

Posted on Thursday, June 25th, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Barbara Lee, Jackie Speier, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Read the House Democrats’ health reform draft

House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez, and Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chairman Pete Stark, D-Fremont, will be among several chairs holding a press conference shortly on Capitol Hill to unveil their discussion draft for health care reform. The Education and Labor, Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees– all with jurisdiction over House health policy – “have been working together as one committee to develop a single bill that fulfills President Obama’s goals of reducing health care costs, protecting and increasing consumers’ choices, and guaranteeing access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans,” according to a news release.

If you don’t want to wait another half hour for the draft, read it here right now.

Posted on Friday, June 19th, 2009
Under: George Miller, healthcare reform, Pete Stark, U.S. House | 1 Comment »

Report: Voluntary OSHA inspections fail

A Government Accountability Office report has found that an Occupational Safety and Health Administration program expanded by the Bush administration lacked proper oversight, didn’t improve worker safety and diverted scarce resources from other enforcement duties, Bay Area lawmakers say.

Workplaces taking part in OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program — including almost 100 in California, of which more than two dozen are in the Bay Area — avoid routine inspections if they demonstrate that they have an exemplary safety and health program, have no ongoing health and safety enforcement actions, and have an injury and illness rate below the average rates for the industry. Meant to promote worker-management cooperation on developing innovative workplace health and safety programs and prodded by the Bush administration, the VPP more than doubled to 2,174 worksites over the last five years and now covers more than 885,000 out of the 112 million workers covered by Occupational Safety and Health Act.

But the GAO found that OSHA did not properly ensure that only worksites with exemplary safety programs were eligible for relief from routine inspections, and 12 percent of the worksites participating in the program had an injury or illness rate higher than rates for their industry; one VPP worksite had an injury and illness rate four times higher than their industry average.

And the GAO found OSHA let businesses say in the program even after they were cited for serious safety violations. In one case, a worksite continued to participate despite three fatal accidents in five years; in another, a workplace was cited for 10 violations related to a fatality, including seven serious violations, and one related to discrepancies in injury and illness logs, yet remained in the VPP and avoided regular inspections.

The GAO found that some workers at VPP sites said “injury and illness rates requirements of the VPP are used as a tool by management to pressure workers not to report injuries and illnesses.”

“The GAO findings only confirm what many had already known—the Bush administration’s misdirected reliance on voluntary programs siphoned scarce resources that were needed for enforcement of our nation’s health and safety laws,” said House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Martinez. “Fortunately, the Congress and Obama administration are committed help set OSHA on a new course to provide the additional resources and staff in order to ensure that agency all workers are able to return home safely after their shifts.”

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections, said she and others have argued all along that voluntary safety programs don’t work. “It’s time for OSHA to join the 21st Century and update their rules and regulations to confront the risks faced by today’s workers. That’s why I have introduced the Protecting America’s Workers Act, and will continue to work with my colleagues and Secretary Solis to ensure that OSHA does everything in its power to keep our workers safe.”

Posted on Thursday, June 18th, 2009
Under: George Miller, Lynn Woolsey, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

How they voted on the war supplemental

As I reported Monday, Bay Area House members were being pressed by anti-war progressives on one side and by President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the other about how to vote on the $106 billion supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The House passed the bill late Tuesday on a 226-202 vote. Here’s how the Bay Area delegation voted:

No: Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose

Yes: George Miller, D-Martinez; Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo; Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco

The 32 Democrats voting against the bill did so mainly for anti-war reasons, while most of the 170 Republicans who opposed it did so because the bill included more than $5 billion for the International Monetary Fund. The bill passed overwhelmingly last month, but changes in conference committee led to an intense battle to get it through again.

Here’s what Lee had to say about it:

“I cannot support any funding for Iraq that was not dedicated solely for the redeployment of our troops and military contractors. I am also unable to support the open ended military escalation in Afghanistan. We need a better balance between humanitarian and military spending in Afghanistan and we need an exit strategy. The supplemental appropriations bill does not reflect a fundamental shift in direction. Therefore, I cannot support it.”

And here’s what Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said:

“Our men and women in uniform deserve far, far better than to be treated like this. Republicans supported a troop funding bill last month, and we are prepared to do so once again. But this is a politically-motivated stunt that uses troop funding as bait for a global bailout that should be judged on its own merits in its own legislation. Let’s give our troops the resources they need for victory in a real troop funding bill free of a costly global bailout.”

Strange bedfellows indeed.

Some liberal bloggers are singling Miller out for heat, because he’s among Democrats who voted against the war funding last month “when their votes stood no chance of actually blocking the funding” but voted for it Tuesday, as AfterDowningStreet.org’s David Swanson put it. Swanson described this group as “the Hall of Shame. These Congress members voted No for show when it didn’t matter, and voted Yes to fund wars when it came to crunch time.”

Elsewhere, the Down With Tyranny blog called Miller “another progressive who let pressure get to him and has now jumped the fence and is voting for more war.”

Miller, a close political ally of Pelosi, explained his shifting vote to the Chronicle:

“I understand the deep frustrations regarding this bill; I’ve voiced them myself and have consistently voted against the war,” Miller said. “I don’t support the war in Iraq, and I want to bring it to a close. I registered my concern, but now it is time to give President Obama what he believes he needs to make progress. This bill is part of the price of cleaning up the mess of the failed policies from the previous administration.”

It’s worth noting that the progressive community was split on this: Although lots of left-leaning groups opposed the bill, some significant heavyweights – including the Campaign for America’s Future, the Center for American Progress, Democracy for America, Moveon.org, Talking Points Memo, and True Majority – didn’t.

Posted on Wednesday, June 17th, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Anna Eshoo, Barbara Lee, Ellen Tauscher, George Miller, Iraq, Iraq War, Jackie Speier, Jerry McNerney, John Boehner, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Honda, Nancy Pelosi, Pete Stark, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 2 Comments »

Go forth and be heard

A few opportunities for you to meet with your elected representatives…

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, will hold three budget summit meetings around her 14th Assembly District later this week, partnering with the nonprofit Next 10 so constituents can tackle the “California Budget Challenge” simulation and decide how to grapple with the state’s $24 billion deficit. “I am looking for feedback that I can take back to Sacramento,” Skinner says. The meetings are from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 18 in Emeryville City Hall, 1333 Park Ave.; from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, June 19 in Room 1 of the Elihu Harris State Office Building, 1515 Clay St. in Oakland; and 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 20 in the McHale Room at the Pleasant Hill Community Center, 320 Civic Dr.

Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, will host a roundtable discussion on Congress’ health-care reform efforts and steps needed to reduce healthcare disparities among minorities from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Monday, June 22 in the Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church, 408 MacArthur Blvd. in Oakland. Health care community leaders, providers and stakeholders from throughout Lee’s 9th Congressional District have been invited to participate.

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, will share updates on Washington happenings – including economic stimulus efforts – at a Contra Costa Council/Tri-Valley Business Council luncheon at 11:45 a.m. Tuesday, June 30 in the Crow Canyon Country Club, 711 Silver Lake Dr. in Danville. Tickets for the event cost $35 for council members or elected officials, $45 for all others; reservations are required by June 24. Send your name, company, e-mail address, telephone number, number of tickets by type, amount due, and a Visa/Mastercard/American Express number with expiration date and authorized signature to the Contra Costa Council via fax, 925-674-1654, or by mail, 1335 Willow Way #253, Concord, CA 94520.

Posted on Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
Under: Assembly, Barbara Lee, Calendar, Jerry McNerney, Nancy Skinner, U.S. House | 5 Comments »

House members pressured on war funding vote

Several Bay Area House members are among targets of a progressive Democratic phone/fax/email lobbying blitz pressuring them to vote against the $100 billion Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan war supplemental spending bill, even as the Obama Administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi try to whip votes into line for it. From Democrats.com:

All 178 House Republicans plan to vote against the $100 billion Iraq/AfPak War Supplemental to protest $5 billion for the International Monetary Fund. That means 39 Democratic opponents could defeat the bill. 34 Democrats on the right promised to vote no, so we only need 5 more.

On May 14, 51 Democrats voted no and 4 Democrats were absent. Most were Progressives who oppose the war funding, but a few were Bluedogs who want to cut unnecessary spending.

Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, already are on the list of lawmakers who’ve vowed to vote against the bill. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, is on the “voted with us on May 14 and still with us as far as we know” list, but I guess they can move her onto the sure-thing list with Lee, Stark and Woolsey now, based on the statement she sent me a few minutes ago:

“I voted against the Iraq/Afghanistan supplemental last month because I have serious problems with the current wars and do not believe that escalating the conflicts make America or the world safer.

“Increased military operations, with the inevitable civilian casualties, only inflame local resistance and increase the number and severity of violent attacks.

“While other items are included in the supplemental – many of which I support – this is, foremost, a vote for or against funding the wars. For that reason, I will again vote no when it comes to the floor.”

Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, were listed the same as Speier; I haven’t heard back from either of their offices yet.

Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, is listed among those who “voted with us on May 14 but now oppose us.” And Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, is listed among the unknowns; his spokeswoman, Sarah Hersh, said McNerney “has received a similar number of calls, emails and faxes on this subject as compared to other major issues. Of those who have contacted his office, there’s about equal support and opposition. The Congressman looks forward to hearing from his constituents on this and other issues.”

Posted on Monday, June 15th, 2009
Under: Afghanistan, Barbara Lee, George Miller, Iraq, Iraq War, Jackie Speier, Jerry McNerney, Lynn Woolsey, Mike Honda, Pete Stark, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | 4 Comments »

Another candidate declares in CD-10

With 11 candidates already declared or most likely in the field and a few more rumored to be mulling it over, the race to succeed Rep. Ellen Tauscher in the 10th Congressional District became an even dozen Monday with an entry from the “who’s that?” department.

Self-described “soccer mom” Tiffany Attwood of Danville, a Democrat and Bay Area native, says she’s the only minority woman (Latina/Filipina) in the race.

“Why would anyone elect the same officials that put California in a $21 billion deficit in a federal seat?” she said. “I don’t think constituents of the 10th District want to put an experienced deficit-spending, tax-increasing politician in Congress.”

Her news release says that with her father and two brothers as former or current Marines, she’s “acutely aware of the issues surrounding veterans and senior citizens, especially with health care.” She also touts her experience as a wife, a mother, a mortgage officer with Emery Financial and a Danville Planning Commissioner, noting she faces the everyday challenges of holding down two jobs and balancing a family life to make ends meet.

From her campaign’s Web site:

As health care is a personal issue with Tiffany and her family, she has taken on a second job with United Parcel Service (UPS) to secure full health benefits, which her union manages. Over the years with UPS, Tiffany has found that not only do her coworkers hold down second jobs too, but are there also to cover family health benefits. Outside of UPS, health care is a cost problem within the 10th District and needs to be addressed.

She said her priorities will focus on responsible home ownership, open dialogue on solutions for the health care industry, and federal help for small business owners in order to boost the district’s employment.

“Defaults in home ownership are up, on average by 14 percent in the district. Families are now faced with possible layoffs, bad credit and nowhere to turn to for help. I want to get the word out that Obama’s stimulus for housing is working, although a little bureaucratic, we’ve been able to give families their lives back,” she said. “We’re all going through tough times right now – my family is too. But there is hope! With American ingenuity and a positive attitude we can ALL make it through this.”

This race ought to be getting off the ground in earnest soon, as Tauscher’s confirmation hearing went off without a hitch last week and the vote on her appointment to a high-ranking State Department should be soon to follow. Other declared candidates or those likely to run include Democrats Tony Bothwell, Joan Buchanan, John Garamendi, Adriel Hampton, Mark DeSaulnier and Anthony Woods; Republicans Nick Gerber, David Harmer and Catherine Moy; Green Jeremy Cloward; and independent Gino VanGundy.

UPDATE @ 3:24 P.M.: I spoke with the new candidate about an hour ago; read about it here.

Posted on Monday, June 15th, 2009
Under: Congressional District 10, Elections, Ellen Tauscher, U.S. House | 6 Comments »

Local lawmakers back medical marijuana bill

Three Bay Area House members are among the 13 original cosponsors of a bill to ease federal restrictions on marijuana and end federal interference in states’ medical-marijuana programs.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., late Thursday introduced HR 2835, the Medical Marijuana Patient Protection Act, which would move marijuana from Schedule 1 – the federal government’s list of most-restricted drugs, classified as having no medical value – to Schedule 2, which includes drugs which may have accepted medical use. The bill also would prevent interference by the federal government in any local or state run medical marijuana program.

The bill basically is identical to Frank’s HR 5842 from the 110th Congress, which never made it out of its first subcommittee. But many medical marijuana advocates believe the Obama Administration – which has said it won’t prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers operating within the parameters of state law – will be friendlier to such bills.

“We are encouraged by the federal government’s willingness to address this issue and to bring about a more sensible and humane policy on medical marijuana,” said Caren Woodson, government affairs director with Americans for Safe Access, an Oakland-based nationwide advocacy group. “It’s time to recognize marijuana’s medical efficacy, and to develop a comprehensive plan that will provide access to medical marijuana and protection for the hundreds of thousands of sick Americans that benefit from its use.”

HR 2835 would provide protection from the Controlled Substances Act and the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act for qualified patients and caregivers in states with medical-marijuana laws, preventing these federal statutes from prohibiting or restricting a physician from prescribing or recommending marijuana for medical use; an individual from obtaining, possessing, transporting within their state, manufacturing, or using marijuana in accordance with their state law; an individual authorized under State law from obtaining, possessing, transporting within their state, or manufacturing marijuana on behalf of an authorized patient, or; an entity authorized under local or State law to distribute medical marijuana to authorized patients from obtaining, possessing, or distributing marijuana to such authorized patients.

Among the bill’s 13 original cosponsors are George Miller, D-Martinez; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma. Republicans Ron Paul of Texas and Dana Rohrabacher of Huntington Beach also are co-sponsors.

Posted on Friday, June 12th, 2009
Under: George Miller, Lynn Woolsey, marijuana, Pete Stark, Ron Paul, U.S. House | 4 Comments »

Pros and cons of terrorist transfers from Gitmo

The U.S. Justice Department today announced that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian national held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility since September 2006, arrived early this morning in the Southern District of New York to face criminal charges stemming from his alleged role in the Aug. 7, 1998 bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya.

Bringing anyone from Guantanamo Bay to the lower 48 has become a topic of great debate over issues of safety, constitutional rights and so forth, so of course there’s a lot of cross-talk today.

The Justice Department notes four terrorism cases involving Islamic fundamentalism, dating back to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, already have been successfully prosecuted in New York City alone; others terrorism case already are pending there, and others have occurred or are in progress in other domestic courts.

“With his appearance in federal court today, Ahmed Ghailani is being held accountable for his alleged role in the bombing of U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and the murder of 224 people,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said. “The Justice Department has a long history of securely detaining and successfully prosecuting terror suspects through the criminal justice system, and we will bring that experience to bear in seeking justice in this case.”

Other views, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, June 9th, 2009
Under: John Boehner, Obama presidency, U.S. House, War on Terror | 5 Comments »