Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Trouble Brewing

This may not be a politically popular position for me to stake out, but I'm just not sure that I'm buying into this:
A group of Starbucks employees in Logan Square have joined a union, the first group outside of New York, despite the coffee company’s refusal to recognize organized labor.

The workers at 2759 W. Logan Blvd. announced Tuesday night that they were affiliating with the Industrial Workers of the World Starbucks Workers Union in an effort to increase hourly pay, have a guaranteed number of work hours per week and to reinstate employees who they claim were fired for union organizing activity. Union representatives declined to disclose membership numbers...

Union members are demanding a pay increase to $10 an hour for entry-level workers from the current $7.50 an hour in addition to guaranteed minimum hours and healthcare benefits.

“There are no minimum hours and that’s the problem,” Mr. Tessone said. “Our schedule is at the mercy of the manager.”

With regards the healthcare, union officials claim Starbucks only covers 42% of its workers, less than the 47% that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is often criticized for.

While I understand that they may think that their timing is right, I think that some of their fundamentals are wrong. My reservations are based upon two factors: First, I believe that the current wages and benefits seem pretty darn good for the job requirements. Second, the numerous people that I have talked with who work or have worked at Starbucks, (including a former district office staffer of mine) all were very happy with the compensation structure and treatment of employees. In fact, Starbucks is consistently ranked as one of the top corporations when it comes to employee satisfaction.

As far as schedule and hours are concerned - welcome to the real world. Union or no union, seniority drives better scheduling and assignments. If people want to push for a living wage across the board, then they should pursue that struggle. But I think that these folks are going to have a hard time trying to find sympathy for their cause, (or loyalty to the store when another is likely only a couple of blocks away.) Then again, stranger things have happened, especially in this City of late.

To my friends at my local Starbucks, don't get me wrong, I love you guys. But this is bigger than my daily caffeine fix. Just please tell me that somebody in City Council isn't going to try to legislate this.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Trailing the World

I don't agree with his proposed solution, but Mayor Daley is absolutely right about the problem:

Mayor Daley suggested Thursday that high school be extended for a fifth year to defray college education costs now squeezing working poor and middle-class families.

Unless something is done to loosen the college tuition collar, Daley warned that the “birth rate will go down in the United States and our knowledge-based economy will not grow.”...

“America had better come to grips with this….If we’re a land of opportunity and we want to be a knowledge-based society and we want to compete against India and China, we had better educate our children. These young kids should not be worried about financial assistance — all worried in the [senior] year. Every principal will tell you that. They’re in their offices trying to figure out, ‘Can I get $500? Can I get $1,000, $1,500?’ We have to set our priorities and our priorities should be giving everyone an opportunity to go to college….I hope in 2008 there is a huge national debate on that issue alone.”

While I may have some other differences with the Mayor, I totally respect his passion about this subject. When he came down to Springfield last year, he met with Democratic legislators. The first, and primary, issue that he discussed was this one.

During his talk, he cited Thomas Friedman's must-read book The World is Flat and the concern that we are well down the road to being at a serious competitive disadvantage with foreign countries, whose educational systems and work ethic are outpacing ours.
Having just returned from Taiwan and having witnessed some of the accomplishments that they are making, I am even more concerned than I was a week ago. I hope to relate some of those observations here soon.

With respect to our local education, I am concerned that we are on the path to a crisis. The answer is not to lower standards and increase the time to take tests so that more kids score 'higher'. The answer is not to consider an increase in minimum wage service jobs to be a sign of economic prosperity.

The answer is to demand more of our education system and to realize that the needed changes will not likely yield results in convenient two or four year cycles that coincide with elections, but will require a willingness and the courage to take bold steps in order to accomplish long-term benefits for our future.

The answer is to prepare our youth to compete in a new world economy. To teach them not just proficiency in their own language, but in other languages as well that will make them desirable in a global environment. One step toward that answer may lay in year-round schooling that would provide societal benefits on many levels. I would be interested in hearing what readers think might be other parts of the equation.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

What's your Take on the Game?

While I'm still shaking off the jet lag, how about some levity and creativity in the interim? With the massive amount of hype surrounding the Samuel L. Jackson movie 'Snakes on a Plane', I thought that we could try to put a local spin on the spoofs that have been put out there.

To get things rolling, I'll throw a couple out there:

A movie about the latest problems with the CTA titled, 'Mistakes on the Train'.

A film about Springfield corruption called, 'On the Take on the Plain'.

You get the idea. Have at it.

Springfield Calling

What ever happened to just picking up the phone and having Clara ring up Aunt Bea for you?
Area code 447 could be coming to central Illinois as early as 2009. The Illinois Commerce Commission announced Monday it has approved a 447 “overlay” in area code 217 based on projections the existing supply of prefixes could be exhausted within a couple of years...

An overlay would require new customers to begin using the 447 area code once all numbers in 217 are assigned. Existing customers would continue to use 217, although all customers would have to begin using 10-digit dialing, the area code plus the seven-digit number, once the overlay is implemented.
While I guess it's a healthy sign that the region is growing, it still just makes you yearn for days gone by.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Chalk It Up to Innovation

Everybody knows that the web has changed our lives. But it is also changing grassroots politics as well. One group that is taking advantage of this is the Service Employees International Union.

While much of the attention on SEIU of late has been focused on the Big Box issue, they have also been actively working for some time now on their Americans for Health Care intiative. As part of their initiative, this coming Tuesday, they are having a series of press conferences and events in 34 cities around the country.

Activists at the “Chalk It Up!” events will draw murder-scene style chalk outlines on the ground to represent the approximately 18,000 people SEIU says die annually because of inadequate healthcare.

To help promote these events, a couple of their advocates had the foresight to whip up a simple yet effective video that they put up on You can see the video here. I think that it was a smart way for them to help get their message out there. And I think that you will start to see more things like this in the future.

And if you're interested, the local Chalk It Up! event will be held this Tuesday, August 22nd at 1 pm outside Congressman Hastert's office which is at 27 River Road in Batavia.

My journey home from Taiwan starts in about 6 hours. I'll share insights on my trip in a couple of days depending on the joys of jetlag.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

From the Far East to the Fairgrounds

I am writing this from Taiwan of all places, where I have been meeting as part of a delegation of Midwestern legislators (not at taxpayer expense) with Taiwanese government officials to discuss topics ranging from trade to education to mass transit. I will write about aspects of the trip next week, for now let me just say that it has been fascinating.

Until then, and on the eve of Democrat Day at the Fair (although since I am 13 hours ahead, it's Wednesday night as I'm writing this), and in response to several requests for this topic, I want to throw open a subject that I discussed about a year ago, but this time, in a somewhat different context.

Namely, just what does it mean to be a Democrat? Or a Republican for that matter?

The question has recently come to me in a couple of different ways. One is the reaction that people have had, pro and con, about Democratic elected officials who are presently not willing to endorse the Governor.

The second, and related, manner in which has come up is as a result of the lack of communication between the Speaker and Alexi Gianoullias, the Democratic nominee for State Treasurer.

The question raised is - where is the line, or where should it be, when there is not an alignment between party loyalty and substantive differences or concerns between individuals? Should one trump the other, and if so, in which direction?

When does one take a deep breath and take one for the team, or when is it appropriate to move from the party line? I could elaborate but I think that you get the idea of where I'm trying to go with this discussion.

I wish I had the time and energy to really go into this right now, but I just don't. I will briefly say that I think that our Party, any Party, needs to have some guiding principles around which it can unify in order to reach common goals. And to the extent that certain sacrifices need to be made for the greater good, then they should be made. At the same time, however, I believe that each candidate needs to be evaluated on their own merits, and that nobody should just get a pass based solely on a party label.

Since I obviously won't be at the Fair, you can feel free to tie this subject into whatever may (or may not) occur during the day there.

Because of the time change and my sporadic access to my laptop, it may take a while for your comments to get posted. (I am leaving comment moderation on because history has shown that it just needs to be left on.) So early morning (Illinois time) comments should get on relatively quickly, but the rest of them may not get posted until early evening (Illinois time), which will be when I am getting started with my Thursday. But rest assured that, as usual, all comments that are not inappropriate will get posted.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Changing of the Guard

So Rob Uhe is leaving his post as Counsel to the Speaker and House Parliamentarian in order to move to the next phase of his career with a position at Mayer Brown. Rob is an all-around quality guy who was great at his job. So good in fact, that you couldn't get mad at him even as he would coolly look you in the eyes and tell you that your bill wasn't moving-ever. He was a great asset to the caucus and I'm sure will be successful in his new venture.

I was heartened to hear that he is being replaced by David Ellis, a former staffer, present attorney, prolific author and also a great guy. To learn a little bit more about David, go to this link and scroll down about half way.

I have to hand it to the Speaker, between Mike Kasper, Uhe and now Ellis, he has consistently put quality talent at his side when it comes to operating the House. Welcome back Dave.


The CTA's Brown Line runs through the middle of my district. And it has been integral to the revitalization of many of the neighborhoods that it serves.

But since the announcement of the project to update and expand the Brown Line stations was made about eight years ago, the project has been mired in misrepresentations, cost overruns and delays.

So unfortunately, today's announcement that portions of the project are going to be delayed at least another six months comes as no real surprise.

These delays will mean that work that was supposed to be completed next February will now stretch through at least another summer. Which means another summer of inconvenience for the tens of thousands of riders who rely on the Brown Line, and another summer of business disruption for local merchants.

More problematic is that there is a sinking sense that this won't be the last of the bad news for the project:

CTA Board Chairwoman Carole Brown didn't sound any more reassured after Wednesday's board meeting. "I still don't think I have a full picture of exactly when and if there are going to be significant delays," she said. "I'm still waiting to see where progress on the project really is."

Most inexplicable is the following statement.

CTA President Frank Kruesi, meanwhile, insists that the delays outlined Wednesday will not keep the CTA from completing the entire project by 2009.

That's just swell. To tell people that the fact that this project will delayed again still means that it will done within the next three years is simply unbelievable. And unacceptable.

UPDATE: In fairness to the CTA, they are announcing tomorrow that the Rockwell station will reopen next Wednesday, August 16th. The unexpected closing of the station created some serious disruption to the community, and its reopening is welcome news.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

(Big) Boxed In

Mayor Daley finds himself in previously uncharted territories as he grapples with what to do with the 'Big Box' ordinance sitting on his desk. Much has been made of the fact that he has not previously vetoed any legislation, but in light of the fact that hardly any ordinances have reached his desk without his prior okay, I don't think that anybody should dwell on that historical tidbit.

No, what is unique about this situation is that the Mayor finds himself confronted with an ordinance that has major substantive and policy ramifications for the City, and that has resonated, both pro and con, from coast to coast. An ordinance that he has made clear that he doesn't like.

Magnifying the situation is that the issue clearly pits the business and labor communities against each other like no other could, and in turn, puts the Mayor squarely between the two camps.

I firmly believe that the Mayor is going to veto the legislation. And regardless of how you feel about the underlying issue, you have to respect the fact that when he does so, he is going to do so out of a sincere belief in his actions and clearly aware of the potential ramifications of his veto.

Congressman Jackson 'warned of political consequences' to the Mayor and to the Alderman who support the veto.
“That would be unfortunate, to not follow the will of the people, to not follow the will of 35 aldermen who made a decision that it's important to pay people a living wage,” Jackson said.
Personally, I wouldn't want to be in the shoes of any Alderman changing their votes on this issue because that is just not going to be a pleasant place to be. But you have to respect the process and if the Mayor is able to withstand any attempt to override a veto (without which support, he obviously wouldn't veto the bill to start with), that is part of how the process works.

At the end of the day though, if this all does play out in the manner I've set out, what will be unique won't be the veto, but the aftermath that follows. Uncharted territory indeed.

Passing the Torch

In the It's Gotta Be Easier Than the Last Job Department:
The Chicago Urban League has its first female president. Cheryle Jackson, a top aide to Governor Rod Blagojevich, was elected to lead the 90-year-old social and civil rights organization Wednesday.

There has been much discussion about a new face of civil rights leaders, a new generation of leaders. With Wednesday's announcement, a new leader emerges. Someone who has worked with the public and private sector, someone who was born during the civil rights era and someone who benefited from the struggles of original civil rights leaders.

It is a change in leadership for one of Chicago's oldest civil rights social service agencies. Wednesday, the Chicago Urban League made history by naming Cheryle Jackson the new president and CEO.

"I want this job because I feel like there's a calling in my life and I'm ready to answer that call," Jackson said.

Jackson is the deputy chief of staff of communications for Governor Rob (yes, they actually called him 'Rob' in the story) Blagojevich. Beyond that, she is credited with shaping strategy and policy in the governor's office to address the needs of the African-American community. She said that is why she wanted to take on this challenge.
Outgoing President James Compton is a friend and from numerous that we have had about the Urban League, it was clear that he was keenly interested in making sure that the reins were turned over to competent hands. While Cheryl has big shoes to fill, Mr. Compton obviously has confidence in her to fill them, and I wish her success in her important new endeavor.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

But What I Meant Was...

From the "And You Wonder Why People are Dubious Department":

The Democratic County Chairmen’s Association gave Gov. Rod Blagojevich $30,000 days before the March 21 primary, although Blagojevich had said he wouldn’t take its money...

However, Blagojevich told reporters in 2003 he wouldn’t take the organization’s money...

In the spring of 2003, when Blagojevich was championing ethics legislation, he was set to appear at a fundraiser for the chairmen’s organization in Springfield on a legislative day - when a fundraiser for himself would not be allowed.

He at first said he would do “what the law allows,” but then told reporters he hadn’t taken money from the group - which was incorrect - and also said he wouldn’t do so in the future.

“No. We don’t need it,” he said...

This March 6 - the same day Blagojevich appeared at Rochester High School to promote a plan to build roads and schools - he also spoke at an evening fundraiser at the Hilton Springfield for the county chairmen’s group. Eleven days later, he got the $30,000 donation.

Sheila Nix, Blagojevich campaign spokeswoman, said late Monday she did not know if the campaign would keep the money.
With everything going on these days, and with millions and millions of dollars in the bank, I don't get why they would even open themselves up to an issue like this.