Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Gov Scott Walker Vilifies Labor - AG Schneiderman Stands Up For Papa John's Workers

Sally Field rocks as Norma Rae
After listening to highlights of Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker's speech before an enthralled conservative crowd at the Iowa Freedom Summit a week before last back on January 24th, (where he prattled on self-righteously about his "heroic" efforts to attack labor) I seriously wanted to watch the 1979 movie 'Norma Rae' (pictured left).

Actress Sally Field's brilliant portrayal of a blue collar mother from a sleepy southern town who risks everything to help a visiting veteran labor organizer unionize the local mill where she works, struck me as a good counter-punch to Scott Walker's strutting around the stage in Iowa characterizing his attacks on organized labor as some sort of holy crusade.   

'Norma Rae' won 2 Oscars for director Martin Ritt (including a best actress Oscar for Field), but more importantly, it effectively showed the importance of organized labor in an American landscape that has seen it's manufacturing heyday evaporate as jobs slowly slip away to Mexico, China and other nations with less stringent labor practices and cheaper wages.

With the help of a flood of Koch Brothers money, Walker caused an uproar back in 2011 in Wisconsin when he pushed the conservative state legislature to pass a bill that undercut the states labor movement by stripping public sector unions of their right to collectively bargain. 

Walker became a Tea Party darling by pushing the false narrative that unions that included teachers, police, fire fighters and other government employees were somehow responsible for the economic meltdown of 2008 fueled by the big banks getting fat off sub-prime lending and the mortgage crisis it spawned.

Conservative folks out in Iowa were eating that shit up when Walker spoke there a couple weeks ago, vilifying unions with his weepy accounts of the hundreds of union members protesting outside his house and the death threats he claimed to have received.

He may have fought off the recall vote and won re-election, but frankly he's too much of a one-trick policy pony to be taken seriously as a top-tier presidential contender for 2016.

Gov Scott Walker imploding on foreign policy questions.
Walker's post-Iowa bubble was quickly popped when he appeared on ABC's 'This Week With George Stephanopoulos' to talk foreign policy with guest host Martha Raddatz (pictured left) last Sunday.

Granted it wasn't quite as bad as Sarah Palin freezing up when Katie Couric asked the feisty but woefully ill-informed 'Hockey Mom' to name the newspapers she read, but it was pretty bad.

During the foreign policy Q&A, he appeared completely unprepared to discuss the threat of ISIS in a meaningful way that demonstrated a basic grasp of the larger, more complex geopolitical issues shaping the US response in Syria and Iraq.

Instead of sound analysis that revealed an understanding of 21st century foreign policy, Walker tried to lean on the kind of substance-free Fox News-ish soundbites that ring hollow in the real world - and ABC's Martha Raddatz ate his lunch for him on live television.

(Ten bucks says Jeb Bush jumped up off the couch and did a little dance after Walker's on-camera implosion.)

But seriously, no amount of Koch brothers money could have saved him from looking as light in the loafers on foreign policy as he did on ABC. Next!

But the positive news for labor is that there are still advocates standing up on behalf of workers.

People like New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who just obtained a court judgment of almost $800,000 for hundreds of  employees of six Papa John's Pizza restaurants in New York City.

According to the Website of the NY Attorney General's office,  Kings County Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes found Emstar Pizza, Inc. and Emmanuelle Onuagaluchi, the owner and operator of the six Papa John's in question, liable for intentionally and systematically underpaying hundreds of employees by underreporting their hours, not paying overtime and charging them sketchy fees for "uniform maintenance".

Schneiderman's court victory not only holds Emstar Pizza and Onuaguluchi responsible for paying back wages and interest going back six years, the court judgment also bars the owners from selling and liquidating the restaurants to duck out of their financial responsibility to pay the back wages.

If the owners try to chicken-shit their way out and sell the six Papa John's, the funds from the sale would automatically go into an Escrow account controlled by the Attorney General's office which they can use to pay the workers.

Schneiderman has used the power of his office to go to bat for workers successfully before, just last summer, in June, "... the Attorney General obtained $10,000 in restitution for an employee unlawfully discharged after reporting a gas leak at a McDonald’s franchise located in Lyons, in upstate New York."

According to the New York AG's Website, he won some big victories in 2013 too:

"In March 2013, the Attorney General secured a settlement with six Domino’s Pizza franchises, which collectively owned 23 restaurants throughout the state, for unpaid minimum wages, overtime, and vehicle expense reimbursements for delivery drivers."

"In March 2013, the Attorney General secured a settlement of almost $500,000 for mostly minimum-wage employees of New York City-based McDonald’s franchises operated by the Cisneros Group and its owner Richard Cisneros."

Last fall he sued another franchise owner of Papa Johns, that case is still pending in New York County Supreme Court.

Chalk one up for the working man.

Dare I say that Eric Schneiderman is starting to look appealing as a potential progressive presidential candidate for 2020 or 2024?  I'm sure he's got his eye on NY Governor Andrew Cuomo's seat.

Schneiderman will certainly be in line for labor's vote if he decides to jump in the ring; and unlike Elliot Spitzer, (or the much creepier 'Carlos Danger') manages to keep his Willy in his trousers. 

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