Archive for December, 2011

Manual for Organizing Transit Riders Features Creative Community Victories

December 22, 2011

Good Jobs First today published a grassroots organizing manual for riders of public transportation seeking to preserve and improve transit service.

“Organizing Transit Riders: A How-To Manual” is a 64-page resource guide that includes six case studies of successful transit-funding campaigns plus interviews with the nation’s two oldest transit advocacy groups, the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign in New York and the Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles.

The manual was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and is freely available at www.goodjobsfirst.org.

“This manual draws upon two community-labor ‘boot camps’ we staged with the Amalgamated Transit Union,” said Greg LeRoy, director of Good Jobs First and primary author of the manual. “In recruiting to the boot camps, we found a motley rainbow of community groups organizing transit riders. Most had never met before and they shared terrific stories.”

“We applaud Good Jobs First for issuing this manual,” said Lawrence Hanley, International President of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the nation’s largest union of transit workers. “Transit riders deserve a greater voice and rider organizing is critical to stemming the national tide of service cuts and fare hikes that are actually tax hikes on the working poor.”

The manual’s case studies feature exciting campaigns in the Twin Cities and Denver metro areas, Spokane and King County in Washington state, St. Louis County, and Toronto, Canada. The case studies are written by the community organizers who orchestrated the campaigns. The manual also includes an annotated set of links to other campaign resources, a series of constituency-recruitment checklists, a summary of common elements of successful campaigns, and a directory of every known grassroots group organizing transit riders in the U.S.

Good Jobs First is a non-profit, non-partisan resource center promoting accountability in economic development and smart growth for working families. It has published studies for 11 years looking at economic development subsidies and the geographic sprawl of jobs, job access via transit, organized labor’s role in smart growth, and transit-oriented development.

Leaving a Lasting Legacy, Devaney Can Depart Recovery Board with Head Held High

December 14, 2011

By Andrew Seifter, Good Jobs First

Earl Devaney, who as Chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board oversaw implementation of the Recovery Act’s revolutionary accountability measures, is retiring.

A longtime civil servant with a breadth of experience in law enforcement, Devaney proved during his tenure on the Recovery Board that enhanced transparency not only keeps the public informed of the costs and benefits of government spending projects; it also prevents waste and fraud.

While law enforcement officials still aggressively use the full weight of the law to go after instances of fraud, the bright light that the Recovery Act has shined on the flow of funds has made scammers think twice before trying to cheat Uncle Sam.  As Devaney recently told the Washington Post, “I think this [Recovery Act] money was so transparent that guys that really commit big frauds … didn’t come near this money.”  Recovery.gov director Michael Wood has similarly credited transparency for the Recovery Act’s “very low non-compliance rate” and “extremely low” fraud rate.

Devaney’s work is also a testament to the bipartisan nature of support for spending transparency and accountability.  Even on an issue as politically polarizing as the Recovery Act, Devaney’s efforts to police stimulus funds are respected on both sides of the aisle.  How many other officials in Washington, upon announcing their retirement, could draw effusive praise from both Vice President Biden and Republican Congressman Darrell Issa?

In addition to leaving the Recovery Board, Devaney is also resigning as Chairman of the Government Accountability and Transparency Board (GATB), the institution President Obama created this year and tasked with expanding the Recovery Act’s transparency measures to all federal spending.  In his resignation letter, Devaney hinted that the GATB is “on the verge of proposing concrete methods to increase accountability and transparency of all Federal funds.”

On November 21, Devaney devoted his final Recovery.gov “Chairman’s Corner” column to making the case for a “uniform government-wide award identification number” for federal spending. This administrative restructuring, he argued, is essential for full spending transparency and will save the government both time and money.  We’ll see if this recommendation is part of the forthcoming GATB proposal that he referenced.

No doubt a very busy man, there is one other position that Devaney is stepping down from before riding off into the sunset: Inspector General of the Interior Department.  Among his many accomplishments while serving in that post, which he’s held since 1999, Devaney oversaw investigations that led to the well-publicized conviction of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Report: States Spend Billions on Economic Development Subsidies that Don’t Require Job Creation or Decent Wages

December 14, 2011

States are spending billions per year on corporate tax credits, grants and other economic development subsidies that often require little if any job creation and lack wage and benefit standards covering workers at subsidized companies. These are the key findings of Money for Something: Job Creation and Job Quality Standards in State Economic Development Subsidy Programs, a study published today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit research center based in Washington, DC. It is available at www.goodjobsfirst.org.

“With unemployment still so high, taxpayers have a right to expect that economic development investments create significant numbers of quality jobs,” said Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy. “If subsidies do not result in real public benefits, they are no better than corporate giveaways,” added Good Jobs First Research Director Philip Mattera, principal author of the report.

Money for Something rates the performance standards and job quality requirements of 238 key subsidy programs from the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each is rated on a scale of 0-100.  Findings:

  • Only 135 programs have a performance standard relating to job creation, job retention or training of a certain number of workers.
  • Fewer than half (98) of the 238 programs impose a wage requirement, and only 53 of those are tied to labor market rates. Only 11 of the wage requirements raise pay levels by mandating rates somewhat above existing market averages. Wage requirements vary from just above the federal minimum to more than $40/hour in limited cases.
  • Only 51 programs require that a subsidized employer make available healthcare coverage, and only 31 require an employer contribution to premiums.
  • The states with the best average scores among their programs: Nevada (82), North Carolina (79) and Vermont (77). The worst: the District of Columbia (4), Alaska (5) and Wyoming (10).

Policy recommendations:

  • Every subsidy should contain job creation, job retention or training requirements strengthened by provisions barring employers from shifting existing jobs from other facilities and mandating that jobs be kept in place for a minimum period.
  • Every job in a subsidized facility should be covered by a wage standard that raises pay above market levels. They should also offer health coverage in which the employer contributes to premium costs.

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