Friday, October 26, 2007

Great Release on San Diego Fires

From our friends at Center for Policy Iniatives, just a great piece about the public failings that may be exacerbating the fires in San Diego


Center for Policy Initiatives
For Immediate Release October 26, 2007
Contact: Susan Duerksen (619) 804-1950
Donald Cohen (619) 708-3367
Murtaza Baxamusa (619) 358-3805

Chronically Underfunded Safety Services Heighten San Diego's Fire Risk

Emergency Responders Perform Heroically Despite Official Neglect

San Diego— As wildfires devastated San Diego neighborhoods this week, chronic and systematic underfunding of public safety services left the region needlessly vulnerable to the destruction. That is the conclusion of the Center on Policy Initiatives (CPI), a non-profit research organization based in San Diego.

“Although this is a region with extreme natural fire hazards, anti-tax politics have led to an undersupply of fire stations, equipment and personnel to adequately fight fires,” said CPI president Donald Cohen. “Our 2005 study, The Bottom Line, documented that San Diego's per capita spending on fire protection is the third lowest among large California cities, and the number of firefighters per 1,000 residents is the lowest.”

The full text of the report is available online here.

Then-San Diego Fire Chief Jeff Bowman resigned last year because the city refused to fund additional firefighters and equipment he said were needed after the disastrous Cedar fire of 2003. For the city's size, Bowman said, San Diego is short 22 fire stations and hundreds of firefighters.

The city has failed to implement many of the recommendations for increased funding in reports following the 2003 fire by both the city's own staff and a state Blue Ribbon Fire Commission. The city budget in 2005 identified a long-term need for $478 million in new funding for public safety services -- a need that remains unfilled. Only one station and seven firefighters were added to the city budget this year.
Just this spring, Mayor of Jerry Sanders refused to give firefighters any pay raise while giving all other city employees cost of living increases.

"San Diego firefighters were beginning to look for jobs elsewhere because of low morale and inadequate resources," Cohen said. “They have performed heroically despite repeated failures by the City to invest in public safety. Together with other emergency responders, they have done an outstanding job in responding with new systems, efficient coordination between agencies, orderly evacuations and round-the-clock shifts.”

San Diego County does not have a countywide fire department, but depends on a patchwork of 17 municipal fire departments, 28 special fire districts and many volunteer agencies. A 2003 report from the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission detailed the funding difficulties faced by these agencies because of Proposition 13 restrictions and voter reluctance to approve tax measures.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sunday nugget

Good story in today's times about potential economic slowdown in New York, yields this nugget:
"All told, financial-services firms based in New York have announced job cuts of 42,404 this year, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a job-placement consulting firm in Chicago."

Friday, October 05, 2007

Creeping Unemployment Rate Points to Still Unsure Job Market as Manufacturing, Construction and Credit Sectors Still Lagging

Today’s Labor Department figures show payrolls turning around from August, as the economy added 110,000 jobs in September.

There are still plenty of reasons to worry about trends in the labor market, and hardship they are causing for workers in key parts of the economy. Even with the up tick last month, job growth has slowed. The economy added an average of 97,000 jobs a month in the 3rd quarter of 2007 as compared to 202,000 jobs a month last year at this time.

The slowdown is in large part due to a contraction in construction and manufacturing, which continued to shed jobs in September and have each dropped more than 100,000 jobs since January. The housing crunch has also sliced payrolls by 30,000 in the lending and mortgage sector since July. With new housing construction stalled, employment in these sectors is unlikely to recover soon.

The slowdown in growth is now showing up in the unemployment rate, which has creeped back up to 4.7%., the highest rate since August of last year. If job growth does not pick up steam, the unemployment rate will continue to increase and cut off demand needed to keep the US out of a recession.

The increase in unemployment so far has occurred among workers with a high school degree or less, as college educated worker’s employment has held steady overall. For example, the unemployment rate for workers without a high school degree now stands at 7.4% up from 6.5% a year.

This steep increase is particularly troubling given recent data from the GAO, which found that such low-earning workers were only a third as likely to receive unemployment benefits as high wage workers. Congress is currently considering legislation (S. 1871) to spur major improvements to unemployment program that would close these gaps.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Fighting Out of a Tough Spot

Last week, the UAW struck General Motors. The first thing I did when I got home was to checkout my hometown papers from Detroit. Naively, I thought I’d find some sympathy. Rather, all I witnessed were some familiar old saws about how the union was harking back to the 1970s (the last national GM strike) and how GM was just trying to do those things it needed to do to compete in today’s marketplace. In the articles and comments, there was a lot of schadenfreude (why should auto workers have it so good, when so many other blue collar workers have been forced to accept such bad conditions) and a general sense of worker powerlessness that casts strikes as things of the past.

The strike is over and the details are coming out. The UAW appears to have done pretty damn good by going on strike, thank you very much.

There’s relentless pressure for the US automakers to slash labor costs and offshore assembly to Mexico and Brazil for the US market. Wall Street, with allies in the intelligentsia and media, had browbeaten the union and demanded that they accept massive cuts in their pay and security. In the face of that, the UAW negotiated cash bonuses for its core workers over the life of the contract and agreements to hire temporary workers as union members (insourcing not outsourcing), and only accepted reduced wages for new workers in some non-core positions. There are some small plant closings in the deal, but the contract also includes several new important investments like a new engine plant in Flint (many engine plants have been closed in the US) and a commitment to build a new electric car in the United States.

The UAW has agreed to establish a Voluntary Employee Benefit Agreement (VEBA) trust fund. This would allow GM to offload all its retiree health costs from its books with a one-time cash payment to an organization run by the union and trustees. The VEBA is a risk to the union, but the bottom line is that UAW retirees have a mechanism to keep their health care when they retire.

So, the naysayers should apologize to the UAW for dismissing them so easily. GM seemed to be playing cat and mouse, asking for the VEBA and trying to string the UAW along on other issues. Maybe they thought the UAW wouldn't go on strike. There was risk in doing so - GM could have jammed the UAW and fought them on job security and wages to the bitter end. Instead, the UAW used the strike to wake GM up and get a workable deal done. With it workers could go back to work on reasonable terms, and put the pressure on management to design marketable cars and rebuild ceded market share.

The focus was on the core fight – keeping decently paid middle class jobs in the United States, while making compromises that need to be done when negotiating with a struggling company. Given the role of the auto sector in defining the middle class, it was a bigger fight than just the UAW. Lets give credit to a modern labor union that balanced confrontation and pragmatic compromise.
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