Saturday, February 27, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Southwest Workers Union had a lot of success meeting with four City Council offices, the Mayors Policy Advisor and three Congressional Offices. Since then Councilwoman Ivy Taylor (District 2, City of San Antonio, Tx) and Councilman Mike Sanchez (Place 1, Hondo, Tx) have signed the letter of support for the Put Americans Back to Work bill addressed to President Obama.
After Obama’s State of the Union address calling for a freeze on Federal spending for the next three years and the introduction of a “new” Jobs Bill in Congress, we re-strategized our campaign. Since funding is limited we are now looking at our local government officials to push locally and on a state level for funding around TANF grants and CDBG grants. We are also asking Congress to extend TANF grants applications deadline from September 2010 to next year, since there is going to be 5 million dollar surplus that has not been applied for or used; that should be use to implement transitional community jobs programs for people that are unemployed, as well as to fund the creation of jobs in the public sectors such as for school workers that are often short staff or that are getting laid off like in Austin, Tx, (local 11).
Southwest Workers Union is still asking our local city council as well as our Congressmen to support the Put Americans Back to Work bill. The Jobs Bill that is in the Senate now, does not include a community jobs program or education and does not concentrate on targeting unemployment.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Move stops short of declaring financial emergency for district.
By Melissa B. Taboada and Laura Heinauer
Published: 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010
The Austin school board met past midnight Monday with a packed agenda that included controversial proposals to redraw school boundaries in Southwest Austin, possibly turn failing schools over to outside management and possibly declare the district in a state of impending fiscal crisis, which would allow Superintendent Meria Carstarphen to cut more than 100 positions.
Trustees voted to move forward with an alternative to declaring a financial exigency. The alternative, first presented last week, would allow the superintendent to cut programs and the positions associated with them.
"One of my concerns is that we really don't know the fallout of financial exigency," Trustee Annette LoVoi said.
The vote was 5-3; Trustee Cheryl Bradley abstained.
In advance of the school board's budget discussions, members of the Southwest Workers Union, which represents many of the district's custodians and bus drivers, staged a protest outside the school board meeting room. They oppose the plan to cut district positions.
More than 30 of those positions are vacant. Principals, using campus allocations, would pay to keep 43 with their campus budgets, and other workers could be reassigned, officials said.
Chavel Lopez, a representative with the union, said the district should not be eliminating the vacant positions for bus drivers, assistants for the buses that carry special-needs students or maintenance workers.
"They should fill those positions rather than eliminate them," Lopez said. "Right now, the issue a lot of the workers are in is they are short-staffed. A lot of the time, they are filling in and working more. \u2026 A lot of the custodians are doing extra duties."
Protesters held up signs asking trustees to "stop the guillotine superintendent."
Administrators Monday presented the board with a 2010-11 preliminary budget, months earlier than usual. The proposed operating budget is $710.6 million . That includes a projected budget deficit of $7.1 million .
The district also wants to find an additional $64 million for new programs included in the strategic plan, a recently adopted document that guides the district's direction and priorities.
The $64 million includes $1.5 million for an alternative school for those struggling to graduate, at least $4.5 million for turning around chronically low performing schools and $35 million to bring facilities up to industry maintenance standards. The district's proposed budget includes no money for raises.
Louis Malfaro, president of Education Austin, which represents about 4,000 Austin educators, did not make the meeting but said he would call for a November tax election to help pay for a teacher pay raise.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Karen Barnes, the district's bus driver coordinator, said, "Now is not the time to (cut back on) employees. Place the employees where they're needed."
Former school board member Diana Casta?eda told current trustees that the district had bigger shortfalls in the 1990s and was never asked to declare a financial exigency.
That action would give Carstarphen "carte blanche" and give her too much power, Casta?eda said. "I don't believe this is in the best interest of the district."
Marcy McNeil, with the Austin Association of Texas Professional Educators, said: "Your task is to craft a budget, and that's daunting. \u2026 But keep in mind there are no nonteaching jobs in public education. Staff first, then stuff."
Lopez, the union representative, said during the meeting, "If you want to cut jobs, you should cut high-paying administrative jobs."
Trustees on Monday approved a recommendation to redraw elementary school boundaries in Southwest Austin that vocal critics have said doesn't address schools that are either over or under capacity in the area.
A new campus, at Meridian Park Boulevard and Espina Drive, south of Texas 45 Southwest in the Meridian neighborhood, is opening in the fall and is being built to accommodate growth in the elementary schools in far Southwest Austin. Its impact, however, is being felt much farther to the north and east, where boundaries will be redrawn for Boone , Clayton, Cowan, Kiker, Mills , Oak Hill , Patton and Sunset Valley elementary schools.
The portion of the meeting set aside for public comment was thick with people interested in the boundary debate. Some said the plan does not address underenrollment at Boone and Sunset Valley, and some parents said they fear being less than full makes those schools targets for cuts or closure. Some in the audience held up signs urging trustees to reject the boundary changes.
Nabil Yazdani, a Boone parent who doesn't support the recommended plan, brought tennis balls to help make his point.
"The ball is now in your court," he said. "I urge you to replace caution with courage and send it back to the (boundary drawing) task force."
Trustees approved the boundary changes in a 7-2 vote, with trustees Sam Guzman and Vince Torres voting no. "We need to be careful that Loop 1 or MoPac doesn't become a barrier to divide lives and children. \u2026 I think we owe it to the residents of that area to be very cognizant of that," Guzman said.
The decision on the elementary school boundaries comes after a months-long battle among neighborhoods.
Trustees approved the Turnaround Initiative, the district's new effort to get outside help with its low-performing schools. The strategy includes possibly shutting down schools before being ordered to do so by the state.
Trustees also approved a cooperation agreement with the City of Sunset Valley to allow visitors and vendors to the farmers market there to park at Burger Center. The agreement also allows parking for other permitted activities, district staff said.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
On the climate justice front, February has been a month of organizing around and against a proposal by City Public Services to raise utilities rates throughout the city, part of a 10 year plan to raise the price of electricity and gas by a total of 40%. Fighting these rate increases is part of our climate justice work, because we feel that the city would not need to raise rates if it did not prioritize new development and dirty energy over making our homes and neighborhoods cleaner and more energy efficient. Continued reliance on coal (even as the promise of carbon scrubbers is deferred year after year) and nuclear (despite clear evidence of cost overruns, expensive litigation, and corporate cochinidad) as power sources for new development has come at the expense of millions of dollars that could have been put instead toward low-income weatherization and green jobs.
In fighting these developments, SWU along with several other grassroots groups in San Antonio organized two press conferences, one on February 10th and another on February 18th. Speakers at these press conferences included Diana Lopez and Marisol Cortez from SWU, Petra Mata from Fuerza Unida, Amanda Hass and Genevieve Rodriguez from Esperanza Peace and Justice Center, and Jody Hargrove-Connor from Energia Mia. In preparation for its testimony at the council vote, SWU also put to good use the social media training provided by Diana Lopez. Armed with a flip camera, members of SWU, Energia Mia, and Esperanza visited a payment center on the Eastside and filmed ratepayer impressions of the rate hikes as they exited from paying their utility bills. Marisol Cortez edited clips together into a longer film which she, Diana Lopez, and Viola Casares from Fuerza Unida then screened at the city council meeting (short version of video can be found on SWU's Facebook page, while the longer version is available here).While the unanimous vote yes by City Council is a big disappointment to everyone who organized against the rate hikes, the testimonios we recorded indicate that there is a lot of anger and frustration in the community about CPS and Council priorities, and much opportunity for organizing in the months to come as we begin our climate justice base building efforts through the People's Power campaign.
As usual the constant part of gardening is creating new methods of community involvement and leadership. We had our Spring kick off in mid January with 55 students from St. Marys and Central Catholic Church. Coordinating them were 3 community members. Because of the intense winter freezes many of our plants were damaged. The workday consisted of maintaining the native garden, cultivating vegetable beds, weeding, composting, transplanting seedlings, creating crop rows, sowing seeds, beautification, tackling bamboo, herb sowing, and leveling land. A SWU staff member donated the veggie seedlings. Veggie plants transplanted and sowed were Colorful Kale, strawberries, onions (2 varieties), garlic, thyme, squash (3 varieties), cucumber, broccoli, brussel sprouts, spinach, corn and lots of frijoles.
The Roots of Change Garden became a part of the groups SA community gardens and SA permaculture in practice and was also featured on Nowcast, a community online newspaper. Community workdays will be bi monthly, dates are not established yet.
Ideas for trainings/events/ workshops include:
• Cooking with Love- Logan Love a community volunteer cooking class using healthy foods and ingredients from our garden
• Spring Planting- inexpensive ways to sow seeds and care for your plants
• Alternative Spring Break- one day of working in the garden- expanding the rows and incorporating flowers in your garden
• Food not Bombs Workshop
Two interns from OLLU are helping out every Thursday and Friday as part of the service learning program.
Roots of Change Network:
The Edison High School garden is ready for spring. Our working days are every Thursday 12-4:15pm, 3 class periods are involved. During the winter the class sowed seeds using recycled material that included, toilet paper roles, egg cartons, plastic bags, bottles and newspaper. Those seeds are ready to go in the ground for next weeks lesson.
The teacher for the class is the Youth Leadership Organization sponsor. By teaching students the ideas of Environmental Justice and learning first hand how to grow your own garden and being on top of what is happening locally is magnificent. Hopefully those ideas stay with them for their whole lives and generations to come.
Plans for the end of February and March include: planning out the green house, recognizing RCN members with a yard sign, eastside garden outreach, this includes flyers and visiting surrounding centers, Alternative Spring break.
Staff members did a down a dirty training on uploading and updating our social media sites and using our cameras. A great example was using the flip cameras to include more community testimony at city council meetings.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Taxpayers are footing the bill for what all the banks say is a bad deal. Nuclear power is deal, expensive and puts us in the wrong direction. This money instead should go to weatherization, wind and solar.
Please send a letter to your senator and congressperson with the links below
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Rate Hike: Chamber leaders say, ‘Thank you, sir. May I have another?’
Public doesn't assume the position as gracefully
via SA Current
If anything was learned during the hours of citizens’ comments at this morning’s vote to raise electric and gas rates for CPS Energy customers, it’s that the local chambers of commerce are still doggedly devoted to their hometown utility.
Despite their unanimous support of CPS Energy’s plans to dive deeply into the nuke-expansion plans at the South Texas Project nuclear facility with partner NRG Energy — a loyalty that was paid back by the utility with months of deception as to the ultimate price of that project — they returned this morning with love and devotion for CPS.
Peppering a stream of voices raised against the hike, the chambers (Greater San, North San, South San, Hispanic, and Black) stood out like beads of oil riding the waves of protest.
The contrast was so stark that even Councilmember Justin Rodriquez, who, like most of his colleagues, cast the hike as an unwelcome but necessary “root canal,” teased the handful of suits testifying: “No one wants a root canal, except for our friends at the chambers of commerce.”
It was a well-timed moment of humor to diffuse a tense morning wherein dozens of residents lobbied against the new rates — some in the flesh, others via a video presentation made by members of the Southwest Workers Union.
But the concerns of those speaking against the 7.5- percent and 8.5-percent increase in electric and gas rates ranged from those on the edge of poverty to the moral implications of nuclear waste (despite settling with NRG, CPS remains a 7-percent partner in the proposed two-reactor expansion) to a widespread distrust of CPS to use the money how is says it will.
Despite promises of raising investment in green initiatives to $136 million over four years at the 2008 rate hike, the utility only used $3 million before shuttering several incentive programs for green-energy rebates.
Interim General Manager Jelynne LeBlanc-Burley blamed that on the Council’s reduction of the rate increase from the desired 5-percent to 3.5-percent. However, in a summary lecture that closed the debate, Mayor Julián Castro pointed out the program reductions still represented a business decision within CPS. He lamented, “Sustainability has only recently been seriously considered” by CPS.
While assistance to the Residential Energy Assistance Program is being doubled to $2 million per year to help those most at risk from having their power cut off, several wondered if that was enough. Others advocated implementation of a tiered rate structure that would grant lower energy users lower rates and encourage overall energy conservation.
Most public speakers seemed to agree CPS needed a truly independent audit and better oversight to make sure new monies weren’t misspent.
Councilman Reed Williams countered that current oversight is sufficient when he waved a CPS line-item budget and said, “This, folks, is the bible. This is where it is going.”
It was just this line-by-line information Karen Hadden, director of the SEED Coalition, had been seeking (and been denied) from CPS staffers — leading to another barb from Castro for Burley.
“I do believe we need to have a detailed budget on the Internet and we need to make it readily available,” Castro said to loud applause. “The document that Councilman Williams has, that should be made available. … We have to distill out what really is competitive. First of all, who are we competing against if we’re a monopoly?”
CPS regularly uses the excuse that certain information is “competitive” to deny public-record requests from the Current. It's an argument that has resonated with the Texas Attorney General’s office despite complaints from the paper.
“That culture just can’t stand,” Castro said. “There are still changes that need to be made.”
But the unanimous Council approval suggests those changes won’t come at the expense of delaying the completion of the Spruce Two coal plant or the start of a new phase of sub-station construction, two projects the new revenue stream is to be used for.
Given yesterday’s settlement with NRG Energy, which stops all future payment from San Antonio for the development of proposed Units 3 & 4 at STP, not all local activists were sure what they felt about the rate hike. However, Alice Canestaro-Garcia of Energía Mía has decided to keep the anti-nuclear campaign in Castro’s face until the city fully divests itself from the project.
Until the city gets serious about decentralized energy, some San Antonians will keep turning off their power in protest.
Posted by gharman on 2/18/2010 6:42:30 PM
Saturday, February 13, 2010
U.S. Government Violence TARGETS Hunger Strike at the Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC): Punishment for All
U.S. Government officials are abusing immigration detainees as well as community members in South Texas. There are numerous federal civil and federal criminal violations that are occurring. These violations affect the free speech, due process, of immigration detainees and the immigration rights community.
There is a proactive hunger strike by immigration detainees, and a family member of one of the detainees, that has been ongoing for some time. This is the third such hunger strike in less than a year. It is up to the immigrant rights community to enlighten the rest of America and the world to shame the U.S. Government into changing policy.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) swarmed housing units at PIDC and assaulted numerous detainees who were hunger striking and/or proactive in speaking against inhumane treatment. Many were moved to other facilities in order to hide the abuses. Divide and conquer tactics were used against detainees. This occurred on Feb. 10, 2010, which was one day after Anayanse Garza of the Southwest Workers’ Union (SWU) and other concerned community members attended an open meeting, including Zoila Molina (mother of Hunger Striker Ronald Molina and who herself was fasting for days), held by Phyllis Coven, Acting Director of the Office of Detention Policy and Planning. The meeting was designated for non-governmental and community-based organizations. However, SWU members and other concerned inhabitants of South Texas were not invited although they had previously requested to speak to Phyllis Coven via a written request to Regional Field Director Michael J. Pitts. Community members searched for the meeting and found it, last minute, at a local hotel. A local news program brought a video camera. Phyllis Coven did not feel comfortable being on camera. Community members insisted on a transparent meeting. If the meeting was supposed to be open and announced on the internet, there should have been total transparency in what was being discussed.
Hunger striker Vishnawath Ramlakhan A#042-670-378 called Southwest Workers’ Union. Anayanse placed Mr. Ramlakhan on speaker phone and he told the listeners, including ICE Field Office Director, Michael Pitts, that he was a hostage of the U.S. Government. Phyllis Coven and her colleagues at the meeting decided not to listen to his pleas, turned their backs on the community and left the room.
Human Rights are first and foremost. Stop the abuse against immigration detainees, as well as abuse of community members in South Texas who defend their civil liberties and human rights. According to detainees there are numerous federal civil and federal criminal violations that are occurring. These violations affect the free speech, due process, of immigration detainees and the immigration rights community.
Latest New Coverage
Vishnawath Ramlakhan Speaks Feb. 13, 2010
Vishnawath Ramlakhan Speaks Feb. 13, 2010 about abuse at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los, Fresnos, TX after ICE violence breaks out against detainees Wed. Feb 10, 2010. He is still Hunger Striking along with others at the Port Isabel Detention Center, Los Fresnos, TX.
Part 2 Interview with Vishnawath Ramlakhan
Los Fresnos, TX- Port Isabel Detention Center- Vishnawath Ramlakhan Speaks Feb. 13, 2010 about abuse at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los, Fresnos, TX after ICE violence breaks out against detainees Wed. Feb 10, 2010. He is still Hunger Striking along with others at the Port Isabel Detention Center, Los Fresnos, TX.
Hunger Strikers At Port Isabel Detention Center Speak
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XD87WZBMbZA
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNdvABKiLuc
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyYOFOANVGM
Hunger Strikers at Port Isabel Detention Center Speak Out about the abuse, violence and disrespect for their rights and civil liberties. Plea for help from Congressman Ortiz and President Barack Obama.
Phyllis Coven Turns Her Back On Hunger Strikers and Families
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q79IrzjGd1o
Harlingen, TX- During an open meeting with NGO's and CBO's, Phyllis Coven Turns Her Back On Hunger Striker Vishwanath Ramlakhan and Families who ask her to investigate and end violence and abuse against detainees at Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, TX.
Harlingen, TX- Marriot Hotel
Tues. Feb. 9, 2010, Phyllis Coven attempts to hang up on hungerstriker Vishwanath Ramlakhan reporting abuse. Southwest Workers' Union asks her to reconsider. Coven, Michael J. Pitts, and colleague walk away declaring the meeting over.
Zoila speaks about her fast after visit with Congressman Solomon Ortiz Feb. 08, 2010
Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2N9pPQKiFdM
Zoila Molina fasting with her son, mother of Ronald Molina who is a detainee on Hunger Strike at the Port Isabel Detention Center, talks after the visit with Congressman Solomon Ortiz.
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnZQ3-UDwVA
Zoila Molina, mother of Ronald Molina a detainee at the Port Isabel Detention Center talks after the visit with Congressman Solomon Ortiz.
Southwest Workers' Union and Zoila Molina in front of PIDC
Southwest Workers' Union and Zoila Molina on the Fast for Our Families in front of the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, TX.
Hunger Strike at the Port Isabel Detention Center at Los Fresnos, TX
Southwest Workers' Union and the South Texas Immigrant Council with family of a detainee in front of the Port Isabel Detention Center explaining the need for respecting Hunger Strikers rights and the rights of immigrants.
Anayanse Garza - 956.207.2571- Rio Grade Valley
Thursday, February 11, 2010
In the wake of the new year as the STP nuclear project is still unresolved and lost in the courts, CPS has introduced yet another rate hike to city council. This time for 7.5% increase for San Antonio's electric bills. In the past two years the city council has passed two increases in the name of sustainability. The proposed 7.5% increase is the beginning of a series of increases intended to raise electricity and gas costs up to 40% over the next decade. Utility costs already function as a regressive tax, with low income households paying proportionally more of their income toward utilities. This increase would thus affect our communities first and worst.
CPS would have us believe that rate hikes are necessary for clean energy, but the reality is that this money is not earmarked for weatherization, conservation and efficiency measures or renewables, projects that would transition our city away from dirty energy at the same time that they would lower energy bills and mitigate health impacts from pollution. Instead the rate hikes intend to maintain existing dirty energy infrastructure like coal and gas and fund transmission lines to new development. Before we as poor and working folks spend more of our money on new homes and industry, we demand that our neighborhoods and homes be safer, cleaner, and healthier.
Yesterday February 10 was the last of the public meeting explaining the rate hike. As a community we want to see real public participation and transparency in the decision making process over energy policy. Announcing a public hearing on an issue that will have a deep and lasting impact on ratepayers on the day of the hearing is insulting. We insist on a truly transparent and democratic process that allows us as community members and ratepayers to have real and timely involvement in decisions that will have a huge impact on our economic welfare and health.
What you can do?
Call or write your city council representative and tell them to vote NO
Sign up to speak at the meeting on Feb. 18
Invite your familiy, friends, neighbors, organizations etc... to attend the vote on Feb. 18