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New Hampshire Labor News asked me for an update on the private prison issue.  Check them out at http://nhlabornews.com/

With Governor John Lynch leaving office and a significant turnover in the membership of New Hampshire’s Executive Council, the danger that the state would turn over management of its prisons to a private firm has diminished.  However, privatization foes remain vigilant until the proposal is not just really dead but really most sincerely dead.Imprisioned

The possibility of privatization was raised in a Request for Proposals (RFP) issued by the state a year ago.  The RFP explicitly invited private firms to offer plans to build and operate a prison for women, a prison for men, or a “hybrid” facility for both men and women.   Private firms were also invited to submit plans to build such facilities and lease them to the state, or renovate existing facilities for the same purpose.  Four firms responded to the detailed RFP, reportedly with enough paper to fill a room in the State House Annex.  None of the bids proposed to build or renovate a facility just for women, despite the fact that the existing women’s prison in Goffstown is badly over-crowded and inadequately designed.

Corrections Corporation of America, the industry leader, revealed it would consider sites in Lancaster, Northumberland, and Hinsdale.  Management and Training Corporation cast its sights on land on Hackett Hill Road in Manchester.  The Hunt Group (now known as CGL) proposed to build on land already controlled by the state prison in Concord.  The fourth, the GEO Group, did not reveal the location of its proposed facilities.

CCA, GEO, and MTC also contracted with local lobbyists to help them make their cases.

Due to the complexity of the request and the responses, the Departments of Administrative Services and Corrections determined they were not able to evaluate and compare the proposals by themselves.  With a vote from the Executive Council, the State signed a $171,000 contract with MGT of America to help analyze the documents.  MGT’s report was due October 5 and their contract was to expire October 31.  Those dates have come and gone with no report yet.  “It’s unlikely it’s going to be resolved this year,” Gov. Lynch said at the October 17 Executive Council breakfast.

While we wait for the consultants (who happen to have deep ties to the private prison industry) to complete their report, Gov. Lynch has not stopped talking up the possibility that the state would contract with a private firm to finance and build a prison, which it would then lease to the state.   Lynch appears to be convinced that the men’s prison needs to be replaced and that the Legislature would never approve funding through the capital budget process.  From his perspective, contracting out prison ownership is a way to get around the normal budgeting process.  That there has been no public discussion of the need for a new men’s prison does not seem to factor into his position.  Moreover, such a proposal would give a private firm a foot in the door to promise cost savings down the line if they were given full control.

The experience from other states shows clearly that privatization is not a path to cost savings.  Despite anti-union policies and reduced expenses of wages, benefits, and training, private firms in other states have been unable to save money for the states.  What they have accomplished is a pattern of increased violence within the walls leading to a less safe, less secure environment for prisoners and staff alike.  This in turn has led to high levels of staff turnover, feeding less security.  And it means prisoners — most of whom will return to the free world — will be less likely to get the support they need to live productive lives outside the prison walls.

Incoming Governor Maggie Hassan has been explicit that she has no interest in turning over the prison keys to private firms.  Whether she agrees with her predecessor that the men’s prison needs to be replaced is not yet clear.  What is clear is that the state does need to do something about the women’s prison, which is already the subject of a civil rights lawsuit the state is likely to lose.

What is also clear is that approaches to crime and corrections that emphasize alternatives to incarceration, provide counseling and education to those who need it, and that interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline can be more effective and save money for taxpayers.  The most active anti-privatization groups — including the State Employees Association,  the NH League of Women Voters, Citizens for Criminal Justice Reform, the NH Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the NH Civil Liberties Union, and the American Friends Service Committee — are optimistic they can claim victory soon.  They are already turning attention to development of a more humane approach to corrections, one that would preserve good jobs and save the state money.

For more information, visit www.nhprisonwatch.org. 

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manchester 9-22-12 class size matters

Overcrowded Classrooms Threaten Education System

Teacher layoffs that have caused the number of students to swell above 40 in some high school classrooms sparked a “Save Our Schools” rally that brought about 250 people to Manchester’s Veterans Park for a rally this afternoon.

The school system in the New Hampshire’s largest city started the year with 150 fewer faculty members than the year before, a cut of 12%. 

Luke Hayward, a first-year student at Central High School, one of 4 public high schools in the city, said his Spanish and English classes each have about 37 students.  The state’s standard for high schools is no more than 30.  Luke’s friend Andrew said his Algebra 1 class has 42 students. 

In some overcrowded classes students are using clipboards for want of sufficient desks.

“It’s hard to get the teacher’s attention,” Hayward said, noting teachers have trouble controlling classes when there are so many students in the room.

Neither student had ever been to a rally before.

manchester 9-22-12 Tom O Speaking from the Veterans Park stage, Tom O’Connell of Citizens for Manchester Schools, put the blame squarely on the city’s political leadership.  “The fundamental problem is insufficient funding,” he said.  “We spend less per kid than any other town,” he added.

That was an exaggeration, but only very slight. One town, Hudson, spends less. Manchester is 269th out of 270 school districts in per-student spending

The Queen City spends $9826 per student, 23% below the state average of $12,775.

Ron Kew, who served as a teacher and principal in the city before the threat of layoff forced him to look elsewheremanchester 9-22-12 crowd for a job, said “Every year teachers are cut, which means education for children is diminished.”  Kew, now a principal in Brentwood, accused  Manchester officials of “educational malpractice” and led the crowd in chants of “malpractice.” 

Speakers at the Save Our Schools rally, organized by Citizens for Manchester Schools, united in statements that teachers deserve no blame for the fiscal situation which led the Board of Alderman to approve a school budget $8 million below the figure the Superintendent said was needed. 

Jerome Duval, a former city official said “we need to invest in city-provided services.”

“Don’t allow your appeal to our city fathers for smaller class sizmanchester 9-22-12 Sarah robyes be dismissed,” he said.

Sarai Roby was the one student who spoke from the stage.  “Everybody I know complains about their class size,” said the Central High School junior in brief and well delivered remarks.  “Thankfully, there’s enough desks for everybody,” she said, but noted that in one classroom her seat is broken and “stabs me in the back.”

No one at the rally would argue with the notion that a desk for every student is a rather low standard.  

City leaders should “get out from behind the excuses to fix the problem,” O’Connell charged.  “It comes back to political action.”  Almost on cue, Maggie Hassan, the Democratic candidate for Governor, appeared in the park, followed soon after by Carol Shea-Porter, Democratic candidate for Congress.  Neither spoke from the stage, but both manchester 9-22-12 SOS rallyshook lots of hands. 

The crowd included plenty of teachers and students, at least one active principal and the Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Thomas Brennan.  Brennan plans to leave his post at the end of the school year.

Nationwide, 75% of public school teachers are female; I expect Manchester’s statistics are in the same ballpark. Sarai Roby was the only woman who appeared on the stage.  For that matter, she was also the sole student and the only person of color. Citizens for Manchester Schools would benefit from a more inclusive approach if it is going to build a strong enough movement to rock the city’s power structure. 

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9-27-11 007 

“CONGRESS BROKE IT, CONGRESS CAN FIX IT”

Postal workers and allies held 485 rallies across the USA today to call for passage of legislation to save the US Postal Service without the sacrifice of jobs and services. Support for passage of HR 1351, already co-sponsored by nearly half the US House of Representatives, was a theme at the rallies, which were organized by the four unions that represent postal workers (American Postal Workers Union, National Association of Letter Carriers, National Postal Mail Handlers Union, and National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association) joined in a campaign called “Save America’s Postal Service.”

“Despite what you may have heard, the Postal Service isn’t broke. Nor is it losing billions of dollars a year delivering the mail. And a taxpayer bailout isn’t imminent. Reduced services are being presented as a foregone conclusion, but they’re not,” organizers said.

“At the heart of the Postal Service’s current problem is a 2006 congressional mandate that the Postal Service pre-fund future retiree health benefits for the next 75 years and do so within a decade—a burden no other public agency or private firm faces,” according to the organizers. “The Postal Service is actually paying, out of its operating budget, for the future retiree benefits of people who haven’t been born yet. That cost—$21 billion since 2007—accounts for 100 percent of the agency’s red ink over that period. House Bill 1351, which has bipartisan support and nearly 200 co-sponsors, would address the pre-funding issue.”

“Congress created the problem. Congress can fix it,” said Janice Kelble, Legislative9-27-11 009 Director for the NH Postal Workers Union at a lunchtime rally in downtown Concord. Another larger rally took place at Manchester City Hall later in the day.

Speakers included leaders of the 4 postal unions, who said they are not accustomed to working together so closely. Hopefully this day of action will show them the importance of collaboration.

Other speakers included Mark MacKenzie of the NH AFL-CIO, Representatives Pat Long and Steve Shurtleff, Terry Lochhead of the Alliance for Retired Americans, Rev. John Gregory-Davis of the Meriden UCC Church, Rev. Gail Kinney of the S. Danbury UCC Church, and former Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, who is 9-27-11 025 again seeking the US House seat in the First Congressional District.

The current occupant of that seat, Rep. Frank Guinta, has not given his support for HR 1351. The state’s other Congressman, Charlie Bass, has separated himself from most Republicans by adding his name as a co-sponsor.

I was honored to be a speaker at both rallies. Instead of talking much about the Postal Service, about which I know far less than most of the people who attended the rallies, I tried to put the current attempt to downsize the Postal Service in the context of a 9-27-11 035 decades-long assault on the public sector.

The ideology of market fundamentalism, which has taken hold in the USA since Reagan’s administration, is based on a belief that profit-driven enterprises are always better than those tied to government. Enforced throughout the world by the IMF, World Bank, and “free trade” agreements, market fundamentalism calls for privatization, de-regulation of business, fiscal austerity, “free trade,” and weakening of workers’ power, all in the service of international investors and a “good business climate.” In such a belief system, ta public postal service is suspect.

As Naomi 9-27-11 026Klein explained in The Shock Doctrine, market fundamentalists pounce when crisis strikes. And if the crisis doesn’t occur on schedule, they are ready to  create one. That’s what’s going on now with the “deficit crisis,” I said.

The deficit was caused by a privatized health care system, a de-regulated financial sector, tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations they own, and a couple of wars. Instead of attacking the causes of the deficit, the “solutions” now being advanced call for more privatization, more de-regulation, more “free trade” agreements, more tax cuts, and the destruction of unions. Proposals to lay off postal workers and cut mail services have to be seen in this political context9-27-11 001.

In addition to passage of HB 1351, public sector workers should join together with  private sector workers and with everyone who depends on the services they provide, I said. Together we need to build a movement that reclaims legitimacy for services provided through means that are accountable to the people, not to the investor class.

If you ask me what should be done to fix the Postal Service, I say start by asking the workers. They know more than anyone.

9-27-11 041

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no jobs fair 8-10-11 041 The state budget adopted in June eliminated more than 1100 full time state jobs, and that doesn’t even count jobs being shed by local and county governments, hospital layoffs due to cuts in funds for “uncompensated care,” or the positions the will end at service agencies whose state contracts were cut or ended when the new fiscal year began on July 1.  When you add in the elimination of services like testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, the cuts in welfare payments to poor families, and cuts in other programs that poor and disabled people rely upon, the budget is an economic and social disaster.no jobs fair 8-10-11 018

If budgets are in fact “moral documents,” as the Rev. Gail Kinney sugge sted at today’s No Jobs Fair in Concord, then the budget is a moral failure as well.   

“Imagine what would have happened if candidates for office had said they were going to eliminate jobs and services,” Rev. Kinney said.  “Would we have those people in leadership positions now?”  The lunchtime crowd of about 80 people shouted “no.”

no jobs fair 8-10-11 032 Mark MacKenzie, president of the NH AFL-CIO, said it’s time to “draw a line in the sand” against further job and benefit cuts, like the Verizon workers are doing through their recently called strike.   Corporate America is sitting on piles of money with historically low tax rates, he said, and the jobs aren’t any more likely to trickle down now than they were during the Regan years, he said.

“The people of New Hampshire elected their representatives last November with the mandate to strengthen our economy,” MacKenzie said. Instead, he said, they’ve done the bidding of corporate leaders who are willing to sacrifice other people’s middle class jobs to maintain their own privilege.

Speaker of the House William O’Brien came in for the most criticism fno jobs fair 8-10-11 024 rom the speakers, who also included Diana Lacey of the State Employees Association and Doug Linder of the Young Democrats.

“O’Brien resorted to political games, bullying tactics and attacks on the workers of this state,” MacKenzie charged, “leaving behind a shoddy record of job creation that has done nothing to address the real needs of Granite Staters. New Hampshire businesses, workers, and families cannot afford to see the same thing happen again.”

“With ten hospitals laying off hundreds of workers, over thousands of jobs already lost from the state thanks to Speaker O’Brien’s irresponsible budget cuts, and the bleeding of construction jobs from our state at a rate higher than any other state in the Northeast, the focno jobs fair 8-10-11 020 us of the State House should be squarely on giving our residents what they need to recover from the recession. Since Speaker O’Brien isn’t willing to help out our neediest, we’ve had to step up to the plate,” MacKenzie explained.

After the short rally at State House Plaza, dozens of activists troopeno jobs fair 8-10-11 044 d to O’Brien’s office on the State House’s third floor to deliver petitions calling on  state legislators to focus on job creation instead of budget cuts in the upcoming special sessions of the New Hampshire Legislature.

Rev. Kinney reminded those at the rally that Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, and Moses challenged Pharaoh over working conditions.   “Be the voice of truth,” she said.  

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frank and escort 

Vigil to Resume Thursday

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE — Seven religious leaders opposed to cuts in human services and anti-union provisions of the proposed state budget were escorted from the State House by police at 7:30 PM after a five and bill LRa half hour prayer vigil at the office of Speaker of the House William O’Brien.

The religious leaders will return to the State House Thursday morning to continue their vigil, while the House continues its consideration of the budget.

The vigil began shortly after 2 PM, when the group, Voices of Faith for a Humane Budget, arrived at the Speakers office and announced their intention to begin a prayer vigil. As Rev. Bill Exner, of St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Goffstown, prayed and read from the book of Isaiah, a member of the Speaker’s staff and State House Security ordered the group to leave the office.

For the next five and a half hours the group sat in the hallway outside the office, where they shared prayers, songs, periods of silence, and Bill Mary Trooper Chris Laporte discussion of the many issues at stake in the state budget debate. Members of the group decried the impact of the proposed budget on the state’s most vulnerable residents and its public employees.

Following the House vote in favor of House Bill 2, which contained provisions limiting collective bargaining rights and lessening the responsibility of cities and towns to care for their neediest residents, the vigil concluded with a song and a prayer for public sector workers. State Troopers stood nearby, and then proceeded to escort the vigilers from the building.

In a letter delivered to the Speaker’s office Tuesday afternoon, the group said “In recent weeks we have closely followed discussions and debates over the state budget. As people who believe in loving our neighbors, and as people who believe that we are unambiguously responsible to advocate for and serve those who are mark most vulnerable among us, we are deeply troubled by the dramatic cuts in funds for essential services contained in the budget proposal, which will be before the House on Wednesday and Thursday.”

“In addition,” the letter said, “we are in profound distress over proposals to lessen the responsibilities of communities to care for those most in need and to undermine the collective rights of those who serve our communities as teachers, firefighters, public safety officers, and other public servants.”

In addition to Rev. Exner, participants in the prayer vigil included

Rev. Dr. Mary Westfall, Pastor of the Community Church of Durham,

Rev. Dr. Frank Irvine, of Concord, a retired United Church of Christ pastor,

frank barbara bill Gregory Heath, of Canterbury, co-clerk Concord Friends Meeting (Quaker), and a member of the Oxbow Zen Sangha, a Canterbury based Buddhist group,

Mark Barker, of Boscawen, a member of Concord Friends Meeting (Quaker),

Arnie Alpert, of Canterbury, the New Hampshire Program Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee,

L. R. Berger, of Contoocook, Northeast Regional Associate, Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service, and

Barbara French, a member of the Henniker Congregational Church, who had to leave at 4:30 PM.

Rev. Kendra Ford of the Exeter Unitarian Universalist Church joined the vigil for about two hours.

LR 2

prayerfor public sector

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With debate underway over the state budget as well as measures to reduce pension benefits and cripple union activity, union members are rallying today and tomorrow at the State House in Concord.   A major rally is planned for noon tomorrow.

firefighters 3-30 003

Starting this afternoon, I’ll be part of a prayer vigil at the office of the Speaker of the House.  Watch this space for updates.

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LOB stairs 3-24 010 

Budget Protest March 31 Could be Massive

Hundreds of firefighters, police, and other public sector workers, plus advocates for state-funded services that meet essential community needs, clogged the lobby, stairwells, and halls at the Legislative Office Building while the NH House Finance Committee prepared its final budget proposal this afternoon.

GOP leaders, who control the House’s 3:1 majority, have proposed deep cuts in programs that make a dignified life possible for thousands of disabled, elderly, and otherwise needy residents of the Granite State.  Amendments to the budget include provisions to strip cities and towns from their historic responsibility to provide the means of survival to indigent residents who have exhausted all other means of support. 

And, at the last minute, a proposal that would cancel provisions of public sector collective bargaining agreements upon their expiration has been added to the mix. In other words, workers who are covered by union contracts would become employed “at will” if contracts run out, thereby voiding salary, benefits, grievance procedures, and all other contractual provisions. This last ingredient is what aroused the hundreds of workers who crowded the Legislative Office Building today. 

The House Finance budget will be presented to the House at a hearing next Tuesday and will go to the House membership for a vote on Thursday.

“Welcome to Newconsin”

 hank martineau welcome to newconsin  3-24 006

Growing outrage is supporting publicity for the “Rally for New Hampshire,” to be held at the State House Thursday, March 31, at noon, to protest the House budget and call on the Senate to start over from scratch. 

I followed a spirited group of firefighters to the office of the Speaker of the House, where they demanded the hearing be moved to a larger room, such as Representatives Hall.   Hank Martineau, a Captain on the Manchester Fire Department, carried a sign saying “Welcome to Newconsin.” 

Earlier this week, students from the vocational and technical program at Concord High School waved and cheered at rush hour traffic in a hastily called protest against budget cuts affecting vocational education.  

 

concord students 3-21-11 002 concord students 3-21-11 006

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