Senate’s top Democrat launches bid for Salt Lake County mayor

The Salt Lake Tribune

There was nothing happenstance about Ross Romero’s Thursday-night campaign announcement at the Mediterranean Market & Deli near 3900 South State.

The highest-ranking Democrat in the Utah Senate wanted to launch his 2012 bid for Salt Lake County mayor not on the east side or west side or downtown, but “right in the middle” of the valley.

Message, and metaphor, received.

“I really want to be a candidate for the whole county,” Romero said after the patio party chants of “Ross, Ross, Ross” subsided.

Supporters say that symbolism pulls double duty — it defines Romero’s politics.

“He doesn’t get tipped over one way or the other — he’s balanced,” said Cottonwood Heights’ Kent Cameron, praising Romero’s integrity. “When people see him and get to meet him and get to know him, they’re going to like what they see.”

As Utah’s first Latino Senate Minority Leader, Romero pledged to be a bridge builder if elected next fall to succeed Mayor Peter Corroon, who is not running for a third term.

“He’s the perfect candidate,” beamed Josie Valdez, a Hispanic Caucus officer. “He will help improve the image of Latinos so we’re not seen as uneducated, in the shadows, unprepared. This is our opportunity to shine.”

Romero, who was raised in West Valley City before going to the University of Utah and completing a law degree at the University of Michigan, is a vice president at Zions Bank. He vowed to be a booster for schools, small businesses and the working families who rely on the county’s services. “We need to continue that legacy.”

At the same time, Romero conceded he is “new to this” and sensitive not to step on Corroon’s toes during his last year in office. As such, he dubbed his mayoral foray a “listening conversation.”

As the stereo rotated Simon and Garfunkel anthems with Elliott Smith introspection, a who’s who of Democratic and Latino activists were on hand to lend their lips.

“He’s been a progressive and pragmatic leader,” said former Democratic Rep. Jackie Biskupski. “He’ll bring his legislative contacts and legislative experience to the county.”

Murray’s Mark Swonson concurred, saying Romero would back school funding and diversity. “He’s proven himself in the Senate,” Swonson said. “He’s open to suggestions and would have an open-door policy.”

But outside of state politico circles, have enough voters heard of him? Democratic Party Executive Director Matt Lyon insists they will. He notes Ralph Becker’s name recognition was 2 percent when he announced for Salt Lake City mayor. Romero, Lyon stressed, occupies a room well, is personable, and supports both economic development and protecting the canyons “which is important to county voters.”

Romero is the first person to announce a mayoral run. Possible challengers include West Valley City Mayor Mike Winder (R), County Councilman Richard Snelgrove (R), former U.S. Senate hopeful Sam Granato (D), Utah Sen. Ben McAdams (D), County Recorder Gary Ott (R), and former County Councilman Mark Crockett (R).

No raises or furloughs seen for Salt Lake County employees

The Salt Lake Tribune

In this tight economy, Salt Lake County employees better not expect too much pain relief from the 2012 compensation package in Mayor Peter Corroon’s proposed budget.

There are no plans to restore pay and 401(k) contributions that were previously reduced. Merit and longevity increases would be out, as would be cost-of-living adjustments. Health insurance premiums would likely go up 7.5 percent after April 1.

On the other hand, mandatory furloughs are not in the works. Dental insurance premiums would hold steady. And, in a show of appreciation to employees for all of their sacrifices since the Great Recession shrank county revenues, many would get the equivalent of two personal days off with pay.

“We want to recognize those people who have worked hard for the last couple of years, doing more work with less pay,” Corroon said Wednesday in a meeting with other elected county officials — such as the district attorney, assessor, treasurer and clerk.

These concepts are preliminary, Corroon emphasized, and could be modified before he formally presents the 2012 spending plan to the County Council in mid-November. For instance, one still-undecided issue is whether to offer early retirement, an option that may work better for some departments than others.

Jan Johnson, of the Utah Alliance of Government Employees, one of a handful of unions representing county employees, said the preliminary proposals were consistent with what she heard in a briefing last week with the mayor.

She was mainly relieved that Corroon, a Democrat, wants to avoid furloughs and hopes that he sticks by that position if the Republican-led council opts to go that route instead of raising taxes.

“With this kind of economic pressure on everybody, we didn’t ask for a pay increase,” Johnson said. “We just asked that they don’t harm the employees any more than they already have been hurt by having their pay cut two years ago and not getting anything to keep up with inflation.”

While they judiciously tried to avoid using the “T word” — taxes — several elected officials suggested it might be time for them to individually tell council members that all of the cuts that can be made without sacrificing services or personnel have been made.

District Attorney Sim Gill was the most vocal, noting that a dozen years of not raising property taxes has effectively cut the spending power of each dollar coming into county coffers by 20 percent.

“As difficult as that conversation is, maybe we need to talk to the council,” he said. “We need balanced solutions.”

As Unions Weaken So Does the Middle Class

Center for American Progress Action Fund

New Census Data Shows the Importance of Unions to the Middle Class

New state income data released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau shows the importance of unions to boosting incomes for all middle-class households—union and nonunion alike. The 2010 income data makes it clear that strong unions are a critical factor in creating a middle-class society. Restoring the strength of unions would go a long way toward rebuilding the middle class.

The states with the lowest percentage of workers in unions—North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Texas—all have relatively weak middle classes. In each of these states, the share of income going to the middle class (the middle 60 percent of the population by income) is below the national average, according to Census Bureau figures.

Mapping the Census data that has been released this fall to previous years also shows that over time the strength of the middle class and the strength of the union movement have tracked closely together. In 1968, the share of income going to the nation’s middle class was 53.2 percent, when 28 percent of all workers were members of unions. Since then, union membership steadily declined alongside the share of income going to the middle class. By 2010, the middle class only received 46.5 percent of income as union membership dropped to less than 12 percent of workers.

As unions weakened, the lion’s share of the economy’s gains have gone to the wealthy. The share of pretax income earned by the richest 1 percent of Americans more than doubled between 1974 and 2007, climbing to 23 percent from 9 percent. And for the richest of the rich—the top 0.1 percent—the gains have been even more astronomical. Their share of income quadrupled over this period, rising to 12.3 percent of all income from 2.7 percent.

Without strong unions, the middle class has lost out to the wealthy.

To be sure, unions can sometimes act in an overly self-interested manner. But the core of what they do helps all workers and fuels a strong middle class. Unions make the middle class stronger by giving it a bigger say in our economy and our political system.

Unions increase wages for their members as well as raise standards and therefore increase wages for nonmembers. They also ensure that workers are considered in corporate decision-making, and provide job training that help workers advance in their careers. In the political arena, unions get workers involved to boost voting rates, and are champions of economic programs that create a strong middle class. They pushed for and have defended Social Security, Medicare, family leave, the minimum wage, and more recent policies such as health care reform.

In fact, dollar for dollar, strengthening unions is just about as important to the middle class as boosting college graduation rates, according to a study we conducted several months ago on the strength of the middle class in all 50 states and updated for this column based on the new Census figures. In our analysis we control for a variety of other factors that might also affect the strength of the middle class: education levels, unemployment rate, and industry composition. This enables us to assess the influence of unions by holding constant the effects of these other factors.

The table below shows the state-by-state impact of unions on income. If unionization rates increased by 10 percentage points—to roughly the level they were in 1980—the typical middle-class household, unionized or not, would earn $1,479 more a year.

To put that number in context, increasing college attainment rates by 10 percentage points would boost middle-class incomes by $1,638. Similarly, decreasing unemployment rates by 4 percentage points—bringing rates down to pre-Great Recession levels—would increase household income by $772 per household.

Our findings are consistent not just with our previous research, but also with a large body of academic research. Just last month, an article by Harvard’s Bruce Western and the University of Washington’s Jake Rosenfeld found that the decline of unions accounts for one-third of the rise in economic inequality in the United States over the past 30 years.

Even before the Great Recession, the middle class was struggling. Yet we can rebuild the middle class. It won’t be easy, and will require a range of solutions. But one thing is clear—stronger unions make a stronger middle class. And a strong middle class is the foundation for a vibrant American economy.

What is a Labor Union?

A Labor Union is simply you and your co-workers joining together to create one voice for positive change in the workplace.  Working together on common issues give you a stronger, more unified voice than trying it alone.  The concept isn’t new and was used by our countries founders when creating our great nation.

When our forefathers felt something had to be done about the way we were being treated unfairly in the colonies, they began to form a united front or a Union.  This was done by bringing people together, compromising on our differences,  and strengthening our commonalities.  Together they were able to pull away from an oppressive government and create a nation where every person was treated with dignity and respect.  This created a Union of the 13 colonies and gave birth the the Declaration of Independence.

Labor Unions today still rely on people coming together to create a united front at work.  With a Unified voice, union members help protect their dignity and respect on the job. Today, many claim that Labor Unions are old school and have served their purpose.  However everywhere we look we still see strong evidence of Unions working;

  • Utah League of Cities and Towns ULCT represents municipal government interests with a strong, unified voice at the state and federal levels.
  • The Utah Association of REALTORS advocates for REALTORS
  • The Utah Bankers Association is the professional and trade association… represents and advocates the interests of its members…
  • The National Governors Association (NGA) – bipartisan organization of the nation’s governors—promotes visionary state leadership, shares best practices and speaks with a collective voice on national policy. (Yes Govoner Herbert is a member)

Although they call themselves leagues, associations, or various other names, they are still just a group of people building a united front for a unified purpose.  If all these groups and people see the benefits of unifying it just makes sense that you and your co-workers do the same.

* Source:  The description for each Association was retrieved off their respective websites.

The Rich do get richer, the the Poor – Poorer

Wall Street Journal

A new chart from the Economic Policy Institute, using data from NYU Economist Ed Wolff, shows that more than 80% of the nation’s wealth gains between 1983 and 2009 went to the wealthiest top 5%.  The top 1% gained 40% of the nation’s total  wealth gain, while the next 4% gained 41.5%.

The share of wealth held by the bottom 60% dropped 7.5%.

Put another way, the top 1% gained an average of $4.5 million per household, while the next richest 4% gained $1.2 million.

The chart appears below.

This is dismal news, of course, and highlights once again the rise in inequality and the increasingly top-heavy nature of the global economy. It’s also hard to label it as a “Republican” phenomena, since the time frame includes Clinton administrations.

Yet the numbers also beg some perspective.

First, while the gains going to the top rose dramatically, this gain isn’t quite as dramatic when you look at total share of wealth held by each group. According to the Federal Reserve’s Surveys of Consumer Finance, the top 5% controlled 60% of the nation’s wealth as of 2007 (the latest period available), up from 54.2% in 1987. So their total share of wealth only went up by 6 percentage points , or a little over 10% in relative terms.

The share of  the bottom 50% declined from 3% to 2.5%.

It also depends on what time frame is used. Many would be surprised to learn that the share of wealth held by the top 1% has actually declined over the past 10 years, dripping from 34.6% to 33.8%.

Using the time frame of 1983 to 2009 also smooths over a lot of the wealth volatility and change at the top. An analysis of the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis and recession shows that the wealth of the top 20% declined more than any other group: 29% compared to 27% and 23% for the middle and bottom.

They may have well rebounded since then. But the people in the top 1% today may not be the same people who were there in 1983, or even 1995.

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