Republican Border Bill Passes, Court Deals Blow to Unions, Ebola Comes to the U.S. and the U.S. Fails Internationally

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Late Friday, House Republicans passed a bill to address the U.S. Mexico border crisis by sending migrant youths back home without hearings meaning that more than half a million immigrants could be deported even though the Obama administration granted temporary work permits, according to Erica Werner, House OKs bill to address border crisis. President Barack Obama condemned the Republican action saying he would act unilaterally as best he could. The new bill, which tea party lawmakers enthusiastically support, provides $694 million and carries a companion measure to shut off a program created by Obama granting work permits to immigrants brought here illegally as kids. The second bill prevents the more than 700,00 people who’ve already gotten work permits under the program from renewing them making them subject to deportation. The sending bill passed Friday 223-189 with four Republicans voting no and one Democrat voting yes. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. explained, “It’s dealing with the issue that the American people care about more than any other, and that is stopping the invasion of illegal foreign nationals into our country. And we got to yes.” While Obama said no adding, “They’re not even trying to solve the problem. I’m going to have to act alone, because we do not have enough resources.” The move in the House came as the first day of lawmakers’ five week summer recess happened and Senators had already left Washington after killing their own legislation on the crisis. Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said, “It would be irresponsible and unstatesmanlike to head home for the month without passing a bill to address this serious, present crisis on the border.” According to Werner: “In the end Republicans only lost four of the most conservative members on the vote: Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Paul Broun of Georgia, Stephen Fincher of Tennessee and Walter Jones of North Carolina. The only Democrat to support the bill was moderate Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas.”The GOP plans met with protest from immigration advocates and Democrats with Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., saying, “If you tell people that you think they’re criminals, that you think they’re simply bringing diseases, that they’re bringing drugs, then you treat them as invaders, they kind of think you don’t like them. They’re going to believe you don’t like them, and they’re not going to vote for you.” The bill adds $35 million more for the National Guard as well as increase spending for overwhelmed border agencies, add more immigration judges and detention spaces, and alter a 2008 anti-trafficking law to permit Central American kids to be sent back home without deportation hearings.

Meanwhile in Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court upheld the 2011 law that ended collective bargaining for most public workers, sparked massive protests and led to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election and rise to national prominence, Scott Walker reports, Wisconsin Supreme Court Upholds Anti-Collective Bargaining Law. Thursday’s 5-2 ruling is a victory for Walker who is considering a 2016 run for president and re-election this year and marks the end of a three year legal fight over union laws prohibiting public worker unions from collectively bargaining for anything beyond base wage increases based on inflation. A federal appeal court twice upheld the law as constitutional and the high court ruled in a lawsuit, filed by Madison teachers union and a union representing Milwaukee public workers, that the law violated workers’ constitutional rights to free assembly and equal protection. Walker introduced the proposal shortly after taking office in 2011 causing teachers, public workers and their supporters to flood the Capitol for weeks in order to block the passage. In addition, Democratic state senators fled the state for two weeks in a failed attempt to block the bill’s passage. The law bars automatic withdrawal from members’ checks, require annual elections to see if members want their unions to represent them and requires public employees to contribute to their health insurance and pension costs, which help local governments and schools save money to deal with cuts to balance the state’s shortfall, according to Walker. Walker faced a recall in 2012, but became the first governor ever in U.S. history to defeat a recall. The union law has been challenged on several fronts since it was introduced, but withstood them all. The state Supreme Court decided to take the case on Thursday after a Dane County judge sided with the unions and ruled in September 2012 that major portion were unconstitutional.

Internationally, on Thursday and Saturday, hospital officials said a U.S. humanitarian aid worker and two American doctors who contracted Ebola in West Africa will be transferred to the United States and treated in a special high security ward at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Reuters reports, US aid worker infected with Ebola to be moved to Atlanta hospital: official. The aid worker will be moved in the next several days to a special isolation unit set up in collaboration with the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which is one of only four in the United States. An American doctor infected with Ebola arrived in Atlanta on Saturday landing in a specially equipped plane at a military base then took to the isolation unit at Emory, Ray Henry reports, US doctor with Ebola arrives in Atlanta for treatment. it marks the first time a patient with Ebola has entered the country for treatment with a second American aid workers expected to arrive at Emory in days. U.S. based Samaritan’s Purse paid for the transport and confirmed to the Associated Press the patient was Dr. Kent Brantly. The ambulance took him to the hospital among a wide open Interstate with no traffic flanked by SUVs and police cars then the patient was taken into the building at Emory by people in white protective clothing. The hospital is down the hill from the CDC. Dr. Jay Varney, an infectious disease specialist at Emory charged with Brantley’s care, said the hospital’s isolation unit is well equipped to handle patients with the disease. He added, “Ebola is only transmitted through blood and bodily fluids. Unlike the flu, like influenza, which we deal with every winter, Ebola cannot be spread through the air.” Ebola has no cure. Dr. Philip Brachman, an Emory University public health specialist who for many years headed the CDC’s disease detectives program, said Friday: “That’s all we can do for such a patient. We can make them feel comfortable” and let the body try to beat back the virus.”

While treatment for the infected begins, the U.S. has issued a travel warning for Americans going to the three West African countries hit by the Ebola outbreak and the World Health Organization deals with the spread in West Africa. On Thursday, U.S. health officials warned Americans not to travel to the area, Mike Stobbe reports, US warns against traveling to Ebola-hit countries. The advisory applies to nonessential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the deadly disease has killed more than 700 people this year. Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who announced the warning, said “The bottom line is Ebola is worsening in West Africa” adding that Ebola is “a tragic, dreadful and merciless virus.” The purpose of the warning is to limit U.S. travelers use of overburdened hospitals and clinics for injuries or other illnesses. Stobbe reports that the outbreak has a 60 percent fatality rate so far with no vaccines or specific treatment available. The CDC has 20 staffers at U.S. airports and border crossing to evaluate any traveler showing signs of dangerous infectious diseases, and isolate them when necessary. The agency is prepared to increase that staffing if needed, he said. Back in West Africa, World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan said Friday that the outbreak is out of control but can be stopped, Tom Miles reports, Ebola Out Of Control But Can Be Stopped: WHO Chief. Chan told the presidents of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast at a meeting in Guinea’s capital Conakry: “This outbreak is moving faster than our efforts to control it. If the situation continues to deteriorate, the consequences can be catastrophic in terms of lost lives but also severe socioeconomic disruption and a high risk of spread to other countries. This meeting must mark a turning point in the outbreak response.” The death toll so far is at 729 including 60 healthcare workers and 1,323 cases overall. Chan added that “Constant mutation and adaptation are the survival mechanisms of viruses and other microbes. We must not give this virus opportunities to deliver more surprises. Moreover, public attitudes can create a security threat to response teams when fear and misunderstanding turn to anger, hostility, or violence.” The reason for the quick spread is due to cultural practices such as traditional burials and deep seated beliefs.

In Washington, while the CDC tackles a potential international debacle, President Barack Obama acknowledged on Friday that the United States conducted torture in the aftermath of 9/11 terror attacks, the AOL article reports, Obama: ‘We Tortured Some Folks’ After 9/11 And We Have To Take Responsibility For It. Obama said, “I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values. We crossed the line and that needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so we don’t do it in the future.” In addition, Obama told reporters at the White House that a Senate investigation into interrogation techniques used by thew CIA would be declassified in August. According to the new CIA Inspector General’s Office report, agency employees in 2009 hacked Senate computers used to compile the investigation leading many lawmakers on the Hill to call for CIA Director John Brennan’s resignations over the matter.

Meanwhile, former President Bill Clinton confessed he could of killed Osama bin Laden, but decided against it due to the number of civilians who also would be killed just hours before the 9/11 attacks, Mollie Reilly reports, Bill Clinton, Hours Before 9/11 Attack, Said He ‘Could Have Killed’ Bin Laden. On Wednesday, Sky News host Paul Murray released a previously unreleased audio recording of Clinton talking to Australian businessmen on September 10, 2001: “Osama bin Laden — he’s a very smart guy, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about him, and I nearly got him once,” Clinton says in the tape, answering a question about terrorism. “I nearly got him. And I could have gotten, I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children. And then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn’t do it.” The 9/11 Commission Report in 2004 identifies several operations targeting bin Laden in the 90s which prompted critics to accuse Clinton of not doing enough. During a 2006 interview with “Fox News Sunday,” Clinton defended his administration’s efforts saying: “I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since. And if I were still president, we’d have more than 20,000 troops [in Afghanistan] trying to kill him.”

The Immigration Issue, Americans Drowning in Debt and the McDonald’s Ruling

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While the immigration battle rages on between Congress and the White House, most Americans believe the wave of children crossing the border into the United States from Central America are refugees escaping the dangers at home and the United States should support those children while reviewing their cases and not deport them immediate, according to Cathy Lynn Grossmann, Most Americans Think U.S. Should Shelter Child Migrants Not Deport Them, Survey Says. A new survey released on Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute surveyed people from all points of view along the political and religious spectrum. The survey found that Democrats (80 percent), Independents (69 percent) and Republicans (57 percent) favor offering support to unaccompanied children while a process to review their cases gets underway, while most major religious groups say the same, including white evangelical Protestants (56 percent), white mainline Protestants (67 percent), minority Protestants (74 percent), Catholics (75 percent) and the religiously unaffiliated (75 percent). The survey sample, according to Grossmann, of 1,026 adults was not large enough to capture the views of smaller groups such as Jews, Muslims or Mormons. Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, said: “It makes a difference that we are talking about children facing violence and harm. The value of keeping families together cuts across all party lines.” As a result, most Americans can make a “pretty clear distinction between the problem of the children arriving from Central America and the problem of illegal immigration in general.” While one in four Americans (27 percent) want the children to be deports due to illegal immigrant status, 69 percent feel they should be treated as refugees and along to remain in the United Stats if authorities determine it is not safe to return them to their homes. In addition, Grossmann reports, in the survey “the children are seen as fleeing violence and serious threats to their safety at home (45 percent), seeking better education and economic opportunities (34 percent) or both (14 percent).” Seven in 10 Americans (70 percent) believe the children should be given shelter and support while there’s “a process to determine whether they should be deported or allowed to stay.” Again while most (56 percent) say the families are “doing what they can to keep their children safe in very difficult circumstances,” 38 percent say those families are “taking advantage of American good will and are really seeking a back door to immigrate to our country” and 26 percent or one in four want the children to be deported now. The situation in general is viewed as a crisis by 36 percent and 43 percent call it “a serious problem but not a crisis.”

Grossmann reports that the PRRI, in addition, asked what should be done about the situation, the breakdown is as follows:
* Most surveyed (71 percent) said the U.S. should offer “refuge and protection” for those who come to the U.S. “when they are facing serious danger in their home country.”
* 71 percent also mostly agree that these Central American children waiting for their cases to be heard “should be released to the care of relatives, host families or churches rather than be detained by immigration authorities.” (Twenty-eight percent disagree.)
* However, only 39 percent would allow these children to stay for good while 59 percent don’t want them here long-term because it “will encourage others to ignore our laws and increase illegal immigration.”
In short, according to Grossmann, attitudes are becoming more polarized between those who see immigrants as an asset and those who see them as a burden. However, views on citizenship or permanent legal residency stay pretty much the same with 58 percent saying they would allow a path to citizenship, 17 percent would allow residency and 22 percent say “identify and deport them.” The overall survey happened via phone interviews with 1,026 adults, conducted in English and Spanish between July 23 and July 27. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Another study release on Tuesday by the Urban Institute found that more than 35 percent of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reports to collection agencies, Josh Boak reports Study: 35 percent in US facing debt collectors. Senior fellow at the Washington think tank, Caroline Ratcliffe said that consumers to fall behind on credit cards, hospital bills, mortgages, auto loans, student debt, past-due gym membership fees or cellphone contracts can end up with a collection agency and potentially hurt credit scores and job prospects. Laying it all out, Ratcliffe explains: “Roughly, every third person you pass on the street is going to have debt in collections. It can tip employers’ hiring decisions, or whether or not you get that apartment.” The study found 35.1 percent of people with credit records have been reported to collections for an average debt of $5,178 based on September 2013 records. Boak comments that even while the country has reduced the size of its credit card debt, the share of Americans in collections has remained constant since the official end of the Great Recession in mid-2009. According to the American Bankers Association, credit card debt is at its lowest level in more than a decade as people increasingly pay off balances each month, while 2.44 percent of accounts are overdue 30 days or more versus the 15 year average of 3.82 percent. However the same percentage is still being reported for unpaid bills as reported by the Urban Institute study performed in conjunction with researchers from the Consumer Credit Research Institute. In all, this has reshaped the economy as the collections industry employs 140,000 workers who recover $50 billion each year as reported in a study published this year by the Federal Reserve’s Philadelphia bank branch. Boak notes the delinquent debt seems to be concentrated in Southern and Western states with Texas cities having a large share of their populations being reported to collections agencies: Dallas (44.3 percent); El Paso (44.4 percent), Houston (43.7 percent), McAllen (51.7 percent) and San Antonio (44.5 percent). In addition, the study says, “Almost half of Las Vegas residents- many of whom bore the brunt of the housing bust that sparked the recession- have debt in collections. Other Southern cities have a disproportionate number of their people facing debt collectors, including Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Columbia, South Carolina; and Jackson, Mississippi.” Only about 20 percent of Americans with credit records have debt at all, but high debt levels aren’t always delinquent with the large portion of the debt coming from mortgages. Unfortunately, stagnate incomes has led to why some parts of the country struggle with repaying debt, according to the Urban Institute’s Ratcliffe. Labor Department figures show that wages have barely kept up with inflation during the five year recovery and Wells Fargo figures show that after tax income fell for the bottom 20 percent of earners during the same period.

While the American continue to struggle to make ends meet, Carol Kopp reports, McDonald’s In The Frying Pan, the ruling by the New York regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) could change the lives of million of low wage Americans and open the way for complaints blaming McDonald’s for low pay and poor working conditions in its restaurants. The ruling says the McDonald’s hamburger chain shares responsibility for workers’ wages and working conditions with the operators of its franchise restaurants allowing for 113 unfair labor practices complaints filed by franchise workers across the nation to include the chain, according to Micah Wissinger, an attorney for Levy Ratner which is the law firm representing New York City fast food workers. The “joint employer” designation could give future legal actions taken by workers more clout when seeking higher wages, better working conditions or protesting firing decisions. Mark Barenberg, a law professor at Columbia Law School says, “The determination from the NLRB’s General Counsel has the potential to upend the fast-food industry’s decades-long strategy of ‘out-sourcing’ legal responsibility to franchisees when it comes to securing workers’ rights. Companies like McDonald’s insert an intermediary between themselves and workers, even though they’re manifestly in control of the franchisees’ employment decisions.” In addition, other hamburger chains like Burger King and other fast food brands like KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut can also be affected by this decision since all of these chains are owned by Yum! brand but operated by franchises. Richard Eiker has worked for McDonald’s in Kansas City for 30 years and says the company constantly monitors its franchises by tracking software, on-site inspections and visits from secret shoppers to monitor the operations. A spokeswoman for McDonald’s USA told the Associated Press the company will appeal the decision. David French, senior vice president with the National Retail Federation, told the New York Times the decision is “outrageous” saying, “It is just further evidence that the N.L.R.B. has lost all credibility as a government agency established to protect workers and is now just a government agency that serves as an adjunct for organized labor, which has fought for this decision for a number of years as a means to more easily unionize entire companies and industries.” The issue came to the forefront by labor organizers backed by the United Service Employees International Union, which has staged nationwide protests in favor of higher wages and more stable work hours for fast-food employees, Kopp explains.

Relief for the VA, Paul Ryan Rants, Saving Chicago, DC Gun Laws and Fast Food Worker’s Rights

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After six weeks of negotiations, House and Senate negotiators have agreed to a compromise to fix a veterans health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays and deaths. Matthew Daly reports, After 6 weeks, finally a deal on VA health care, the chairman of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees will hold a news conference on Monday afternoon to unveil a plan to authorize billions in emergency spending to lease 27 new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care. An agreement Sunday by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House panel, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate veterans panel chair, was reached after many private meetings, no shows and public spats with only days left until Congress goes on a five week recess. A partisan impasse loomed which both sides hoped to avoid what Miller called the “sort of bickering and name-calling for which Washington has become infamous.” Three days later, via telephone from Florida and Vermont, Miller and Sanders were on the same page. The tentative deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators and a full vote in the House and Senate. The plan announced Monday, according to Miller and Sanders, is intended to “make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.” Luis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, said on Sunday: “There is an emergency need to get veterans off the waiting lists. That’s what this is all about.” Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said: “It’s about time they’re doing their jobs. You don’t get a medal for doing your job.” An updated audit by the VA this month shows 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics still wait 30 days for an appointment with 46,000 veterans waiting at least three months for an initial appointment and an additional 7,00 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade that never got them. The Senate and House are set to adjourn at the end of the week until September and lawmakers from both parties see the VA bill as a top priority. Meanwhile, the Senate is also expected to vote this week to confirm former Procter Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary, replacing Gibson.

While one problem may potentially be resolved this week, on Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) condemned the federal government’s approach to poverty reduction claiming the Obama administration is responsible for the system that “perpetuates poverty” in America, according to Ashley Alman’s article Paul Ryan Accuses Obama Administration Of System That ‘Perpetuates Poverty.’ On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Ryan came to discuss his new poverty proposal involving consolidating 11 federal anti-poverty programs including food stamps and housing vouchers into one program coordinated by each state. Host David Gregory commented that Ryan sounded like he had little “sympathy” for impoverished Americans. Ryan responded by saying: “We don’t want to have a poverty management system that simply perpetuates poverty. The federal government’s approach has ended up maintaining poverty, managing poverty, in many ways it has disincentivized people from going to work. Able-bodied people should go to work, and we should have a system that helps them do that so that they can realize their potential.” Ryan announced his poverty proposal Thursday saying it is an opportunity for reform that would be “budget neutral.” However, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) disagrees: “The core idea of the Ryan proposal is not a new idea at all: it’s nothing more than a block grant gussied up with some bells and whistles. If you look at the block grant proposal in the context of the Ryan-Republican budget, it would dramatically slash the resources available to help struggling families.”

As families to continue to struggle to keep their heads above water, cities are not only struggling to keep people working, but keep gun violence to a minimum. Glenn Minnis reports, Can Noah’s Arc save streets of Chicago?, Joakim Noah, an NBA All Star Center, on Friday spoke to a room full of teens and adolescents at a Major Adams Community Center room about gun and gang violence culture so out of control it has brought his hometown of Chicago to its knees. Noah spoke of his motivation to start his “Stand up Chicago” campaign: “It’s very important that we understand that this is not just a problem that’s going on on the South Side, the violence is not a problem that’s going on on the West Side. This is a Chicago problem.” Noah also enlisted the help of teammate and Chi-town native Derrick Rose who appeared on a 60 second PSA for his initiative. Join by rapper and Chicago native Common, he states in the PSA: “I stand for my city.” In a statement on his Noah’s Arc Foundation site, Noah and his mom, Cecilia Rodhe, called on all Chicagoans to “take a stand against violence and become ambassadors for peace and positivity.” Over the first seven months of the year, 207 homicides have taken place in Chicago with the most recent incident on July 4 weekend where the L.A. Times reported at least 16 people killed and 82 injured over three and half days. In response, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has added seven more ATF agents to its former roster of 45 in hopes of somehow of corralling all the madness, according to Minnis. Noah summed up the goal of his organization by saying: “As somebody who plays for the Bulls, I feel like I’m somebody who represents the city, and I think that helping our youth is important. The summer months bring a lot of violence, and we felt it was urgent to get a public service announcement out now in order to bring some hope, change and support to the community. We have to find a way together, whether you’re rich, poor, black, white, whatever you are, to come together and solve this together. To me personally, this is just as important as winning a championship.”

Meanwhile, gun advocates in Washington, D.C. this weekend celebrate following a federal judge ruling that struck down the city’s ban on handguns in public, the AOL article, D.C.’s gun laws take another hit in handgun carry ruling, explains. District Judge Frederick Scullin reached the conclusion many other district courts reached in similar cases: “The Second Amendment secures an individual right … to carry a common weapon outside the home for self-defense.” The ruling prevents D.C. officials from enforcing public gun bans until licensing regulations are put in place. In 2008 a Supreme Court decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, overturned the city’s total ban on handguns ruling the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own weapons for self-defense, AOL reports. The latest decision comes from an Aug. 2009 lawsuit that, according to SCOTUSblog notes, got tangled up in the D.C. district’s legal red tape for five years frustrating the plaintiffs. “The challengers to the D.C. law tried repeatedly to get a ruling, even asking a federal appeals court to step in to command that the case be decided.” In addition, Congress is challenging gun control in D.C. House Republicans approved an amendment to the district’s funding bill that would prevent D.C. from enforcing their gun laws. However, it will still be illegal to bring to a gun into a federal building. D.C. officials have yet to announce plans to appeal the ruling, but a spokesman told reporters the city is looking into options.

As the gun fight rages on, on Saturday, fast food workers across the nation voted to escalate efforts for $15 an hour pay and union membership using nonviolent civil disobedience. More than 1,300 workers came together at a convention center in Chicago to discuss the future of a campaign to spread to dozens of cities in less than two years, Tammy Webber reports, Fast Food Workers Vow Civil Disobedience. The Service Employee International Union provides financial and organizational support to fast food protests. They began in 2012 in New York City including daylong strikes and peaceful demonstrations outside this year’s McDonald’s Corp. shareholder meeting where 130 protestors were arrested for stepping onto company property. Saturday’s convention in Villa Park, Illinois, included session on civil disobedience and leadership training. Rev.William Barber II, head of the North Carolina NAACP, said: “People should not work and be willing to work and then be denied living wages and be denied health care because of greed. This movement is saying that America is less than she promises to be, morally and constitutionally, by denying living wages. If you raise wages for workers, you buoy the whole economy.” The movement comes as President Barack Obama and many other Democrats try to make a campaign issue out of their call to increase the federal and state minimum wage which stands at $7.25 an hour for federal wages or about $15,000 per year for40 hours a week. Obama and others want to increase it to $10.10. The restaurant industry argues that a $15 hourly wage would lead to business closing and job cuts. According to Webber: “The National Restaurant Association said last week that increasing wages to $15 will not solve income inequality and that the campaign was an attempt by unions to boost dwindling membership.” Scott DeFife, the association;s executive vice president of policy and government affairs, said protesters are “demonizing” an industry that employs all ages, backgrounds and skill levels instead of focusing on policies to increase education and job training. Unfortunately, many workers say that people stay in these jobs for years because they are the only ones available. Barber believes that “this movement is intensifying and it is going to shake the moral consciousness of this country.”

One Nation Under Pot With Liberty and Justice for All

Marijuana Industry

The War on Drugs will never end anytime soon, but some progress has been made to make marijuana at least medicinal marijuana legal in the United States with the help of an unlikely source. As more and more states legalized medicinal and non medicinal marijuana use, the more mom and pop dispensaries are popping up across the nation forcing the federal government to take action on a battle they might not win especially with growing support from the medical community and now labor unions. As you stroll down the busy streets of Los Angeles lines with a variety of wares for sale you might notice something a little bit different about your neighborhood friendly medicinal marijuana shop around the corner and for that matter pot dispensaries that dot the city. The difference you ask: On the door underneath the green cross, representing medical marijuana can be purchased here, is a sticker for the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW) which is the largest retail union in the U.S.

The Venice Beach Care Center, one of three medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles staffed by due paying union members, symbolizes the growing the bond between medical marijuana industry and struggling labor unions. Another 49 in Los Angeles plan to join with the UFCW this year the union says, Reuters reports. During the last few years, the UFCW has increasingly become involved in campaigns to allow medical marijuana in California, 17 other states, and even Washington D.C. In the November elections, UFCW operatives helped efforts in Colorado where voter approved the measure that allows 21 years of age or older to carry at least one ounce or less of the drug. A law similar in Washington was approved as well as regulation of marijuana growers, processors and retailers according to Reuters. The strategy behind the support of marijuana from UFCW partly comes from the hope that the marijuana industry will create hundreds of thousands of members at a time to rebuild the labor union membership. Retail unions and organized labor has struggled to keep their collective bargaining power in recent years, but hope that the 3,000 UFCW members who work in the cannabis industry will keep growing. The problem remains whether or not the U.S. government will accept the industry whose product is illegal under federal law but increasingly accepted by states making it difficult to predict the number of job that will be created as well.  The president has already said publicly he will not pursue recreational pot users in Colorado and Washington since the legalization on Nov. 6, but will the government allow widespread sales of the drug since it is still illegal on the federal level.

Even with an uncertain future, many in the marijuana industry see great growth potential especially unions and retailers. According to Sea Change Stragtegy, a non profit research firm, estimates the market could grow to $8.9 billion by 2016 (think of all the tax money people) and a study done by Washington state’s Office of Financial Management said legalization could bring $1 billion in sales per year to the state which hols only 2 percent of the U.S. population. Dan Rush, leader of the UCFW cannabis division, hopes the industry expands to supports jobs across the country from growers to truck drivers to carpenters to retail clerks and could rival the alcohol industry or U.S crops estimating that 100,000 workers could be added to their unions in California alone. For now, marijuana retailers have invited the UFCW into their shops in hopes to legitimize their business and gain support against those who operate outside the law.

Of course not everyone supports the idea of unions in the marijuana industry, a prime example of this can be seen in Colorado where retailer see the legitimacy that the labor unions bring but worry that the support could crumble the shaky financial footing of their small operations. As one retailer in Denver explained that the concern is having a union shop will drive up costs and hurt the value of his business: “Colorado isn’t a big union state anyway. I was surprised that they put so much focus and money in here in the first place.” The struggle to legitimize a demonized industry continue in state’s where marijuana has been legalized. The UFCW’s Rush who is based in Oakland, California, remembers in 2009 when deciding to get involved with he marijuana industry as not all the leaders were sold, but eventually was able to persuade enough leaders that the same union that organized Hotess bakery workers could represent the people who made pot brownies according to Reuters. Last year in California federal authorites shut down 200 medical marijuana business including the first unionized shop demonstrating the gap between federal and state laws. Union leaders hope to help these business navigate through the legal jargon and pressure lawmakers to change as UFCW local 770 in Los Angeles is pushing a ballot measure to set zoning and safety standard for medical pot dispensaries as police and residents have complained about less reputable shops in some neighborhoods. Ayrn Taylor, 23 who works at Venice Beach Care Center, says, ” I feel safer with the union around.” The union gathers enough signatures for the local ballot in May limiting the number of dispensaries in Los Angeles to 130, while the 50 plus union dispensaries would be allowed to stay open even though their are 900 dispensaries believed to be in operation in Los Angeles according to one city councilman. If the ballot is approved, it would put most of these out of business and make the UFCW a major player in the legalized marijuana market.