Weekly privatization report

Here’s our weekly analysis of privatization in the news and in communities nationwide. Not a subscriber? Sign up here.

 

1) National: Postal workers are planning for a national day of action on October 8 against the Trump administration’s postal privatization plans. Contract bargaining, which has been extended, runs through October 20 and the going has been tough. “But hanging over the bargainers’ heads is the Trump administration plan to privatize the Postal Service, a scheme first laid out in the president’s budget and due to be amplified by a report from a special committee he appointed earlier this year. The panel, which includes various top Trump administration officials—but no workers—had an original August 30 reporting deadline, but the White House decided to push the divisive issue back until after the mid-term elections. That will send the workers out into the streets under the theme: ‘The U.S. Mail—Not for Sale!!’”

A nonbinding resolution, SRes 633, has been introduced to oppose privatization. “The Senate resolution was spearheaded by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and included five Republican cosponsors. They noted USPS already does not receive taxpayer funds, employs more than 500,000 workers, plays a critical role in the growing e-commerce industry and enjoys high favorability ratings,”

2) National: Farmworkers and janitors are taking the lead fighting sexual violence and harassment on the job, including in the public contracting sector. “Redefining on-the-job sexual violence and harassment as a workplace health and safety issue recasts it as preventable, regardless of whether the workplace is an office, home, or field. Other low-wage, high-risk workers are taking the lessons from the Fair Food Program and are working to adapt them to their industries. Janitors from California have been meeting with the farmworkers to discuss ways to implement key components of the model, specifically worker-led education and enforcement. They’re also working to figure out which actors within the janitorial industry have the economic and political leverage to make worker-friendly changes to how their industry operates.” See Bernice Yeung’s book, In a Day’s Work: The Fight to End Sexual Violence Against America’s Most Vulnerable Workers.

This summer, the Chicago Public Schools killed off a $60 million contracting deal with GCA at the last minute because the company “has a poor history of protecting its janitors from sexual harassment,” the Chicago Sun-Timesreported. The Sun-Times“confirmed it was because GCA’s parent company, ABM Industries, Inc., has had a series of problems keeping its janitors safe on the job. ABM was featured in the 2015 PBS ‘Frontline’ documentary ‘Rape on the Night Shift’ about women who were sexually harassed and assaulted while working as night janitors in California.”

Good Jobs First’s Phil Mattera reported in his column on Friday that “a new initiative by Fight for $15 is making the fight against workplace harassment a collective rather than an individual struggle. In a bold new initiative for the labor movement, the campaign recently organized work stoppages at McDonald’s fast-food outlets in ten cities to protest harassment and to highlight complaints filed earlier this year with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

3) National: In a cover story for In These Times, David Dayen gives details on opposition to corporate profiteering from border enforcement, immigrant detention, and deportation. “Combining street protests with research on who profits from the immigration system—a Gordian knot of opaque subcontracting and financing relationships that activists have been picking at for years—is critical to that effort. When every uniform, every catered meal, every transportation shuttle, everything ICE does is contested, it throws sand into the gears of its operation. ICE’s extreme privatization was a catalyst to produce these pressure points, but it also speaks to a disconnect between capitalism and morality, and how family separation reveals those fissures.”

GEO Group “has lost at least one contract because of its association with family separation,” Dayen reports. “Lancaster County, Penn., rejected a Geo Group attempt to take over prison re-entry services, even though the contract had nothing to do with immigration. “If they get painted as the family separator, that’s going to hurt them across the board,” says Jeremy Mohler of In the Public Interest.”

4) National: The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is suing Corizon, the for-profit healthcare provider in jails and prisons, “alleging it discriminated against employees with disabilities through the company’s 100 percent return-to-work policy and other actions.” EEOC “also says Corizon required employees to be ‘100 percent healed’ or without any medical restrictions before they could return to work, which resulted in terminations of some employees due to their disabilities. The EEOC also alleges Corizon subjected employees with disabilities to a hostile work environment and retaliated against employees who complained by disciplining them, giving them more strenuous job duties and even failing to promote one employee due to a disability.” [EEOC News Release; the case is EEOC v. Corizon LLC & Corizon HealthCare Inc., CV-18-2942-PHX-JZBin U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona].

5) National: Employees of the for-profit imprisonment and detention corporation GEO Group have been allowed to force-feed immigrant hunger strikers, Truthout’s Mike Ludwig reports. “‘Is [GEO-operated Northwest Detention Center] the new Guantánamo?’ asked Maru Mora Villalpando, an organizer with the group and a longtime US resident who believes ICE unsuccessfully targeted her for deportation due to her activism around immigration. NWDC has seen waves of hunger strikes this year, beginning in February, when 120 prisoners staged a hunger strike to protest conditions at the facility. Within weeks, civil rights lawyers filed a lawsuit accusing an NWDC guard of severely beating a Mexican immigrant that jail officials incorrectly identified as a leader of the strike.”

6) National: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is reportedly planning to launch a national network of Montessori preschools backed by a $2 billion commitment. “Mr. Bezos said his schools would be ‘full scholarship,’ implying, some observers thought, that the network would be fully private, with seats reserved for poor children, as opposed to a more common public-private partnership, with an integrated mix of students from different backgrounds. A model that forgoes government dollars and parent tuition would most likely serve fewer children than the hybrid approach. But it would also free Mr. Bezos from some of the bureaucratic burdens that public schools must contend with,” the New York Timesreports. “The term ‘Montessori’ is not copyrighted, and any school can choose to describe itself as such.”

Bezos’ $2 billion private initiative comes as the Center for American Progress reports in a new issue brief on the chronic underfunding of K-12 public schools. “This issue brief first presents data on the chronic underinvestment in schools since the Great Recession. It then explores research demonstrating that investment in K-12 education benefits students, as well as research on the impact that underinvestment is having on schools’ most important resources—teachers and students. Finally, the brief discusses how state and federal policymakers can prioritize this issue.”

7) National: Feeding the pipeline from which private prison companies profit: the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week that prosecutors are not required to reveal exculpatory evidence to defendants before they plead guilty.

8) Arizona: Charter school reform has become an election issue. “Democrats say they have long argued for reform and now accuse Republicans of jumping on an issue because it’s politically expedient. ‘This could have been solved a long time ago, and it wasn’t, and it was ignored,’ says Christine Marsh, who was Arizona’s Teacher of the Year in 2016 and is also a Democrat running for the Arizona Senate in Dist. 28 against current Republican Senator Kate Brophy McGee. Marsh says Republicans have had several chances over the years to tackle charter school reform by passing bills backed by Democrats, but never did. ‘They have shut down debate and discussion about it. It’s not even getting intelligent conversation.’”

9) Arizona: An Albuquerque charter school is still in limbo awaiting an answer of its appeal to the Public Education Department of the Albuquerque Public Schools’ decision to deny it a contract. “APS has found the school is still in noncompliance with some state and federal law on how it’s running its special education program – the same problem highlighted earlier this year. Escobedo told the school board at a committee meeting this month that a team reviewed five individual education plans, or IEPs, which are personalized accounts of progress, needs and goals for each student utilizing special education services. There was missing information in some and students weren’t present for all of the IEP meetings.”

10) Arkansas: The presence of a charter high school has led to a sharp drop in enrollment at UA-Little Rock, which is now facing financial problems. Chancellor Andrew Rogerson “said the university conducted a survey of roughly 800 students who left UA Little Rock before completing their degrees in an effort to understand the enrollment slump. 72 percent of the students surveyed, according to Rogerson, cited the presence of eStem High School on campus as a drawback.”

11) Delaware: The state has signed a 50-year Port of Wilmington privatization deal with the Emirati port operator Gulftainer.

12) District of Columbia/Maryland/Virginia: In an editorial, the Washington Posthas again weighed in to support outsourcing to contractors by Metro. But “privatization is opposed by Metro’s largest union, Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, which sees its interests directly threatened by shifting spending and jobs from to nonunionized private firms. Like transit unions elsewhere, it warns that outsourcing will result in corner-cutting on service and safety by companies focused on profit.”

13) Florida: Integrity Florida has released a new 68-page report showing how charter schools damage traditional public schools in the state. “The number of for-profit charter schools continues to grow at a rapid pace each year and now makes up nearly half of all charter schools in the state. In this report, Integrity Florida pulls back the veil to take a comprehensive look at what’s really behind the charter school phenomena.”[The Hidden Costs of Charter School Choice: Privatizing Public Education in Florida]

14) Iowa: Speakers at a Davenport school board meeting expressed concern about proposals to outsource staff jobs. “David Stage, a longtime custodian in the Davenport district and a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), called the idea ‘nonsense.’ ‘We don’t have a company big enough in our city to come in and outsource us,’ he said. ‘What about the people that you harm? …. It’s nonsense to even think about outsourcing because outsourcing, all that does is bring in management — management that we have here. So that tells me we need new management? That’s what you’re telling us?’ Stage asked. Debbie DeFoe of Davenport had spoken with representatives of several other Iowa school districts. Some districts that have used outsourcing are ‘totally disillusioned’ with it, she said.”

15) Iowa: TYT Nation’s Jeff Waldorf on “This Is What Happened When Iowa Privatized Medicaid.” Video, about 13 minutes.

16) Kentucky: Fayette County School board candidates agree to oppose charter schools, “which under state law must be approved by local school board members in order to open.” Boyle County High School social studies teacher Tyler Murphy said he believes charter schools violate the constitutional rights of students. “If you look at every other state that (has) implemented charter schools you can see that they’ve actually magnified inequities. They’ve siphoned funds away from our public schools and put them into the hands of private corporate owners that have no public accountability like school boards do.”

17) Maryland: The University of Maryland is coming under criticism for issuing a tornado warning based on faulty information from AccuWeather, a private, for profit company, rather than the National Weather Service. “AccuWeather and its role in public institutions looms larger now that Barry Myers, the company’s chief executive, is President Trump’s choice to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees the National Weather Service. Critics say Myers’s lack of expertise and conflicts of interest make him unfit for the position. Myers awaits Senate confirmation. Jane Lubchenco, an environmental scientist who served as NOAA administrator from 2009 to 2013, has said she strongly opposes Myers’s nomination because of his ‘aggressive and sustained actions to undermine’ the National Weather Service.”

18) Missouri: Tony Messenger, the metro columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, raises questions about a key player in the effort by right wing billionaire Rex Sinquefield to privatize Lambert International Airport. “The people involved in both of these important civic issues would do well to read Keller’s lawsuit. She alleges that Brown is running the company they founded ‘for his own personal benefit,’ and that he is failing to follow through on contractual promises to her. I first wrote about the lawsuit in relation to Brown pitching his services—under the auspices of a nonprofit called Grow Missouri—to manage the process by which the city considers a privatization of its biggest asset. After I wrote about the lawsuit, Brown threatened to cut off Keller’s credit cards.”

For more check out Tony Messenger’s interview by McGraw Milhaven and Kelly Jackson on KTRS. (Video, about 8 minutes).

19) New York: The idea of privatizing Westchester County Airport is effectively grounded, and the business press and local business council have gotten grouchy and are using an argument experts say is a surefire loser—do a long term deal to fill a short term budget gap (Chicago parking meters-style). “Neither Westchester County Executive George Latimer nor Ben Boykin, chairman of the Westchester County Board of Legislators, sound all that interested in reviving the idea, despite the county’s $18 million budget deficit and the potential for a privatization deal to yield a lot of cash. Both told me that turning over the airport to a private operator would fundamentally reshape county government, and that they would not take such a step without careful public review. If at all. ‘If the county is going to get out of the business of controlling a public asset, there has to be a public debate about the concept,’ Latimer said.” The Business Council has produced a boosterish short video to plug the deal.

20) New York: Some local elected officials in Brooklyn are attempting to stop a charter school from opening in another location. In a letter to the NYS Education Department, which granted approval for the charter school move, the elected said “We are writing to voice our opposition to this proposal and explain why our constituents, who are already voicing their disapproval, will not be well served by a charter schools. Approving this charter school will do nothing to fix the fact that District 20’s schools are incredibly overcrowded. The average class size is at 121% capacity, putting a stress on our teachers, administrators and the students.”

21) Pennsylvania: A “grassroots progressive army” in Lancaster “has flipped seats in deeply red strongholds, beat back a prison privatization effort, and seriously checked police brutality for the first time in the city’s history,” reports The Intercept.

22) Pennsylvania: The Reading School Board, without discussion, voted again last Monday to deny the revised application for Berks Charter School for the Performing and Visual Arts. “The school board has twice denied charters from the same applicant for two performing arts charter schools.”

23) Puerto Rico: As Puerto Rico drowns in debt, austerity and debris and closes and privatizes schools, GQ explains “How Puerto Rico Became the Newest Tax Haven for the Super Rich.”

24) South Carolina: A Charleston charter school is closing one month after opening. “Small headcounts can lead to financial disaster for charter schools, which receive funding from the state on a per-pupil basis. The school’s leaders proposed a charter school with 381 students, budgeted assuming an enrollment of about 180, and told The Post and Courier enrollment was at 150 on opening day, Aug. 20. In reality, only about 50 students showed up on that first day of school, according to an email that went out to parents last week.”

25) Tennessee: Seven charter schools in Shelby County “will be forced to close at the end of the school year after they made the state’s list of Priority Schools due to low performance. The Priority List includes schools performing in the bottom 5 percent and/or with a graduation rate under 67 percent.”

26) Vermont: The state is shipping off some of its inmates to a Mississippi prison run for profit by CoreCivic. CoreCivic tells investors it is pleased because “we currently expect the new contract to generate approximately $6.5 million of annual revenue.” The Valley News is scathing: “Presumably, this is being done to punish the Vermonters for complaining about conditions at Camp Hill State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania, where they have been warehoused since December 2016 under a contract that has now been terminated early. The only other explanation we can think of is sheer madness, as James Lyall, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, suggested when he heard the news. ‘They say the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expect a different result,’ Lyall said, noting that the same concerns that led to the cancellation of the Pennsylvania contract ‘apply in full to this latest contract, and Vermonters should question the wisdom of moving inmates from an unacceptable situation to one that is likely to be even worse.’ There’s every reason to be wary of this deal.”

27) International: “There’s a vicious hostility towards the outsourcing of public services to the private sector,” the London Sunday Times reports in Is The Game Over for the Giants of Outsourcing? “The jail joined a growing list of contracts that have been awarded to the private sector, only to be handed back after disaster and disgrace. From the collapse of the East Coast rail franchise to Carillion’s liquidation, outsourcing, in its many guises, is in crisis. An industry that started with Margaret Thatcher’s 1980s privatisation wave and was turbocharged under Tony Blair faces what may be its bleakest period yet. Councils and NHS trusts are poring over the small print of private finance initiative (PFI) deals to see whether they can be terminated or unwound. Once the preferred way for building schools, hospitals and roads, PFI has become notorious in government for being inflexible and tying the state into penal costs. The onetime appeal of PFIs—that neither the debt, nor the risk, landed on the state’s balance sheet — is now widely ignored. In January, a National Audit Office (NAO) report said it was unclear whether PFI gave value for money. ‘There is still a lack of data available on the benefits of private finance procurement,’ Whitehall’s spending watchdog said.” [Sub required]

28) International: Ahead of its national conference, which is currently taking place in Liverpool, the British Labour Party’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell rolled out ideas for what the party will do if it comes to power—including setting up a Public Ownership Unit in the Treasury to bring the privatized railways, water, energy and mail back into the public sector.

Labour Member of Parliament Chris Williamson says the privatization of the water industry has been an expensive failure. “This move cannot come soon enough. Recent analysis has revealed that investment in the water supply infrastructure is lower than it was in 1990. Over the same period there has been a 40% real-term increase in water bills for consumers. Furthermore, 20% of water is lost through leakages before it reaches the tap in your home. The figures are truly astonishing.”

29) Think tanks: The Congressional Research Service, Congress’ in-house research division, has raised the curtain on its new searchable online access point for its reports. A search under “immigration,” e.g., pulls up a number of reports, including one released last Wednesday titled “Expedited Removal of Aliens: Legal Framework.” But the site has attracted criticism. “Government transparency advocates say the content of the new website does not meet the requirements set out in law,” reports Roll Call. “Of the 627 reports available on the site, there are no reports from before January 2018. That is not a comprehensive collection of so-called active reports, defined as ‘current and relative to the legislative agenda.’”

30) Think tanks: Right-wing British and American think tanks are collaborating on efforts to privatize the British National Health Service and make “a bonfire of consumer and environmental regulations,” the Guardianreports. “The text of the new trade deal has been prepared by the Initiative for Free Trade (IFT)—a think tank founded by the longtime Eurosceptic MEP Daniel Hannan, one of the leaders of Vote Leave—and the Cato Institute, a right wing libertarian think tank in the U.S. founded and funded by the fossil fuel magnates and major political donors the Koch family.” Because of the predictable outrage the proposals would generate, the IFT/Cato Institute free trade deal “recommends testing the waters with foreign competition in education and legal services first.”

31) Upcoming Meeting: The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and its partners are sponsoring an Oversight Summit in DC on Friday, November 16. “It’s no secret that the United States is at a nadir of accountability,” writes Danielle Brian. “Congress’s efforts to hold the executive branch to account have been mostly quiet, anemic, or compromised by conflicts of interest and partisan hackery. (…) Increasingly, oversight is being linked to the outcome of the midterm elections. We’re holding this Summit after Americans cast their ballots this November, because the issues will be just as critical then as they are now. This is about how to get answers to questions that anyone from any party can ask—and everyone, regardless of party, should want to know.” To sign up for more information visit www.oversightsummit.org.

Legislative Issues

1) Florida: Charter operators are poised to exploit a law that exempts some schools from having to hire certified teachers. House Bill 7069, signed into law by Gov. Scott(who is now running for the U.S. Senate), has opened the door to allowing charter schools to hire uncertified teachers. “Most charter school teachers are required to be certified, according to the Florida Department of Education, but a subset of charter schools known as Schools of Hope—which aim to compete with low-performing schools in impoverished neighborhoods—would be exempt from that requirement and eligible to receive millions in state funding. (…) While no Schools of Hope currently operate in Florida, four companies have been approved as so-called ‘hope operators.’ The Florida Board of Education approved its first two charter companies in March. Texas-based IDEA Public Schools plans to open four charter schools in Florida in August 2021, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The three other approved operators are New York-based Democracy Prep Public Schools, KIPP New Jersey and Somerset Academy, a Miami-based affiliate of state charter giant Academica.”

 

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