Journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, arrested in Minnesota, returns to speak at U of M immigration symposium

On Tuesday, when Jose Antonio Vargas took the stage at a packed University of Minnesota auditorium, he began his nearly 40-minute speech with the story of his 2012 arrest in Minnesota.“I got arrested on your freeway by driving and unfortunately listening to Beyoncé with my headset,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist told a crowd of more than 250 people at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.He joked that since it was an Asian-American officer who pulled him over — Vargas was born in the Philippines — he thought the officer wasn’t going to punish him for the violation. That didn’t happen. The officer handcuffed Vargas on the freeway after realizing that Vargas carried an invalid driver’s license.The crowd erupted into laugher when Vargas talked about how the officer found out that Vargas was also an undocumented immigrant: the officer searched Vargas’ bag, only to find three copies of a TIME magazine cover with a photo of Vargas and a story about his life as an undocumented immigrant and how people like him were coming out, as he did in a New York Times Magazine article in 2011. Vargas’ speech painted a vivid picture of what it means to lead a life of an undocumented immigrant — a story that also offered an unvarnished look at the state of the nation’s immigration policy. The discussion was part of a daylong “Out of the Shadows Immigration Symposium” event featuring, among other things, panels of policymakers and immigration advocates.       Vargas, who at age 12 was smuggled into the U.S. from the Philippines, offered many examples of the legal predicaments faced by the more than 11 million undocumented people. Continue Reading

New contract with Allina hospitals sets $15 minimum wage

MINNEAPOLISAs thousands of low-wage workers and allies demonstrate this week for a $15 per hour minimum wage, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota members at Allina Hospitals ratified a new three-year contract that establishes a $15 per hour minimum wage for the first time for workers at seven hospitals across the Twin Cities region, including in Shakopee and Buffalo. “At a time when more and more jobs are low-wage jobs that cannot even begin to support a family, our new contract shows that a $15 per hour minimum wage is possible because we achieved it for all of our members at seven hospitals,” said Paula Lindquist, a scheduling coordinator at Buffalo Hospital. “We are an example of the power of workers coming together to improve wages, benefits, quality of services and the future of our communities.” “For lab assistants like me, this is our first union contract and I will see a $5 per hour raise to more than $15 per hour, and better benefits,” said Tigist Tefera of Abbott-Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, whose job classification joined SEIU Healthcare Minnesota last year. “This will mean a better life for us and our families, and all workers deserve the same.” The contract provides employment security protections as well as additional health and safety protections for workers. It includes a wage increase in every year of the contract for all members, an increase in Allina’s contribution towards the members’ pension plan, and a 25 percent increase in the amount of tuition reimbursement available to all members annually. The new agreement also takes a significant step towards equal pay for equal work for workers at Allina hospitals outside the metro region, the union said.“We provide the same excellent quality care and service to our patients in Owatonna as our fellow union members do in Minneapolis and Saint Paul,” said Deb Dodds, an environmental services aide at Owatonna Hospital, “so I am glad to see that we are closing the pay equity gap for hospital workers outside the metro area, but we have more progress to make.” Coming on the heels of a new contract for 3,000 hospital workers at eight other Twin Cities hospitals – including Children’s Hospitals and Clinics, Fairview Health Services, HealthEast Care System, North Memorial Health Care, and Park Nicollet Health Services (recently merged into HealthPartners) – over 99.5 percent of the workers in 16 hospitals covered by these contracts will have a $15 per hour minimum compensation. “This contract is a step forward for every union member, but there is a lot more that we need to do to improve patient care in our hospitals,” said Vivian Straumann, a licensed practical nurse at United Hospital in Saint Paul. “We will not stop raising the issue of staffing levels until we are satisfied that we have the right number of people to keep ourselves, our patients and our hospitals safe. Continue Reading

Body cameras benefit the police

Whether or not they care to admit it, I am positive that every student, professor and community member has an opinion on body cameras for police officers. Perhaps a body camera would have been useful in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson this past summer. But while body cameras are certainly useful in situations like Brown’s, they also reward the police officers who are doing a good job. Therefore, I am glad that many police departments are moving toward using them. Having cameras available for law enforcement officers is important for several reasons. First, it enables their superiors to determine whether the officers are doing their jobs well.  Most importantly, the use of cameras will help the fight to end racial injustice. A report by the Washington Post found that in three-quarters of fatal shooting cases since 2005, the police officers were white, and two-thirds of officers’ victims were black.  Prosecutors won’t press charges against officers unless there is a substantial amount of evidence. Continue Reading

McCollum, Ellison cosponsor resolution calling for end to conversion therapy

Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison are cosponsors of a resolution in the U.S. House that calls on states to ban conversion therapy for minors. The Stop Harming Our Kids Resolution was introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California. McCollum and Ellison are among 34 co-sponsors of the resolution.The SHOK resolution states, in part:It is the sense of Congress that sexual orientation and gender identity or expression change efforts directed at minors are discredited and ineffective, have no legitimate therapeutic purpose, and are dangerous and harmful.Congress encourages each State to take steps to protect minors from efforts that promote or promise to change sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, based on the premise that homosexuality is a mental illness or developmental disorder that can or should be cured.“It’s time to end this abusive quackery masquerading as medicine,” Speier said in statement. “Being transgender, gay, lesbian, or bisexual is not a disease to be cured or a mental illness that requires treatment. Continue Reading

Everyone deserves an ID card regardless of status

Everyone, regardless of status, has the right to obtain an unmarked identification card. And if an individual meets the requirements (passing the driver’s test) an individual should be able to obtain a driver’s license as well.  Currently, there are a few organizations that are fighting for the rights of undocumented individuals to obtain an identification card or driver’s license. Each year, this request has been rejected from the state and legislators. Currently, the bill has passed the Senate, but at this time, it’s in the hands of the House of Representatives.  Now, there is a division between organizations because of the problematic issue of whether identification cards and driver’s licenses for undocumented individuals should be marked or if these cards should look similar to a normal card that a United States citizen obtains. Some organizations believe if the cards are marked, it will cause more discrimination problems against undocumented individuals.  Others believe that having the identification cards are fine, as long as individuals are able to obtain one. Continue Reading

Target Center all over again

The Minneapolis City Council has agreed to pay an additional $24.5 million to renovate the Target Center so Glen Taylor can charge more for admission.   Taylor is the publisher of the Star Tribune and owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves—the worst team in the NBA.  They are so bad a running joke on “Saturday Night Live” is the threat to trade someone to the Timberwolves.  Taylor won’t put any money into the team to buy good players, but he wants the City of Minneapolis to fix up the arena so he can charge more for tickets.  Glen Taylor has a brilliant business plan for the Timberwolves:  Turn our elected officials upside down and see how much of the taxpayer’s money falls out.The Ways and Means Committee of the City Council voted four to two to approve the new beauty treatment for Taylor.  John Quincy, Elizabeth Glidden, Linea Palmisano and Blong Yang voted for the project and Lisa Bender and Andrew Johnson voted against it.   The full Council voted 11 to 2 in favor of the giveaway.  Only Lisa and Andrew voted against it.We asked Council Member Johnson if he wanted to comment on the vote.  He said, “I believe the referendum requirement should be followed, but most of my colleagues don’t believe it’s applicable because the Target Center is owned by the city.”Twice the citizens of Minneapolis have amended their charter to require a referendum on city funds being used for a sports stadium.  The first, Chapter 15, Section 9, says:  “any such obligations or indebtedness to be issued or incurred for any improvement, including but not limited to acquisition, development, construction or betterment, of any public building, stadium, or other capital improvement project, shall in all phases from inception to completion exceed Fifteen Million Dollars ($15,000,000.00), the Board of Estimate and Taxation shall not issue or sell any bonds or other obligations nor incur any indebtedness for such purpose without the approval of a majority of the electors voting on the question of issuing such obligations or incurring such indebtedness at a general or special election.”In other words, if the city wants to spend more than $15 million on a public building or stadium, they have to let the voters decide the question. Chapter 15, Section 13, says:“Putting Professional Sports Facility Financing Before the Voters.  The City of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Community Development Agency, or any city department, agency, commission, or board, shall use no city resources over $10 million dollars for the financing of professional sports facilities without the approval of a simple majority of the votes cast on the question, in a ballot question put to the public at the next regularly scheduled election.”The charter provision makes no reference to a public or private facility.  It is quite clear.  No money more than $10 million shall go to financing a professional sports facility without the approval of the voters.Andrew Johnson continued: “I’ll tell you why I think contributing another $24.5 million to the project was a bad idea. If the Council had voted no to this $24.5 million additional funding request, the renovation of the Target Center would still have moved forward under the nearly $100 million funding package passed by the Council before ours. But because of this vote, we’ll now need to redirect more than $1.2 million of sales tax revenue per year over the next 20 years into paying off the $24.5 million in additional funding, revenue which otherwise would have gone toward capital projects and economic development activities across our city. Instead of it going where it’s most needed, it will now go largely if not entirely towards the aesthetic appearance of the Target Center’s exterior, giving it a ‘cool new look’ for passersby. With a $15-20 million annual shortfall in basic road maintenance and some of the worst disparities in the nation, I believe this was the wrong choice.” Perhaps faithful readers might remember my original critique of funding for the Timberwolves beauty treatment.  I was analyzing the budget proposal of Betsy Hodges and R T Rybak that stripped funding from the Neighborhood Revitalization Program and killed the most successful citizen participation in the nation and transferred that money to renovate Target Center:“That money was originally earmarked for neighborhood organizations, but Mayor Rybak and then-chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Betsy Hodges, decided to let the money go straight into the city treasury. That process of bankrupting the neighborhood organizations ended with the total elimination of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program. Continue Reading

Wagenius: MN House energy omnibus bill sabotages solar

On her blog, Minnesota state representative Jean Wagenius warns in The worst energy bill ever sabotages solar. And that’s not all:Rep. Pat Garofalo has introduced his draft Omnibus Energy Bill. d0b80283-da3f-4839-baf9-551613c2b6d9.pdf   Since he is Chair of the House Jobs Creation and Energy Affordability Committee, his bill is the Republican bill.The Garofalo bill incorporates the energy-related ideas and bills that had been heard in his committee. Rep. Garofalo then found more bad ideas to include. This post would be much too long if it did more than scratch the surface. So it just covers the worst of the worst. Continue Reading

What is the future of the Council on Black Minnesotans?

It is a poorly kept secret that racial disparities exist in Minnesota. In literally every measurable aspect, education, income, housing, employment, etc., people of color lag behind their white counterparts. This in spite of the efforts of many to make and keep Minnesota an all-inclusive place to live, that provides equal opportunities.One of those efforts was the creation of the state ethnic councils. Created by the legislature in 1980, “The Minnesota state councils were created by the legislature to represent and advocate for Minnesota’s communities of color, women, and disability communities. The councils include: Chicano Latino Affairs Council, Council on Asian-Pacific Minnesotans, Council on Black Minnesotans, Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, and Minnesota State Council on Disability and the Office on the Economic Status of Women,” according to the councils’ website.But obviously, even though the councils have existed for 35 years, racial disparities and conflicts remain.The newest race-based conflict is over competing bills in the legislature.The bill at the center of the dispute is HF 1353, whose description reads “Minnesota ethnic councils governing laws revised” and whose lead author is Minnesota State Representative Carolyn Laine, DFL.“The Office of Legislative Auditor in his report last year said that they [the councils] weren’t clear on what their duties were—their duties need to be fine-tuned and clarified,” Laine explained as her reason for drafting the proposed bill.“There was some fine tuning around the edges,” Laine said. Continue Reading

Power, Politics and Broken Elevators

Politics, dueling agendas and passionate pleas were all part of a recent  meeting at the Brian Coyle community center, where more than 250 tenants from the Cedar Riverside Towers showed up to complain about living conditions there.  Council member Abdi Warsame invited heads of city departments including the office of civil rights, health and safety, regulatory services and State Senator Kari Dziedzic (DFL), who represents the Cedar Riverside area, to be part of a listening session where residents of the iconic Cedar Riverside towers,  complained about broken elevators, lack of parking, and a lack of respect and cultural competency on the part of Sherman Associates and the employees who manage the complex. No representative from Sherman Associates, the company who owns the towers were at the table  listening alongside city employees. Nor was any representative from the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association. Organizers say it was about gathering the community and listening to the residents.”This is all about empowering the residents and hearing their concerns,” said Mohamed Mohamed of West Bank Community Coalition. His organization helped organize the listening session. Residents sometimes became emotional about issues they have been experiencing with Sherman Associates. Continue Reading