South Carolinians to rally at State House Jan. 14!

ft adOutraged by lawmakers’ refusal to fund education and health care, South Carolinians from across the state will rally at noon on the south side of the SC State House Jan. 14 to demand that lawmakers quit grandstanding and start governing.

The Truthful Tuesday Coalition – a grassroots campaign led by members of the faith community and advocacy organizations – is working to hold lawmakers accountable and to help the public understand the truth: South Carolina is not too broke to fund these core services. It simply lacks the political leadership to properly fund and manage responsible government.

“These are not political issues,” said Rev. Brenda Kneece, Executive Minister of the SC Christian Action Council. “These are moral issues we are called on to address.” The Council’s 16 denominations have endorsed the rally.

Gov. Nikki Haley led the opposition to reclaiming billions of our federal tax dollars to provide health care for South Carolina’s poorest citizens by refusing to participate in “Obamacare.” These federal funds would have expanded Medicaid to 250,000 people living below the poverty level.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was intended to provide health insurance to working people by subsidizing policies for people earning less than $45,000 a year, and to provide free coverage to those earning less than $11,490.

Refusing $1.4 billion to expand Medicaid this year means our state’s citizens will continue to have difficulty in accessing affordable care for costly chronic conditions and in accessing the ACA’s “essential health benefits” — not the least of which is cost-effective preventive care, warned Dr. David Keely, who heads the state’s chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program.

The SC Hospital Association estimates that the $11.7 billion in federal funding being refused through 2020 would create 44,000 jobs and generate enough tax revenue to completely offset the state’s 10 percent match required in 2020.

Dr. Robert Oldendick, Executive Director of the USC Institute for Public Service and Policy Research, reviewed a Harvard School of Public Health study on the consequences of states refusing the Medicaid expansion. “The study concluded that every 176 adults covered by Medicaid prevents one death each year. So if we assume that all 250,000 eligible South Carolinians were covered, about 1,420 deaths would be prevented annually.”

“It is unacceptable that our lawmakers are willing to throw our neighbors under the bus to make political points,” said SC Progressive Network Cochair Virginia Sanders, who works as one of the Network’s trained navigators helping people secure insurance through the health exchange. “It’s heart-breaking to tell people they are too poor to receive help. These are human beings; not numbers. They shouldn’t be political pawns.”

All 170 legislators and the governor have been invited to descend the State House steps at 12:30 to join the rally. Rep. Joe Neal will make a statement on behalf of legislators.

“One of our goals is to put a face on what is too often just an ideological debate,” said SC Progressive Network Director Brett Bursey. “We need 1,300 people to stand together on the State House grounds to symbolize the human cost of playing politics with people’s lives.”

The rally will also address lawmakers’ continued refusal to adequately fund education. “In 2013, K-12 funding was nearly $500 million below what is required by state law,” said Jackie Hicks, Executive Director of The SC Education Association. State higher education funding is 40 percent lower than it was in 2002, and tuition at our state colleges is among the nation’s highest.

The Coalition will be calling on legislators to address the fact that our state has the nation’s least-competitive elections, with nearly 80 percent of lawmakers facing no major opposition in the general election. “With only about half our citizens voting, and most of us only having one choice at the ballot box, it’s a shame that the legislature keeps trying to make it harder to vote rather than easier,” said Dr. Lonnie Randolph, President of the SC NAACP.

“The rally is a continuation of the work for sound public policies and a moral budget that we have been doing for years,” Bursey said. “The rally is not just an event; it is the launch of the next phase of our ongoing efforts.”

The hour-long rally will take place on the south side of the State House at noon on Jan. 14. The initial conveners are the SC Christian Action Council, The SC Education Association, SC NAACP, National Association of Social Workers, the SC AFL-CIO and the SC Progressive Network. Dozens of sponsoring organizations and churches, as well as information on the rally, transportation and parking, can be found at the coalition’s web site:

Free food and beverages will be available. Attendees are asked to wear black as a symbol of mourning for the 1,300 who will die this year is South Carolina because of petty partisan politics.

Contact the Coalition at 803-808-3384 or

Community “dines in” to support Spartanburg restaurant’s workers


On April 1, more than 50 community members from Boiling Springs and Spartanburg took part in a “dine-in” at Copper River Grill to support the servers, bartenders, hostess, and other workers as they fight for a voice on the job and the right of self representation at work. Community members wore stickers that read “I SUPPORT THE WORKERS OF COPPER RIVER GRILL.”

The action coincides with the 45th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s march with sanitation workers demanding union recognition in Memphis, where he delivered his famous last “Promised Land Speech” before being assassinated on April 4, 1968.

When SC AFL-CIO President Ken Riley met with workers this weekend, he said, “We are with these workers because what Copper River is doing is undermining the fundamental pillars of the work force in America. They are taking us back to the 1920s.”

“I serve food to people all day, but I make barely enough to get by,” said Victoria Ballard, who has been at Copper River for three years. “I am a single mother, and I have to think about the future of my 9-month-old son. Is it too much to ask that a working mother gets paid enough to put food on my own table without having to rely on food stamps?”

Restaurant workers at Copper River Grill have filed more than a dozen federal charges, including harassment, coercion, surveillance, interrogation, discrimination, and retaliation.

“I joined the “dine-in” to show support for these workers’ rights and reasonable demands,” said Spartanburg Rep. Harold Mitchell, Co-chair of the SC Progressive Network. “It’s wrong for corporations to rely on taxpayers to subsidize their low-wage, high-profit policies.”

Mitchell, who is also Chair of the SC Legislative Black Caucus, pledged to introduce legislation to protect often exploited service workers. “It’s against federal law to fire someone for organizing for better pay or working conditions. We need to require bosses to have a “just cause” to take someone’s livelihood away from them.”

“Apparently, Copper River thinks that the taxpayers are responsible for paying its workers,” Spartanburg resident Russell Bannan, an organizer for SC Jobs with Justice, the group spearheading the event. “That’s what Copper River is saying when it pays hard-working employees starvation wages.”

Community organizations participating in the “dine-in” included Jobs with Justice, SC AFL-CIO, Communication Workers of America, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, SC Progressive Network, and others.

South Carolina Jobs with Justice Organizing Committee is a statewide campaign for workers’ rights. Around the country, local Jobs with Justice Coalitions unite labor, community, faith-based, and student organizations to build power for working people.

Piñata Politics Just Tempest in a Tea Party Pot

By Becci Robbins

Talk about falling down the rabbit hole. At this time last week I was making a gift for my friend Donna Dewitt to celebrate her retirement from the SC AFL-CIO. And what says party like a piñata?

Yes, the piñata was my idea. I made it. I filled it with candy and Bobby Bucks. I videotaped its predictable demise. I sent the clip to friends to amuse them in these most un-amusing times. Who knew it would go viral?

The breathless response has been over the top, a sad commentary on the echo chamber that is the Internet.

Was the piñata in poor taste? Yes. Was it malicious? No. Am I sorry it caused some people to lose their minds? That’s their problem.

My only regret is having put a dear friend in the position of having to defend a piñata she did not know about or ask for. Donna works harder at a thankless job than anyone I know. She doesn’t deserve the heat she’s taken, including death threats and a promise from Gov. Nikki Haley on national TV to “continue beating up on unions.”

To fixate on unions instead of dealing with the critical problems we’re facing is to use the tired politics of distraction. I should have expected it from the governor, whose favorite posture is that of victim – first of racism, then sexism, now union thugs.

While Haley has made an odd habit of union-bashing, for me she crossed the line when she used her last State of the State address to proclaim: “Unions are not needed, wanted or welcome in South Carolina.” Instead of a message to unite all of us who call the Palmetto State home, she served up a campaign speech of red meat. It was inappropriate. And insulting.

When the governor bashes unions, she’s bashing my colleagues. She’s bashing my friends. She’s bashing my family. She’s bashing me. So forgive me for taking it personally, but I’ve had enough.

The piñata was intended as comic relief among friends after a long day of talking about the state budget, our election system and workers’ rights at the SC Progressive Network‘s annual spring conference. The party was a chance to unwind and honor Donna, our longtime co-chair. For the governor to use the incident for political gain is predictable but unfair, and more than a little ironic.

After all, Donna didn’t do anything as shameful as cut funding for education and mental health services. She didn’t gut environmental regulations or stack boards with corporate cronies. She didn’t show contempt to the Supreme Court. She didn’t campaign on a promise of transparency and then routinely sanitize her paper trail. She didn’t lobby for a corporation while being on their payroll. She didn’t use her power like a bludgeon.

Donna smacked a piñata. Which is, good people, what happens to piñatas. I made one of a Corporate Fat Cat for John Spratt’s retirement party, and it, too, got smashed. Why didn’t it go viral? Because nobody could make political hay out of it.

And that’s exactly what the governor is doing. Yesterday I got an email solicitation from her office inviting me to watch the video and contribute $250 to fight “Big Labor.” The email mentions President Obama twice. Talk about tasteless.

The governor will get no apology from me. But I offer one to Donna for putting her in an awful position. She could have risked hurting my feelings by refusing to play along at the party. Or she could have thrown me under the bus when she started catching heat. She did neither. As a labor leader, she knows something the governor doesn’t: solidarity matters most when it’s inconvenient.

Sorry if this flap has embarrassed any of our members. Please know that Donna and Network Director Brett Bursey have made the best of the rare media attention. (Watch Brett on Fox and Donna on CNN, for starters.)

It may not be pretty, but at least people are talking about organized labor in South Carolina. It’s a conversation that’s long overdue, and it’s up to us to keep it honest.

Becci Robbins is SC Progressive Network Communications Director. Reach her at

Activists urge senators to vote on jobs bill

On June 30, union and community leaders gathered in front of US Sen. Jim Demint’s office in Charleston. They were among thousands of others across the nation sending a message to their Republican Senators: “Vote on the Jobs Bill Now!”

“On Thursday, June 23, the Senate again failed to get cloture on the Jobs Bill even after Democrats agreed to reduce the overall cost of the bill.” said Leonard Riley, ILA member and president of Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment (CAFE).

Riley was joined by leaders of the Charleston and Columbia Central Labor Councils(CLC), SC Alliance for Retired Americans (ARA), SC Progressive Network, ILA Local 1422, AFSCME Local 1199 and the SC AFL-CIO.

Jenny Patterson, president of the Columbia CLC, said, “We are tired of Senator Demint pulling the rug out from under unemployed workers in our state and our public health and safety just to score political points. His refusal to vote for funding to keep teachers, police officers and other workers on the job and to protect elderly residents from being tossed out of nursing homes is outrageous.”

Vic Rawl, former Democratic candidate for US Senate, was among those attending the action. Rawl was endorsed by the SC AFL-CIO.