POLITICAL INTELLIGENCE OH, PIONEERS! What’s the going rate for a gubernatorial appointment to one of Texas’ powerful state boards and commissions? It’s never been cheap, but if you hook your wagon to an ambitious up-and-corner like George W. Bush, it may cost you even more. When Bush recently released his much anticipated list of “Pioneers” fund-raisers who have personally collected at least $100,000 for the governor’s presidential campaign the list contained some familiar names. Ten of the 115 \(and Bush appointees to state boards, including the U.T. and Texas A&M Boards of Regents, the Parks and Wildlife Commission, and the Texas Transportation Commission. None of those jobs come cheap: according to numbers collected by Texans for Public Justice, these ten personally donated over $640,000 to W.’s gubernatorial campaigns. That amount does not include corporate donations from the companies these men control, such as Texas A&M Regents Earl Nye and Don Powell, CEOs of Texas Utilities and First National Bank, respectively. Now W. has shaken his appointees down for at least an additional million collectively, with more to come. As a group, the 115 Pioneers have accounted for roughly forty percent of Bush’s record $37 million raised thus far, and Pioneer director Jim Francis told reporters that as many as 300 more Pioneers are out drumming up cash as we speak. TITAN TEETERING? Two years ago, when Titan Tire came to Brownsville, lured by $30 million in tax breaks and incentives and the prospect of a non-union workforce, Morry “Grizz” Taylor talked a big game, promising hundreds of good jobs and annual sales in the $250 million range. Brownsville delivered on its promises, but the jobs and sales have by and large failed to materialize, with essential equipment yet to be installed and fewer than a quarter of the promised positions filled, mostly at low wages. Now, according to union officials from the United Steelworkers of America, whose members are currently striking Titan plants in Des Moines and Natchez, Mississippi, Titan may be forced to shut down its Brownsville operation, at least M. Cooper temporarily. This despite promises to local authorities and state officials overseeing job-training funds that the plant would be at or close to full production by last April. If true, the impending shutdown in Brownsville lends credence to the union’s contention that the opening of the Brownsville plant was intended principally to help break the U.S.W.A. local in Iowa, where the National Labor Relations Board has recognized the validity of an unfair labor practices strike that began in May of 1998. Forced overtime and grueling threeweeks-on, two-days-off schedules, imposed after Taylor took over the plant in 1995, prompted the strike. The N.L.R.B. has since cited Titan for moving jobs to Brownsville without bargaining with the union, cutting off medical benefits to ill, disabled, and pregnant workers, and threatening to permanently replace strikers. The union contends that the majority of the tires coming out of the Brownsville plant are scrap quality. “As far as we are concerned, we are not aware of Titan closing its doors for whatever reason,” a company spokesperson told Political Intelligence. But according to U.S.W.A. organizer Oscar Garza, the word is out that the other shoe is about to drop. “As I speak with workers, they are now afraid of lay-offs. The community is upset because taxpayers have poured millions of dollars into this plant with almost nothing to show for it.” Meanwhile, company profits have plunged. Pre-tax profits for the first six months of 1999 were off almost $20.5 million when compared with the same period last year. The Grizz promised tires and money when he came to Texas. With scabs at work in Iowa and Mississippi and ghosts on the line in Brownsville Titan isn’t making much of either. VALLEY VICTORY. True to form, Valley Interfaith has succeeded where others have failed. Beginning January 1, Hidalgo County will become the first county in the state to enact a “living wage” for its county employees, thanks to a victorious campaign led by the powerful South Texas church-based group. Almost 1,000 government workers of Hidalgo County are looking at a much-deserved raise from the current federal minimum of $5.15 per hour to the newly approved $7.50 per hour. All county workers will benefit from the increase, including 470 in federally-funded Head Start. The 1990 U.S. census counted forty-five percent of Valley citizens as living below the poverty line; 450 of these citizens are Hidalgo County employees. According to Valley Interfaith organizer Aaron Pena, Jr., who also served on the Hidalgo County Salary Study that recommended the pay raise, these employees “often become dependent on government assistance,” which means taxpayers “are being taxed twice: once to pay poverty wages and then to support impoverished workers through welfare.” At a minimum, all county employees will now earn slightly less than the federal poverty level for a family of four, which is set at $7.91. Commissioner Oscar Garza, who voted in favor of the wage increase, said, “It’s the right thing to do. We just changed it to where people can earn a decent wage and they get to self-sufficiency.” Valley Interfaith has had previous success in living wage campaigns targeting employees of the McAllen, Mission, and Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school districts. Members say they will take the fight to all Valley government employers who pay their workers with tax dollars. DOZING ON DEATH ROW. The escape of seven inmates from Texas’ Death Row last 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 6, 1999
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