This morning, two members of our worker justice program were each awarded $5,000, for a total of $10,000, in wage claims and liquidative damages by a Polk County small claims judge.

The wage claim case, prosecuted by Iowa Workforce Development (IWD), sought to retrieve $6,166 in wages stolen by Concept Painting & Drywall, owned by Randy Warrens.

Iowa CCI organized with the two workers and used many avenues before IWD brought the case before a judge.  We delivered a letter to Randy Warrens at his house in January asking for a meeting, which Randy refused.  We met with the general contractor on the case, Hubbell Homes, after which they told Randy to stop making his problem their problem. And we brought up the Concept Painting & Drywall case with the Commissioner of Labor Michael Mauro in a meeting in February.

Despite having met yesterday with IWD’s prosecuting attorney Mitchell Mahan, and speaking with him this morning, Warrens failed to appear at today’s hearing. The judge examined the evidence and claims brought by the workers and IWD. In addition to the evidence, seeing that Warrens defaulted on the hearing, the judge concluded that each of the workers should be awarded the sum of $5,000 for liquidative damages. Warrens will also be responsible for all court fees.

“With this victory, employers like Randy will know that workers are not just going to sit down and take abuse,” said Jose, one of the affected workers and an Iowa CCI member. “We will not accept anything other than justice.”

Though it is possible that Concept Painting & Drywall may set aside the default, the judge seemed convinced in standing for worker justice and awarding the workers for their rightful claims.

This win shows that the one-two punch of community organizing and a government that works for people will deliver justice!

Iowa CCI’s worker justice program unites and empowers the community to stand against worker abuse and fight for what’s right. CCI members incessantly work against violations on the job and wage theft. To this day, Iowa CCI has recovered over $135,000 in stolen wages across Iowa.

 

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In early February, Iowa CCI and National People’s Action members joined in the 99% Power movement to put the most abusive corporations on notice and delivered letters to let them know we were coming to their shareholder meetings. Wells Fargo reacted to the letter dropped off in Des Moines.

As a result, on Monday, April 2, NPA leaders Iowa CCI, Take Action Minnesota, Rights for All People, and Sunflower Community Action in partnership with Enlace International, SEIU, PICO and New Bottom Line met with Wells Fargo’s head of Social Responsibility, Jon Campbell and three other executives.

All four staff from Wells Fargo came into a full conference room smiling and ready to shake hands. They were met with thirty-two stern faces from across the country, ready to get down to business.

Iowa CCI leader Rosie Partridge moderated, setting a firm, no nonsense tone for the meeting. Fr. Richard Smith from the San Francisco Organizing Project led the opening prayer for all the victims of the current economic crisis and reminding us that this was the holiest of all weeks for many. 

The community leaders put five issues on the table.The question of the day is whether or not Wells Fargo was serious about addressing issues around foreclosures, investments in private prisons and payday lending, money in politics and paying their fair share of taxes.

Overall, the conversation went something like this:

Leaders: Will you stop hurting our communities and be the financial industry leader in social responsibility?

Campbell: NO.

More specifically:

FORECLOSURE:

Fr. Smith asked Mr. Campbell: Will you comprehensibly reduce the principal on all homes under water? Yes or No

Mr. Campbell: NO. We can’t.

PRIVATE PRISON DIVESTMENT: 

After two testimonies were given by leaders from Washington and Colorado,Teresa Molina, a leader from Kansas, asked Mr. Campbell: Will Wells Fargo stop investing in private prisons and profiting off of people’s misery?

(This is the point where they were really fidgeting and looking uncomfortable.)

  • Campbell: I am sorry I cannot commit to that, but I will deliver the message.
  • Rosie: So that is a No.

At this point Teresa Molina held up a stack of hundreds of petitions and walk around the table to Mr. Campbell and said, “These are hundreds of petitions from customers that withdrew their accounts or others that swore never to so business with Wells if you continue to invest in private prisons.” Mr. Campbell reached for the stack, but Ms. Molina did not let go. As they both held the stack of papers, Ms. Molina looked him dead in the eye and asked one last time, “Mr. Campbell, Will you stop investing in private prisons?”

Mr. Campbell: No, I can’t.

Larry Ginter, a farmer from Iowa, then stood up and leaned over to Pepe, who had just given his heartbreaking story and reminded him that “Pontius Pilate also washed his hands of any wrong-doing.”

PAYDAY LOANS:

  • Larry Ginter: Will you divest from and cease offering predatory payday loans?
  • Mr. Campbell: No, we will continue. 

MONEY AND POLITICS:

  • James Cannon: Will you stop funding politicians that hurt our communities?
  • Mr. Campbell: Wells Fargo has a committee of senior official and they contribute to candidates..as a company we want to be part of issues that affect what we do.
  • James Cannon: So that is no?
  • Mr. Campbell: I wouldn’t say it is a no.
  • Rosie Partridge: That’s a no.

FAIR TAXATION:

  • Donna Cassutt. “I paid more in income tax last year as an individual than your entire company.” Wells accepted taxpayer money and you should pay your share. Will you pay your fair share?
  • Campbell: We absolutely will. We pay what we are required to pay.
  • Rosie Partridge: That’s a no.

At this point Mr. Campbell became a little defensive,  “When do we get a chance to speak! I am not used to going into conversations that are one sided.”

Rosie Partridge: You will have a chance, but it looks like we have our answers:

  • NO on Principal reduction
  • NO on Prison divestment
  • NO on Payday lending
  • NO on Getting your money out of politics
  • NO on Paying your real fair share

After thanking them for their time, the Wells Fargo staff all filed out a little quieter and less cheery.

Everyone regrouped and came to the consensus that Wells Fargo only responded to action and resolved to take the message to the shareholder meeting in a few weeks.

But, to let them know we’re not kidding about showing up at their shareholder’s meeting, everyone piled on a school bus, took over the lobby at a Wells Fargo downtown and held a practice shareholder meeting.

During the “meeting” resolutions in our communities favor were passed and everyone went home charged and ready for San Francisco on April 24.

(photo: leaders who met with Wells)

 

>>Contact us to join in the 99% Spring movement to Confront Corporate Power or share your Wells Fargo story.

 

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The Daily Iowan Editorial Board writes an incredibly snarky editorial demanding the Iowa City Council crack down on payday lenders.

Read it online:  http://www.dailyiowan.com/2012/04/10/Opinions/27837.html

 

Beware the fat man scam

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | APRIL 10, 2012 

We all see and hear obnoxious low-budget commercials for payday lenders, usually featuring a sweaty man yelling at us to take out a “quick and easy” loan to soothe our fiscal anguishes until payday.

We sit back in our chairs, immediately irritated by the fat, sweating man, wondering who on Earth would fall for such a blatant scam — but there is a clear market of suckers for these loans, saddling many towns and cities, including our own, with the burden to regulate them.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time the Iowa City City Council defend its citizens against the savage vulture capitalists.

Some groups, such as Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, have requested the City Council limit the number of such stores by using zoning rules to drive the predatory lenders out of Iowa City.

A fantastic idea, considering that the financially unstable University of Iowa student population would be easy prey for the payday lenders to sink their teeth into — a little extra money for the weekend out? Absolutely.

In case you don’t know, payday-loan suppliers turn a profit by charging people a fee for a loan that the customer will pay back by a certain date, typically their payday (hence the name.)

If the customer is unable to pay the company back before the date, they are charged an additional fee, which often causes the customers to find themselves in debt and even more financially desperation that may have been the initial cause of their visit to the store.

Think of a credit card but in a stationary building with snake-oil salesmen and nearly instant cash; that’s how the lenders operate.

Payday lenders have a tendency to set up shop in areas of a lower socioeconomic status, because this group of consumers will not likely have the ability to pay the loans back on time; in turn, providing the lenders with an indebted client that they can continue to use for money.

And not only do these desperate and uninformed consumers use payday lenders, but they file lawsuits when they find themselves in financial trouble — a consumer trying to file a lawsuit against a cigarette company, despite the surgeon general’s warnings.

But still, actions against these corrupt companies need to be taken.

In an attempt to regulate these lenders, the FTC has charged some of these lenders with “piling inflated fees on borrowers and making unlawful threats when collecting.”

The Citizens for Community Improvement has persuaded the City Council to consider a regulatory zoning plan in order to take back control of the neighborhoods: Restricting the businesses to one for every 20,000 residents; two miles between other stores and one mile from residential areas, churches, parks, and schools; and finally, stopping new stores from opening in neighborhood and pedestrian retail areas. The proposal is under consideration by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

These are fantastic zoning requirements, because they pretty much stop new stores from opening, period — they kill the carnivorous annelid worms before they are born.

Though these measures are enticing, an easier, and certainly cheaper, way to fight back is to better educate the consumer.

Although this is a good goal, it is unlikely that the public would be receptive to government advice, and it would be like pulling teeth to get people to listen. The FTC warns consumers about the dangers of payday lenders and even provides them with reasonable alternatives to taking out these loans, and the City Council can work hard to better inform people to make better choices instead of just making the choices for them.

But the government should put the heavy weight of regulation upon them, just as it regulates the smoke sticks that kill or the adrenaline-pumped casinos that rob citizens of their savings.

So, we must push the City Council to decide to use its zoning power to slowly push out these dangerous lenders without completely eliminating them — to protect the public from the scam of the sweaty, fat man.

 

>>Read more about our work to stop predatory payday lending.

>>Contact us to get involved in the Iowa City or Ames organizing efforts.

 

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Press release from our friends at Iowa Farmer’s Union, Food Democracy Now and Occupy Ames/ISU:

 

Family Farmers and Ranchers Hold Rally at Iowa State University to Protest the Collusion Between Industrial Meat Production and our Political System

 

Pink Slime versus Lean, Finely Textured Beef

Tuesday, March 10, 2012

1:30 pm

Kildee Hall, Iowa State University

Ames, Iowa – Tomorrow afternoon family farmers, ranchers and sustainable agriculture advocates will join university students to hold a rally at Iowa State University to call attention to the negative impacts that the deliberate politicization of the recent pink slime controversy has on family farmers and consumer confidence in the safety and integrity of our food supply

The rally will take place in front of Kildee Hall at 1:30 pm, exactly one hour before Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and Congressman Steve King are scheduled to hold an event called, “The Truth” a press conference regarding “Lean Finely Textured Beef” or pink slime, as it has become known. The rally organized by family farmers and organizations was put together in an effort to correct the misleading propaganda being put forward by the meat industry and politicians.

The recent controversy surrounding ground beef has brought to the public’s attention that an estimated 70 percent of ground beef in the U.S. contains an inferior grade beef parts mixture known as pink slime or “lean, finely textured beef”. While the issue has been around for several years, the controversy reached a boiling point when the USDA announced that it planned to order more than 7 million pounds for the National School Lunch Program, which according to federal regulations allows ground beef to contain up to 15 percent of the substance by weight.

The recent controversy has once again laid bare the continued problems that industrial agriculture has in hiding their worst practices from the American public and brought to light the negative consequence that industrial meat production has on family farmers and consumer confidence.

“Transparency, knowledge and choice – that is what consumers need in their spending decisions,” said Chris Petersen, a farmer from Clear Lake, Iowa and president of Iowa Farmers Union. “The facts are now coming in and once again people are questioning our food system blessed by the FDA and USDA and a lot of politicians influenced by processors, industrial agriculture, lobbyists and campaign contributions.”

Petersen’s comment about transparency in food choice and undue political influence is especially important considering the revelation that Eldon and Regina Roth, the owners of Beef Products Inc., the world’s largest producer of pink slime, have contributed more an estimated $800,000 to local, state and federal elected officials, including more than $150,000 to Governor Branstad.

With the recent loss of livestock reforms in Washington DC, known as GIPSA, which were required market protections won under the last 2007 Farm Bill and were gutted last winter under meat industry pressure, farmers and ranchers are outraged over the continued political influence of the meat industry which has driven more than 80,000 beef cattle producers out of business in the past decade with little response from Congress or USDA officials.

“Family farmers and ranchers are being used again by giant agribusiness and their pet policies to gain the public’s support for one of their most unethical practices that actually cuts the demand for beef cattle,” said George Naylor, a farmer near Churdan, Iowa and the past president of the National Family Farm Coalition. “Farmers, ranchers, and the public should not want ‘cheap’ food, but food of good quality that’s affordable,” Naylor continued.

Farmers and ranchers are so outraged over the obvious political attention and deliberate PR spin being waged by the meat industry and the political supporters that cattle producer and independent meat processor Mike Callicrate travelled from as far as Colorado to make sure that America heard the message loud and clear.

“The use of pink slime is a grave betrayal of trust to our beef eating customers. Selling adulterated, otherwise inedible tissue, to uninformed people is wrong. These irresponsible practices by USDA and our short-sighted, greed driven meat industry are ruinous to our reputation, our financial future and America’s food system,” said Callicrate.

“Americans are growing tired of the continued collusion between agribusiness and politicians”, said Dave Murphy of Clear Lake, Iowa, the founder and executive director of Food Democracy Now! a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to reforming America’s food system. “Real farmers and cattle producers don’t support the use of pink slime in school lunches or our food supply. Not only does it suppress the price farmers receive for their cattle, but it also debases the quality of their product, something they take a lot of pride in producing.”

The farmers and ranchers will be joined by students in the ISU School of Agriculture, activists and members from Food Democracy Now!, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Occupy Ames and Occupy ISU.

 

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George Goehl talks about fighting back.

 

Bill Moyers talks with longtime Iowa CCI friend George Goehl about how average people can fight back against the self-rewarding actions of banks and corporations.

It’s a great message. AND, if you pay super close attention you might be able to see a few Iowa CCI members in the background footage from the Showdown in Chicago and other actions. 🙂

 

Activist George Goehl on People Power from BillMoyers.com on Vimeo.

Bill Moyers talks with community organizer George Goehl about how — and even if — average people can fight back against self-rewarding actions of banks and corporations.  “If we want to shift our politics,” Goehl tells Moyers, “we have to make politicians who side with the big banks and the larger corporations pay a price for not siding with everyday people.”

 

Goehl is a co-organizer of  The 99% Spring, a national effort  to train 100,000 Americans to teach the country about income inequality in homes, places of worship, campuses and the streets. Goehl is also executive director of National People’s Action, a network of grassroots organizations using direct action to battle economic and racial injustice.

 

>>RSVP for the 99% Spring event in Iowa on Saturday, April 14, click here.

>>Read more 99% Spring press and buzz here.

 

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Guest opinion

Written by Dick Greenwood

Appeared in the March 28, 2012 Iowa City Press Citizen: http://www.press-citizen.com/article/20120328/OPINION02/303280011/Iowa-City-must-act-now-curb-predatory-lending?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|Opinion|p

The Iowa City Council has an incredible opportunity to strengthen economic development and neighborhood revitalization and safeguard the welfare of the local community by using its zoning powers to restrict the number of predatory payday lenders that can operate in Iowa City.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members support strong and effective public oversight that:

» Caps the density of payday loan shops to one for every 20,000 city residents.

» Requires separation distances of two miles between stores and one mile from residential areas, churches, parks, child care facilities and schools.

» Prohibits new stores from opening in neighborhood retail and pedestrian commercial districts.

These proposals are not controversial. In the absence of strong state action to cap interest rates on payday loans, the cities of Des Moines, West Des Moines and Clive have already passed similar local zoning ordinances, and Ames is considering a comparable proposal.

In Iowa, payday loans are effectively capped at $445 and are due in full in just 14 days. To get a payday loan for $445, a borrower must write a postdated check or authorize an automatic withdrawal from her/his bank account for $500. This means the average APR (annual percentage rate) for a payday loan in Iowa often exceeds 400 percent (as a point of comparison, Mafia loan sharks averaged just 250 percent in their hay day).

For a family living paycheck to paycheck, it can be impossible to pay back a $500 loan in just two weeks. That’s why 98 percent of all payday loans go to repeat customers. And 76 percent of all payday loans in Iowa go to customers getting a new loan every two weeks. Payday lending creates an instant debt trap and treadmill that can be impossible to escape.

But payday lenders rely on this debt trap to profiteer — which is why they are opposed to any attempts to curb the practice.

This might be a good business model to maximize corporate profits, but it’s not a good model to provide access to affordable credit to those who direly need it.

Payday loans are a bad financial product that hurt, rather than help, everyday hardworking families. And because so many payday loan companies are incorporated as out-of-state corporations, they do not pay income taxes on the profits they make in Iowa. $36 million in payday loan profits flee the state of Iowa every year, draining our local communities of hard-earned wealth that should be circulating here in our cities and towns rather than padding the bank accounts of out-of-state CEOs and unknown speculators.

Payday lenders also contribute to neighborhood blight and drive away legitimate businesses. In Iowa City, the majority of payday loan shops are located on the south and southeast areas of town. If the city is serious about developing those parts of town and ameliorating some of the social problems in those neighborhoods, then a tough new zoning policy to restrict predatory payday lending isn’t just the morally right thing to do, it’s also in the city’s long-term economic self-interest.

Iowa CCI members urge the Iowa City Council to put communities before corporate interests and to put people before profits and pass a strong zoning ordinance that includes a mix of the best density and distance restrictions on predatory payday lenders.

It’s time to put people first.

Vulture capitalism must be stopped.

Iowa City resident Dick Greenwood is a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.

 

>>Read more about members efforts to curb predatory payday lenders in Iowa.

>>In the Iowa City area and want to get involved? Contact us today.

 

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