11 House spending bills are provisions making it harder for federal agencies to pursue the policy that encourages them to cut costs by competing with the private sector for federal jobs that are not strictly
For the third consecutive year, House lawmakers have approved an amendment offered by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) prohibiting agencies from using the revised Office of Management and Budget circular that governs competitive sourcing. The House voted 222-203 June 30 to pass the amendment to the appropriations bill that funds the departments of Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development, the Judiciary, District of Columbia and Independent Agencies.
Under the Van Hollen amendment, agencies could still use the old circular for competitive sourcing. But the amendment's intent is to force another revision of the circular, ending "the administration's ideologically driven agenda to benefit private contractors over federal employees and
taxpayers," Van Hollen said in a written statement.
In previous years, Van Hollen's language has been blocked in a conference committee.
House lawmakers also approved an amendment to the appropriations bill offered by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that would reverse the results of a $1.9 billion competitive sourcing bid that Lockheed Martin won earlier this year at the Federal Aviation Administration. The amendment to block Lockheed Martin from running the FAA's flight service stations passed 238-177.
Both amendments were cited in a Bush administration veto threat against a number of provisions that would water down the President's Management Agenda.
The language of the veto threat is not as aggressive as it has been in previous years, said John Threlkeld, a Capitol Hill lobbyist at the American Federation of Government Employees. The White House said it will work with Congress to uphold the contract.
According to a statement of administration policy, a veto would be likely if the appropriations bill significantly erodes the management agenda. "That's a lot of wiggle room," Threlkeld said.
Proponents of competitive sourcing are still counting on the veto threat, however, while also appealing for a larger debate on the issue of competitive sourcing.
"The current environment is so venomous right now that those discussions are few and far between now," said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an industry association.
Through amendments and language changes, Congress poses a significant threat to competitive sourcing, Soloway said.
Language in this year's House Defense Appropriations bill would renew a requirement for private contractors to spend the same amount of money on health
insurance compared with existing health
coverage for civilian Defense Department employees.
In the Homeland Security Department's spending bill, the Senate Appropriations Committee affirmed House-approved language that could continue to exempt immigration officers from competitive sourcing studies.
Similarly, the full House and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a provision that prevents the Agriculture Department from spending money on competitive sourcing studies related to rural development or farm loan programs.
Congress also approved spending caps on expenditures for competitive sourcing studies at the Interior Department and Forest Service.
"Eventually it's going to cause most of the private sector simply to walk away, because they know at the end of the day the final refuge is going to be the Congress," Soloway said.
Base closings on agenda at hearing today
Web Posted: 07/11/2005 12:00 AM CDT
Express-News Military Writer
When the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission opens a critical regional hearing this morning in downtown San Antonio, three experts will get roughly five minutes each to make the Alamo City's case.
The arguments for saving missions at risk and preserving big gains from this year's BRAC will be logical, precise and timed to the second. Discipline will be as tight as a troop inspection.
"There's no emotion at all in our presentation," said the city's BRAC point man, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. John G. Jernigan, "other than basically presenting a positive demeanor."
There's reason for confidence. As crunch time comes in the nation's fifth base-closure round, San Antonio is sitting pretty, poised to gain 3,500 jobs and up to $1 billion in new construction. That is a dramatic improvement over the last closure round, in 1995, when the city lost Kelly AFB and its skilled work force of 10,000 people.
Only one other city, El Paso — the state's biggest gainer, netting 11,000 troops for Fort Bliss — will have that kind of story to tell as San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger opens the proceedings in the Convention Center by leading the Pledge of Allegiance.
But many in the crowd will have reason for nervousness as former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi joins three other commissioners at the hearing.
The biggest hit would come to Texarkana, where more than 4,500 workers at Red River Army Depot and the Lone Star Army Ammunition plant stand to lose their jobs. If the commission fails to reverse the closure order, Texarkana's 5.8 percent jobless rate could triple.
On the Gulf Coast, Ingleside Naval Station's shutdown would cost a thriving but once-dormant seaside town 3,900 jobs. Corpus Christi Naval Air Station stands to lose 1,000 workers, with a ripple effect officials there say could cost up to 8,000 jobs in the region.
Today's speakers, though, likely are to stress the national-security risks they see in the Pentagon's BRAC plan — rather than its debilitating economic impact.
"Naval Station Ingleside provides an incredible deterrent for the prospect of terrorism we fear here in South Texas," said Cathy Travis, a spokeswoman for Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi.
"We feel like there are some holes in the (Pentagon's) argument and the recommendation," said Jerry Sparks, who heads the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce's BRAC committee. "If not, we wouldn't be contesting it."
Each community will have its say, with those standing to be hurt the most getting the longest amount of time.
Texas and Arkansas, both of which are affected by Red River, will have 85 minutes. Corpus Christi-Ingleside gets 45 minutes. El Paso, Killeen, Wichita Falls, Abilene and Oklahoma will get their turn as well, with 20 minutes to a half hour to argue for changes that would benefit their towns and regions.
Their best chance lies in showing the military utility of their installations as well as the potentially devastating impact of losing them or important missions.
But emotional displays of support also will be in full view.
One group, the American Federation of Government Employees, will mount an "informational picket" outside the Convention Center starting at 11 a.m. It will protest the proposed closure of Brooks City-Base, Wilford Hall Medical Center and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service office here.
"The BRAC commission apparently has no concern that loyal federal workers will lose their jobs," said Rogelio "Roy" Flores, national vice president of AFGE's 10th District.
Three of the four commissioners at the hearing have ties to San Antonio but aren't likely to be swayed by such comments. Tom Hill, Lloyd W. "Fig" Newton and Sue Ellen Turner are retired generals familiar with union rhetoric.
Certain that emotional pleas will fall on deaf ears, Jernigan's San Antonio Area Military Missions Task Force, which also includes retired Air Force Col. Doug Williams and Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, wants to expose faulty facts and reasoning in the Pentagon's mammoth analysis used to justify the shuttering of 33 bases nationwide.
It won't try to save Brooks, a city-run facility that leases space to the Air Force, but the task force will try to keep key missions.
"The best people to present (testimony on other missions) are professionals who know what they're talking about," said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who has helped map out the strategy for today's session.
Jernigan will argue for keeping Brooks' School of Aerospace Medicine and two other research labs in town. Williams, once assigned to the Air Intelligence Agency, will contend that Lackland AFB's Cryptologic Systems Group should remain here rather than move to Ohio.
Cigarroa, president of the University of Texas Health Science Center, will support the Pentagon's decision to make Fort Sam Houston a Defense Department Center for Joint Enlisted Training, an action that is to bring 9,364 jobs to the post but certain to hurt other installations.
Three more regional hearings will follow, with the BRAC commission making its first vote July 19 to add bases to the closure list. A final vote for bases to be added or taken off the list will occur in August.
No date for that make-or-break vote has been set, but BRAC commission spokesman Robert McCreary said the hearing isn't the end of the line. People still can file statements or additional information at the Web site www.brac.gov.
Hill told reporters that any flaws in the analysis will be factored into the commission's final recommendations, to be sent to President Bush by Sept. 8.
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Rachel Denny Clow/Caller-Times
Tom Watson (center), vice president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 1 in Ingleside, marches Saturday with Corpus Christi Army Depot federal employees belonging to the American Federation of Government Employees Local 2142 and other union members.
Workers protest BRAC list
Union says their rights are violated
By Adriana Garza Caller-Times
July 10, 2005
More than 80 federal civilian employees from military installations across the state marched from Sherrill Park to the federal courthouse on Saturday protesting a potential base closure and realignment as well as a new federal personnel system, which union representatives say denies federal employees their rights.
Union members from the Corpus Christi Army Depot, Naval Air Station Corpus Christi and Naval Station Ingleside joined other union members from Lackland Air Force Base, Brooks Air Force Base and DFAS-San Antonio to voice their concerns.
Its first phase starting this month, the personnel system is a Department of Defense proposal to restructure the human resources management for civilian employees in the department. The system will establish new procedures and rules for hiring, pay, classification, performance management, disciplinary issues and labor-management relationships.
"We are upset that federal employees are taking a double hit from the Department of Defense," said John Gage, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees, referring to both BRAC and the personnel system. "We are hurting our veterans who have served this nation and now because of 9/11 and the Iraqi Wars, it's necessary to take away their rights."
Union officials say the personnel system violates workers' rights, would eliminate union bargaining rights and would implement a pay-for-performance system that would fail to secure employees annual raises.
Gage said the BRAC closure and realignment list was released prematurely, adding that the Pentagon has yet to release its report detailing defense needs.
The AFGE has joined six other unions in taking legal action against the Department of Defense for developing the personnel system despite its violations of established laws, said Joe Gonzales, Local 2142 AFGE president. He said defense officials did not consult union representatives when the new system was crafted.
Contact Adriana Garza
at 886-3618 or [email protected]
Copyright 2005, Caller.com. All Rights Reserved.
EEOC gets green light for reorganization
By Amelia Gruber[email protected]
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Friday approved an agency reorganization plan, over the opposition of one commissioner and Democratic lawmakers.
The plan, which was unveiled in May and has been modified slightly in response to suggestions from employees and outside groups, calls for the thinning of management layers at field offices, and for a greater emphasis on investigations, mediation, litigation, outreach and other front-line work. Agency officials estimate that the reorganization will save the EEOC $4.8 million over eight years, as higher salaried executives leave and are replaced by lower-paid workers.
Three of four commissioners, including EEOC Chairwoman Cari Dominguez, voted in favor of the plan. Commissioner Stuart Ishimaru, who was appointed by President Bush in 2003, remained a vocal opponent.
"The commission's structure is an outdated liability," Dominguez said in opening remarks before the vote. "It was created before the telecommunications revolution and other watershed advances in organizational efficiency, and before discrimination shifted from bold and overt to subtle and sophisticated."
As part of his management agenda, President Bush has asked agencies to reorganize so that they are more results-oriented, Dominguez said. Federal managers who have failed to show that their programs are effective have seen budgets slashed or programs placed on the chopping block, said Nicholas Inzeo, director of agency's office of field programs.
"EEOC cannot afford to be on that list of agencies," Inzeo said, referring to the 154 programs that the Bush administration marked for elimination or significant cuts as part of its fiscal 2006 budget request.
The field office reorganization is the second in a three-stage process of a broader restructuring that has been in the works since 2002, when the EEOC asked the National Academy of Public Administration, an independent, nonprofit organization chartered by Congress, for advice on how to use scarce resources more efficiently. The first stage entailed the creation of a national customer service center, and the third will involve a restructuring of headquarters to support the reshaped field organization.
Much more drastic field reorganization proposals were suggested over the several years of deliberation, said Leonora Guarraia, EEOC's chief operating officer. But EEOC leaders honored requests to keep all offices in the field open and to ensure that no employees would lose jobs or be forced to move as part of the restructuring, Guarraia said.
But Ishimaru said he remains opposed to change for the sake of change. EEOC officials have failed to make a strong business case, he said, noting that savings of $4.8 million over eight years "can only be described as de minimus." That amounts to $600,000 a year, he noted, adding that the $4.8 million total is less than the estimated cost of running a two-year test of the national customer service center.
As part of the reorganization, eight of 23 district offices headed by senior executives or GS-15-level regional attorneys will be downgraded to field offices directed by GS-15-level managers or GS-14-level supervisory trial attorneys. Two local offices -- one in Mobile, Ala., and a second in Las Vegas - will be added, increasing the number of offices in the field from 51 to 53.
EEOC officials completed the list of district offices to be downgraded without analyzing all the necessary data, Ishimaru said. They based their decision primarily on levels of charges filed and location, he said, but should have also looked at quality of work, outreach, numbers of cases referred for litigation, number of cases mediated and other statistics.
In a July 6 letter to Dominguez, 30 Senate Democrats expressed concern that by thinning ranks of regional attorneys and managers, the agency would see a decline in the number of charges referred for litigation. "There will be fewer people to refer charges to Washington . . . and regional attorneys who must make important litigation decisions will be separated from the investigators with front-line information needed to make those decisions," the letter stated.
The senators asked the EEOC to hold off on its reorganization until the Government Accountability Office has had a chance to complete research on possible implications.
"Any changes to the EEOC's structure should enhance its capabilities to deter, detect and litigate violations of the nation's civil rights laws," the letter stated. "We are not confident that this proposal will do that, and fear that it will actually undermine the commission's work."
But EEOC Deputy General Counsel James Lee said that the reorganization will not hurt litigation programs at any of the field offices. All litigation requests ultimately must be approved by either the general counsel's office or the commission, he said, and simply pass through regional attorneys. Cases could still be referred under the new structure, he said.
The reorganization proposal may not be perfect, said Vice Chair Naomi Earp, but change is needed and no strong alternates were offered. Critics failed to put forth any constructive criticism during an extended comment period, she said. "Frankly, I am disappointed at how the additional time for comment has been used," she said, calling the lack of substance in many of the submissions "disheartening."
Rachel Shonfield, legislative coordinator for American Federation of Government Employees Council of EEOC Locals 216, one of the groups in opposition, took exception to that remark. "I don't think it was the job of the public to come up with a plan," she said. Had the public been expected to suggest an alternative, more data should have been made available, she added.
AFGE will be watching as the fiscal 2006 Justice and Commerce appropriations bill (H.R. 2862) makes its way through Congress, Shonfield said. Language in a preliminary Senate the version of the bill would prevent the EEOC from reducing numbers of mediators, investigators or attorneys in field offices.
While the reorganization plan does not explicitly call for reductions in staff, the legislative provision is designed to prevent any "back door" downsizing as district offices are reclassified as field offices or area offices, Shonfield said. The average EEOC district office has 63 employees, while the agency's sole field office has 37 employees and the typical area office has 18, she said.
The reorganization plan fails to address the EEOC's main problem, which is a lack of adequate staff, Shonfield added.
Americans Respond to London Attacks
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox (R-Calif.) called the terrorist bombings in London "the barbaric murder of scores of civilians in the center of London," adding the attacks are "a chilling reminder that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were not isolated."
He continued, "It is vital that the civilized world unite in the effort to hunt down all of the perpetrators who are still living. But for now, the killers remain at large. They are as much a threat to Europe, to America, and to the civilized world as they are to London."
As a result, the United States must redouble its efforts to prepare for terrorist attacks, said Cox. "While we cannot turn our transit systems into hardened targets, the aggressive measures underway are aimed at meeting both our security needs and the demands of a free society," he added.
He suggested the United States should step up deployments of remote surveillance technologies in mass transit systems, which will help prevent attacks as well as aid in the capture of those responsible.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said the attack in London "should serve as a reminder that America and our closest allies face perpetrators of evil threats who will stop at nothing to inflict harm and pain. As our nations continue to remain vulnerable to terrorist attacks, we must remain vigilant – and we must plug up the holes and inconsistencies in our current efforts to protect the American homeland. Almost 4 years after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, passenger rail and public transit security remains an afterthought."
Thompson added, "our thoughts, prayers and well wishes are with the city of London and the victims of [the] terrorist attack. We know the people of London are resilient and England has been resolute in fighting the war on terror."
The president of the union representing workers in the Department of Homeland Security offered the condolences of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) to the families who lost loved ones in the London subway attacks.
"As civil servants sworn to protect the American people and their homeland, we express our solidarity with the people of the United Kingdom – most especially with the public servants who attended to the innocent commuters who endured this gruesome assault, and those who prevented such attacks in the recent past."
He offered reassurances to the American people, saying, "In this time of danger and sadness, we rally with all in the Homeland Security Department, labor and management alike, ever resolute in our duty to protect the American people."
San Bernardino County Sun
Migrants come to work, send cash home
By Brenda Gazzar
Saturday, July 09, 2005 - TACÁTZCUARO, Mexico - In Javier Lopez's hometown of golden cornfields, towering sugar cane and avocado orchards, his pink house near the end of Constitucion Street could bear the label "Made in America."
Javier built a good part of his comfortable, three-bedroom home in the hills of the state of Michoacán with money earned in the fields of Northern California and in Inland Empire car washes.
Inside the house, his family's dining room set, the washing machine, and three DVD players were either brought over from across the border or purchased with money earned by family members there.
"If I didn't go, I wouldn't have anything here," Javier said in Spanish from his tiny but elegant dining room this winter. "Everything I have here is because of sacrifice."
That sacrifice, according to Javier, is leaving his wife and most of his seven children in Mexico to work across the border for seven or eight months of the year, and sometimes more.
Javier and hundreds more immigrants from this small town are among the millions of Mexican immigrants, mainly in the United States - legally and illegally - who in 2004 sent $16.6 billion in remittances back home to support loved ones.
Many, like Rafael Ceja Avila of Rialto, are able to get their green card and go and come with ease.
Others, like Javier of Pomona, get into the United States using borrowed documents or by trekking over the hills with the help of human smugglers -- "coyotes" -- permeating the border illegally time and time again..
These men have made a second home in the Inland Valley, where social networks are tight, service work is abundant and the lowest-paying jobs offer up to six times more than what they earn in rural Mexico.
"I would prefer to stay here and have it all, but I don't have it," Javier said, who has living in both worlds since 1977. "I don't have what I need."
A half-empty village
North of Tacátzcuaro's town plaza, on a narrow street called Nicolas Mendez, the area code "909" is scrawled in black paint on a wall.
Many homes here and throughout this rural pueblo have a connection to the Inland Empire.
The tamale woman who roams town with her mobile cart has a husband who works and sends money regularly from Perris.
The pharmacist's son is a truck driver in Ontario, which in this small Mexican town - unlike in California - is never confused with the Canadian province.
Young men who speak Spanglish are seen lazing around the plaza in the afternoon, sometimes planning their next trip to San Bernardino, Riverside or Orange counties.
Rafael's son, Ignacio Rafael Ceja Garcia, who worked at a Rialto restaurant for nearly two years, said he often does not work in the pueblo. "Sometimes, it's because there is no work, and sometimes there is work but it's low-paying, and I feel that we're killing ourselves to earn little money," the then 21-year old said while enjoying an afternoon relaxing with friends at a nearby lake.
Perhaps every family here could tell a similar story: A husband, son, sister, brother, uncle lives and works in cities such as Rialto, Perris, Santa Ana, or farther afield in Northern California, and even in the Midwest. Most send money home on a regular or periodic basis.
The reasons for migration are clear.
"Joblessness and poverty have coexisted for long periods of time and made it structurally impossible for a country like Mexico to employ all who need employment," said Jaime A. Regalado, director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.
Thus, many migrate next door to "the richest country the world has ever known," where cheap labor has always been needed, he said.
Some go with the intention of merely experiencing "El Norte" - The North - while earning dollars for themselves and their families back home.
"People here live very humbly," said Father José Munguía Morales, retired priest of Tacátzcuaro. "They lack many things, so they try to take advantage of this money for different uses, for their children, for school, or for things they need."
Others intend to immigrate permanently, legally or illegally, to build a new life for themselves and their families.
Because of the exodus to find work elsewhere, many of Tacátzcuaro's brightly colored adobe homes remain vacant, or are used by young couples.
For those who stay behind in Tacátzcuaro, opportunities are numbered. The rural town is dependent mostly on agriculture. It has no industry, few career opportunities and extremely low-paying jobs.
In the mornings, men of all ages pile into the backs of trucks and cars to be taken to the fields or to construction sites, where they'll earn perhaps $12 to $14 per day. Much of the work here is seasonal and temporary.
While the local economy generates enough wealth for many residents to live, it does not allow people to accumulate or save money, said Nohelia Linares Gonzalez, municipal president of the township of Tingüindín, which includes Tacátzcuaro.
"The economy based on agriculture has many risks, including natural ones," she said. "This makes our economy very volatile, but what gives us stability ... is receiving these (American) dollars."
It's just after 7:30 a.m. in the town of roughly 2,400 inhabitants, where donkeys run freely in the streets and Sunday cockfights are almost as popular as afternoon Mass.
Javier waves to his friend milking cows, then gets into a crowded old car that takes him over dirt roads to build homes on nearby ranches.
When he returns, his blue jeans will be covered in dirt, and his hands so chafed and cracked from lifting cement slabs that it will hurt to hold a spoon.
Even construction work is sporadic in Tacátzcuaro, and despite Javier's higher-than-average wage of 250 pesos a day, it's not enough to support his large family. The family's daily expenses usually run about 300 pesos, or $30 a day, and sometimes up to $40 and even $50, his wife said.
Those entering the job force in Mexico are much more likely to find work in self-help jobs that are off the books than they are working for a factory, supermarket or as a school teacher in the formal sector.
Nine out of 10 new jobs generated in Mexico are self-help jobs that are "off the books," said Heather Williams, associate professor of politics at Pomona College in Claremont.
"The Mexican economy is not generating jobs in the formal sector fast enough to absorb newcomers to the work force," Williams said.
In addition to feeding his wife and the three or four children he usually has living at home, Javier must pay for school tuition for his youngest child ($26 a month) and multiple school uniforms and shoes for his youngest two, which cost several hundred dollars a year.
He also must pay for tanks of natural gas for the home ($100 a month), telephone service (between $50 and $70 a month), cable TV service ($15 a month), and electricity ($25 a month).
Like many in Tacátzcuaro, the family has no car and often pays for transportation to run errands in nearby towns.
In addition, both Javier and his wife, Concepcion, have diabetes and must pay for their medicine - $10 for a bottle of pills that lasts 15 days - and doctor visits, which often cost her more than $100 each.
The couple has no health insurance - they say they do not qualify for government-administered health insurance and do not trust private insurance - and will receive no money from the government when they grow old.
In fact, Javier's father, who is 103, still works in the fields occasionally to support himself.
"If we were by ourselves (without children), I wouldn't go to the United States," Javier said in January at his Tacátzcuaro home. "With the little that we make here, we would be surviving. But to save money, never could we save money here."
And then there's the cost of beer.
Javier likes to drink, and sometimes consumes between 15 and 20 beers a day - about 9 pesos' worth per bottle, or just under $1 each. Although he knows drinking so much is bad for a diabetic, water doesn't satiate him when he's working, Javier said.
Besides paying his family's expenses, Javier wants to improve his home.
While he admits that many in Tacátzcuaro live much more humbly than he, Javier hopes to build a second story for when his daughter, Maricela, and his two grandchildren come to visit from Fontana during the month-long Christmas celebrations.
A second story would cost him about $15,000.
"Let's see if we can do it this time when I go over there," he said. "That's my dream."
Javier usually is caught two or three times before making it over the hills and into the U.S., although once it took him six tries. A couple of times, he made it on his first attempt.
Although Javier can simply cross by flashing his friend's green card, he often makes the dangerous journey with his sons so he can ensure their safety.
Border Patrol officials know they catch but a small fraction of those who cross, perhaps 25 to 33 percent, said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council.
"Most people probably are just like this guy, people coming in primarily from Mexico, looking for a better way of life. But who's to say there aren't lieutenants of the al-Qaida network coming in and getting by us?" Bonner said.
When he gets caught, Javier is put in jail for a few hours, or sometimes all night. Border Patrol officials take his fingerprints, ask some questions, then let him go in Tijuana.
He can wait there at his sister's for a few days, or sometimes several weeks, before trying again.
"It's not like I arrive one day, and tomorrow the coyote passes me," he said earlier this year. "I go. They catch me. They kick me out. They catch me again, until I get lucky and they don't get me."
Javier knows of one Tacátzcuaro man who didn't survive the trek across the border. Javier himself once was robbed of the little money he had by Mexicans while trying to cross.
Before crossing, he often thinks about the wife and family he is leaving behind.
"I go wanting to go, but I don't know if I will return," he said.
Rafael Ceja Avila of Rialto said he feels fortunate to have gotten his green card after working in the fields in the 1980s, but that he also feels bad for those from his pueblo who haven't had the same opportunity.
"They are humble persons, and they are looking for a better life," he said.
Dollars = survival
Town gossip in Tacátzcuaro often consists of which family members in the United States are sending money home and which are shirking their familial duties.
One afternoon in January, Concepcion was sitting around her kitchen table, complaining that her son, Arturo, had sent her little money the first time he was in the U.S.
"He was there three years, and in three years he didn't do anything," said Concepcion, a plump, attractive woman with blondish hair. "He didn't help us in Mexico for anything."
When Concepcion's third son, Daniel, interjected that he himself sent money while he was working at an Inland Valley car wash, Concepcion responded grudgingly:
"A little bit. Once in a while."
"I had to pay rent," Daniel, 20, said defensively.
On the other hand, Javier and Concepcion's eldest son, Francisco Javier is very responsible, Concepcion said. He sent his mother $1,000 every four or five months when he was working at a car wash last year.
Concepcion, who spends each day tending to her home and family, still is waiting for money to pay for tiling a bathroom wall.
"All that I have here in the house, the floor tile, the furniture, the dining room set, is from money over there," she said.
Concepcion, whose late father also left Tacátzcuaro to work in the United States, is among the 18 percent of Mexican adults who receives remittances, according to Washington, D.C.-based Inter-American Dialogue.
The majority of recipients around the world are women, with about half of such households receiving no other income.
But as is the case in other households receiving remittances, the vast majority of money Concepcion gets will go toward basic necessities.
Later that day, Concepcion will walk a few blocks to the meat market, where slabs of freshly slaughtered beef hang from a wooden post.
She will buy about $10 worth of meat, and later $8 worth of vegetables and 60 cents worth of tortillas -- enough groceries to last about a day.
Later, she will cook the meat in a stew and cook some fish a godson gave her, saving her quite a few pesos.
Sometimes her youngest son, Jerson, asks her how much money she spent that day.
When she tells him, he often says, "That cost a lot." "But I tell him, what are we going to do? Die of hunger?" she said.
"Aqui no se alcanza."
Here, the money earned is not enough.
An early beginning
Like many immigrants in the United States, Javier's education in Mexico doesn't go past third grade, but he learned the basics of reading and writing.
And then his working years began. Even as a young boy, he had to fetch firewood after school, or else be beaten by his elders.
"My parents wanted me to work. I thank them for that," he said. "If not, I don't think I would know how to do anything now."
As a boy, he worked for several months taking care of cows in the fields, working 13-hour days and making about 100 pesos, or $10, each month.
When he was 11, a godfather offered him a job at his ice cream shop in Mexico City, about six hours away.
Javier would remain there until he was 16, making 700 pesos a month and sending money to his parents. It was an easy job that he liked, he said.
Shortly after he returned to Tacátzcuaro, he met and married Concepcion.
He was 17. She was 16. He began working in the corn fields, working 12-hour days and earning 50 pesos per day. The young couple lived in various homes, most loaned to Javier by townspeople, with a few meager possessions.
Concepcion had only one blue cazuela, or earthen cooking pot, to prepare food for the family. In the morning, she would make his lunch in the pot, and when done, wash it and prepare food for the rest of the family.
"We didn't have anything. No chairs, no tables," Javier said. "My two oldest sons, they suffered a lot."
Long day's journey
Javier, whose work as a car washer is often dependent on the weather, waited to cross the mountainous frontier until thisspring's rains in Southern California had stopped and the Easter festivities had come to an end. By March, there was no more construction work for him in or near Tacátzcuaro.
In mid-April, Javier, his son Daniel, and two young men from the village took a flight from Guadalajara to Tijuana, where Javier's daughter Maricela and her family, who live in Fontana, picked them up in the middle of the night.
Later that morning, in a downtown Tijuana ice cream shop across from law enforcement buildings and a fire station, Javier ironed out the details of his trip with a disabled smuggler named Fernando.
Javier, his son and three others from their town would attempt to make the journey that evening, taking a bus to Tecate, then crossing the hills by foot with the held of Fernando's workers. The cost: $1,800 per person, payable at the time of delivery.
If Javier succeeded, it would be his 15th time crossing over since 1977, he estimated.
"I think this is going to be the last time," Javier said at his sister's house in Tijuana, talking to an old friend from his hometown whose son would also be making the trip.
"He always says the same thing - that it is the last time," piped up his sister, Abigail Lopez, as she cooked a feast of mole, rice and beans for her daughter's 13th birthday party.
With backpacks carrying a gallon of water, a couple of cans of tuna and several slices of bread for each person, Javier, his son and three friends shook hands and embraced family and friends.
At the central bus station in Tijuana, Javier chewed on his fingers and glanced nervously at the clock. His guide appeared 20 minutes before departure time.
Javier and his group boarded a large bus with several other passengers, and 90 minutes later, at a stop just before the border city of Tecate, jumped off the bus and disappeared down a hill.
There, Javier put on his jacket and waited. Some in the group smoked nervously. Others unzipped their pants and relieved themselves.
They would wait until 8 p.m., until the night sky turned completely dark, to cross the Tijuana-Tecate highway and begin their trek north over the mountainous terrain. They were to be picked up somewhere near San Diego, about 30 miles from Tecate.
Javier's journey - and whatever future awaited him across the hills - was about to begin.
VA Hospital in Texas Fights to Stay Open
Veterans Show Support During Secretary's Visit
By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 11, 2005; A03
WACO, Tex. -- Building 7 on the campus of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center here is called Blind Rehab, a special unit for aging vets who have macular degeneration or diabetes-induced vision problems.
But this past year, Blind Rehab began to see a new type of patient: veterans barely past their 20th birthdays, blinded by gunshot wounds and bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"These soldiers now have flak jackets and armor that protect their bodies and keep them alive, but we see traumatic limb injuries and traumatic head injuries," said Stan Poel, chief of Blind Rehabilitation Services at the Waco hospital. "Those are the things that are presenting a challenge to the VA."
These are also the kinds of patients the Department of Veterans Affairs now projects will flood an already overtaxed and underfunded health care system that treated more than 5 million veterans last year.
"Our number one priority is returning service members from the combat theater . . . and to provide world-class health care to veterans, as well as benefits," Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson said after a tour late last week of the 127-acre Waco campus, whose neighbors to the west include the huge Army base of Fort Hood, with 41,000 soldiers, and President Bush's ranch in Crawford.
"The increase in demand for our services from what we projected is up 126 percent," he said. "We have to obviously be prepared to ramp up."
The Waco hospital, with its well-kept pre-World War II red-brick, red-roof-tiled buildings, has provided health care for veterans in central Texas for 73 years. Now it is on the chopping block, scheduled along with 17 other VA hospitals to be closed or downsized as part of an agency plan to restructure the health care system. A 1999 government study found the VA was spending $1 million a day on buildings it did not need, and in 2003 a government commission recommended closing older, underused hospitals, including the one in Waco. The Waco facility is part of the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, which also includes a hospital in Temple and outpatient clinics in Austin and five other communities.
For the past two years, Waco officials, residents and veterans groups have been fighting back, emphasizing the importance of the facility's specialized blind rehabilitation, psychiatric and post-traumatic stress disorder units; the large and aging veteran population (Texas has the third-largest population of veterans in the country with 1.7 million, a third of whom received VA health care last year); and, now, the wave of veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who will need its services.
"They guaranteed so many years ago that they will take care of [veterans], and I would say they're pretty much going back on their word," said Ron Peterson, 35, an engineer with the 91st Engineer Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood. Peterson used a day off last week to provide a motorcycle escort for Nicholson's visit to Waco and to register his support for keeping the hospital there open.
Peterson was deployed to Iraq from January 2004 to this February. He was wounded twice, receiving the Bronze Star, two Purple Hearts and an Army Commendation Medal for valor in combat.
"They're not ready for everybody coming back," Peterson said. "They're trying to shut everything down and they're going to need PTSD units. The guys aren't seeing the things they saw in Vietnam, but they're seeing a lot of stuff."
This year, the post-traumatic stress disorder in-patient unit in Waco has seen more than 75 new cases of veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 15-bed blind rehab unit, which has helped 106 blind veterans this year learn skills such as how to use a walking cane, cook and negotiate e-mail, has a wait list of 73.
"This is the best PTSD facility in the union, and these [guys] are trying to close it down," said Bill Mahon, a Vietnam War veteran and the McLennan County veterans service officer. In the past two years, Mahon has organized several motorcycle rides to the gate of Bush's nearby ranch to protest the proposed closing. "This is not their hospital; it's our hospital."
Nationwide this fiscal year, 250,000 new patients -- 40 percent of them veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq and 60 percent of them veterans from other eras -- have entered the VA health care system, Nicholson said.
As Congress works to eliminate an emergency funding shortfall this year of at least $1 billion and a projected shortage in the VA health care budget of more than $1 billion in the coming fiscal year, VA hospitals have felt the impact nationwide.
According to documents released at recent meetings of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees, the VA hospital in White River Junction, Vt., was forced to shut its operating rooms temporarily because of a lack of maintenance funds to repair a broken heating, ventilation and air conditioning system. Hospitals in Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana and eastern Texas stopped scheduling appointments for many veterans. The VA medical center in San Diego, with a waiting list of 750 veterans, diverted $3.5 million in maintenance funds to partially cover operating expenses and delayed filling 131 vacancies for three months to cover operating expenses. The Portland, Ore., hospital delayed non-emergency surgery for at least six months, and 7,000 veterans who use the VA facility in Bay Pines, Fla., are waiting longer than 30 days for a primary care appointment.
"I'm going to go to a civilian doctor rather than wait 70 to 90 days," Douglas McKee, 63, of Chilton, Tex., said as he left the Waco facility on Thursday afternoon. McKee, who said he was disabled by a mine explosion in Vietnam while serving with the 173rd Airborne Brigade, had just learned that his regular doctor was on duty in Iraq and that he could not get an appointment with a new physician until mid-October. He would also have to wait for some of his prescription refills, he said.
"We laid our life on the line and then got blowed up and then you come here and you get turned away. That ain't fair," said McKee, who suffers from a variety of ailments and uses a walker to get around. "And then they got all the kids coming back from Iraq."
Nicholson assured hospital employees and veterans gathered for his visit that no decision had been made about the facility's fate and that he had "no predispositions about this at all."
Nicholson, who visited the facility at the request of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.), said he was concerned about the 300,000 square feet of vacant space at the Waco VA. A local advisory group suggested filling the space with nonprofit organizations such as the Salvation Army, which could tailor their services to veterans' needs.
Nicholson will make his decision about the Waco VA early next year, including a proposal to transfer its psychiatric and post-traumatic stress disorder services to Austin and Temple. He warned those gathered that his visit should not be interpreted as "an interception of the process." And he complimented the hospital for its track record. "This is the way the American people want veterans to be taken care of," he said.
As for the hospital's fate, Nicholson said, "the binding question is what's going to be the best for our vets? . . . They did what was best for us and for our country."
Milwaukee to lose EEOC district status
Agency says nationwide restructuring won't affect services
By GEORGIA PABST[email protected]
Posted: July 8, 2005
An agency-wide restructuring plan the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission approved Friday will downgrade the Milwaukee office from a district office to an area office.
The move was denounced by critics of the plan.
"It's a slap in the face to anyone in this town who gets up every morning and goes to work," said attorney Jeffrey Hynes, chairman of the Wisconsin Employment Lawyers Association.
"For our city it sends a clear message from the administration that we in Milwaukee are viewed as a second-class city that will be given second-class treatment when it comes to enforcement of very important discrimination laws, even though Milwaukee continues to be one of the most segregated cities in the country."
Gabrielle Martin, president of the National Council of EEOC locals, who attended the meeting in Washington, D.C, said following the 3-1 vote: "There is a pall over America with this vote. This is the beginning of the dismantling of civil rights."
In addition to Milwaukee, seven other district offices around the country will be downgraded: Baltimore, Denver, Cleveland, Detroit, New Orleans, San Antonio and Seattle. The agency will open two new offices: in Las Vegas and in Mobile, Ala.
EEOC officials staunchly defended the restructuring plan, saying that it will be "business as usual for the public" and not gloom and doom.
Under the plan, no jobs will be lost and no offices will close; the plan does reduce the number of managers and administrators and increases front-line staff so more streamlined and efficient services can be delivered to the public, the agency said in a statement released after the vote.
"We don't envision the size of the (Milwaukee office) will change from what it is now," said Nick Inzeo, the director of the office of field programs for the EEOC, in an interview. The office now has a staff of 44 people.
But he conceded that in Milwaukee and across the country, the agency has shrunk in recent years through attrition.
He said EEOC offices were downgraded on the basis of workload, primarily the number of charges filed.
As a district office, Milwaukee has served Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
The two-step downgrade from a district office to an area office would mean Milwaukee would report to the district office in Chicago.
Patrick Morris, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Milwaukee), said Kohl was "disappointed with the decision." He and other members of the congressional delegation had raised questions about the reorganization. It's too early to tell what the effects of the downgrade will mean, he said.
Sangita Nayak, a representative of 9 to 5, the National Association of Working Women, said the organization "is worried that this is reckless and will have a detrimental impact on people who experience discrimination in Milwaukee."
Martin and other critics also faulted the process the commission used to pass the restructuring, which they said failed to get ample hearings. But EEOC officials said that labor and various groups were given time to respond.
EEOC Commissioner Stuart J. Ishimaru, who voted no, also faulted the process. He called it "very shortsighted."
"A diminished presence in those cities sends the wrong signal," he said.
Commission votes to downgrade local EEOC office
By BRANDON GLENN
July 08. 2005 2:43PM
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has approved a restructuring plan that would downgrade Cleveland’s EEOC office, which critics say could result in local cases receiving less attention from the agency’s national headquarters.
Under terms of the proposal, the Cleveland office, at 1660 W. Second St., would be one of the agency’s eight district offices that would be downgraded one tier in the organization’s hierarchy.
The downgrading would strip the Cleveland office of its authority to recommend cases for litigation to the national headquarters. Complaints filed in Cleveland would be routed through Philadelphia.
“If cases get transferred, it’s usually the death knell,” said Gabrielle Martin, president of the National Council of EEOC Locals, a group of eight unions that represent about 1,500 EEOC employees.
Dan Cabot, the top official in the EEOC’s Cleveland office, and James Ryan, an EEOC spokesman in Washington, D.C., did not return phone messages seeking comment. The Cleveland office includes four attorneys and receives about 2,000 complaints per year, Mr. Cabot said in an interview last month.
The EEOC has said it proposed the measure to cut costs and to reposition staff to areas of greatest need.
“The EEOC's organizational structure is outdated, top heavy, and inefficient,” according to a statement from the agency.
Stanley Miller, executive director of the Cleveland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he was “very disappointed” by the commission’s endorsement of the plan. He said complaints to the Cleveland office had increased in recent years.
“I don’t know if they’ll be able to help us,” he said of the downgraded Cleveland office. “Somebody’s got to handle these complaints.”
While the EEOC has maintained that the restructuring would not result in any staff cuts, Ms. Martin said the agency might not replace people who quit or retire.
“If somebody leaves, there’s no guarantee that person will be replaced,” she said.
The plan “will leave the EEOC ill-prepared to fight the rising claims of discrimination,” Ms. Martin said. “As a result, America’s workers will be left without basic protections against discrimination in the workplace.”
The proposal also would downgrade EEOC offices in Baltimore, Denver, Detroit, Milwaukee, New Orleans, San Antonio and Seattle.
After being endorsed by the four-member President Bush-appointed commission, the plan now goes to a vote in Congress before it can take effect.
CQ HOMELAND SECURITY – TRANSPORTATION & INFRASTRUCTURE
July 8, 2005 – 9:35 p.m.
Screener Union Organizing at Stake in Kansas City Airport Case
By Caitlin Harrington, CQ Staff
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has agreed to review a case that could reaffirm the right of the nation’s nearly 2,000 privately employed airport screeners to organize a union for the first time since airport security was reorganized after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The case involves some 550 passenger and baggage examiners employed by FirstLine Transportation Security at Missouri’s Kansas City International Airport, one of five facilities that has been permitted to use private screener contractors under the guidance of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The outcome of the review is expected to set a precedent for screeners, privately supplied or not, who have fought for collective bargaining rights since the inception of the TSA after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Pursuant to a decree by the TSA in 2003, the approximately 45,000 screeners at the nation’s 445 remaining airports are not allowed to engage in collective bargaining.
Like their federal counterparts, private screeners at the five airports do not belong to unions. But now the screeners at Kansas City are pushing for union representation and collective bargaining rights, and FirstLine Transportation Security has appealed the dispute to the NLRB in Washington after the NLRB regional office in Overland Park, Kans., ruled that FirstLine employees could vote to join the International Union, Security, Police, and Fire Professionals of America (SPFPA). SPFPA is the nation’s largest union for security guards.
The board’s decision to review the case marks the first time the federal government has considered whether private screeners can unionize. The outcome will set a precedent for any additional airports that decide to “opt out” of the federal system and return to a workforce of private screeners.
“It is precedent setting,” said Steve Schuster, a Kansas City attorney who represents FirstLine. “Airports who currently have TSA screeners, who cannot engage in collective bargaining . . . are waiting to see whether the private sector could be organized or unionized. That is a whole other factor they would have to consider [in deciding whether to opt out].”
A decision by the board to allow union representation for private screeners holds the potential to affect federal screeners, too, union experts say.
Peter Winch, a screener organizer for the nation’s biggest federal employees union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), said that a decision to allow private screeners to organize may push TSA to re-examine its union policy for federal workers for the sake of consistency.
“TSA would be in an absurd position because private screeners doing the same job as federal screeners have collective bargaining rights,” he said.
Confident of Union Ban
But FirstLine attorney Schuster said he believes the NLRB will rule against allowing the screeners to organize, based on laws and the precedent set by the TSA.
”We see no reason legally or from a public policy standpoint to treat private screeners differently from public screeners when we’re talking about unions and collective bargaining rights,” Schuster said.
The TSA’s Web site says the agency takes no position on the collective bargaining rights of screeners employed by private companies.
The chairman of the NLRB, Robert J. Battista, along with NLRB member Peter C. Schaumber, announced the board’s decision to review the rights of private airport workers to organize in an order issued on June 30.
“Given the significance of the issues, and the interests of other Federal agencies . . . we think it important that the Board hear from those agencies, interested amici and further from the parties,” it said.
On July 7, the NLRB published an invitation to allow other federal agencies — such as the TSA — and interested groups to submit comments on the case. The AFGE plans to file an amicus brief supporting SPFPA, said Winch.
The FirstLine employees voted the first week in July, but the NLRB has impounded the results until a final review has been made.
Steve Maritas, an SPFPA orgnanizer, said the screeners at Kansas City felt it was necessary to organize because of injury rates and the lack of a 401(k) retirement plan.
The TSA has by far the highest injury rate of any federal agency. The agency reported more than 17,000 workers — nearly one-third of the workforce — were injured on the job in 2004.
SPFPA says screeners at Kansas City suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome and other injuries from carrying bags that weigh as much as 100 pounds.
Despite the problems alleged at Kansas City, a highly publicized study of screener performance conducted by BearingPoint in April 2004 found that FirstLine screeners at that airport actually performed better than the federal screeners.
Caitlin Harrington can be reached at [email protected]
Source: CQ Homeland Security
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