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Nigerian Coca-Cola Plant Workers Demand Decent Pay

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Special to the NNPA from the Global Information Network –

In a protest over low wages and long hours, casual workers of the Nigerian Bottling Company, bottlers of Coca-Cola, said they would no longer accept a daily wage of $2.56 (400 naira) being paid to them.

"We do hard labor with sweat as if we are prisoners and they expect us to survive on $2.56 a day,” said Femi Martins, a worker. "We come to work every day, 31 days a month, and 12 months a year, with nothing to show for it… At the end of the year, we don't even get a bottle of coke as bonus for the year's work."

Bearing signs saying: ‘We say no to slavery', the workers at the Ikeja plant in Lagos, are seeking a monthly wage of $288 (45,000 naira) 200 percent more than their current pay of $107.89 (16,800 naira).

As casual staff, they do not get safety gear and are also paid less than permanent staff.

Management, in a statement seen by the newspaper NEXT, claimed it was handling the matter internally, but that the workers were actually hired "through service providers for the plant."

Coke has operated in Nigeria for nearly 20 years, employing close to 6000 workers. In February, the company appointed Kelvin Balogun as its CEO. Balogun is Nigerian.

Foreclosed Homeowners Vent Anger at Wells Fargo

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By Suzanne Manneh and Ngoc Nguyen, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

SAN FRANCISCO - Oakland resident Sara Kershnar has been trying to get Wells Fargo bank to modify her home loan for two years.

After the bank allegedly lost some vital documents “three to four times,” Kershnar, began to think they were “negligent.” She began to get angry.

Kershnar had an opportunity earlier this month that few homeowners in her shoes receive. She got to vent her anger and grill Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf about the bank's policy on foreclosures. She and about a half dozen other homeowners took a stand during the bank's annual shareholder meeting in San Francisco.

The meeting took place immediately following a demonstration at Justin Herman Plaza, where hundreds of fed-up homeowners, renters, clergy, and union organizers rallied to protest what many said were Wells Fargo's unfair practices.

The crowd marched in the afternoon heat through San Francisco's Financial District to Wells Fargo's headquarters, where the shareholders meeting took place.

The rally was one of a series of actions that will be held this month, as well as the launching of a national campaign, The New Bottom Line, organized by a coalition of community, faith-based, and labor organizing groups.

In addition to this protest at Wells Fargo, demonstrations are planned at the Bank of America shareholder meeting, in Charlotte, N.C., on May 11, and at a JP Morgan Chase shareholder meeting, in Columbus, Ohio, on May 17.

Among the campaign's major demands is for Wells Fargo to “place a moratorium on all foreclosures until the bank negotiates with the coalition to establish comprehensive loan modification reforms.”

Another demand is to cease “illegal evictions of tenants in foreclosed properties.”

At the end of 2009, there were 350,169 Wells Fargo homeowners eligible for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). However, as of February 2011, only 77,402 of those homeowners received permanent loan modifications.

Wells Fargo also cancelled 118,697 trial loan modifications and has denied 175,336 eligible homeowners access to HAMP since 2009, according to a press release from organizers of the rally.

According to a bailout money overview study by Nomi Prins, of the nonpartisan think tank Demos, Wells Fargo received an estimated total of $43.7 billion in federal bailout funds. The bank reported $12.3 billion in earnings last year.

At the shareholders' meeting, Kershnar pointed out that the bank is making a profit at a “time when families in the country are barely surviving.” She called Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf's annual compensation of $17 million “obscene,” at a time when families are hurting.

“It is not an issue of business, it's an issue of ethics and should be an issue that all shareholders should be concerned about,” said Kershnar.

After a scandal last fall that exposed improper home foreclosures by some of the nation's biggest banks, including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and other banks issued moratoriums on foreclosures, while they reviewed their internal procedures. Wells Fargo did not.

CEO Stumpf maintained that Wells Fargo has modified 700,000 loans and has forgiven $4 billion of shareholder capital to keep people in their homes. “I get it,” he said. “There is a lot of pain.”

“It's not pain. It's exploitation,” responded Kershnar, adding that the bank intentionally gave out loans to homeowners, knowing that those loans would fail.

She charged that the bank has profited “obscenely” from servicing debt, affecting people's ability to have a home, and feed and clothe their children. Hundreds of thousands of people are waiting for a home modification, Kershnar said.

Raleigh McLemore, a homeowner and teacher at Bancroft Middle School in San Leandro, echoed Kershnar's concern. He, too, attended the shareholder meeting and was one of the protestors to be arrested.

McLemore said parents and other teachers at his school are reeling from the foreclosure crisis.

Often, he added, parents are too ashamed to talk about their foreclosure troubles. “There's still a lot of silence,” Mr. McLemore said. “Suddenly, the student is gone.”

CEO Stumpf said the HAMP program is just one option and that 80 percent of loan modifications occur outside of it.

“Foreclosures are not good for the housing market,” he said.

CEO Stumpf reiterated, “We do not make profit on foreclosures.” He went on, “We spend a lot of resources to help people stay in their homes.”

According to information in the shareholder proxy materials, citing an estimate by Morgan Stanley, “9 million U.S. mortgages that have been or are being foreclosed on may face challenges over the validity of legal documents.”

Campaign organizers and supporters aren't the only ones putting pressure on banks. This year's proxy included one item introduced by the New York City Office of Comptroller on behalf of pension funds of teachers, firefighters, and police officers.

The campaign's shareholder resolution calls for an independent review of Wells Fargo's mortgage processing and foreclosure policies to ensure that it complies with federal regulations.

However, Well Fargo's board recommended against the resolution, saying multiple audits of the bank's foreclosure processes have already been completed by federal regulators and the bank itself.

But Kristina Bedrossian, with the Coalition Reinvestment Committee, who played a role in organizing the event, believes the “resolution is critical because the public and shareholders do not have access to Wells (Fargo) internal audit of its processes.”

As Blacks Languish, Whither Go Civil Rights Groups?

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By Cynthia E. Griffin, Special to the NNPA from Our Weekly –

The belief that President Obama’s election heralded immediate change was so strong that shortly after his win, the blog Debate Link featured a Nov. 7, 2008, column entitled. “Do We Still Need Civil Rights After Obama?”

It is a penetrating question.

Rozalind Winstead, a San Diego-based compliance consultant who believes that civil rights organizations are definitely relevant today but need retooling, and possibly a return to the street agitation and marches that helped them desegregate the South in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement, says: “As a compliance consultant, I see inequities and disparities in employment practices, construction jobs, and public contracts,” she said. “Black people still do not benefit from the doors that were pushed open by civil rights organizations. If anyone thinks the civil rights era is over and those organizations are no longer needed, she is not paying attention to what is happening across the country.”

In spite of the election of Barack Obama, there are the very obvious economic indicators that racism might be (is) alive and well. The nation has spent the last few years slogging through an economic doldrums that has left millions unemployed, and as usual African Americans were the hardest hit.

In April, the nation’s unemployment rate was nine percent, or 13.7 million Americans out of work. In stark contrast, the unemployment rate for Blacks was 16.1 percent and 11.8 for Hispanics. The pattern displayed by these stats (African American joblessness at almost double the country’s rate) has remained consistent for years.

And, there is no way that these millions of African Americans could all be lazy, shiftless, and uninterested in working. Something else must be afoot, and conversations with those who study such issues would most likely point to the underlying racism that results in qualified Black job candidates being ignored in favor of sometimes less skilled Whites.

Maybe it’s racism. That insidious something that civil rights organizations have been fighting in America for decades. So perhaps groups like the NAACP, the National Urban League, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Rainbow Push are needed—again.

They are needed, Winstead added, because of all the assaults on Blacks and the achievements of civil rights groups.

But, some wonder if they really are still relevant.

To a degree civil rights groups have stepped up to the plate, most notably in pointing out how national and local policies impact African Americans.

For example in July 2010, a group of prominent civil rights leaders joined forces to push for a federal education agenda that gives all students an “Opportunity to Learn.” Among their demands were to revamp the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In the framework developed they also wanted to support universal access to early education for students in all states, including recruiting and retaining highly effective educators.

There is also a need, the leaders said, to address long-standing resource inequities that exist nationwide. Additionally, they believe the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top education funding strategy is inherently problematic for high-need students and school districts.

“Because only a few states will receive competitive grants, most children in most states, particularly the rural South, will experience a real decrease in federal support, when inflation and state and local budget cuts are taken into consideration,” the civil rights leaders pointed out.

The Urban League each year produces a key report that highlights challenges people of African descent continue to face. Called the “State of Black America,” it is a look at a laundry list of indicators—economic, educational, housing, employment, quality of life, etc.—and how Blacks fare on each.

When it comes to relevance, the civil rights organizations themselves stress that they are still needed, but understand why people question their existence.

“There are struggles, battles, and victories to be won in the 21st century,” said newly elected SCLC president, Rev. Dr. Howard Creecy Jr., at the organization’s Atlanta headquarters. “We are near the promise land, see the promise land, sense the promise land but we are not in the promise land . . . SCLC must move beyond the old struggle of empowerment and equality to include equity.”

Creecy, whose family has long been part of the fabric of the Civil Rights Movement (his father was a college roommate to Ralph Abernathy) describes equity as “more than riding on the bus; more than driving the bus; we are ready to own the bus franchise.”

The idea is to give Blacks a chance to participate in the economic life of America, said Creecy, who acknowledged that many people think the Civil Rights Movement has transcended the street and gone into the suites.

“That ivory tower mentality, skyscraper approach ignores the fact that there is more homelessness and hunger in America today than 40 years ago. There is more unemployment and underemployment in the Black community than 40 years ago; that in the contiguous Southeastern states of the U.S.A., more African American males are in a relationship with the criminal justice system than were enslaved in 1860. It’s just incredible.”

Creecy places the blame for SCLC’s current low level of recognition within the larger community on the fact the organization “became sleepy for a few years.”

Khalid Abdullah Tariq Al-Mansour, J.D., author of “Betrayal By Any Other Name: 300 Years of Black and Hispanic Leadership” poses a more stinging indictment of civil rights organizations and/or Black leaders.

He believed groups like the NAACP and the Urban League appointed themselves as leaders, and while they espoused concern for the Black masses, really did not believe they were capable of being redeemed or civilized. Instead, Al-Monsour said they advocated for social programs that do just enough to keep 85 percent of African Americans poor while the upper echelon and middle class benefit from jobs affiliated with managing these programs.

Al-Mansour also writes that while civil rights organizers wanted to be seen as representing the masses, in general they did not necessarily want to be among them.

Like SCLC, which was patterned on Martin Luther King Jr. and his nonviolent protest tactics, the NAACP earned some of its civil rights stripes marching in the streets, but today that is not necessarily a big part of how the organization operates.

“The NAACP, at 102, still stands as the premier civil rights organization seeking to ensure equality and justice for all people. We are out there leading advocacy efforts in all areas including health, education, and economic prosperity,” says Roslyn M. Brock, chair of the NAACP national board of directors. “While you may not see us marching in the streets as often as we used to, we are in the White House, congressional offices, and state capitols advocating on behalf of all citizens.”

According to Stefanie Brown, the NAACP national field director/director of the youth and college division, despite the existence of a national office, people have to remember that the association is really comprised of local chapters staffed by volunteers who see a pressing need in the community. “When you think about your everyday life and schedule, and think about some people out there, who in addition to their everyday lives take time to volunteer on behalf of the NAACP, you can understand why sometimes you call (a local chapter office) and people don’t get right back you.”

According to Brock, the current focus of the NAACP is “on ending the cycle of poverty affecting so many Americans and fostering increased prosperity. In order to do that we must ensure that our leaders are smarter in their policy creation—passing laws that go beyond the immediate need for job creation, and also help erase racial and ethnic disparities in economic security and opportunity. We advocate for our country to make smart investments in education and innovation that will allow us to compete in the global marketplace. We know we cannot simultaneously achieve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness while being too sick to go to work, not being able to see a doctor. and deciding whether or not to pay a mortgage, rent, student loan or a payday lender. It is the NAACP that has and continues to remind this country of its obligation to its people to affirm America’s promise,” Brock said.

The NAACP’s Brown added that what she finds particularly exciting about the organization today is the youth engagement.

“Youth membership is the fastest growing segment in the volunteer base. We are seeing young people who want to get involved, because they realize that all we fought for in the Civil Rights Movement that we haven’t achieved those victories.”

By youth Brown means those under age 25, and she says that essentially they are using the same tactics as have been traditionally used by the organization—mass mobilization.

“Many of the youth are engaged in civic engagement work,” Brown explained. “They are doing voter registration; voter turnout; working to educate their peers; they put on forums and go to city council meetings.”

Perhaps the biggest difference between contemporary youth and the volunteers of the past is that they use social networking as a primary organizing tool.

Additionally, Brown said the association is working to train a new generation of leaders, and one of the ways this happens is through the 5-year-old Leadership 500 summit the organization holds annually. This year’s event takes place at the end of the month in Hollywood, Florida, and is already sold out.

SCLC is also being buoyed the presence of youth and is going back to its traditional support base, said Creecy.

“Some days I come to work and look around the office and think I’m the only one who shaves,” joked the SCLC president, pointing out that his office is staffed by young, bright Ivy League and other university grads, as well as those young people who have graduated from “the university of adversity.”

“This is the new team that makes up the core and backbone of SCLC today. They are from Morehouse, your house and no house. They are from Ivy League schools, are trained theologians, and trained attorneys. Some also have firsthand experience of what it means to be hungry and homeless.”

As part of its effort to retool, Creecy said is stressing three points—credibility, visibility, and viability. The organization is also reaching back and out to its traditional base: churches, sororities, fraternities as well as corporations and civic partners across the nation.

“Historically all the social justice groups had slightly different niches. The NAACP was always about education and litigation . . . SCLC was always a grassroots civic organization. But, what happened is we disconnected from our base . . . churches, labor, and students. We are intentionally going back to our base. That is why [we] have the 100,000 church outreach program. That’s why we’re meeting with labor. Dr. King died fighting for workers rights.

“That’s why we invited 100 college students (from leadership) at HBCUs to our national conference . . . we want to re-establish our grassroots base. That is our No. 1 priority.”

Doing all this takes financial resources, something these civil rights groups are perpetually in search of. Sometimes they are criticized for the way they obtain the resources—from corporate supporters whom they later may have to take to task for actions that negatively impact their constituents.

But every single representative echoed in some way the NAACP’s Brock: “The NAACP has never been afraid to address corporations and organizations that have discriminatory practices. In many instances, it is our existing relationships with these institutions that allow us to sit at the table and assist them in fixing those policies.”

OW Contributor Art Cribbs provided interviews and research for this story.

Chief Judge Belvin Perry, Jr.'s Role in the Casey Anthony Trial

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By Rhetta Peoples, Special to the NNPA from The Florida Sun –

ORLANDO - The American justice system has often been scrutinized for being one-sided or biased when it comes to justice.

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, African Americans make-up more than 38% of national prison inmates, who are also predominantly male. However, the U.S. Census Bureau reports Black people are only approximately 14% of the U.S. population.

A Chief Judge in Central Florida is proof that even national statistics have exceptions.

Often referred to as the “Judge’s Judge”, Chief Judge Belvin Perry, Jr., of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court, is the highly respected African American judge with a lead role in one of the most highly publicized court cases in history. Judge Perry received his Juris Doctor from Thurgood Marshall School of Law and received both his Bachelor of Science degree in History and Masters of Education from Tuskegee University.

Judge Perry has served as Chief Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court since 2001 and is a member of the Florida Bar, Orange County Bar Association, Texas Bar Association, and Trial Court Budget Commission. Perry said, “I’m humbled and grateful for the confidence of my fellow judges in re-electing me to this position.”

The irony of his position is significant in the overall view of criminal justice in America because African American men highly populate U.S. prisons and jails. Specific to the Casey Anthony case, it is rare to see White women being a part of statistics that have been dominated by African American men in what is sure to be one of America’s most historical and watched cases.

Judge Perry is not only an icon in the African American community but also an inspiration to African American men. His direct manner and voice has been the subject of commentaries and radio mocks because of his southern accent or lack of what broadcasters may call a “General American Speech”, like that of President Barack Obama or General Colin Powell and is typically what mainstream Americans expect to hear from a person of a higher position.

However, journalists and talk show hosts neglect the real issues when they focus on the accent. Dr. Cornel West, Attorney Willie Gary and the late Attorney Johnny Cochran, among others, also spoke with a certain flare of their culture yet, each left footprints in their areas of expertise.

Judge Perry is set to preside over the trial in which Anthony is charged with first-degree murder charge of her 2-year old daughter Caylee Anthony, who had not been seen for more than a month before she was reported missing by her grandmother, Cindy Anthony, after she admitted to smelling an odor similar to that of a “dead body” in her Casey Anthony’s car.

Months later, Caylee was found dead only a short distance from the Anthony family home. The child’s death was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, even though the cause of death remains undetermined.

Anthony became a suspect after she neglected to report her daughter missing, exhibited strange behavior, searched numerous times online for chloroform, an ingredient in children’s medicine that is potentially hazardous, law enforcement found a mysterious stain in the back of her car that resembles a toddler in the fetal position and she gave authorities a vivid description of “zanny the nanny”, a female baby-sitter who she claimed mysteriously disappeared with her daughter. To date, none of her allegations have turned out to be credible.

Anthony still maintains her innocence, claiming she was protecting her daughter from people who she claimed threatened to hurt her and her family if she were to report the child missing.

Defense attorney Jose Baez has filed several motions requesting to dismiss key evidence from the trial, including the infamous stain that appears to resemble a child in the fetal position found in the back of Anthony’s car. Judge Perry ruled the evidence could be admitted into evidence. Also, Judge Perry denied the request of the defense to exclude the expert opinion testimony of Dr. David Hall, a Botanist who testified that he analyzed fragments of roots from the area in which the victim’s body was recovered.

Recently, Judge Perry denied the defense motion to exclude alleged identification of the chemical composition of human decomposition odor, or testimony relating to air, carpet samples or paper towels tested by Oakridge Laboratories.

Judge Perry is not only known as a well-respected judge, but also for his days as a prosecutor. His reputation as a sound prosecutor was solidified in what came to be known as the Black Widow trial, in which Judy Buenoano was sentenced to death by electric chair for the 1971 murder of her husband. She was also convicted for the murder of her son and attempted murder of her fiancé in 1983. She was also believed to be responsible for the 1978 death of her boyfriend in Colorado.

The Court, under the direction of Judge Perry, kept the location of the selection of the jury unknown until the actual day of jury selection. Currently, the jury is being chosen in Pinellas County, an area located on the outskirts of Tampa, Florida. Reportedly, there are four African Americans currently in the jury pool.

Once the jurors are selected, they will be transported to the Orlando area where they are expected to stay in area hotels for the duration of the trial, which is expected to take up to eight weeks. To date, Judge Perry has dismissed dozens of jurors based on conflicts with the case. He said, “I do not want to have to do this again,” respectfully referring to not having the taxpayers or the court spend time, energy, and money to retry this case. Perry said, “I am not naïve enough to think we’ll encounter no one who has heard this case, but the goal is to find people who have not been oversaturated with the media.”

More than 600 media credentials were requested for this case. The Florida Sun will be in the courtroom and will report on the trial. Stay current with the print publication, electronically at floridasunreview.com, and on Twitter and Facebook.

Recession Makes Renting a Nightmare for Low Income

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By Nisa Islam Muhammad, Special to the NNPA from the Final Call –

The Washington family knew home ownership was light years away. Unemployment and bad credit had left them barely able to do more than join the legions of renters across America. Then it hit them, they were barely making enough to even rent.

“It's just really hard out here,” James Washington told The Final Call. “I lost my job and then my wife lost her job. I'm working now and she has a part time job. We have four kids. A one bedroom just won't do but that's about all we can afford.”

The Washington's are a prime example of new research that shows American renters on average must earn at least $18.46 an hour to afford a modest apartment, yet the average renter makes just $13.52 an hour according to “Out of Reach 2011,” a report released annually by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The study shows the mismatch between the rents available across the country and what low income renters can afford.

According to the coalition, more than 38 million households rent their homes, 1.9 million more than in 2007. The current rate of homeownership (66.5 percent) is now at the lowest level since 1998.

With the foreclosure crisis and recession on the one hand, an aging baby boomer population, and post baby boomers coming of age, the demand for rental housing is projected to grow.

“This year's Out of Reach report is a reminder that millions of Americans are still waiting for economic recovery,” said Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) in the preface of the report. “People burdened by unaffordable housing have less money for other essential needs like transportation, food, and medicine—leaving too many families facing impossible choices at the end of every month.”

High unemployment, falling wages, and low rental vacancy rates driven by a post-recession return to renting have combined to put housing stability beyond the grasp of low income households across the country, according to the report.

“Another problem is that just as we're looking for a place in D.C., so are lots of other families who have experienced the same problems we have like unemployment,” said Sharron Washington.

According to the report, in the District of Columbia, the average rental rate for a two-bedroom apartment is $1,461-a-month. In order to afford this rent and utilities, without paying more than 30 percent of income on housing, a household must earn $4,870 monthly or $58,440 annually. Assuming a 40-hour work week, 52 weeks per year, this level of income translates into a housing wage of $28.10-an-hour.

However, in D.C., a minimum wage worker earns an hourly wage of $8.25. In order to afford the Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment, a minimum wage earner must work 136 hours per week, 52 weeks per year. Or, a household must include 3.4 minimum wage earners working 40 hours per week year-round to afford a two bedroom, said the report.

According to Out of Reach 2011, the national two-bedroom average rent is $960 per month. A household must earn $38,400 annually in order to afford that rent, the report said. Other key findings include: The two-bedroom housing wage tops $30 in Hawaii, and is over $20 in seven states, California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Arkansas.

In 2011, the estimated average wage for renters in the United States is just $13.52, a significant decline from $14.44 in 2010.

At the federal minimum wage of $7.25, a household would have to work 102 hours each week to afford the national average for a two-bedroom home.

Much attention has been paid to the effect of unemployment on foreclosure rates. But, the central finding of this report is that the housing crisis is the most severe for low income people.

“Out of Reach 2011 shows that simply having a job doesn't guarantee you will be able to afford even to rent,” said Sheila Crowley, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The coalition has called on Congress to fund the National Housing Trust Fund, which would provide communities with funds to build, rehabilitate, and preserve rental homes to end the housing struggle of low-income people. This program is not yet funded.

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