- Steelworkers President Leo Gerard: Fight For Single Payer Is A Principled Position
- Mandatory Overtime For Nurses Ends In Pennsylvania
- Idled Granite City. Illinois Steel Mill Is Back Up And Running
- Some Chrysler Workers In Illinois Will Head Back To Work
- NYC Comptroller Candidate Says Unions Are A Net Positive For The City
Pope Benedict is out with a new encyclical critical of the global economic system and calling for a true world political authority to oversee the economy and work for the common good. He said the pernicious effects of sin are evident in the worldwide economy. The pope also called on business to embrace greater social responsibility and praised the importance of labor unions in protecting workers. The pope says financiers must rediscover the genuinely ethical foundation of their activity.
By Doug Cunningham
Comptroller candidate Melinda Katz says New York City needs jobs, and union jobs pay big dividends back to the city.
[Katz]: “Unions end up being a net positive for the city because they generate the income that works throughout the entire city.”
As Comptroller she will enforce prevailing wage laws.
[Katz]: “It’s important to have someone in there that understands that that’s an important aspect of their job.”
Workers in northern Illinois are also receiving some good news this week. Chrysler has announced that workers will report to the Belvidere plant this week, then the plant will go into a two-week shutdown, and following that some workers will be back on the job. The company had previously announced plans to lay off 992 workers at the plant, but is currently revisiting that option. The plant has been shuttered since May 1.
A once idled steel mill is back up and running in Granite City, Illinois and 800 workers are back on the job. The mill has been idled since December and nearly 2000 workers lost their jobs. The mill is owned by U.S. Steel which has poured $600 million in upgrades into the mill.
Mandatory overtime for nurses came to an end in Pennsylvania on July 1. Jesse Russell reports:
July 1 was an important day for Pennsylvania nurses as it marked the first day they could go to work without concern that mandatory overtime hours would be tacked onto an already long work week. Every two years nurses in the state have to re-register and when they do they fill out a survey that inquires about job satisfaction. Consistently unpredictable working hours leads as the top of the pack as one of the primary reasons nurses are unhappy with their jobs. Nurses are still allowed to volunteer
By Doug Cunningham
United Steel Workers President Leo Gerard hails from Canada, where he says it’s nearly unanimous that national universal single payer health care is far better than the broken U.S. system. As debate intensifies in Congress over U.S. health care reform, Gerard told the Real News Network that reformers should fight for single payer.
[Gerard]: “I think we need to fight for single-payer. I think we ought to be fighting for a principled position that lays out that this is the most efficient health care in the world.”
A group of Canadian scholars is helping to cut through the myths and lay out the facts about the Employee Free Choice Act. These 100 scholars and professors agree workers need the freedom to form unions and bargain for a healthy economy.
In an open statement released yesterday, these 100 academics, who study a variety of disciplines at institutions across Canada, say wide access to collective bargaining in Canada is good for Canada’s economy. Contrary to the unsupported statements of corporate mouthpieces, Canada’s broad union membership hasn’t hurt its labor markets; indeed, in recent years, Canada—where some 31 percent of workers are in unions—has experienced lower unemployment than the United States.
Many Canadians have the choice of majority sign-up for forming unions; federally overseen sectors and workers in five provinces all have the option of using majority sign-up. In eight provinces, workers have access to first-contract arbitration.
Here’s what these scholars say about the benefits of greater access to the freedom to form unions and bargain in Canada:
Canada’s labor relations system works in a relatively effective and timely manner; the vast majority of contracts are settled without work stoppage.
There are also significant social benefits from Canada’s more extensive collective bargaining system. Income inequality is less extreme in Canada compared to the U.S., according to a variety of measures. The incidence of poverty (including poverty among employed persons) is significantly smaller. The impact of unions and collective bargaining systems in limiting low pay and providing more comprehensive and secure employee benefits to workers has surely contributed to these positive outcomes. Empirical evidence also indicates that union membership and collective bargaining has had an especially significant impact on the wages and benefits of workers who are most susceptible to precarious or insecure employment, including women, racialized groups, and new Canadians.
As research by American Rights at Work shows, first-contract arbitration in Canada is a successful tool to make sure workers can bargain for a better life. Some 80 percent of Canada’s workforce is covered under first-contract arbitration, and in nearly every one of the thousands of cases studied, workers and their employers reached contracts by voluntary agreement—fewer than 2 percent of contracts were reached through arbitration in studies of Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan.
One of the most troubling health care reform proposals—taxing health care benefits—that had gained some traction in recent weeks appears to be slipping. Grassroots health care activists, President Obama and leading congressional Democrats have helped shed the light on, and slow the momentum of, this unfair tax that could boost working families’ tax liability by as much as 28 percent, according to the Commonwealth Fund.
Yesterday, the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told Sen. Max Baucus (D- Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, that any health care bill that included a tax on health care benefits and failed to include a strong public health insurance plan option would lose significant Democratic support. The paper said Reid told Baucus to drop
a proposal to tax health benefits and stop chasing Republican votes on a massive health care reform bill.
But conservative groups, most Republican leaders and others are expected to continue to push for the tax as health care reform legislation advances.
The Finance Committee still is developing its version of health care reform legislation. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is putting the final touches on its package that includes a strong public plan option, shared responsibility with an employer “pay or play” provision, insurance market reforms to help stop private insurance industry abuses, cost containment and other provisions.
In the House, three committees—Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means—have developed the health care reform roadmap, one that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says
encourages choice, competition and opportunity for all Americans to choose the health care that works for them.
Obama calls the Senate HELP Committee draft
legislation that lowers costs, protects the choice of doctors and plans and assures quality and affordable health care for Americans.
Neither the House nor the HELP Committee bill includes the health care benefits tax, but health care tax proponents will keep up the drumbeat for the tax. Currently, the health care benefits workers receive through an employer are not taxable. Some 160 million people have health care benefits tied to the workplace.
The money spent on providing health care coverage is tax-deductible to the employer and the employee is not taxed on it. Workers who get their health care coverage through employment, and the employers who provide it, already have seen years of health care costs climbing and their coverage shrinking through higher premiums, bigger co-pays, larger deductibles and more exclusions in coverage.
A study by the Commonwealth Fund found that workers with employer-provided benefits earning between $40,000 and $50,000 a year would see their tax liability increase by an average of 28 percent, while those earning between $50,000 and $75,000 would see an average increase of 20 percent. But people making more than $200,000 a year would only see an average increase in their tax liability of just one-tenth of 1 percent.
At a July 1 town hall meeting in Virginia, Obama told the crowd:
If you’ve got health insurance right now, you shouldn’t see your costs go up as part of health care reform.
In March, a study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) showed a health care benefits tax would disproportionately hit workers in small firms and firms with older workers and retirees because insurance companies regularly charge higher rates for coverage of those workers.
Some of the pro-health care tax advocates say they would target only so-called high-cost “Cadillac” health care plans. The plans that supposedly allow workers Hollywood-like cosmetic surgeries and health spa stays. Those plans have become the mythical “welfare Cadillac” of health care reform.
Longtime business and health journalist Merrill Goozner writes on his blog Gooznews on Health:
There are very few plans out there whose high prices are determined by the generosity of their benefits. The vast majority of costs in high price plans are driven by the other two factors: they are either in high-cost areas or they cover costly patients, or both.
Any final health care reform plan that includes a health care benefits tax will certainly lose public support. A 2009 national survey by Lake Research Partners found that 80 percent of likely voters are opposed to taxing health care benefits. That was shown to be true in last year’s presidential election where many voters said Sen. John McCain’s proposal to tax health care benefits was a major deciding factor in their votes for Obama.
Any bill that taxes health care benefits is dead on arrival. That is a promise and where I come from a promise made is a promise kept….We are already subsidizing employers who don’t provide health care benefits and are being punished because we’ve done the right thing, our employers have done the right thing and our members have sacrificed wage increases for their health care benefits. So why are we the ones who are being penalized?
Yesterday morning a group of clergy members delivered a letter in support of the Employee Free Choice Act to the offices of Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet. They represent a coalition of more than 120 faith leaders from around Colorado who have come together to support the legislation, which they see as critical to restoring a fair and prosperous economy for all. The signers of the letter include Protestant ministers, Rabbis, Roman Catholic priests and sisters, an Imam, and a Zen Buddhist priest.”
America’s faith traditions are nearly unanimous in support of the right of workers to organize free from employer retaliation,” said the Rev. Dr. Dana Wilbanks, Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics, Iliff School of Theology. “By using sacred text and tradition, our faith compels us to support the Employee Free Choice Act and to support the freedom of workers to collectively bargain for a shot at a better life for themselves and their families.”
Over the past 30 years, workers’ living standards have declined in well-documented ways—stagnant or low pay, longer hours spent at work, unaffordable or no health care benefits, and unsafe working conditions. Increasing disparity of wealth seems to be the hallmark of our time, with the top 1 percent of wage earners in the United States now holding 23 percent of all income—the highest inequality in income since 1928.
“As religious leaders, we believe that the right of workers to freely organize their workplaces is required in a democracy, and communities are strengthened when workers can bargain for fair wages, adequate benefits and safe working conditions,” said the Rev. Linda Gertenbach, the Peace and Justice Facilitator of the United Methodist Rocky Mountain Church and Society Network.
“This legislation would allow workers to form and join unions as certainly and as freely as they might join a church community or a civic organization. As a people of faith, we are committed to the health of our nation, its economy, and to the working men and women who provide us with indispensible goods and vitally necessary services. We make this appeal to the conscience of every member of the U.S. Congress to vote in favor of the Employee Free Choice Act,” said Roman Catholic Bishop Gabino Zavala of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The following is a cross-post from the Colorado AFL-CIO Employee Free Choice Act blog.