By Doug Cunningham
More Americans are living in poverty than the official stats indicate, according to a new report from the Center for Law And Social Policy. The report is based on the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) calculations of each state’s poverty rate using a Census web tool. It’s an updated measure to try and gauge the true percentage of Americans living in poverty. Dorothy Smith wrote the report.
AARP, AMA And Thousands Of Support Letters From Working Families Drown Out Tea Bagger Protest Against Health Care Reform – 11/06/09
Even as hundreds of teabaggers descended on Capitol Hill yesterday to protest health care reform, working families delivered 15,000 handwritten letters in support of health care reform. The AFL-CIO says corporate-bused in “protesters” spread misinformation and tried to to outshout the legislative process in Congress. But health care reform got a strong boost from two major organizations. News that the AARP, representing millions of senior citizens, would endorse the plan had leaked to the press late Wednesday.
Pennsylvania Governor Tries Restarting Transit Strike Talks As Workers Steadfastly Defend Pensions – 11/06/09
Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell spent much of Thursday trying to get the union representing striking Philadelphia transit workers and management to sit back down at the negotiating table. Jesse Russell reports:
The nation cannot rebuild its middle class without strong unions, Vice President Joe Biden said today. Biden said he and President Obama believe it is impossible to grow the middle class without growing unions.
Biden, who chairs the White House Task Force on Middle Class Families, met with a panel of scholars assembled by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Economic Policy Institute (EPI) to discuss the challenges facing America’s middle class in the 21st century economy.
At the live webcast event, EPI President Lawrence Mishel said unions set standards in the workplace. Decent standards help ensure “employers are not competing to see who can make the jobs worst, but who can make the products better,” Mishel said.
Heather Boushey, CAP’s senior economist, said unions are important for workers so they can approach employers about sharing the benefits of productivity and about the ways to have more workplace flexibility.
And it can’t just be about one worker. These are challenges for everyone. I don’t think we can overestimate the important role of unions in building a middle class and what they can do if we help them grow again.
Biden said middle-class life is much more fragile than it should be with families struggling to pay medical bills. In America today, it is more than likely that both parents work long hours but find it harder to buy a decent home and send their children to college, he said.
It’s not just about a paycheck, it’s about a standard of living. [It's about] any family that can’t afford to go without two paychecks in a row without finding themselves really up against it and having to make really difficult choices.
The panel identified several trends that affect middle-class families, including a steady erosion of good manufacturing jobs, corporate attacks on unions, the growing economic role of women, the need for a work-and-life balance in today’s economy, economic inequality and mobility, and the increased gap between productivity and wages.
University of Massachusetts professor Ralph Whitehead and Mishel pointed out that although U.S. workers are more productive and better educated than workers of previous generations, they do not share in the benefits of the economic growth that results from their efforts.
Other panelists included Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, and Jim Kessler, vice president of the nonpartisan think tank Third Way.
|Members of CWA 3122 in Florida spread the word about the need for health care reform.|
In a massive show of support for health care reform, the nation’s largest organization for doctors, the American Medical Association (AMA), today urged the House to pass the bill it begins debate on today, H.R. 3962, Affordable Health Care for America Act.
The AMA’s historical backing for health care reform follows this morning’s endorsement of the House bill by the largest U.S. advocacy group for seniors, the 40-million member AARP. As we noted yesterday, the bill has many provisions that will immediately benefit to seniors.
The American Cancer Society Action Network also is throwing its support behind the bill, calling it “an exceptional opportunity” to improve our health care system.
These groups are joining a broad coalition, from businesses to civil rights organizations, groups for youth and for seniors, unions, medical professionals and faith groups, all asking Congress to pass this critical bill that will expand health care coverage, cut costs and put patients first. This support is critical, as the closer we get to real reform, the harder the insurance companies and their lobbyists and front groups will fight to block it through scare tactics and falsehoods.
Want to get involved? Click here to call Congress.
Here’s more news from the battle for health care reform:
- At the Huffington Post, Art Levine looks at what the union movement is doing to fight against a new tax on middle-class families’ health benefits.
- In the Washington Post, columnist E.J. Dionne explores the need for health care reform to provide immediate, palpable assistance to families.
- Also writing in the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson explains why the House bill is a stronger, fairer bill than what we’ve seen from the Senate, calling it better policy and better politics.
- At the New Republic, Anthony Wright of Health Access California talks about why we need to include employer responsibility in health care reform—and why we need real reform to protect the millions who now have employer-based health coverage.
- Here’s more confirmation from economic experts that having a public health insurance option saves money.
- Finally, health care experts are weighing in on the “reform proposal” released by Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), and it’s not pretty. Ezra Klein calls it “a major embarrassment,” Jonathan Cohn says it’s “even worse than you’re hearing” and health advocacy group Families USA calls it “destructive” and based on “discredited ideas.” The short version? It saves less money than H.R. 3962 and gives insurance companies even more power than they already have—plus, the Congressional Budget Office found that while we currently have 17 percent of people uninsured, after 10 years of the Boehner plan, our country would have…17 percent of people uninsured.
In Maine and Washington State, voters Tuesday overwhelmingly told the extremist right-wing, anti-worker crowd to take their efforts to cripple state governments and slash vital services and shove them.
In both states, the so-called Taxpayer Bills of Rights (TABOR)—long a part of the reactionary holy grail—went down by double-digit margins. Maine voters said “No” by a 60-40 margin and TABOR was defeated in Washington 55-45. It was the third time in recent years Mainers saw through the hype and said “No” to Tabor.
According the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC):
The Grover Norquist, Club for Growth, Glenn Beck, Tea Party crowd tried to use the bleak budget picture as an opportunity to ratchet down even harder as states look to find the revenue necessary to protect priorities, create jobs, and get their economies going—but voters rejected that failed approach again….
These votes in Maine and Washington prove that the tea party anger that has been hyped for months doesn’t translate into majorities and election victories. The right wing base remains out of sync with moderates and independents.
In Maine, union activists and voters rallied around the effort to put another stake through the heart of a TABOR initiative. As Matt Schlobohm, Maine AFL-CIO Public Policy & Political Mobilization director, says:
The work that our affiliated local unions and councils did educating and mobilizing our members and the general public was a significant reason we so soundly defeated TABOR.
The Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO (WSLC) mobilized its members and was part of broad coalition that sent a TABOR ballot measure (Initiative 1033) to defeat. Had TABOR passed, says the WSLC, it would have
capped revenue for state, county and city governments, making it illegal for local lawmakers to spend more than the previous year’s budget on schools, police, fire protection, roads, libraries, parks, hospitals and other services. I-1033 was deliberately timed to lock in the budget cuts forced by the recession.
BISC notes that TABOR measures have been a central tenant of the extremist agenda for several years, but voters and state legislators have seen through the charade and, except in Colorado in 1992, defeated the initiatives.
In 1992, Colorado became the only state—before or since—to approve TABOR. The damage was severe. Colorado dropped to 49th in the nation in education funding and the percentage of low-income children with no health insurance doubled. In 2005, voters in Colorado suspended the revenue restrictions.
They’ll be back. The irony is that those who supposedly are speaking for the people—and positioning themselves as representatives of the populist outrage in this country—don’t hold themselves accountable to what the people actually want and vote for. They lost this central test to their agenda, and it doesn’t matter to them.
BREAKING: The U.S. House of Representatives this afternoon passed the unemployment insurance extension bill, by a 403-12 vote. The bill is on its way to President Barack Obama who could sign it as early as tomorrow.
After weeks of Republican stalling and obstruction that cost hundreds of thousands of jobless workers their unemployment insurance (UI)—the Senate last night approved extending UI to workers who have lost or will lose their benefits by the end of the year.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) promised to move quickly—as early as today—to ensure a House vote on the bill so President Obama can sign the legislation and get the checks moving again. Said Hoyer last night:
For too long, Senate Republicans blocked progress on extending unemployment insurance, which would provide immediate and tangible help to those who need it most, while also boosting our economy. Democrats remain focused on doing everything we can to assist Americans struggling to make ends meet and extending unemployment benefits is part of that effort. Now that this legislation has passed the Senate, I will bring it to the House Floor for a vote.
The bill also extends the first-time home buyers’ credit and some business tax credits.
Apparently Republican lawmakers saw little hypocrisy in blocking help for the jobless for more than a month, then voting unanimously (98-0) for the bill. It likely wasn’t a sudden epiphany that moved them, but simple political expediency—judging by the comments on our blog from angry workers, the Party of No Senators likely heard an earful about their obstructionism.
In September, the House passed a benefits extension, but several times last month Senate Republicans blocked votes on the bill. The bill that passed last night would provide an additional 14 weeks of benefits to employed workers in all states and an additional six weeks for jobless workers in states with a 8.5 percent or higher unemployment rate. Because the Senate made changes to the House bill, a second House vote is requited.
Nationwide, official unemployment stands at 9.8 percent and is expected to get even worse when October’s jobless numbers are released tomorrow. Some 26 million U.S. workers are unemployed or underemployed, and the long-term jobless rate is the highest since 1981. More than one in three people who are unemployed have been out of work for at least six months, according to National Employment Law Project (NELP).
The murder two years ago of Rafael Santiago Cruz, an organizer for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) in Monterrey, Mexico, is part of a corrupt system of supplying immigrant labor to harvest crops on America’s farms, says FLOC President Baldemar Velasquez. Over the past two days, Velasquez and members of his union have been in Washington, D.C., meeting with members of Congress and international human rights panels to push for justice in Cruz’s murder.
Yesterday, FLOC brought the case of Cruz’s murder before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an arm of the Organization of American States. After Cruz’s killing in 2007, the IACHR ruled that the murder was committed for political purposes related to the work of FLOC in defense of the rights of migrant workers and granted protective measures to Velasquez and FLOC staff located in Mexico.
The Mexican government has done little to solve the case. Of the four people who are known to have participated in the murder, all but one of Cruz’s killers remain at large, said Leonel Rivero Rodriquez, a Mexican human rights lawyer, at a briefing today at AFL-CIO headquarters.
The failure to fully investigate Cruz’s murder is indicative of the anti-union policies of the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa, who last month took over the country’s second largest electrical power distributor, fired the entire 44,000-person workforce and disbanded their union.
Cruz was found bound and beaten to death in FLOC’s Monterrey, Mexico, office April 9, 2007. The union opened the office in 2005 to help guest workers obtain legal visas to work in North Carolina.
The FLOC office also fights corruption in the recruitment process. Velasquez says union investigations uncovered widespread corruption among Mexican labor recruiters, and Cruz, who had been on the job in Monterrey for less than a month before he was killed, was helping workers obtain legal visas without paying the exorbitant fees demanded by some recruiters.
Human rights and labor rights will remain unrealized unless we persist in challenging the criminal elements who would like to use recruitment programs for bribes and extortion.
Most of the workers who are granted visas work on tobacco fields. On the tobacco farms, workers face long hours and unsafe working conditions. But the battle to protect the workers is not with the farmers who directly employ them, Velasquez said. The battle is with the major companies who pay the farmers for their products. That’s the impetus behind FLOC’s campaign against R.J. Reynolds, the giant tobacco company, he said.
The ultimate answer to protecting immigrant workers is comprehensive immigration reform, Velasquez said. But “we can’t wait for immigration reform,” he said.
We’ve got to be out there and defend people and if you do it long enough and good enough, good things happen.
|Union members sent more than 15,000 letters in support of health care reform to Congress.|
What a contrast: As working families are delivering 15,000 handwritten letters in support of health care reform on Capitol Hill this afternoon, corporate-bused in “protestors” are on the Hill as well—spreading misinformation and trying to outshout the legislative process in Congress today and scare House members from voting in favor of the bill.
The House is beginning debate today on a historic health reform bill, H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act, and likely will vote on it this weekend. The bill would provide real assistance to millions of working families—but insurance companies and their cronies in Congress are putting big money into a last-minute push to kill reform.
But the shouts and misinformation can’t distract from the truth: America needs and voted for real health care reform. The letters from working families from around the country ask Congress to pass real reform that cuts costs, covers more people, protects consumers against insurance company greed and doesn’t tax working people’s health benefits.
As part of our National Week for Health Care, union members around the country are supporting health care reform through rallies and worksite leaflets, print ads in the Washington, D.C., area and a national call-in campaign to encourage House members to vote for the bill. Union members are mobilized, energized and ready to win.
Want to get involved? Click here to call Congress.