Workers in Nevada have moved closer to a four-day work week. Jesse Russell reports.
California Teacher Unions Rally Statewide To Protest Budget Cuts That Are Creating “Third World Conditions” – 03/04/10
By Doug Cunningham
The California Federation of Teachers and California Teachers Association are rallying and leafleting schools statewide to protest devastating budget cuts and to press for a progressive tax structure that adequately supports education and social services. Joshua Pechtalt is a Vice-President of the United Teachers of Los Angeles.
[Pecthalt]: “This is the worst crisis we’ve ever seen, and it’s not limited to education. While we’re the eighth largest economy in the world, we are approaching Third World conditions in terms of public education and vital community services.”
AFSCME’s Bill Lucy Says Labor Must Fight And Obama Must Make It Clear He’s On The Side Of Workers – 03/04/10
By Doug Cunningham
After decades of service in the labor movement, and dedicated activism in the civil rights movement, AFSCME Secretary Treasurer Bill Lucy is retiring later this year. As the AFL-CIO wraps up it Executive Council meeting in Florida, Lucy spoke with Workers Independent News about the challenges and frustrations confronting labor, even with a Democratic Party majority it helped elect controlling government.
By Doug Cunningham
SEIU President Andy Stern says President Obama has made it clear Wednesday that insurance companies cannot and must not call the shots on the future of health care. Obama endorsed moving forward on health care reform using the majority rules 51 vote process in the Senate known as reconciliation if necessary. Stern says this is our moment to stop health insurance abuse and it’s time Congress had an up or down vote on health care reform.
As members of Congress continue to debate health care reform, they should read a new report that shows insurance companies have nearly doubled the cost of premiums over the past eight years. That’s twice the rate of medical inflation and more than three times faster than wages in the same time period.
The report from Health Care for America Now (HCAN) sets the record straight on insurance industry claims that huge increases in premiums are the result of rising health care costs driven by doctors and hospitals. HCAN is a national grassroots campaign of more than 1,000 organizations in 46 states representing 30 million people dedicated to winning quality, affordable health care.
Richard Kirsch, HCAN’s national campaign director, said during a recent press conference call that insurance premiums went up 97 percent for families and 90 percent for individuals from 2000 to 2008. Underlying medical inflation, calculated from the Consumer Price Index, went up only 39 percent.
In short, over the past eight years, premiums almost doubled, but medical inflation went up only 39 percent. Premiums rose two times faster than medical costs and more than three times faster than wages, which only rose 29 percent in the same time period.
Yet, companies like WellPoint are raising premiums by as much as 39 percent in California and by double digits in at least 11 states. So while doctors and hospitals are making more profit than they used to, insurance companies are raising their rates much faster than even that—more than 20 percent faster than the amount they are paying doctors.
No wonder insurance companies are making record profits. Gaining control over rising and irrational costs is one of the main goals of the AFL-CIO health care reform effort. Click here to read more about our health care goals.
Where does all the money go? Not to care for the policyholders. Last year, the five largest insurance companies had 2.7 million fewer policyholders and still made record profits. The money, HCAN says, goes to salaries and perks. In fact, according to the report, from 2000 to 2008 insurance companies spent $716.4 billion of premium dollars on administrative costs, CEO salaries and investor profit, almost enough to pay for the entire health reform bill.
One more reason why it is important to get health care reform right. Says HCAN:
The underlying cost of medical care is not driving insurance rate hikes. Greed is the singular driving factor at work. And our health care system must be reformed to fix this glaring, deadly problem.
Read the entire HCAN report, “Health Insurers Falsely Claim Rising Costs Justify Soaring Premiums,” here.
Creating good jobs that offer affordable health care and retirement security is the Obama administration’s top priority, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis today told members of the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in Orlando, Fla.
Solis, who met with some of the workers who spoke at a forum Monday night, said:
I wake up every morning worried about the millions of Americans out of work—about the millions of Americans who have given up even looking for the jobs that aren’t there. None of us expected this and we did not create this crisis—but each and every one of us is called to do more.
While President Obama’s economic recovery package saved or created at least 2 million jobs, we still have a long way to go, she said. The first steps must be to pass long-term extensions of emergency unemployment compensation, full federal funding of extended benefits and the COBRA subsidy so the nation can keep in place the much-needed safety net that the Recovery Act established.
Solis called a filibuster by Sen. Jim Bunning “shameful” because he caused millions of working Americans economic hardship—just to make a political point. After Bunning relented, the Senate last night passed an extension of unemployment benefits and COBRA for jobless workers.
We cannot let obstructionist partisan politics get in the way of these fundamental programs that we owe to Americans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
Solis said the administration’s job program also includes:
- Fiscal relief for state and local governments, which are facing a $178 billion budget shortfall this year alone.
- More large-scale infrastructure projects. This is the most direct way to bring jobs to people.
- Aid to small businesses—an important engine of economic growth—through tax cuts and a Small Business Lending Fund, using $30 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
The Labor Department also is working to address unemployment by focusing on training programs that bring workers into contact with employers—such as expanding on-the-job training, prioritizing training in emerging industries where we know there are jobs, such as clean energy, Solis said.
Saying she meant it when she told the council a year ago, “There’s a new sheriff in town,” Solis said the department has accomplished a lot in its first year, such as restoring worker protection agencies staffing to 2001 levels and hiring 710 enforcement personnel. Last year, the department recovered more than $171 million in back wages for workers, she added.
This is the most worker-friendly administration in years, Solis says, but their record is not perfect,
and of course there are bumps in the road but we’ve got a responsibility—no one promised us this would be easy.
Big changes that really matter are never easy. Let’s roll up our sleeves and work together to do what working people in this country need us to do.
The U.S. Senate passed a desperately needed extension of unemployment insurance (UI) and COBRA health care benefits last night after Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) ended his one-man roadblock to the legislation.
Bunning began a filibuster last Friday that halted a UI extension for millions of America’s jobless workers. By blocking the UI bill, Bunning caused the furlough of 2,000 transportation workers, halted construction on 41 economic recovery projects in 17 states, forced doctors to take big cuts in Medicare payments and left 200,000 jobless Americans without COBRA.
After Bunning ended his filibuster, the Senate passed the legislation by a 78-19 margin and President Obama signed the bill into law last night. The bill already had passed the U.S. House.
Congressional Democrats promised to retroactively restore unemployment benefits and health care subsidies for the unemployed under the COBRA program. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood ordered furloughed employees back to work Wednesday.
Bunning agreed to call off the filibuster if he could submit an amendment to the bill. The amendment failed. Sen. Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) noted the Senate had offered to let Bunning offer the very same amendment days ago—but Bunning had rejected the offer.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had called Bunning a “one-man wrecking crew” and said:
Sen. Bunning embodies everything that is wrong with the U.S. Senate today: the ability of individual small-minded, selfish politicians to single-handedly prevent the majority from helping people who need help and solving our country’s problems.
Bunning’s move on Friday blocked a vote on a House bill (H.R. 4691) that would have provided a short-term extension of the federal highway bill, extended the unemployment benefits for 30 days after they expired on Feb. 28 and stopped a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors. According to Politico, when Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who was on the floor, urged Bunning to relent, his response was, “Tough sh*t.”
Congratulations to AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Emerita Linda Chavez-Thompson, who yesterday won the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor of Texas. Chavez-Thompson won with 53 percent of the vote.
Chavez-Thompson prevailed despite a three-way race in which Austin, Texas, deli owner Marc Katz’s 10 percent of the vote made it all the more difficult to win the more than 50 percent of the voted needed to avoid a run-off election. As Ed Sills, Texas AFL-CIO communications director, has noted, former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle was a formidable opponent, and Chavez-Thompson’s win is a ”very impressive primary victory for any candidate, much less a first-time one.”
Chavez-Thompson will face incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in November.
“I’m humbled to have won the Democratic primary without a runoff,” Chavez-Thompson said in a statement.
On the other hand, our job is just beginning as we take our message to independent voters, frustrated voters, and working families.
Running on the theme “Moving Texas Forward,” Chavez-Thompson is stressing the need for state government to take responsibility to build a better future for Texas’ children by adequately funding education and creating jobs that pay a decent wage.
In January, the AFL-CIO Executive Council strongly endorsed Chavez-Thompson’s candidacy, saying she “is a tireless advocate for civil, human, women’s and worker rights.”
In 1995, Chavez-Thompson became the first person of color to be elected to one of the federation’s three highest offices. Since her retirement in 2007, Chavez-Thompson has continued to champion workers’ rights in her role as head of the Inter-American Regional Organization of Workers (ORIT), the International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC’s) regional organization for the Americas. She also serves as an adviser to AFL-CIO state federations and labor councils.
Lynn Gobbell was fired because her boss didn’t like the John Kerry bumper sticker on her car.
In Colorado, teacher Meg Spohn got the pink slip from DeVry University for complaining about her job on her personal blog.
At Best Lock Company in Indiana, workers are axed for social drinking because the company president believes it’s a sin.
Can employers do that?
You betcha, writes human rights attorney Lewis Maltby. He’s president and founder of the National Workrights Institute (NWI), which he formed after leading the American Civil Liberties Union office on free speech and privacy protection in the corporate world.
Before heading up the NWI, Maltby had spent time in the corporate world where “learning how to run a productive, profitable company without violating employees’ human rights” became the focus of his life. Right up front in Can They Do That, Maltby gets to the crux of the misconception most people have when facing unfair treatment on the job.
The United States Constitution applies to the government, not to corporations.
Not to corporations and most certainly not to the workers who enter those corporations hoping to get a paycheck. This comes as a surprise to many. Here at the AFL-CIO, we get e-mail messages from people detailing how their employer unfairly fired them and asking what they can do about it. Chances are, if they’re not in a union, and if the action didn’t violate any Equal Employment Opportunity laws, the answer is: Not much.
And even if a company does violate a worker’s legal rights, many corporations have got that covered, too:
Almost 20 percent of employers today require all employees to agree in advance not to go to court if the company violates their legal rights….If you don’t agree, you don’t get the job.
And as Maltby notes, even joining a union “has become a dangerous undertaking.”
Over 8,000 employees are fired every year simply for trying to join [a union]. Technically, this kind of firing is illegal, but the penalties are so trivial that employers just pay the fines and keep breaking the law.
Which is why we have been trying so hard to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. Unlike many books on employment, Maltby includes an entire chapter overviewing unions and labor laws and ending with his personal recollection of helping move Wisconsin Republican Sen. Herbert Kohl toward sponsorship of the Employee Free Choice Act.
Unionization is covered by the National Labor Relations Act, an act of Congress and union workers covered by contracts they negotiate with their employers. But the nation’s employment laws have historically been governed by common law (court decisions) and so for those not represented by a union, the primarily law of the land is “at-will employment.” In short: Management can fire you at will, for any reason, or no reason.
Maltby highlights high-tech workplace intrusion: from computer monitoring to video spying on women in the company restroom (yep, legal, except in California and Rhode Island). He also takes a look at the future of privacy at the workplace, and predicts an increasing use of GPS and the likely adoption of biometrics on the horizon. Horrifyingly, Maltby writes that some employers are beginning to install silicon chips into employees’ bodies as an identification system—you know, the kind you get implanted in your pet.
And then there’s the MMPI, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, a job-screening psychology test taken by 2 million people as part of the employment application process. The test has been translated into 115 languages, and 89 of the Fortune 100 employers use it. An all-American export.
Throughout, Maltby filters the book with real-life workplace horror stories—the kind we see by the droves whenever the AFL-CIO community affiliate Working America holds its My Bad Boss contest. (If anyone tells you employees don’t need unions in today’s 21st workplace, send them to the My Bad Boss site.)
Maltby’s view of the judicial system’s approach to workers’ rights—especially the Supreme Court—also would shock much of the public. In short:
Even when there is a law to protect your rights on the job, you often won’t receive justice. Judges work overtime to find ways to take away, or water down, the rights given by the legislature.
And he blasts away another holy grail of American mythology: The myth of impartial justice.
Because judges are politicians, they respond to political pressures. They favor prosecutors over defense attorneys in criminal cases because the public wants them to be tough on crime….And they favor employers over employees because employers have more political influence than employees.
Next, Maltby will tell us that the media in the United States are biased.
Maltby ends the book with chapters detailing our workplace rights and how we can win our rights, which includes joining a union. In short, the only way we can take back our workplace is joining with each other. Because as Maltby says:
There isn’t much you can do alone to protect yourself.
This book should be part of every high school curricula. Millions of Americans plunge into the job force with no idea that they leave their constitutional rights at the door.
Cross-post from Firedoglake Book Salon.