Friday, July 31, 2009

GOP Attacks on Medicare

Attacks on Medicare: Desperate Attempt to Gut Health Care Reform

By Mike Hall

This might come as a shock to the 44 million Americans who receive their health care coverage through Medicare, but according to two Republican House members, Medicare has “never done anything to make people more healthy,” and it has had the biggest “negative effect” on health care than anything else in the past 44 years.

Step back from Medicare’s 44th birthday cake (click [1] here for more on the program’s four-decades-plus success) and let that gibberish from two of the charter members of the “let’s-kill-health care reform” caucus sink in. (While we’re doing that, a tip of the hat to Jason Rosenbaum at Health Care for America Now! (HCAN) for [2] exposing this nonsense).

You can draw two conclusions. First, Reps. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Tom Price (R-Ga.) are just plain out of touch with reality.

Paul Begala on Who Needs EFCA

Make the economy work for everyone
By: Paul Begala
July 31, 2009 04:31 AM EST

So here’s the situation. You’re a certified nurse’s assistant, helping seniors get the care they need to live out their final years with dignity. You love your job, but the pay’s terrible, you’re always short-staffed, and the turnover is constant. So you talk to your co-workers and decide you should form a union, to have more of a say in the way things are run. Management’s answer? If you keep speaking out, you’re fired.

Or maybe you work at a metal factory. You’ve worked there for years. Then, one day, you realize that your face is taking on a suspicious blue coloring. And that shiver you thought was just a cold? It’s not going away. You’re terrified to discover the source of your symptoms: Your protective mask at work has cracks in it. You’ve been exposed to dangerous chemicals. When you and your co-workers decide that a union is the best way to make your job a little safer, management announces that they have a plan, too: You’re fired.

Now imagine you’re the CEO of a giant national banking corporation. Things aren’t so hot at the bank these days. But, thank goodness, you have a safety net — tens of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to bail you out. On your watch, the stock’s lost more than 80 percent of its value.

And your employees? Most of them barely break the poverty level. Many have difficulty finding affordable health care. Oh, and you just announced that you’re shutting down 10 percent of your branches, laying off untold numbers of hardworking employees. That stinks for them. But for you, things are going swimmingly: In the past three years alone, you’ve raked in nearly $100 million in bonuses and other compensation. $100 million. For sinking a company.

All of these stories are absolutely true. The stories of Trish Miechur, the CNA, and Corey Kresse, the metalworker, are replicated in boardrooms and factories across America. The story of Ken Lewis, Bank of America’s CEO? Well, that’s a familiar one, too. So here’s the question: Why are their experiences so different? Whom do we want our economic policies to benefit?

For eight years under the GOP, economic policy gave CEOs such as Ken Lewis the gold mine, while giving hardworking, middle-class Americans such as Trish and Corey the shaft. President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress were elected to change that, and protecting employees from corporate abuses is part of the change we need. That’s what the Employee Free Choice Act will do.

Corporate lobbyists say the phrase “Employee Free Choice Act” as though it were a curse. But for Trish and Corey, it’s a blessing. The point of the Employee Free Choice Act is to say that we’ve had enough of an economy that works for Ken Lewis — and Bernie Madoff, for that matter. We want an economy that works for Trish Miechur and Corey Kresse.

The Employee Free Choice Act gives workers an opportunity to bargain with their employers for better job security, wages and health care at a time of astounding corporate greed. The legislation has three main parts: 1) It says that when a majority of workers want to form a union, a real path is provided for them to do so — a path chosen by workers, not corporate special interests; 2) it penalizes employers who try to fire or harass workers for attempting to form a union; and 3) it says that once workers have voted for a union, employers have to come to agreement with workers on a contract. Simple stuff, right?
So why are corporate interests squealing like a pig stuck under a gate? Maybe because they’re the only ones who prospered under the Bush-Lewis-Madoff policies.

In 2009, big banks set aside $74 billion in bonuses and other compensation for their executives. With that amount of money, we could balance the budgets in 16 states, including California. Given that the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget is less than $5 billion, we could fund the entire war on cancer until 2025. Instead, that money is going solely toward fattening CEO wallets. We need legislation that rebalances the economy and makes it work for everyone.

I’ll let you in on a secret about Employee Free Choice that corporate lobbyists also don’t want you to know: It’s popular. Not only does President Obama support it — so do majorities in both houses of Congress and more than 70 percent of the American people. My only question is: What are we waiting for? Let’s pass the Employee Free Choice Act and get this country moving again.

Paul Begala is a Democratic strategist who served as counselor to the president in the Clinton White House. He is an adviser to the Service Employees International Union.

© 2009 Capitol News Company, LLC

Thursday, July 23, 2009

U.S. Minimum Wage Will Increase To $7.25

The increase of the U.S. Federal minimum wage will allow millions of workers across 30 states to see more money in their paychecks. Minimum wage will become $7.25 per hour and will go into effect on July 24 of 2009.

The U.S. Department of Labor reminds employers and employees that the federal minimum wage will increase to $7.25 on Friday, July 24. With this change, employees who are covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) will be entitled to pay no less than $7.25 per hour.

“This administration is committed to improving the lives of working families across the nation, and the increase in the minimum wage is another important step in the right direction,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “This well-deserved increase will help workers better provide for their families in the face of today’s economic challenges. I am especially pleased that the change will benefit working women, who make up two-thirds of minimum wage earners.”

This increase is the last of three provided by the enactment of the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2007, which amended the FLSA to increase the federal minimum wage in three steps: to $5.85 per hour effective July 24, 2007; to $6.55 per hour effective July 24, 2008; and now to $7.25 per hour effective July 24, 2009. The latest change will directly benefit workers in 30 states (Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming) where the state minimum wage is currently at or below the federal minimum wage or there is no state minimum wage. It will also benefit workers in the District of Columbia, where the minimum wage is required to be $1 more than the federal minimum wage.

A family with a full-time minimum wage earner would see its monthly income increase by about $120. That is more than a week’s worth of groceries for an average family of four or more than one week’s utility bills. The $120 buys three tanks of gas for a small car. The $120 would easily cover the cost of replacing all the light bulbs in a typical home with compact fluorescent light bulbs — which would save the family money in the long term and be an important step toward a greener country. The benefits are not just for full-time workers. About half of minimum wage workers are part-timers, and they, too, are going to see a very welcome boost to their incomes.

Every employer of workers subject to the FLSA’s minimum wage provisions must post, and keep posted in each of its establishments, a notice explaining this act. The notice must be posted in conspicuous places to permit employees to readily read them. Posters and other compliance assistance materials concerning the minimum wage increase are available free of charge from the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division and may also be obtained from the agency’s Web site at

Many states have minimum wage laws with provisions that differ from the federal law. When an employer is subject to both, the employer must pay the higher of the two rates.

Employers and employees seeking more compliance information on the increased minimum wage may call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243).

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Family-Friendly Workplaces: Unions Make a Difference

Today’s report by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education and the Labor Project for Working Families comes at a seminal moment for the debate on economic and labor law reform in this country. This report emphasizes a crucial point - - that unions help families at a time when workers are forced to work more hours in an increasingly unstable environment, and as the social system in our country is being chipped away.

A unionized workplace dramatically helps working families. According to the report, unions increase compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act, ensure paid sick leave for employees and their children, and increase the likelihood that health care is covered for families. As corporations force working people to work longer and spend more time away from their home, unions are key to creating an economy that works for everyone and ensuring that workers have flexibility in handling their family and work responsibilities. Corporations have spent billions to try to eliminate benefits like paid sick leave, time off, and health care coverage. Without workers’ freedom to form and join unions, corporations will continue to chip away at the family-friendly practices that help working people across the country.

Read the full report.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

House Unveils Health Care Bill with Public Option, No Benefits Tax

Working Americans saw real and historic action today in the efforts to
fix our broken health care system with the release of the House of
bill, “America’s Affordable Health Choices Act.”
We applaud the House Ways and Means, Energy and Commerce, and Education
and Labor Committees for their hard work and solid work product. We
especially recognize the contributions of Chairmen Rangel, Waxman and
Miller in coordinating Herculean efforts to produce a single bill for
committee consideration so that reform efforts can move forward
smoothly and expeditiously.

The House proposal meets President Obama’s goals by controlling
runaway health care costs, offering the American people real choices
and expanding access to quality health care. It has a high quality
health insurance plan that provides real choices and real
competition for private insurance from day one. It calls on
corporations to pay their fair share. Like the President’s proposal,
it calls on those who can afford it to contribute to funding health
expansion – in the House bill through a modest tax
surcharge. It does not ask the American people to pay more for what
they already have. In fact, this legislation offers the real promise
of improving quality, increasing access and reducing costs, all at the
same time.

Voters want their elected representatives to guarantee quality
affordable health care
. They want a quality public plan that will
provide a real alternative to confusing private plans that profit from
denying care and shortchanging coverage. They want everyone to pay
their fair share. We urge the Representatives to move forward with
reform and vigorously resist any attempt to dilute this bill during the
legislative process. We call on Congress to act swiftly on health care
and deliver much needed relief to working families.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

1,500 Arkansas Workers March for Free Choice

On Saturday July 11th, national labor leaders joined over 1,500 Arkansas workers in Little Rock for a rally in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, which will restore workers’ freedom to join a union and bargain for a better life.

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker, the first African-American executive officer of the AFL-CIO and widely known civil rights leader, joined other national labor, civil rights, and faith leaders in an historic march and rally. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Rich Trumka, Arkansas AFL-CIO President Alan Hughes, Communications Workers of America Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Rechenbach, and Steelworkers International President Leo Gerard led hundreds of union and faith and civil rights activists in the first of its kind demonstration in Little Rock.

Early Saturday morning, members of the Northwest Arkansas Labor Council and workers from all over Arkansas traveled to meet at Central High School. There, they remembered the sacrifices and contribution of the Little Rock 9 to freedom for all people in America. Led by Arkansas ministers, the assembled marched to another rally on the steps of the State Capitol featuring local faith leaders and local elected leaders in an even louder call for Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor to vote for the Employee Free Choice Act. The marchers concluded with an old-fashioned Arkansas catfish fry at the adjacent Arkansas Education Association building.

Workers across America have launched the largest grassroots mobilization effort since the November election to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill will provide workers with a greater voice on the job and will allow them to bargain collectively for higher wages, benefits, and job security. It would additionally allow for workers to join a union through majority sign up and take away the right of corporations to demand a ballot election, giving the choice of majority sign-up or an election to the workers.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mass Rally in Little Rock Tomorow

This Saturday, Arkansas workers, civil rights activists, faith leaders and union members will come together across Arkansas in support of workers’ freedom to form unions.

Workers and their allies will ask Arkansas’ two senators, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, to help pass the Employee Free Choice Act and restore the freedom to form unions and bargain for a better life.

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka and AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker will be on hand for a march across Little Rock, starting at Central High School at 1 p.m. Together, we will call on the Arkansas congressional delegation, including Sens. Mark Pryor and Blanche Lincoln, to support and vote for the Employee Free Choice Act. After the rally, we will hold a march and then convene at the Arkansas Education Association for an old-fashioned Arkansas catfish fry.

Time: 1 p.m. Saturday, July 11
Location: Central High School, 1500 S. Park St., Little Rock
Google Map

In addition to the main rally in Little Rock, workers and religious leaders will rally in the morning in Pine Bluff, Texarkana and Fort Smith, bringing the message of support for workers all across the state.

As the AFL-CIO’s Stewart Acuff explains at the Huffington Post, the voices of faith leaders and civil rights leaders will be an essential part of this event.

Just as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 opened the doors to greater freedoms for African Americans, the Employee Free Choice Act will open the door for workers to freely form unions and bargain collectively….

Led by Arkansas ministers, the assembled hundreds will march to the State Capitol area for another rally featuring local faith leaders such as Rev. Steve Copley and local elected leaders in an even louder call for Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor to vote for the Employee Free Choice Act.

Union leaders taking part in the day of events will include President Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers (USW), President Edwin Hill of the Electrical Workers (IBEW) and Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Rechenbach of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

It’s a critical time in the struggle for workers’ freedom to form unions and Saturday’s rally will send a clear message: It’s time to pass the Employee Free Choice Act and make the economy work for everyone again.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

AFL-CIO President Sweeney on the Pope's Encyclical

Statement by AFL-CIO President John SweeneyOn the Pope’s EncyclicalJuly 8, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI’s commitment to the cause of working peopleworldwide shines today. In the new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate or Charity in Truth, Pope Benedict XVI offers an ethical critique of the global economic crisis and proposes concrete elements for policiesanchored in moral values that enhance the dignity of all, especially the poor and working people. The encyclical levels a strong critiqueat the forces of unfettered free-market capitalism and globalizedg reed.

Particularly, the new encyclical offers a much-needed reminder that to create an economy that works for everyone it is critical to protect workers’ fundamental right to join together as a union and bargain fora better future. As the Pope makes clear, it is not only working people, but also entire communities - - nations even - - that stand to benefit when workers exercise this right. In the document, the Pope reaffirms the Church’s longstanding position that labor unions play a vital role in efforts to build a more just economy—one in which even the most marginalized workers are guaranteed basic dignity and respect.

As the gap between the wealthy and the poor continues to widen, and workers around the world are denied the dignity and freedom they deserve, the union movement stands with the Catholic Church in its call for a global economy that works for working people. Now, more than ever, we must rally to protect the rights of workers—at home and worldwide—to come together in unions and build a better future for us all.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Vets: Employee Free Choice Affirms Freedoms We Fought For

This Fourth of July, there were parades, picnics, family gatherings and speeches about what it means to be an American and a patriot.

For the men and women who have served in the military, being a patriot means fighting at home to protect the freedoms they defended in conflicts abroad. And for millions of them, that means belonging to a union.

Take Brett McElfresh, a member of Plumbers and Pipefitters ([1] UA) Local 94 in Canton, Ohio. McElfresh served four years in the U.S. Army, including a tour in Iraq. He is the first member of his local to join the [2] Helmets to Hardhats program sponsored by by the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department ([3] BCTD). The program has helped more than 5,000 military vets find new careers as electricians, plumbers, roofers and in other skilled trades.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Real Unemployment Hit 16.5% in June

Economic insight and analysis from The Wall Street Journal.

As job losses accelerated in June, the unemployment rate ticked up 0.1 percentage point to 9.5%, the highest level since August 1983.

But another more comprehensive gauge of unemployment also continued to tick up. The government’s broader measure, known as the “U-6″ for its data classification, hit 16.5% in June, 0.1 percentage point higher than March.

The comprehensive measure of labor underutilization accounts for people who have stopped looking for work or who can’t find full-time jobs. The index had posted a 0.6 percentage point jump in May. The pace of increase has begun to mirror the rise in the headline rate after soaring at higher pace earlier this year, possibly signaling that more workers are starting to look for jobs again.

Though the pace may be moderating, the figure still is the highest since the Labor Department started this particular data series in 1994. It’s also above a discontinued and even broader measure that hit 15% in late 1982, when the official unemployment rate was 10.8%. (That data series goes back to the 1970s.)

The 9.5% unemployment rate is calculated based on people who are without jobs, who are available to work and who have actively sought work in the prior four weeks. The “actively looking for work” definition is fairly broad, including people who contacted an employer, employment agency, job center or friends; sent out resumes or filled out applications; or answered or placed ads, among other things.

The U-6 figure includes everyone in the official rate plus “marginally attached workers” — those who are neither working nor looking for work, but say they want a job and have looked for work recently; and people who are employed part-time for economic reasons, meaning they want full-time work but took a part-time schedule instead because that’s all they could find.

Rest of story and graph here.

Like Taking Candy from a Baby?

You know the drill: A baby has something in her hand that's incredibly appealing like a chocolate bar, or say, real healthcare reform, and you slyly remove it from her grasp and offer her melba toast, or in this case, a broken healthcare system.

Yes, the insurance industry is trying to beat us at our own game. They are snatching real healthcare reform from our grasp and offering us fake solutions.

Show the insurance industry that we're anything but defenseless babes. Tell Congress that we want real healthcare reform now!

What's happening now? Every day a new proposal is invented to try to kill a public health insurance option. Right now, some members of Congress are trying to kill the public health insurance option, not by opposing it outright, but by pushing weak measures and calling them "public plans." The latest is a proposal for small regional co-ops that have largely failed in the past to bring costs down or to provide real options for families.[1]

What is a public health insurance option anyway? A public health insurance option is just that - an option. Families who like their current private health insurance plan can keep things exactly how they are now. But families who don't have access to another health insurance plan would have the option to be covered under a public health insurance plan.

Women, in particular, need a public insurance option because they are less likely to get health insurance through their jobs and more than twice as likely as men to get employer-sponsored coverage through their spouses. And as the economy worsens, many employers are reducing healthcare coverage for dependents, leaving millions of women and children at risk.[2]

It's no wonder that an overwhelming majority of Americans - 83% - support a public health insurance option.[3] Weak half-measures like the "co-op" plan are no substitute for real reform.

Congress needs to hear from the public now because insurance companies are aggressively lobbying against the public plan option. They need to hear from real people like you and me. Please forward this message on to friends and family and contact your members of Congress today:

Thanks for your work on behalf of our nation's families!

--Donna, Ashley, Julia, Anita, Kristin and the MomsRising Team

[1] "A Public Health Plan," The New York Times, June 21, 2009,

[2] "Women and Health Coverage: The Affordability Gap", Elizabeth M. Patchias and Judy Waxman, April 2007- Issue Brief,

[3] "New Poll Shows Tremendous Support for Public Health Care Option," Blog for Our Future, June 15, 2009,