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NEA report finds fault with provision of Health Care Act

04.17.15

APRIL 2015, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Edition of The Union News

NEA report finds fault with provision of Health Care Act

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, April 4th- The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest labor organization that represents teachers and education support staff and other educational professionals with more than 3 million members, released a report that finds fault with one of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. The Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is affiliated with the NEA. The report analyzed a key tax provision, the excise tax on high-cost health plans.

The NEA stated that the report finds that although the excise tax is often referred to as a tax on overgenerous health benefits, it’s likely to be a tax driven by other things, including where health plan members live, employees and workers in high-cost insurance markets.

“We continue to support the Affordable Care Act because it already has strengthened health benefits for kids and families and provided an opportunity for millions of Americans to obtain quality, affordable care. This new report however, highlights a significant and damaging flaw in the excise tax. The excise tax on high-cost plans can randomly and unfairly cause hardship to American workers and their families. In fact, the excise tax will disproportionately hurt women and older workers,” stated Kim Anderson, senior director of the NEA’s Center for Advocacy and Outreach.

The NEA report stated the excise tax wrongly equates high premiums with overly generous health benefits. It is flawed that some plans offering moderate benefits will face a steep tax, while plans with better benefits may not face any tax at all.

Employers are already preparing to shift health care costs to workers by cutting benefits or passing the tax liability to employees even though the law doesn’t hold employees responsible for paying the tax.

“We believe that it’s more accurate to call the excise tax on high-cost plans an ‘Age Sex-Geography Tax,’ added Ms. Anderson.

Legislation would create insurance fund for women workers

02.08.14

JANUARY 2014, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Edition of The Union News

Legislation would create insurance fund for women workers

BY PAUL LEESON
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, January 4th- Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (Democrat-New York), and United States House of Representative Rosa DeLauro (Democrat-Connecticut) introduced legislation within their legislative body “the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act)”.

The legislation would create an independent insurance fund to provide critical income to workers when taking family and medical leave.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), which according to their mission statement conducts rigorous research on findings that address the needs of women and their families and works in affiliation with the women’s studies and public policy programs at George Washington University, the costs of workers of not having unpaid medical leave for childbirth, personal health needs, or family caregiving is causing economic hardship on women.

The organization analyzed the costs and impact to workers of not having unpaid leave and published their findings. The IWPR also worked on passage and provided information leading-up to the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLAct).

Dr. Heidi Hartman, Ph.D., and President of the IWPR, and co-author of “Unnecessary Losses: Costs to Americans of Lack of Family and Medical Leave,” has recently been interviewed by national news outlets, about the importance of the passage of the legislation.

However, with the Republicans having the majority within the House of Representatives, the legislation will likely not receive enough support to become law.

In 1993 when the FMLAct was passed and signed into law, the Democratic party controlled both the U.S. Senate, the U.S. House and also the White House.

The Politics behind the Killing of Americans

04.05.13

by Walter Brasch

Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) opposes the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), and vows to block the expansion of Medicaid in his state. At a news conference this past week, Perry, flanked by conservative senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, declared “Texas will not be held hostage by the Obama administration’s attempt to force us into the fool’s errand of adding more than a million Texans to a broken system.” About one-fourth of all Texans do not have health care coverage.

According to an analysis by the Dallas Morning News, if Texas budgeted $15.6 billion over the next decade, it would receive more than $100 billion in federal Medicaid funds, allowing the state to cover about 1.5 million more residents, including about 400,000 children.
Texas isn’t the only state to politicize health care.

Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) says that expanding Medicaid is the “right thing to do,” but the Republican-dominated state legislature doesn’t agree. Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) is having the same problem with his Republican legislature, although participation in Medicaid would save the state about $1.9 billion during the next decade. Gov. Jan Brewer (R-Ariz.), one of the nation’s most vigorous opponents of the ACA, surprisingly has spoken in favor of Medicaid expansion to benefit her state’s residents.

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) and the Republican legislature oppose implementing the ACA and Medicaid expansion. Jindal says the expansion would cost Louisiana about $1 billion during the next decade. However, data analysis by the state’s Department of Health and Hospitals reveals that if Louisiana accepted the federal program, which would benefit almost 600,000 residents, the state would actually save almost $400 million over the next decade. About one-fifth of all Louisianans lack health insurance.

Pennsylvania, by population, is a blue state, but it has a Republican governor, and both houses of the Legislature are Republican-controlled. Gov. Tom Corbett says he opposes an expansion of Medicaid because it is “financially unsustainable for Pennsylvania taxpayers” and would require a “large tax increase.” This would be the same governor who believes that extending a $1.65 billion corporate welfare check to the Royal Dutch Shell Corp., a foreign-owned company, is acceptable but protecting Pennsylvanians’ health is not.

Fifteen states, dominated by Republican governorships and legislatures, by declaring they won’t allow Medicaid expansion, are on record as placing political interests before the health of their citizens. Another 10 states are “considering” whether or not to implement additional health care coverage for their citizens. The Republican states, pretending they believe in cost containment, claim they oppose Medicaid expansion because of its cost, even though the entire cost for three years is borne by the federal government, the states would pay only 10 percent of the cost after that. The cost to the states would average only about 2.8 percent, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget office.

If all states agreed to the ACA expansion of Medicaid, 17–21 million low-income individuals would receive better health care. Among those would be about 500,000 veterans who do not have health insurance and whose incomes are low enough to qualify for health care, according to research compiled by the Urban Institute. Veterans don’t automatically qualify for VA benefits. Even those who do qualify for VA assistance may not seek health care because they don’t live close to a VA medical facility, and can’t afford health care coverage closer to home. Spouses of veterans usually don’t qualify for VA benefits.

Under the ACA, Medicaid health care would cover persons whose incomes are no more than 138 percent above the federal poverty line. That would be individuals earning no more than $15,856 a year, only about $800 above minimum wage. Among those covered by Medicaid expansion would be women with breast and cervical cancer, and those with mental or substance abuse problems.

Because they have no health insurance, 6.5 to 40.6 percent of Americans, depending upon the county they live in, delay necessary medical treatment, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The 6.5 percent rate is for Norfolk, Mass.; the 40.6 percent rate is in Hidalgo, Texas. (Most of Pennsylvania falls in the 6.5–13.4 percent rate.) Texas and Florida have the highest rates of residents who delay getting proper medical care because of a lack of adequate insurance.

Low-income individuals who delay getting medical care because of the cost often develop further complications, some of them catastrophic. The medical bill that might be only a few hundred dollars, which would be covered if the recalcitrant states approved Medicaid expansion, could now become a bill in the thousands of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The hospitals would have to absorb those costs or force the patient into bankruptcy, which could impact dozens of other businesses. The Missouri Hospital Association reported if the state refused to accept Medicaid expansion, the state’s health care industry would be forced to accept more than $11 billion in uncompensated costs.

But, let’s assume that the medical condition isn’t catastrophic, but just serious. Low-wage employees, most of whom have limited sick leave, might be forced to come to work so as not to lose the limited income they already earn. If their illness is a cold or flu, or some other contagious illness, they could infect others, both employees and customers. A waitress, fry cook, or day laborer in the agricultural fields with no health insurance could cause massive problems.

Medical problems, such as rheumatoid arthritis, not treated early would also lead to a severe physical disability, forcing the employee into becoming unable to work even a minimum-wage job. This, of course, reduces both income that could be put into the local business economy and a corresponding decrease in amount of taxes paid. That would trigger disability payments, which could raise taxes for those who are not yet disabled.

Research conducted by the Harvard University School of Public Health, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that expanding Medicaid coverage would result in a 6 percent reduction of deaths among adults 20 to 64 years old. According to that study, “Mortality reductions were greatest among older adults, nonwhites, and residents of poorer counties.” For Texas, according to the research, expansion of the Medicaid coverage would result in about 2,900 fewer deaths; for Florida, it would be about 2,200 fewer deaths; for Pennsylvania, it would result in about 1,500 fewer deaths.

But, the real reason Republicans may not want Medicaid expansion could be for the same reason they have been pushing oppressive Voter ID laws to correct a problem that doesn’t exist. Those who are most affected are those who generally are the low income wage earners and persons of color, most of whom—at least according to recent elections—don’t vote for Republicans.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which looks at the health, environmental, geological, and economic impact of natural gas horizontal fracturing. He also investigates political collusion between the natural gas industry and politicians.]

DOL continues to delay FLSAct for home care workers

07.12.12

JULY 2012 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

DOL continues to delay FLSAct for home care workers

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, June 30th- The United States Department of Labor (DOL) proposal to extend minimum wage and overtime protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSAct) to home care workers continues to meet resistance from for-profit home care providers companies.

The DOL proposed to revise the “companionship exemption” under the FLSAct. Currently, home care workers are excluded from receiving the federal minimum wage and receiving overtime payments despite the industry being so profitable.

Recently it was the five-year anniversity of the United States Supreme Court decision (Long Island Home Care v. Evelyn Coke) and the DOL has yet to release its final regulation that would provide federal minimum wage and overtime protections to the nation’s 2.5 million home care workers.

According to the Bronx, New York headquartered Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), the DOL proposal to extend 2.5 million home care workers minimum wage and overtime protections will strengthen the infrastructure for home and community-based services, assuring access to affordable, quality care.

“The millions of women who provide these services are no different from those who work in similar jobs in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. There is absolutely no justification for continuing to treat these workers as casual companions, exempting them from basic labor protections that most American workers have enjoyed for over 70 years,” stated Deane Beebe PHI Media Relations Director. Home care workers were first excluded from the federal law in 1974.

Ms. Beebe stated providing home care is a thriving $84 billion industry with it being the nation’s fastest growing occupation, expected to grow to over 3 million workers by 2020. “Yet these workers, who are 90 percent female with a median age of 45, continue to be treated in the same fashion as teenage babysitters. Home care, however, is a true vocation, and should be treated as such under the law,” added Ms. Beebe.

Recently the companies that are benefiting from industry released several studies that suggest that the proposed regulations will have a negative impact on businesses, consumers, and workers. However, the PHI stated the findings are “seriously flawed.”

For example, the industry-funded surveys were neither nationally representative nor statistically valid. The surveys emphasized opinion questions that were phrased to lead respondents to answers that align with the opposition to the proposed regulations.

The home care industry has doubled its revenues over the last decade and the for-profit segment is making huge profits but is resisting providing minimum wage or overtime protections.

“On December 15th, 2011, President Obama announced that the United States Department of Labor would finally guarantee minimum wage and overtime protections to millions of home care workers who care for Americans, young and old, who need assistance to remain independent and part of their communities. With a need for 3 million more workers to provide these services by 2020, we cannot rely on the undervalued, contingent workforce. Quality care demands quality jobs, beginning with a recognition that care work is “real” work. That means that it is time for home care workers to be treated like most other American workers and provided basic labor protections under FLSAct,” said PHI President Jodi Sturgeon.

Evelyn Coke, a New York home care worker, sued her employer for back pay when she discovered that, though she often worked long hours in her clients home, she never received overtime pay. Her case went to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled on June 11th, 2007, that because of the exemption of “companions to the elderly” under the FLSAct, Ms. Coke’s employer had done nothing illegal but the Court also ruled the DOL could reinterpret the “companionship exemption” to expand wage and hour protections to home care aides.

Study indicates direct-care workforce will be nation’s largest by by 2020

07.02.12

JULY 2012, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Study indicates direct-care workforce will be nation’s largest by by 2020

BY PAUL LEESON
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

REGION, June 9th- According to a analysis by the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), Bronx, New York, by 2020 direct-care workforce is projected to be the nation’s largest workforce at 5 million workers. Direct care workers are nursing assistants, home health aides, and personal care aides.

Direct-care occupations are expected to add an additional 1.6 million jobs to the economy over the decade from 2010-2020 but the wages for these jobs continue to decline and the number of workers without health care coverage has increased, stated PHI Policy Research Directer Dorie Seavey.

“It’s quite striking that probably the largest workforce ever produced by our economy is largely made of women who struggle with inadequate conditions of employment as they try to make ends meet,” said Ms. Seavey, who conducted the analysis with Policy Research Analyst Abby Marquand.

Home-care jobs, both home health aide and personal care positions, are the nation’s fastest growing jobs, projected to increase over the decade from 2010 to 2020 at an 69 percent to 71 percent, respectively.

Home health aides and personal care aides rank third and fourth on the list of occupations expected to generate the most new jobs to the economy over the period.

Direct-care workers far outnumber other health care practitioners, including physicians, nurses, and therapists, comprising nearly a third of the entire United States health-care workforce in 2011.

These workers also outnumber, by nearly three to one, all those employed in allied health occupations, such as medical and dental assistants, and physical therapy assistants and aides.

The Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute researchers estimate that there are at least 800,000 independent providers who provide personal care services for consumers enrolled in Medicaid based settings. These workers, employed directly by consumers and their families in home and community based settings, are not tracked by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consequently, independent providers have been heavily undercounted in government surveys.

“There are two basic models for delivering in-home services and supports in the United State today; an agency model and an independent provider model.

The latter has two broad variants, private and public. The size of the private strand is extremely difficult to measure since so many private arrangements are not reported, but publicly funded arrangements can and should be accounted for, substantial numbers of workers and consumers are involved in this sector” stated Ms. Marquand.

According to the United States Department of Labor, the median wage of $10.59 in 2011 for all direct-care workers is far below the median wage for all workers, $16.57. Also, adjusted for inflation, wages for these workers occupations have declined over the last decade.

Personal care aides and home health aides earned a median wage of $9.49 and $9.91 per hour, respectively. The wages for these home-care occupations are less than the median hourly wages of $11.63 for nursing aides, orderlies, and attendents.

The number of direct-care workers without healthcare coverage in 2010 increased to 950,000, up from 900,000 the previous year.

Also, research indicated more than one third of aides employed by home-care agencies and one in four nursing home aides lacked healthcare coverage in 2011.

FRACKING: Corruption a Part of Pennsylvania’s Heritage

03.22.12


by WALTER BRASCH


(part 3 of 3)

The history of energy exploration, mining, and delivery is best understood in a range from benevolent exploitation to worker and public oppression. A company comes into an area, leases land in rural and agricultural areas for mineral rights, increases employment, usually in a depressed economy, strips the land of its resources, creates health problems for its workers and those in the immediate area, and then leaves.

It makes no difference if it’s timber, oil, or coal. In the 1970s and 1980s, the nuclear energy industry promised well-paying jobs, clean energy, and a safe health and work environment. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima Daiichi, and thousands of violations issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, have shown that even with strict operating guidelines, nuclear energy isn’t as clean and safe as claimed. Like all other energy industries, nuclear power isn’t infinite. Most plants have a 40–50 year life cycle. After that, the plant becomes so radioactive hot that it must be sealed.

In the early 21st century, the natural gas industry follows the model of the other energy corporations, and uses the same rhetoric. James M. Taylor, senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, claims on the Institute’s website, “The newfound abundance of domestic gas reserves promises unprecedented energy prosperity and security.”

The energy policy during the eight years of the George W. Bush–Dick Cheney administration was to give favored status to the industry, often at the expense of the environment. In addition to negating Bill Clinton’s strong support for the Kyoto Protocol, signed by 191 countries, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, former oil company executives Bush and Cheney pushed to open significant federal land, including the 19 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), to drilling that would disrupt the ecological balance in one of the nation’s most pristine areas.

A study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), published in 2004 concluded that fracking was of little or no risk to human health. However, Wes Wilson, a 30-year EPA environmental engineer, in a letter to members of Congress and the EPA inspector general, called that study “scientifically unsound,” and questioned the bias of the panel, noting that five of the seven members had significant ties to the industry. “EPA’s failure to regulate [fracking] appears to be improper under the Safe Water Drinking Act and may result in danger to public health and safety.”

The following year, the Energy Policy Act of 2005—on a 249–183 vote in the House and an 85–12 vote in the Senate—exempted the oil and natural gas industry from the Safe Water Drinking Act. That exemption applied to the “construction of new well pads and the accompanying new roads and pipelines.” The National Defense Resource Council noted that the EPA interpreted the exemption “as allowing unlimited discharges of sediment into the nation’s streams, even where those discharges contribute to a violation of state water quality standards.” The exemption became known derisively as the Halliburton Loophole, named for one of the nation’s major energy companies, of which Cheney, whose promotion of Big Business and opposition to environmental policies is well-documented, had once been the CEO.

Bills introduced in the U.S. House (H.R. 2766) and U.S. Senate (S. 1215) in June 2009 to give federal regulatory oversight under the Safe Water Drinking Act to hydraulic fracturing languished. New bills (H.R. 1084 and S. 587), introduced in March 2011 in the 112th Congress, are also expected to die without a vote.

The natural gas industry has a long history of effective lobbying at the state and national level. America’s Natural Gas Alliance has four former Congressmen as lobbyists, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). Through various political action committees (PACs), the industry has contributed about $238.7 million in campaign contributions, about three-fourths of it to Republican candidates, since 1990, according to the CRP. For the 2008 election, the gas and oil industry contributed $27.4 million, including contributions from individuals, PACs, and soft money, according to CRP data. Total contributions for the current election cycle, as of mid-March, are $20.6 million, with almost 90 percent of it going to Republicans.
At the federal level, the top recipients of oil and gas contributions during the current election cycle, according to the CRP, are former presidential hopeful Gov. Rick Perry of Texas ($833,674), Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst of Texas ($650,850), presidential hopeful Mitt Romney ($597,950), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ($264,700), and Sen. John Barasso of Wyoming ($225,400), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Every one of the top 20 recipients is a Republican.

Barack Obama, although significantly more environmental friendly than his predecessor, had opened up off-shore drilling just prior to the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast in April 2010. He has repeatedly spoken against the heavy use and dependence upon fossil fuels, and sees the expanded use of natural gas as a transition fuel to expanded use of wind and solar energy. Nevertheless, he has still received funding from the natural gas industry. During the 2008 presidential campaign, he received $920,922 from the oil and gas industry, according to data compiled by the CRP. His opponent, Sen. John McCain, according to CRP, accepted $2,543,154.

In contrast, the 1.4 million member Sierra Club, since August 2010, has refused to accept any donations from the natural gas industry. The Sierra Club, which has actively opposed the development of coal as an energy source, had received $27 million since 2007 from Chesapeake Energy. By 2010, “our view of natural gas [and fracking] had changed [and we] stopped the funding relationship between the Club and the gas industry, and all fossil fuel companies or executives,” says Michael Brune, Sierra’s executive director.

Mixed into Pennsylvania’s energy production is not only a symbiotic relationship of business and government, but a history of corruption and influence-peddling. Between 1859, when an economical method to drill for oil was developed near Titusville, Pa., and 1933, the beginning of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” Pennsylvania, under almost continual Republican administration, was among the nation’s most corrupt states. The robber barons of the timber, oil, coal, steel, and transportation industries essentially bought their right to be unregulated. In addition to widespread bribery, the energy industries, especially coal, assured the election of preferred candidates by giving pre-marked ballots to workers, many of whom didn’t read English.

In a letter to the editor of The New York Times in March 2011, John Wilmer, a former attorney for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), explained that “Pennsylvania’s shameful legacy of corruption and mismanagement caused 2,500 miles of streams to be totally dead from acid mine drainage; left many miles of scarred landscape; enriched the coal barons; and impoverished the local citizens.” His words serve as a warning about what is happening in the natural gas fields.

Pennsylvania’s new law that regulates and gives favorable treatment to the natural gas industry was initiated and passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. The House voted 101–90 for passage; the Senate voted, 31–19. Both votes were mostly along party lines.

In addition to forbidding physicians and health care professionals from disclosing what the industry believes are “trade secrets” in what it uses in fracking that may cause air and water pollution, there are other industry-favorable provisions. The new law guts local governments’ rights of zoning and long-term planning, doesn’t allow for local health and environmental regulation, forbids municipalities to appeal state decisions about well permits, and provides subsidies to the natural gas industry and payments for out-of-state workers to get housing but provides for no incentives or tax credits to companies to hire Pennsylvania workers. It also requires companies to provide fresh water, which can be bottled water, to areas in which they contaminate the water supply, but doesn’t require the companies to clean up the pollution or even to track transportation and deposit of contaminated wastewater. The law allows companies to place wells 300 feet from houses, streams and wetlands. The law also allows compressor stations to be placed 750 feet from houses, and gives natural gas companies authority to operate these stations continuously at up to 60 decibels, the equivalent of continuous conversation in restaurants. The noise level and constant artificial lighting has adverse effects upon wildlife. As a result of all the concessions, the natural gas industry is given special considerations not given any other business or industry in Pennsylvania.

Each well is expected to generate about $16 million during its lifetime, which can be as few as ten years, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC). The effective tax and impact fee is about 2 percent. Corbett had originally wanted no tax or impact fees placed upon natural gas drilling; as public discontent increased, he suggested a 1 percent tax, which was in the original House bill. In contrast, other states that allow natural gas fracking have tax rates as high as 7.5 percent of market value (Texas) and 25–50 percent of net income (Alaska). The Pennsylvania rate can vary, based upon the price of natural gas and inflation, but will still be among the five lowest of the 32 states that allow natural gas drilling. Over the lifetime of a well, Pennsylvania will collect about $190,000–$350,000, while West Virginia will collect about $993,700, Texas will collect about $878,500, and Arkansas will collect about $555,700, according to PBPC data and analyses.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat from suburban Philadelphia, says he opposed the bill because, “At a time when we are closing our schools and eliminating vital human services, to leave billions on the table as a gift to industry that is already going to be making billions is obscene.” State Rep. Mark Cohen, a Democrat from Philadelphia, like most of the Democrats in the General Assembly, agrees. The legislation, he says, “produces far too little revenue for local communities, gives the local communities local taxing power which most of them do not want, because it pits one community against the other, and gives no revenue at all to other areas of the state.”

The new law is generally believed to be “payback” by Corbett and the Republican legislators for campaign contributions. The industry contributed about $7.2 million to Pennsylvania candidates and their PACs between 2000 and the end of 2010, including $860,825 to the Republican party and $129,100 to the Democratic party, according to data compiled by Common Cause. In addition, the natural gas industry contributed about $1.6 million to Corbett’s political campaigns during the past 10 years, about $1.1 million of that for his campaign for governor, according to Common Cause. Rep. Brian L. Ellis (R-Butler County), sponsor of the House bill, received $23,300. Sen. Joseph B. Scarnati (R- Warren, Pa.), the senate president pro-tempore who sponsored the companion Senate bill (SB 1100), received $293,334. Of the 20 Pennsylvania legislators who received the most money from the industry since 2001, 16 are Republicans, according to Common Cause.

Rep. H. William DeWeese (D-Waynesburg, Pa.), received $58,750, the most of the four Democrats. DeWeese, first elected in 1976, had been Speaker of the House and Democratic leader.

It’s possible that the significant campaign contributions didn’t influence Pennsylvania’s politicians to rush to embrace the natural gas industry and its controversial use of hydraulic fracking. It’s possible that these politicians had always believed in fracking, and the natural gas industry was merely contributing to the campaigns of those who believed as they do. However, with the heavy amount of money spent by the natural gas lobby and, apparently, willingly accepted by certain politicians, there is no way to know how they might have voted had no money or lobbying occurred.

Tom Corbett’s first major political appointment after his election in November 2010 was to name C. Alan Walker, an energy company executive, to head the Department of Community and Economic Development. The Pennsylvania Progressive identified Walker as “an ardent anti-environmentalist and someone who hates regulation of his industry.” A ProPublica investigation revealed that Walker had given $184,000 to Corbett’s political campaign.

Shortly after taking office, Corbett repealed environmental assessments of gas wells in state parks. The result could be as many as 2,200 well pads on almost 90 percent of all public lands, according to Nature Conservancy of Pennsylvania.

Corbett’s public announcements in March 2011, two months after his inauguration, established the direction for gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

In his first budget address, Corbett boldly declared he wanted to “make Penn¬syl¬va¬nia the hub of this [drilling] boom. Just as the oil com¬pa¬nies decided to head¬quar¬ter in one of a dozen states with oil, let’s make Penn¬syl¬va¬nia the Texas of the nat¬ural gas boom. I’m deter¬mined that Penn¬syl¬va¬nia not lose this moment.” Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley would later boast, “The Marcellus [Shale] is revitalizing our main streets in downtowns.”

Within the budget bill, Corbett authorized Walker to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.” This unprecedented reach apparently applied to all energy industries. That same month, Corbett created an Advisory Commission, loaded with persons from business and industry. Not one member was from the health professions; of the seven state agencies represented, not one member was from the Department of Health.

Between 2007 and the end of 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued 1,435 violations to natural gas companies; 952 of those violations related to potential harm to the environment. In March, Michael Krancer, the new DEP secretary, also a political appointee, took personal control over his department’s issuance of any violations. By Krancer’s decree, every inspector could no longer cite any well owner in the Marcellus Shale development without first getting the approval of Krancer and his executive deputy secretary.

“It’s an extraordinary directive [that] represents a break from how business has been done” and politicizes the process, John Hanger told ProPublica. Hanger, DEP secretary under the Ed Rendell administration, said the new rules “will cause the public to lose confidence entirely in the inspection process.” He told the Scranton Times-Tribune the new policy was the equivalent of every trooper having to get permission from the state police commissioner before issuing a traffic citation. Because the new policy is so unusual and broad “it’s impossible for something like this to be issued without the direction and knowledge of the governor’s office,” said Hanger. Corbett denied he was responsible for the decision. Five weeks after the Krancer decision was leaked to the media, and following a strong negative response from the public, environmental groups, and the state’s media, the DEP rescinded the policy—which Krancer claimed was only a three-month “pilot program.”

“When state agencies say they will ‘regulate’ or ‘monitor’ hydraulic fracturing to reduce known threats, we should not accept this as a guarantee of any kind,” says Eileen Fay, an animal rights/environmental writer. Fay argues that because of legislative corruption, it is a responsibility of citizens to protect their own health and environment by “putting pressure on our legislators.”

In February 2012, Corbett proudly signed Act 13, a merger of the House and Senate bills.

HB 1950 had initially included a provision to provide up to $2 million a year in funding to the Department of Health for “collecting and disseminating information, preparing and conducting health care provider outreach and education and investigating health related complaints and other uses associated with unconventional natural gas production activity.” That provision, strongly supported by numerous public health and environmental groups, was deleted in the final bill.

The Pennsylvania Constitution (Article I, section 27) declares: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

However, unlike New York state, which placed a moratorium on well permits while it is evaluating the health and environmental risks, Pennsylvania has rushed to embrace the natural gas industry and its use of fracking, apparently disregarding its own Constitution. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission has routinely approved requests from drillers to remove millions of gallons of water each day from the river, although the commissioners have not requested any health impact statements or undertaken a complete cumulative impact study, according to Iris Marie Bloom, an environmental writer and activist. Because of the nature of the Marcellus Shale deposit in Pennsylvania, as opposed to neighboring states, natural gas companies have to transport the wastewater to other states for re-use or disposal or take it to sewage treatment plants. The plants then discharge the treated wastewater into the state’s rivers. However, present methods can’t remove the salt and some other chemicals and radioactive elements. Currently, about 11 million gallons of wastewater a day are taken from the Susquehanna for fracking operations; about three times that amount is anticipated when fracking reaches its peak in the state, according to Paul Swartz, Commission executive director. In contrast, the Delaware River Basic Commission has put a moratorium on taking water from that river until studies have been completed.

Pennsylvania is “handing out permits almost like popcorn in a theater,” says Diane Siegmund, a psychologist from Towanda. Between Jan. 1, 2005 and March 2, 2012, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued 10,232 permits, and denied only 36 requests.

Siegmund is frustrated by what she sees not only as state government’s acceptance of fracking but of numerous local governments in the Marcellus Shale region from speaking out on behalf of the preservation of health and the environment. When she went to the Bradford County commissioners with stacks of research about problems with fracking, “all they did was to thank me and claim it’s not their problem.” She says residents are beginning to believe that local governments are operating in collusion with the energy companies.

But it isn’t just governments. The issue of fracking has divided towns like Dimock, Pa. In November 2009, 15 residents sued Cabot Oil and Gas, charging that the company contaminated their drinking water. Tests conducted by the DEP during the last years of the Ed Rendell administration had revealed there was higher than expected methane gas in 18 water wells that provided drinking water to 13 homes near the drills. The build-up of methane gas had also led to well explosions and DEP warnings to citizens to keep their windows open. Among the provisions of a consent order, the state required Cabot to provide fresh water to families whose water had been affected by the excess methane gas. Cabot denied its fracking operation was responsible for the elevated levels. On Nov. 30, 2011, after the DEP, now under the Tom Corbett administration, declared the water to be safe to drink, Cabot stopped delivering water.

And then something strange happened. The town of Binghamton, N.Y., about 35 miles north, said it would provide a tanker of fresh water. However, the supervisors of Dimock Twp., supported by most of the 140 residents who attended the meeting, most of them with some economic ties to the natural gas industry, refused the offer. According to reporting in the Scranton Times-Tribune, when Binghamton mayor Matthew T. Ryan asked “Why not let people help?” he was rebuffed by one of the township’s three supervisors who snapped, “Why should we haul them water? They got themselves into this. You keep your nose in Binghamton.”

In January 2012, after declaring that the water “contains levels of contaminants that pose a health concern,” the EPA decided it would bring water to residents in Dimock. The response by Cabot was that the EPA was wasting taxpayer money in its investigation of Cabot environmental and health practices. The response by Pennsylvania’s DEP was almost as inflammatory as the water in the taps. Michael Krancer, DEP’s head, not only disagreed with the EPA findings, he called the agency’s knowledge of fracking to be “rudimentary.”

In mid-March, following preliminary tests on several of the wells serving Dimock residents, the EPA found that the water “did not show levels of contamination that could present a health concern.” However, it acknowledged arsenic, some metals, and potentially explosive methane gas remained in the water. A ProPublica investigation revealed that four of the five water samples it obtained showed methane levels exceeding Pennsylvania standards.

We are deeply troubled by Region 3’s rush to judge the science before testing is even complete, and by their apparent disregard for established standards of drinking water safety,” said Claire Sandberg, executive director of Water Defense. She questioned why EPA Region 3’s handling of the Dimock case differed from how other EPA regional offices handled similar cases in Texas and Wyoming when it didn’t release the information until all testing was completed. Dr. Ron Bishop, professor of biochemistry at SUNY/Oneonta, told ProPublica, “Any suggestion that water from these wells is safe for domestic use would be preliminary or inappropriate.”

The extraction of natural gas has also led to the development of other industries—and the exploitation of the people. In Jersey Shore, Pa., about 20 miles west of Williamsport, Aqua PVR bought a 37-unit mobile home village, with plans to build a water withdrawal plant to provide up to three million gallons a day to the natural gas industry. The day the purchase was completed on Feb. 23, 2012, Aqua told the residents their leases were terminated “immediately,” according to reporting in the Sun-Gazette. The company gave residents until May 1 to leave. To sweeten what may be seen as a callous corporate action, Aqua said it would give $2,500 to each resident who moved by April 1, and $1,500 if they moved by May 1. However, as the Sun-Gazette reported, the cost to move each mobile home ranged from $5,000 to $12,000. Many of the residents lived in the village more than a decade; one was there 38 years. The newspaper reported that most trailer parks in the area were already at maximum occupancy, and others would not accept the older trailers.

“Residents are afraid to speak up,” says Diane Siegmund, who points out there is “a lot of fear” among the residents, those whose lives are being uprooted, those whose health is being compromised, and those whose economic benefits may be compromised if fracking operations are reduced.

“As long as the powers can keep the people isolated and fragmented,” says Siegmund, “the momentum for change can never be gained.” The experience in Dimock and Jersey Shore is seen throughout the Marcellus Shale region.

It’s not unreasonable to expect people who are unemployed or underemployed to grasp for anything to help themselves and their families, nor is it unreasonable to expect that persons—roustabouts, clerks, truck drivers, helicopter pilots, among several hundred thousand in dozens of job classifications—will take better paid jobs, even if it often means 60 hour work weeks under hazardous conditions. It’s also not unreasonable to expect that families living in agricultural and rural areas, who are struggling to survive, will snap at the lure of several thousand dollars to lease mineral rights and some of their land to an energy company, which will also pay royalties. But what is unreasonable is that government allows corporations to flourish at the expense of the people and their environment.

The Sierra Club urges that the country needs “to leapfrog over gas whenever possible in favor of truly clean energy. Instead of rushing to see how quickly we can extract natural gas, we should be focusing on how to be sure we are using less—and safeguarding our health and environment in the meantime.”

Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, calls for more research studies that “include all the ways people can be exposed [to health hazards], such as through air, water, soil, plants and animals.”

In November 2011, the Advisory Board of the U.S. Department of Energy concluded: “The public deserves assurance that the full economic, environmental and energy security benefits of shale gas development will be realized without sacrificing public health, environmental protection and safety.”

When the history of natural gas exploration in Pennsylvania is finally written, the story will be that it was a cheaper, cleaner energy source, and that it temporarily helped some people in rural areas, and brought some well-paying jobs into the state. But history will probably also record that the lure of immediate gratification led Pennsylvania’s politicians to willingly accept political donations that led them to sacrifice their citizens’ health and the state’s environment.

[Assisting on this series, in addition to those quoted within the articles, were Rosemary R. Brasch, Eileen Fay, and Dr. Wendy Lynne Lee. Dr. Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist. His current book is Before the First Snow, a critically-acclaimed novel that looks at what happens when government and energy companies form a symbiotic relationship, using ‘cheaper, cleaner’ fuel and the lure of jobs in a depressed economy but at the expense of significant health and environmental impact. The book is available at amazon.com and from the publisher, Greeley & Stone.]

FRACKING: Pennsylvania Gags Physicians

03.18.12

by WALTER BRASCH
(Part 1 of 3)

A new Pennsylvania law endangers public health by forbidding health care professionals from sharing information they learn about certain chemicals and procedures used in high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. The procedure is commonly known as fracking.

Fracking is the controversial method of forcing water, gases, and chemicals at tremendous pressure of up to 15,000 pounds per square inch into a rock formation as much as 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface to open channels and force out natural gas and fossil fuels.

Advocates of fracking argue not only is natural gas “greener” than coal and oil energy, with significantly fewer carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur emissions, the mining of natural gas generates significant jobs in a depressed economy, and will help the U.S. reduce its oil dependence upon foreign nations. Geologists estimate there may be as much as 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas throughout the United States. If all of it is successfully mined, it could not only replace coal and oil but serve as a transition to wind, solar, and water as primary energy sources, releasing the United States from dependency upon fossil fuel energy and allowing it to be more self-sufficient.

The Marcellus Shale—which extends beneath the Allegheny Plateau, through southern New York, much of Pennsylvania, east Ohio, West Virginia, and parts of Maryland and Virginia—is one of the nation’s largest sources for natural gas mining, containing as much as 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and could produce, within a decade, as much as one-fourth of the nation’s natural gas demand. Each of Pennsylvania’s 5,255 wells, as of the beginning of March 2012, with dozens being added each week, takes up about nine acres, including all access roads and pipe.

Over the expected lifetime of each well, companies may use as many as nine million gallons of water and 100,000 gallons of chemicals and radioactive isotopes within a four to six week period. The additives “are used to prevent pipe corrosion, kill bacteria, and assist in forcing the water and sand down-hole to fracture the targeted formation,” explains Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research. However, about 650 of the 750 chemicals used in fracking operations are known carcinogens, according to a report filed with the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011. Fluids used in fracking include those that are “potentially hazardous,” including volatile organic compounds, according to Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, a part of the federal Centers for Disease Control. In an email to the Associated Press in January 2012, Portier noted that waste water, in addition to bring up several elements, may be radioactive. Fracking is also believed to have been the cause of hundreds of small earthquakes in Ohio and other states.

The law, known as Act 13 of 2012, an amendment to Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, requires that companies provide to a state-maintained registry the names of chemicals and gases used in fracking. Physicians and others who work with citizen health issues may request specific information, but the company doesn’t have to provide that information if it claims it is a trade secret or proprietary information, nor does it have to reveal how the chemicals and gases used in fracking interact with natural compounds. If a company does release information about what is used, health care professionals are bound by a non-disclosure agreement that not only forbids them from warning the community of water and air pollution that may be caused by fracking, but which also forbids them from telling their own patients what the physician believes may have led to their health problems. A strict interpretation of the law would also forbid general practitioners and family practice physicians who sign the non-disclosure agreement and learn the contents of the “trade secrets” from notifying a specialist about the chemicals or compounds, thus delaying medical treatment.

The clauses are buried on pages 98 and 99 of the 174-page bill, which was initiated and passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law in February by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

“I have never seen anything like this in my 37 years of practice,” says Dr. Helen Podgainy, a pediatrician from Coraopolis, Pa. She says it’s common for physicians, epidemiologists, and others in the health care field to discuss and consult with each other about the possible problems that can affect various populations. Her first priority, she says, “is to diagnose and treat, and to be proactive in preventing harm to others.” The new law, she says, not only “hinders preventative measures for our patients, it slows the treatment process by gagging free discussion.”

Psychologists are also concerned about the effects of fracking and the law’s gag order. “We won’t know the extent of patients becoming anxious or depressed because of a lack of information about the fracking process and the chemicals used,” says Kathryn Vennie of Hawley, Pa., a clinical psychologist for 30 years. She says she is already seeing patients “who are seeking support because of the disruption to their environment.” Anxiety in the absence of information, she says, “can produce both mental and physical problems.”

The law is not only “unprecedented,” but will “complicate the ability of health department to collect information that would reveal trends that could help us to protect the public health,” says Dr. Jerome Paulson, director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Dr. Paulson, also professor of pediatrics at George Washington University, calls the law “detrimental to the delivery of personal health care and contradictory to the ethical principles of medicine and public health.” Physicians, he says, “have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the health of the public, and this law precludes us from doing all we can to protect the public.” He has called for a moratorium on all drilling until the health effects can be analyzed.

Pennsylvania requires physicians to report to the state instances of 73 specific diseases, most of which are infectious diseases. However, the list also includes cancer, which may have origins not only from chemicals used to create the fissures that yield natural gas, but also in the blow-back of elements, including arsenic, present within the fissures. Thus, physicians are faced by conflicting legal and professional considerations.

“The confidentiality agreements are worrisome,” says Peter Scheer, a journalist/lawyer who is executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. Physicians who sign the non-disclosure agreements and then disclose the possible risks to protect the community can be sued for breech of contract, and the companies can seek both injunctions and damages, says Scheer.

In pre-trial discovery motions, a company might be required to reveal to the court what it claims are trade secrets and proprietary information, with the court determining if the chemical and gas combinations really are trade secrets or not. The court could also rule that the contract is unenforceable because it is contrary to public policy, which places the health of the public over the rights of an individual company to protect its trade secrets, says Scheer. However, the legal and financial resources of the natural gas corporations are far greater than those of individuals, and they can stall and outspend most legal challenges.

Although Pennsylvania is determined to protect the natural gas industry, not everyone in the industry agrees with the need for secrecy. Dave McCurdy, president of the American Gas Association, says he supports disclosing the contents included in fracturing fluids. In an opinion column published in the Denver Post, McCurdy further argued, “We need to do more as an industry to engage in a transparent and fact-based public dialogue on shale gas development.”

The Natural Gas committee of the U.S. Department of Energy agrees. “Our most important recommendations were for more transparency and dissemination of information about shale gas operations, including full disclosure of chemicals and additives that are being used,” said Dr. Mark Zoback, professor of geophysics at Stanford University and a Board member.

Both McCurdy’s statement and the Department of Energy’s strong recommendation about full disclosure were known to the Pennsylvania General Assembly when it created the law that restricted health care professionals from disseminating certain information that could help reduce significant health and environmental problems from fracking operations.

[Part 2 looks at the health issues and research studies. Part 3 looks at the truth behind why Pennsylvania has given advantages to the natural gas industry. Assisting on this series, in addition to those quoted within the articles, were Rosemary R. Brasch, Eileen Fay, Dr. Bernard Goldstein, and Dr. Wendy Lynne Lee. Walter Brasch’s current book is Before the First Snow, a critically-acclaimed novel that looks at what happens when government and energy companies form a symbiotic relationship, using ‘cheaper, cleaner’ fuel and the lure of jobs in a depressed economy but at the expense of significant health and environmental impact. The book is available at amazon.com and through the publisher’s website, http://www.greeleyandstone.com]

Seminar held on health dangers of hydraulic fracturing

02.01.12

JANUARY 2012 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Seminar held on health dangers of hydraulic fracturing

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, January 3rd- The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) Union, which represent nurses employed at the Community Medical Center (CMC) Hospital in Scranton and at the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital in Wilkes-Barre, and Conservation Pennsylvania, recently organized a seminar in Scranton to help local nurses identify the symptoms which indicate exposure to the chemicals in natural gas drilling.

“Our job is to take care of the people in our hospitals and it’s our responsibility to learn about new potential health threats, like gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale,” stated Roben Schwartz, a PASNAP member and a Registered Nurse employed at the Community Medical Center.

Ms. Schwartz joined other nurses and citizens at the Station Hotel in Scranton on December 6th for a discussion about the impacts of gas drilling on human health. Also attending were physicians and conservationists.

“Gas drilling on a huge scale is new to Pennsylvania and it comes with real risks to human health. Our nurses have dedicated their lives to keeping their neighbors healthy and they took time to come to this class to make sure that they’re ready to handle this new danger to the region’s families,” added Ms. Schwartz.

Scientists suspect that some wastewater from the process called hydraulic fracturing that is used to unlock the gas from shale rock might migrate into deep rock formations, causing water wells to become contaminated and earthquakes.

On January 1st, the State of Ohio halted natural gas drilling operations in the Youngstown area because of repeated earthquakes including one of December 31st.

Similar links between disposal wells, a disposal of millions of gallons of brine and other waste liquids produced at natural gas wells, have been suspected in Texas and Arkansas. Colorado also has banned hydraulic fracturing.

The moratorium on injection of drilling waste in Ohip took place after a 10th earthquake, a 2.7 temblor occurred less than 2,000 feet below the well on December 24th but a stronger quake occurred less than 24 hours later and then again on December 31st.

At the seminar Ms. Schwartz was joined by Fran Prusinski, a nurse at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital and Chapter President of the PASNAP unit at the medical facilty, and Dr. Al Rodriguez, a nephrologist and president of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition of Luzerne County and other environmental activists.

“People with serious health problems should always see a medical professional, but everyone should know what symptoms of exposure to these chemicals looks like because early detection can make a huge difference,” stated Ms. Prusinski.

The panel called for more research into the health effects of natural gas extraction and public education about the potential risks. They stated Pennsylvania has done too little to fund and coordinate research about the issue and has let drilling proceed without appropriate study or safeguards.

Outsourcing America’s Health Care

01.20.12

by Walter Brasch

“Ola, Amigo! Pack your bags, we’re going to Mexico!” bubbled Dr. Franklin Peterson Comstock III, faux physician and money-maker.

“Yeah, I could use a decent vacation,” I replied, figuring he’d pay for both of us since he had just set the world record for the most nose jobs in a 24-hour period.

“What vacation?” he said. “I’m setting up practice.”

“And give up catering to rich people with inflated bank accounts and deflated ethics?”

“Don’t have a choice. I’m getting laid off.”

Comstock had been a rainmaker for the Megabucks Happy Health Care Medical Center for the past decade. There was only one reason I could think of why he’d be laid off.

“Megabucks tired of paying your malpractice insurance?” I asked.

“Not just me,” he said. “Hospital’s laying off most of the staff, making the rest work overtime, and hiring outside contractors. They said it was hard to survive when the profit was down to only 20 or so million a year.”

“I didn’t realize it was that serious,” I said. “You planning to set up private practice to help the poor in Mexico?” I asked admiringly.

“Not a chance! Gonna get rich working for Megabucks!”

“You just said you were laid off.”

“Been laid off in the U.S.,” said Comstock while putting a frozen burrito into the microwave.

“Megabucks/Mexico just hired me. There’s cheaper labor down there.”

“You crazy?” I asked. “You’re the cheaper labor.”

“Obviously you don’t know American business,” said Comstock haughtily.

“Megabucks/U.S. closes its auxiliary operations, and then contracts with Mexican companies for a fifth of the cost in the U.S. They do the work, ship it back to the U.S., and Megabucks bills Blue Cross the full rate as if it was done locally.”

“So where do you fit in?” I asked.

“Just as before. Nose jobs. Breast augmentations. Tummy tucks. All the important medical procedures. But this time, I do it in Cancun.”

“To rich Mexicans,” I said disgusted.

“To rich Americans!” said Comstock. “If they want the best care, they’ll take their private jets to Mexico and then deduct the trip as a necessary business expense.”

“And what about the impoverished and middle-class Americans?”

“If they can sneak across the border, they can also get medical care.”

“What about prescriptions?”

“Megabucks contracted with some of the best drug dealers—I mean pharmacists and chemists—in Mexico. Quality is just as good and it’ll only be four or five times production costs. Unlike the U.S. there’s no TV advertising and six-figure MBAs and lawyers that require drugs to be 30 or 40 times production costs.”

“With prices that low, how do you know there won’t be mass rushes by Americans to grab everything they can?”

“Because there’s security! Every hospital and pharmacy has armed guards with the best automatic weapons smuggled through the God-fearing 2nd Amendment patriotic Southern states.”

“Is Megabucks outsourcing all its operations?”

“Keeping the ER. After tummy tucks and butt lifts, that’s the hospital’s ‘cash cow.’”

“So, then, it’ll have to keep some services like X-Ray and the lab,” I said. “Maybe even a doctor or two.”

“Too expensive,” said Comstock. “Megabucks will hire more residents and foreign-educated doctors, and work them 18 hours a day. More work, less time to complain. Residents will do anything to get experience to pass their boards. May even hire a couple of hospitalists. You know, the ones who graduated at the bottom of their class and can’t even get work in a Free Clinic.”

“I suppose they’ll also do the lab work?” I asked.

“Do you know some of those lab techs are making as much as $30,000 a year! Made sense to lay them off, too.”

“So how will the ER know a victim’s blood chemistry, or if there’s internal injuries?”

“Technology,” said Comstock. “They scan the blood here, and send digital X-Rays to Mexico. Mexican lab technicians—you know, the ones that don’t know about unions and will work for only a few bucks a day—will analyze everything, then text the results back to the U.S.”

“This sounds like it’s not only a way to maximize profits, but also a way to avoid dealing with the President’s health care reform program.”

“Obamacare!” spit out Comstock. “Nothing but socialized medicine.”

“Most countries have forms of socialized medicine,” I countered, “and they not only have good health care but affordable prices to their citizens.”
Comstock put his hands to his ears and began chanting, “We’re Number 1, We’re Number 1.”

“Number 37,” I corrected him. “The World Health Organization ranked the U.S. just below Costa Rico.”

“They’re all Commies,” replied Comstock. “Besides, that study is a decade old.”

“Last year, the independent Commonwealth Fund compared the nations of the United Kingdom against the U.S., and the U.S. ranked seventh of the seven.”

“Yeah, like Americans will go to Canada? It’s covered by snow and run by a queen who can’t even speak English.”

“You and Megabucks are crazy!”

“Possibly,” said Comstock, “but outsourcing is the American way. By the way, do you put ketchup or mustard on a burrito?”

[Dr. Walter Brasch isn’t licensed to practice medicine, but he goes to some excellent physicians who are—and they’re just as frustrated with the costs, insurance companies and myriad forms as anyone else. His current book is the critically-acclaimed mystery novel, Before the First Snow]

Home care workers will receive overtime pay under proposed new rule

12.30.11

JANUARY 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Home care workers will receive overtime pay under proposed new rule

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

REGION, December 22nd- The Obama administration has proposed new rules that would extend wage protections for home healthcare workers.

On December 15th, President Obama and the United States Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, announced the rule change that would extend minimum wage and overtime protections to the workers under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, that assures most workers in the nation receive overtime after 40 hours and are paid at least the federal minimum wage.

“Extending minimum wage and overtime protections to home care workers has been the Direct Care Alliance’s (DCA) flagship issue since the Supreme Court rules against Evelyn Coke,” stated Leonila Vega, executive director of the Direct Care Alliance.

The DCA is a national advocacy group which lobbies for direct care workers in long-term care. Home care workers are currently excluded from minimum wage and overtime protections because they are considered mere “companions.” The workers provide health and personal care services to the elderly and people with disabilities.

Evelyn Coke was a home care worker who challenged the companionship exemption in court. Her case went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in 2007, that the Department of Labor was acting within its authority in upholding the exemption.

President Obama stated in a press released obtained by the newspaper that the workers employed within the home care industry shouldn’t have to wait any longer to be properly compensated.

“The nearly 2 million in-home care workers across the country should not have to wait a moment longer for a fair wage. They work hard and play by the rules and they should see that work and responsibility rewarded,” said President Obama.

The rule was announced at an event at the White House with advocates from across the country attending.

The proposed rule will soon be open for a public comment period, after which the Department of Labor will decide whether or not to issue a final rule. It’s likely Republicans in Washington will oppose the rule change.

“I am so grateful to Secretary Solis and her staff for their support on this issue. I earn less than $8 an hour, so without overtime pay I usually have to work at least 50 or 60 hours a week. If I got time and a half for overtime, I could work less and make a better life for myself and my family,” stated DCA member Elizabeth Castillo.

Legislation would help protect health care workers

12.29.11

DECEMBER 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Legislation would help protect health care workers

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

LEHIGH VALLEY, November 18th- Pennsylvania State House of Representative Nicholas Micozzie (Republican-163rd Legislative District), has introduced House Bill 1992, which would require Pennsylvania hospitals and other health care facilities to take proactive steps to protect nurses and other health care workers from suffering from violence on the job.

House Bill 1992 is a joint effort between the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) Union and Mr. Micozzie and would require hospitals to assess the security risks in their facilities, find ways to create a safer workplace, and help victims of violence report incidences.

“This marks an important step in our efforts to protect health care workplace violence. Thanks to the hard work of our members and our allies in the District Attorney’s offices and in the legislature, every hospital will now become proactive in prevention of injury to their caregivers,” said Patricia Eakin, a Emergency Room nurse at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia and statewide President of PASNAP.

Workplace violence against health professionals is on the rise both in frequency and severity, and for the past year PASNAP has been advocating against this disturbing trend. Last winter, the statewide union of registered nurses and health care professionals held three conferences in order to educate health workers about the growing issue and to begin to address how to resolve it.

“Our health care professionals work tirelessly to help protect and care for individuals when they are at their most vulnerable, and we have an obligation to make sure they are able to do their jobs in an environment that is free of the threat of violence. It was my honor to help craft this legislation, and I am hopeful it will will move swiftly through both chambers and onto the governor’s desk to be signed into law,” stated Mr. Micozzie.

Meanwhile, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in Washington, DC, released data on November 9th, 2011 that shows the incidence rate for health care support workers that require days away from work because of nonfatal occupational injuries increased 6 percent in 2010.

There were 283 cases per 10,000 full-time workers, almost 2 1/2 times the rate for all private and public sector workers at 118 cases per 10,000 full-time workers. The rate among nursing aids, orderlies and attendants rose 7 percent, to 489 per 10,000 workers. Also the rate of musculoskeletal disorder cases with days away from work for nursing aids, orderlies and attendants increased 10 percent to a rate of 249 cases per 10,000 workers.

“It is unacceptable that the workers who have dedicated their lives to caring for our loved ones when they are sick are the very same workers who face the highest risk of work-related injury and illness,” stated OSHA’s Assistant Secretary, Dr. David Michaels.

Television ads lauched in three States about Medicare funding

12.29.11

DECEMBER 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Television ads lauched in three States about Medicare funding

BY PAUL LEESON
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

REGION, November 16th- Several labor organizations have recently began airing television advertisements in three states requesting that three Republican legislators should vote to protect Medicare and Medicaid and not support tax breaks for millionaires that don’t create jobs.

The television advertisements began airing on November 16th in media markets in Massachusetts, Alabama, and Nevada.

The three legislators targeted are: Republican Nevada Senator Dean Heller; Republican Massachusetts Senator, Scott Brown; and Republican Alabama House of Representative, Denny Rehberg.

With Medicare and Medicaid potentially on the Washington DC budget cutters chopping block, the new TV ads are hitting the airways in the three states warning Republicans in Congress that seniors will not soon forget a vote to slash their benefits while protecting tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires.

The advertisements are sponsored by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Americans United for Change.

Under consideration is a plan from the Super Committee that mirrors other Republican budget proposals because it “contains virtually no new revenue and deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.”

“Once again the 99 percent will be burdened by the actions of a Republican Congress that continues to make decisions that are detrimental to the most vulnerable members of our society. Republicans like Senators Dean Heller, Scott Brown and Denny Rehberg, need a reality check. When corporations, millionaires and billionaires are taking home higher incomes and outrageous bonuses while many Americans are taking home pink slips, everyday Americans need you to stand up for them,” stated Gerald McEntee, President of AFSCME in the TV ad.

Mary Kay Henry, President of the SEIU said any recommendations that cut Medicare and Medicaid would be irresponsible and reckless.

The Republican plan would cut $185 billion from Medicaid and Medicare cuts of $400 billion.

“They say an elephant never forgets but these Republicans in Congress clearly have forgotten seniors and the middle class if they think cutting Medicare and decimating Medicaid is the answer,” stated Tom McMahon, Exective Director of Americans United for Change.

Labor Department proposes rules for Affordable Care Act

12.29.11

DECEMBER 2011 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Labor Department proposes rules for Affordable Care Act

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, December 5th- The United States Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration on December 5th announced two proposed rules under the Affordable Care Act to protect businesses and workers whose health benefits are provided through a multiple employer welfare arrangement.

The multiple employer welfare arrangements (MEWA’s) frequently have been used by scam artists and criminals to defraud consumers, resulting in an inability to pay medical claims. When such multiple employer welfare arrangement become insolvent, they may leave consumers with substantial unpaid medical bills. For employers or employee organizations that have paid premiums or made contributions to a multiple employer welfare arrangement, and thought they were doing the right thing for their workers and their families, the impact also can be significant.

The proposed rules call for multiple employer welfare arrangement’s to adhere to enhanced reporting requirements so that employers, workers and their families will not unexpectedly be cut off from needed health care services. The rules also will increase the Labor Department’s enforcement authority to protect participants in such plans and allow the department to shut down multiple employer welfare arrangements engaged in fraud or other activities that present an immediate danger to the public safety or welfare.

Since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in March 2010, more than 22.6 million people with Medicare have received free preventive care benefits such as screenings and vaccinations, and another 2.2 million have saved more than $1.2 billion on their prescription drugs, an average savings of $550 per person. Additionally, adults under the age of 26 are now able to remain on a parent’s health insurance plan, small businesses and tax-exempt organizations are eligible for tax credits and the denial of coverage to those with pre-existing conditions is coming to an end.

The Employee Benefits Security Administration protects the retirement, health and other workplace related benefits of America’s workers and retirees, and their families. The agency oversees approximately 718,000 private sector retirement plan, 2.5 million health plans and a similar number of other benfit plans that cover roughly 140 million workers, retirees and dependents.

The DOL stated the promoters, marketers and operators of MEWA’s often have taken advantage of gaps in the law to avoid state insurance regulations, such as a requirement to maintain sufficient funding and adequate reserves to pay the health care claims of workers and their families.

Some operators of WEMA’s have drained their assets through excessive administrative fees or outright embezzlement, resulting in harm to participants and their families. In the past some individuals incur significant medical bills before they learn that claims are not being paid, and that they are liable and need their medical bills themselves.

The Affordable Care Act includes provisions designed to remedy those gaps.

Pennsylvania Health Access Network statement on Affordable Care Act court ruling

09.14.11

HARRISBURG, PA (September 14, 2011) ― Pennsylvania Health Access Network Project Manager Antoinette Kraus issued a statement on Tuesday’s ruling by Judge Christopher Conner of Pennsylvania’s Middle U.S. District Court that the personal responsibility provision of the Affordable Care Act ― the requirement that individuals purchase health insurance by 2014 when the law is fully implemented ― is unconstitutional.

“The Affordable Care Act has already reduced prescription drug and health care costs for over 2 million Pennsylvania seniors and allowed tens of thousands of young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance. It will protect millions of working families from the worst insurance abuses, like denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions and discriminatory pricing based on a person’s gender or medical history. By 2014, new coverage options will open the door to affordable, quality health care for more than a million Pennsylvanians, seniors and small businesses.”

“Judge Conner and other federal district judges have split on the question of the Affordable Care Act’s responsibility provision, while two federal appeals courts have upheld its constitutionality. We look forward to seeing these cases resolved finally by the Supreme Court, where we are confident that the law will be upheld.”

EIGHT FALSE THINGS THE PUBLIC “KNOWS” PRIOR TO ELECTION DAY

08.30.11

EIGHT FALSE THINGS THE PUBLIC “KNOWS” PRIOR TO ELECTION DAY

By Dave Johnson

http://ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010104222/false-things-public-knows-they-go-vote

There are a number things the public “knows” as we head into the election that are just false. If people elect leaders based on false information, the things those leaders do in office will not be what the public expects or needs.

Here are eight of the biggest myths that are out there:

1) President Obama tripled the deficit.

Reality: Bush’s last budget had a $1.416 trillion deficit. Obama’s first budget reduced that to $1.29 trillion.

2) President Obama raised taxes, which hurt the economy.

Reality: Obama cut taxes. 40% of the “stimulus” was wasted on tax cuts which only create debt, which is why it was so much less effective than it could have been.

3) President Obama bailed out the banks.

Reality: While many people conflate the “stimulus” with the bank bailouts, the bank bailouts were requested by President Bush and his Treasury Secretary, former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson. (Paulson also wanted the bailouts to be “non-reviewable by any court or any agency.”) The bailouts passed and began before the 2008 election of President Obama.

4) The stimulus didn’t work.

Reality: The stimulus worked, but was not enough. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus raised employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs.

5) Businesses will hire if they get tax cuts.

Reality: A business hires the right number of employees to meet demand. Having extra cash does not cause a business to hire, but a business that has a demand for what it does will find the money to hire. Businesses want customers, not tax cuts.

6) Health care reform costs $1 trillion.

Reality: The health care reform reduces government deficits by $138 billion.

7) Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, is “going broke,” people live longer, fewer workers per retiree, etc.

Reality: Social Security has run a surplus since it began, has a trust fund in the trillions, is completely sound for at least 25 more years and cannot legally borrow so cannot contribute to the deficit (compare that to the military budget!) Life expectancy is only longer because fewer babies die; people who reach 65 live about the same number of years as they used to.

8) Government spending takes money out of the economy.

Reality: Government is We, the People and the money it spends is on We, the People. Many people do not know that it is government that builds the roads, airports, ports, courts, schools and other things that are the soil in which business thrives. Many people think that all government spending is on “welfare” and “foreign aid” when that is only a small part of the government’s budget.

This stuff really matters.

If the public votes in a new Congress because a majority of voters think this one tripled the deficit, and as a result the new people follow the policies that actually tripled the deficit, the country could go broke.

If the public votes in a new Congress that rejects the idea of helping to create demand in the economy because they think it didn’t work, then the new Congress could do things that cause a depression.

If the public votes in a new Congress because they think the health care reform will increase the deficit when it is actually projected to reduce the deficit, then the new Congress could repeal health care reform and thereby make the deficit worse. And on it goes.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has many embedded links and readers should click on the link at the beginning of this article to see and explore them.

Geisinger faces relationship with another labor union

08.23.11

AUGUST 2011 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Geisinger faces relationship with another labor union

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, August 3rd- On July 18th the Community Medical Center (CMC), Mulberry Street in Scranton, and Geisinger Health Systems in Danville announced plans to merge that will provide CMC with about $158 million in capital improvements.

With the merger, Geisinger Health Systems will need to have a relationship with another labor union that represents hospital employees.

The Geisinger Hospital employees in Wilkes-Barre are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Pennsylvania Healthcare Union in Harrisburg.

The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) Union of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania represents nurses employed at the CMC. The contract between the parties expired on December 6th, 2010. The two sides have been negotiating for a successor contract agreement.

PASNAP represents all full-time and regular part-time registered nurses (RN’s) employed by the Community Medical Center.

PASNAP also represents approximately 440 nurses employed at the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital, River Street in Wilkes-Barre.

Community Health Systems (CHS) inc. of Tennessee owns and operates the Wilkes-Barre General Hosptial medical center and owns and operates the former Scranton Mercy Hosptial in Scranton. Employees of the hosptial are represented by the SEIU/Pennsylvania Healthcare Union. Mercy Hosptial was renamed Regional Hospital of Scranton.

Before the merger can take place it must be approved by the court system. Lackawanna County Judge Carmen Minora approved the $150 million sale of Mercy Health Partners’ hospitals to CHS in March. The sale included Scranton Mercy Hosptial, hospitals in Tunkhannock and Naticoke.

On July 19th Community Health Systems announced it wants to purchase Moses Taylor Hospital in Scranton and the Mid-Valley Hospital in Peckville. Moses Taylor Hospital nurses are nonunion. Geisinger plans to make investments in the CMC infrastructure including expanding services to include organ transplants, a wider range of cancer treatment and the emergency care trauma center.

With the merger Geisinger Health Systems will have a medical center located in Lackawanna County. Previously, the closest medical center operated by the healthcare group was in Wilkes-Barre Township in Luzerne County.

‘Pssst. Hotdogs. Ten Bucks Each’

07.29.11

by WALTER BRASCH

“Pssst.”

I walked straight ahead, looking neither right nor left in a darkened alley illuminated by a half-moon.

“Pssst.”

I quickened my pace, but there was no avoiding the shadowy figure.

“Ain’t gonna harm ya. Jus’ wanna sell ya somethin’.”

I hesitated, shaking. Stepping in front of me, he shoved a hotdog under my nose. “Ten bucks each,” he whispered ominously through his throat.

“Ten bucks?!” I asked, astonished at the cost.

“You want it or not?”

With Michele Obama (who chose to attack obesity rather than poverty, worker exploitation, or even hunger and malnutrition), supported by publicity-hungry legislators, hotdogs were the latest feel-good food to come under assault. A medical association whose members are vegans had spent $2,750 to place a billboard message near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The picture showed four grilled hot dogs sticking out of a cigarette box that had a skull and crossbones symbol on its face. An oversized label next to the box informed motorists and fans of the upcoming Brickyard 400, “Warning: Hot dogs can wreck your health.” The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine claimed that just one hot dog eaten daily increased the risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent.

The Committee isn’t the only one destroying Americans’ rights to eat junk food. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which seems to come up with a new toxic food every year, once declared theatre popcorn unhealthy. Many schools banned soda machines. Back in 2011, McDonald’s reduced the number of french fries in its Happy Meal and substituted a half-order of some abomination known as applies. Even cigarette company executives, trying to look professorial at a Congressional hearing, once said that smoking cigarettes wasn’t any worse than eating Twinkies. However, smoking a Twinkie could cause heart and lung diseases, cancer, and diabetes.

Nevertheless, in Michele Obama’s second term as First Anti-Fat Lady, I was desperate for my daily fix of hot dogs, and my would-be supplier knew it. I leaped at my stalking shadowy figure with the miracle junk.

“Not so fast!” he growled, pulling the hotdog away. “Let’s see your bread.”

“I don’t have any bread,” I pleaded. “Not since a zoologist at Penn concluded that hummingbirds that ate two loaves of bread a day got constipation.”

“Not that bread, turkey! Bread! Lettuce!”

“I haven’t eaten lettuce in three years since the government banned it for having too many pesticides, and the heads that remained were eaten by pests.”

The man closed his trench coat and began to leave.

“Wait!” I pleaded, digging into my pockets. “I’ve got change.”

He laughed, contemptuously. “That’s not even coffee money.”

“I don’t drink coffee,” I mumbled. “Not since the government arrested Juan Valdez and his donkey for being unhealthy influences on impressionable minds.”

I grabbed for his supply of hotdogs, each disguised in a plain brown wrapper, each more valuable than a banned rap record. He again pulled them away.

“I ain’t no Salvation Army. You want ’dogs, you pay for ’dogs. I got thousands who will.”

“I need a fix. You can’t let me die out here on the streets.”

“If it was just me, I’d do it. But there’s the boys. They keep the records. If I give you a ’dog and bun, and don’t get no money, they’ll break two of my favorite fingers. I don’t cross nobody. And I don’t give it away.”

“Please,” I begged. “I need a ’dog. It’s all I have left to live for. I don’t care about colorectal cancer. Without hotdogs, my life is over. You can’t let me die out here on the streets.” He shrugged, and so I suddenly got bold. “Give me a ’dog,” I demanded, “or I’ll tell everyone you have the stuff. You won’t be able to meet the demand. The masses will tear you apart like a plump frank.”

“You wouldn’t do that to a guy just trying to make a buck, would you?”

“Two ’dogs with mustard and onions, and I keep my mouth shut. No ’dogs and I scream like a fire engine.” He had no choice.

Walking away, he stopped, turned back, and called after me—“Tomorrow. This corner. This time. Two ’dogs. Twenty bucks. I’ll see you every night.”

I didn’t reply. He knew he had me.

[Rosemary Brasch, who likes hotdogs, assisted on this column. Walter Brasch says he prefers hamburgers, but will defend to the death the right of Americans to eat what they want. His latest book is Before the First Snow, a look at a part of America, as seen by a “flower child” and the reporter who covered her story for more than three decades, beginning in the 1960s.]

Group suggest House Republicans voted to end Medicare

07.04.11

JUNE 2011 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Group suggest House Republicans voted to end Medicare
BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, June 2nd- According to the pro-labor and left-leaning political organization, the “Americans United for Change” in Washington, DC, Republicans in Congress have shown their hypocrisy and dishonesty by supporting legislation that would gut Medicare.

On April 15th, the majority of the Republican members of Congress voted for a radical budget plan that seeks to essentially end Medicare by replacing it with a system of a shrinking private insurance vouchers while at the same time voting to dole-out over $4 trillion in new tax breaks for millionaires, oil companies, and corporations that outsource jobs.

The Americans United for Change stated it is understandable that Republicans in Congress would want to wipe the slate clean when it comes to Medicare after many of them joined in the most well-coordinated, well funded misinformation campaign during the 2010 election. The organization stated seniors were proposely misled into believing that their Medicare benefits would be cut under President Obama’s new healthcare law. Ignoring the conclusions to the contrary at the time from independent fact checkers and the AARP.

The Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, summarized before the health care reform act became law that Medicare Advantage plans are private plans funded through Medicare to provide similar benefits, but at a 14 percent higher cost on average. According to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, an independent Congressional agency, eliminating these overpayments would free up $157 billion over 10 years, a substantial down payment on health care reform.

By eliminating these wasteful subsides to the private insurance industry, Not only did the health law strengthen Medicare’s solvency by 12 years and not only do Medicare beneficiaries still have all the same guaranteed benefits they always had, but seniors now have new benefits like free preventive care services and tens of thousands of enrollees who fall into the infamous Part D “donut hole” are saving an average of $800 per person because of the new 50 percent discount on covered brand-named drugs.

House Republicans voted to replace Medicare with a voucher system where seniors would be given a coupon and sent out into the private insurance market. The coupon would not keep up with the rising cost of health care and will leave seniors paying over $6,000 more out of pocket for care.

Mercy Hospital sale to Community Health Services approved

05.09.11

APRIL 2011 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Mercy Hospital sale to Community Health Services approved

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, March 27th- Lackawanna County Judge Carmen Minora has approved the sale of the Mercy Hospital in Scranton and affiliated facilities to Community Health Services (CHS) Inc. of Tennessee.

On February 10th it was announced that CHS wanted to purchase Mercy Health Partners facilities in the region which includes Mercy Hospital, and two medical centers in Nanticoke in Luzerne County and Tunkhannock in Wyoming County.

The workers at Mercy Hosptial are represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Pennsylvania Healthcare Union in Harrisburg.

CHS is the largest for-profit hospital operator in the nation and also owns and operates the Wilkes-Barre General Hosptial, which does business as the Wyoming Valley Health Care System, River Street in Wilkes-Barre.

The union that represents nurses employed at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital have been without a labor agreement since August 30th, 2009, when the previous pact expired.

The Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professional (PASNAP) Union of Conshohocken Pennsylvania, represents approximately 440 nurses employed at the medical center.

The two sides have been unsuccessful in gaining a successor labor contract after more than twenty-two months of contract negotiations.

PASNAP has filed multiple labor complaint’s with the National Labor Relations Board in Philadelphia alleging CHS has bargained in “bad faith” with the union.

The most recent complaint, which was filed on January 25th, 2011, states “since on or about August 11th, 2010, the above-named employer, by its officers, agents and representatives, has conditioned a collective bargaining agreement on the Charging Party waiving its right to bargain over mandatory subjects of bargaining.”

Nurses represented by PASNAP that are employed at Wilkes-Barre General Hosptial testified at public hearings that were held to discuss the sale of Mercy Hospital to CHS. Several nurses testified about the poor relationship the union has with the company since they purchased the Wilkes-Barre medical center in May 2009.

CHS officials promised to keep all Mercy Hospital employees in good standing in their current jobs at their current pay with seniority recognized for one year, regardless whether they are union or nonunion.

Obama has lost my support for 2012 over Colombia “Free Trade” deal

04.08.11

This is a deal breaker for me. I will not vote for nor support Obama for President in 2012.

I like Obama personally and supported him because I thought he would support progressive, pro-worker policies on a consistent basis.

Instead, Obama has grown increasing “Republican-lite” in policy terms.

Obama supports the so-called “free trade” deals with both South Korea and Colombia. He failed to push for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. He failed to get us fully out of either Iraq or Afghanistan. He did not push for investigations or prosecutions for anyone from the Bush regime for their many violations of federal law. He has supported budget cuts during a recession that severely hurt poor, working class and middle class Americans. He did not veto continued Bush-era tax cuts for those making over a million dollars a year. He continues to push for nuclear power.

Obama did not push for single-payer, universal healthcare. He should have insisted on at least the “public option.”

I vote on policy positions and actions….. not feelings or promises.

I will support a Democratic challenger if a progressive one arises. If not, I will only be working on state legislators, Governors, U.S House and Senate races.

Sincerely,

Stephen Crockett

Editor, Mid-Atlantic Labor.com
Host, Democratic Talk Radio