Skyline of Richmond, Virginia

Bottom Line on Public Option

06.29.09

Bottom Line on Public Option
By Josh Marshall

Talking Points Memo article

This won’t come as the slightest surprise to those versed in health care policy issues. But I fear it’s only barely permeated the health care reform debate in the country, certainly in Washington. And that’s this: the opposition to a so-called ‘public option’ comes almost entirely from insurance companies who have developed monopolies or near monopolies in particular geographic areas. And they don’t want competition.

Note, I’m not saying more competition. I’m saying any competition at all. As Zack Roth explains in this new piece 94% of the health care insurance market is now under monopoly or near-monopoly conditions ## the official term of art is ‘highly concentrated’. In other words, there’s no mystery why insurance costs keep going up even as the suck quotient rises precipitously. Because in most areas there’s little or no actual competition.

It’s something everyone can understand that if you have only one widget maker, widgets will get really expensive, and probably decline in quality. And the widget makers will pour lots of money into Congress or whatever the law-making power is, to keep their monopoly in place because their monopoly ensures locked in profits. It’s market theory 101 (or perhaps, rent-seeking 102, depending on your perspective.)

That’s basically what this is all about. Read the piece, it will open your eyes (if they’re not already) and make clear why the opposition to a public option is about preventing competition.

Late Update: As a side issue, my fear about the public option is that private insurers will use it to ‘cream’ their risk pools. It’s worth noting that the insurance companies’ opposition makes it clear that they’re not at all confident they’ll be able to do this. But here’s the concept, a common one in health insurance markets. Basically, the idea would be that private carriers will start cutting even more people from their rolls, dumping all the high risk individuals onto the public option pool. That’s great for them because it would put them even more into the business of insuring the healthy and the young ## a highly profitable enterprise. It would also be bad for the public option since it would ensure that a disproportionate number of high health-risk individuals are in that pool, keeping costs high.

To be clear, I still strongly support the public option. I’m in the group of people who know enough about the policy issues to see this as a potential problem but probably not enough to see what the solution is or why it won’t be a problem in practice. In any case, the real tell is that the insurance providers are voting with their feet, or rather, their wallets, signaling that they believe it will do as the advocates intend, which is curtail the insurance companies’ ability to maintain monopoly profit margins.

Latter Update: A knowledgeable source on the Hill sends along this note …

The current health care reforms drafts, at least in the Senate, would create regional risk pools that drive out the incentive to “cream.” In short, if Insurance Company A insured only the lowest-risk half of a given pool, it would have to pay a subsidy that goes to the company (or public plan) insuring the highest-risk members of the pool. In other words, we would drive out the incentive to cream, while also making it illegal to deny coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition. CMS would manage that risk-balancing process, and has apparently become quite good at it. The Netherlands does something similar, so successfully that insurers actually seek out diabetics to insure.

No Recovery in Sight

06.29.09

No Recovery in Sight

By BOB HERBERT

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/27/opinion/27herbert.html?th&emc=th

How do you put together a consumer economy that works when the consumers are out of work?

One of the great stories you’ll be hearing over the next couple of years will be about the large number of Americans who were forced out of work in this recession and remained unable to find gainful employment after the recession ended. We’re basically in denial about this.

There are now more than five unemployed workers for every job opening in the United States. The ranks of the poor are growing, welfare rolls are rising and young American men on a broad front are falling into an abyss of joblessness.

Some months ago, the Obama administration and various mainstream economists forecast a peak unemployment rate of roughly 8 percent this year. It has already reached 9.4 percent, and most analysts now expect it to hit 10 percent or higher. Economists are currently spreading the word that the recession may end sometime this year, but the unemployment rate will continue to climb. That’s not a recovery. That’s mumbo jumbo.

Why this rampant joblessness is not viewed as a crisis and approached with the sense of urgency and commitment that a crisis warrants, is beyond me. The Obama administration has committed a great deal of money to keep the economy from collapsing entirely, but that is not enough to cope with the scope of the jobless crisis.

There were roughly seven million people officially counted as unemployed in November 2007, a month before the recession began. Now there are about 14 million. If you add to these unemployed individuals those who are working part time but would like to work full time, and those who want jobs but have become discouraged and stopped looking, you get an underutilization rate that is truly alarming.

“By May 2009,” according to the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston, “the total number of underutilized workers had increased dramatically from 15.63 million to 29.37 million — a rise of 13.7 million, or 88 percent. Nearly 30 million working-age individuals were underutilized in May 2009, the largest number in our nation’s history. The overall labor underutilization rate in May 2009 had risen to 18.2 percent, its highest value in 26 years.”

If it were true that the recession is approaching its end and that these startlingly high numbers were about to begin a steady and substantial decline, there would be much less reason for alarm. But while there is evidence the recession is easing, hardly anyone believes a big-time employment turnaround is in the offing.

Three-quarters of the workers let go over the past year were permanently displaced, as opposed to temporarily laid off. They won’t be going back to their jobs when economic conditions improve. And many of those who were permanently displaced were in fields like construction and manufacturing in which the odds of finding work, even after a recovery takes hold, are not good.

Another startling aspect of this economic downturn is the toll it has taken on men, especially young men. Men accounted for nearly 80 percent of the loss in employment in this recession. As the labor market center reported, “The unemployment rate for males in April 2009 was 10 percent, versus only 7.2 percent for women, the largest absolute and relative gender gap in unemployment rates in the post-World War II period.”

Workers under 30 have sustained nearly half the net job losses since November 2007.

This is not a recipe for a strong economic recovery once the recession officially ends, or for a healthy society. Young males, especially, are being clobbered at an age when, typically, they would be thinking about getting married, setting up new households and starting families. Moreover, work habits and experience developed in one’s 20s often establish the foundation for decades of employment and earnings.

We’ve seen what happens when you rely on debt and inflated assets to keep the economy afloat. The economy can’t be re-established on a sound basis without aggressive efforts to put people back to work in jobs with decent wages.

We also need to consider the suffering that is being endured by these high levels of joblessness, including the profound negative effect on the families of the unemployed. Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, warned about the consequences for children. “What does it mean,” he asked, “when kids are under stress because there is no money in the household, or people have to move more, or are combining households, or lose their health insurance? I believe this is going to leave a permanent scar on a generation of kids.”

The first step in dealing with a crisis is to recognize that it exists. This is not a problem that will evaporate when the gross domestic product finally begins to creep into positive territory.

New pre-apprenticeship program announced for Lehigh Valley

06.29.09

July 2009, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

New pre-apprenticeship program announced for Lehigh Valley
BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

REGION, June 17th- On May 29th, unions affiliated with the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Lehigh Valley participated with a press conference at the Career Link on Union Boulevard in Allentown to announce a new pre-apprenticeship program in the Lehigh Valley.

The labor federation together with United Community Services will sponsor the program that begins on June 22nd. The program is funded by the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board and the headquarters is located at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Union Local 375 building on Liberty Street in Allentown, which is also where the Building and Construction Trades Council holds their meetings.

The program will be funded through Pennsylvania’s allocation from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The state received $7,111,200 in May 2009 to help workers who lost their jobs. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds will help states provide career training, job search, relocation assistance to workers, and laid-off workers support.

According to William Newhard, President of the labor federation, youth from the Lehigh Valley will enter a program that gives both acadenic preparation and work experiences to enter the building trades apprenticeship programs.

Youths will spend the summer getting acquainted with the building trades apprenticeship programs, visit their training sites and get an opportunity to learn on several work sites. Journeymen construction workers will assist the youth in getting to know all about construction and construction unions.

Additionally, the youth will study math, construction safety, and building trades work readiness. The pre-apprenticeship program mirrors a real apprenticeship program by providing an opportunity to earn and learn. Pre-apprenticeship requirements will be the same as real apprenticeship requirement.

United Community Services in collaboration with the Lehigh Valley Building Trades Council submitted a proposal to the Lehigh County Workforce Investment Board that was funded from June through September.

Vicki Henshaw, who has worked in the Lehigh Valley within youth social services for many years will direct the program. The newspaper attempted to contact Ms. Henshaw but our phone message was not returned.

Teamsters Union Local 773 files complaint against Lehigh Valley employer

06.29.09

July 2009, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Teamsters Union Local 773 files complaint against Lehigh Valley employer

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

ALLENTOWN, June 6th- The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Union Local 773, Hamilton Street in Allentown, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region Four in Philadelphia alleging Supreme Delivery Services, a delivery company for DHL which operates a package delivery transportation facility on Marcon Boulevard in Bethlehem, violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRAct).

According to the Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge, the union amended their complaint on June 5th and alleges the company since about February 13th, 2009 failed and or refused to pay accrued vacation pay to laid-off employees.

The union alleges the employer has not provided information requested regarding the payment of accrued vacation pay and the deduction of dental and eye payments made by employees.

Additionally, the union alleges the company has failed to meet with them to discuss grievances.

Local 773 Business Agent Darrin Fry filed the complaint on behalf of the union.

Mack Trucks workers approve contract and will pay toward their health care benefits

06.29.09

July 2009, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Mack Trucks workers approve contract and will pay toward their health care benefits

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

LEHIGH VALLEY, June 2nd- Members of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) Amalgamated Union Local 677, Mack Boulevard in Allentown, ratified a concessionary contract agreement with Mack Trucks Inc., a subsidiary of Volve of Sweden, on May 30th.

According to Edward Balukas, President of Local 677, for the most part the membership understood the agreement was the best that could be negotiated under the world economic slump. “There is no doubt, the agreement is a concessionary contract. The international and national economy made it impossible to be able to negotiate a better contract,” said Mr. Balukas. The agreement was approved by around 85 percent of the membership with the ratification meeting being held at the union hall. “We went from fourteen percent market share to five percent.”

The newspaper discussed the contract with union members before and after placing their ballots and many expressed relief the contract issue would be behind them. The newspaper observed the balloting most of the day that was held throughout the afternoon.

The contract is for 40 months and will expire on October 1st, 2012. It took effect on June 1st, 2009. The previous pact expired in October 2007 but the two sides agreed to work under the terms and conditions of the old contract with the union members receiving cost-of-living wage increases after the previous pact expired.

Mr. Balukas became the President of Local 677 in July 2007 and began negotiating with the company for a successor agreement in August 2007. He stated the biggest difference between the new pact and the previous agreement is how much union members will pay toward their health insurance benefits. Mr. Balukas stated it will be the first time his members will be paying toward the cost of their health insurance. “We were not negotiating from strength. The decrease of market share in an bad world economy hurt the ability of getting advances in the contract.”

The agreement will cover around 400 workers employed at the Mack Trucks manufacturing plant in Lower Macungie Township. There are approximately 395 workers laid-off at the Macungie plant which makes truck rigs with the majority used for the manufacturing of garbage trucks.

The union has four different contracts with Mack including the employees of their headquarters located across the street from Local 677’s office. Mack announced last summer it would move the headquarters to North Carolina shifting the jobs away from the Lehigh Valley. Mr. Balukas told the newspaper the union also negotiated into the new contract an “effects bargaining” clause for the employees that will loss their jobs because of the moving of the headquarters.

Message from Gregg Potter (President, Lehigh Valley Labor Council & PA Health Care for America Now) on DC Healthcare Rally

06.29.09

Good afternoon,

I want to take a moment and thank each and every one of you who took the time out of your lives to help support health care reform in 2009 this past Thursday. Your voices were heard loud and clear and we expect significant movement after the July 4th recess.

I also want to thank you for your patience in reference to our bus issue. Planning these trips requires a lot of patience, attention to detail and sometimes some luck. I apologize that the trip took as long as it did and that the promised food was already gone. Estimates have the crowd at Senate Park as high as 20,000! The crowd inside the Capitol City Brewing Company was over 850! This was truly an historic day and as Senator Specter said, “we will see health care reform this year.”

We live in interesting times and we can expect positive change. How good the change is depends upon each and every one of you. Stay engaged, stay focused, stay involved and lean on your elected officials to do the right thing. We will be looking for your support again as debate heats up on health care reform.

Again, on behalf of Health Care for America Now and Organized Labor, I thank you all for participating and being a part of history.

Gregg Potter

President, Lehigh Valley Labor Council
610 360-9491

D.C. labor family mourns the loss of three in Metro tragedy; ATU decries rush to blame operator

06.27.09

http://www.examiner.com/x-2071-DC-Special-Interests-Examiner~y2009m6d25-DC-labor-family-mourns-the-loss-of-three-in-Metro-tragedy-ATU-decries-rush-to-blame-operator

by Ron Moore

It is at times like this when the term Family of Labor takes on a poignant meaning that cannot be defeated by the opponents of labor. While mourning the loss of three labor Sisters, ATU Local 689 member Jeanice McMillan, CWA member Mary Doolittle and SEIU 32BJ member Ana Fernandez, the responsibility to represent Metro union members must not be neglected.

Shamelessly, the anti-union Drudge Report suggested that “texting” by the operator may be a contributing factor on its headline page while the actual story made no mention of texting. Attempts to determine causation and ensure the safety of workers and riders will take months of careful investigation and first reports indicate management not operator failure. But to reflexively blame management is unfair so early in the investigation.

In response to the tragedy Warren S. George, international president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, issued the following statement:

“On behalf of the entire International Union, I offer my heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of our fallen member, Jeanise McMillan, and all of those who lost loved ones as a result of this tragedy.

“With regard to the accident, I think it is unfair and unacceptable to speculate that the ATU operator may have been in any way responsible for the incident. Until a fair and thorough investigation is completed there will be no basis for statements implying that anyone or anything is to blame for the accident.

“The International fully supports [Washington, DC’s Local 689] President Jackie Jeter’s call for honesty and a full disclosure of the facts during the investigation.”

It is at times like this when the rallying cry Don’t Mourn Organize motivates the Family of Labor as members who will march today for health care for all, in support of Iranian freedom fighters and union leaders and lobby for the Employee Free Choice Act. It is a poignant reminder that a strong labor movement is the most effective way to build a strong community.

For additional information about supporting the families of those lost go the Community Services Agency of the Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO donation site. http://partners.guidestar.org/controller/searchResults.gs?action_donateReport=1&partner=networkforgood&ein=52-1718506

Congress Hears Demands for Health Care Reform in Town Hall Meetings

06.27.09

http://blog.aflcio.org/2009/06/25/congress-hears-demands-for-health-care-reform-in-town-hall-meetings-today/

Members of Congress met in town hall sessions Thursday with constituents who were on Capitol Hill to rally and demand health care reform. Read dispatches from some of the meetings.

—————–

Ohio Weighs In

After the rally, more than 250 activists from Ohio met at the Columbus Club at Union Station to plan for an afternoon of lobbying and hear from members of Congress about health care reform.

The session was introduced by Tim Burga of the Ohio AFL-CIO, who decried the “free market run amok” in the current health care system and affirmed that we must have a serious public health insurance option.

He introduced Hattie Wilkins, who made one of the most moving speeches of the event. Her situation illustrates the deep problems working families have with the way the current system operates. Hattie is a member of the United Steelworkers (USW) union who worked for 35 years for Brentwood Originals, a pillow factory in Youngstown, Ohio. The USW struck Brentwood Originals in 2008, and more than three-quarters of the workforce has been laid off. She was fired because of her strong support for the union, Hattie said. She has been collecting $887 a month in unemployment since then. She has COBRA coverage, and now pays $275 per month—31 percent of earnings from unemployment—for her health insurance. She pays another $450 per month for her mortgage payment, leaving her only $162 each month for food, utilities, transportation and all her other expenses. Now her unemployment payments are ending and she doesn’t know what she is going to do.

At 58 years of age, Hattie is searching for another job at places like McDonald’s but has to compete with applicants much younger than she is. She gave us her cell phone number, though she wasn’t sure how much longer she would have it. Hattie came to Washington, D.C., to participate in the rally and make sure her elected representatives heard her voice on this critical issue.

The Latest on Pennsylvania Town Hall

Sen. Specter has arrived, and compliments the crowd on its tenacity and commitment. Specter says he agrees that health care is a right and believes health care legislation will pass and will include a public option component. Of course, in a room full of union members, the Employee Free Choice Act came up. Specter says he is working hard to find an answer for early union certification and gaining first contracts.

Pennsylvania Update

The folks at Capitol City Brewing Co. are waiting for Sen. Arlen Specter to arrive. We hear reports he’s been at the White House.

From the North Carolina Meeting

Sen. Kay Hagan just arrived. She says the fight for health care reform is the “most important thing going on in our country.” Everyone in America must have health care coverage, she says, and patients with pre-existing conditions should be able to get health insurance.

About a public health insurance option plan, Hagan says some critics are getting caught up in nuance about language used in the debate. “I don’t care what you call it as long as it provides affordability accessibility and covers pre-existing conditions,” she says. We’d heard earlier reports that her staff told union leaders Hagan believes if health care reform passes, it will include a public option. The senator herself did not specifically say she supports the public option.

I think the key is if you have health insurance, you keep it. We don’t want to dismantle what exists.

More Pennsylvania Town Hall

Rep. Sestak arrived and talked about his daughter’s brain tumor and his health care plan to help keep her alive. Everybody deserves health care for themselves and their families, as well, he said. Sestak says his support for health care reform is “payback” to the country that provided health care for him and his family when he was in the Navy.

Everybody must be covered under health care reform, according to Sestak, and a public health insurance plan must be an option.

Nothing is more important to me than ensuring that President Obama passes health care reform.

Pennsylvania Town Hall

Hundreds of union members from Pennsylvania have packed a hall just a block from the U.S. Capitol to hear from their elected officials on the status of real health care reform. As they wait for Sen. Arlen Specter (D) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D) to appear, the chanting is in full force:

Congress, This is our demand. The option of a public plan.

What do we want? HEALTH CARE!

When do we want it? NOW!

Congress, This is our demand, the option of a public plan!

We are waiting for Specter and Sestak so we can spring that on them.

Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D) did not attend. A staff member is delivering her talking points.

Health care reform that guarantees quality, affordable health care reform must be passed.

We must ensure that patients’ choices are protected.

Maryland Town Hall

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Rep. John Sarbanes and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer speak to hundreds of Maryland workers and all support public option.

Rep. Blumenauer at Town Hall on Small Business

At a town hall focused on small business issues this morning at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) advocated a public insurance option plan, guaranteed coverage and a “pay or play” system that would require businesses to provide health care coverage for their employees or pay into a fund. These reforms would level the playing field and reduce cost burdens on small businesses, he said.

Community Update on ACME Markets in Southeast Pennsylvania

06.25.09

Last night at a meeting at Philadelphia’s Spectrum, members of Philadelphia’s union community watched as ACME Markets employees represented by UFCW 1776 voted by an over whelming 95% to reject ACME’s so called last, best and final offer, which would have destroyed the employees chances to continue their health benefits or enjoy retirement security. Instead of listening to their employees, ACME is still threatening to impose their offer on July 10th and lock out almost 4,000 employees.

Help us keep that from happening Join the chorus and demand that ACME return to the bargaining committee. Please read the attached letter written to State representatives in SE PA for more details and information on how to contact ACME..

We won’t let ACME Markets turn good jobs into Wal-Mart jobs, our employees our families and our neighbors deserve better. We are starting a community support committee to bring ACME back to the bargaining table where this dispute must be resolved. If you are interested please let me know by return e-mail.

Thanks and sorry for any duplicate postings.

John Meyerson

Director of Legislation & Political Action

United Food and Commercial Workers 1776

3031A Walton Rd

Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462
## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ## ##

Dear Representative;

Four thousand men and women at Acme in Philadelphia and the suburbs have worked under a contract extension since February 2008.

For many months their union – the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776 – and the company have been in negotiations. But on June 9, 2009, Acme issued a last, best and final offer. The company threatened to terminate the existing contract and implement its proposal unilaterally. On Wednesday June 24th, 2009 those workers voted by well over nine to one to reject their employer’s so-called last, best and final offer.

The union remains willing to continue negotiating and working under the terms of its existing contract. It never has threatened to strike or take a job action against the company. Acme pulled the trigger.

The company is trying to take advantage of a challenging economic environment to wring concessions from its workers. Its proposals would gut their health care benefits, decimate their pension benefits and lower the standard of living for workers who have labored for Acme for many years.

The members of UFCW Local 1776 know that the best interests of Acme’s customers, its employees and the company are served if the company returns to the bargaining table to reach a fair contract for all parties.

We are contacting you as leaders of our community to ask you to contact ACME/Supervalu and let them know that you want them to return to the bargaining table to resume contract negotiations. Please join your neighbors in sending Acme and the company that owns Acme – Supervalu, of Eden Prairie, MN – the following message:

I support the ACME workers who are willing to stay on the job under their current contract while negotiations take place on a new contract. But ACME has threaten to terminate it’s contract with its workers. I urge you not to take an action that’s against the best interests of our community, the employees and the company.

ACME/Super valu can be reached locally at;

Judy Spires, President
ACME Markets Inc.
75 Valley Stream Parkway
Malvern PA 19355
610 889 4202
Judy.Spires@supervalu.com

Or Supervalu can be reach nationally at

ACME Supervalu
PO BOX 990
Eden Prairie, MN 55440

Or on their web site
http://www.Supervalu.com
the contact button is on the lower right of the page, then you can scroll down to contact ACME.

Of course we would appreciate copies of any correspondence that you send to or receive from ACME Markets or Supervalu. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact me or John Meyerson, UFCW 1776 Director of Legislation and Political Action at 610-940-1811 or jmeyerson@ufcw1776.org.

Sincerely;

Wendell w. Young IV
President
UFCW 1776

ACME in labor/management dispute with their workers

06.23.09

Attached please find an article from Thursday 6/18/09 on the labor dispute between ACME Markets and UFCW 1776. Of course I’m biased but Wendell is absolutely correct when he says that ACME’s final proposal would destroy the health benefits of over 4,000 families. This is scary stuff for all working families all over the region when the area industry leader decides to try to implement a contract instead of bargain with their employees union. The other frightening part of this article is the comments I’ve never heard such vicious attacks on workers fighting for their jobs and health benefits. Please sign on and lets get some progressive pro-worker comments. It is not Local 1776 members’ fault that ACME’s prices are too high, but they have the right to defend their jobs. After you comment to the Inquirer please e-mail ACME Markets president Judy Spires at Judy.Spires@supervalu.com and tell her that if she wants to see your money she should go back to the bargaining table.

Philadelphia Inquirer article link

Thanks

PS for for any dup postings and please share this appeal with your lists.

Peace

John Meyerson

Director of Legislation & Political Action

United Food and Commercial Workers 1776

3031A Walton Rd

Plymouth Meeting, PA 19462

Health Care Showdown: The Alleged ‘Center’ Must Not Hold

06.22.09

Health Care Showdown: The Alleged ‘Center’ Must Not Hold

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times, June 22, 2009
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/22/opinion/22krugman.html

America’s political scene has changed immensely since the last time a Democratic president tried to reform health care. So has the health care picture: with costs soaring and insurance dwindling, nobody can now say with a straight face that the U.S. health care system is O.K. And if surveys like the New York Times/CBS News poll released last weekend are any indication, voters are ready for major change.

The question now is whether we will nonetheless fail to get that change, because a handful of Democratic senators are still determined to party like it’s 1993.

And yes, I mean Democratic senators. The Republicans, with a few possible exceptions, have decided to do all they can to make the Obama administration a failure. Their role in the health care debate is purely that of spoilers who keep shouting the old slogans — Government-run health care! Socialism! Europe! — hoping that someone still cares.

The polls suggest that hardly anyone does. Voters, it seems, strongly favor a universal guarantee of coverage, and they mostly accept the idea that higher taxes may be needed to achieve that guarantee. What’s more, they overwhelmingly favor precisely the feature of Democratic plans that Republicans denounce most fiercely as “socialized medicine” — the creation of a public health insurance option that competes with private insurers.

Or to put it another way, in effect voters support the health care plan jointly released by three House committees last week, which relies on a combination of subsidies and regulation to achieve universal coverage, and introduces a public plan to compete with insurers and hold down costs.

Yet it remains all too possible that health care reform will fail, as it has so many times before.

I’m not that worried about the issue of costs. Yes, the Congressional Budget Office’s preliminary cost estimates for Senate plans were higher than expected, and caused considerable consternation last week. But the fundamental fact is that we can afford universal health insurance — even those high estimates were less than the $1.8 trillion cost of the Bush tax cuts. Furthermore, Democratic leaders know that they have to pass a health care bill for the sake of their own survival. One way or another, the numbers will be brought in line.

The real risk is that health care reform will be undermined by “centrist” Democratic senators who either prevent the passage of a bill or insist on watering down key elements of reform. I use scare quotes around “centrist,” by the way, because if the center means the position held by most Americans, the self-proclaimed centrists are in fact way out in right field.

What the balking Democrats seem most determined to do is to kill the public option, either by eliminating it or by carrying out a bait-and-switch, replacing a true public option with something meaningless. For the record, neither regional health cooperatives nor state-level public plans, both of which have been proposed as alternatives, would have the financial stability and bargaining power needed to bring down health care costs.

Whatever may be motivating these Democrats, they don’t seem able to explain their reasons in public.

Thus Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska initially declared that the public option — which, remember, has overwhelming popular support — was a “deal-breaker.” Why? Because he didn’t think private insurers could compete: “At the end of the day, the public plan wins the day.” Um, isn’t the purpose of health care reform to protect American citizens, not insurance companies?

Mr. Nelson softened his stand after reform advocates began a public campaign targeting him for his position on the public option.

And Senator Kent Conrad of North Dakota offers a perfectly circular argument: we can’t have the public option, because if we do, health care reform won’t get the votes of senators like him. “In a 60-vote environment,” he says (implicitly rejecting the idea, embraced by President Obama, of bypassing the filibuster if necessary), “you’ve got to attract some Republicans as well as holding virtually all the Democrats together, and that, I don’t believe, is possible with a pure public option.”

Honestly, I don’t know what these Democrats are trying to achieve. Yes, some of the balking senators receive large campaign contributions from the medical-industrial complex — but who in politics doesn’t? If I had to guess, I’d say that what’s really going on is that relatively conservative Democrats still cling to the old dream of becoming kingmakers, of recreating the bipartisan center that used to run America.

But this fantasy can’t be allowed to stand in the way of giving America the health care reform it needs. This time, the alleged center must not hold.

Dave Lindorff: Using the Economic Crisis to Attack Workers, Employers are Undermining the Stimulus Program

06.22.09

http://blog.buzzflash.com/lindorff/251

Reports are starting to appear suggesting that laid-off or underemployed Americans, and the long-term unemployed, are losing patience with the Obama Administration’s and Congress’ economic stimulus plan, which thus far has not done anything to arrest the growth of unemployment, now at close to 20 percent of the U.S. workforce, at least as unemployment used to honestly be counted in the 1970s and early 1980s.

While millions of jobs have been lost since the beginning of this year alone, the number of jobs that have been created as a result of the Obama Administration’s signature $780-billion stimulus spending package is under 150,000 ## a far cry from the 3.5 million that were promised when the bill was being put before Congress.

There has been a lot of hype from Washington sources, dutifully reported with little analysis or criticism in the corporate media, suggesting that the recession is bottoming out. One example was a report last week that the number of people receiving unemployment had, for the first time in six months, dropped slightly. Unmentioned was the hard reality that the reason for this drop was that many laid-off workers are now reaching the end of their 26 weeks of unemployment benefits in states that do not offer any extended benefits program. On inspection, that is hardly good news.

There is also a mantra, trotted out regularly by administration officials, that unemployment figures are a “lagging indicator,” and thus are no indication that the recession is continuing to worsen. The problem with this sleight-of-hand is that unemployment itself, when it is rising rapidly as it has been now for a year, is a cause of deepening recession. When one in five workers is unemployed or unwillingly underemployed, that represents not only a huge drop in consumer demand for everything from basic necessities to luxuries, but also a huge dark cloud of anxiety that hangs over most of the rest of the public, leading everyone to cut back on their spending, thus dragging down the economy further.

But there is another factor at work, which is not getting much attention, and that is the negative role being played by employers, both public and private, in worsening the recession and undermining the stimulus effort, such as it is, by actually using economic crisis as an excuse to further attack and undermine workers and their incomes.

Take Temple University, where I live. The university, a largely publicly funded institution, has received $10 million in federal stimulus funds, largely replacing the state funding that it lost when the state cut back on its educational budget, and though those funds were specifically intended by Congress to be used to improve student achievement and to put people to work quickly, Temple, which has also seen student admissions and tuition revenues increase during the recession, has done the opposite ## laying off staff, including departmental staff and other personnel. The university for the past year has also been engaged in a classic union-busting campaign against one of its staff unions, which has been working on an expired contract for a year, and its faculty union, which has been working on an expired contract since last October. The school last year hired an outside law firm, Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, that on its Web site touts its expertise in “union avoidance” to handle the school’s “bargaining” with faculty.

In this, Temple is hardly alone. Across the country, companies and public institutions have been taking brutal advantage of the economic crisis as an opportunity to attack their workers, slashing employment, demanding pay cuts (The New York Times, for example, has cut employee paychecks by 5%), reducing long-held benefits, and generally contributing to the impoverishment and insecurity of the broader American workforce. According to a recent report, 29 percent of employers who had historically been offering their employees a match for their own contributions to 401(k) retirement plans have eliminated that matching money over the last year.

These cutbacks and layoffs are bad enough when made by private firms, many of which are still quite profitable and which have benefited over the years and recently from tax incentives aimed at boosting employment, but they are particularly obscene when they are made by institutions that are receiving public stimulus money, such as schools, public transit agencies, and state and local governments. Indeed, it’s probably the case that much of the potential stimulus of the taxpayer-funded stimulus plan has been negated by job cuts and pay cuts being made by the state and local entities that have received the bulk of that money. If a state, for example, uses $50 million in stimulus funds to repair a bridge, in the process providing jobs to perhaps 100 construction workers, and then lays off 200 state workers, that stimulus money is completely wasted in terms of boosting the economy.

So far, most of the frustration and anger over this undermining of the economic stimulus program is coming from the unemployed. Taxpayers, who will end up paying for this stimulus (all of which was borrowed money) in future years, have so far not raised a fuss, perhaps because they have not gotten the news that employers are busy undermining the program. That could change if unemployment, as expected, keeps rising inexorably. Maybe at that point people will start demanding that their taxes be used by the federal government to directly employ people, instead of trusting employers to pass it through to their workers, or that at a minimum, organizations receiving stimulus program funds be barred from laying workers off or cutting their pay.

DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at http://www.thiscantbehappening.net.

No Healthcare Reform Equals No Senate Job

06.22.09

No Healthcare Reform Equals No Senate Job

It mystifies this writer that many Senate Democrats have failed to understand that killing the “public option” compromise position being pushed by the Obama will mean the end of their Senate careers. Politics has changed dramatically in the last few years and many Senate incumbents seem to have missed the size and intensity of the paradigm shift.

It is no accident that the Republican Party is in electoral meltdown. The Republican leadership is still stuck in the politics of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Unfortunately, the Democrats in power have not embraced the public sea change in attitudes completely. They do not understand that the Democratic wave does not threaten their hold on power. It does!

The Democratic shift is not based on partisan identity divorced from real changes in government policy. The Democratic election wins in 2006 and 2008 were strong rejections of both the Republican Right and the current unfair status quo in government policy.

If Democrats do nothing to reform the rigged economic system and fail to give American workers a fair shake, they are going to get replaced either in a primary or general election. If Democrats fail to protect civil liberties, they will be defeated. If Democrats start unnecessary wars, they will go down along with the already defeated Senate Republicans.

Of course, this is not good news for the Republican Right. The public is rejecting Republican Right politics and Republican-lite politics. Americans want real and meaningful reforms. Nothing less will do. Democrats who want to do the bidding of large corporations like the health insurance industry are going to get their backsides handed to them in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Senators from both major political parties better get with the program!

The public supports meaningful healthcare reform by huge margins. Depending on the wording and specific proposals, the public supports reform by percentile figures ranging from the mid-60’s to high 80’s. What the polls are missing is the intensity of this support.

Everyone is talking about healthcare. Even the majority of my highly partisan Republican friends are supporting universal government healthcare. Some are complaining that Obama’s plan does not go far enough and want single-payer universal healthcare like HR 676. More than a few have left the Republican Party over the healthcare issue.

Democratic activists in every state are actively looking to recruit primary challengers to Senators and House members who oppose significant parts of the Obama agenda. On the healthcare issue, this sentiment is so intense that even if Obama abandoned the “public option” compromise, he would lose the support of these activists. Democratic incumbents can be defeated in Democratic primaries and will be if they abandon the “public option” compromise.

Healthcare as currently organized is killing Americans! It is killing American jobs and businesses. It is grossly inefficient and unfair. Americans have been waiting for over 60 years for fundamental reform and will not wait another year without holding officeholders responsible. We are going to cost Senators their jobs if they block healthcare reform. This is a promise!

Corporate money can buy TV ads and slick mailers. It worked in the pre-Internet past. It will not work today. Obama is in the White House as proof. If Obama can win the White House largely thanks to the Internet, think what we can do around an issue that starts with around 2/3rds public support and Obama on our side.

Written by Stephen Crockett (host of Democratic Talk Radio http://www.DemocraticTalkRadio.com and Editor of Mid-Atlantic Labor.com http://www.midatlanticlabor.com). Phone: 443-907-2367. Email: demlabor@aol.com. Mail: 698 Old Baltimore Pike, Newark, Delaware 19702.

Feel free to publish or print in full without prior approval.

Postal Service employees awaiting distribution center decision

06.22.09

June 2009 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Postal Service employees awaiting distribution center decision

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, June 7th- The United States Postal Oversight Committee met on May 20th and the announcement of the decision on whether the United States Postal Service (USPS) would close the processing and distribution center on Main Street in Wilkes-Barre was expected on June 1st but nothing was released.

The USPS conducted a five-month feasibility study that would help the agency decide to close the Wilkes-Barre facility and move the operation to Scranton or the Lehigh Valley. Currently, mail processing on weekends is done at the agency facility in the Lehigh Valley.

The USPS stated the discussion of moving the mail processing is in response to the 30 percent decline in first class mail over the past decade. Mail volume has dropped to 1964 levels with the volume decreasing by 15 percent in April 2009 alone.

House of Representative (Democrat, 11th Legislative District) Paul Kanjorski strongly expressed his concern with the results of a United States Postal Service (USPS) study that recommended the closure of the mail processing and distribution facility on Main Street in Wilkes-Barre. He also urged the Postmaster General to reject the study’s recommendation and keep the Wilkes-Barre post office and its jobs for its employees.

Workers employed at the facility on South Main Street have held several demostrations in front of the facility protesting the possible closing of the center. The workers, represented by the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) Local 175, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union (NPMHU) Local 308 and the National Association of Letters Carriers (NALC) Union Branch 115, have been joined by other union members and supporters expressing their desire of keeping the facility opened.

The employer has stated if the facility is closed no lay-offs would occur but the workers at the Main Street facility could be forced to relocate to other areas, even outside of Pennsylvania for employment.

According to John Kishel, President of Branch 175, which represents 240 postal service workers that process mail including clerk personnel and maintenance workers at 24 USPS facilities in and around Wilkes-Barre, should the move of processing mail to Scranton or the Lehigh Valley be made, customer service will be affected and it will impact the City of Wilkes-Barre and surrounding communities negatively.

Bill Smith, Local 308 agrees with Mr. Kishel and stated mail will need to be re-routed to Scranton or the Lehigh Valley and then back to Luzerne County causing a delay in home delivery.

Mr. Kishel told the newspaper he was under the impression the USPS would announce their decision on June 1st. He said his members are anxious to know if they still have jobs in Wilkes-Barre and where they will be working if they don’t.

Mr. Kanjorski stated closing the Wilkes-Barre facility will likely hurt the local economy. “We are in very difficult economic times, and the potential closure of the mail processing and distribution facility in Wilkes-Barre could have negative repercussions throughout the area. We must protect the jobs of the employees at the current facility. I have been advocating against the closure since the study was released.”

Changes to Unemployment Compensation fund proposed

06.22.09

June 2009 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Changes to Unemployment Compensation fund proposed

BY PAUL LEESON
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, June 1st - State Representative, Democrat Marc Gergely of Allegheny County, stated it is time to fix the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation fund.

Mr. Gergely said as more hard-working Pennsylvanians join the ranks of the unemployed through no fault of their own, from 116 coke workers at a Monessen plant to 179 staff members of a Wilkes-Barre hospital in recent weeks, they rely on the state’s Unemployment Compensation program for modest weekly payments to help their families get by. Meanwhile, the state continues to borrow millions from the federal government to pay their claims.

“I believe we need to take two steps. Update how we fund the system and take advantage of every dollar available through the federal stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” said Mr. Gergely.

Since 1984 employers have paid unemployment taxes on only the first $8,000 of an employee’s wages, one of the lowest bases in the country. If it had been adjusted annually for inflation, the base would be $19,360.

Mr. Gergely stated employers were granted billions of dollars in tax breaks that were justified during good economic times and, even now, more than half receive significant reductions on individual tax rates, Many only pay 1.86 percent, which amounts to $148.00 a year per worker.

“We need to restructure the system to shore up this critical fund for future economic storms,” Mr. Gergely added.

Unemployment compensation in Pennsylvania provides an average of about $300.00 a week based on wages and does not consider family size.

“We need to make changes to our laws that include modernizing our unemployment system and ultimately ensuring more people who become unemployed are eligible to receive benefits. This includes expanding eligibility to new and returning workers, including seniors and stay-at-home parents who have had to go back to work. They have been deemed ineligible because of their work histories, not the reasons that they lost their jobs.”

Mr. Gergerly said if nothing is done, residents and employers will face an estimated $2.8 billion in new combined state and federal taxes from 2011 to 2016 to repay the state’s federal loans, forcing more borrowing.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Region’s unemployment rate remains high at 8.7 percent

06.22.09

June 2009 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Region’s unemployment rate remains high at 8.7 percent

BY PAUL LEESON
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, June 2nd- According to labor data provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Labor and Industry, the region’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 8.6 percent, unchanged from the previous report.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) includes Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming Counties.
The unemployment rate is two full percentage points higher than a year ago. The last time the region had a unemployment rate this high was in April 1994.

The MSA’s unemployment rate continues to remain higher than Pennsylvania and the nation. The unemployment rate in the state is 7.8 percent, also unchanged from the previous report. Pennsylvania has a seasonally adjusted civilian labor force of 6,431,000 with 500,000 not working and 5,931,000 with employment. The national unemployment rate is 8.9 percent, increasing by four-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month. The national rate has increased by eight-tenths of a percentage point during the past two reports. There are 13,724,000 civilians in the nation without employment. The number does not include civilians that have exhausted their unemployment benefits.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA civilian labor force, decreased by 700 from the previous report to 283,400 and increased by 1,300 from one year ago. There are 24,500 civilians not working in the MSA, decreasing by 100 from the previous report, and increasing by 8,800 from one year ago.

The MSA has the fifth largest labor force in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia MSA has the largest labor force at 3,001,600 with 237,400 not working; the Pittsburgh MSA is second at 1,222,600 with 88,900 without jobs; the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton MSA has the third largest labor force at 424,600 with 35,300 not working; and the Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA has the fourth largest civilian labor force at 286,300 with 19,900 without employment.

Of the 14 MSA’s within Pennsylvania, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA has the third highest unemployment rate. The Williamsport MSA has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 9.0 percent. The Reading MSA and the Johnstown MSA are tied for the second highest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 8.7 percent.

The State College MSA has the lowest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 5.7 percent. The Lebanon MSA has the second lowest unemployment rate in the state at 6.7 percent with the Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA and the Lancaster MSA tied for the third lowest at 7.0 percent.

Lackawanna County has the lowest unemployment rate in the MSA at 8.1 percent, unchanged from the previous report and jumping two and eight-tenths of a percentage points from one year ago. Lackawanna County has a labor force of 107,600, decreasing by 300 from the report before and decreasing by 1,900 during the past year. There are 8,700 Lackawanna County residents without jobs, decreasing by 100 from the previous report before and increasing by 3,000 from one year ago.

Luzerne County has the highest unemployment rate in the MSA at 9.0 percent, also unchanged from the report before and increasing by three full percentage points from one year ago. Luzerne County has a labor force of 161,300, the largest in the MSA. The labor force decreased by 600 from the previous report and increased by 1,100 during the past year. Of the labor force 14,400 do not have a job, increasing by a whopping 4,300 from one year ago.

Wyoming County has a unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, decreasing by three-tenths of a percentage point from the report before and increasing by 3 full percentage points from one year ago. Wyoming County has a labor force of 14,500, decreasing by 100 from the previous month and unchanged from one year ago. There are 1,200 Wyoming County residents without jobs, decreasing by 100 from the previous month and jumping by 400 from one year ago.

Manufacturing jobs in the MSA continues to decreased, dropping by 2,700 during the last twelve months. Construction jobs were also big losers during the past year, decreasing by 1,600 during the period. Leisure and hospitality jobs were also big losers during the past year, decreasing by 1,100.

Department of Labor’s budget increased to $104.5 billion

06.22.09

June 2009 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Department of Labor’s budget increased to $104.5 billion

BY PAUL LEESON
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, May 28th- The United States Department of Labor’s (DOL) Secretary Hilda Solis stated the Obama Administration has outlined the agency’s fiscal year 2010 budget which will restore worker protection programs and revitalize employment opportunities for the American workforce.

Secretary Solis said the Obama Administration’s budget launches new and innovative ways to promote economic recovery and the competitiveness of the nation’s workers and at the same time cuts or reduces programs that does not help the American working public.

The budget requests $104.5 billion with the majority to be used for unemployment insurance benefits for displaced workers and federal workers’ compensation. The discretionary request of $13.3 billion allocates $1.7 billion for worker protection programs, a ten percent increase over the prior year’s budget.

DOL expects to hire nearly 1,000 new employees, including 670 investigators, restoring worker protection staffing to 2001 levels. The Occupational Safety and Health Adminstration (OSHA) budget is $564 million, which is $51 million more than the agency received in fiscal year 2009.

June 25th Democratic Talk Radio show on Healthcare

06.20.09

There is a huge Rally for Healthcare Reform in Washington, DC on June 25th.

Democratic Talk Radio will be broadcasting live that morning from the bus leaving from Allentown,PA. We broadcast from 8:05am until 9am Eastern.

Host Stephen Crockett will be on the bus talking with union leaders and others. Co-host John Morgan will be in the WGPA SUNNY 1100AM studio. The show will stream live on the Internet from the WGPA SUNNY 1100AM website.

John Morgan is a fairly recent addition to the Democratic Talk Radio line-up. Many of you will know him from his Pennsylvania Progressive blog and/or as a healthcare reform advocate.

Workers ratify new contract agreement with Citterio USA

06.18.09

June 2009 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Workers ratify new contract agreement with Citterio USA

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

FREELAND, May 28th- Approximatley 213 workers represented by the United Food and Commerical Workers (UFCW) Union Local 1776 in Pittston approved a new three year labor agreement with their employer, Citterio USA. The company has operated a prepared meat products facility in Freeland since 1974. The membership voted 110 for the pact to 27 against on May 21st.

“Our negotiating committee engaged in lengthy bargaining discussions to reach a positive resolution on the continuing challenge of high health care costs. We were pleased to reach an agreement with the company that will maintain high quality benefits with minimal or no cost to our members,” stated Wendell W. Young IV, President of Local 1776.

The new contract will expire on May 27th, 2012.

Local 1776 represents 23,000 UFCW members throughout southeastern, notheastern and central Pennsylvania including in supermarkets, drug stores, food processing plants, government services, manufacturing facilities, nursing homes, professional offices and workers at the Pennsylvania’s Wine and Spirits Shoppes.

Mr. Young said the new contract provides for the company to increase its contributions to the workers’ retirement fund, and to add funds to upgrade certain job classifications in the plant.

The products prepared by Local 1776’s members at Citterio supply leading restraurants in the United States with top-quality meats ranging from classic prosciutto and other dry-cured gourmet meats to Italian salami and mortadella.

Michele Kessler, Secretary/Treasurer of Local 1776 stated also people should not be misled by misinformation that Hershey Foods has outsources all of its products.

Ms. Kessler said the UFCW Union Local 1776 and members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union (BCTGM) Local 464 in Hershey continue to manufacture candy products including a Hershey plant in the City of Hazleton.

“Support your brothers and sisters who make union made candy. Members of UFCW Local 1776 and BCTGM Local 464 proudly make union made Hershey candles right here in Pennsylvania,” said Ms. Kessler.

Union night to be held at Pioneers Arena 2 football game

06.18.09

June 2009 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Union night to be held at Pioneers Arena 2 football game

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, June 2nd- The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers Arena 2 Football team on Saturday July 18th will sponsor a “Union Night” at the arena in Wilkes-Barre Township. The Pioneers are scheduled to play the Albany Firebirds starting at 7:30 pm.

According to Jack Costello, a retired 35 year member of the Utility Workers Union Local 406, and coordinator of the event, tickets cost $10.00 each and the seats will be in the upper endzone. Local 406 represents workers employed by UGI Energy throughout Luzerne County.

“Were hopring for a huge turnout of union members. We are asking for the union leadership to go back to their members about this event,” said Mr. Costello.

Mr. Costello added the National Anthem before the game will be sung by Cindy Kraintz in memory of union member Thomas Morris Jr.
To purchase tickets contact Mr. Costello at (570) 817.2357.

Tickets can be obtained by mail by making checks payable to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers and mail to: Jack Costello, Osceola Avenue, Kingston, PA 18704.

The team can be contacted by e-mail at: therman@wbspioneers.com