Skyline of Richmond, Virginia

Nurses rally for new labor agreement with new operators of Wilkes-Barre medical center


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

Nurses rally for new labor agreement with new operators of Wilkes-Barre medical center


REGION, July 28th- Nurses, their family members, community leaders, and members of the labor community from the Wyoming Valley attended a rally on July 25th to show support for the Wilkes-Barre General Hospital workers that are represented by the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) Union. PASNAP is affiliated with the California Nurses Association (CNA) and their Pennsylvania office is located in Conshohocken. PASNAP represents around 450 nurses employed at the medical center located on North River Street in Wilkes-Barre.

Approximately 125 people attended the rally, which included State Representative Eddie Pashinski (Democrat-121st District), the Pennsylvania State American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) President Bill George, and the Greater Wilkes-Barre Labor Council President Sam Bianco. The rally was held on Wilkes-Barre Public Square at noon.

The Wilkes-Barre General Hospital is owned and operated by Community Health System (CHS) Inc., the largest owner of for-profit hospitals in the country. The current labor agreement between CHS and PASNAP expires at the end of August. The two sides have been bargaining but according to Bill Cruice, Executive Director of PASNAP, CHS’s contract proposals will drive dedicated and experienced nurses away from the hospital. Their health plan proposal would force nurses to self-ration needed health care for themselves and their families.

Another major issue between the parties is staffing. The Tennessee based CHS contract proposal would decrease the amount of current staffing levels. The company has operated the Wilkes-Barre Hospital since May 2009 after purchasing the medical facility for $271 million.

The rally was part of a series of community events by the union that includes petitioning the public and passing out yard signs. The union is planning to conduct information picketing at the hospital.

Hospital employees and their supporters gathered at 11:00 am at the River Commons at Union Street, several blocks away from Public Square, and marched holding signs and chanting “patients before profits.” The union believes CHS contract proposals shows the employer is more interested in making more profit than operating a patient caring medical center.

According to Terry Marcavage, PASNAP Staff Representative, the employer is refusing to agree to safe nursing levels and their contract proposals for health care would toss employees into the ranks of the under-insured, by forcing nurses to self-ration health care for themselves and their families, while their CEO Wayne Smith, paid himself $22 million last year.

EFCAct legislation does not include card-check provision


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

EFCAct legislation does not include card-check provision


REGION, August 1st- The main provision wanted by labor unions has been dropped from the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA)/Card Check legislation that will be likely be introduced in the United States Congress after their summer recess.

The legislation was passed by the House of Representatives in 2008, with both Congressman Chris Carney (Democrat-10th District) and Congressman Paul Kanjorski (Democrat-11 District) voting in favor. However, the legislation failed in the Senate with Pennsylvania Senator’s Robert Casey Jr. (Democrat) and Arlen Specter (Republican) voting for the bill. Mr. Specter has since changed his party affiliation to Democrat but announced on March 24th, 2009 would not support the legislation.

Under the prior EFCA legislation, employees would be allowed to sign authorization cards seeking union representation and the union would be recognized when a majority of cards are signed. However, under the legislation if thirty percent or more of the employees sign authorization cards requesting for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) conduct an secret ballot election the agency will do so.

Labor groups, including the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) labor federation in Washington DC, and business groups, including the United States Chamber of Commerce, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s and McDonald’s Restaurants that opposed the legislation, spent millions of dollars in advertising and lobbying attempting to influence legislators on the EFCA.

The AFL-CIO mobilized union members and their families across the nation requesting them to contact their legislators asking them to support the legislation, including Senator Specter. Under Senate rules, at least 60 Senator votes are needed to force a vote on the legislation by the full-Senate.

On July 16th, the Senate negotiators dropped the card-check provision of the legislation. However, the revised legislation would require shorter unionization campaigns, faster elections, and a mediation system should the parties fail to reach an agreement within 120 days.

The Chamber of Commerce and business groups, which opposes the legislation, are now attacking the revised legislation by stressing how damaging they believe arbitration will be to employers.

The legislation is expected to easily pass in the House of Representatives where only a majority vote is needed. President Obama stated he would sign the measure should it reach his desk.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton Region’s unemployment rate continues to increase


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

Region’s unemployment rate continues to increase


REGION, July 30th- According to labor data provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Labor and Industry, the region’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 9.0 percent, increasing by one-tenth of a percentage point from the previous report, which was released approximately four weeks before.

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

The MSA’s unemployment rate continues to remain higher than the state percentgage. The unemployment rate in the state is 8.3 percent, unchanged from the previous report. Pennsylvania has a seasonally adjusted civilian labor force of 6,436,000 with 537,000 not working and 5,899,000 with employment. The national unemployment rate is 9.5 percent, increasing by one-tenth of a percentage point from the previous report. The national rate has increased by one full percentage point during the past three reports. There are 14,729,000 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 600 from the previous report to 284,200. There are 25,500 civilians not working in the MSA, increasing by 200 from the previous report, and increasing by a whopping 8,800 from one year ago. The number would be even higher if the residents that have exhausted their unemployment benefits were part of the percentage.

The MSA has the fifth largest labor force in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia MSA has the largest labor force at 3,000,200 with 257,100 not working; the Pittsburgh MSA is second at 1,223,700 with 92,500 without jobs; the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton MSA has the third largest labor force at 424,900 with 38,300 not working; and the Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA has the fourth largest civilian labor force at 286,400 with 21,000 without employment.

Of the 14 MSA’s within Pennsylvania, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA is tied with the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton MSA for the fourth highest unemployment rate. The Erie MSA has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 9.6 percent. The Reading MSA has the second highest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 9.2 percent with the Williamsport MSA third at 9.1 percent.

The State College MSA has the lowest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 5.8 percent. The Lebanon MSA has the second lowest unemployment rate in the state at 6.9 percent with the Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA and the Lancaster MSA tied for the third lowest at 7.3 percent. The Pittsburgh MSA has the fourth lowest unemployment rate in at 7.6 percent.

Lackawanna County has the lowest unemployment rate in the MSA at 8.4 percent, which increased by one-tenth of a percentage point from the previous report and jumping two and eigth-tenths of a percentage points from one year ago. Lackawanna County has a labor force of 107,800, decreasing by 300 from the last report. There are 9,100 Lackawanna County residents without jobs, increasing by 100 from the previous report and increasing by a whopping 3,100 from twelve months ago.

Luzerne County has the highest unemployment rate in the MSA at 9.3 percent, which is unchanged from the report before. The unemployment rate is 3 and one-tenth of a percentage point higher from one year ago. Luzerne County has a labor force of 161,700, the largest in the MSA. The labor force decreased by 500 from the previous report and increased by 1,600 from twelve months ago. Of the labor force 15,000 do not have a job, unchanged from the previous report and increasing by a whopping 5,300 from one year ago.

Wyoming County has a unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, increasing by one-tenth of a percentage point from the report before and increasing by 3 and two-tenths of a percentage points from one year ago. Wyoming County has a labor force of 14,600, unchanged from the previous report and increasing by 200 from twelve months ago. There are 1,300 Wyoming County residents without jobs, which is unchanged from the previous report and jumping by 400 from twelve months

Republican Death Trip -by Paul Krugman


Republican Death Trip

by Paul Krugman

“I am in this race because I don’t want to see us spend the next year re-fighting the Washington battles of the 1990s. I don’t want to pit Blue America against Red America; I want to lead a United States of America.” So declared Barack Obama in November 2007, making the case that Democrats should nominate him, rather than one of his rivals, because he could free the nation from the bitter partisanship of the past.

Some of us were skeptical. A couple of months after Mr. Obama gave that speech, I warned that his vision of a “different kind of politics” was a vain hope, that any Democrat who made it to the White House would face “an unending procession of wild charges and fake scandals, dutifully given credence by major media organizations that somehow can’t bring themselves to declare the accusations unequivocally false.”

So, how’s it going?

Sure enough, President Obama is now facing the same kind of opposition that President Bill Clinton had to deal with: an enraged right that denies the legitimacy of his presidency, that eagerly seizes on every wild rumor manufactured by the right-wing media complex.

This opposition cannot be appeased. Some pundits claim that Mr. Obama has polarized the country by following too liberal an agenda. But the truth is that the attacks on the president have no relationship to anything he is actually doing or proposing.

Right now, the charge that’s gaining the most traction is the claim that health care reform will create “death panels” (in Sarah Palin’s words) that will shuffle the elderly and others off to an early grave. It’s a complete fabrication, of course. The provision requiring that Medicare pay for voluntary end-of-life counseling was introduced by Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican — yes, Republican — of Georgia, who says that it’s “nuts” to claim that it has anything to do with euthanasia.

And not long ago, some of the most enthusiastic peddlers of the euthanasia smear, including Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and Mrs. Palin herself, were all for “advance directives” for medical care in the event that you are incapacitated or comatose. That’s exactly what was being proposed — and has now, in the face of all the hysteria, been dropped from the bill.

Yet the smear continues to spread. And as the example of Mr. Gingrich shows, it’s not a fringe phenomenon: Senior G.O.P. figures, including so-called moderates, have endorsed the lie.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, is one of these supposed moderates. I’m not sure where his centrist reputation comes from — he did, after all, compare critics of the Bush tax cuts to Hitler. But in any case, his role in the health care debate has been flat-out despicable.

Last week, Mr. Grassley claimed that his colleague Ted Kennedy’s brain tumor wouldn’t have been treated properly in other countries because they prefer to “spend money on people who can contribute more to the economy.” This week, he told an audience that “you have every right to fear,” that we “should not have a government-run plan to decide when to pull the plug on grandma.”

Again, that’s what a supposedly centrist Republican, a member of the Gang of Six trying to devise a bipartisan health plan, sounds like.

So much, then, for Mr. Obama’s dream of moving beyond divisive politics. The truth is that the factors that made politics so ugly in the Clinton years — the paranoia of a significant minority of Americans and the cynical willingness of leading Republicans to cater to that paranoia — are as strong as ever. In fact, the situation may be even worse than it was in the 1990s because the collapse of the Bush administration has left the G.O.P. with no real leaders other than Rush Limbaugh.

The question now is how Mr. Obama will deal with the death of his postpartisan dream.

So far, at least, the Obama administration’s response to the outpouring of hate on the right has had a deer-in-the-headlights quality. It’s as if officials still can’t wrap their minds around the fact that things like this can happen to people who aren’t named Clinton, as if they keep expecting the nonsense to just go away.

What, then, should Mr. Obama do? It would certainly help if he gave clearer and more concise explanations of his health care plan. To be fair, he’s gotten much better at that over the past couple of weeks.

What’s still missing, however, is a sense of passion and outrage — passion for the goal of ensuring that every American gets the health care he or she needs, outrage at the lies and fear-mongering that are being used to block that goal.

So can Mr. Obama, who can be so eloquent when delivering a message of uplift, rise to the challenge of unreasoning, unappeasable opposition? Only time will tell.