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Philadelphia CLUW Panel of Parental Leave

02.23.10

by John Mason

A panel discussion on maternity/paternity leave for caregivers took place at a benefit meeting of the Philadelphia chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), held at the headquarters of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, 22 South 22nd Street, on Monday, January 25, 2010.

The event was to raise funds and supplies for Women Against Abuse, a homeless shelter for women and children, staffed by members of the United Auto Workers. Contributions needed for the shelter included such items as bed linens, towels, diapers, car seats, and stationary supplies.

Kathy Black, President of the Philadelphia CLUW chapter, said that the evening’sprogram was created by the chapter’s Young Women’s Committee, chaired by April Logan; “They put together a nice group of speakers,” Black said, “ and they’ve been working on this for some months,” and she commended Logan’s “commitment and excellent work (in) keeping the committee focused, growing, and engaged.” Logan served as moderator for the panel discussion.

Logan pointed out studies that have shown, with the current economic troubles, “that more and more women are becoming the sole or head breadwinner in the family. In fact…they’re surpassing men.” However, added Logan, “women are frequently in part- time jobs, or they’re full-time jobs, but still they tend to make less money than men, about eighty-cents to the dollar that men make.” The challenge, she went on, “to try to fulfill that role of being the breadwinner of the family. In this context, the issue of maternity/paternity leave becomes especially important, because I always thought it a little odd that just when your family financial responsibilities are about to increase, you have to take unpaid leave because you have some caretaker responsibilities (for children).”

Beginning the panel discussion was Amal Bass, of the Women’s Law Project, a public-interest organization dedicated to women’s equality. Bass spoke about federal and state laws on parental leave. “I wish I could say,” she said, “that the law provides more than it does.” On the federal level, she said, “there are two main laws that really apply to parental leave. First is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the other is Title Seven of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. FMLA is usually what people think about when they think about parental leave in the United States.” FMLA, said Bass, was enacted in the early 1990s’, and “it provides certain employees with up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave. It only applies to certain employers, you have to employ fifty or more employees, and (it covers) certain employees of that employer, people who have worked there for a year, people who have worked a certain number of hours

“So there are a lot of people,” said Bass, “this law doesn’t apply to at all, and it only gives you unpaid leave. The employer has to maintain your health benefits during that time, but if you pay for a certain portion of your health benefits, then you might not actually be able to afford to that.” FMLA, added Bass, “it guarantees job restoration, so at the end of your unpaid leave, your employer has to put you in the same position or an equivalent position.”

Next was Rona Kaufman Kitchen, Abraham L. Freedman Teaching Fellow of the Beasley School of Lay of Temple University. Kitchen spoke about parental leave policies in other countries. Kitchen spoke of “twenty-one countries, that are comparable to the US in that they’re high-income economies.” The countries included France, Germany, Spain, Norway, Austria, Ireland, Italy Greece, Japan, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, Denmark, Finland Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Switzerland; “Of those countries,” said Kitchen, “the best (parental) leave is at up to six years, so that’s six years of (unpaid) job protected leave…The worst is fourteen weeks.” The highest at six years, she added, was in France and Spain, and the lowest at fourteen weeks is in Switzerland, “but is Switzerland, there’s eighty percent pay for those fourteen weeks

“Among the other countries,” said Kitchen, “there’s up to two years of job protected leave, which is in Germany, Sweden, Norway, and Austria, over one year of job protected leave in the UK, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Japan and New Zealand, one full year in Australia, Canada, and Denmark, and in the remaining countries there are six months of leave in four of them, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Portugal, and finally less than six months of job protected leave in the US and Switzerland.” Kitchen added that job protected parental leave, in advanced countries outside the US, “very much is the norm.”

Also on the panel were Alaine S. Williams, an attorney for the Labor law firm Willig, Williams, and Davidson, who discussed court cases related to parental leave; and Joyce Lindorff, Vice-President of TAUP/AFT Local 4531 and member of the Philadelphia CLUW board, who discussed recent language in the contract with Temple University on parental leave.

Boycott FedEx

02.23.10

Boycott FedEx

By Chris Hedges

Dean Henderson’s career with FedEx ended abruptly when a reckless driver plowed into his company truck and mangled his leg. His doctor will decide this week if it needs to be amputated. No longer able to drive, stripped of value in our commodity culture, he was tossed aside by the company. He became human refuse. He spends most of his days, because of the swelling and the pain, with his leg raised on a recliner in the tiny apartment in Fairfax, Va., he shares with his stepsister. He struggles without an income and medical insurance, and he fears his future.

Henderson is not alone. Workers in our corporate state earn little when they work—Henderson made $18 an hour—and they are abandoned when they can no longer contribute to corporate profits. It is the ethic of the free market. It is the cost of unfettered capitalism. And it is plunging tens of millions of discarded workers into a collective misery and rage that is beginning to manifest itself in a dangerous right-wing backlash.

“This happened while I was wearing their uniform and driving one of their company vehicles,” Henderson, a 40-year-old military veteran, told me. “My foot is destroyed. I have a fused ankle. I have had over a dozen surgeries. It hurts to wear a sock. I was limping pretty badly, but in the spring of 2008 FedEx said I had to come back to work and sit in a chair. It saved them money on workers’ compensation payments. I worked a call center job and answered telephones. I did that for three months. I had my ankle fused in January 2009, and then FedEx fired me. I was discarded. They washed their hands of me and none of this was my fault.”

Our destitute working class is beginning to grasp that Barack Obama and other elected officials in Washington, who speak in a cloying feel-your-pain language, are liars. They are not attempting to prevent wages from sinking, unemployment from mounting, foreclosures from ripping apart communities, banks from looting the U.S. Treasury or jobs from being exported. The gap between our stark reality and the happy illusions peddled by smarmy television news personalities and fatuous academic and financial experts, as well as oily bureaucrats and politicians, is becoming too wide to ignore. Those cast aside are reaching out to anyone, no matter how buffoonish or ignorant, who promises that the parasites and courtiers who serve the corporate state will disappear. Right-wing rage is being fused with right-wing populism. And once this takes hold, a protofascism will sweep across our blighted landscape fueled by a mounting personal and economic despair. Take a look at Sinclair Lewis’ “It Can’t Happen Here.” It is a good window into what awaits us……

(read the rest of this article at http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/boycott_fedex_20100222 )

Project Labor Agreements again under attack in Harrisburg

02.23.10

FEBRUARY 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Project Labor Agreements again under attack in Harrisburg

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, February 2nd- Project Labor Agreements (PLA’s) in Pennsylvania have been under attack and on February 2nd business groups assembled in the state capitol rotunda and stated PLA’s should be eliminated.

A PLA is a comprehensive agreement signed by a builder and local craft unions under which a defined construction project is agreed to be completed by workers from local union halls, in return for the union’s guarantee of no strikes, a steady labor supply, and general labor peace. Under a PLA a nonunion contractor could still be hired for a project, however if they are selected, local unionized workers must be hired.

In September 2009, Republican Pennsylvania House of Representative John Bear (97th Legislative District) introduced legislation that would prohibit the use of Project Labor Agreements on public projects in Pennsylvania.

The legislation’s biggest supporter is the Association of Builders and Contractors (ABC) construction group. The ABC group is made-up of nonunion contractors and often lobbies for anti-union legislation. The business group was represented at the event in Harrisburg on February 2nd.

In December, the Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council in Harrisburg praised a decision of the Commonwealth Court upholding a Project Labor Agreement between the federation and the State’s Department of General Services (DGS). The letter of commitment between the parties was to assure union workers will be hired for the construction of a 4,100 bed, $400 million prison project at Graterford Prison in Montgomery County.

Frank Sirianni, President of the Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council said the decision reaffirmed that PLA’s can be beneficial on government funded building projects because they guarantee on-time completion of construction projects without diminishing community standards for working conditions and quality of workmanship.

Mr. Sirianni stated the ABC group participated in seeking injunction relief from the Court to prevent the DGS from entering into PLA’s for state funded construction projects. The ABC has vehemently opposed PLA’s for economic reasons.

“The fact of the matter is that many non-union contractors here in Pennsylvania and all over the country bid on projects with PLA’s and win those bids. They then go on to complete those projects using local crafts people and still earn a reasonable profit. They do this because PLA’s work. It is clear from this case that the ABC and their legislative allies are not really interested in creating jobs for Pennsylvania skilled crafts people. They are more interested in finding ways to line their pockets with our tax dollars and with little protection of our community standards as possible,” stated Mr. Sirianni.

On February 2nd, more than thirty business organizations representing more than 5 million non-farm, non-government private sector jobs assembled in Harrisburg stating the business community of Pennsylvania hopes to work with state policymakers “to create a more competitive business tax climate that will promote business growth and job creation. Business leaders in our region and across Pennsylvania agree that tax competitiveness is a key element to the state’s economic recovery and resurgence,” said Robert Wondering, President of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce.

David McCorkle, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association told listeners there are steps Pennsylvania can take to make the state more competitive, more business friendly and a place where jobs are created.

One of Mr. McCorkle suggestions is to “eliminate or reform prevailing wage and labor practices that drive up the cost of public projects.”

Democratic Party candidate for Governor Dan Onorato endorsed by Teamsters Union

02.23.10

FEBRUARY 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Democratic Party candidate for Governor Dan Onorato endorsed by Teamsters Union

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, February 5th- Allegheny County Executive and Democratic candidate for Pennsylvania Governor Dan Onorato is requesting the labor community support him in the May election.

Mr. Onorato is one of four Democrats seeking to become their party nominee and challenge the Republican Party candidate in November. The candidates want to replace out-going Democratic Governor Edward Rendell.

Dan Onorato was raised in a working class neighborhood of North Pittsburgh. His father worked as a mechanic at the Allis-Chalmers tractor factory and his mother was a elementary school teacher.

“When I talk to Pennsylvania families from every region of the Commonwealth. I hear the same thing. Folks want a Governor with new ideals to create new jobs and to clean-up Harrisburg. As Alleghany County Executive, and before that as County Controller, that’s what I’ve been all about, reforming government, investing in innovation and creating the 21st Century jobs we need to be competitive in the economy,” said Mr. Onorato.

On February 4th, Mr. Onorato received the endorsement of the Pennsylvania Conference of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Union (IBT). The union represents 92,000 IBT members across Pennsylvania.

According to James Murphy, Business Representative of IBT Union Local 401 in Wilkes-Barre, his union is affiliated with the IBT Pennsylvania Conference and has 1,600 active members.

Senators Casey and Specter support extension of benefits for unemployed workers

02.23.10

FEBRUARY 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Senators Casey and Specter support extension of benefits for unemployed workers

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, January 26th- Pennsylvania United States Democratic Senators Arlen Specter and Robert Casey and 29 other members of the Senate sent a letter to the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus urging an extension of unemployment benefits and eligibility for the CORBA Premium Assistance Program through December 31st, 2010.

Labor statistics show that nearly 40 percent of the unemployed, more than 6.1 million people, have been out of work for six months or longer. Many of the workers and their families lost their health coverage when they lost their jobs. On average a montly health care premium payment to cover a family costs $1,111.00 which is 83.4 percent of the average unemployment check.

The senators urged quick action on the extension of the unemployment insurance provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRAct) through December 31st, 2010 including the Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program, the Extended Benefit program, an increase of $25.00 per week in state and federal benefits and the suspension of the federal income tax on an individual’s first $2,400.00 of unemployment benefits.

Both programs are scheduled to expire on February 28th.

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA’s unemployment rate rising despite labor force decrease

02.23.10

FEBRUARY 2010 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

MSA’s unemployment rate rising despite labor force decrease

BY PAUL LEESON
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, February 2nd- According to labor data provided by the Pennsylvania, Department of Labor and Industry, the region’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 9.7 percent, increasing by two-tenths 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. Twelve months ago the unemployment rate for the region was 7.6 percent.

The unemployment rate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is 8.9 percent, increasing by four-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report. Pennsylvania has a seasonally adjusted civilian labor force of 6,310,000 with 560,000 not working and 5,751,000 with employment. The national unemployment rate is 10.0 percent, unchanged from the previous month.

The MSA’s unemployment rate increased despite the decrease of the civilian labor force. The labor force has fallen by 4,500 residents during the past twelve months to 278,800. At the same time the region has 251,700 civilians working, decreasing by 10,000 from twelve months before.There are 15,340,000 civilians in the nation without employment. That number does not include civilians that have exhausted their unemployment benefits and have stopped looking for work. There are at least 20,000,000 civilians in the nation without jobs.

There are 27,100 residents in the MSA not working, increasing by 5,500 from twelve months before. That number also does not include civilians who unemployment benefits have expired and stopped looking for work.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA has the fifth largest labor force in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia MSA has the largest labor force at 2,944,600 with 263,800 not working; the Pittsburgh MSA is second at 1,199,600 with 95,300 without jobs; the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton MSA has the third largest labor force at 416,100 with 40,700 not working; and the Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA has the fourth largest civilian labor force at 280,500 with 22,300 without employment.

Of the 14 MSA’s within Pennsylvania, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA has the third highest unemployment rate. The Erie MSA has the highest unemployment rate in the MSA at 10.0 percent, with the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton MSA and the Williamsport MSA tied for the second highest at 9.8 percent.

The State College MSA has the lowest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 6.0 percent. The Lebanon MSA has the second lowest unemployment rate in the state at 7.1 percent with the Lancaster MSA the third lowest in the Commonwealth at 7.7 percent and the Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA fourth at 7.9 percent.

Lackawanna County has the lowest unemployment rate in the MSA at 9.2 percent, increasing by two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report and jumping by one and eight-tenths percentage points from one year ago. Lackawanna County has a labor force of 106,900, decreasing by 200 from the report before and falling by 2,000 during the past twelve months. There are 9,800 Lackawanna County residents without jobs, increasing by 300 from the previous report and increasing by 1,800 from one year ago. That number also does not include residents that have exhausted their unemployment benefits and have stopped looking for work.

Luzerne County has the highest unemployment rate in the MSA at 10.1 percent, increasing by four-tenths of a percentage point from the report before and increased by a whopping two and three-tenths percentage points from twelve months ago. The labor force in Luzerne County was unchanged from the previous report and decreased by 2,300 during the past year. Of the labor force 16,000 do not have a job, increasing by 600 during the past four weeks and rising by 3,400 from one year ago.

Wyoming County has a unemployment rate of 9.6 percent, increasing by one-tenth of a percentage point from the previous report and increasing by two and one-tenth of a percentage point from one year ago. Wyoming County has a labor force of 14,300, unchanged from the previous report and dropping by 200 from one year ago. There are 1,400 Wyoming County residents without jobs, the same as the previous report and increasing by 300 from twelve months before.

The Cadillac Crunch

02.23.10

The Cadillac Crunch

by David Corn

http://motherjones.com/politics/2010/02/cadillac-tax-health-care-reform

After over a year of partisan and policy combat, the epic battle for health care reform may come down to an internal Democrat party tussle: whether or not House Democrats yield to President Barack Obama and accept a tax on high-end insurance plans.

After the Democrats in the House and the Senate passed different versions of health care legislation, several critical matters had to be worked out, including how to finance the reform. The House bill called for a surtax on the wealthiest Americans, The Senate measure included a tax on so-called Cadillac plans. This led to a contentious intra-party squabble. A few weeks ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told several columnists (including me) that this excise tax has “no support” among House Democrats and that “the easiest thing is just to get rid of the whole excise tax.”

Yet on Monday, the president released—finally—his own health care proposal, which essentially is based on the Senate measure, with a few changes. And on the excise tax, he sided with the Senate. But he wants it tweaked so that it kicks in 2018, not 2013, and hits fewer plans. His proposal calls for raising the threshold for this tax from $23,000 in premiums for a family to $27,500.

Obama’s reforms address some of the complaints from House Dems—but not their fundamental gripe: the tax is bad policy and bad politics. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, (D-NY), who has led the charge against the excise tax, contends that a tax imposed on high-cost plans would likely not cause insurers to become more efficient and reduce costs (the supposed intent) but to cut back on benefits—and employees will end up with higher deductibles and co-payments as a result. Such a development, Nadler adds, will “violate Obama’s promise that if you like your plan, you can keep it.” Nadler also fears an excise tax is “political poison” because it will hit blue-collar workers (unionized or not) who have managed to obtain high-end health plans. “We lost the Reagan Democrats in the 1970s and 1980s,” he says, “because they came to believe that liberals wanted to benefit other people—the blacks, the Latinos—at their expense. We’ve just gotten them back. And now we’re saying to working people, we have to insure other people at your expense. This will destroy the Democratic Party and progressive politics for 30 years.”

At that meeting with columnists a few weeks ago, Pelosi estimated that at most there were 20 Democrats in her caucus who might support an excise tax. The White House appears to be banking on a wholesale conversion of House Dems. But it’s unclear whether Obama’s alterations to the tax—which also include not counting dental and vision benefits as taxable and easing the tax for firms with higher health-care costs due to the age or gender of their employees—will win over Democrats on the House side. According to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, the White House did not brief the House Democrats regarding its intentions on the excise tax until after the plan was devised. And during a White House conference call about the overall proposal, economic aide Jason Furman was asked if the administration had attempted to work out an excise tax deal with the House Democrats before releasing the plan. He replied that “everyone would appreciate it” if the Obama proposal led to lower premiums. In other words, no.

The immediate reaction from House Democrats on Monday was mixed. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) says, “”I still don’t like the excise tax but I think again the President listened to critics and tried to respond. He significantly increased the threshold—both the individual and family threshold—and he pushed out to 2018 when it would kick in. Those are very substantial concessions to those of us who are uncomfortable with the approach and I think we need to give him a fair shake at looking at that and seeing if that would work.” Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), the co-chair of the House progressive caucus, was non-committal. “It appears that the President has reached 80 percent towards the House,” she notes, but adds “there’s absolutely no detail.”

It appears that the White House may be quasi-sticking it to the House Democrats. On other fronts, Obama’s proposal did more to render the Senate bill more to their liking—by boosting provisions that will make insurance more affordable for families and individuals, by strengthening insurance protections for consumers, by dumping the Nebraska sweetener, and by setting up a new federal authority that will help states regulate insurance premiums. (The Obama proposal says nothing about the difference between the House and Senate bills concerning how far to go in restricting funding for plans that could include coverage of abortions.) But the White House is saying the House Ds will have to swallow the excise tax in some form.

That could bring the Democratic Party to a dramatic Tarantino-like stand-off. Can the House Dems accept the modified excise tax as the price of passing health care reform? Will they balk and force the White House and the Senate Dems to yield? Or will the Cadillac crash into a ditch and explode? For health care reform to become law, someone in the Democratic Party is going to have to blink.

Additional reporting by Nick Baumann.

David Corn is Mother Jones’ Washington bureau chief.