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Foundry Workers Strike to Save Their Healthcare

Friday, March 25th, 2011

david baconBerkeley, Calif.—A strike of more than 450 workers in one of the largest foundries on the west coast brought production to a halt Sunday night, at Pacific Steel Castings.  The work stoppage, which began at midnight, has continued with round-the-clock picketing at the factory gates in West Berkeley.

Local 164B of the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union (GMP) has been negotiating a new labor agreement at Pacific Steel for several months. The old agreement expired on Sunday night.

The strike was caused by demands from the company’s owners for concessions and takeaway proposals in contract negotiations. Those include:

  • requiring workers to pay at least 20% of the cost of their medical insurance, amounting to about $300 per month per employee.
  • a wage freeze for the first two years of the agreement, and tiny raises after that.
  • eliminating the ability of workers to use their seniority to bid for overtime, allowing criteria including speedup, discrimination and favoritism.
david_bacon_strike_3222011-432x248

Striking Pacific Steel Castings workers on Berkeley's new picket line, outside their foundry on Tuesday, March 22, 2011. (Photo by David Bacon)

“All eight other foundries in the Bay Area have agreed to a fair contract,” said Ignacio De La Fuente, GMP international vice-president. “Workers at Pacific Steel haven’t had a raise in the last two years, in order to help the company pay for increases in health plan costs.  Pacific Steel is now alone among the rest in trying to make its workers give back $300 a month.”

The $300/month would mean an approximately 10 percent cut in wages for most workers at the foundry.

Joel Soto, a member of the union’s negotiating committee, has worked eight years at Pacific Steel, and has a wife, 2-year-old child and another on the way.  Soto said, “We’ve been trying to save money for a house. If we have to give up $300 a month, we’ll have to continue renting.  My wife and I both support our parents, and that $300 cut is what we’re able to give them now that they’re old.  And with my wife pregnant, we can’t do without that medical care.”

Benito Navarro has 10 years at the foundry, and a wife and son. “That $300 is what I pay for my car to get to work. I’m the only one in my family working, so if we don’t  have that money, I’ll have to give up the car.  But I’d rather eat than drive.”

On both Monday and Tuesday dozens of Berkeley police, with helmets and face shields, shoved and hit strikers as they attempted to help the company bring trucks full of castings out of its struck facility. On Tuesday, one striker, Norma Garcia, who is seven months pregnant, was struck in the abdomen and taken to a hospital.

“It is inexcusable that Berkeley is spending precious municipal resources on providing protection for this business, and opening the city to liability through these unprovoked actions by police against strikers,” said De La Fuente.

“That violence isn’t necessary,” added Soto. “We’re just struggling for our rights. I wouldn’t be so surprised to see this in other cities, but Berkeley?”  Another worker showed the swelling on his arm he said was caused by a blow from a police baton.

Workers feel additionally betrayed by the company because they and their union testified before the Berkeley City Council three years ago.  They urged the city to draft environmental regulations that would allow the foundry to continue operating while installing needed pollution control equipment.

Pacific Steel Casting Co. is a privately held corporation, the third-largest steel foundry in the United States. Its large corporate customers include vehicle manufacturers, like Petebilt Corp., and big oil companies, including BARCO.  The company has been very productive in recent years, despite the recession. It chose not to comment.

About the Author: David Bacon is writer, photographer and former union organizer. He is the author of Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (2008), Communities Without Borders (2006), and The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the US/Mexico Border (2004). His website is at dbacon.igc.org.

This Blog Originally Appeared In These Times on March 23, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

NFL Lockout Could Cost $160 Million, 115,000 Jobs

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Image: James ParksIf the National Football League owners lock out the players next season, not only will millions of fans not have games to watch on Sunday afternoon, but more than 115,000 jobs could be lost, according to a new study.

The 32 NFL teams employ on average 3,739 people each, including players, concession workers and office staff. If the lockout lasts a long time, layoffs are likely and many of those jobs would not come back, said Jesse David, senior vice president of the economic consulting firm Edgeworth Economics, who conducted a study of the impact of a lockout for the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). Check out a summary of the study here.

Not only are the players affected, but the jobs of more than 25,000 concession workers at stadiums across the country are threatened by the lockout. (See video above.)

In a telephone press conference this morning, David and NFLPA official George Atallah said each NFL home game generates on average $20 million for the team and the community. A lockout could cost each of the 32 NFL cities. as much as $160 million, they said.

“A lockout would have an impact beyond the players,” Atallah said.

We want to raise public consciousness of the effect [on communities] if the owners lock out the players.

The NFLPA has joined with the other workers in the stadiums and the rest of the union movement to fight management’s greed. Last month, the NFLPA announced that its members will fully affiliate with all AFL-CIO state federations and the central labor councils where their NFL teams are based.

The owners terminated the collective bargaining agreement two years ago because, they say, it isn’t working for them. But they refuse to provide audited financial information to explain what is wrong in a business that generated $9 billion in 2009 during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The owners are demanding that the players give back $1 billion, although not one team has lost money. They also want players to pay for team travel and the cost of running practice facilities.

On top of that, the owners have threatened to make the players pay for their own health care in case of a lockout. As it is, management provides only five years of health care coverage after players retire. Players’ NFL careers average only 3.4 years and many retire with a range of serious health problems. Not many people would argue that facing a 325-pound lineman running at full speed over and over could be dangerous to your health

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris

If health care shouldn’t be mandatory, let’s go after car insurance next

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerThis week in a Pensacola, FL courtroom, lawyers representing the Attorney Generals of at least 19 states will argue about the recently passed national health insurance plan that requires all citizens to have health insurance. [BTW, this is a Workplace911 topic because the majority of funding of health care continues to come from the workplace]

Think of it as tea party heaven. The draconian effort to force health care on all US citizens will finally get it’s day in court. Yippee.

But why stop here? I’d like to see the same government-funded lawyers, ah don’t you love all those libertarians using public-funded civic servants to stop public funding of health care as an unnecessary burden? Did anyone ever think to use private lawyers to fight this case? Apparently there are still many places where modern day libertarians are comfy living on the dole. I think there is a word for that, socialist.

But I digress, I’d like them to go after car insurance next.

Why should law-abiding citizens be forced to have auto insurance? It’s crazy, unnecessary and not at all what our founding fathers had in mind.

Mandatory car insurance? Are you kidding me? Let’s let the free market handle it.

Sue, baby, sue. Just please be sure to make auto insurance your next target. Please do it for us.

Okay, that was all a bit tongue-in-cheek, although for the life of me I don’t get that saying. Where else is my tongue supposed to be? And speaking of tongues, I wish those Attorneys General would stifle theirs.

Let’s look at my car insurance analogy for a moment. What if car insurance was optional? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to get on the road knowing that if someone hit me and it was 100% their fault, I would still have to sue them to get any compensation for the damage that they created.

If you thought riding the bumper cars at the state fair was fun, wait until you see our highways without auto insurance.

I know health care is different, because if someone gets a heart attack and ends up in the hospital it has nothing to do with me. It’s just between them and the government that will have to pay their hospital bills. Wait, it does have something to do with me. Wait, it has everything to do with me.

I suddenly realized that libertarians are against the government until there is a fire. Or until there is a lawsuit they’d like to file. Or until they get sick. Cut a tea partier and I think you’ll find a socialist just under the surface. Because you never hear these people talk about who will pay for all the uncovered medical problems that people will face in their hoped for new utopia.

Wait a minute. I’ve lived in their utopia, huge numbers of people unable to afford health insurance and the rest of us picking up the tab.

Which got me thinking. What America really needs right now is a better libertarian, because the current brand is pretty much indistinguishable from any socialist that I ever met.

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Court Blocks Hikes Sought by Massachusetts Health Insurance Corps.

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

A Massachusetts court yesterday blocked premium increases—some as high as 40 percent—sought by six state health insurers. The action by the Suffolk Superior Court was the second time the insurance companies’ bid to boost rates was rejected. The state Division of Insurance rejected the rate hikes last month, calling them “excessive.”

The insurance companies then filed suit claiming the state has no authority to block the premium increases and sought an injunction to prevent the state from regulating premiums until the suit comes to trial. The judge rejected the request.

In an interview with the Boston Globe, Gov. Deval Patrick (D) praised the court’s decision.

Unless insurers can give us a good reason, when everything else is flat, that they deserve 20 percent, 30 percent and in some cases 40 percent increases, they’re going to be denied.

The judge said the Massachusetts companies must exhaust all their administrative appeals within the Insurance Division before the suit over the state’s ability to regulate premium costs can go forward.

The case is drawing national attention because, in 2006, Massachusetts passed a health care reform law that has several similar provisions to the recently enacted national health care reform law, including regulating premium increases.

In February, when Anthem Blue Cross in California announced it was raising premiums by as much as 39 percent, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said, “Too many Americans are at the whim of private, for-profit insurance companies.”

Anthem Blue Cross’ parent company, WellPoint, posted $4.9 billion in profits in 2009. Sebelius said health insurance companies like WellPoint “are raking in billions in profits each year, while policyholders struggle to make ends meet in this tough economy.” In a letter to Anthem President Leslie Margolin, she demanded the company provide justification for the increases.

The extraordinary increases are up to 15 times faster than inflation. Your company’s strong financial position makes these rate increases even more difficult to understand.

Following public outcry, the company agreed to postpone the rate hikes until May, pending a review by an outside actuary appointed by the state insurance commissioner.

*This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO on April 13, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.

So, What's In the Reconciliation Bill?

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

The President signed the Senate health care bill into law at noon today.

This year, over 4 million small businesses will get tax credits worth up to 35% of their health care costs. This year, seniors will get $250 towards closing their coverage donut hole. This year, young Americans will be able to stay on their parent’s insurance plan until they are 26. This year, lifetime caps on benefits will be a thing of the past. And this year, the people with pre-existing conditions who can’t get health care now at any price will be able to buy into high-risk pools until the exchanges are set up in 2014.

But we are not done. Right after the House passed the health care bill on Sunday, they passed a package of improvements that now head to the Senate for an up-or-down vote.

The fixes heading to the Senate are mostly focused on making health care affordable to middle class families.

First, the package vastly improves the excise tax on “Cadillac” insurance plans, raising the threshold at which a plan will be affected to $10,200 for individual plans and $27,500 for family coverage. It also delays the implementation of the tax until 2018. As a result, the burden on middle tax families will be dramatically reduced.

To make up for the loss in revenue, the fixes broaden the Medicare payroll tax on on rich investors, taxing net investment income for those who make more than $250,000 per year.

And second, the package increases the subsidies available in the exchanges for middle class families and lowers their cost sharing. With the package, a lower percentage of a family’s income will be spent on health care costs – both premiums and out of pocket.

And there are more provisions in the package that would help broad swaths of the American public:

  • The package fully closes the donut hole for seniors over time
  • It freezes Medicare Advantage overpayments to private insurers and requires private insurers to pay 85% of money in to benefits in Medicare Advantage, to match the levels for all insurance plans in the health care bill
  • It strikes the deals Senators like Ben Nelson received and replaces them with increased Medicaid funding to all states
  • And it funds student loans for millions of young Americans

The Senate, after a string of favorable parliamentary rulings, is expected to take up the improvements under budget reconciliation rules today, with the goal of a final vote at the end of this week before the Easter recess.

*This post originally appeared in Health Care For America Now on March 23, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jason Rosenbaum is a writer and musician currently residing in Washington D.C. He is interested in the intersection of politics and culture, media consolidation issues, and making sense out of our foreign policy disasters. He currently works for Health Care for America Now and he is also the webmaster for The Seminal.

What Health Reform Will Do for America - Two Examples

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Two headlines today highlight glaring problems in our health care system that would be fixed if health reform passes.

First, from Pennsylvania, the New York Times headlines “Big Insurance Rate Increase for Pennsylvania Poor”:

Facing a sharp rise in costs, Pennsylvania has almost doubled the monthly bill for a state health insurance program for poor people who do not qualify for Medicaid and are on a waiting list for a less costly option.

On March 1, the cost of the plan rose to about $600 a month, up from $313 a month, for the roughly 2,400 state residents on the waiting list.

Established in 2002, Pennsylvania’s state insurance program, called AdultBasic, covers adults ages 19 to 65 with incomes lower than twice the federal poverty level, or about $21,672 for a single person, at a cost to participants of about $36 per month. About 39,000 people are enrolled in AdultBasic.

About 390,000 other people are on a waiting list to join the AdultBasic program. While they wait, the state gives them the option to pay for the same insurance at a higher rate. It is the cost for members of the waiting list that rose on March 1 to about $600 a month.

Health reform solves this problem.

For families who make 133% of the Federal Poverty Level or less – about $24,000 per year – health reform would allow them to get on Medicaid. Those families who make more than that – up to 400% of the FPL or about $73,000 per year – will be able to purchase heavily subsidized insurance in the Exchanges.

For families making between 133% FPL and 200% FPL ($24,000 – $36,000 per year) – the people affected by Pennsylvania’s rate increase above – their average cost for insurance, both premiums and out of pocket, will be [pdf] around $63 per month for families at 133% up to $244 per month for families at 200%.

The next headline is from Kaiser Health News, “Drug Prices Rise For Seniors Who Reach Medicare Part D Coverage Gap”:

Seniors who hit the coverage gap in their Medicare prescription drug plans and must use their own money to buy drugs are facing price increases that are far outpacing inflation, a new study finds.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, prices paid by enrollees in standalone Part D plans who enter the coverage gap increased 5 percent or more since January 2009 for half of 10 brand-name drugs most commonly used by seniors. That’s almost twice the rate of inflation over the same period.

For example, the price of Actonel, a treatment for osteoporosis, increased 8 percent, from $91 per month in 2009 to $98 per month in 2010. Meanwhile, the prices for both Aricept, an Alzheimer’s medication, and Plavix, a drug used to prevent blood clots, both increased by 7 percent during the same period. Aricept’s prices rose from $184 to $198 while Plavix’s rose from $142 to $152. Lipitor, a cholesterol medication, was the only drug surveyed that decreased in price, from slightly more than $86 to just under $86 per month.

The rising prices are part of a longer is sufficient longer-term trend. Between January 2006 and January 2010, the analysis showed, prices of drugs bought by seniors who hit the coverage gap increased 20 to 25 percent for Lipitor, Plavix, Nexium, a drug for acid-reflux, and Lexapro, a medication for depression and anxiety; 39 percent for Actonel, and 41 percent for Aricept. Over the same period, inflation has increased 9.2 percent while prices for medical care have surged 16.1 percent.

Health reform solves this problem, too. Immediately after passage of the bill, seniors will get immediate relief that starts closing that coverage gap. The gap will be completely closed as health reform is implemented.

There are a few more noteworthy immediate affects of reform as well:

  • Prohibit pre-existing condition exclusions for children in all new plans;
  • Provide immediate access to insurance for uninsured Americans who are uninsured because of a pre-existing condition through a temporary high-risk pool; (this will help with the Pennsylvania situation as well)
  • Prohibit dropping people from coverage when they get sick in all individual plans;
  • Offer tax credits to small businesses to purchase coverage;
  • Eliminate lifetime limits and restrictive annual limits on benefits in all plans;
  • Require plans to cover an enrollee’s dependent children until age 26;
  • Require new plans to cover preventive services and immunizations without cost-sharing;
  • Ensure consumers have access to an effective internal and external appeals process to appeal new insurance plan decisions;
  • Require premium rebates to enrollees from insurers with high administrative expenditures and require public disclosure of the percent of premiums applied to overhead costs.

Reform will also help people like 11-year-old Marcelas Owens, who’s mother died because she didn’t have insurance:

And Matt Masterson’s son, who’s pre-existing condition makes him virtually uninsurable, a near death sentence as soon as he’s kicked of his father’s insurance plan in a few years:

Finally, today, the House Energy and Commerce Committee came out with numbers on how reform will help people in every Congressional district.

The vote is coming in the House. It’s likely to take place this weekend. Without reform, none of these problems get solved, and the insurance companies will get to continue their business practices of denying care and carving out coverage while making record profits.

It’s time to for the House to decide, and you should pick up the phone and help them.

*This post originally appeared in Health Care For America Now on March 17, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jason Rosenbaum is a writer and musician currently residing in Washington D.C. He is interested in the intersection of politics and culture, media consolidation issues, and making sense out of our foreign policy disasters. He currently works for Health Care for America Now and he is also the webmaster for The Seminal.

VIDEO: 5,000 Activists Take the Fight for Reform Right to Insurance Companies' Doorstep

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

In DC yesterday, thousands of union members and health care activists from across the progressive movement took the fight for health care reform right to insurance companies’ doorstep. The massive protest started with a march from Dupont Circle to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at 22nd and M Street, NW, led by more than 50 major labor organizations, health care reform activists, faith leaders, and 25 survivors of health insurance abuse.

Protesters flooded the streets and surrounded the site of the insurance lobbyists’ annual conference, where progressive leaders issued a peaceful citizens’ arrest of the insurance companies–while the dozens of law enforcement officials tried to rein in the huge crowd. Several progressive leaders who stood up on behalf of reform were escorted away by police (including SEIU’s Anna Burger and Dr. Toni L. Lewis).

It was truly a magnificent show of solidarity for reform. Watch this video footage for a taste of yesterday’s huge action:

More ways you can relive the March 9th citizens’ arrest of insurance companies after the jump.

Photos:

On Twitter:

  • The hashtag we created for today’s action, #m9, has been blowing up on Twitter all day. It’s been Twittered over 600 times so far, and it’s still going strong. Read the #m9 tweets here.
  • We live tweeted today’s action–check it out here.

Via media coverage & blogs:

Recap of what went down during the march on SEIU.org here.

More coverage also at Huffington Post, NY Times, Washington Post, DCist

More than 10,000 people have taken online action against insurance lobbyists on www.citizensposse.com, and sent over 2,500 faxes to the insurance companies’ fax machines so far. We know not everyone could be in DC to confront insurance lobbyists yesterday, but it’s not too late to do your part by spreading the message.

*This post originally appeared in SEIU Blog on March 10, 2010. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.
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