Posts Tagged ‘healthcare’
Monday, August 19th, 2013
For many seniors, growing older means facing new kinds of stress—such as fragile health, a tight budget on a fixed income, or the travails of living alone.
And for the people who care for the aging, the stress can be just as severe. When her client is going through a rough time, one domestic worker says she lives through every minute of it, too: “Sometimes we stay there for five days…and we don’t know what’s outside…You cannot leave the job.”
Stories like this one, recorded as part of a survey of New York’s care workers, form the invisible pillar of an evolving industry that is making the private home the center of public health, and in the process, reshaping our relationships of family, work, community and social service. Yet the home care workforce, which is driven largely by poor women of color, mirrors inequities embedded in the low-wage economy. At work, caregivers manage the lives of our loved ones while often facing exploitation and abuse, and after a long day of delivering comfort to vulnerable clients, many struggle themselves to cope with ingrained poverty their communities.
To open a conversation about the economics and ethics of caregiving, ALIGN (Alliance for a Greater New York) has partered with the national advocacy campaign Caring Across Generations, along with various community and labor groups, to study New York City’s more than 150,000 home care workers. The surveys and investigations published by ALIGN reveal structural problems in the industry and identify potential for reforms that work for those who give and those who receive care.
In New York, the home care industry is booming as more seniors opt to live at home rather than in institutions. Thousands across the city earn their living by taking care of seniors and people with disabilities. Overall, according to the study, the sector “will be the single biggest driver of employment in the city in the coming years.”
On a typical day in New York, these workers, mostly women of color and immigrants, act as both therapists and companions, managing medications, bathing and feeding, and helping seniors feel dignified even on the days they can’t get out of bed. On top of this, the workers have to negotiate with stressed families about hours and pay–and typically take home low wages that keep them and their families mired in poverty.
And yet it turns out that consumers and providers of care want the same things. ALIGN’ssurveys of New Yorkers, including both caregivers and care “consumers,” show strong concern about decent pay for workers, along with retirement and healthcare benefits. These labor conditions are many cases dictated by insurance companies and Medicaid, not by the families receiving care.
The fact that consumers and caregivers both recognize that labor should be fairly valued “really does challenge this zero-sum notion that good jobs and affordable care can’t coexist,” says ALIGN policy analyst Maya Pinto. “And it suggests that people understand the connection between the quality of care and the quality of jobs.”
The converse is also true: When workers are miserable, it shows up in their work. Nearly 40 percent of people receiving care complained that the quality of services was “fair” to “very poor.”
But from a workers’ standpoint, this is the consequence of a job that treats them poorly. One worker described her situation bluntly: “It is a very difficult job at times because there are patients who think the home care workers are slaves.” Workers reported being subject to verbal and physical abuse, sometimes racial slurs, on the job.
Nonetheless, many care workers feel deep devotion to their job—they just want to their labor to be appreciated and duly compensated. “I do my work well…and the person I care for is very satisfied with my work,” said one worker. “It is very dignified work but it needs to be paid better.”
A priority across all respondent groups was providing appropriate training and monitoring–indicating that workers, contrary to stereotypes, are not instinctively resistant to greater accountability and oversight, and that all stakeholder groups realize the depth and complexity of responsibilities involved in caring for vulnerable seniors.
One area of divergence between consumers and workers was the importance placed on career advancement. The issue was a higher priority for caregivers, especially domestic workers who serve seniors but lack the official credentials of “formal sector” workers—a category that includes certified “home health aides” and “home attendants,” and who are generally employed through an agency. Lacking the formal qualifications associated with specialized, better-paying positions, domestic worker-caregivers (who are disproportionately low-income immigrant women, both documented and undocumented) often remain stuck in the most grueling, precarious jobs.
Some of New York’s privately employed home care workers benefit from a recently enacted domestic workers’ “Bill of Rights” that provides stronger workplace protections and wage standards than does federal labor law. However, domestic workers overall, who include nannies and housekeepers as well as direct caregivers in private households, still suffer from poverty, discrimination and exploitation. According to ALIGN’s survey of caregivers’ household incomes, about nine in 10 domestic workers earn less than $25,000 annually, compared to six in 10 formal sector workers. That is, despite the strides that domestic workers made with the Bill of Rights, in material terms, they still lag behind those employed through agencies or with more formal credentials.
ALIGN recommends several reforms to ensure dignity for both caregivers and people receiving care. More training and certification options–such as programs equipping domestic workers with emergency medical skills–would expand workers’ access to more formal and higher-paying positions and lift up standards for the workforce overall. On a policy-making level, the report calls for a expansion of publicly funded insurance programs so care workers, many of whom cannot afford medical coverage, can safeguard their own health as they care for others.
Since so many families struggle to pay the cost of community-based elder care, especially if they fall outside the income-eligibility bracket for Medicaid, the report recommends a more comprehensive publicly supported insurance program as an alternative to private long-term care plans. Noting that the current rollout of the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid overhaul present an opportunity for fudamental reforms in home care funding, ALIGN suggests creating a broadly accessible long-term care benefit that would be funded through payroll contributions, like Social Security.
The report also highlights why workers need not just laws but organization and collective bargaining power. In recent years, SEIU and the National Domestic Workers Alliance have organized tens of thousands of workers to win fairer contracts for workers and to press for reforms to extend labor protections for care workers. Meanwhile, some workers are changing how care is delivered in their communities by forming their own cooperatives.
ALIGN cites the worker-owned cooperative model as a system that can empower caregivers, by enabling them not only to share in the ownership and profits of the enterprise but also to access training, negotiate better working conditions, and “improve compensation for workers while keeping the cost of care relatively low.” One impressive case study is New York’s Cooperative Home Care Associates, one of the country’s leading cooperatives with about 2,000 workers, half of whom own a part of the business.
Despite the sometimes harsh conditions, Vilma Rozen, a 52 year-old home care worker, remains unshakably devoted to her job and embraces the challenges. “If you want to take care of elderly people, you have to keep your feelings very in touch [with] the person, because the elderly people in some cases are very alone and very depend[ent],” she says. At the same time, she adds, many seniors “suffer so much, because the home-carers, they have a very sad life, very underpaid… They don’t have happiness.” Rozen, a native of Costa Rica, says that if Americans want to place their elders in the care of attentive, dedicated people, “they need to change the system.”
Whether they give or receive care, everyone wants dignity–both seniors and their aides want to look forward to seeing each other every day in a relationship of mutual respect. The labor issues in senior care show the consequences of neglecting shared needs, but also open space for creating a fairer system of care, by making the home a more welcoming workplace.
This article originally appeared on Working in These Times on August 17, 2013. Re-posted with permission.
About the Authory: Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times, a contributor to Working In These Times, and an editor at CultureStrike. She is also a co-producer of Asia Pacific Forum on Pacifica’s WBAI.
Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013
While hospitals are better known for treating injuries than causing them, statistics show that for workers, hospitals can be a dangerous place. A new report put out by Public Citizen found that in 2010, healthcare workers (including hospital staff) reported 653,900 workplace injuries and illnesses. That’s approximately 152,000 more (a 432 percent higher rate) than the industry with the second highest number of injuries—manufacturing—even though the healthcare sector is only 134 percent larger than the manufacturing sector.
Part of the reason that healthcare workers’ injuries may have flown under the radar is because of the type of injury involved. Unlike manufacturing and construction, where injuries are more likely to result in death, healthcare workers mainly suffer non-lethal musculoskeletal disorders. The rate of musculoskeletal disorders among workers in the healthcare industry is seven times higher than among other workers—a trend that Suzy Harrington, director of the American Nurses Association’s Department for Health, Safety and Wellness, calls “alarming.” Although these conditions aren’t fatal, if untreated, they can lead to permanent disability.
The most common cause of musculoskeletal injuries for healthcare workers is lifting patients by hand instead of using a mechanical device. Yet while ten states, including Washington, California and Maryland, have dramatically reduced injuries by passing safe patient handling laws, which mandate that hospitals “furnish mechanical lifting and transfer devices,” no nationwide standard exists to protect healthcare workers.
Another major danger for healthcare workers is workplace violence. Workers in the healthcare sector suffer 45 percent of all incidents of workplace violence, and nursing home employees are especially affected, with seven times the average rate of injury from workplace violence. Violence in medical settings may arise from interactions with belligerent patients, who may be drunk, drugged or emotionally disturbed. Yet the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has never made a rule to require healthcare facilities to implement safeguards for their employees (such as metal detectors, security guards or even locked doors to isolate patients in guarded areas.) This is part of a larger problem: There are no federal OSHA rules requiring employers to ensure workplaces are safe from violence.
But workplace safety advocates say that OSHA’s particular lack of focus on the healthcare sector is symptomatic of the agency’s slow response to the shift to a service-based economy.
“OSHA has not been able to keep pace with the way the economy has shifted over the last 20 years,” says Keith Wrightson, worker safety and health advocate for progressive watchdog group Public Citizen. “The economy has shifted away from one that is industrially-based to one that is service-based. They are hardly any rules that directly affect the healthcare industry. We counted them out and there are only nine rules, but if you look at construction and manufacturing, there are literally hundreds—and rightly so, those industries are highly dangerous.”
OSHA, for its part, insists that it is very concerned about safety in the healthcare industry.
“Employers have the legal responsibility to provide workplaces free of recognized hazards. They must take ownership over this issue, and our role is to see that they do,” says Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA David Michaels. “OSHA has a variety of tools at its disposal to hold employers accountable for safety and health, and we are committed to improving safety and health conditions for our nation’s healthcare workers. Under this administration, OSHA has done more than any previous administration to address the issues that persist in this industry.”
In response to questions from Public Citizen, OSHA elaborated on these efforts, explaining that it has instituted recent programs “to encourage employers in hospital and healthcare facilities to reduce hazards. For example, Assistant Secretary for OSHA David Michaels launched an OSHA initiative to work with hospitals and nursing homes to recognize the close link between patient safety and worker safety.”
However, when it came to passing concrete rules regulating the musculoskeletal injuries that plague the healthcare industry, OSHA ran up against a major stumbling block: Congress. In 2000, OSHA passed a rule aimed at reducing musculoskeletal injuries by making employers adopt measures shown to reduce ergonomic injuries. But in 2001, a Republican-led Congress repealed the rule. OSHA has since attempted to use the general duties clause under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to cite employers whose ergonomic conditions present a clear danger to workers, but that poses a trickier legal case to make than if there was were a specific rule, and in the past two fiscal years OSHA has only done so seven times, according to the report put out by Public Citizen.
In response to questions from Public Citizen about whether or not the agency intended to issue a another ergonomic rule, OSHA said, “At this time, OSHA is not pursuing a rule on safe patient handling for healthcare workers. We continue to be concerned about this serious issue and promote sensible solutions through the NEP [National Emphasis Program] guidance and outreach activities. However, OSHA does not have resources to move forward on all rulemaking necessary to address all the pressing workplace health and safety hazards.”
Rules, however, are only the first step. For instance, while OSHA has rules in place to prevent healthcare workers from being accidentally stabbed, they still suffer an alarming 400,000 stab wounds a year from surgical instruments and needles. Public Citizen’s Wrightston says that such injury rates are unnecessarily high because OSHA, with its limited budget of only $565 million, has few resources—and what resources it does have are not focused nearly enough on healthcare workers, he says.
“OSHA has devoted relatively little effort to addressing the safety risks in healthcare compared to other highly afflicted industries,” says Wrightson. “For example, health care workers outnumber construction workers more than 2 to 1, but OSHA conducts only about one-twentieth as many inspections of health care facilities as construction sites.”
Indeed, statistics show that OSHA conducted 52,179 inspections of the construction industry in 2010, which employs 9.1 million workers and saw 74,950 injuries that caused workers to take at least one day off work. In comparison, last year OSHA conducted only 2,540 inspections of the healthcare industry, though it employs more than twice as many workers and saw 176,380 such injuries.
Some of the differential is due to the higher mortality rate for construction injuries, which cause five times as many deaths on the job. However, according to the Public Citizen report, “Even if fatalities were the only factor considered, healthcare inspections would need to be increased by about a factor of four to bring them into parity with construction sector inspections.”
Another gap in OSHA coverage, advocates say, was built into the agency’s NEP iniative, which was created in 2011 to focus on nursing home occupational safety—but not hospitals. “We want the National Emphasis Program to focus on hospitals. OSHA could do this right now with the swipe of pen,” says Wrightson. “The reason that they have not concentrated on hospitals is due to industry lobbyists.”
OSHA did not answer Working In These Times’ inquiries about why the National Emphasis Program (NEP) has not been expanded to target hospitals, but did point to its educational programs on workplace safety for hospitals.
Advocates insist, however, that Congress and OSHA must go beyond education to better enforcement and rulemaking in order to prevent injuries in the healthcare workplace. At the end of the day, advocates say, those that suffer the most from injuries to healthcare workers are patients.
“[Musco-skeletal injuries are] a primary reason healthcare workers leave direct patient care,” says Harrington. “We can’t afford to lose healthcare workers to injury and still meet rising demands for healthcare services.”
Article originally posted on Working In These Times on July 22, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times.
Sunday, April 14th, 2013
With 12 votes needed, only 11 members of the Philadelphia City Council were willing to override Mayor Michael Nutter’s veto of the sick leave bill. For the second time in three years, corporate interests defeated a measure that would allow more than 180,000 Philadelphians to finally earn sick days.
“I’m very disappointed,” said city councilman Bill Greenlee, who tried but failed to get the 12 votes needed to override Mayor Nutter’s veto. “I’m particularly disappointed for the 180,000 workers who could have had a benefit that other cities are providing.”
Instead of listening to the people of Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter sided with business interests: specifically the Philadelphia-based ALEC corporation Comcast, who spend more than $100,000 opposing sick leave in 2011 and is a big contributor to Mayor Nutter’s campaign.
“We’re not surprised the mayor vetoed this….he hasn’t exactly been a champion of workers,” said Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth McElroy. “The majority of the City Council and the majority of Philadelphians wanted this—it’s the right thing to do, and we’ll keep working on it.”
Comcast also contributed $3,000 to Councilman Brian O’Neill and $1,500 to Councilman Denny O’Brien, both who voted against the sick leave bill and refused to override Mayor Nutter’s veto. All of this despite the fact that 77% of Philadelphians favor the sick leave policy.
Not all hope is lost, however. Working America worked with a broad coalition to drive thousands of messages and phone calls to Mayor Nutter and members of the Philadelphia City Council. And while sick leave proposals move forward in Portland, Oregon, New York City and elsewhere, there will be more pressure on city officials as time goes on.
The fight isn’t over for bill sponsor Councilman Greenlee either:
“I still believe in and want to have earned paid sick leave in Philadelphia. So we’ll see what the future holds on that,” he said.
This article was posted on the AFL-CIO on April 11, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Doug Foote is the Social Media and Campaign Specialist at Working America. He joined Working America in 2011 after serving as New Media Director for the successful 2010 reelection campaign of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).
Wednesday, March 13th, 2013
UPDATE: UFCW union leaders in New England announced a tentative settlement with Stop & Shop March on 4, following marathon negotiating sessions over the previous few day. Details of the settlement are being withheld pending formal presentation of the new contract to union members for a ratification vote. According to the union’s special Stop & Shop web site, the union will announce a date for the ratification vote in a matter of days.
Union leaders and grocery chain managers are back at the negotiating table in New England today in a bitter and messy attempt to adapt existing health insurance programs to the new realities of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a Obamacare. The negotiators—from the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union and the Stop & Shop grocery chain—face a March 3 deadline that could provoke a large scale strike or lockout affecting 40,000 workers.
Standing in the way of an agreement at this point are certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act set to go into effect in 2014, says Rick Charette, president of UFCW Local 1445, based in Dedham, Mass. Charette—who leads a coalition of five UFCW locals representing grocery workers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Hampshire—says the problems appear intractable, and negotiators are desperate to find a solution.
“I’ve been around labor contract negotiations for 40 years and this is the worst I’ve ever seen,” Charette said in an interview this week with Working In These Times. “It’s a nightmare” that has been created not by corporate pressure to cut labor costs, but by the fumbling bureaucratic requirements of federal health law, he says.
Stop & Shop faces increased health insurance costs as high as $250 million over three years should all 40,000 UFCW workers continue receiving the same health care insurance benefits as under the current contract (which expired Feb. 17 but has been extended for two weeks), according to Charette. The increased costs are mostly created, he explains, when the Obamacare requirement that medical benefit caps be eliminated prompts insurance companies to raise rates to cover the greater costs.
“What is just crazy about this is that Stop & Shop is one of the few food retailers out there that has had good insurance for part-timers—most grocery companies don’t provide anything at all,” says Charette. “It punishes the companies that are trying [to do] the right thing.”
Stop & Shop’s proposed solution to the problem has been to eliminate coverage for thousands of part-time workers, but UFCW is not ready to agree to that, Charette says. “The theory is that part-timers are, by definition, low-income workers, and therefore they will qualify for government subsidies for individual health insurance under Obamacare. Well, that’s a nice theory, but what does that mean in practice for our members?” he asks. “Nobody seems to know.”
“When we backed Obamacare, we were told that if we had good health insurance and wanted to keep it, we could,” Charette adds. “What happened to that?”
The dilemma for the Stop & Shop worker is indeed a very real and vey difficult one, according to Ken Jacobs, chairman of the University of California, Berkeley’s Labor Center. The same pressures on the low-income, part-time workers in New England are being felt around the country, he says, and the issue will certainly rise in public prominence over the next year, as the 2014 deadline for elimination of caps approaches.
“This is sort a special problem that applies to part-timers who meet the government definition of low-income,” Jacobs says. “The unions that are going to feel it the most are UNITE HERE and UFCW, and some parts of SEIU,” he predicts. Since there is no Obamacare requirement that many part-timers be covered by employer-based insurance plans, many companies will take the path of least resistance and push these workers out into government-subsidized programs for the working poor.
“The issue of health coverage for workers in the food retailing industry has not been created by Obamacare—it has been at the very center of [grocery industry] labor relations for years,” he notes. The 2003 Southern California grocery strike—the largest of its kind in U.S. history—had its origins in health care insurance issues. “And look what happened there,” Jacobs says. “It was a huge strike and the workers lost a lot of their health care benefits.”
“At the end of the day, it may be better for everyone concerned” to eliminate employer-based coverage for most of these low-income grocery workers, says Jacobs. “If the cost is so onerous that the employer cannot compete, then subsidized individual insurance seems to be a logical alternative.”
Any resolution of the New England Stop & Shop insurance issue could set a national precedent in the grocery chain sector, adds Jacobs. Stop & Shop’s parent company is the Dutch-based international retailer Ahold, which owns hundreds of other stores in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. Any settlement in New England could create a model for those other areas, he says, and a company-wide Ahold solution will, in turn, have a knock-on effect for other gigantic chains like Safeway, Kroger and Supervalu.
The potential national impact of the outcome of the negotiation has created intense pressure this week as the New England talks between UFCW and Stop & Shop enter a decisive phase.
Charette tells Working In These Times that the five union locals are planning on mass meetings across the region for this coming weekend. If a settlement is in hand, union leaders will ask for a ratification vote. Otherwise, they will ask for a strike authorization vote and prepare for a huge confrontation. The union leader confessed it was impossible to predict the outcome.
This article was originally posted on the Working In These Times on March 1, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.
Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013
During World War Two, employers were prohibited from raising wages because of wartime Wage and Price controls. With labor in short supply, employers and union leaders sought ways around the government limits and agreed to new health insurance benefits as an alternative to increased compensation. Thus was born our odd system of employer-based health insurance.
That seemed like a good idea at the time because union leaders could achieve through collective bargaining what had been elusive through government reform: health security for their members.
Over the next thirty years or so, health insurance benefits expanded. As more and more workers were covered by private insurance plans provided through their employers, the urgency of winning broad political reforms diminished and labor backing to win universal coverage faded. Our failure to expand the health benefits achieved through collective bargaining to the entire working class eventually left union members in a vulnerable position. At a certain point, union health benefits for the relatively few union members were far more generous than what most workers had. Faced with out-of control health costs employers sought to make cuts and throughout the 90s and 2000s union members increasingly were not able to defend them.
The final result is the very mixed result of ObamaCare, a plan that is sadly not universal and now is actually being used by employers to attack so-called “Cadillac Plans.”
“The United States is alone among industrialized countries in allowing at-will employees to be terminated for arbitrary reasons.”
That lesson shouldn’t be lost as we face what I predict will be the next collective bargaining battleground: the job security provisions of union contracts, including the “just cause” clause.
Instead of waiting for such an attack, we should seize the opportunity to champion passage of “Just Cause” standards into state laws. It’s a labor law reform proposal that will appeal to all workers while putting employers on the defensive.
It’s long overdue. The United States is alone among industrialized countries in allowing at-will employees to be terminated for arbitrary reasons. Governments such as France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom require employers to have a “just cause” to dismiss non-probationary employees. Just cause appeals to basic fairness, just as due process does in court.
Just cause marks the dividing line between employees with job security and “at-will” employees. At-will employees have no job security: they can be fired for a mistake, an argument with a supervisor, a critical comment about the enterprise or management, taking a sick day, a complaint about working conditions or pay, or involvement in outside political campaigns* – all activities that just-cause covered workers can take part in without worry.
One state has passed a law. The Montana Wrongful Discharge from Employment Act was passed in 1987. Applicable to non-union non-probationary employees,
it prohibits discharges without good cause, allows workers to sue for up to four years of back pay, and provides a method for workers to recover attorneys’ fees. Despite fear-mongering by opponents, the Big Sky state’s robust economic growth has not been affected. Statutes in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands also prohibit termination without “good cause.”
Winning “just cause” legislation would certainly not be easy. But building a movement to win it offers union leaders and activists an opportunity to champion an issue that would benefit all workers and also help union growth. Short of state or federal legislation, local unions, CLCs (Central Labor Councils) and workers’ centers could seek to enforce a just cause standard through workers’ rights boards and / or community pressure.
A “just cause” campaign would potentially engage working people at many different levels. One can imagine communities declaring certain areas, “Just Cause Zones” and fighting to enforce it as a community standard with employers. Other supporters could be involved using the proposed legislation as a “litmus test” for labor support in electoral campaigns. Still others could be involved in holding hearings on the importance of achieving a “Just Cause” standard and lobbying for passage with city councils and state legislatures.
If “just cause” campaigns succeed, workers will have more security to participate in union campaigns. Union leaders and organizers will be able to make the point that they are experts at enforcing just cause protections and can provide representation at hearings etc.
Even if campaigns for just cause do not succeed, millions of non-union workers will learn about the concept (especially if campaigns are based on ballot referendums) and the increased security it could bring to their lives. By popularizing the “Just Cause” concept, more workers may respond by thinking, “If we can’t get this important protection through the legislature, let’s get it by forming a union!”
Meanwhile, if employers do seek to roll back the just cause articles in our contracts, union members won’t be in the same position we were with the attacks on health care. Instead, we will have laid important groundwork to win broad public support and the employers’ attack can be parried, perhaps even used to strengthen the broad campaign.
Imagine the labor movement leading a campaign to win Just Cause protections for all workers. The sooner we get started the better!
This article was originally posted on Union Review on January 8, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rand Wilson has worked as a union organizer and labor communicator for more than twenty five years and is currently an organizer with SEIU Local 888 in Boston. Wilson was the founding director of Massachusetts Jobs with Justice. Active in electoral politics, he ran for state Auditor in a campaign to win cross-endorsement (or fusion) voting reform and establish a Massachusetts Working Families Party. He is President of the Center for Labor Education and Research, and is on the board of directors of the ICA Group, the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund and the Center for the Study of Public Policy.
Friday, January 18th, 2013
As if we didn’t already have enough on our plates (having to fend off attacks from the “Fix the Debt” CEOs), now there’s another group of CEOs, the Business Roundtable, telling us we need to “modernize,” a.k.a. cut, Social Security and Medicare benefits by raising the eligibility ages and reducing cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). How helpful.
R.J. Eskow took on the Business Roundtable in his latest blog, How Extreme Is the Business Roundtable? Check Out Its Attack on the Elderly.
Yesterday, Gary Loveman, CEO of Caesars Entertainment Corp. and head of the Roundtable’s “health and retirement committee,” told Politico that “[a]ny effort to address the country’s fiscal problems has to have as a centerpiece reform of its principal entitlement programs.”
Added Loveman: “None of us [CEOs]—very few of us—are ideologically driven. We’re pragmatists….”
“I am encouraged by how relatively easy these remedies really are,” said Loveman. “… (and) they have a tremendously sanguine effect on the government’s fiscal health.”
That’s true. It is pretty easy. Just kick in a few rich people’s doors, seize their belongings…oh, wait. That’s the other extremist scenario. Loveman’s is the one where people who have paid for Social Security and Medicare coverage throughout their working lives must give some of their benefits up—for him and his friends.
These CEOs are the same people cutting back on pensions and retiree health benefits. Now they want working people to have even more economic insecurity in retirement by cutting the few benefits that keep seniors afloat.
Raising the Social Security retirement age is especially damaging. Not only is it a benefit cut, workers 55 and older have the longest bouts of unemployment. The average time unemployed is nearly a year (51.3 weeks, compared to 34.3 weeks for workers younger than 55).
Eskow points out that 8.9% of American seniors already live in poverty, while 5.4% are on the edge. The average Social Security recipient collects $1,164 per month.
Anyone who claims they can cut those benefits by 3%—and use those meager benefits to end elder poverty—is selling snake oil.
Snake oil indeed. There’s nothing more cynical than calling devastating cuts to vital lifelines “modernization proposals.” Working people know the difference.
This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO on 1/17/2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO. Interviewing union musicians was her introduction to the labor movement. Her first job after graduating college was in Syracuse, New York, where she wrote and edited the International Musician, the monthly magazine for the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). Protecting Social Security and Medicare from benefit cuts brought me to Washington, D.C., where she spent two years as a new media coordinator at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. She came to the AFL-CIO in the summer of 2012, just in time to re-elect President Barack Obama. When she’s not tweeting about America’s unions, it’s likely she’s watching Syracuse basketball and football.
Monday, January 7th, 2013
I spent so much time on picket lines as a kid that when I thought my dad’s rules were too strict, I would run to build a sign on a stick and try to talk the neighbor kids into marching around the house with me. I learned early on the power of a picket to protest unfair treatment.
That right is more important today than ever. As our economy has shifted toward a more contingent workforce, companies are increasingly hiring workers as part-time or temporary, or labeling them as independent contractors. This leaves workers more vulnerable to abuse while also shielding companies from accountability. When warehouse workers unpacking Walmart goods in a Walmart-owned warehouse were cheated out of their wages, the retail giant responded that those workers were hired through a temporary agency and are not the company’s responsibility.
These kinds of working conditions make it all the more important that workers be able to share their stories with the public. Consumers have the right to know about the kinds of labor practices they are supporting when they shop at a particular store. In this economy, where workers have so little bargaining power, the ability to picket an employer to expose unfair conditions is more important than ever.
That’s what makes the recent California Supreme Court decision in Ralphs Grocery Co. v. UFCW Local 8 so important. The court upheld two provisions of California law that protect the right of workers to picket. The Moscone Act protects peaceful picketing and communicating about the facts of a labor dispute on “any public street or any place where any person or persons may lawfully be.” Labor Code Section 1138.1 restricts injunctive relief to stop picketing unless a company can show substantial and irreparable injury, the commission of unlawful acts and several other factors. Ralphs sought to invalidate those state statutes, which would have silenced California workers from such peaceful protest.
In upholding California law, the court maintained a critical protection for working people. What is at stake here is far more than where in a shopping center picketers are allowed to stand. The picket line was—and still is—an essential tool in building the American middle class. Workers standing together, making their case in the court of public opinion, helped bring about the eight-hour day, the weekend, prevailing wage, anti-discrimination laws and so many other protections. It also helped working people win wages and benefits that allowed them to buy homes, send their children to college and give back to their community through taxes, service and time.
In essence, the picket sign has enabled generations of working people to achieve the American Dream. Given the economy we face today, it’s time for the next generation to start making signs and marching to demand those same opportunities.
“Why Picket Lines Matter,” by Caitlin Vega, originally appeared on the California Labor Federation’s blog Labor’s Edge. You can also view it on AFL-CIO NOW, posted on January 7, 2013.
Monday, November 26th, 2012
Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter is angry about Obamacare, and he’s taking it out on his employees. The healthcare reform law mandates that, by 2014, employees who work more than 30 hours per week at companies with more than 50 workers must be covered by their employer’s health insurance plan. In light of Obama’s re-election, the pizza magnate announced that he will cut workers’ hours in order to create a part-time workforce and dodge the cost of providing healthcare coverage.
Papa John’s is the third-largest pizza chain in the nation with about 16,500 employees, but the company currently only provides healthcare coverage to one third of its workers. Schnatter claims he wishes all of his employees could be on the company’s healthcare plan, but that rising health insurance costs are prohibitive. He tells ABC Action News, “The good news is 100 percent of the population is going to have health insurance. We’re all going to pay for it.”
Schnatter, who was a supporter of Mitt Romney and helped raise funds for the Republican presidential candidate, started voicing his opposition to the Affordable Care Act in the months leading up to the election. In August, he complained that the reform would cost his company 11-14 cents per pizza or 15-20 cents per order (though Forbes calculates the actual cost would be 3.4-4.6 cents per pizza) and that Papa John’s would pass those costs onto customers by raising pizza prices.
To many, raising pizza prices seems like a more reasonable approach to offsetting some of the costs of healthcare reform than cutting employees’ hours. The public response has been largely, “I’d pay an extra 14 cents per pizza for your employees to have healthcare.” Many have proposed boycotting the company, such as Reddit user goforReaper:
I haven’t had a Papa John’s pizza in months since he first claimed that Obamacare would cause him to raise prices—and I assure you, all of my cheap pizza needs have been fulfilled by other, equally shitty establishments. Reddit, let’s send him a message and stop buying his pizza. His employees deserve decent wages and access to healthcare, and if he doesn’t think so, he can sit with the rest of the Romney camp and circle jerk about how tough their lives are!
It seems Papa John’s is likely to lose more money from the negative public response than from the healthcare reform—Forbes reports that that the company’s shares have dropped 4.2% between Thursday and Monday. But such boycotting risks further harming these workers it aims to defend, as Mediaite points out:
The problem with boycotting Papa John’s (aside from the fact that it’s hard to refuse to buy pizza from a chain you already don’t buy pizza from) is that it actually hurts the employees on whose behalf we’re all outraged. A far better solution would be to send a check for $0.14 to John Schnatter every time you buy a pizza. Concerned citizens could also organize a Tipcott™, wherein they order the cheapest thing on the Papa John’s menu, then give the driver, like, a 100% tip.
On the other end of the spectrum, some have declared strong support for Papa John’s and are trying to use the issue to spark a movement in opposition of the healthcare reform law. In fact, @Reboot_USA started a Facebook campaign declaring Nov. 16 National Papa John’s Appreciation Day, on which Papa John’s supporters visit their local Papa John’s and order a pizza to stand against the “fiscal nightmare” that is Obamacare.
This article was originally posted on Working in These Times on November 16, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Sarah Cobarrubias is a freelance writer and editor at Chicagoista. She lives in Pilsen, IL.
Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
James Vetato planned to spend Black Friday wearing out shoe leather on a picket line at the Southside Walmart in Paducah, Ky.
“Now I’ll be there Thanksgiving night, too,” Vetato said. “Walmart has announced it will be open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving night, which will prevent a lot of the associates from spending the holiday with their families.”
Vetato, 47, is an organizer with OUR Walmart—Organization United for Respect at Walmart—a national association of current and former Walmart employees, several thousand strong, who will be walking picket lines and striking at dozens of Walmart stores across the country on Turkey Day and Black Friday.
OUR Walmart wants to shine a national spotlight on Walmart’s abuse of its workers, Vetato said. The organization chose the day after Thanksgiving because it is the busiest shopping day of the year.
We are fighting to win respect and improve working conditions for all associates.
Vetato, who worked at the store he will be picketing, hopes OUR Walmart will become a union.
Before I worked at Walmart I wasn’t that big on unions. I didn’t think a union was a bad thing. I just didn’t know anything about unions. Now I think every workplace should be unionized.
According to Vetato, OUR Walmart has about 15 members in historic Paducah, where the Tennessee and Ohio rivers merge. “We’re relatively new so we’re not that big. But our numbers are growing.”
Vetato said the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union is providing financial backing and other valuable help to OUR Walmart, some of whose members, including Vetato, have demonstrated at Walmart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
AFL-CIO-affiliated unions support Vetato’s group, too. “We stand in solidarity with the Walmart workers and will be glad to help them in any way we can,” said United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9447 President Jeff Wiggins, who is also president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council.
Vetato said fear is keeping more Walmart workers from joining OUR Walmart.
There aren’t that many jobs around here. But Walmart has pushed people so hard, they have decided enough is enough and they are not going to take it anymore.
Vetato said management drove him to quit the Southside store after two years.
It all started after I was speaking with an associate in the back room who was complaining about the way things were. I said things would be better if everybody stood together and took our problems to management.
A manager overheard the conversation, according to Vetato. “He said he was sick of my kind coming into the store and undermining what he was doing. He doubled my workload and cut my hours.”
But what really made me say ‘enough is enough’ was when he made some inappropriate comments about my 15-year-old daughter. I complained to the store manager and he told me he didn’t have time to micromanage the store.
James Vetato and son.
Vetato has worked at odd jobs since he left Walmart in October 2011. “When I apply some place and say I worked at Walmart and they call Walmart, I suspect Walmart won’t give me a good recommendation,” he said.
Meanwhile, the OUR Walmart actions began in October in Southern California when, for the first time ever, employees went on a one-day strike. Said Vetato:
Across the country, Walmart employees have filed many, many unfair labor practice charges against the company because of the way the company is treating them. Walmart refuses to address our concerns, even those that would help the company. If you speak out, you face retaliation.
Walmart, which is fiercely anti-union, has put out training videos aimed at discrediting OUR Walmart, according to Vetato. “They say all we are trying to do is take your money and get your personal information and cause trouble.”
Vetato said Walmart’s current business model includes canceling profit sharing for associates, increasing their health care costs by 36% and reducing their hours.
They are really trying to push full-time and older employees out the door and replace them with younger and part-time people.
This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on November 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Berry Craig is a recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360.
Tuesday, August 14th, 2012
There is a common misconception that the Family and Medical Leave Act only include provisions that apply to pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, there are many scenarios that working people face which could benefit from leave guaranteed under FMLA laws. It is important for all workers to be aware of FMLA and what it covers, because this 12 week allotment of unpaid leave may be of great assistance in many situations.
FMLA does cover issues pertaining to pregnancy and childbirth. But, what about other parenting situations? For example, what if an employee adopts a child? Or, what if a parent has a sick child? FMLA can be applied in these situations as long as the situation qualifies. Furthermore, FMLA does not have to be used as a single extended period of leave. If, for example, a parent has a child who must be taken to the doctor regularly for treatment, that parent may take leave in small increments to do this. Even if the time needed is only an hour, FMLA can be used. All an employee has to do is provide the employer with sufficient information to explain why the leave is needed and when it will be taken.
What if there is a family member other than a child who is having significant health issues? Can an employee have leave under FMLA to care for them? Unequivocally yes as long as the employee qualifies. To qualify the employee must work for a qualifying organization, have worked at least 1,250 hours in a year, give an explanation of why and when the leave is needed, and provide medical certification to prove the need for leave. When an employee needs time to care for the needs of a child, spouse, or parent, FMLA provides it. Leave may be used to take a family member for medical treatments, such as chemotherapy and dialysis. It may also be used to care for a family member with a chronic condition such as Alzheimer’s.
There are other situations where FMLA may be applied that are less well-known. For example, many people don’t realize that FMLA makes special provisions that apply to military personnel, including those in the Reserves or National Guard. If an employee has a spouse, child, or parent who is in the military, they may take FMLA leave to cover the needs that arise if that person is called to duty. These could include financial preparations, handling legal arrangements, and attending military functions. FMLA can also be used for the purpose of spending time with a serviceperson who is on short-term, temporary leave during deployment.
Lastly, people should remember that FMLA can be used in order to care for an employee’s own serious health issues. This doesn’t mean that you can use FMLA to recuperate from a cold. But, if you have a significant health situation arise, or if you have a chronic issue like asthma or arthritis, FMLA can help you. Employees will need to provide a medical certification form completed by a physician to document the need for leave.
If you need to take time off for a significant health reason, for a parenting issue, or for something relating to active military duty, you need to examine FMLA leave. The requirements to be eligible for the leave are surprisingly few. They are:
• An employee must work for a covered employer
• An employee have worked for the employer for a total of 12 months
• An employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months
• An employee must work at a location in the United States or in any territory or possession of the United States where at least 50 employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles.
FMLA is an extremely helpful protection for all employees. Those who are not completely familiar with the laws should make an attempt to familiarize themselves with its contents. The Department of Labor provides employees with resources that explain FMLA. A small investment of time learning about the rules could be a lifesaver if the need for leave arises.
About the Author: Lizabeth C. S. Bell has a background in English and library science. Currently, she does research, analysis and writing for EmploymentLaw HQ, a site dedicated to providing employees with free information about their legal rights. Insatiably curious, Lizabeth is interested in pursuing further intellectual challenges and loves sharing new knowledge with others.