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Minimum wage workers just got a raise in two states, D.C., and 15 cities or counties

Thursday, July 5th, 2018

Minimum wage workers in two states, Washington, DC, and 15 cities and counties got a raise on Sunday. These state and local governments had passed laws to increase the minimum wage on a schedule, with July 1 and January 1 being the most common dates for raises.

  • Oregon doesn’t have a single statewide minimum wage, but it went up! The minimum is now $10.75 as a standard, $10.50 in “nonurban” counties, and $12 in the Portland metro area.
  • Maryland’s minimum wage went up to $10.10. In Maryland, Montgomery County boosted its minimum wage from $11.50 to $12.25
  • Washington, D.C., rose from $12.50 to $13.25.
  • Eleven California cities saw minimum wage increases, with Emeryville the high point at $15.69 an hour for larger businesses. Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Malibu, Milpitas, Pasadena, and Santa Monica all went from $12 to $13.25. San Francisco rose from $14 to $15.
  • Workers in Portland, Maine, are seeing a modest bump from $10.68 to $10.90.
  • In Illinois, Chicago went from $11 to $12 and Cook County went from $10 to $11.

The federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour, with Republicans continuing to refuse to consider an increase. Perhaps most depressingly—and showing most clearly where Republican priorities are—Birmingham, Alabama, and Johnson County, Iowa, were both supposed to have minimum wage increases on July 1, but didn’t. Their state legislatures stepped in to pre-empt local governments from improving life for workers.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on July 4, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

Maryland To Become The Second State To Guarantee Fair Minimum Wage For Workers With Disabilities

Friday, April 22nd, 2016

CoryHerroMaryland will soon become the second state, after New Hampshire, to phase out the “subminimum wage” for workers with disabilities.

Maryland lawmakers this month passed a bill that would do away with special wage certificates that allow employers to pay disabled workers according to productivity rather than hours worked. The law affects all 36 of Maryland’s “sheltered workshops” — nonprofit organizations that hire people with disabilities at subminimum wages to perform basic tasks like assembling products, hanging clothes, or picking up trash.

Some 420,000 Americans with disabilities are employed this way nationally, some at a rate of just pennies per hour. The average Marylander working under this arrangement makes less than $4 per hour — an unjust rate that no longer jives with modern attitudes toward disability, advocates say.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeff Waldstreicher (D), says the bill is a victory for civil rights.

“By passing HB 420 and SB 417, we have upheld Maryland’s highest ideals,” he wrote in a public statement. “Marylanders are a compassionate, caring people. We believe in the dignity of every individual, in equal rights.”

In addition to boosting wages, the bill aims to desegregate Maryland’s workforce over the next four-and-a-half years. The Department of Disabilities will reallocate state and Medicaid funding to promote employment in “competitive, integrated workplaces” rather than in sheltered, segregated workshops. The state will pick up the tab for planning workers’ transitions to integrated employment.

“People thrive in a diverse workplace,” Waldstreicher told ThinkProgress. “Most of these workers want this transition, and we want to help it go smoothly.”

Legislators have worked closely with the sheltered workshops, and the majority are on board. They were initially concerned that higher wages would displace workers, but the state’s integrated employment plan assuaged their fears.

Disability advocates applauded the legislation, saying sheltered workshops are ineffective and reforms are long overdue.

“[Workshops] offer the employees no opportunities to be part of their community or to make enough money to support themselves,” the Autistic Self Advocacy Network said in a statement commending the Maryland legislation.

“Sheltered workshops often rely on outdated, non-mechanized production processes — which are poor vehicles for developing the skills real employers need in the open market economy,” writes University of Michigan law professor Samuel Bagenstos in a report to the National Federation of the Blind.

Indeed, only 5 percent of sheltered workshop employees leave to take a job in the community, according to a 2001 investigation by the Government Accountability Office.

The bill is now on the desk of Gov. Larry Hogan (R). Waldstreicher told ThinkProgress he’s “positive” the governor will sign it into law.

These developments in Maryland are part of a turning tide against paying disabled workers less than minimum wage. Last month, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton expressed support for eliminating the subminimum wage nationwide.

“We’ve got to figure out how we get the minimum wage up and include people with disabilities in the minimum wage,” Clinton said when a young lawyer with autism asked her about the minimum wage exemption. “There should not be a tiered wage.”

And in 2014 President Obama included workers with disabilities in his federal minimum wage hike — guaranteeing minimum wage for some 50,000 federal contract employees with disabilities.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on April 20, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Cory Herro comes to ThinkProgress from California, where he writes columns for The Stanford Daily and tutors rowdy middle schoolers. He likes to play pickup hoops and surf, even though his skills are rudimentary. Cory is pursuing a bachelor’s in public policy with a focus on poverty policy.

Lawmakers Unanimously Approve Country’s Most Robust Paid Sick Leave Law

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Bryce CovertThe Montgomery County, Maryland council voted unanimously to pass a paid sick leave bill on Tuesday, making the town the 23rd place in the country to enact such a requirement.

The law is one of the most robust to be passed at the city or state level so far. “The Montgomery County paid sick days laws is one of the strongest yet, and it should serve as a model for the state of Maryland and the nation,” said Charly Carter, director of Maryland Working Families.

Once it goes into effect in October 2016, around 90,000 people will get the right to a day off when they get sick that they currently don’t have. Employees at businesses with five or more workers will be able to earn up to seven days off a year, while those at companies with fewer workers can earn four paid days and three unpaid. Many current laws in other places exempt smaller businesses completely. Amendments to exempt people under the age of 18, people who work fewer than 16 hours a week, and smaller employers all failed.

Montgomery County’s leave can also be used for a wide variety of purposes beyond taking a day off for a worker’s own illness: to care for a sick family member, to deal with a public health emergency, or to deal with domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

A statewide bill in Maryland has been introduced but not yet passed, although it will be re-introduced next session, according to Working Matters, the group organizing support for paid sick leave in the state. While the country still doesn’t have a national requirement that employers offer their workers paid sick leave, unlike all other developed nations, many local governments have taken action on their own. With Montgomery County, four states and 19 cities have passed laws.

paid-sickleave-infographic-june

CREDIT: Andrew Breiner, ThinkProgress

Without a federal law, however, about 40 percent of America workers don’t have the ability to take paid time off when they or their family members get sick, the majority of them low-income workers who may not be able to afford an unpaid day. President Obama has called to change that, and Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills that would require all of the country’s to offer sick leave, but they haven’t moved forward.

While businesses often claim that they can’t afford to offer paid sick leave, the evidence from many of the places that have passed requirements is that the laws don’t represent an economic burden. In Connecticut, Jersey City, and Washington, D.C., employers don’t report that the laws have been costly or difficult to comply with, while some have seen benefits like decreased turnover and increased productivity. Meanwhile, job growth in Connecticut, San Francisco, and Seattle has been stronger after their laws took effect, and a majority of employers in many of these places now support the laws.

But the opposition has gained ground in other places. Ten states have passed laws that ban cities and counties from passing their own paid sick leave laws, and others are considering the same move.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 24, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Maryland Agency Deliberately Paid Female Workers Less Than Men For Equal Work, Lawsuit Claims

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Bryce CovertLast week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against the Maryland Insurance Administration, which regulates the state’s insurance companies, for willfully paying female employees less than men who were doing the same work.

The lawsuit claims that since the end of 2009, the agency has paid Alexandra Cordaro, Mary Jo Rogers, Marlene Green, and a group of other women who worked as investigators or enforcement officers less than men at the agency for “substantially equal work” in similar roles.

The suit says the agency’s actions violate the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits paying men and women differently for equal work unless due to seniority or systems that pay based on the merit, quantity, or quality of work. It seeks to get the agency to end the different pay practices, institute equal employment policies for women, and pay back wages for the three women and other female employees who were potentially discriminated against.

In response to the lawsuit, a spokeswoman with the agency said, “The Maryland Insurance Administration strongly disputes the allegations. The case will be vigorously defended.”

American women still make less than men in virtually every job, on average earning 78 percent of what men earn when they work full time, year round. While many factors go into the wage gap, such as the fact that women often have to take time out of their careers to care for family members and they tend to be clustered in lower-paying jobs, economists who study the gap consistently come up with a portion that can’t be explained by such factors, which could indicate bias or discrimination. Nearly a third of American women say they would be paid more if they were a man.

But it can be very difficult to prove that discrimination is motivating lower pay. One big obstacle is that about half of all employees say they are either banned or discouraged from talking about pay with their coworkers, even though they have a legal right to do so, which means many women may not be able to find out whether they are being paid less than men.

It can also be hard to prove that pay differences are due to bias. Francine Katz, formerly the highest-ranking woman executive at Anheuser-Busch, sued the company for allegedly discriminating against her by paying her less than the man that had her job before her and for paying all women on a lower tier than the male executives paid at the top tier. But she lost her case, and the jury foreman said “the evidence was not enough to single out gender.” The experience is common: employees alleging pay discrimination have only wonabout a third of equal pay claims over the last decade.

Meanwhile, U.S. law may require equal pay for equal work, but it doesn’t require equal pay for similar work in different jobs. Yet in the states that experimented with such requirements and with regular audits of payscales in the 1980s, the wage gap dropped significantly.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on April 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Maryland To Raise Minimum Wage to $10.10 an Hour—But Only After Foot-Dragging From Some Dems

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Bruce VailMaryland is on the verge of becoming the second state, after Connecticut, to heed President Barack Obama’s call for a new national minimum wage of $10.10 an hour.

Lawmakers moved in a special weekend session to pass a measure hiking the state’s minimum to $10.10 an hour, up sharply from the current minimum of $7.25. The Maryland Senate passed the bill on April 5, and the House of Delegates gave its approval around midday on April 7, just hours before the year’s legislative session ended.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is expected to sign the bill into law promptly. In January, he called the wage hike his top legislative priority for the year.

The victory for low-wage workers, however, has left some progressive groups frustrated and a little angry. The reason? They say the most potent attempts to kill, dilute or delay the bill came from Democratic Party legislators who publicly proclaim their support for the working poor, yet worked behind the scenes to undermine the new minimum wage law. Democrats enjoy large majorities in both houses of the legislature.

“Maryland is a Democratic state, but not necessarily a progressive one,” says Pat Lippold, political director for hospital workers union 1199SEIU, a division of the Service Employees International Union, which helped push for the bill.

“We didn’t expect any support from the Republicans—and we didn’t get any. But every effort to weaken [the original wage proposal] came from Democrats. Our work became beating back Democrats,” says Charly Carter, Executive Director of Maryland Working Families, an arm of the New York-based Working Families Organization. Working Families started a coalition two years ago called Raise Maryland to advocate for the minimum wage boost. Labor unions such as 1199SEIU, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 form the backbone of the coalition, along with units of the NAACP and citizen advocacy groups such as Casa de MarylandProgressive Maryland and the National Employment Law Project. The coalition ultimately attracted about 60 groups including faith-based organizations and even Democratic Party youth groups.

Any lingering anger at conservative Democrats is due to the fact that they were partly successful in watering down the law, although some of the worst suggestions were ultimately rejected. The original proposal, for example, called for the minimum wage to be raised in several steps until it reached $10.10 in 2016. But amendments proposed and supported by Democrats stretched out the phase-in an additional two years, to July 1, 2018. Worse, Democrats killed the part of the original bill that would provide annual cost-of-living adjustments to the future minimum wage, a key element in preventing the erosion of earning power by low-income workers.

And that’s not all. Raise Maryland was keen to include raises for tipped workers, who are currently only required to be paid $3.63 an hour under state law. (Critics have pointed out that the law assumes that tips will make up the rest, but that is not always true in practice.) The House of Delegates declined to do so and froze the tipped wage at the current level for the next four years. The legislators explicitly rejected a more progressive measure, advocated by Gov. O’Malley, to set the tipped wage at 70 percent of the state minimum, which would have allowed the two to rise together.

“I have three words to sum up the amendments that were offered by the conservative Democrats: shocking, unnecessary and counterproductive,” comments Carter. The cost-of-living-adjustment was a key progressive goal, yet was shot down early in the legislative process, she noted. And, Carter says, the more progressive tipped wage provision “should have been mother’s milk to any real Democrat.”

Adding insult to injury, the Maryland legislators also engaged in a public spectacle of special pleading for amusement park owners, Carter and Lippold both relate. Known as the “Six Flags Amendment,” the provision put forward by Democrats would have exempted the owners of the Six Flags America amusement park in Upper Marlboro, Md., from the new minimum wage law. When the exemption gained quick support in the legislature, other amusements operators jumped on the bandwagon and convinced legislators on both sides of the aisle to load up the bill with additional exemptions, Carter says. House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch (D), who is counted a strong supporter of a more progressive law, was ultimately forced to intervene behind the scenes and put a stop to the amendments, she says. Even so, the final legislation allows Six Flags its own minimum wage, set at 85 percent of the statewide figure.

“What’s amazing is that when you poll the public on the minimum wage, the [pro-increase] numbers are just off the charts,” Lippold adds. “So there is almost no downside,” for legislators to support a higher minimum, she says. “But the devil is in the details,” and skilled lobbyists for restaurant interests and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce are able to exert outsized influence, Lippold says.

The experience of lobbying to raise the minimum wage has solidified the commitment of the Working Families Organization to establish a permanent base in the state and to become more involved in electoral campaigns, particularly at the Democratic Party primary level, Carter says. “Some of these so-called ‘moderate’ Democrats need to be challenged and held accountable,” she says. Formal announcement of the new Maryland unit should be forthcoming within a month, she tells Working In These Times. The Raise Maryland coalition will also remain intact and look for other ways to advance pro-worker legislation, especially a new effort to guarantee paid sick days to all workers in the state, she says.

Nearly a half million Maryland workers are expected to benefit from the minimum wage increase, with the first raise, to $8.00 an hour, scheduled for Jan. 1, 2015.

Full discosure: AFSCME is a sponsor of In These Times. Sponsors have no role in editorial content.

This article was originally printed in Working In These Times on April 7, 2014.  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.

Maryland Unions Hit Jobs Jackpot with New Casinos

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Bruce VailLabor unions in the Washington, D.C. area got an early Christmas present December 20, when Maryland state officials announced their approval of a plan to build a massive MGM Resorts International casino complex just a few miles from the nation’s Capitol building.

The news comes as a welcome sign of organized labor’s vitality in Maryland, which has seen falling union membership during the last decade. As of 2012, unions represented just 12.3 percent of Maryland jobholders—a decrease of 23,000 workers from the previous year.

One of Maryland labor’s responses to this challenge has been to lobby on behalf of expanded gambling long before casino construction ever takes place, usually in return for a mutually beneficial “labor peace agreement.” In the case of MGM Resorts, the gambling powerhouse received its approval from the Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission with the help of an ad-hoc coalition of local labor unions, says John Boardman, an officer of D.C.-based Unite Here Local 25. He estimates that the $925 million project will generate about 2,000 temporary construction jobs and 4,000 permanent ones.

“We have a labor peace agreement with MGM, so I expect we will be moving pretty quickly to organize wall-to-wall,” Boardman tells Working In These Times. About 2,000 of the permanent casino workers are likely to be represented by Local 25, he says, with the remainder spread out among Teamsters Local 639, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 99 and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 22. Similarly, the 2,000 temporary construction jobs are expected to be filled by union members linked to the Washington, D.C. Building Trades Council (AFL-CIO), a regional alliance of 15 union locals of electricians, ironworkers, painters, plumbers and others.

As the sixth major gambling site in the state, MGM’s construction signifies the emergence of casinos in Maryland as “a billion-dollar industry,” notes James Karmel, a historian, author and gambling industry analyst. This growth has been aided in large part by the lobbying efforts of local labor, particularly where casino-friendly legislation is concerned. Unions supported a 2008 state constitutional referendum that legalized slot machine parlors; its passage prompted the opening of four such establishments throughout Maryland. And after another 2012 statewide referendum—also strongly supported by unions—granted slot machine operators the right to expand into other types of gambling and to commence 24-hour operation, an expanded Caesars Entertainment Horseshoe site began construction in Baltimore.

All this has added up to a regional gambling boom, Karmel says, with the creation of more than 9,000 permanent jobs in addition to thousands of temporary construction ones. But allying with labor is nothing new for casino companies, who have successfully negotiated deals with labor unions in other locations around the country.

“It’s logical that the big casino companies like MGM and Caesars would bring unions with them when they expand into Maryland,” because these same companies are also heavily unionized in Las Vegas and elsewhere, says Karmel. “They are used to having unions … there is a long tradition of unionization in gambling.”

Indeed, in April 2013, Working In These Times reported that Caesars had struck a deal to unionize most of its estimated 1,700 permanent casino jobs in Baltimore, paralleling its existing agreements in other cities. And Boardman expects the yet-to-be-negotiated labor contracts at MGM’s Maryland location to mirror the “middle class wages and benefits” established by the company’s labor pacts with Unite Here locals at its branches in Las Vegas. He says many MGM entry-level jobs will likely pay about $17 an hour and come with fully paid health benefits.

The opportunity for organizing is so great, in fact, that it may be causing dissension among various unions when it comes to employee coverage. For example, the November 2013 issue of The Seafarers Log, the official publication of the Seafarers International Union (SIU), reported that a joint effort between the SIU-affiliated Seafarers Entertainment and Allied Trades Union (SEATU) and United Food & Commercial Workers Local 27 had succeeded in signing up about 2,500 new union members working at the expanded slot parlors. Sources indicate that some local unions regard SEATU as an intruder into their own jurisdictions. (Representatives from SIU and UFCW declined to comment for this story.)

For the most part, however, with labor peace agreements now in place for Maryland’s two large new casinos, leaders are counting the boom as a success. Fred Mason, President of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, says the growth is a good example of the kind of gains that can be made when unions engage politicians and the public in job-creation initiatives.

“It’s creating jobs and pumping money into the economy generally,” he says. “And, of course, it is important that these are good-paying union jobs.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on January 8, 2014.  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.

EEOC loses battle (but not war) on discriminatory background checks

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Christian SchreiberWhen it dismissed a federal lawsuit last week, the U.S. District Court for Maryland made it even harder for workers with poor credit histories and past criminal convictions to find a job.  Civil rights advocates hope the decision is not a bellwether for similar cases pending around the country.

The lawsuit, brought by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged Freeman, a privately-held event-management company, with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act through its use of credit and criminal background checks.  According to the EEOC’s complaint, the employer’s decision to use background checks to screen out job applicants amounted to discrimination because it disproportionately impacted African-American and male job applicants.

Freeman’s hiring process involved detailed inquiries into both the applicant’s credit histories and criminal backgrounds.  Freeman “regularly ran credit checks for 44 job titles,” and excluded all applicants from certain positions who met any of 12 different categories of purported credit-unworthiness.  Even common credit blemishes, such as credit card charge-offs, medical liens, unpaid student loans, or foreclosures would result in the applicant being rejected.

The Freeman court joined the chorus of employers extolling what some consider the “common sense” of performing credit and criminal background checks.    These proponents also ignore the studies demonstrating that credit problems do not predict employee performance, as well as those that document atrocious error rates on credit checks.   A report released by the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year found that a quarter of consumers identified errors on their credit report that might affect their credit scores.

In 2011, California limited the use of credit checks in employment.  After three prior attempts were vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger, the bill was itself an object lesson in persistence.  However, the law also established broad exceptions to the “prohibition” on employment-related credit checks, effectively blessing their use across jobs and industries where the need or utility has never been demonstrated.

In addition to the credit-check hurdle, Freeman’s standard employment application form asked, “Have you ever pleaded guilty to, or been convicted of, a criminal offense?”  Applicants were told certain convictions would not be considered in the hiring process (yeah, right), but the company acknowledged a “bright-line rule” that disqualified any applicant who “failed to disclose a conviction, seriously misrepresented the circumstances of a criminal offense, or made any other materially dishonest statement on the application.”

In June, the EEOC filed two similar complaints against Dollar General Corp and BMW, alleging that the companies’ use of criminal background checks resulted in a disparate impact against African-American job applicants.  Referred to as “disparate impact” cases, these types of challenges stand or fall on the persuasiveness of the parties’ statistical evidence.  In the EEOC v. Freeman case, the court let loose on the EEOC’s expert, excoriating his methodology and ultimately calling his findings “an egregious example of scientific dishonesty.” (Ouch.)  Though it may be possible to blunt the impact of Freeman simply by putting on better statistical evidence, the decision nonetheless entrenches practical misconceptions and legal standards that are hostile to workers.

These cases are being watched closely by consumer and civil rights advocates, who still hold out hope that the EEOC’s oversight of these employment policies will curtail the increasing use of background checks to screen out applicants.   Advocates hope Freeman doesn’t signal that more bad news lies ahead.

This article originally appeared on CELA Voice on August 19, 2013.  Re-posted with permission. 

About the Author: Christian Schreiber is an active member of the California Employment Lawyers Association, where he serves on CELA’s Legislative Committee and Wage and Hour Committee.  He is also a member of the American Constitution Society, the Public Justice Foundation, and the Consumer Attorneys of California. Mr. Schreiber received his B.A. from UCLA in 1996.

Congress Hears Demands for Health Care Reform in Town Hall Meetings

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

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

—————–

Ohio Weighs In

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

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

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

He introduced Hattie Wilkins, who made one of the most moving speeches of the event.

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

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

Sen. Arlen Specter says health care is a right.

The Latest on Pennsylvania Town Hall

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

Pennsylvania Update

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

From the North Carolina Meeting

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

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

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

More Pennsylvania Town Hall

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

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

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

Pennsylvania Town Hall

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

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

What do we want? HEALTH CARE!

When do we want it? NOW!

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

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

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

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

We must ensure that patients’ choices are protected.

Maryland Town Hall

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

Rep. Blumenauer at Town Hall on Small Business

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

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now. Re-printed with permission by the author.


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