Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Medicare’

Don't Pass Huge Tax Cuts for the Wealthy on the Backs of Working People

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate have proposed a job-killing tax plan that favors the super-rich and wealthy corporations over working people. We cannot afford to let this bill become law.

Here’s why this plan is a bad idea:

  • Millions of working people would pay more. People making under $40,000 would be worse off, on average, in 2021; and people making under $75,000 would be worse off, on average, in 2027.
  • The super-rich and Wall Street would make out like bandits. The richest 0.1% would get an average tax cut of more than $208,000, and 62% of the benefits of the Senate bill would go to the richest 1%. Big banks, hedge funds and other Wall Street firms would be the biggest beneficiaries of key provisions of the bill.
  • Job-killing tax breaks for outsourcing. The Republican tax plan would lower the U.S. tax rate on offshore profits to zero, giving corporations more incentive to move American jobs offshore. 
  • Working people would lose health care. Thirteen million people would lose health insurance, and health care premiums would rise 10% in the non-group market. Meanwhile, Republicans want to cut Medicaid and Medicare by $1.5 trillion—the same price tag as their tax bill.
  • Job-killing cuts to infrastructure and education. Eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes would drastically reduce state and local investment in infrastructure and lead to $350 billion in education cuts, jeopardizing the jobs of 350,000 educators.

Republican tax and budget plans would make working people pay the price for wasteful tax giveaways by sending our jobs overseas; killing jobs in infrastructure and education; raising our taxes; increasing the number of uninsured; and cutting the essential public services we depend on.

Call your senator today at 844-899-9913.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on November 27, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kelly Ross is the deputy policy director at AFLCIO. 

GOP Smash-And-Burn Tax Plan Does Nothing for Workers

Friday, October 27th, 2017

Congressional Republicans are selling a trickle-down tax scam times two. It’s the same old snake oil, with double hype and no cure.

A single statistic explains it all: one percent of Americans – that is the tiny, exclusive club of billionaires and millionaires – get 80 percent of the gain from this tax con. Eighty percent!

But that’s not all! To pay for that unneeded and unwarranted red-ribbon wrapped gift to the uber wealthy, Republicans are slashing and burning $5 trillion in programs cherished by workers, including Medicare and Medicaid.

Look at the statistic in reverse, and it seems worse: 99 percent of Americans will get only 20 percent of the benefit from this GOP tax scam. That’s not tax reform. That’s tax defraud.

Republican tax hucksters claim the uber rich will share. It’s the trickle down effect, they say, the 99 percent will get some trickle down.

It’s a trick. Zilch ever comes down. It’s nothing more than fake tax reform first deployed by voodoo-economics Reagan. There’s a basic question about this flim-flammery: Why do workers always get stuck depending on second-hand benefits? Real tax reform would put the rich in that position for once. Workers would get the big tax breaks and the fat cats could wait to see if any coins trickled up to jingle in their pockets.

House Speaker Paul Ryan claimed Republicans’ primary objective in messing with the tax code is to help the middle class, not the wealthy. Well, there’s a simple way to do that:  Give 99 percent of the tax breaks directly to the 99 percent.

The Republican charlatans hawking this new tax scam are asserting the pure malarkey that it provides two, count them TWO, trickle-down benefits. In addition to the tried-and-false fairytale that the rich will share with the rest after collecting their tax bounty, there’s the additional myth that corporations will redistribute downward some of their big fat tax scam bonuses.

A corporate tax break isn’t some sort of Wall Street baptism that will convert CEOs into believers in the concept of paying workers a fair share of the profit their labor creates.

Corporations have gotten tax breaks before and haven’t done that. And they’ve got plenty of cash to share with workers right now and don’t do it. Instead, they spend corporate money to push up CEO pay. Over the past nine years, corporations have shelled out nearly $4 trillion to buy back their own stock, a ploy that raises stock prices and, right along with them, CEO compensation. Worker pay, meanwhile, flat-lined.

In addition to all of that cash, U.S. corporations are currently sitting on another nearly $2 trillion. But CEOs and corporate boards aren’t sharing any of that with their beleaguered workers, who have struggled with stagnant wages for nearly three decades.

Still, last week, Kevin Hassett, chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, insisted that the massive corporate tax cut, from 35 percent down to 20 percent, will not trickle, but instead will shower down on workers in the form of pay raises ranging from $4,000 to $9,000 a year.

Booyah! Happy days are here again! With the median wage at $849 per week or $44,148 a year, that would be pay hikes ranging from 9 percent to 20 percent! Unprecedented!

Or, more likely, unrealistic.

Dishonest, incompetent, and absurd” is what Larry Summers called it. Summers was Treasury Secretary for President Bill Clinton and director of the National Economic Council for President Barack Obama.

Jason Furman, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School who once held Hassett’s title at the  Council of Economic Advisers, called Hassett’s findings “implausible,”  “outside the mainstream” and “far-fetched.”

Frank Lysy, retired from a career at the World Bank, including as its chief economist, agreed that Hassett’s projection was absurd.

Hassett based his findings on unpublished studies by authors who neglected to suffer peer review and projected results with all the clueless positivity of Pollyanna. Meanwhile, Lysy noted, Hassett failed to account for actual experience. That would be the huge corporate tax cuts provided in Reagan’s Tax Reform Act of 1986.

Between 1986 and 1988, the top corporate tax rate dropped from 46 percent to 34 percent, but real wages fell by close to 6 percent between 1986 and 1990.

Thus many economists’ dim assessment of Hassett’s promises.

The other gob-smacking bunkum claim about the Republican tax scam is that it will gin up the economy, and, as a result, the federal government will receive even more tax money. So, in their alternative facts world, cutting taxes on the rich and corporations will not cause deficits. It will result in the government rolling in coin, like a pirate in a treasure trove. That’s the claim, and they’re sticking to it. Like their hero Karl Rove said, “We create our own reality.”

Here’s Republican Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, for example: “This tax plan will be deficit reducing.”

If the Pennsylvania politician truly believes that’s the case, it’s not clear why he voted for a budget that would cut $473 billion from Medicare and $1 trillion from Medicaid. If reducing the tax rate for the rich and corporations really would shrink the deficit, Republicans should be adding money to fund Medicare and Medicaid.

While cutting taxes on the rich won’t really boost the economy, it will increase income inequality. Makes sense, right? Give the richest 1 percenters 80 percent of the gains and the remaining 99 percent only 20 percent and the rich are going to get richer faster.

Economist Thomas Piketty, whose work focuses on wealth and income inequality and who wrote the best seller “Capital in the Twenty First Century,” found in his research no correlation between tax cuts for the rich and economic growth in industrialized countries since the 1970s. He did find, however, that the rich got much richer in countries like the United States that slashed tax rates for the 1 percent than in countries like France and Germany that did not.

This Republican tax scam is a case of the adage that former President George W. Bush once famously bungled: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on October 27, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers (USW), took office in 2001 after the retirement of former president George Becker.

Veto the Cold-Hearted Health Bill

Monday, June 26th, 2017

Donald Trump is right. The House health insurance bill is “mean, mean, mean,” as he put it last week. He correctly called the measure that would strip health insurance from 23 million Americans “a son of a bitch.”

The proposal is not at all what Donald Trump promised Americans. He said that under his administration, no one would lose coverage. He said everybody would be insured. And the insurance he provided would be a “lot less expensive.”

Senate Democrats spent every day this week pointing this out and demanding that Senate Republicans end their furtive, star-chamber scheming and expose their health insurance proposal to public scrutiny. That unveiling is supposed to happen today.

Republicans have kept their plan under wraps because, like the House measure, it is a son of a bitch. Among other serious problems, it would restore caps on coverage so that if a young couple’s baby is born with serious heart problems, as comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s was, they’d be bankrupted and future treatment for the infant jeopardized.

Donald Trump has warned Senate Republicans, though. Even if the GOP thinks it was fun to rebuff Democrats’ pleas for a public process, they really should pay attention to the President. He’s got veto power.

Republicans have spent the past six years condemning the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which passed in 2010 after Senate Democrats accepted 160 Republican amendments, held 110 bipartisan public hearings and conducted 25 consecutive days of public floor debate. Despite all of that, Republicans contend the ACA is the worst thing since Hitler.

That is what they assert about a law that increased the number of insured Americans by 20 million, prohibited discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions and eliminated the annual and lifetime caps that insurers used to cut off coverage for sick infants and people with cancer.

The entire cavalry of Republican candidates for the GOP nomination for President promised to repeal the ACA, but Donald Trump went further. He pledged to replace it with a big league better bill.

In May 2015, he announced on Twitter: “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.”

In September 2015, he said of his health insurance plans on CBS News’ 60 Minutes, “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”

In another 60 Minutes interview, this one with Lesley Stahl last November, he said, “And it’ll be great health care for much less money. So it’ll be better health care, much better, for less money. Not a bad combination.”

In January, he told the Washington Post, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.” He explained, “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

But then, the House Republicans betrayed him. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the measure they passed, called the American Health Care Act (AHCA), would cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid. It said people with pre-existing conditions and some older Americans would face “extremely high premiums.”

Extremely high is an understatement. Here is an example from the CBO report: A 64-year-old with a $26,500 income pays $1,700 for coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but would be forced to cough up more than half of his or her income – $16,000 – for insurance under the House Republican plan. Overall, premiums would increase 20 percent in the first year. And insurers could charge older people five times the rate they bill younger Americans.

House Republicans said states could permit insurers to squirm out of federal minimum coverage requirements, and in states where that occurred, the CBO said some consumers would be hit with thousands of dollars in increased costs for maternity care, mental health treatment and substance abuse services.

In the first year, the House GOP plan would rob insurance from 14 million Americans.

So much for covering everyone with “great health care at much less money.”

It’s true that President Trump held a party for House Republicans in the Rose Garden after they narrowly passed their bill. But it seems like he did not become aware until later just how horrific the measure is, how signing it into law would make him look like a rank politician, a swamp dweller who spouts promises he has no intention of keeping.

By last week when President Trump met with 15 Senate Republicans about their efforts to pass a health insurance bill, he no longer was reveling in the House measure. He called it “cold-hearted.” He asked the senators to be more “generous,” to put “additional money” into their version.

Senators told reporters that President Trump wanted them to pass a bill that is not viewed as an attack on low-income Americans and provides larger tax credits to enable people to buy insurance.

Now that sounds a little more like the Donald Trump who repeatedly promised his health insurance replacement bill would cover everyone at a lower cost. Still, those goals remain amorphous.

The House bill is stunningly unpopular, almost as detested as Congress itself. President Trump seems to grasp the enormity of that problem. But even his calling it a “son of a bitch” doesn’t seem to have been enough to persuade senators that he’s serious about getting legislation that achieves his promises to leave Medicaid intact, cover everyone and lower costs.

Republican senators deciding the fate of millions of Americans must hear from Donald Trump that passing a health insurance bill that doesn’t fulfill his campaign promises is, shall we say, a cancer on the Presidency.

A veto threat would get their attention.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on June 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Leo Gerard is president of the United Steelworkers.

If you have a preexisting health condition, don’t even think about leaving your job

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

If President-elect Trump follows through on his campaign promises, millions of individuals-immigrants, religious minorities, people of color-face a very grim four years. One of the worst hit groups will be Americans with significant health costs. The Trump transition team published a brief summary of the incoming president’s health plan on its website, and the news is not good for the elderly, the poor, and millions of Americans with preexisting conditions.

Much of the plan is vague. Trump plans to “Modernize Medicare,” for example, an unclear statement that is likely code for Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan to repeal Medicare and replace it with a voucher system that imposes much higher out-of-pocket costs on seniors. Similarly, Trump says he will “Maximize flexibility for States in administering Medicaid,” a statement that is probably code for Ryan’s plan to either “require states to provide less extensive coverage, or to pay a larger share of the program’s total costs, than would be the case under current law.”

A central prong of Trump’s plan, however, is to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with, well, not much at all. Trump says he will “repeal the ACA and replace it with a solution that includes Health Savings Accounts,” which primarily benefit the rich and offer little or no benefits to low and middle income Americans. Trump will “enable people to purchase insurance across state lines,” a coded phrase which actually means that he will eliminate state regulation of insurance which requires coverage of treatments ranging from mammograms to maternity stays to well child care.

And then there’s his proposal for people with preexisting health conditions.

Prior to Obamacare, one of the most vulnerable groups was people with medical conditions who neither qualified for a government health program nor received insurance through their employer. Insurance companies would deny coverage to these individuals for conditions as severe as cancer or as routine as hay fever.

The reason why is that covering people with such conditions is expensive. A health insurance plan is a pool of money. Consumers contribute to that pool when they pay their premiums, and they take money out of that pool when they become sick or otherwise seek treatment. That means that, if someone tries to join the pool who has a preexisting condition, the insurer will try to keep them out because it will cost more to insure them than they will pay in.

The Affordable Care Act addressed this with a trio of reforms—a requirement that insurers allow everyone in, subsidies to help pay for coverage, and a financial consequence for people who fail to buy insurance. The final of these three reforms existed so that healthy people would not forego insurance, forcing insurers to cover only the most expensive individuals.

Trump plans to eliminate this framework and replace it with “high-risk pools,” essentially, a special insurance program for people with expensive preexisting conditions. In theory, high-risk pools can work to provide health coverage with such conditions, but they are an inefficient way to do so. And they have reliably failed when attempted by states.

At best, high risk pools are a way to maximize the insurance industry’s profits while shifting the costs of our health care system onto the taxpayers. If the government takes on the burden of insuring the most expensive individuals?—?and only the most expensive individuals?—?then that’s a bonanza for the insurance companies because they will be left with a pool of less expensive (and more profitable) consumers. Meanwhile, the costs of providing care for the most expensive health care consumers will fall upon whatever new government program President Trump creates to manage the high risk pools.

But that’s actually the best case scenario for Trump’s health plan. Because high risk pools take on the most expensive health care consumers, they are expensive to maintain. And when states attempted to set them up in the past, they did not fund them enough to cover more than a fraction of what was needed. As one report explained when Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) proposed high risk pools during his 2008 presidential bid, these pools “have not been a viable alternative for the medically uninsured because of high premiums…and inadequate funding to subsidize the full cost of providing insurance to a high-cost population.”

McCain’s plan is informative regarding what a Republican proposal for high-risk pools is likely to look like. The Arizona senator proposed spending between $7 to $10 billion on these pools. But that would only cover a fraction of the Americans who would lose their health insurance if Obamacare is repealed. A national program “funded at $7 billion per year would cover only 875,000 people,” and that was in 2008. Alternatively, “even if participants had to pay half of their own premiums, as is generally the case today in state high risk pools, less than 2 million Americans would be covered.”

Obamacare provides health insurance to about 20 million Americans.

Of course, Trump’s proposal is vague on details and especially short on numbers. So maybe he plans to fund the high risk pools enough to fill the gap that will be created by repealing Obamacare. The likelihood that Republicans intend to replace a policy they denounced as socialism with what would likely be a significantly more expensive government program, however, is small.

If there is any ray of light in Trump’s proposals, it is that he doesn’t appear to have set his eyes on pre-Obama laws that protect workers with employer-provided health plans that have preexisting conditions. Nevertheless, Trump is, in effect, planning to reinstate a problem known as “job lock,” where people in jobs that they would rather leave are forced to stay in them because it is the only way that they can obtain health benefits.

That means fewer people starting businesses, more people working into the years when they would rather retire, fewer jobs opening up for younger workers eager for new opportunities, and more people simply stuck in jobs that they hate.

On November 7th, it seemed like workers were finally free to take risks without having to fear that they would lose their health coverage. Only a few days later, that freedom is likely to disappear.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on November 11, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Ian Millhiser is the Justice Editor at ThinkProgress. He is a skeptic of the Supreme Court, hater of Samuel Alito, and a constitutional lawyer of ill repute. Contact him at  imillhiser@thinkprogress.org.

Krugman on ‘Sequester of Fools’

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

Image: Mike HallPaul Krugman has a pretty straightforward plan to deal with the sequester that’s due to hit March 1. The New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist says, “The right policy would be to forget about the whole thing.”

He bases his proposal on what Federal Reserve Vice Chair Janet Yellen said in her keynote address to the Trans-Atlantic Agenda for Shared Prosperity conference at the AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. Fiscal austerity, such as the sequester and the latest doomsday alert from the Bowles-Simpson duo, is the enemy of real economic recovery. Writes Krugman:

America doesn’t face a deficit crisis, nor will it face such a crisis anytime soon. Meanwhile, we have a weak economy that is recovering far too slowly from the recession that began in 2007. And, as Janet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, recently emphasized, one main reason for the sluggish recovery is that government spending has been far weaker in this business cycle than in the past. We should be spending more, not less, until we’re close to full employment; the sequester is exactly what the doctor didn’t order.

Read his full column, including his take on Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, “the famous fomenters of fiscal fear.”

The arbitrary, across-the-board sequestration cuts in everything from mental health services to public safety kick in next Friday, and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Republican lawmakers say they are willing to toss 750,000 people out of work and cut vital lifeline government services to ring massive concessions in cuts from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Working families are calling on their elected representatives to protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from benefits cuts, repeal the sequester and make sure corporations and the wealthiest 2% pay their fair share through closing tax loopholes.

This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO on 2/22/2013. 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. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Bowles-Simpson 'B-S' Zombie Plan Tells Working People to 'Drop Dead'

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Jackie TortoraIt’s back. No matter how many times working people reject the Bowles-Simpson “B-S” budget plan that cynically claims it would “promote economic growth “—but would actually snuff out the recovery and cut lifelines for working families—it keeps coming back to the table.

Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson released another tired plan today that would cut Social Security COLAs to pay for lower tax rates for corporations and the wealthiest Americans, among other things.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released the following statement:

Once again, Bowles and Simpson have produced a plan that tells working people to “drop dead.” In December 2010, Bowles and Simpson put forward a budget blueprint that proposed to cut tax rates for corporations and the richest Americans and eliminate taxes on overseas corporate profits, and then pay for these lower tax rates by cutting Social Security benefits, shifting Medicare costs to individuals, taxing health benefits and cutting federal employees’ pay, benefits and jobs. The updated budget blueprint Bowles and Simpson put forward today cuts tax rates for the richest Americans and corporations and pays for these lower tax rates by cutting Social Security COLAs, taxing health benefits and cutting federal employees’ health and retirement benefits. For working people and the future of our nation, it is dead on arrival.

In recent actions and a call-in day to Congress, working families have urged their representatives and senators to:

  • Protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from benefit cuts.
  • Repeal the “sequester” and close loopholes for Wall Street and the wealthiest 2% of Americans instead.

This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO on Feb. 19, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

Hey, Let's Fix Health Care

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Written by CEPR

Former White House adviser Ezekiel Emanuel offered in a recent New York Times column his bipartisan solution to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security reform: Graduated eligibility for Social Security and Medicare, or linking “the age of eligibility to lifetime wealth.” The idea, according to Emmanuel, is that “[t]he richer you are, the older you would have to be to be eligible for Social Security and Medicare.”

As Dean Baker notes over at Beat the Press, there are two problems with this approach. First, the budget deficit is a health care problem, not a Social Security problem. Lumping Social Security in with Medicare and Medicaid certainly makes it look like a problem, but if you replace “Social Security” with “muffins,” suddenly we are experiencing explosive growth with muffin costs.

Second, Emanuel’s proposal states:

People in the bottom half of the lifetime earnings distribution would become eligible for normal retirement benefits at age 65 for Medicare and 66 for Social Security, just as they are today. But people in the next quarter of the lifetime earnings distribution would become eligible for the respective programs at 67 and 68, and those in the top quarter would become eligible at 70 and 71. All eligibility ages would increase over time, as they are scheduled to now.

Dean points out that “Emanuel’s proposed cuts in these programs would hit people with average lifetime earnings of $40,000 and above.”* Dean and Hye Jin Rho wrote a paper about means testing last year, which you can find here.

* See Social Security data on Average and Median Amounts of Net Compensation.

This blog originally appeared in Center for Economic and Policy Research on May 22, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

On Labor Day, Work to Save the Middle Class

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Leo GerardThis Labor Day feels gloomy. It’s a celebration of work when there is not enough of it, a day off when too many desperately seek a day on.

America has commemorated two Labor Days since this brutal recession began near the end of George Bush’s presidency in December of 2007. Now the relentless high unemployment, the ever-rising foreclosures, the unremitting wage and benefit take-backs have replaced American optimism and enthusiasm with fear and anger.

Happy Labor Day.

On this holiday, we can rant with Glenn Beck, kick the dog and hate the neighbor lucky enough to retain his job. Or we can do something different. We can join with our neighbors, employed and unemployed, our foreclosed-on children, our elderly parents fearing cuts in their Social Security lifeline and our fellow workers worrying that the furlough ax will strike them next. Together we can organize and mobilize and create a grassroots groundswell that gives government no choice but to respond to our needs, the needs of working people.

We can do what workers did during the Great Depression to provoke change, to create programs like Social Security and achieve recognition of rights like collective bargaining. These changes were sought by groups to benefit groups. In a civil society, people care for one another. And America is such a society – one where people routinely donate blood to aid anonymous strangers, children set up lemonade stands to contribute to Katrina victims and working families find a few bucks for United Way.

The self-righteous Right is all about individuals pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. That proposition – the do-it-all- by-yourself-winner-takes-all philosophy – clearly failed because so many Americans are jobless, homeless and too penniless to afford boots.

Over the past decade, the winner who took all was Wall Street. The banksters gambled on derivatives and other risky financial tomfoolery and won big time. Until they lost. And crashed the economy. After the American taxpayer bailed them out, those wealthy traders returned to making huge profits and bonuses based on perilous schemes.

Still, they believe they haven’t taken enough from working Americans. They’re lobbying to end aid for those who remain unemployed in a recession caused by Wall Street recklessness. And they’re demanding extension of their Bush-given tax breaks. This is the nation’s upper 1 percent, people who earn a million or more each year, the 1 percent that took home 56 percent of all income growth between 1989 and 2007, the year the recession began.

Since 2007, 8.2 million workers have lost jobs. Millions more are underemployed, laboring part-time when they need full-time jobs, or barely squeaking by on slashed wages and benefits. Since the recession began, the unemployment rate nearly doubled, from 5 percent to 9.6 percent, and that does not include those so discouraged that they’ve given up the search for jobs, a decision that is, frankly, understandable when there are only enough openings to re-employ 20 percent of the jobless. Five unemployed workers compete for each job created in this sluggish economy.

And American workers weren’t prepared for this downturn, having already suffered losses in the years before it began. The median income, adjusted for inflation, of working-age households declined by more than $2,000 in the seven years before the recession started.

At the same time, practices like off-shoring jobs and signing regressive international trade deals contributed to the loss of middle class, blue collar jobs. A new report, “The Polarization of Job Opportunities in the U.S. Labor Market,” by the Center for American Progress and The Hamilton Project, says:

“The decline in middle-skill jobs has been detrimental to the earnings and labor force participation rates of workers without a four-year college education, and differentially so for males, who are increasingly concentrated in low-paying service occupations.”

The recession compounded that, the report says:

“Employment losses during the recession have been far more severe in middle-skilled white- and blue-collar jobs than in either high-skill, white-collar jobs or low-skill service occupations.”

What that means is high roller banksters are living large; lawn care workers and waitresses subsist on minimum wage, and working class machinists and steelworkers are disappearing altogether.

The researchers found the U.S. economy is increasingly polarized into high-skill, high-wage jobs and low-skill, low wage jobs. America is losing the middle jobs and with them its great middle class.

No wonder the rising anger in middle America.

But fury doesn’t solve the problem. This Labor Day, we must organize to save ourselves and our neighbors. We must stop America from descending into plutocracy. We must demand support for American manufacturing and middle class jobs. That means terminating tax breaks for corporate outsourcers, ending trade practices that violate agreements and international law and punishing predator countries for currency manipulation that subverts fair trade by artificially lowering the price of products shipped into the U.S. while artificially raising the price of American exports.

We must demand support for American industry, particularly manufacturers of renewable energy sources like solar cells and wind turbines that create good working class jobs, increase America’s energy independence and reduce climate change.

We must insist on policies that support the middle class, including preserving Social Security and Medicare, extending unemployment insurance while joblessness remains high, and enforcing the health care reform law so that every American worker and family can afford and is covered by insurance.

On this Labor Day, we should all have a picnic, invite neighbors, friends and family, and over hot dogs and potato salad, organize to save the American middle class.

Mobilize to end the gloom and restore American optimism.

***

For help: the Union of the Unemployed, the AFL-CIO, USW, Working America. Join the One Nation March for jobs Oct. 2 in Washington, D.C.

About The Author: Leo Gerard is the United Steelworkers International President. Under his leadership, the USW joined with Unite -the biggest union in the UK and Republic of Ireland – to create Workers Uniting, the first global union. He has also helped pass legislation, including the landmark Canadian Westray Bill, making corporations criminally liable when they kill or seriously injure their employees or members of the public.

Cheating Workers Out Of Rights, Benefits

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Image: IBEWLawmakers Go After Employers Who Misclassify Workers as Contractors

Nearly three years ago, Warren, Ohio, Local 573 Business Manager Mark Catello found out the hard way how rampant is the illegal practice of misclassifying workers as independent contractors to circumvent labor law and cheat on taxes.

The local tried organizing cable workers at Baker Communications, a subcontractor for Time Warner Cable. Organizers got the majority of the 40-person unit to sign union authorization cards, but the National Labor Relations Board killed the unionization drive after agreeing with the company that most of its employees were independent contractors, making them exempt from the right to collectively bargain. “It’s a scam,” Catello said. “All the employees had to follow the company’s manual, wear the company’s uniform with the Baker Communications logo on it and follow their work schedule.”

San Francisco labor activists protest a construction contractor found guilty of cheating its employees out of wages and benefits.

San Francisco labor activists protest a construction contractor found guilty of cheating its employees out of wages and benefits.

Federal and state officials are now starting to aggressively crack down on employers who mislabel their employees as independent contractors—an act that cheats both taxpayers and workers out of billions of dollars.

According to Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times, more than two dozen states are stepping up their enforcement of employment laws by increasing penalties for employers who misclassify workers as contractors. And Congress recently introduced tougher legislation to punish lawbreakers.

‘Widespread Practice’

The practice is extensive, says James Parrott, chief economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York. He testified earlier this year before the state Senate that an estimated 10 percent of the state’s workers are misclassified as independent contractors.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number has been estimated to be as high as 30 percent in some states. Lax enforcement of the rules has only encouraged the practice.

In 2007, the Government Accountability Office reported that 10 million workers were classified as independent contractors, an increase of more than 2 million in just six years.

Misclassification ends up costing federal and state authorities billions in lost revenue. Companies that report employees as independent contractors avoid paying Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance taxes.

But misclassifying workers also cheats workers out of their rights and benefits. Laws regarding overtime, workers’ compensation, sick days and minimum wage don’t apply to independent contractors.

“This denies many workers their basic rights and protections and means less revenues to the Treasury and competitive advantage for employers who misclassify,” Jared Bernstein told the New York Times. Bernstein is a noted economist and aide to Vice President Joseph Biden. “The last thing you want is to give a competitive advantage to employers who are breaking the rules.”

The practice is particularly common in trucking and some sectors of the construction industry. It is also found in the telecommunications industry, particularly in satellite dish and cable installation.

And it’s not just fly-by-night operations that are guilty. Corporate giants FedEx, Target and Comcast have all been sued for misclassifying workers.

Counting their workers as contractors has also proven to be an easy way for employers to prevent unionization.

‘Keeps Them From Joining a Union’

For Eighth District Organizer Bob Brock, a crackdown on industry violators is long overdue.

Brock has been trying to organize workers who install home satellite dishes for more than a year. Many of these workers—located mostly in Idaho, Montana and Colorado—endure long hours, low pay, draconian work rules and unsafe working conditions. But according to their employers—including Direct TV and Star West Satellite—they are their own bosses.

“Most of these (satellite) companies operate a whole separate wing, which they staff with what they call independent contractors,” Brock said. “But they have to follow the companies’ regulations, their work hours and use their equipment. What kind of boss is that?”

Brock says that the IBEW has been successful in getting many of these workers to talk with organizers, but until their job status is changed, they can’t legally form a union.

He says he has seen workplaces where two different workers are doing the exact same job, but one is labeled an employee while the other is an independent contractor. “It’s a selective way for the company to get out of paying benefits and taxes and to keep them from joining a union.”

Educating Workers on Their Rights

But the IBEW hasn’t given up on organizing the satellite sector. The Eighth District has started an organization—Satellite Techs Allied for a New Direction—which brings together satellite workers to improve their working conditions. Organizers help workers document what’s going on in their workplace so they have evidence to back up their claims that they are full-time employees.

STAND also helps misclassified workers with tax advice and how to avoid being preyed on by unscrupulous insurance agents who try to sell them overpriced liability policies. It’s a long-term strategy, Brock says, but the campaign is starting to pick up steam. “The word is spreading throughout the industry. A lot of them don’t know about their rights and they are hungry to find out.”

The campaign is now moving into lobbying mode, with organizers talking to state leaders about rampant abuses in the satellite installation industry. “This is a good time, because with the budget shortfalls, politicians are more eager to crack down on tax cheats,” Brock said.

Rampant Abuse

Broadcasting is another industry where the practice has become widespread. “Many broadcast technicians will work for one of the big networks, be considered an employee, but then go work for another network, do the exact same job, and all of a sudden they become contractors,” said Broadcasting Department Director Ro Wratschko.

Many smaller production companies are also notorious for misclassifying employees to give them unfair advantage over local signatory companies. “They are bidding for the same work as our union shops but they are illegally getting out of paying the same taxes we do, so they have a leg up,” he said.

While not as rampant in the electrical construction industry as it is in other trades, many inside locals have confronted nonunion contractors trying to pass off their employees as contractors. Last fall, Dublin, Calif., Local 595 helped bring to light one Bay Area contractor who cost the state and her employees millions of dollars by illegally misclassifying them.

“It’s the primary means for nonunion contractors to get out of their responsibilities to their employees and try to cut into our market share,” said Kirk Groenendaal, Special Assistant to the International President for Membership Development.

Federal prosecution of companies that misclassify their workers as contractors was nonexistent under the Bush administration, says Political and Legislative Department International Representative Dan Gardner, but the tide is turning.

President Obama has promised to hire an additional 100 investigators to look at companies accused of misclassifying workers and the Internal Revenue Service announced in February that it was launching a three-year nationwide investigation of the practice.

On Capitol Hill, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) has introduced the Taxpayer Responsibility, Accountability, and Consistency Act of 2009—with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) sponsoring a House version—which beefs up enforcement of worker classification regulations and closes tax loopholes used by unscrupulous employers.

In April, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) introduced a similar bill—the Employee Misclassification Act—that focuses on tougher enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Department of Labor also recently announced tougher regulations of worker classification regulations, calling on employers to disclose to their employees their work status.

State authorities are also intensifying their crackdown. In Iowa, a six-month investigation by the labor department recently found more than 100 companies guilty of misclassifying employees, while in California, Attorney General Jerry Brown is aggressively going after lawbreakers, recently filing a $4.3 million lawsuit against a construction company with several public works contracts that he says cheated workers out of wages.

In Nebraska, a bill is under serious consideration that would target trucking and construction companies that abuse the independent contractor label.

Gardner said that the IBEW is working closely with NECA contractors and other businesses to push Congress to endorse Sens. Kerry’s and Brown’s legislation to crack down on lawbreakers. “It’s wrong for workers, wrong for taxpayers and wrong for the businesses that play by the rules and follow the law.”

This post originally appeared in IBEW.org on June 2, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alexander Hogan is Communications Specialist for the IBEW.

Enough Hand Wringing. Get the Job Done!

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Image: Richard KirschAs Washington grapples with the outcome of the election in Massachusetts this week, it’s important to remember one key thing: Congress can still pass historic legislation that will make health care a right, not a privilege, in the United States. While the procedural route may be different, Congress still can do what it intended to do before Tuesday. It can enact a comprehensive bill that will make good health care affordable to tens of millions of people who are uninsured or underinsured and end the practice of denying people coverage or charging people more for pre-existing conditions. It can end the specter of medical bankruptcy, provide free access to preventive care, and more. None of these historic achievements can be done through “incremental” reform, and failing to accomplish these goals would put the Democratic Party in profound political peril.

While it may seem appealing to carve up the many facets of reform into smaller bites, that won’t get the job done. Take, for example, the promise that has most resonated with the public: stopping insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions. You can’t do that without requiring everyone be covered because many people would wait to get covered until they needed treatment and that would drive premiums too high. But you can’t require people to get coverage without providing income-based subsidies to make coverage affordable. And you can’t raise the money for subsidies without finding savings in the system, like the proposed changes in Medicare, or raising new revenue. All that adds up to comprehensive reform.

The same logic applies to the other basic items Americans most want from reform, like relief from medical bankruptcy or stopping insurers from charging more to women or making the health insurance market work for small business.

At its heart, comprehensive reform is a simple guarantee that you will have access to good, affordable coverage whether you work for someone else, are self-employed, or are unemployed. The bills that have passed both houses of Congress achieve that goal through the same basic mechanisms: expanding Medicaid, establishing new health insurance marketplaces, providing income-based subsidies for buying regulated insurance within those marketplaces, extending tax credits to at least small businesses, and establishing some requirements for most businesses to offer coverage or pay for it. Both bills raise the money through changes in Medicare and new revenues. Taken together, that will mean that for the first time every American will have access to affordable health care coverage.

If we look at history, we see that once we have built such a foundation, Congress will improve on it. When Social Security was enacted, it left out major categories of workers and didn’t provide for surviving spouses or dependents. Those omissions got fixed later.

If we fail to pass reform or pass minor reforms that don’t really change anything, it will be at least 15 years before the nation tries again. If we enact the agreed upon reforms, Congress will continue to debate how to improve upon what’s in place. And it will defend the new right to health care against those who would tear it down – just like Republicans have been trying and failing to privatize Social Security since it was first passed.

This isn’t just a policy question; it’s a political one. Republicans are counting on stopping the Democratic agenda so that Democrats will fail and voters will give the Republicans another chance. The Massachusetts election demonstrated that Democrats need to deliver on the promise of change. After a year of getting within sight of the finish line on comprehensive health care reform, the only choice from a policy and political perspective is to get the job done.

As the national campaign manager of the nation’s biggest progressive health care campaign – one that has organized hundreds of thousands of people in all 50 states and spent $45 million fighting for reforms that go well beyond what now seems possible – I understand as well as anyone how frustrating progressives find this situation. But we should never lose sight of what Dr. King said about health care in this nation: “Of all the forms of injustice, inequality in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Congress is on the brink of dramatically reducing this inequality even though the legislation has many imperfections.

So on behalf of the army of activists who have fought with us for more than a year, our message to Democrats in the House and Senate is simple: pick yourselves up, dust yourselves off, and enact the compromise plan you were set to pass before the Massachusetts election. You still have big majorities in both houses. Because of Republican obstructionism, you’ll need to use different procedures to get the job done. But just do it! And know that each and every year you will have saved tens of thousands of lives, rescued hundreds of thousands of families from medical bankruptcy, and proved to America you are up to the challenge of building a new and better future for our children and the generations that follow.

*This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on January 22, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Richard Kirsch is the National Campaign Manager for Health Care for America Now.

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