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Posts Tagged ‘New York’

New York bill would jail employers for discriminating over immigration status

Thursday, February 7th, 2019

Employers in New York state could face a penalty of up to three months in prison and a $20,000 dollar fine if they make threats regarding a person’s immigration status, under a new bill proposed by Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Undocumented workers face unique challenges in the workplace when it comes to filing grievances against management or speaking up about lost wages. The New York labor department claims it has investigated at least 30 cases over the last three years that involved threats to an employee’s immigration status. James’ legislation would make those threats illegal.

“New York state was built by immigrants and it has always stood proudly as a beacon of hope and opportunity no matter where you were born,” James said in a statement. “This legislation will represent a critical step toward protecting some of our most vulnerable workers by ensuring that they are not silenced or punished by threats related to their immigration status.”

The bill would amend a part of the New York Labor Law to refer employers who discriminate on the basis of immigration status to prosecutors, who could charge them with a misdemeanor and impose a fine up to $20,000 depending on the nature of the complaint and if the employer has a history of prior labor offenses.

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James’ announcement came one day after President Donald Trump reiterated in his State of the Union address calls to crack down on undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration. Wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards,” he said. “Meanwhile, working class Americans are left to pay the price for mass illegal migration — reduced jobs, lower wages, overburdened schools and hospitals, increased crime, and a depleted social safety net.”

Trump’s namesake company, however, has previously employed undocumented workers itself, and two of them were present at the speech Tuesday night.

One of the guests was Victorina Morales, a former personal housekeeper for President Trump at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey and Guatemalan immigrant. The other was Sandra Diaz, also a former golf club employee, who was born in Costa Rica and is now a legal resident.

Both women said they were happy to represent the millions of immigrants seeking a new life in the United States, and remind the president of those working for the Trump Organization.

“Very sad that he doesn’t change his position but happy that we’re there to tell the truth, to remind him of those who work for him,” Diaz said.

“I know it’s a long road and we have to fight,” Morales added. “There’s still a lot to do.”

The New York legislation was drafted partially in response to reports that Morales and other undocumented employees at Trump’s property in New Jersey had been threatened with having their immigration statuses exposed if they filed complaints against their supervisors. Morales said her supervisor frequently made demeaning remarks to undocumented employees, calling them “stupid illegal immigrants” with less intelligence than a dog.

In the wake of over-policing by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency — itself emboldened by Trump — state and local governments are finding legislative pathways to protect immigrant communities. New Jersey, for example, has instituted an Immigrant Trust Directive that would both protect immigrants in their interactions with state law enforcement while also building trust between police and migrant communities.

California, Oregon, and Illinois have issued similar directives in the past.

“Very sad that he doesn’t change his position but happy that we’re there to tell the truth, to remind him of those who work for him,” Diaz said.

“I know it’s a long road and we have to fight,” Morales added. “There’s still a lot to do.”

The New York legislation was drafted partially in response to reports that Morales and other undocumented employees at Trump’s property in New Jersey had been threatened with having their immigration statuses exposed if they filed complaints against their supervisors. Morales said her supervisor frequently made demeaning remarks to undocumented employees, calling them “stupid illegal immigrants” with less intelligence than a dog.

In the wake of over-policing by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency — itself emboldened by Trump — state and local governments are finding legislative pathways to protect immigrant communities. New Jersey, for example, has instituted an Immigrant Trust Directive that would both protect immigrants in their interactions with state law enforcement while also building trust between police and migrant communities.

California, Oregon, and Illinois have issued similar directives in the past.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 7, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant on the NPR Business Desk. She has also worked for NPR member stations WFSU in Tallahassee and WLRN in Miami.

The House GOP health care bill is a job killer, says a new report

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

 In addition to potentially increasing the number of uninsured by 23 million and being unequivocally unpopular, House Republicans’ Obamacare replacement plan could leave nearly a million people unemployed.

That’s according to a new study published Wednesday by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University and The Commonwealth Fund projects, which finds that the U.S. economy could see a loss of 924,000 jobs by 2026 if the American Health Care Act (AHCA) becomes law.

The study concentrated on coverage-related and tax repeal policies included in the AHCA. Some of the key provisions it said could add to job losses would:

  1. Phase out enhanced funding for Medicaid expansion by restricting eligibility in 2020, and imposing either a block grant or per capita caps.
  2. Replace premium tax credits with age-based tax credits. The premiums can be five times higher for older individuals, compared to the current threefold maximum.
  3. Allow states to waive key insurance rules, like community rating and essential health benefits. (The study does account for the Patient and State Stability Fund, a $8 billion grant meant to relieve states of high-cost patients.)
  4. Eliminate the individual mandate tax penalty and premiums hikes for people who do not maintain continuous coverage.
  5. Repeal numerous taxes and tax increases, like a tax on high-cost insurance (i.e. the “Cadillac tax”).

Short-term gain, long-term pain

Federal health funding stimulates the economy and job creation. Health funds pay hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other providers, and these facilities pay for their own respective employees and other goods and services, like rent and equipment. Health care employees and private businesses then use their earnings to purchase consumer goods like housing and transportation, circulating this money through the larger economy.

The GWU study found government spending or subsidies stimulate the economy more than tax cuts. Tax cuts do help, but only in the short term. The way AHCA is set up is that the tax cuts take effect sooner than federal funding cuts, which is why some states see net job growth by 2018. Then, when federal dollars are eventually pulled, states begin to see job losses by 2026.

Who’s most affected:

The employment rate among states that expanded Medicaid eligibility could disproportionately be affected, because those states received more federal dollars. New York, a state that expanded Medicaid, could be among the hardest hit with 86,000 job losses by 2026.

Between April 2016 and April 2017, New York added 76,800 jobs and the educational & health services sector saw the largest job gains, at 46,600 jobs. “The Affordable Care Act [ACA] contributed to that [growth],” Ronnie Kauder, senior research director at the New York City Labor Market Information Service, told ThinkProgress.

Kauder emphasized that the ACA wasn’t solely responsible for New York’s job growth, even in the health care sector. Uncontrollable factors like the state’s growing aging population and increasing life expectancy contribute to job growth as well.

New York has reaped the employment benefits of comprehensive health care, said Kauder. That’s in part because ACA encouraged states to test new models of health care delivery and shifted from a reimbursement system based on volume of services to value of services.

For example, New York received ACA grant funding to test effective ways to incentivize Medicaid beneficiaries, who struggle with chronic diseases, to participate in prevention programs and change their health risks. With that grant, New York created new programs at existing managed care organizations, which required new hires. The grant created positions like care coordinators, who connect and follow-up up with patients and providers in the program, said Kauder. “They are heavy on the training, but not licensed professionals,” she said.

But while she attributed some of New York’s job gains to the ACA, Kauder was skeptical that the GOP replacement plan would kill as many of them as the GWU study projects. “We don’t know what the state response will be,” he said. “It could be worse in Kentucky.”

The largest health care provider in New York, Northwell Health, hires on average 150 people a week. Northwell chief public relations officer Terry Lynam told ThinkProgress he doesn’t think the ACA directly contributed to a spike in job growth; however, it did help expedite the provider’s move from hospitals to outpatient care centers, also called ambulatory care, in an effort to slow rising health costs.

“What [ACA] has done was contribute to the ambulatory net growth [by cutting costs],” said Lynam. Northwell Health has 550 outpatient locations.

Northwell Health has qualms with the House GOP bill; specifically its cuts to Medicaid and change in coverage rules. “We are in a stronger financial position to survive that kind of reduction in revenue,” said Lynam. “But what about small providers serving low income areas, who need those Medicaid [dollars]?”

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Amanda Michelle Gomez is a health care reporter at ThinkProgress.

Fox News faces new legal trouble for sexual harassment

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

The New York State Division of Human Rights (SDHR) is investigating Fox News for claims of sexual harassment and retaliation, according to attorney Lisa Bloom.

Bloom told ThinkProgress over the phone that a human rights specialist at the agency confirmed the investigation to her on Friday.

According to Bloom, the agency has spoken to one of her clients, Dr. Wendy Walsh, twice, and another of her clients, Caroline Heldman, once in the course of the investigation. The agency also wants to interview a third woman.

Bloom’s law firm filed a request for investigation with the SDHR on April 11th. Bloom told ThinkProgress she asked for the investigation because Fox has “the worst corporate culture I’ve heard of in 30 years as a civil rights attorney.”

“Over the past thirteen years, dozens of women have reported egregious sexual harassment and retaliation at Fox News, with new claims constantly coming to light,” the complaint says. “The company frequently pays women to remain silent and leave the company while the perpetrators and enablers keep their jobs. Others are scared into silence by the company’s well-documented intimidation tactics, including using its giant media platform to smear their reputations. Nearly all of the victims were not only driven out of Fox News, but the television industry entirely.”

The complaint says that since many of the victims signed confidentiality agreements or are barred by time-limits from bringing their complaints to the legal system, they cannot raise the issue with the SDHR themselves.

The SDHR did not immediately respond to ThinkProgress’ request for confirmation.

Bloom told ThinkProgress that a typical remedy for this sort of case would see the state entering into a consent decree with the employer. The employer would likely have to improve their grievance procedures and demonstrate compliance on a regular basis, anywhere from monthly to yearly.

According to Bloom, the process is “pretty intrusive” for the employer, and typically unwelcome.

This report signals a new wave in the network’s ongoing legal troubles, linked to what reports and allegations indicate is a pervasive culture of sexual discrimination.

Last year, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed suit against the network’s then-CEO Roger Ailes, alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination. The network eventually settled with Carlson for $20 million, but her suit opened the floodgates of women coming forward with their own allegations. The scandal led to Ailes’ resignation.

Then this year, the New York Times reported that the network had paid over $13 million over the years to quiet allegations of harassment by Fox News Host Bill O’Reilly. The report led to a spate of women going public with their stories, and ultimately to O’Reilly’s ousting from the network after advertisers abandoned his nightly talk show.

Taken in sum, however, the women’s stories indicate that the problem went beyond the alleged predilections of two of the network’s most powerful men. The allegations and reports paint a picture of systemic sexual harassment and a culture of gender discrimination within the network.

“It’s not about Roger Ailes. It’s about a culture,” Gabriel Sherman, who wrote the book on Roger Ailes and his role in the network, told NPR in July 2016. “And it was a culture where this type of behavior was encouraged and protected. The allegations are that women routinely had to sleep with or be propositioned by their manager in many cases, Roger Ailes, but I’ve reported on another manager who did this in exchange for promotions.”

Fox News has also retained the law firm Paul Weiss to conduct internal investigations of the harassment claims against Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly.

This piece has been updated with comments from Lisa Bloom. Judd Legum contributed reporting.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laurel Raymond is a general reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was the ThinkProgress Editorial Assistant. Prior to joining ThinkProgress she worked for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and was a Fulbright scholar, based in southeast Turkey. She holds a B.S. in brain and cognitive sciences and a B.A. in English from the University of Rochester, where she worked and researched in the university writing center and was a member of the Michael K. Tanenhaus psycholinguistics lab. Laurel is originally from Richmond, Vermont.

Hints of Progress for Labor in the United States

Friday, June 9th, 2017

With Donald Trump sitting in the White House and right-wing Republicans controlling Congress, there is not much for labor to cheer about on the American national political scene. In addition, the overall prospect for union organizing does not look very good. Republicans are pursuing policies at both the national and state level to further erode union membership. But with all the bad news, there have been some important victories at the state and local levels that can perhaps lay the groundwork for gains nationally in future years.

The most important of these battles has been the drive for an increase in the minimum wage. The national minimum wage has been set at $7.25 an hour since 2009. In the intervening eight years, inflation has reduced its purchasing power by almost 17%. Measured by purchasing power, the current national minimum wage is more than 25% below its 1968 peak. That is a substantial decline in living standards for the country’s lowest-paid workers.

However, the situation is even worse if we compare the minimum wage to productivity. From 1938, when a national minimum wage was first put in place, until 1968, it was raised in step with the average wage, which in turn tracked economy-wide productivity growth. If the minimum wage had continued to track productivity growth in the years since 1968, it would be almost $20 an hour today, more than two and a half times its current level. That would put it near the current median wage for men and close to the 60th percentile wage for women. This is a striking statement on how unevenly the gains from growth have been shared over the last half century.

The Obama administration tried unsuccessfully to make up some of this lost ground during his presidency. While it may have been possible in his first two years when the Democrats controlled Congress, higher priority was given to the stimulus, health care reform and financial reform. Once the Republicans regained control in 2010, increases in the minimum wage were off the table. Needless to say, it is unlikely (although not impossible) that the Trump administration will take the lead in pushing for a higher minimum wage any time soon.

Although the situation looks bleak nationally, there have been many successful efforts to increase the minimum wage in states and cities across the country in recent years. This effort has been led by unions, most importantly the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), whose “Fight for $15” campaign is pushing to make $15 an hour the nationwide minimum. The drive gained momentum with its endorsement by Bernie Sanders in his remarkable campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination last year. While Sanders was of course defeated for the nomination, his push for a $15 an hour minimum wage won the support of many voters. It is now a mainstream position within the national Democratic Party.

However, the action for the near term is at the state and local levels, where there have been many successes. There are now 29 states that have a minimum wage higher than the national minimum. The leader in this effort is California, which is now scheduled to have a $15 an hour minimum wage as of January 2022. With over 12% of the US population living there, this is a big deal. Washington State is not far behind, with the minimum wage scheduled to reach $13.50 an hour in January 2020. New York State’s minimum wage will rise to $12.50 an hour at the end of 2020 and will be indexed to inflation in subsequent years.

Several cities have also jumped ahead with higher minimum wages. San Francisco and Seattle, two centers of the tech economy, both are set to reach $15 an hour for city minimums by 2020. Many other cities, including New York, Chicago and St. Louis have also set minimum wages considerably higher than the federal and state levels.

What has been most impressive about these efforts to secure higher minimum wages is the widespread support they enjoy. This is not just an issue that appeals to the dwindling number of union members and progressive sympathizers. Polls consistently show that higher minimum wages have the support of people across the political spectrum. Even Republicans support raising the minimum wage, and often by a large margin.

As a result of this support, minimum wage drives have generally succeeded in ballot initiatives when state legislatures or local city councils were not willing to support higher minimums. The last minimum wage increase in Florida was put in place by a ballot initiative that passed in 2004, even as the state voted for George W. Bush for president. Missouri, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in this century, approved a ballot initiative for a higher minimum wage in 2006. South Dakota, Nebraska and Arkansas, all solidly Republican states, approved ballot initiatives for higher minimum wages in 2014. In short, this is an issue where the public clearly supports the progressive position.

These increases in state and local minimum wages have meant substantial improvements in the living standards of the affected populations. In many cases, families are earning 20-30% more than they would if the minimum wage had been left at the federal minimum.

In addition, several states, including California, have also put in place measures to give workers some amount of paid family leave and sick days. While workers in Europe have long taken such benefits for granted, most workers in the United States cannot count on receiving paid time off. This is especially true for less-educated and lower-paid workers. In fact, employers in most states do not have to grant unpaid time off and can fire a worker for taking a sick day for themselves or to care for a sick child. So the movement towards requiring paid time off is quite significant for many workers.

This progress should be noted when thinking about the political situation and the plight of working people in the United States, but there are also two important qualifications that need to be added. The first is that there are clearly limits to how far it is possible to go with minimum wage increases before the job losses offset the benefits. Recent research has shown that modest increases can be put in place with few or no job losses, but everyone recognizes that at some point higher minimum wages will lead to substantial job loss. A higher minimum wage relative to economy-wide productivity was feasible in the past because the US had a whole range of more labor-friendly policies in place. In the absence of these supporting policies, we cannot expect the lowest-paid workers to get the same share of the pie as they did half a century ago.

The other important qualification is the obvious one: higher minimum wages do not increase union membership. The SEIU, the AFL-CIO and the member unions that have supported the drive for a higher minimum wage have done so in the best tradition of enlightened unionism. They recognize that a higher minimum wage can benefit a substantial portion of their membership, since it sets a higher base from which they can negotiate upward. Of course, it is also a policy that benefits the working class as a whole. For this reason, unions collectively have devoted considerable resources to advancing the drive to raise the minimum wage.

However, this has put a real strain on their budgets at a time when anti-union efforts are reducing the number of dues-paying members in both the public and private sectors. This will make it more difficult to sustain the momentum for raising minimum wages and mandating employer benefits. For this reason, the good news on the minimum wage must be tempered. It is a rare bright spot for labor in the United States in the last decade, but it will be a struggle to sustain the momentum in the years ahead.

This blog was originally published at CEPR.net on June 7, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  Dean Baker co-founded CEPR in 1999. His areas of research include housing and macroeconomics, intellectual property, Social Security, Medicare and European labor markets. He is the author of several books, including Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer. His blog, “Beat the Press,” provides commentary on economic reporting. He received his B.A. from Swarthmore College and his Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Michigan

The Issue of Paid Family Leave Just Got Some New York Size Momentum

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

GELClogoOn April 4, New York State passed what is being hailed as the most comprehensive and generous paid family leave law in the country.  The Paid Family Leave Insurance Act (A. 3870 / S. 3004) (“PFLIA”) will provide workers in New York State with up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year, to bond with a new child, or to care for a seriously ill family member.  For military families, the leave time can be used to address legal, financial and childcare issues.  Notably, unlike the federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), coverage does not include taking care of an employee’s own medial condition.  That means, if unrelated to childbirth, employees would still need to seek time off under New York State’s Temporary Disability Insurance (“TDI”) program.

Beginning in 2018, all full and part-time employees who have been working at their jobs for at least six months will be eligible for eight weeks of paid leave up to one-half of their weekly wages, capped at 50% of the New York Statewide Average Weekly Wage (“SAWW”).  These payments will gradually phase in over four years until 2021 when workers will be entitled to 12 weeks of leave, for benefits up to two-thirds of their weekly salary, capped at a maximum of 67% of the SAWW.

The current SAWW is $1,266.44, through June 2016 (with predicted increases each year).  So, the benefit will be robust.  For instance, if an employee received family leave benefits today that would mean s/he could receive up to $633.22 per week; or $844.29 if the two-thirds rate was in effect.  As compared with maximum benefits workers in New York are eligible to receive under its Temporary Disability Insurance (“TDI”) program that’s a big improvement.  That program caps recipient benefits at a mere $170 per week.  Until now, TDI was the only financial recourse postpartum women in New York were eligible for – unless their employers wanted to be more generous (sometimes true for large corporations, rarely for smaller employers).  Although, beginning in 2018, women still would not be entitled to paid family leave in order to recover from their own childbirth recovery, they would be eligible to receive paid family leave to bond with their child at a vastly improved weekly wage replacement rate.

The PFLIA program is a fully employee-funded program, meaning, unlike several other states and localities, employers will not have to contribute to the cost.  Rather, employees will pay into a state sponsored insurance program and payments to workers will be paid out through this program.  These contributions will start at as little as 45 cents per week when the law goes into effect in 2018.  Thereafter, New York’s Superintendent of Financial Services will analyze what amount of funding the program needs based on the cost per worker of providing paid leave.  While the total per employee contribution remains unknown, an important premise behind the legislation is that employee contributions should represent a very small deduction from each employee’s weekly paycheck.  It is estimated that by year four that deduction will be 88 cents per week.

Significantly, paid leave is protected leave.  All qualified employees who take paid family leave will be entitled to return to their jobs.  If employers violate the law, employees will be entitled to reinstatement and back pay.  Unfortunately, there is no private right of action to go into Court.  Claims will have to be administered through the New York Worker’s Compensation Board which handles violations of the TDI law.

Several other states are now looking to follow New York’s lead.  Ohio just introduced a 12-week paid leave bill the same week New York’s law was signed.  Connecticut has introduced a bill as well that would entitle employees to be compensated up to $1,000 a week.  The proposed bill would cover employers with as little as two employees.

In 20 states, legislation has either been introduced or is being actively pursued.  Each of these proposed bills and programs strikes a different balance.  Some states would provide fully employer-funded paid programs, while others base their programs on models similar to that used in New York, making their proposed paid family leave benefits solely through employee contributions, and some are a mix of both.  What is covered under each of these proposed laws varies too.  Some cover all employers, while others limit coverage to larger employers, although many require less than the FMLA does with 50 or more employees as a basis for coverage.

These laws undoubtedly will offer a new generation of workers the family-job balance that previous generations did not have.  Not only will employees be less likely to face devastating economic choices when they decide to have children or need to care for a loved one, but as studies show, when family leave is paid, women are far less likely to be forced out of or choose to opt out of the workforce when having children.  This in turn will decrease a persistent wage gap between men and women who have children.  In addition, further studies document that men are far more likely to take family leave when it is paid, thereby bringing men and women closer to wage parity and more likely to share domestic responsibilities at home.

Nonetheless, as evidenced by this patchwork of laws and proposed bills, paid family leave – some, all or none – creates inequality among American workers when states offer inconsistent opportunities for work-life balance.  Even worse, many states still have no paid family leave laws on their books, and do not seem close to passing such legislation in the near future.  This result strongly emphasizes the need for national legislation that would allow us to join the rest of the industrialized world.  But as a start, we New Yorkers’ are proud of where our efforts have led – to the strongest, broadest, most generous paid family leave law in the country!  This law will make all the difference to the estimated 6.9 million workers in this state.

For more information about what you can do to support and/or expand family leave laws in your state check out what your legislators are doing and join family leave campaigns.  Or, contact us at the Gender Equality Law Center.

Allegra L. Fishel is the founder and Executive Director of the Gender Equality Law Center (“GELC”), a 501(c)(3) legal and advocacy center.  GELC’s mission is to advance laws and policies that promote gender equality in all spheres of public and private life.

Lauren T. Betters is a 2015 law school graduate of Northeastern Law School and GELC’s first Law Fellow.

Victory in New York City: Cuomo Signs Legislation Raising Minimum Wage to $15

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016
Victory in New York City: Cuomo Signs Legislation Raising Minimum Wage to $15

On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a law raising the state’s minimum wage. In New York City and some more prosperous suburbs, the new minimum wage will be $15, while in the rest of the state, the new minimum wage will be $12.50. The increases will be phased in, and millions will see wage increases. Future wage Kenneth Quinnellincreases will be tied to economic indicators. The law also establishes 12 weeks of paid family leave for working people.

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento applauded the legislation:

Three million working people in New York state will see their wages go up due to the $15 per hour minimum wage, making New York the first state in the country to reach that landmark.  Raising the minimum wage is long overdue and is a step in the right direction toward addressing poverty and income inequality. This meaningful wage will allow hard-working men and women the opportunity to better support themselves and their families, and enjoy a standard of living and quality of life they can be proud of.

As reported last week, California also passed legislation to raise its minimum wage to $15, reminding us that while Congress sits idle, working people throughout the country continue to fight to raise wages.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on April 5, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

Why Unions Supported a Single-Payer Bill That Passed New York’s State Assembly

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

mark-dudzicNew York’s State Assembly in May overwhelmingly passed a bill to establish a single-payer-style health care system.

The bill isn’t expected to pass the Senate or be signed into law anytime soon. But getting it through, with unprecedented support from big unions, shows that state-level campaigns are still a fertile ground for health care justice organizing, despite the recent setback in Vermont.

The New York Health Act would eliminate private health insurance and cover all New Yorkers in a publicly financed, universal plan with no patient premiums, deductibles, or co-payments.

“We should be able to go to the doctor when we need to, without worrying whether we can afford it,” said its sponsor, Assembly Member Richard Gottfried. “We should choose our doctors and hospitals without worrying about network restrictions.”

Gottfried has led a decades-long effort in the Assembly for universal care. But the difference this time was the number of major unions actively supporting it. They gave the bill a big boost.

More unions onboard

Traditional single-payer advocates like the New York State Nurses (NYSNA) and the New York City stagehands’ union, IATSE Local 1, have backed Gottfried’s bills before.

This year marked the first time they were joined by such influential statewide unions as Service Employees (SEIU) 1199 and New York State United Teachers (NYSUT/AFT).

Those unions’ lobbying efforts helped convince legislators the bill was politically viable. And their financial support was crucial to hiring community organizers in key regions.

The unions also participated in statewide hearings in January and mobilized members for Albany lobby days in May.

“The employer-based system of providing health care is eroding, covering a smaller percentage of New Yorkers each year,” said 1199 SEIU member Malcolm Olaker, a Poughkeepsie nursing home worker, at a lobby day.

“In a just society, all people are entitled to basic health care. That’s why we are all here today from different walks of life: patients, health care providers, caregivers and community members, supporting single payer health care.”

Advocacy groups Healthcare NOW, Single Payer NY, and Physicians for a National Health Program were able to capitalize on the momentum to play much larger roles than in previous years.

Obamacare didn’t fix it

Labor support for the initiative grew so strong because of how the Affordable Act has panned out. The much-heralded federal law has done little to ease bargaining-table pressures for health care concessions.

“Our members working in schools and college campuses want our state’s poorest students and their families to have access to quality health care services, so they arrive at school each day healthy and equipped to learn,” said Anthony Pallota, NYSUT executive vice president, at the January hearing.

“Our retirees, who tend to be our most medically vulnerable and fragile members, want affordable prescription medication and access to immediate health care.”

Despite the federal mandates, employers are still trying to offer less coverage and shift costs onto the backs of workers and retirees.

Public sector health benefits are a particularly tempting target, as states and municipalities wrestle with budget shortfalls. Politicians exploit a “politics of resentment” among private sector workers who’ve already seen their own benefits cut.

Another factor spurring unions to action is the looming 2018 implementation of the ACA’s “Cadillac tax.” This 40 percent excise tax will apply to all health insurance plan charges over $10,200 per year for individual coverage and $27,500 for family coverage.

These caps are set to rise at a much slower rate than the costs of health insurance, which means nearly all union-negotiated plans will eventually face the choice between radical cuts to coverage or paying the hefty tax.

Already, the tax has been a major issue in recent union negotiations with Boeing, oil refiners, and port operators.

State by state

While most health care justice activists would prefer a national, Medicare-for-All reform along the lines of Rep. John Conyers’ H.R. 676, in recent years the momentum has been growing for single-payer-style reforms at the state level.

At a time when any path to sweeping federal action appears closed, groups like the Labor Campaign for Single Payer and Healthcare NOW have supported state campaigns as a way forward.

The ACA may help facilitate these efforts—because, beginning in 2017, the federal government is authorized to grant states “innovation waivers.”

Such a waiver frees the state from the requirement to establish a private insurance exchange. Instead, it can reallocate federal subsidies for private insurance and Medicaid into funding its own plan.

To be approved, the state’s plan must meet the law’s minimum requirements for coverage and cost-sharing, and cover at least as many residents at a cost no higher than what the federal government would have assumed.

“We believe that a victory for a publicly financed, universal plan in one or more states can provide a powerful impetus to the movement for national health care,” said Ben Day, executive director of Healthcare NOW.

State efforts suffered a setback when Vermont’s governor announced in December that he was suspending plans to implement Green Mountain Care, the single-payer-style program to realize the 2011 law that made health care a right.

Shumlin was scheduled to submit a financing proposal to the legislature in advance of the plan going into effect in 2017. Instead, he announced the health care for all was “just not affordable”—despite the fact that even his own economic estimates showed Vermonters would spend less for health care than they currently do.

Gerald Friedman, a University of Massachusetts economist, called Shumlin’s decision “political, not economic.” Nonetheless, single-payer opponents seized on the Vermont debacle as proof that universal health care at the state level is unworkable.

But the book isn’t closed. The law is still in effect, and hundreds have taken to the streets to demand its implementation.

The Vermont Workers’ Center—which maintains that the state still has an obligation to implement the law—issued its own financing plan, which it submitted to the legislature for consideration.

Strategy conference

All health care justice campaigns, if they get far enough, will be forced to wrestle with the same conundrum Vermonters are facing. The closer they come to victory, the greater the resistance from the medical-industrial complex and free-market fundamentalists who viscerally oppose any form of social insurance.

In California, the legislature twice passed single-payer bills in the 2000s, only to have them vetoed by Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Once Democrat Jerry Brown was elected governor, the movement couldn’t even find a bill sponsor.

California activists are gearing up for a multi-year project to muster the substantial funds and organizers it will take to win (and then defend) a single-payer-style system through the state’s initiative process.

Organizers in the strong, labor-backed campaigns in Oregon and Washington are also looking to use the initiative process if pending legislation founders. Oregon passed a bill to fund a study of alternative plans to ensure universal coverage.

New York will surely experience the same political challenges as Vermont and California. Nonetheless, the bill’s passage with such a big majority and the outpouring of labor and community support have given the national movement a welcome shot in the arm.

“This is a great victory, but now the hard work begins,” warned Joel Shufro, a longtime occupational health and safety advocate who worked to recruit unions to support the bill.

“Getting the bill through the Senate and getting the governor to sign it will be a long and difficult struggle. We must keep on building the grassroots movement if we ever hope to win the right to health care for everyone in New York.”

Activists will discuss and debate how to build this movement when they meet in Chicago, October 30-November 1, for thelargest-ever single-payer national strategy conference.

“Our movement continues to grow, as people realize that the Affordable Care Act does not do enough to solve the health care crisis afflicting almost everyone in America,” said NYSNA Vice President Marva Wade. “We need to come together to finish the job and make health care a right for everyone.”

This blog originally appeared in InTheseTimes.com on August 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Mark Dudzic is the national coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer. He can be reached at mdudzic@igc.org.

States Where Minimum Wages Are Supposed To Be Living Wages

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Bryce CovertLast week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that he is taking advantage of a state law to raise minimum wages without the involvement of the legislature. He’s not the only governor with that power; others could also follow suit.

New York State law gives the labor commissioner the authority to convene a wage board to investigate whether the minimum wage in a specific job — or even all of the jobs in the state — are adequate, and to issue a “wage order” to increase it without the involvement of state lawmakers. On Wednesday, Cuomo announced that he would direct the commissioner to investigate wages in the fast food industry. New York was the home to the first strike in the fast food industry demanding a $15 minimum wage and has been home to them as they continued to spread across the country.

But Cuomo isn’t the only governor with the power to set a higher minimum wage without approval from a state legislature. According to an analysis from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), state laws in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wisconsin all empower their governors in similar ways. “There was a time when the minimum wage was less politicized and there was a sense that it should be at a level adequate to deliver decent incomes for workers,” explained Paul Sonn, general counsel at NELP. “These laws are still on the books in a number of places.”

States have already been raising their own minimum wages, to the point that the majority have a higher wage than the federal level of $7.25. But some state lawmakers haven’t been taking action. “Where the legislative process won’t deal adequately with the minimum wage, governors should dust [these laws] off and use them aggressively to deliver the wages that workers need,” Sonn argued. “Governors in states with this authority should be using them more frequently and more creatively to address the problem of low wages.”

One example could be California, which has a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who already signed a minimum wage increase to $10 by 2016 back in 2013. “Cuomo is saying, ‘I’m going to make New York a progressive leader with the strongest minimum wage in the nation,’” Sonn said. “Jerry Brown could do the same thing.” A spokesman for the governor’s office told ThinkProgress he wasn’t aware of similar options to what Cuomo did in California, but noted that there are other new bills and proposals to raise the wage.

The authority can also be used against governors who aren’t supportive of higher minimum wages. That’s already happened in Wisconsin. There, a state statute says that all wages in the state have to amount to no less than a living wage and that any member of the public can file a complaint saying the minimum wage fails that standard. Last year, low-wage workers and worker organizing groups submitted 100 complaints to Gov. Scott Walker (R) alleging that the state’s $7.25 minimum wage violates the statute, although his administration rejected the complaints.

A similar fight could start brewing in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie (R) has voiced his opposition to increasing the minimum wage. “The Governor of New Jersey has the power to raise wages for hundreds of thousands of workers,” Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families, told ThinkProgress. “We will absolutely be calling on Gov. Christie to follow in the footsteps of Gov. Cuomo, who Christie has called his ‘separated at birth twin brother.’” She also said the issue would be brought up beyond Christie’s administration. “Over the coming year Working Families activists [will] be asking every potential gubernatorial contender in New Jersey’s 2017 election where they stand on using the state’s wage board to end poverty wages,” she said.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 11, 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.

 

New York manicurists to get emergency protections against wage theft, hazardous chemicals

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Laura ClawsonTalk about journalism with an immediate impact. Last week’s New York Times investigation of labor law violations and unhealthy working conditions for manicurists in the city’s nail salons has spurred Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take sweeping emergency action:

Nail salons that do not comply with orders to pay workers back wages, or are unlicensed, will be shut down. […]Salons will be required to publicly post signs that inform workers of their rights, including the fact that it is illegal to work without wages or to pay money for a job — a common practice in the nail salon industry, according to workers and owners. The signs will be in half a dozen languages, including those most spoken in the industry — Korean, Chinese and Spanish. […]

Salons will now be required to be bonded — which is intended to ensure, through a contract with a bonding agency, that workers can eventually be paid if salon owners are found to have underpaid the workers. The move is an attempt to counteract the phenomenon of salon owners’ hiding assets when they are found guilty of wage theft.

Additionally, health and safety measures will be put in place, like requiring manicurists to wear gloves and masks and salons to be ventilated, while the Health Department will investigate the most effective health protections to incorporate into what will eventually be permanent policies replacing the short-term emergency measures.

Some of the abuses Sarah Maslin Nir’s investigation into New York City nail salons exposed may be especially prevalent in New York, where there are more nail salons per capita than in any other American city and where manicures cost below the national average. That might, for instance, make wage theft more common and more aggressive than in other locations—but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening in California and Illinois and Massachusetts, too, and states should take this as a spur to inspect their own nail salons. And the health hazards manicurists face similarly deserve a good hard look by state regulators. Customers might end up paying a couple dollars more for a mani-pedi, but we’re talking about workers’ lives here, and their ability to collect the pay they’ve legally earned.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on May 9, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

New York wage announcement is a bold step forward, will strengthen economy for all of us

Friday, May 8th, 2015

Mary Kay HenryGovernor Cuomo announced yesterday that he’ll use state law to impanel a Wage Board to examine the minimum wage in the fast-food industry.

The fast-food cooks and cashiers who started the Fight for $15 movement are showing how ordinary people make change happen when they stick together.

Governor Cuomo’s move to set a dramatically higher standard for how people who work in fast food are paid is a bold step forward. It shows that a $15 wage floor can be a reality. It’s an inspiring change not just for working New Yorkers, but for working people across the country.

More and more Americans and our elected representatives are standing up to say that it’s time to stop profitable corporations from paying wages so low that they trap people in poverty.

By using our strength in numbers, the workers and families of the Fight for $15 movement are sending a message that raising wages to $15 will boost the economy, create more opportunity, and build a more balanced economy.

This blog was originally posted on seiu.org on May 7, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Mary Kay Henry. Mary Kay Henry serves as International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which unites 2 million workers in healthcare, public and property services. Henry has devoted her life to helping North America’s workers form unions and strengthen their voice at work about the quality of the goods and services they provide, and the quality of care they are able to deliver.

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