Thursday, November 26, 2009

Let’s Get the Facts Straight: House Gets Health Care Reform Right

With the U.S. House vote Nov. 7 approving historic health care reform, America’s working families are another step closer to winning quality, affordable health care for all.

The citizens of Wisconsin owe thanks to Reps. Kagen, Baldwin, Kind, Moore, and Obey, who voted for the bill, and have every right to be very disappointed in Reps. Ryan, Sensenbrenner and Petri, who did not.

I am particularly grateful to our own Representative Dr. Steve Kagen; his vote clearly indicates that he put people first, rather than insurance company special interests. He has also made many strong public statements explaining and supporting reform.

Representatives who supported the bill faced down a daylong barrage of blatant falsehoods from opponents. Let’s get the facts straight.

The Affordable Health Care for America Act, which now must be merged with a bill the Senate is expected to pass in coming weeks, covers 96 percent of Americans, is fully paid for and reduces the federal deficit, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The White House Council of Economic Advisers confirms it will aid job creation in both the short term and the long term.

At the core of the House health care bill is shared responsibility—individuals, companies and government all have a role. Companies are required to cover employees or pay into a common fund, so the rest of us don’t have to pick up the health care tab for the workers of highly profitable companies. Small businesses are exempt and tax credits will help small responsible employers take part. Individuals must have insurance, but low-income people will get help paying for health insurance. Every year, about $1,000 of our health insurance costs goes to cover the uninsured. Bringing previously uninsured people into the insurance risk pool is key to driving down health care costs for all of us.

The House bill increases choice by adding a strong public health insurance plan option that will drive down health care costs by forcing private insurers to compete. The public plan is an option. If your employer provides insurance, you can keep it. If not, the insurance market, including the public plan and private plans, is open to your choice. And if you can’t afford insurance, this bill will get you help.

The House bill helps America’s seniors by strengthening and improving Medicare benefits and attacking waste, fraud and inefficiency—including gross overpayments to insurance companies that provide Medicare Advantage plans. These overpayments do nothing to improve care for seniors—they just raise costs and weaken Medicare. The Alliance for Retired Americans and the AARP support the House bill as the right choice for older Americans.

Under the House bill, veterans and their families will continue receiving care as they do now through the VA and TRICARE—but they gain the opportunity to get additional coverage, if they choose, by enrolling in an insurance plan through the bill’s Health Insurance Exchange.

There are right ways and wrong ways to reform America’s broken health care system. Allowing big private insurers to continue to call the shots that mean life and death to us is wrong. Allowing wealthy companies to shirk their responsibilities and shift the burden of health care for their employees to taxpayer-funded programs is wrong. Financing reform on the backs of middle-class families by taxing health care benefits is wrong.

The House got it right. Let’s hope that the Senate follows their lead.

Tony Vanderbloemen
Greater Green Bay Labor Council
1570 Elizabeth St.Green Bay, WI 54302

NOTE: Tony was a long time Local President of the Northeastern Wisconsin Area Local APWU in Green Bay, WI. This article appeared in the Green Bay Press Gazette on November 25, 2009.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Statement by Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President David Newby on Senate Cloture Vote on Health Care Bill November 22, 2009

Last night's vote by the Senate to break a Republican filibuster and move forward with debate on health care reform is a critical and historic milestone in the march toward quality, affordable health care for America.

Our senators, Sen. Feingold and Sen. Kohl, stood up for working families in Wisconsin by voting to begin formal debate on a solution to the health care problems that torment our state's working people daily.

Senators will now have the opportunity to come up with the best health care law for America. They have a ways to go.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act's strong cost cutting measures go further than any previous legislation. But the bill must be improved in important areas. The employer responsibility provision should be expanded to cover all employers. And any plan to tax working families’ benefits should be eliminated -- taxes on the middle class are the wrong way to pay for health care.

We look forward to working with our senators and representatives to fulfill the promise of quality, affordable health care that our country deserves.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

5-day delivery: Depends on your perspective

Bottom line: it seems that technology will increasingly take the place of postal service in the years to come. This time around, Saturday service may be eliminated. But give it a few more years, and we might see Monday-Wednesday-Friday service. One day, USPS may be eliminated entirely. (Full Story]


Paid Leave Key to Slowing Spread of H1N1

by Mike Hall, Nov 17, 2009

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one worker sick with the H1N1 (swine flu) virus will infect one in 10 co-workers if he or she goes to work while infected with the virus. Even more frightening, another recent study predicted that 63 percent of Americans will be infected with the virus by the end of December.

Today, family advocates and heath care professionals told the House Education and Labor Committee that along with vaccinations, and good hygiene practices, the best way to protect workers and slow the spread of the H1N1 virus is through guaranteed paid sick leave legislation, such as the Healthy Families Act.

The CDC’s guidelines to employers and workers to slow the spread of the virus says workers who suspect they have the swine flu or another influenza-like illness should stay home and employers should allow workers to stay home “without fear of reprisals or…losing their jobs.”

But nearly half of all private-sector workers—and 76 percent of low-income workers—have no paid sick leave. That leaves sick workers facing the dilemma of staying home and losing several days of pay or likely spreading the disease to fellow workers and the public. Many low-wage workers have jobs that have direct contact with the public, such as the food-service and hospitality industry, schools and health care.

Says Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families:
Congress should waste no time in passing paid sick days legislation so that working people can earn paid time off and help prevent the spread of illnesses, without jeopardizing their economic security.

Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, says paid sick leave benefits both employers, workers and their families along with customers and the general public. For employers, Benjamin says:

Sick workers are not productive ones and by spreading disease in the workplace risk the overall productivity of the business. By providing paid leave for sick workers, worker safety and business productivity can both be enhanced—a win-win for employers.

While we want to encourage workers to make healthy and rational decisions, when they are faced with the choice of staying home sick without pay or going into work sick so they can put food on the table and pay their mortgage, many workers choose to go to work and “tough it out,” putting their co-workers and their customers at risk.

Committee chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) says that Congress has been “pushing for universal paid leave policies for workers of all income levels.”

Let’s face some simple facts: When you’re struggling to make ends meet, you’re going to do everything possible to not miss a day’s pay. The lack of paid sick leave encourages workers who may have H1N1 to hide their symptoms and come to work sick—spreading infection to co-workers, customers and the public. This isn’t good for our nation’s public health or for businesses.

Earlier this year, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 2460 and S. 1152), which would require businesses with more than 15 employees to provide workers with up to seven paid sick days a year to care for themselves or a sick child or spouse.

At a Senate hearing on H1N1 earlier this month, Deputy Secretary of Labor Seth Harris announced the Obama administration’s support for the Healthy Families Act.

The Healthy Families Act offers an important opportunity to provide workers with economic security by assuring that they have the ability to stay home if they are sick without fear of losing their jobs or being forced to go to work sick because they cannot afford to stay home. We support this bill and look forward to working with you on it as it moves through the legislative process.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dear Santa

"Good Morning America" / Wal-Mart Linked to Swine Flu

Dear Friends,

If you missed Friday’s ABC "Good Morning America" report on Wal-Mart's punitive sick-leave policies -including demerits and docked wages, driving Wal-Mart employees to work no matter how sick they are-you can still see it at:

An estimated 14,886,054 viewers saw the program.

Wal-Mart said it will not change its sick leave policies-which put both workers and customers at greater risk of catching swine flu because, well…. "because it is our policy." In a real humanitarian step, Wal-Mart has promised that no employee will be fired for having the H1N1 virus.

The story hit a nerve. A flood of Wal-Mart employees are sending their horror stories both to ABC and to the NLC. Other companies are also being exposed, including Home Depot and the major airlines.

We encourage you to weigh in about Wal-Mart's punitive sick leave policy on ABC/Good Morning America's site. If we can reform Wal-Mart, other companies will follow. The door is open. We must run through it. Let's keep the pressure up.

-ABC/Good Morning America, November 6, 2009 "Risking Demerits or Spreading H1N1?-

National Labor Committee, "Wal-Mart's Sick Leave Policy Risks Spreading Swine Flu; Retail Giant Flouts Recommendations of Centers for Disease Control"

Source: National Labor Committee

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Reps. Baldwin, Kind, Moore, Obey and Kagen Get A+ for Historic Health Care Vote

Health Care Vote Shows Who Sides With
Working Families vs. Insurance Companies

(Milwaukee, WI, Nov. 7, 2009) – On the heels of an historic late night vote in the House of Representatives for a good, balanced health insurance reform bill, the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO released its scoring of how our state’s U.S. representatives voted on HR 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act.

The legislation which passed Saturday evening by a vote of 220 to 215, would finally bring security and stability to our nation’s health care system. Working families would get much needed relief from skyrocketing health care prices, and uninsured Americans would be able to choose between a public option and private for-profit insurance.

Wisconsin Congressional Health Care Scorecard

A+ /Sided with Working Families
Rep. Tammy Baldwin, Dist. 2
Rep. Ron Kind, Dist. 3
Rep. Gwen Moore, Dist. 4
Rep. David Obey, Dist. 7
Rep Steve Kagen, Dist. 8

F-/ Sided With Insurance Companies
Rep. Paul Ryan, Dist. 1
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Dist. 5
Rep. Tom Petri, Dist. 6

“This is an historic victory that moves Wisconsin’s working families one step closer to the passage of real health insurance reform, “said Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President David Newby. “And it was a huge test of who will stand with working families versus the moneyed special interests. While some of Wisconsin’s House members passed with flying colors by standing up for the people who sent them to Washington, others failed by voting to keep the status quo. Make no mistake: Working families will remember who fulfilled the promises they were elected on and they will continue to stand with their Representatives who delivered.”

The legislation would also help small businesses access quality, affordable health care with lower rates and stable pricing from year to year. And it would lessen the burden of covering the uninsured by requiring employers to provide health care for their employers or pay into a common fund.

The House bill is also financed in a responsible way – it is fully paid for and would reduce our nation’s rising deficits. Furthermore, it does not attempt to pay for health care on the backs of middle class working families by increasing taxes on the health care that families are already struggling to pay for.

Once the Senate votes on its own bill, the two bills will be reconciled into final health insurance reform legislation.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Policy of Returning Office Budget Part of Feingold’s Commitment to Fiscal Responsibility

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Russ Feingold announced today that he recently returned $269,209.41 allocated to him as part of his office budget to the U.S. Treasury as part of his commitment to fiscal responsibility and curbing the deficit. Returning a portion of his office budget is a longstanding practice for Feingold, who over the course of his career has returned more than $3.2 million in office funding to the Treasury. Feingold is trying to expand this general practice Senate-wide in an effort that could save taxpayers $54 million. A provision in Feingold’s Control Spending Now Act, legislation to cut the deficit by more than one half trillion dollars over ten years, would cut five percent from this year’s allocation for House and Senate offices.

“We are staring down a record deficit that our children and grandchildren will pay for if we don’t take action,” Feingold said. “Returning this funding won’t get us out of the red but it will show the American people that some of us in Congress understand how important it is to cut the deficit.”

Trimming office budgets is one of several ways Feingold is proposing Congress tighten its belt to help cut the deficit. Feingold is also continuing his push to end automatic annual pay raises for members of Congress, which could save $80 million over ten years. Feingold does not accept pay raises during his term and, since 1993, Feingold has returned more than $70,000 in pay to the Treasury.

Feingold is also working to end wasteful spending by requiring campaign finance reports to be filed electronically. Despite presidential and House candidates having to file their reports electronically, the Senate has yet to enact Feingold’s legislation to do so. Instead, the Senate hires outside contractors to re-enter data that campaigns have readily available in electronic form. Ending this waste could save $2.5 million over ten years.

More on Senator Feingold’s legislation to cut the deficit by more than one half trillion dollars is available at

CWA on health care reform:

The House bill has got it right

"The U.S. House of Representatives got it right," writes CWA in its legislative newsletter. "[The House] bill does not tax health care benefits but would require every employer to pay and the wealthiest one percent of Americans to pay their fair share." Many union members' health plans would be subject to the Senate's proposed excise tax--and unions are prepared to fight to keep that tax out of the final health care reform law.

AFL-CIO Legislative Director Bill Samuel confirmed on a conference call last week that unions need to use the upcoming Veterans Day Congressional recess to visit lawmakers at home and keep the pressure on for no excise tax and a strong public option.

The House bill includes several positive measures, such as continuing medical coverage for pre-Medicare retirees, and a strong public option that would force insurance companies to compete more effectively.
Source: ILCA Insider

This Veterans Day, You Can Help Honor and Remember our Nation’s Heroes

In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson observed the first Armistice Day, which would later become Veterans’ Day, by reflecting “with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.” Ninety years later, Americans everywhere continue to honor the service and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans on November 11, the anniversary of the end of World War I.

One tradition I have been proud to participate in is the Honor Flight program. Honor Flight brings World War II veterans to Washington free of charge to visit their war memorial for the first time. Last year, this program helped over 11,000 veterans visit the memorial that was constructed in their honor. I have been proud to personally support this effort, and honored to meet Wisconsin veterans during their visit to the World War II memorial. To learn more about Honor Flight, please visit their website at:

While meeting Wisconsin veterans on an Honor Flight, I was deeply troubled to meet a man who had not received the awards he deserved because his service records were destroyed in a fire. He was wounded at the battle of Zigzag Pass in the Philippines, but the Army rejected his two previous Purple Heart applications because of the missing records. After working with the Army, enough information was found in reconstructed records to allow me to present the veteran with his long overdue medals, including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, on September 11, 2009.

Preserving the memories of the men and women who defended our country is more important than ever. In 2000, Congress created the Veterans History Project to collect interviews with veterans, as well as wartime letters and photographs. The Library of Congress saves these valuable memories for future generations, and Americans everywhere can submit material to the collection and join this effort.

To participate in the Veterans History Project, I encourage you to visit their website at Visitors can search the project’s collection and read about the experiences of our country in wartime. You can also download a field kit to submit your own interviews or materials to the collection.

Veterans Day gives us an opportunity to honor those who defended our freedom – but we must also remember the tragedy of war. Armistice Day became Veterans Day in 1954, after World War II and the Korean War ended the hope that World War I would be the “war to end all wars.” President Eisenhower’s proclamation called on Americans to “solemnly remember the sacrifices of all those who fought so valiantly…and let us reconsecrate ourselves to the task of promoting an enduring peace so that their efforts shall not have been in vain.”

Source: Senator Herb Kohl

Monday, November 2, 2009

BP Hit with Largest-Ever OSHA Fine of $87 Million

Posted By James Parks On October 30, 2009 @ 12:20 pm In Organizing & Bargaining

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis announced today the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has levied the largest fine in its history—$87.4 million—against BP for failing to correct safety problems identified after a [1] 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers at its Texas City, Texas, refinery.

In a telephone press conference this morning, Solis said the fines are the result of BP’s failure to comply in hundreds of instances with a 2005 agreement to fix safety hazards at the refinery.
Solis said the fines represent the Obama Labor Department’s commitment to maintain [2] safe workplaces:

Let me be clear. This administration will not tolerate disregard of our laws. Employers have a legal and moral responsibility to protect their workers who ultimately are America’s most important assets. The laws are designed to level the playing field for all businesses and ensure that workers in any economic climate are kept out of harm’s way.

OSHA has issued 271 notifications to BP for failing to correct hazards at the Texas City refinery since the explosion. The agency also identified 439 “willful and egregious” violations of safety controls at the refinery.

Wayne Ranick, a spokesman for the United Steelworkers ([3] USW), which represents the BP workers, says the union has not yet read the citation, but “we have faith in OSHA.”

In the past we have offered to work with the company to address safety concerns and that offer still stands.

BP management initially tried to blame the workers for the explosion, but evidence collected in investigations by OSHA and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board forced the company to acknowledge it operated dangerous, obsolete equipment with a history of problems and malfunctioning control valves. Instead of venting flammable liquids to a flair, they were vented into the atmosphere, where they overflowed and exploded—even though OSHA had warned the company years before that the equipment was dangerous and should be replaced.

In addition to killing 15 people, the explosion injured 170 workers and obliterated 13 employee trailers and damaged 13 others, some as far as 300 yards away.

Jordan Barab, acting assistant secretary for OSHA, said the safety problems at BP are systemic.
There are some serious systemic safety problems within the corporation, specifically within this refinery as well. I think that just the fact that there still are so many life-threatening problems indicates they have a systemic safety problem at this refinery.

BP already has pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the explosion and agreed to [1] pay $50 million, the largest criminal fine ever assessed against a company for Clean Air Act violations. Six months after the explosion, BP [4] agreed to pay a $21.3 million OSHA fine, then the largest in the agency’s history.

Since the explosion, BP has settled more than 4,000 civil claims, paid from a $2.1 billion fund it set aside to resolve claims.

Solis ended the press conference by reiterating that job safety is a top Labor Department priority:

Our number one concern is the safety and protection of the current workers. We don’t need to see another loss of one life there. Our motto is that we would like to see people go into work and be able to come home to their families.


Article printed from AFL-CIO NOW BLOG:
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