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Shea-Porter And Committee Democrats Urge Majority To Hold Hearings Examining School Shootings

“We stand ready to lead and do our job with regard to this difficult subject.”

WASHINGTON – All 17 Democratic Members of the Committee on Education and the Workforce sent a letterto Chairwoman Virginia Foxx requesting hearings before the full Committee to examine school shootings. This request comes after Wednesday’s preventable tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where at least seventeen students and faculty died as a result.  In response Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has called on Congress to hold hearings on this issue.

“[Secretary DeVos] stated pointedly that ‘we have got to have an honest conversation, and Congress has to lead on this.’ Madame Chair, we are wholly in agreement with Secretary DeVos in this respect,” the Members wrote. “We stand ready to lead and do our job with regard to this difficult subject.”

Despite more than 230 school shootings since the December, 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Committee has not held a hearing to address this public health crisis since February 2013. Democrats are urging the Chairwoman to show leadership on the issue and schedule hearings.

“Children and families across the country rely on their leaders in Congress for much more than thoughts and prayers,” said Shea-Porter on the House floor yesterday. “They need us to take action to keep them safe.”

The full text of the letter is enclosed below:


Dear Chairwoman Foxx:

We write to request hearings before the House Education and the Workforce Committee regarding school shootings.  As you know, per House Rule X, our Committee has jurisdiction over “education … generally.”  More specifically, the Committee Rule 2 (a) clarifies our oversight over “school safety” and other issues.

Wednesday’s preventable tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, resulted in the deaths of at least seventeen students and faculty.  Sadly, since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School five years ago, more than 430 people have been shot in over 230 school shootings.   Despite the sobering reality, our Committee has not had a hearing to address this public health epidemic since February of 2013.

Yesterday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos remarked during a radio interview that “Congress needs to be holding hearings on these issues.”  Secretary Devos called for us to examine this issue and “impact the future.”  She stated pointedly that “we have got to have an honest conversation, and Congress has to lead on this. It’s their job.”

Madame Chair, we are wholly in agreement with Secretary DeVos in this respect.  We stand ready to lead and do our job with regard to this difficult subject.  To that end, we respectfully ask that you schedule hearings to examine the issue of school shootings.  Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

Congressman Bobby Scott (VA-03), Ranking Member

Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01)

Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12)

Congresswoman Lisa Blunt-Rochester (DE-AL)

Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02)

Congresswoman Susan Davis (CA-53)

Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11)

Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13)

Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH-11)

Congressman Raul M. Grijalva (AZ-03)

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (IL-08)

Congressman Donald Norcross (NJ-01)

Congressman Jared Polis (CO-02)

Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (NMP-AL)

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01)

Congressman Mark Takano (CA-41)

Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (FL-24)

Mark Fernald: Politics vs. the Public Good

If you served in the legislature and had to choose between what is good for the State of New Hampshire and what is good for your party, what would you do?  Our legislators faced this test last year.  Most of them failed.

The issue was gerrymandering—the drawing of voting districts in a way that benefits one party over another.

The guiding principle of democracy is majority rule.  It is essential that we have rules that protect the right to vote, and ensure an accurate vote count that reflects the will of the people.

The goal of gerrymandering is to impede the will of the people by making it possible for the party with a minority of the votes to get a majority of the legislative seats.  It is a way to rig elections.

The technique is quite simple.  You identify towns and city wards that are most likely to vote against your party.  You group together as many of those places as possible, creating districts your party is sure to lose.  If you pack enough unfavorable voters into a few districts, it means the remaining districts are more likely to vote for your party.

Since the earliest days of our country, politicians have gerrymandered.  The term originated in 1812 in Massachusetts, when Governor Elbridge Gerry of the Democratic-Republican Party approved a legislative map that favored his party over the Federalist Party.  One district north of Boston was thought to resemble a mythological salamander, and the word “Gerrymander” became part of our political lexicon.

Today, computers make the process of gerrymandering more precise—and more dangerous to democracy.  It’s now routine for the party in power at the time of redistricting to hire a data-crunching firm to draw district lines for maximum advantage.

Here in New Hampshire, the Republicans were pleased with the results from their redistricting of the State Senate after the 2010 census.  It was traditional for Portsmouth and Durham to be in different State Senate districts, and both districts were usually held by Democrats.  The 2012 map put both Portsmouth and Durham in District 21.  It had the desired effect.  District 21 is overwhelming Democratic.  The neighboring districts (23 and 24) have elected Republican state senators.

Similarly, District 10 (Keene area) and District 5 (Upper Valley) were drawn to be sure-wins for Democrats—thus making the neighboring districts more likely to vote Republican.  In 2012, the Democratic candidates for State Senate received 51% of the vote statewide, but Republicans won 14 seats, while the Democrats won just 10.

It’s the same story in the Executive Council.  District 2 was drawn to combine the Democratic strongholds of Durham, Concord, and Keene.  One result is a district that is about 130 miles long—some feat in a state only 90 miles wide at the widest—with a disproportionate number of Democratic voters.  The other result is that Republicans will likely always have three seats on the Executive Council—at least until the next redistricting.

There are alternatives.  Last year, House Bill 320 was a proposal that districts be drawn using a mathematical optimization process.  Districts would be drawn with the shortest possible perimeter, to keep together communities of interest, and to avoid elongated districts that put together towns that are far from each other.  The bill would have forbidden the drawing of district lines using party affiliation of voters, addresses of incumbent legislators, previous election results, or demographic data (other than the actual census counts).  Predictably, the bill failed on a nearly party-line vote.  All but three Republicans voted to kill the bill, while all but four Democrats voted in support.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 107 called for the creation of a bi-partisan redistricting commission that would draw district boundaries using the same criteria at HB 320.  It ran into the same partisan buzz saw:  All 14 Republicans voted “no,” while all nine Democrats voted “yes.”

Our legislators take an oath to “support the constitution.”  That constitution is based on the democratic principle of majority rule.  When legislators vote for gerrymandered districts—and when they vote against bills that would prohibit gerrymandering—they are violating their oath of office.

If the shoe were on the other foot—if Democrats were benefitting from partisan, gerrymandered districts—would Republicans suddenly become fans of the use of non-partisan redistricting criteria, and would Democrats suddenly favor the status quo?  If the Democrats regain the majority in the November, we may find out.

Mark Fernald is a former State Senator and was the 2002 Democratic nominee for Governor.  He can be reached at mark@markfernald.com.

NEA-NH President Declares School Shootings Cannot Become the ‘New Normal’

It’s time to demand our politicians do more than express sorrow and regret when children are gunned down at school   

CONCORD, NH – February 15, 2018 – “On behalf of our 17,000 members, I want to express our profound sympathies to the families of those killed in yesterday’s school shooting in Florida” said NEA-NH President, Megan Tuttle.

She continued, “Some news commentators have said the killing of students and school employees is the ‘new normal.’  We cannot allow this to happen. Sadly, if nothing is done to address the issues that lead people to deliberately shoot school children and those who dedicate their lives to educating them, then this will become the ‘new normal’.” 

“Our elected officials have the power and the resources to stop this epidemic in its tracks. It is no mystery why these events occur.  Unaddressed mental health issues and bulling are only two of the well-known reasons why people turn our schools into places of untold grief and violence. It is time for us to demand our politicians take action to provide services which eliminate these risks.”

“Professions of regret and sympathies, while heartfelt, do not constitute a policy, or program, or take even one step towards a solution to the mass killings in our schools.  Enough is enough. If those professions are serious, then so must be the response, otherwise this will keep happening”.

“The time to do something is now, not after the next one, or the next one, or the next one. We’ve had enough of that.” 

Tuttle is calling on Governor Sununu and the Legislature to pass and fund legislation that would provide additional mental health resources; fund training at the local level for educators, education employees, and administrators to help identify at-risk students and get them the help they need; and fund long-term security measures in schools.  This legislation must include stable and reliable funding and not rely only on state surpluses.

“Sadly, every school must now have an active shooter response plan in place. It’s time for the Governor to initiate meaningful discussions with educators, school employees, administrators, community leaders, and mental health workers on what can be done to prevent such violence in the first place.” 

Tuttle concluded, ” We cannot afford to wait until we experience this type of violence here. We cannot listen to the voices that encourage us to postpone finding solutions or engaging in meaningful dialogue to stop these incredible horrors.  We must do everything we can now to ensure our children and the people who educate them are safe every day they enter a school. NEA-NH is ready and willing to work with our elected officials to ensure New Hampshire schools are a place where children’s laughs are not drowned out by the sound of gunshots and sirens.”

Berry Craig: Kentucky Union Members Who Voted For Trump Are Having Buyers Remorse Now


By BERRY CRAIG

AFT Local 1360

Donald Trump carried all but two of Kentucky’s 120 counties, and he collected a whopping 62.5 percent of the vote.

Kentucky is among only a dozen states where the president’s popularity is 50 percent or higher. He’s at 51 in the Red State Bluegrass State.

Nationwide, Trump received votes from 43 percent of union households, according to a Roper poll. The survey didn’t break down the results state by state. The president probably did as well or better among Kentucky union households.

Anyway, go ahead and call it whistling past the graveyard. But the 51 percent number suggests that buyer’s remorse is creeping up in the border state I’ve called home for all my 68 years.

I’ve packed a union card for about two dozen years. Most of us in organized labor voted for Hillary Clinton, the AFL-CIO-endorsed Democrat. But I’m hearing about rumblings of regret in union ranks.

We said Trump was—and still is—a fraud and a con man. He ran on a standard Wall Street Republican platform with planks supporting:

— “right to work” (On the campaign trail, Trump said he preferred RTW states to non-RTW states.)

— repeal of the prevailing wage on federal construction projects

— deep cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

— sharp rollbacks in federal regulations that safeguard worker safety and health on the job, protect consumers and shield the environment from polluters

— hefty tax breaks for corporations and rich people and tax crumbs for the rest of us

The Trump-Republican Robin-in-reverse tax bill came up at this month’s meeting of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council, where I’m recording secretary.

“We’ve always preached that what’s good for the union is good for everybody, and it has been historically,” said delegate Jimmy Evans, IBEW Local 816 business manager.

He cited as proof the tax legislation, which AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called in a statement “nothing but an attack on America’s workers.” He added, “We will pay more, corporations and billionaires will pay less. It’s a job killer. It gives billions of tax giveaways to big corporations that outsource jobs and profits.”

The devil is always in the details. Under the tax bill, corporations can deduct payments to union-busting lawyers, but union members can’t deduct their union dues, according to the USW.

“Previously, employees could potentially write off work-related expenses that added up to more than 2 percent of their gross income, and for which an employer didn’t reimburse them,” explained CNBC’s Annie Nova.

Nova also wrote that the axing of “miscellaneous itemized deductions” for a lot of taxpayers might not sound like a big deal, but she cautioned that their disappearance “will leave a hole in many workers’ pockets, experts say.”

The end of those deductions “was a shot across the bow of union members,” Evans said. “But it also affects a lot of non-union members that work construction, just like it does our construction members.”

Nova also said workers can no longer deduct “work-related legal fees…medical examinations required by an employer, union dues and licenses.”

She quoted Seth Harris, a deputy labor secretary under President Barack Obama: “The really big story of the tax bill is that it favors capital over labor. It’s heavily skewed to benefit people who get money without working, as opposed to those who labor for a living.”

Harris also told her that many workers who itemize have a lot of different expenses — including mortgages — that would still make itemizing worth their while. He added that deductions for corporations are still abundant.

In addition, Nova quoted David Kamin, a law professor at New York University who was an economic policy advisor in the Obama administration: “While people can say there’s a doubling of the standard deduction, those who have significant unreimbursed business expenses will not do as well.”

She also interviewed Martin Davidoff, a New Jersey CPA and tax attorney who said it’s unfair that companies can still deduct the “so-called cost of doing business.”

“Take a look at McDonald’s,” he told Nova. “They spend $50 million on a Superbowl ad, and they get to deduct it.”

Tax attorney Paul Drizner said that under the tax bill, many teachers will be forced to choose between spending less on their classrooms or taking home less from their salaries. (Teachers can still can claim a $250 above-the-line deduction on unreimbursed workplace expenses if they itemize or not, according to Nova). “Teachers shouldn’t be paying out of their own pocket to put their lessons together,” said Drizner in the story.

Evans said it’s not just the tax bill that has union members rethinking the ballots they cast for Trump and other Republicans. “Now they’re wanting to get back on board and be on our side again. They see that those things we fought for is what helped them.”

I carry AFT and NEA/KEA retiree cards. More than a few community college and public-school teachers not only voted for Trump in 2016, they also cast ballots for GOP Gov. Matt Bevin the year before. (Most of us in AFT and KEA also voted for Jack Conway, the KEA and Kentucky State AFL-CIO-endorsed Democratic gubernatorial hopeful.

The fact that the president’s popularity rating in Kentucky is 11.5 percentage points lower that his victory margin suggests that many Trump backers regret their votes. We’ll know more in a Feb. 20 special House election in Bullitt County.

The incumbent, Republican Dan Johnson, took his own life. His widow, Republican Rebecca Johnson, who shares her late husband’s ultra-conservative views, wants to replace him. Her opponent is state AFL-CIO and KEA-endorsed Democrat Linda Belcher, whom Dan Johnson unseated in 2016.

KEA warned that the tea party-tilting Bevin could turn out to be the worst governor for public education in a long time, if not ever. Unions warned he was a union-buster to boot.

In 2017, he and his GOP-majority legislature pushed through a bill authorizing charter schools, which drain much-needed funds from public schools. (With Bevin cheering them on, GOP lawmakers also passed a “right to work” law and repealed the prevailing wage on state construction jobs.

Bevin’s proposed 2018 budget takes a meat-axe to education spending from kindergarten through higher education, including community colleges and state universities. He also wants to gut the workers’ compensation program.

Too, in the phony name of pension “reform,” Bevin has proposed a measure that would curb some benefits for current employees and retirees and force most new hires onto risky 401(a) programs.

Teachers are up-in-arms over the pension bill. (The GOP-majority House has been devising its own pension bill behind closed doors but has yet to release it.)

“It’s great to see all the educators getting involved,” Evans said. “But you know what it took to get them involved? Somebody is dipping his hand into their wallets.”

Evans hates to say, “we told you so,” but he reminded the delegates at our meeting that, all along, organized labor has been telling union members what politicians like Trump and Trump fan Bevin “want to do to them. It’s the same in our ranks. It’s taken politicians dipping into their wallets to get a lot of people re-engaged.”

 

Article originally appeared in the Kentucky AFL-CIO blog and reposted with permission.

America Needs Real Federal Investment To Repair Our National Infrastructure

Today, President Trump announced his “Trillion dollar infrastructure plan” that many say, completely misses the mark.

ThinkProgress explains how the new program is going to work (in theory):

“The proposal aims to turn $200 billion in federal funds into a $1.5 trillion investment over the next ten years by placing most of the financial burden on states and cities, which will have to cover at least 80 percent of the cost of any infrastructure project in order to qualify for federal grants, likely through higher taxes, tolls, and other user fees. The $200 billion number is a dramatic reduction in federal cost-sharing from years past.

…According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) annual Infrastructure Report Card, the United States needs to invest $4.59 trillion by 2025 in order to improve the country’s infrastructure — a figure three times larger than even the rosiest estimate in Trump’s proposal and more than 20 times larger than the $200 billion actually allocated.”

Larry I. Willis, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO (TTD) said “plan undermine the diverse needs of our transportation network” in his statement:

“We have long called for America’s infrastructure crisis to be met with a massive infusion of new federal investment that will grow the economy and create good, middle-class jobs. While we appreciate the spotlight President Trump has shined on the need to rebuild America, too many aspects of this plan undermine the diverse needs of our transportation network and the businesses, communities, and working families that depend on it.

“Robbing other federal priorities — including important transportation programs — to pay for infrastructure will only add to our growing problems. Furthermore, devolving the federal government’s funding responsibility to cash-strapped states and municipalities will leave too many projects and jobs behind.

“Congress now has an opportunity to craft a bipartisan proposal that will rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, fuel a new wave of middle-class job creation, and bolster the American economy in a way that works for everyone. Getting there will require robust federal investment, stabilizing the Highway Trust Fund for surface transportation needs and prioritizing Buy America rules and longstanding labor protections that support good jobs and raise wages.

“Creating an infrastructure network capable of supporting a 21st-Century economy requires real federal commitment. It is now time for Congress to take the lead and we stand ready to support that effort.” 

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka also released a statement on Trump’s infrastructure plan: 

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, our country’s grade on infrastructure is a D-plus. The infrastructure we use hundreds of millions of times each day is literally crumbling after decades of neglect. Our cars drive on broken roads, our children cross failing bridges, our loved ones ride on unsafe rail, our outdated electrical grids waste incredible amounts of power all while working people pay the cost of inaction.

President Trump has rightly noted the urgency and scale of America’s infrastructure crisis, and he has an opportunity to fix it. Unfortunately, today’s proposal relies more on accounting gimmicks and Wall Street investors than on a new federal commitment, which leaves states and municipalities to pick up the tab.

The right infrastructure plan will lift our communities and drive our economy forward for generations to come. That’s why this issue is so important and why the AFL-CIO and our affiliates are working actively with Congress to craft legislation that achieves these goals in a bipartisan way. If our nation’s leaders are serious about building America, they need to step up with trillions of dollars in new federal funding that supports America’s jobs, America’s resources and America’s products. And they need to uphold high labor standards and good wages and protect working people on the job. If they do, we have the most highly skilled and well-trained workforce ready to get the job done.

Well known economist, Robert Reich, posted a short video about the new infrastructure plan calling it a “huge tax giveaway for the rich.”  He warns that we would be turning over our public roads and bridges to private corporations who will install new fees and tolls.

This afternoon the Washington Post reports that President Trump is looking to “divest” in government assets and privatize government services. He is even proposing selling off, Washington National Airport (DCA) and Dulles International (IAD).

“The Washington region’s George Washington Memorial Parkway and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, both run by the National Park Service, are listed as “examples of assets for potential divestiture.” It was not immediately clear what public or private entity might buy those roads, whether they might be tolled, or other details. Same with the two airports in Virginia, which are leased from the federal government.

…Efforts to privatize federal assets were discussed early in the administration by Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn and other advisers as a preferred way to come up with capital for much needed improvements.

A high-profile Trump effort to move the nation’s air traffic control system out of government hands was blocked in Congress.”

Even the fiscal conservative group, The Concord Coalition, says the numbers just don’t add up.

The administration is focusing a great deal of attention on its infrastructure plan but counting on most of the money for it to come from state and local governments as well as the private sector. The federal government would provide only $200 billion of the $1.5 trillion spending goal. Yet the budget proposes transportation and other infrastructure cuts of around $200 billion and there is no clear, credible explanation of this juxtaposition or how any new infrastructure spending would be financed.

Trump says he is open to the possibility of raising the federal gas tax, which has not been done since 1993. This would be a reasonable step. But just hinting at such an increase is not enough; the president should show real leadership by calling on Congress to approve a specific gas tax hike.

No matter how you slice it, this infrastructure plan stinks. If it goes through, the public will be forced to cough up more money to fix the roads and bridges, but that money will go right into the pockets of the executives of the billion dollar corporations who have bought up all of our public roadways.

Local Company To Build Portable Solar Power Units For Puerto Rico

North Andover, MA:  Local solar installer ReVision Energy is welcoming a group of volunteers this weekend to its 7,000 s.f. facility in N. Andover to build portable emergency power and water purification units for devastated communities in Puerto Rico. Each unit is comprised of a trailer with solar electric panels, battery storage, water purification, lights and charging ports for small electronics.

The “Power On Puerto Rico” relief project is being led by a partnership between the global disaster relief organization Amurtel and the nationwide solar co-op Amicus Solar (ReVision Energy is a founding member of Amicus). The goal is to provide storm-ravaged communities with access to power, clean drinking water and lighting.

“We are excited to finally put our shoulders to the task of building the portable emergency units, which we are calling ‘Solar Outreach Systems’ or SOS units,” said ReVision Energy co-founder Phil Coupe. The goal for this weekend is to completely outfit the first three trailers and get them on their way to Puerto Rico where Amurtel has staff on the ground that has identified the first communities that will receive the donated SOS units. The longer term goal is to build and deliver 100 units.

“More than 30% of Puerto Ricans are still without power and clean drinking water, so we know the need for these portable emergency units is still very high despite it being five months since Hurricane Maria caused immense damage to the island,” said Coupe.

Located close to the equator where there is a powerful solar resource, Puerto Rico is an ideal geography for harnessing solar energy, but with so few solar energy systems in place right now, not many businesses or homes are able to take advantage of this abundant renewable energy. Having to depend on what’s left of the island’s power grid means that many Puerto Rican communities could be without power for up to a year. The Solar Outreach Systems, which are portable community-based communication and emergency power hubs, will immediately assist on-the-ground relief efforts.

The SOS units will be deployed by the Aireko Foundation, an offshoot of Aireko Energy Solutions, which is a Puerto Rico-based member of Amicus.  These units will be loaned to the communities for the duration of their need and then be redeployed to other disaster areas as needs and events dictate.  “The aftermath of Hurricane Maria has been as difficult and often even harder than the path of the storm itself, especially for those communities in the interior of the island.  After more than a month, reestablishment of electric power for those communities is still unknown, and the quality of water is not the best – for those communities that are lucky enough to have this service, which are very few.  Sadly, those communities are far from returning to their normal lives,” said Hector Rivera Russe of Aireko Energy Solutions. “I’m deeply touched by how my Amicus partners, alongside Amurtel, have jumped without hesitation, to putting their time, resources and effort to give relief to my people in Puerto Rico.  I will always be thankful to them.”

The Puerto Rico-based solar company Aireko, an Amicus member, has already donated the shipping to get the finished trailers delivered to San Juan, PR and Aireko will help transport the SOS units to recipient communities identified by Amurtel.

NH’s U.S. Senators Push For FAMILY Act

Senators Shaheen, Hassan Cosponsor FAMILY Act to Guarantee Paid Family and Medical Leave to All Hard-Working Granite Staters and Americans

WASHINGTON – Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan announced today that they are cosponsoring the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act or FAMILY Act, to create a universal, gender-neutral paid family and medical leave program in order to help support caregivers in the workforce.

“Working Americans should never feel as though they need to compromise their health, or personal family decisions, out of fear of losing their job,” said Senator Shaheen. “Paid family and medical leave is critical to ensuring Granite Staters have the necessary support and peace of mind to prioritize their loved ones and take care of their families. This legislation is an investment in the American workforce and the stability of our economy, and I look forward to working on passing this legislation in the Senate.”

“No Granite Stater should be forced to choose between caring for a loved one and losing a paycheck, and our economy shouldn’t suffer from such a false choice,”Senator Hassan said. “By guaranteeing paid family and medical leave to all hard-working Granite Staters and Americans regardless of where they work, the FAMILY Act is a commonsense measure that will help strengthen families, businesses, and our economy. As we continue working to move this bill forward, I will keep fighting to ensure that all Granite Staters and Americans who work hard have the support they need to get ahead and stay ahead.”

The United States is the only industrialized nation without a national paid leave program, and only 14 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave through their employer. Without a national paid family leave program, the U.S. economy loses almost $21 billion a year, women lose $324,000 in wages and retirement benefits over a lifetime, and men lose $284,000. A lack of a national paid leave program hurts businesses; studies show that businesses incur an additional 20 percent cost to recruit and retrain new workers replacing others who left because they did not have paid leave.

The FAMILY Act establishes a self-sustaining family insurance program for all workers, including the young and elderly, single and married, men and women, regardless of the size of their employer. The program would be modeled after successful state programs, with the funding providing up to 66 percent wage-replacement for 12 weeks in the event of a serious personal or family medical emergency.

Leo W Gerard: Kimberly-Clark Uses GOP Tax Break to Sucker Punch Wisconsin Workers

David Breckheimer

Early Wednesday morning, David Breckheimer, a United Steelworkers local union president at a Neenah, Wis., paper factory, was gathering the last of his gear for a snowmobiling vacation.

At 7:45 a.m., less than two hours before he planned to leave, he got a call. It felt like a punch to the gut, he told me later that day.

Kimberly-Clark was closing its Cold Springs facility in Fox Crossing where David had worked 37 years, where 500 men and women earned a good living. Kimberly-Clark also was shuttering its Nonwovens factory in Neenah, costing another 100 workers their jobs.

The closures mean the virtual disappearance of Kimberly-Clark production in Neenah, the town along Lake Winnebago where the company was founded by John Kimberly and Charles Clark 146 years ago. It moved its corporate headquarters to Texas in 1985.

The terminations are part of a life-shattering pattern in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley, where Neenah and other paper mill towns are located. Once dotted with dozens of paper plants providing good jobs and middle class livelihoods, the valley had been devastated over the past decade and a half as paper companies failed or fled, one after another.

The rise of digital communications is partly to blame. But more significant is government policy. The corporate tax breaks that Congressional Republicans said would create jobs are being used by some, like Kimberly-Clark, to kill jobs. And the government’s failure to enforce international trade law bankrupted many of the Fox Valley plants as China plastered the U.S. market with underpriced, illegally subsidized paper.

The result is pain for blue-collar workers in blue states like Wisconsin that went red in 2016 to give Donald Trump the presidency. Workers who voted for Trump believed his promises to crack down on Chinese currency manipulation and impose 45 percent tariffs on unfairly traded imports from China.

None of that has happened, however. The most those workers got from Trump in his first State of the Union address on Tuesday was more vague pledges to ensure fair and reciprocal trade.

Voters in the Fox Valley had good reason to hope for the bold change that candidate Trump proposed. Between 2000 and 2013, Wisconsin lost more than 90,000 factory jobs, including 17,000 paper mill positions as 34 paper factories closed. In that time, Wisconsin experienced the largest in the country decline in the percent of households making a middle class income, according to a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In Fox Valley, the demise continues. In 2016, Graphic Packaging closed its Menasha factory, putting 228 workers on the street.

Last September, Appleton Coated closed in a bankruptcy, rendering 600 out of work. Appleton Coated sold the factory to Industrial Assets Corp., which allowed 38 workers to remain to maintain the machines. Also, in December, Industrial Assets recalled 50 to run one paper line.

In October, another paper company, Appvion, also in the town of Appleton, filed for bankrupcy. In November, it announced 200 of the company’s 800 workers in Fox Valley would lose their jobs. Also in October, U.S. Paper Converters, another Fox Valley paper company, announced it would close its factory in Grand Chute, eliminating 52 jobs.

Kimberly-Clark, maker of paper-based products such as Kleenex, Viva paper towels, Cottonelle bathroom tissue and Huggies disposable diapers, announced earlier this month that the corporation would use its tax cut windfall to pay the costs of closing 10 factories and dumping as many as 5,500 workers worldwide.

It wasn’t that Kimberly-Clark was insolvent. Just the opposite. Last year, its profit was $2.28 billion or $6.40 a share. For 2018, the corporation is shooting for more, at least $6.90 a share, by “reorganizing,” that is, ditching factories and workers.

The USW workers at the Cold Springs factory thought they would be spared. Their plant was profitable and over the past several years, workers had collaborated with managers to reduce costs. Just a few weeks ago, corporate officials told the Cold Springs plant that it achieved the best overall cost reduction.

Also, the Cold Springs plant had been hiring, 53 last year and eight in January. It had given job offers to workers who were supposed to start this month.

The bad news caught the plant manager off guard too, David said. On Wednesday, as that shell-shocked supervisor notified workers of the corporate decision, he suffered a tongue-lashing. Workers were frustrated, upset and angry.

Some Cold Springs workers have been through this trauma before. They had worked at other Fox Valley paper plants that shut down. One told David on Wednesday that the Cold Springs shut down would be the fourth time that his life was turned upside down by a plant closure.

In 2016, another Neenah mill, Clearwater Paper, silenced two paper machines and laid off 85 workers. Some of them got jobs at Cold Springs. Now they’re out in the cold again.

David is worried about his co-workers, especially the young ones, those just recently married, who have big mortgages and little children. He’s concerned for the couples at the plant who had two good incomes and soon will have none.

With so many factories closed in the area, getting a good job is tough, he said. Walmart and fast food wages won’t support a family.

And then there are the older guys like David, with 25, 30, 35 years at Cold Springs. David is 57, an age at which getting a new job is particularly difficult. Cold Springs workers who are 55 or older and have 30 years in the factory can retire early, but they forfeit a quarter of their pension.

David and other local union officers began talking to Kimberly-Clark officials on Thursday about what the corporation will provide to the workers whose jobs it is eliminating, for example, whether it would offer them positions at other Kimberly-Clark factories in the United States.

David said he thinks the workers in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley who voted for Trump want to see some follow through on his promises to create jobs, raise incomes and establish fair trade.

None of that is accomplished by the GOP tax scam that promoted off-shoring by granting corporations lower tax rates for overseas factories and that gave massive breaks to job-cutting corporations like Kimberly-Clark.

None of Trump’s promises are accomplished by speeches about fair and reciprocal trade when no action follows.


Photo is of 2013 razing of KimberlyClark pulp and tissue plant in Everett, Wash.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDvDGAjO1dw

Paid Family Leave: Preventative Insurance for New Hampshire Workers

By Nikki Casey

Nikki Casey speaking at a Rights and Democracy Rally on Labor Day 2018

It’s time for New Hampshire to allow for a simple, employee-funded insurance program to allow workers to take paid time off to care for newborn children, recover from illness or injuries, take care of their ailing parents, or recover from substance misuse disorders.

On Wednesday the New Hampshire House is scheduled to vote on HB 628, which would establish a Paid Family and Medical Leave insurance program for Granite State workers.

How does it work? Workers would pay .67 percent of their salary into the fund and after six months they will be eligible for six weeks of paid leave to deal with medical emergencies.For someone making $50,000 per year that would amount to $6.70 per week.

People who object to participation are given the opportunity to opt out. Additionally, the program is funded by employee contributions; employers would not be required to contribute anything.

We know that 82 percent of New Hampshire residents favor establishing a Paid Family and Medical Leave insurance program. Why? Because we all know someone who wrestled with the burden of caring for a parent, a child, or themselves while fearing they would lose their job if they took off the time that was truly needed.

These friend and neighbors are not alone. Only 11 percent of workers in the U.S. have access to paid family leave through an employer, and fewer than 40 percent have access to personal medical leave. Thousands of New Hampshire workers continue to face severe challenges without paid time off to care for their newborn children, recover from illness or injuries, take care of their ailing parents, or recover from substance misuse disorders.

As someone who works with people recovering from substance abuse and being in recovery from drugs and alcohol myself, I see Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance as one more tool we can use to help us combat the opioid crisis.

I struggled with my own battle with addiction and was too afraid to ask for help in fear of getting fired and loosing my insurance. I kept my battles to myself and progressively got worse. I ended up losing my job due to my alcoholism. I was then without a job, insurance, and without a clue on how to seek support. I was out of work for six months due to the extensive amount of treatment I needed from hospitalization, to crisis centers, rehab and transitional living. I eventually got myself back on my feet but much of that could have been avoided if I knew I was able to take time off work to take care of my mental health and substance misuse.

I now work in a recovery resource center where I see my clients battle every day trying to navigate their health, jobs, home, and family. There is a huge fear of trying to seek help out of fear of what their employer will do. For many people trying to get help for their substance use disorder a 28-day program is needed. For the many of them with jobs they are unable to take that time off. Because of the nature of substance use disorder, it often comes with other health related issues. Health care issues that require extensive treatment that would require time away from work.

The more barriers we create for people with substance use disorder the harder it is for them in their recovery. Which creates a ripple effect. A need to be out of work for 28 days could turn into a battle of needing intensive help for six months, like in my case. That puts a strain on that person, employment the economy, families, and communities.

Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance is painfully logical, because the more an individual struggles on a personal level the more that struggle creeps into the rest of society. This bill, in my eyes, is one more preventative measure we need to make our communities stronger.

 

Nikki Casey lives in Manchester and works as a Director at Revive Recovery.

New Hampshire In Urgent Need Of National Paid Family Leave Program

 A National Paid Family and Medical Leave Plan Could Reduce by 83 Percent* the Number of New Hampshire Families Facing Economic Insecurity When They Need Time to Care

An analysis of demographic data in New Hampshire released today reveals the significant and growing need for a national paid family and medical leave plan that covers all working people in the state for the full range of serious caregiving and medical reasons. The release kicks off a series of nationwide activities marking next Monday’s 25th anniversary of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides unpaid leave. Across the country, working people, businesses, lawmakers, advocates and others will come together on the ground and online to celebrate the law’s progress, recognize state and private sector innovations and call for a national paid family and medical leave policy that advances the movement for more equitable and family friendly workplaces.

The new analysis was conducted by the National Partnership for Women & Families. The full set of findings for New Hampshire is available here. Similar findings for all 50 states and the District of Columbia can be found at NationalPartnership.org/PaidLeaveMeansMap.

“Twenty-five years after the FMLA was signed into law, it is past time to take the next step by ensuring paid leave for all working people,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership, which drafted and led the fight for the FMLA. “The FMLA has transformed our workplaces and culture in tremendously positive ways, but these data show that unpaid leave is inaccessible for too many people. Working people and families are caught between the demands of their jobs and their families, and as a result, our economy and businesses are not reaching their full potential.”

The New Hampshire analysis sheds light on why the failure of policymakers and the private sector to guarantee paid family and medical leave is causing people in the state to experience conflicts between their jobs and their families. For example, women, and especially women of color, are key breadwinners for their families while also continuing to be primary caregivers. People already have significant family and medical care needs that are increasing as the workforce ages. And the consequences for the economic well-being of families and the state can be serious when people are not able to hold paying jobs while providing and receiving critical care. Specifically:

  • In 75 percent of New Hampshire households with children – more than 180,000 homes – all parents hold jobs;
  • In less than 15 years, the share of New Hampshire’s population age 65 and older will grow by nearly 45 percent;
  • One person dies every day from a drug overdose in New Hampshire;
  • In New Hampshire, there is a 10-percentage point gap in labor force participation between men and women; and
  • A national paid leave plan would reduce the number of working families in New Hampshire facing significant economic insecurity when they need to take family and medical leave by 83 percent.

Nationally, the FMLA guarantees unpaid leave, but it is inaccessible to 58 percent of workers in New Hampshire because they either are not covered by the law or cannot afford to take the unpaid leave it provides. Just 15 percent of workers in the United States have paid family leave through their employers, and fewer than 40 percent have paid medical leave through employer-provided temporary disability insurance. California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and, as of Jan. 1, New York, have paid family leave insurance programs in place. Washington state and the District of Columbia have enacted similar measures that have not yet taken effect. Research shows that existing programs are working well and lawmakers in other states continue to use them as models as they consider programs of their own.

“The recent progress on a bipartisan proposal to establish a statewide family and medical leave insurance program shows that lawmakers are listening to the majority of New Hampshire residents who know that better workplace policies will help families, businesses and our economy,” said Amanda Sears, director of the Campaign for a Family Friendly Economy in New Hampshire. “The future of our state depends on New Hampshire being an attractive place to live, work and raise a family – access to paid leave is a critical resource for both employees and businesses that will help drive our economy forward.”

“We now have a powerful body of evidence that shows the widespread benefits of paid family and medical leave, the urgent need for it, and the key components of a meaningful policy that would promote gender and economic equality, strengthen businesses and our economy, and promote the culture change we need,” explained Vicki Shabo, vice president for workplace policies and strategies at the National Partnership. “Lawmakers who advance strong paid leave proposals demonstrate that they understand their constituents’ needs and the value we all place on knowing we can care for our loved ones without risking our jobs. Voters’ support for a strong national paid family and medical leave law cuts across parties and ideologies, and large and small companies say they support a national paid leave plan too. It is past time for all lawmakers to show the same interest in real policy solutions.”

New Hampshire lawmakers are currently considering a paid family and medical leave proposal for the state. Federally, the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, sponsored by Sen. Gillibrand (D – N.Y.) and Rep. DeLauro (D – Conn.), is the leading paid family and medical leave proposal in Congress. Reps. Kuster and Shea-Porter are co-sponsors of the legislation. The FAMILY Act would create a national insurance program, similar to those in the states, that would be funded through small employer and employee contributions of 0.2 percent each (less than $1.50 per week each for a typical worker). It would allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of leave for serious family or medical reasons while receiving a portion of their pay.

The National Partnership’s reports for all 50 states and the District of Columbia are available here. They were released in advance of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the FMLA, which is Feb. 5. To celebrate the day and advance the movement for paid leave, a broad and diverse coalition of organizations is joining with businesses, state and local lawmakers, and working people across the country to call for a national paid family and medical leave law like the FAMILY Act. Supporters will be sending messages to Congress, hosting events, sharing stories with the media and their networks, and using #FMLA25 and #PaidLeaveMeans on social media.

For more information on paid family and medical leave, including details on existing laws, a summary of recent employer policy announcements, a collection of fact sheets and the latest research on the impact of paid leave policies, visit NationalPartnership.org/PaidLeave.

 

*Figure calculated using new data released by Brandeis University’s diversitydatakids.org.

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