• Advertisement

Are You Tired Of Congress Manufacturing A Budget Crisis To Force Through Terrible Legislation?

government closed

Budget details: you couldn’t make this stuff up, if you tried

It’s not like Congress didn’t know they had to pass a federal budget.

It’s not like they didn’t have lots and lots of time to put an appropriations bill together, either before or after the elections.

It’s not like they didn’t know what happens when the money runs out. (Hint: not all that much, actually. Except that 800,000 federal workers are required to work without being paid.)

No, this Congress knew all too well what would happen. Since President Obama was elected, Congress has:

  1. had a budget crisis in March 2009
  2. had a budget crisis in September 2009
  3. had a budget crisis in September 2010
  4. had THREE budget crises in December 2010
  5. had TWO budget crises in March 2011
  6. had a budget crisis in April 2011
  7. had a budget crisis in August 2012
  8. had a budget crisis in September 2012
  9. had a budget crisis in March 2013
  10. had a budget crisis – and a government shutdown – in October 2013
  11. had a budget crisis in January 2014
  12. and had a budget crisis just three months ago.

(That’s a rough list. No guarantees of accuracy, I may have missed some. And it doesn’t include the debt-limit crises.)

And yet once again, this weekend, right now… Congress finds itself in a budget emergency.

And from listening to some of the politicians, you’d almost think no-one could have predicted this.

And with all their angst (“Emergency!” “Emergency!” “Can’t let the government shutdown again!”)…

… it would be really easy to overlook some of the so-called “details” of this spending bill. Details like:

  1. The so-called “Citibank” provision that would undo part of Dodd-Frank financial regulation, and allow big banks to rely on the FDIC to backstop risky derivative trades. (Read NHLN coverage here and here.)
  2. The Kline-Miller amendment, which would allow cuts to the earned retirement benefits of millions of retirees. AARP calls it a “secret attack by Congress” and a “last minute backroom deal.”   (Read the AARP alert here.)
  3. The (ahem) provision to help the GOP afford its next convention. According to the New York Times, “The secret negotiations that led to one of the most significant expansions of campaign contributions in recent years began with what Republican leaders regarded as an urgent problem: How would they pay for their presidential nominating convention in Cleveland in two years? It ended with a bipartisan agreement … that would allow wealthy donors to begin giving more than $1 million every election cycle to each party’s national committees.” (Wow. 2016 is going to be a record-breaking presidential campaign season.)
  4. The “Collins rider,” which would increase truck driver hours of service, and other provisions that would increase truck weight limits in Kentucky, Mississippi and Wisconsin. “None of these special interest [provisions] has been subject to any committee hearings, adequate safety review or cost/benefit analysis. However, all of them will have a profound impact on highway safety, deaths and injuries.” The bill will “eliminate the two nights off-duty for truck drivers to rest, while significantly increasing working and driving hours for truck drivers up to 82 hours a week when fatigue is already a well-known and well-documented highway killer.” (Read the Truck Safety Coalition alert here.)
  5. Provisions prohibiting the Fish and Wildlife Service from adding the sage grouse to the endangered species list. This one was apparently added “at the behest of grazing, mining, and oil and gas interests.” (Read more here.)

According to the Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the GOP added “nearly 100” special interest riders to the bill.

The five, above, are just the ones that have already attracted public attention.

Can’t help but wonder what ELSE is in that bill.

 

Congressional House Members Split On Omnibus Bill

Congress West Front

 

This week has been very busy in Washington as Congress created yet another manufactured crisis with threats to shut down the government over a divisive continuing resolution.

The good news is that, for now, the government will remain open as the House passed a omnibus bill to fund the government for another year. The House also passed a two-day continuing resolution allowing the Senate time to pass the House bill. The omnibus bill created a whirlwind of controversy with numerous amendments that outraged millions of Americans. There is a very small possibility that the Senate will amend or reject the House bill over these controversial amendments.

There are three main amendments that drew the biggest scrutiny and threatened to kill the bill.

1) The Wall Street Rollback

House Republicans added an amendment written by Citi Group stripping regulations on derivatives trading. This is just another handout to the big banks on Wall Street, putting the taxpayers on the hook for billions – or trillions – of dollars.

“TBTF (Too Big To Fail Banks) are now worth $53 trillion,” wrote Liz Iacobucci “Do the math. If there is another Wall Street meltdown; and another bailout; and this next bailout also requires the government to borrow an amount equal to one-third of what TBTF institutions are worth now…”

This provision drew strong opposition from the AFL-CIO:

“The AFL-CIO strongly opposes efforts to make it easier for too-big-to-fail banks to use taxpayer-backed funds to make risky bets in the derivatives markets,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

2) The Pension Reform Amendment

Labor groups were outraged that Republicans added an amendment that would drastically reduce pension benefits to millions of retirees.

“Today we have seen the ugly side of political backroom dealings as thousands of retirees may have their pensions threatened by proposed legislation that reportedly includes massive benefit cuts,” said Jimmy Hoffa, General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “Thousands of hard-working men and women deserve better than having their pensions slashed by a bill that can’t stand on its own merit.”

This provision would allow multi-employer pension plans to reduce payouts to retirees from and average of $50,000 a year to approximately $15,000 a year. The “unfunded liability” is largely due to the massive losses these plans took during the last two Wall Street crashes. But the underfunding will not become an issue for at least another ten years – so there is no need to rush this amendment through on a piece of must-pass legislation.

“Changing ERISA to allow cuts in promised benefits is a ticket to poverty and dependence on government asisstance,” IAM International President R. Thomas Buffenbarger wrote members of Congress last month.

“They’ve sneaked this in,” said Dave Erickson of Isanti, Minnesota. “They don’t have the guts to come out and tell us they’re taking our money. It makes me sick. The pension payment was something I counted on.”

(Read also: Another WIN for Wall Street… and a huge LOSS for the middle class)

3) Campaign Finance Reform

Campaign finance reformers were outraged when the bill was amended to allow millionaires and billionaires to push even more money into political campaigns. Currently a donor can give $32,000 a year to the party of their choice. The Omnibus spending amendment will allow wealthy donors to donate $777,600 per year or $1,555,200 in a two-year cycle.

“Another (amendment) would raise campaign contribution limits, giving a small number of wealthy individuals even more leverage to drown out our middle class voices,” stated Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, who voted against the Omnibus bill.

Neither party is taking credit for the campaign finance amendment that will benefit both parties. It is a win for the fundraisers – but a loss for working families, who are losing their voice in Washington to big money donors.

In a very close 219-206 vote the Omnibus bill did pass the House. The bill saw many Representatives from both parties oppose their own party leaders with their votes. Progressives were angered to see that 57 Democrats decided to support the Republican bill in spite of the “poison pills” in the bill.

The Congressional Representatives in my home state were split in their votes on the Omnibus bill. Both voiced their support for keeping the government open and stated their opposition to these amendments; however, they reached different decisions when it came time to vote.

“Of course Congress had to keep the government open, but it should have been done by passing a Continuing Resolution that funded the government, but didn’t contain these harmful provisions. I strongly opposed the CROmnibus bill, which would hurt working Americans by allowing big-money bailouts for banks and rolling back already-inadequate campaign finance laws,” said Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter.

“In 2008, I voted against the bank bailouts and for policies that saved us from a depression. I am deeply concerned that this bill calls for a taxpayer-funded bailout for irresponsible institutions if they get themselves in trouble again. The bailout provision is just one of a number of special-interest victories in this bill. Another would raise campaign contribution limits, giving a small number of wealthy individuals even more leverage to drown out our middle class voices. Putting American taxpayers on the hook and gutting campaign finance laws is unacceptable, so I voted no,” concluded Shea-Porter.

“While I remain concerned about certain aspects of the so-called “CRomnibus,” including a troublesome campaign finance provision that increases the donation-limits for party conventions and political parties, I believe that first and foremost it is our responsibility as Members of Congress to work across the aisle to keep the government running,” stated Congresswoman Annie Kuster. “Last year’s government shutdown was devastating for Granite State families; it put approximately 800,000 Americans out of work and wasted tens of millions of taxpayer dollars. Congress should never allow politics to get in the way of doing what’s right for our constituents at home, so I’m pleased Democrats and Republicans were able to come together to pass this legislation and provide the certainty our country needs moving forward into the new year.”

I have – and will continue to – support Congresswoman Annie Kuster (and the other 57 Democrats); however, I completely disagree with her on this vote. I share her optimism that our elected representatives can put aside their partisan party politics and do what is needed for working families; however, this bill is not one of those opportunities. This bill will decimate what is left of our campaign finance regulations, and put the Wall Street gamblers in charge of our economy once again, using my taxes to hedge their risky bets.

If these 57 Democrats had voted against the bill, the Republicans would have had no choice but to remove these controversial amendments and offer the bill up for another vote. The Republican leadership knew the bill would not pass without Democratic support because the ultra-right wing (67 in all) planned to vote against it as well.

 *               *             *           *          *               *

Editor’s Notes:

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter’s strong leadership and dedication to working families will be greatly missed in Congress over the next two years. I hope she will consider running for the CD01 seat again in 2016, or even run against Senator Kelly Ayotte for a seat in the Senate.

 

There was one other little known amendment that was slipped into the omnibus bill that would reduce the mandatory rest periods for truck drivers – against Transportation Secretary Foxx’s strong opposition. The amendment reversed the required rest period allowing truckers to drive up to 82 hours a week.

Read more about this amendment, on Bloomberg.

Another WIN for Wall Street… and a huge LOSS for the middle class

Happy Hour

Happy Hour

So, late last night… Congress decided that it was just fine to bailout Wall Street bankers again, if they should happen to get into trouble again. Gotta make sure the ol’ FDIC is there in times of trouble.

BUT… gosh… that old PBGC?

Oh… Congress doesn’t want to risk the possibility that taxpayers might have to bailout Middle Class pension funds. At last estimate, “the fund that backs multi-employer plans is about $42.4 billion short of the money needed to cover benefits” for pension plans that are expected to fail.

And what have private employers been doing, to keep those pension plans financially sound? Well… Hostess declared bankruptcy. Peabody Energy declared bankruptcy. Verizon “de-risked” itself of pension obligations. And that’s just what immediately comes to mind.  But I’m digressing.

So last night… LATE last night… Congress included in the “must-pass” budget bill something called the Kline amendment. The measure will allow multi-employer pension plans that are underfunded to significantly cut benefits to retirees under age 75.

Because… why would Congress want to risk having to have the PBGC bailout those middle-class pension funds? … when cutting benefits to retirees under 75 will accomplish the same thing.

Yep, what’s good for Wall Street… isn’t even a possibility for Main Street.

Want to know what I noticed?

One Federal Reserve economist put a number on how much that FDIC guarantee is worth to the Big Banks. He estimated it was worth $450 to $900 billion a year to the financial services industry.

OK, so this “government insurance policy” is coming to Wall Street through the efforts of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives.

And yes, those are the same Republicans who are such firm believers in the “free market economy” and “privatization” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”  

And now they’re… giving a government benefit to the banks.

What happened to “the free market will take care of it”? Why can’t these banks buy their own insurance on the open market? From a private insurance company?

But I’m digressing again.

Here’s what I noticed: it looks to me like the annual “value” of what Congress gave away last night is about the same amount as what Congress spent on the infamous TARP program.

TARP, of course, was a one-time thing. (Or at least… hopefully… not a very frequent thing.)

The FDIC insurance is ongoing. Every year, the big banks are going to get that government-subsidized insurance policy. Underwriting their risky investments.

It’s like a TARP program, year after year after year.

While all those retirees… get their benefits cut.

Two Recent Court Rulings That Pit Legal Theories vs Workplace Realities

US Supreme Court Building

US Supreme Court BuildingCan’t help but think there’s a huge “disconnect” between recent court rulings and real-life work situations.

First Case: Yesterday, the US Supreme Court weighed in on the question of whether employees are entitled to be paid for time spent waiting for security screening as they leave the job each workday. Apparently, the Supreme Court doesn’t believe that routinely searching employees to see if they’re stealing anything is actually “integral and indispensable” to those workers’ jobs. And the law doesn’t require employers to pay wages for duties that aren’t “integral and indispensable.”

At one level, I agree with the Court wholeheartedly. Proving you’re not a thief, day after day, should not be an “integral and indispensable” part of anyone’s job.

But, in real life: what would happen if those workers refused to go through the security screening? My guess is: they’d be fired.

Which, in my mind, makes those daily screenings “integral and indispensable” – at least as long as the employer insists upon them. Myself, I would distinguish between investigating employees after a theft, and the practice of requiring workers to go through daily screenings “to prevent theft.”  And I don’t think workers should be required to donate their personal time, just because the employer mistrusts every single one if its employees.

Second Case:  This morning, the New Hampshire Supreme Court weighed in with a reverse-and-remand decision about the NH Retirement System.

The court case, Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire et al. v. State of New Hampshire, challenged the 2011 increase in public employees’ contributions to the NH Retirement System. That increase ranged from 2% to 2½ % of employees’ paychecks, depending on the job classification. This “pension reform” provision was included as part of the State’s biennial budget.

The plaintiffs and the NH Retirement Security Coalition are still reviewing this morning’s decision.  From their press release:

The NH Retirement Security Coalition has long contended that promises made to our member employees should be enforced because our members uphold their promises each and every day that they go to work. The Court’s decision today unfortunately allows public employers to renege on their promise of security in retirement. While this decision is disappointing, our members will continue to provide high quality service to the state and its cities, towns, and school districts.

We are deeply concerned about the long term impact of this decision on the people of NH. We are carefully reviewing this decision in detail with our attorneys and members of the Coalition and we will offer further in-depth comment as soon as we are able to do so.  

But as I read the decision, one thing jumped out at me: again, I see a disconnect between the legal reasoning and everyday workplace reality.

As I read the ruling – and I could be wrong on this, I am NOT a lawyer – it appears to me that the Court is viewing this from a purely theoretical perspective. It seems to me that the Court based its ruling on the theory that raising retirement contribution rates didn’t retroactively harm public workers because the retirement benefits they had already accrued (under the lower contribution rates) were still there – and the new contribution rates only applied to retirement benefits accrued going forward.

Or, in other words: if a public employee had retired on the day the new contribution rates went into effect, then he or she would still be entitled to all the retirement benefits accrued up to that point… and therefore (as I read the Court decision), the Justices do not see any unconstitutional retroactive impact.

Which I guess begs the question: what would have happened in 2011 if every single one of the public employees covered by the NH Retirement System had chosen retirement, rather than what was effectively an employer-imposed pay cut?

And in the real world, what does this do to NH RSA 273-A, the Public Employee Labor Relations Law, if public employers are now able to unilaterally change the terms and conditions of employment by increasing required “contributions” to the NH Retirement System?

The NH Supreme Court may be asked to reconsider today’s ruling. Stay tuned.

 

*       *       *       *

Members of the NH Retirement Security Coalition include:
Sandy Amlaw, New Hampshire Retired Educators Association
Steve Arnold, NE Police Benevolent Association
Dennis  Caza, Teamsters Union Local 633
Laura Hainey, American Federation of Teachers – New Hampshire
Mark Joyce, NH School Administrators Association
Rich Gulla, State Employees Association of New Hampshire – SEIU Local 1984
Dave Lang, Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire
Mark MacKenzie, New Hampshire AFL-CIO
Harriett Spencer, American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 93
Keith Phelps, New Hampshire Police Association
Scott McGilvray, NEA – New Hampshire

Retiree’s Will See Massive Increases From ACA’s “Cadillac Tax”

LIUNA - The Laborers' International Union of North America

Exorbitant Increase of PBGC Multiemployer Insurance Premium Is Attack on Seniors, Robbing Them of What They Worked for Their Entire Lives

“Even Scrooge Couldn’t Stomach Such a Holiday Season Attack on Retirees”

Washington, D.C. – LIUNA – the Laborers’ International Union of North America – today urged Congress to reject a proposal which would dramatically increase insurance premiums for multiemployer pension plans, devastating millions of current and future retirees.

“Even Scrooge couldn’t stomach such a holiday season attack on retirees,” LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan said. “For generations, multiemployer plans have provided financial security and dignity for Americans after a life of hard work. This is an attack on seniors, widows and all retirees. They made our country what it is, yet this robs them of what they have worked for their entire lives.”

Currently, multi-employer plans pay an insurance premium to the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation to provide for partial pension payments if a plan fails. A proposal currently being considered in Congress would increase the premiums at least 300%.

LIUNA’s multiemployer pension plans cover hundreds of thousands of retirees and their families. Across the country, more than 10 million retirees rely on multiemployer plans, some of which continue to suffer from Wall Street losses during the recession. LIUNA, along with numerous other multiemployer groups, support reforms which would provide the time and tools needed to strengthen the plans at no cost to the public.

“We are not looking for a bailout,” O’Sullivan said. “But we find it insulting and egregious that while Congress can’t muster the courage to pass a needed gas tax or other proposals, they would even consider what amounts to a devastating tax on retirement funds to bail out the PBGC. It is as illogical, immoral and insane as destroying a village to save it.”

For LIUNA alone, the premium increase would cost retirement plans at least $100 million in just the next five years – resources that would otherwise benefit current and future retirees.

“Such an increase in premiums could force many plans to go under,” O’Sullivan said. “We support components of reforms that Congress is considering, but the addition of an exorbitant premium tax is a poison pill retirees cannot swallow.”

The Economy, Education & What America Deserves

Teacher

 

Matthew D'Amico

Matthew D’Amico

By Matthew D’Amico

With the school year underway and children getting ready to learn new things about the world, there is great worry as to the state of education in America today. As the father of an 8-year-old boy who attends public school, I know the concern parents have about their children doing well in school. And as a political coordinator for a labor union representing public employees throughout New York State, I’ve seen that working men and women are deeply troubled about our economy. Watching parents having to struggle to provide the basic necessities affects children, even while they are sitting in classrooms about to learn math or the history of the American Revolution. It is shameful that more than 16 million children live in poverty in America, which has such great wealth. And millions more are near poverty, with their parents living paycheck to paycheck—if they are lucky enough to have a job at all. With these agonizing worries—which no person, let alone a child, should have to go through—the ability of children to learn is made unnecessarily more difficult.

We should all be doing everything we can to make sure our public schools are well-funded, so that every child gets a good education. However, there are many people who are now attacking that great thing—free public education—wanting to privatize our nation’s schools as a source of profit for themselves. There are now more than 6,000 charter schools nationwide, double the number from just a decade ago. They’re publicly funded, but privately run. These charter schools are now part of the growing privatization of public education. Here is what I read on Forbes.com: “dozens of bankers, hedge fund types and private equity investors…gathered to discuss…investing in for-profit education companies.” But according to the National Education Association, “Privatization is a threat to public education, and more broadly, to our democracy itself.”

Why this is happening now is clearly explained by Ellen Reiss, Aesthetic Realism Chairman of Education, in her commentary What Education & the Economy Are For.  It is a must-read for all who are concerned with education, including the worry that the ‘public’ will be eliminated from public education. In it too is the explanation of why there are such ferocious attempts to do away with unions, and it is also what is behind the drive to privatize public schools. Ms. Reiss writes:

“Eli Siegel is the philosopher to explain: ‘The purpose of education is to like the world through knowing it.’ This idea is fundamental to the Aesthetic Realism method, which has been enabling children of all backgrounds to learn successfully—including children who had been thought incapable of doing so. To like the world through knowing it is why we should learn the alphabet, find out about numbers, continents, atoms, history. To like the world is the purpose of everyone’s life. Meanwhile, humanity has lived for centuries with a system of economics completely opposed to that purpose.

“The profit system has not been based on the fact that this world should belong rather equally to every child from birth so he or she can have a full chance to benefit from it. Profit economics has instead been based on contempt. The profit motive is the seeing of human beings in terms of: how much money can I get out of you?; how much labor can I squeeze from you while paying you as little as possible?; how much can I force a buyer to pay for my product, which she may need desperately?

Ethics, Unions, & America’s Children

“In 1970 Eli Siegel explained that this contemptuous way of economics had failed after thousands of years. The profit system might be made to stumble on awhile, but it would never recover. The fundamental cause of its failure, he said, was the force of ethics working in history. For example: 1) People on all the continents know more, can produce more things, and so ‘there is much more competition…with American industry than there used to be.’ 2) Unions, by the 1970s, had been so successful in their fight for decent wages—so successful in bringing people lives with dignity—that big profits for stockholders and bosses who don’t do the work could no longer be easily extracted from American workers.

“The persons trying to keep the profit system going cannot undo the first of those factors. So they have been trying ferociously to reverse the second: there has been a vicious, steady effort to have workers be paid less and less, be made poorer and poorer. And to achieve this, one has to undermine, even extinguish, unions—because unions are the power which prevents workers from being swindled, kicked around, humiliated, impoverished, robbed.

“Meanwhile, there are America’s children. They are literally abused day after day by those persons trying to impoverish the American people so as to maintain the profit system. Many children come to school hungry. Many don’t have warm coats for winter. Home (if a child has one) is often a place of economic deprivation—and the accompanying anger.

“Then, there are the schools themselves. In recent decades, as traditional venues for profit-making have fared ill, persons have looked for new ways to use their fellow humans for private gain. Behold—that huge ethical achievement in human history, public education! And the profit-seekers thought, ‘There’s a whole new industry for us here!’ The one reason for the enormous effort to privatize America’s public schools—and that includes through vouchers and through charter schools—is: to use the lives and minds of America’s children to make profit for a few individuals.

“This use of public schools is related to the effort to privatize public sector work in various fields throughout America: to have public monies used—not for the American people, not to respectfully employ public sector workers—but to finance private enterprises. And through it all, again, a big aim is to undo unions so workers can be paid less and the money can go instead to some private-profit-maker.”

What Ms. Reiss is writing about is a national emergency. No child, whether in Alabama, rural Maine, or the South Bronx, should have to go to bed hungry, or have their basic right to an education be a means of profit for some corporation or individual. The time is now for our nation’s leaders to be courageous and answer with honesty this urgent ethical question asked by Eli Siegel: What does a person deserve by being alive?

Immigration Experts Reaffirm Precedent For Obama’s Executive Action On Immigration

SEIU immigration rally _1

SEIU immigration rally _1

Immigration Council Strongly Reaffirms Research on Reagan-Bush Family Fairness Policy as Significant Precedent for Obama’s Executive Action on Immigration

WashingImmigration Policy Center logoton D.C. - This week, the Washington Post issued another editorial in its campaign against President Obama’s decision to authorize temporary deportation relief for several million undocumented parents of U.S citizen children. In particular, the Post argues that there is no historical precedent for President Obama’s action, discounting the parallel that the President and many others have drawn between past executive actions, such as the Family Fairness program instituted by Presidents Reagan and Bush, Sr. In fact, the Post called this analogy indefensible, essentially arguing that supporters of the Immigration Accountability Executive Action were attempting to recast history in an exaggerated attempt to justify the President’s overreach. The opposite is true. As the first organization to publicly lay out the case for the strong precedent for executive action in immigration, we believe it is important to set the Post, and the record, straight on the political significance of the Family Fairness program and why actions from almost a quarter of a century ago matter today.

As we have explained in several publications, every president since Eisenhower has used his executive branch authority to protect immigrants, including undocumented immigrants. We have noted, in particular, the Family Fairness policy instituted by President Reagan, and expanded by President Bush, Sr., as particularly relevant, given both the scope of the action, and the politics of the time. With respect to scope, our research indicates that both official government sources and advocates believed that as many as 1.5 million people were likely to be affected by the Family Fairness program, designed to defer the deportation of children and spouses who were not covered by the 1986 legalization enacted by Congress. Like today, the number of people affected by the executive action was roughly 40% of the undocumented population. Also like today, President Reagan, and then President Bush, ran the risk of alienating Congress, by choosing to allow these family members to remain in the country.

The Post and other detractors have chosen to focus on whether 1.5 million people were really affected, alleging that this number was wildly exaggerated at the time. Despite evidence to the contrary, the Post has doggedly stuck by this claim, even though it has twice amended its original Fact Check article challenging the 1.5 million figure. While it grudgingly acknowledges that the 1.5 million number was a key point in the political and policy debate, it fails to note the real significance: the size of the potentially affected population did not cause the cries of panic and constitutional overreach that we hear today.

Presidents Reagan and Bush used their executive branch authority to keep immigrant family members together. They did this despite the fact that Congress had definitively acted, passing a legalization program that did not include spouses and children. At the time Family Fairness was implemented, it was not at all clear that Congress would, eventually, enact laws to protect these family members. Instead, Reagan and Bush’s program was based on compassion, utilizing the discretion that Presidents have to enforce the immigration laws with common sense and grace.

What’s most confounding is the Post’s departure from past supportive statements on executive action on immigration. In 1987, the Post’s editorial board called for “generous” acts of discretion to keep families together noting, “Commissioner Nelson promised to use the discretionary powers given by law to the attorney general to suspend deportation of family members if, in individual cases, there are specific humanitarian reasons for doing so. We hope he is generous in using this discretion…If Congress will not be moved, the INS should have a heart.”

In addition, in 1990, the Post editorialized in favor of Bush’s Family Fairness executive action noting, “The new rule is sensible, humane and fair. This response by the INS is in line with traditional policy to favor immigration that reunites families. In asserting his authority quickly and with a generous spirit, the new commissioner is off to a good start.”

We agree with the Post’s editorial board that “facts matter.” We simply believe that a news organization that has supported executive actions on immigration taken by previous presidents should reexamine all the facts before jumping to conclusions about the legality and significance of the president’s current actions. It is clear the editorial board during the Bush and Reagan era demonstrated a compassion towards families torn apart by the broken immigration system that escapes them today.

Republicans Push Right To Work In Missouri, New Hampshire And Wisconsin Admitting It Will Lower Wages

Right To Work 2

 

Yup, he said it! Missouri Republican State Representative Bill Lant actually admitted what labor advocates have been saying for decades, Right To Work laws reduce wages.

“In the states where right to work was passed recently, the hourly rates may have dropped 2 to 3 dollars an hour, but the amount of days per year that the workers actually got to put in on the job increased dramatically.” (Missouri Digital News)

 

View Progress Missouri’s short video on YouTube: http://youtu.be/iHzMu5CciBc

Proof positive that even the Republicans, who are peddling these ALEC inspired Right To Work laws, know exactly what Right To Work laws will do to workers. The corporations who fund ALEC want to pass Right To Work laws in every state to further suppress already low wages.

Rep. Lant is not the only one who knows that Right To Work laws crush wages. ALEC Co-Chair and Missouri State Senator Ed Emery said, “One of the things that will be advocated by the unions is look at all these right to work states, average wages all go down. Sure they go down…”

View on YouTube: http://youtu.be/zuzI8zzA8dw

This all out assault on worker and our wages is not limited to Missouri. New Hampshire will once again vote to make New Hampshire a Right To Work state. Like many other years in the past, Republicans in the House and Senate will pass a Right to Work bill and Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan will veto it. The only good thing is that everyone knows that the NH GOP does not have enough votes to override the Governor’s veto, but they will undoubtedly try anyway.

Just this week it became obvious that when the new “Wisconsin Right To Work” PAC popped up and began pushing press releases that Wisconsin workers will once again have to fight off Governor Walker and his Koch funded allies.

“The day after Wisconsin Right to Work launched, ALEC member Rep. Chris Kapenga announced that he would be introducing a right to work bill in 2015,” reported Brendan Fischer and Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy.

“All year round, we knock on doors in South Central Wisconsin and we ask people what is on their minds,” said Kevin Gundlach, head of the South Central (WI) Federation of Labor. “Never have I heard anyone say ‘we need right to work’. People are worried about low wages, health care, benefits and making ends meet in this economy. Right to work will take us in the opposite direction from where people want to go.”

Right To Work is not about worker freedom it is about crushing workers and the unions who they have chosen to represent them.

Huge hat-tip the Progress Missouri and the Center for Media and Democracy for their great coverage.  
UPDATE:

After posting this article, it was brought to my attention that the NH Senate has two Republican State Senators (Sen Carson and Sen Boutin) who voted against Right To Work in the past.  If they vote against it again this year, the bill would be deadlocked at 12-12.

Young vs UPS: Is It Legal To Discriminate Against Pregnant Women?

Pregnant Woman (Image John Ted Daganato Flickr)

Discrimination in the workplace is real and it happens every day. Some are discriminated based on their skin color, others are discriminated based on their sexual preference, and many are discriminated based on their sex.

This week the Supreme Court will hear a case, Young v UPS, that will decide if it is legal to discriminate against pregnant women.

After working as a delivery driver for UPS, Peggy Young became pregnant. This is not uncommon as 2.5 million working women become pregnant every year. As Peggy’s pregnancy progressed her doctor restricted her to light duty. The doctor said that Peggy should avoid lifting anything over 20 pounds.

Peggy went to UPS and asked to be reassigned to light duty activities. UPS denied her request and to add insult to their denial, they fired her as well. Not only did Peggy lose her paycheck she lost her healthcare too. This is why she chose to sue UPS for lost wages and expenses.

Some are saying this case is moot as UPS has already changed their policy, allowing pregnant women to work light duty jobs, but this case could set a very bad precedence.

Some lawmakers are not waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on this case and have already filed new legislation to strengthen the protections for pregnant women. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) authored the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), legislation which would strengthen the rights of pregnant workers to request accommodations during their pregnancy without fear of retribution.

The PWFA would secure the right of a pregnant worker to ask for workplace accommodations without fear of retribution. Today, women make up nearly half of the labor force, and three-quarters of women entering the workforce will be pregnant and employed at some point in their careers.

“A woman should never have to face a choice between her job and pregnancy,” Senator Shaheen said. “Women are a crucial part of our workforce, and they have every right to receive reasonable workplace accommodations to continue a healthy pregnancy while providing for their families and contributing to the economy.”

“Women make up nearly half of the workforce, and in Pennsylvania, approximately 96,000 women in the workforce give birth each year,” Senator Casey said. “Too many women still face discrimination in the workplace during pregnancy as some employers continue to refuse to provide reasonable accommodations. No woman should be forced out of a job because she is pregnant. Every employer should work to provide accommodations that will allow women to keep working safely through their pregnancies.”

The Senate version of the PWFA (S.942) currently has 33 co-sponsors, 32 Democrats and one Independent, Senator Sanders (I-VT).

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10) submitted identical legislation (H.R 1975) to the House and it currently has 140 co-cosponsors, again all Democrats.

“No woman should ever be discriminated against in the workplace simply because she is pregnant, and I was proud to help send an Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court supporting Peggy Young, whose treatment by her employer clearly violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act,” said Congresswoman Annie Kuster. “As a cosponsor of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which additionally prohibits employers from treating pregnant workers unfairly, I urge the Supreme Court to fall on the right side of the law and rule against UPS for its unacceptable, discriminatory treatment of Peggy Young.”

This case has created some strange bedfellows. Both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice groups have come out in support of Peggy and her case against UPS. Vox.com reported:

“Both the anti-abortion right and the feminist left have filed amicus briefs on behalf of Young, though they come at it from different angles. Women’s rights groups like the Women’s Law Project and Legal Momentum (formerly known as the NOW Legal Defense Fund) have signed onto briefs arguing Young’s side of the case. In one of those briefs, these groups argue that the Fourth Circuit was incorrect and ‘misconceive[d] the gender stereotyping behind pregnancy discrimination.’”

If both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice groups support stronger protections for working pregnant women, why hasn’t a single Republican signed on to support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act? Protecting the mother, protects the child, and the pregnancy.

This should be a slam dunk for Congress.

Or, is it just another example of how Congressional Republicans do not really care about working families and are blocking anti-discrimination legislation for their corporate campaign funders?

Enough is enough!

Smashed Piggy Bank Retirement

Smashed Piggy Bank RetirementToday the Nashua Telegraph posted the article, “Pension tension: New research dispels old notion that public employees make less than private sector peers,” which highlights supposedly “new” research focused on public employee pensions.

There are many things wrong with this article and I feel obligated to correct some of these inaccuracies.

Let’s start with the fact that the “new research” they cite was written in 2012, hardly making it breaking news. It was based on surveys taken in 2004 and 2006. The report basically says that while public employees do make less per hour than their private sector counterparts, when you include their retirement benefits public employees make more.

Here are the facts.

1) Research from the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) shows that public employees earn 11-12% less than their private sector counterparts. There is no denying that public workers have a better benefits package than private sector employees – however, even when you add in retirement benefits, public sector employees still fall behind private workers by 6-7% overall. Many people choose to work in the public sector for less pay because they want the better benefits and a real retirement plan.

Unfortunately the trend in the private sector is to take away defined benefit pension plans and force workers into 401(k) programs. This makes employees responsible for funding and managing their own retirement plans. Employers are able to reduce their contributions, reducing what they pay for the benefits they offer. This shifts the entire burden onto the employee. This is also why private sector worker are paid slightly better: because they are expected to save that extra pay for their retirement.

2) Public sector employees are better educated than private sector employees. NIRS found that only 23% of private sector employees have a college degree – compared to 48% of public sector employees with a college degree.

This is easy to understand when you think about some of the jobs in the public sector. You have thousands of literal rocket scientists at NASA and thousands of doctors and medical professionals at the Center for Disease Control. Every teacher is required have a college degree. The result is a highly educated public workforce.

3) It is an outright lie to blame public employees for underfunding of the NH Retirement System. The fact is that in 1999, the NHRS was 100% funded – until Wall Street shenanigans started cutting into its value.

As reported by Liz Iacobucci, “the Trust Fund lost 10% of its value in the recession of 2001.” The NHRS Trust Fund continued to decline and hit rock bottom during the 2008 economic meltdown. “It lost another 25% of its value in the 2008 recession,” said Iacobucci. In 2008, the NHRS had more than $5.9 Billion in investments – and when the stock market crashed, that created what many are calling an unfunded liability.

Think tanks often spin the numbers, calculating that if every employee retired today, the trust fund would be short by “X” amount of money. The fact is that new employees replace the retiring workers, and the new employees pay into the Trust Fund. Investment returns are hugely important to the Retirement System: about 75% of NHRS pension benefits are funded by investment returns. The employers’ contributions are – literally – just pennies of each dollar paid.

Wall Street has rebounded nicely from the 2007-08 crash. The stock market has been setting new records for almost 18 months now. The NHRS has recovered much of its lost ground – and as the market continues to grow, so will the NHRS Trust Fund.

I also can’t believe that Charles Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy Studies, is suddenly so concerned about municipal budgets. His conversion is almost laughable. In the article, he says “Your town budget is higher than it would be because the pension system is more expensive than it should be. That’s money that’s not going to hospitals, to universities.”

But the Bartlett Center was one of the biggest proponents of “pension reform” bills during the 2011-12 legislative session – and back then, Arlinghaus didn’t talk about the impact those bills would have on municipalities. Cities and towns are paying more now for employee pensions thanks to the hard work of Arlinghaus and the JBC.

Enough is enough!

We need our elected leaders and these Koch-funded “think tanks” to stop lying to the people. The media pits worker against worker when these think tanks are given unwarranted publicity.

Blaming workers for the consequences of two stock market crashes isn’t “new research” – it’s political spin.

Calling retirement benefits unaffordable – without mentioning the fact that the Legislature underfunded the NHRS for years – isn’t honest “research,” it’s political spin.

And we as workers need to change the conversation away from “look at what he gets” – and start asking, “why am I not getting that?”   We as workers, both public and private need to stop blaming each other, and start demanding better from our employers.

  • Advertisement

  • Advertisement