President Obama Signs Fair Pay And Safe Workplace Executive Order

From:
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary

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FACT SHEET: Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order

While the vast majority of federal contractors play by the rules, every year tens of thousands of American workers are denied overtime wages, not hired or paid fairly because of their gender or age, or have their health and safety put at risk by corporations contracting with the federal government that cut corners.  Taxpayer dollars should not reward corporations that break the law, so today President Obama is cracking down on federal contractors who put workers’ safety and hard-earned pay at risk.

As part of this Year of Action, the President will sign an Executive Order that will require prospective federal contractors to disclose labor law violations and will give agencies more guidance on how to consider labor violations when awarding federal contracts.  Although many contractors already play by the rules, and federal contracting offers already must assess a contractor’s record of integrity, these officers still may not necessarily know about companies’ workplace violations. The new process is also structured to encourage companies to settle existing disputes, like paying back wages.  And finally, the Executive Order also ensures that workers are given the necessary information each pay period to verify the accuracy of their paycheck and workers who may have been sexually assaulted or had their civil rights violated get their day in court by putting an end to mandatory arbitration agreements at corporations with large federal contracts.

By cracking down on federal contractors who break the law, the President is helping ensure that all hardworking Americans get the fair pay and safe workplaces they deserve.

  Key Provisions of the Executive Order   

The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order will govern new federal procurement contracts valued at more than $500,000, providing information on companies’ compliance with federal labor laws for agencies.  We expect the Executive Order to be implemented on new contracts in stages, on a prioritized basis, during 2016.  The Department of Labor estimates that there are roughly 24,000 businesses with federal contracts, employing about 28 million workers.

1. Hold Corporations Accountable: Under the terms of the Executive Order, agencies will require prospective contractors to disclose labor law violations from the past three years before they can get a contract.  The 14 covered Federal statutes and equivalent state laws include those addressing wage and hour, safety and health, collective bargaining, family and medical leave, and civil rights protections.  Agencies will also require contractors to collect similar information from many of their subcontractors.

2. Crack Down on Repeat Violators: Contracting officers will take into account only the most egregious violations, and each agency will designate a senior official as a Labor Compliance Advisor to provide consistent guidance on whether contractors’ actions rise to the level of a lack of integrity or business ethics.  This advisor will support individual contracting officers in reviewing disclosures and consult with the Department of Labor.  The Executive Order will ensure that the worst actors, who repeatedly violate the rights of their workers and put them in danger, don’t get contracts and thus can’t delay important projects and waste taxpayer money.

3. Promote Efficient Federal Contracting: Federal agencies risk poor performance by awarding contracts to companies with a history of labor law violations.  In 2010, the Government Accountability Office issued a report finding that almost two-thirds of the 50 largest wage-and-hour violations and almost 40 percent of the 50 largest workplace health-and-safety penalties issued between FY 2005 and FY 2009 were at companies that went on to receive new government contracts.  Last year, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin issued a report revealing that dozens of contractors with significant health, safety, and wage and hour violations were continuing to be awarded federal contacts.  Another study detailed that 28 of the companies with the top workplace violations from FY 2005 to FY 2009 subsequently received federal contracts, and a quarter of those companies eventually had significant performance problems as well—suggesting a strong relationship between contractors with a history of labor law violations and those that cannot deliver adequate performance for the taxpayer dollars they receive.  Because the companies with workplace violations are more likely to encounter performance problems, today’s action will also improve the efficiency of federal contracting and result in greater returns on federal tax dollars.

4. Protect Responsible Contractors: The vast majority of federal contractors have clean records.  The Department of Labor estimates that the overwhelming majority of companies with federal contracts have no federal workplace violations in the past three years.  Contractors who invest in their workers’ safety and maintain a fair and equitable workplace shouldn’t have to compete with contractors who offer low-ball bids—based on savings from skirting the law—and then ultimately deliver poorer performance to taxpayers.  The Executive Order builds on the existing procurement system, so it will be familiar to contractors and will fit into established contracting practices. Responsible businesses will check a single box on a bid form indicating that they don’t have a history of labor law violations.  The Federal contracting community and other interested parties will be invited to participate in listening sessions with OMB, DOL, and senior White House officials to share views on how to ensure implementing policies and practices are both fair and effective.  DOL and other enforcement agencies along with the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council will consider this input as they draft regulations and guidance, which will be published for public comment before being finalized.

5. Focus on Helping Companies Improve: The goal of the process created by the Executive Order is to help more contractors come into compliance with workplace protections, not to deny contracts to contractors.  Companies with labor law violations will be offered the opportunity to receive early guidance on whether those violations are potentially problematic and remedy any problems.  Contracting officers will take these steps into account before awarding a contract and ensure the contractor is living up to the terms of its agreement.

6. Give Employees a Day in Court: The Executive Order directs companies with federal contracts of $1  million or more not to require their employees to enter into predispute arbitration agreements for disputes arising out of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or from torts related to sexual assault or harassment (except when valid contracts already exist).  This builds on a policy already passed by Congress and successfully implemented at the Department of Defense, the largest federal contracting agency, and will help improve contractors’ compliance with labor laws.

7. Give Employees Information About their Paychecks: As a normal part of doing business, most employers give their workers a pay stub with basic information about their hours and wages.  To be sure that all workers get this basic information, the Executive Order requires contractors to give their employees information concerning their hours worked, overtime hours, pay, and any additions to or deductions made from their pay, so workers can be sure they’re getting paid what they’re owed.

8. Streamline Implementation and Overall Contractor Reporting: The Executive Order directs the General Services Administration to develop a single website for contractors to meet their reporting requirements—for this order and for other contractor reporting.  Contractors will only have to provide information to one location, even if they hold multiple contracts across different agencies.  The desire to “report once in one place” is a key theme in the feedback received from current and potential contractors.  This step is one in a series of actions to make the federal marketplace more attractive to the best contractors, more accessible to small businesses and other new entrants, and more affordable to taxpayers.

Part of the basic American bargain is that if you take responsibility, work hard and play by the rules, workers can count on fair wages, freedom from discrimination on the job, and safe and equitable workplaces. Taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used by unscrupulous employers to drive down living standards for our families, neighbors, and communities.  By creating incentives for better compliance and a process for helping contractors come into compliance with basic workplace protection laws, the Executive Order is basic good government that will increase efficiency in federal contracting and will help strengthen our workforce and our economy.

Head of largest federal employee union calls for 4% pay raise in 2015

AFGE president says President Obama must send strong show of support for federal workforce

AFGE Logo 2WASHINGTON – American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. today called on President Obama to provide federal employees with a 4% pay raise next year.

Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget, to be unveiled next week, will propose a 1% across-the-board pay raise for federal employees and members of the military. But that is a pitiful amount that does little to help federal workers recover from a three-year pay freeze, higher retirement contributions and the loss of pay due to sequestration-related furloughs last year, Cox said.

“A 4 percent pay raise is a modest and affordable increase that will help employees keep up with rising living costs, including higher retirement and healthcare expenses,” Cox said.

Wages for federal employees have gone up just 3 percent since 2010, while prices have risen 9 percent – not counting additional out-of-pocket expenses for sequestration-related furloughs, retirement contributions and healthcare premiums. In salary alone, federal employees are more than 6 percent worse off under President Obama.

Federal employees had their pay frozen for three consecutive years, and new workers are being forced to pay substantially more toward their retirement. Without counting the losses due to sequestration furloughs, these cuts amount to $120 billion in lower wages and benefits for federal employees during the next decade.

“The president must send a strong message that inflicting pain on federal employees was a miserable failure. The administration punished federal workers in order to endear itself to those who despise the federal workforce, and it didn’t work,” Cox said. “If the president truly wants to put an end to austerity and the decline of the middle class, there is no better place to start than with his own employees.”

AFGE Issues Top 10 List of Actions Obama Should Take to Help Federal Workers

Union issues response to President’s call to action in State of the Union address

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WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees, the nation’s largest federal employee union, has outlined 10 issues President Obama can address today through executive order to improve the federal government’s workforce.

The Top 10 list comes in response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, in which he pledged to act without legislation “wherever and whenever” possible to expand opportunity for American families.

“These are concrete actions President Obama can take right now to address inequalities that currently exist in the federal workforce, while improving accountability and saving taxpayer dollars,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said.

The list:

1.      Align locality boundaries so hourly and salaried federal employees who work in the same location are treated the same when it comes drawing local pay area boundaries.  No private firm that pays geographic pay differentials treats its hourly and salaried employees differently in this respect and the federal government should follow suit.  The disparate treatment of federal workers who work side-by-side for the same employer is unfair and unproductive.

2.      Extend to Transportation Security Officers the same disciplinary appeal rights enjoyed by most federal employees, including Transportation Security Administration managers. Currently, TSOs are limited in their ability to appeal adverse actions to the Merit Systems Protection Board, instead having to rely primarily on an internal disciplinary review board within TSA.

3.      Immediately stop the Department of Veterans Affairs from downgrading low-wage positions, many of which go to veterans and disabled veterans. These downgrades, dubbed a “reclassification” by the agency, cut thousands of dollars annually from already paltry salaries, and when applied to current workers, cause reductions in salary and retirement benefits and degrade services to veterans.

4.      Free agencies from the Office of Management and Budget’s arbitrary constraints on the size of in-house workforces, so that they can instead manage by budgets and ceilings. If agencies have work to do and money to spend, there is no reason why federal employees cannot be used. Currently, these performance decisions are being dictated by arbitrary workforce caps and cuts.

5.      Provide agencies with a long-awaited costing methodology to govern the insourcing process and encourage them to look for opportunities to save money through intelligent insourcing.

6.      Direct agencies to expedite compliance with inventories of service contracts and integrate them into budget processes, so agencies have the same control over service contract spending that they have already over federal employee spending and can systematically identify bad contracts or contracts that cost too much.

7.      Direct the Department of Defense to stop using borrowed military manpower, which is resulting in scores of hard-working civil servants – many of them Wounded Warriors – being replaced with more expensive, less experienced military personnel.

8.      Ensure that the administration is ready to issue a rule to implement the statutory reduction in the annual cap on taxpayer subsidies on contractor compensation. In June, the cap will be reduced to $487,000 assuming the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council has issued the necessary rule.

9.      Support allowing Bureau of Prisons correctional officers who work in highly dangerous areas of federal prisons to routinely carry pepper spray to defend themselves if physically attacked by violent inmates.

10.  Order the U.S. Department of Agriculture to withdraw its proposal to radically overhaul the federal poultry inspection system by removing most federal inspectors from the slaughter line and turning over inspection activities currently performed by federal inspectors to untrained plant employees. The cost-cutting plan would endanger the health and safety of employees and the American public by allowing plants to increase their line speeds up to 175 chicken carcasses per minute. This means the lone remaining federal inspector on the slaughter line would have one-third of one second to examine each chicken carcass for disease, infection and contamination.

Immigration Reform and the State of the Union

A statement from the Immigration Policy Center: 

Tonight, President Barack Obama pressed the reset button and laid out his priorities for 2014—and, ultimately, the final leg of his presidency. During the State of the Union address, the President discussed the need to create jobs and greater opportunity for all. He also made it clear that immigration reform and economic recovery go hand-in-hand, and he expects the House of Representatives to make the next move on immigration reform. The President said:
“Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement – and fix our broken immigration system.  Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted.  I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same.  Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades.  And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams – to study, invent, and contribute to our culture – they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone.  So let’s get immigration reform done this year.”
The President’s inclusion of immigration as a matter of economic necessity reinforces efforts over the last few years to redefine how we think about immigration reform. Immigrants create jobs as consumers and entrepreneurs and spend their wages in U.S. businesses—buying food, clothes, appliances, cars, etc. This builds our economy as businesses respond to the presence of these new workers and consumers by investing in new restaurants, stores, and production facilities. Also immigrants are 30 percent more likely than the native-born to start their own business. The end result is more jobs for more workers.
The President’s message on immigration extended beyond his speech. Immigrants and immigration activists attended as guests of Congress and the First Lady. Mrs. Obama invited two immigrants to attend as her guests: Cristian Avila, a DREAMer and DACA recipient who recently completed a 22-day fast on the National Mall in support of immigration reform and Carlos Arredondo, a Costa-Rican-American peace activist made famous by his heroic acts after the Boston Marathon bombing.

These guests remind us of the humanitarian nature of immigration reform that cannot, and should not be overlooked.  As we grapple with efforts to create a more just and equal system in which everyone has a fair shot at economic prosperity, we cannot forget the need for a fair and just immigration system.  Deportations that separate families, disrupt businesses, and destroy hopes and dreams help no one and ultimately do not reflect our tradition as a nation of immigrants.
Tonight, the President reiterated that he is prepared to use the authority of his office to push a range of initiatives forward. Thus, if 2014 is to truly be a year of action and opportunity, we encourage the president not only to support efforts to complete immigration reform, but to do all in his power to end needless costs—to families, to workers, and to the economy—of an immigration system that does not fulfill the promise of America.

People Are Signing Up For The ACA In Droves; One Senator Wants To Extend Open Enrollment

There is no denying the fact that the Affordable Care Act’s (aka Obamacare) federal exchanges have had some hiccups, glitches, and major problems.  On October 1st the exchanges went live and millions of people flocked to the web to sign up.  In fact so many people went to Healthcare.Gov that the servers could not handle the volume of traffic and crashed.

Since the exchanges opened up there have been two very different responses to the website crashes.  Republicans are quick to start conspiracy theories that it is all Obama’s fault.

We are concerned that the administration required contractors to change course late in the implementation process to conceal ObamaCare’s effect on increasing health insurance premiums,” 

The people who live in reality understand that the high volume of traffic was too much for the servers to handle.  People were jumping at the chance to sign up and save money on healthcare.

The opening of state- and federal-run insurance marketplaces Tuesday saw a combination of huge interest and balky technology that led to a series of glitches, delays and even crashes that marred the first hours of the centerpiece of President Obama’s health law.

‘Some of the delays were due to high volume. About 2.8 million people visited the federal website HealthCare.gov since midnight,’ said Marilyn Tavenner, director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.” (USA Today)

Nobody on the right or the left is denying the website has had problems. However every day since the rollout the updates to the equipment have been made. There has also been a decline in the number of people who are going to the site every day.  Combined that all together and you have a smoother, faster, easy to navigate website that is working for everyone.

Senator Shaheen (D-NH) has raised concern that due to the errors in the rollout there may not be enough time for all Americans to sign up before the open enrollment ends.  Shaheen is urging the White House to extend the open enrollment period past March 31, 2014 in order to give Americans more time to obtain coverage. Reports indicate that approximately 65,000 Granite Staters could buy insurance on the New Hampshire marketplace next year.

In a letter sent to President Barack Obama (below) this afternoon, Shaheen suggested extending open enrollment to “provide greater flexibility for the American people seeking to access health insurance.”  Shaheen also asked that the White House to clarify how the “individual responsibility penalty will be administered and enforced” in light of the website’s difficulties.

“The difficulty that people in New Hampshire and in other states that are relying on the federally facilitated marketplaces are experiencing is incredibly frustrating and disappointing,” she added while citing the goal of making health reform a success.

Shaheen also highlighted that the “the healthcare law has already had a significant impact on the lives of millions of Americans” and once fully implemented it will benefit even more Americans. She specifically noted that “seniors are now paying less for their prescription drugs, important preventive care services, such as some cancer screenings and immunizations, are available for free and important work is being done to improve the quality of care we receive.  Americans now have the opportunity to receive tax credits to purchase quality health insurance, and starting in January, 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny health coverage because of a pre-existing condition or drop coverage if someone is sick.”

It should also be noted that those states that chose to run their own exchanges have not had the same problems as the federal exchange.

Alan R. Weil, the executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy, an independent nonpartisan group, credited the relative early success of some state exchanges to the fact that they could leap on problems more quickly than the sprawling, complex federal marketplace.

“Individual state operations are more adaptable,” Mr. Weil said. “That does not mean that states get everything right. But they can respond more quickly to solve problems as they arise.” (NY Times)

“The state-run exchange in New York announced Tuesday (seven days after rollout) that it had signed up more than 40,000  people who applied for insurance and were found eligible.” (NY Times Oct 8th)

Americans are jumping to finally get a chance to have affordable health care.   Look at Oregon for example.  Over 50,000 people have signed up for insurance reducing their total uninsured residents by over 10%.  This reduction is in spite of their online exchange not being up yet.  Many of the people signing up are because Oregon also expanded their Medicaid option to cover more than 260,000 more residents.

If state legislators were really interested in helping people acquire healthcare and increase the health of their residents then expanding Medicaid is the best option.  Those legislators who are opposing Medicaid and refused to start their own healthcare exchanges are not going to stop Obamacare, there are only hurting their own constituents.

 

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Text of letter to President Obama from Senator Shaheen (D-NH)

Dear Mr. President:

 The Affordable Care Act has already positively impacted the lives of millions of Americans and once fully implemented, this law has great promise.  However, I am concerned about the problems that people are experiencing with the Affordable Care Act’s website, healthcare.gov. As website glitches persist, we are losing valuable time to educate and enroll people in insurance plans.  I also fear that people that have tried, and failed, to enroll online may become frustrated and not return to the website to try again at a later date.

Given the existing problems with the website, I urge you to consider extending open enrollment beyond the current end date of March 31, 2014.  Allowing extra time for consumers is critically important so they have the opportunity to become familiar with the website, survey their options and enroll. 

Further, in light of the difficulties individuals may be having with enrolling through healthcare.gov, I ask that you clarify how the individual responsibility penalty will be administered and enforced.  If an individual is unable to purchase health insurance due to technical problems with enrollment, they should not be penalized because of lack of coverage.

The difficulty that people in New Hampshire and in other states that are relying on the federally facilitated marketplaces are experiencing is incredibly frustrating and disappointing.  For over three years, we have been waiting for the creation of the health insurance exchanges, which now in their fourth week of existence, are riddled with problems. 

I know that the White House is working diligently to address the website issues, and I know that you share my interest in making this law work successfully.  And I fully understand that the healthcare law has already had a significant impact on the lives of millions of Americans; seniors are now paying less for their prescription drugs, important preventive care services, such as some cancer screenings and immunizations, are available for free and important work is being done to improve the quality of care we receive.  Americans now have the opportunity to receive tax credits to purchase quality health insurance, and starting in January, 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny health coverage because of a pre-existing condition or drop coverage if someone is sick.

Ultimately, however, we must do better. As you continue to fix problems with the website and the enrollment process, it is critical that the Administration be open to modifications that provide greater flexibility for the American people seeking to access health insurance – extending the open enrollment period and clarification on the enforcement and administration of the individual responsibility penalty would be a great start.  

I look forward to continuing to work with you to implement the law.

 

                                                                                    Sincerely,

 

                                                                                    Jeanne Shaheen

                                                                                    US Senator

 

 

Forget “The Decider”: WHO was President in 2005?

No, it wasn’t in The Onion. It was in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

In answer to the question, “Who do you think was more responsible for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina: George W. Bush or Barack Obama?,” 29 percent of a pool of Republican primary voters in Louisiana blamed Obama, who took office in 2009, and 28 percent blamed Bush, whose term lasted through 2008. Hurricane Katrina hit on Aug. 29, 2005.

One more time: despite the fact that he didn’t take office until more than 40 months after Hurricane Katrina hit, more Louisiana Republicans blamed President Obama for the federal government’s inadequate response than blamed President Bush.

Wow.

Got anything YOU want to blame on President Obama? There’s a meme generator for that.

 

A BETTER BARGAIN: Rebuilding A Strong Middle Class

Did you miss President Obama’s speech yesterday?  After watching it, I felt the way I did when I first voted for him.  He remind everyone of how far we have come since he first took office.

“Together, we saved the auto industry; took on a broken health care system.   We invested in new American technologies to reverse our addiction to foreign oil.  We doubled wind and solar power.   Together, we put in place tough new rules on the big banks, and protections to crack down on the worst practices of mortgage lenders and credit card companies.  We changed a tax code too skewed in favor of the wealthiest at the expense of working families — so we changed that, and we locked in tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans, and we asked those at the top to pay a little bit more. “

The President’s speech was about standing up for the middle class — putting jobs on the front burner for the first time since the American Jobs Act got pushed aside by the leadership in the House.

The middle class has become stagnant over the last few decades, while workers’ wages have actually declined after inflation.

“Even though our businesses are creating new jobs and have broken record profits, nearly all the income gains of the past 10 years have continued to flow to the top 1 percent. The average CEO has gotten a raise of nearly 40 percent since 2009.  The average American earns less than he or she did in 1999.”

President Obama wants to change that, and I do not know anyone outside the 1% who does not want to see that changed.

We know who is to blame for not making these changes already. President Obama went right for the Republicans who have obstructed progress at every turn.

“Unfortunately, over the past couple of years, in particular, Washington hasn’t just ignored this problem; too often, Washington has made things worse.”

Republican leadership in the House have spent their time trying to block or undo everything that President Obama has done — including 38 different attempt to repeal or delay the Affordable Care Act.

“Repealing Obamacare and cutting spending is not an economic plan.  It’s not.”

Trying to repeal ‘Obamacare’ is not the only way that House Republicans have delayed the economic recovery.  They refused to accept changes to the tax structure and demanded massive cuts to the federal budget.  They forced our country into Sequestration, forcing many workers to take force unpaid furloughs and costing other workers their jobs.  How is cutting jobs helping the recovery efforts?

“If you ask some of these folks, some of these folks mostly in the House, about their economic agenda how it is that they’ll strengthen the middle class, they’ll shift the topic to ‘out-of-control government spending’ –- despite the fact that we’ve cut the deficit by nearly half as a share of the economy since I took office.”

The speech was the foundation of a new policy push to rebuild the struggling middle class.

“That’s why, over the next several weeks, in towns across this country, I will be engaging the American people in this debate.  I’ll lay out my ideas for how we build on the cornerstones of what it means to be middle class in America, and what it takes to work your way into the middle class in America:  Job security, with good wages and durable industries.  A good education.   A home to call your own.  Affordable health care when you get sick.  A secure retirement even if you’re not rich.  Reducing poverty.  Reducing inequality.  Growing opportunity.”

He warned that there is not a short-term fix to this long-term problem.  This is a long-term approach to fix what has decayed of the last few decades.

What we need is not a three-month plan, or even a three-year plan; we need a long-term American strategy, based on steady, persistent effort, to reverse the forces that have conspired against the middle class for decades.

So, what is the plan? How is he going to make all of this happen?  For workers it begins with taking away the tax breaks for companies that take jobs overseas, and instead rewarding those companies that are investing in American jobs.

“So I’m going to push new initiatives to help more manufacturers bring more jobs back to the United States. We’re going to continue to focus on strategies to make sure our tax code rewards companies that are not shipping jobs overseas, but creating jobs right here in the United States of America.”

To have a strong manufacturing base we need to have a strong infrastructure.  This means that we must expand our ports and build better roads to handle the movement of products.  This means repairing hundreds of thousands of roads and bridges throughout America.

“We’ve got more than 100,000 bridges that are old enough to qualify for Medicare.”

After the long discussion on jobs and infrastructure, he moved to education.

“The second cornerstone of a strong middle class — and everybody here knows it — an education….”

Despite what the Sequester has done to the Head Start program this year, President Obama vowed to “make high-quality preschool available for every 4-year-old in America.”  Part of ensuring that all Americans have access to quality education includes access to college programs, either in local community colleges or major universities.  This includes reforming the student loan program.  He is already working to reverse the doubling of student loans.

President Obama also touched how the government is working to stabilize the housing market and making it possible for new home buyers to make a solid investment.  This also means that he will be working to allow every American to refinance their home to today’s low interest rates.

“It will be like a tax cut for families who can refinance.”

Some of the other parts to his new plan, ‘A Better Bargain’ included being able to retire with dignity.  Interestingly he used Social Security to push for immigration at the same time used immigration to help Social Security.

“Economists show that immigration reform makes undocumented workers pay their full share of taxes, and that actually shores up the Social Security system for years.”

He also reaffirmed his commitment to raising the minimum wage.

“Because no one who works full-time in America should have to live in poverty, I am going to keep making the case that we need to raise the minimum wage because it’s lower right now than it was when Ronald Reagan took office.  It’s time for the minimum wage to go up.”

He also talked about having access to quality and affordable health care.  Obamacare, what is sure to be President Obama’s legacy — in success or failure — allows every American that access.  The healthcare exchanges will be going live on Oct 1st.  The early results are showing better than expected news.

“New York announced that premiums for consumers who buy their insurance in these online marketplaces will be at least 50 percent lower than what they’re paying today — 50 percent lower.”

Over the next few weeks we will see what the nuts and bolts of this ‘Better Bargain’ really are.  I am sure that it will begin with the newly released House bill, ‘The American Jobs Act of 2013′

Delay Will Allow Employers More Time To Adjust To New Rules In The ACA

Recently the President announced that the Federal Government would delay the implementation of a key section of the Affordable Care Act.  In an effort to ease the transition into the ACA, the government delayed the section that requires businesses with more than 50 people, to provide healthcare coverage or be able to obtain it from their states exchanges.

“We believe we need to give employers more time to comply with the new rules,” Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama, wrote in a blog post Tuesday evening. “This allows employers the time to . . . make any necessary adaptations to their health benefits while staying the course toward making health coverage more affordable and accessible for their workers.”

This delay does not mean that anyone is giving up on the ACA, much to the dismay of the GOP in the House.  It means that the federal government needs more time to set up state  exchanges. Many states, including New Hampshire, have rejected any part of the ACA. They are forcing the federal government to create their local exchanges.  This could be one of the reasons for the delay, however we must stay the course toward real affordable health care for everyone.

After the announcement many were quick to react over the decision to delay this provision in the ACA.  Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO called the situation ‘troubling’ in his statement.

“In the health reform debate, we fought to ensure that employers have a responsibility to provide affordable, comprehensive health benefits to their workers and their families. The employer responsibility provision included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while not as strong as we asked for, was designed to give large employers an incentive to offer or continue offering affordable, comprehensive health care coverage to some of their employees. The Administration’s announcement that it is delaying employer responsibility assessments until 2015 is troubling because it removes that incentive for next year. In light of this decision, we believe it is even more urgent for Congress and the Administration to reaffirm their commitment to employer responsibility.”

The AFL-CIO was not the only labor organization to comment on the decision.  Randi Wiengarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) stated that this extra time does not change the employers responsibilities to the program.

“The delay in employer health insurance requirements and penalties does not change the intent or the spirit of the Affordable Care Act. It gives employers more time to update their healthcare coverage and implement the law properly.

“But this change in schedule does not change employers’ ultimate obligations under the act, and we call on them to be responsible and respect the law of the land. The American Federation of Teachers believes that employers should provide high-quality, affordable health insurance coverage to their employees. That is the right thing to do, and it is in keeping with the spirit of the Affordable Care Act, which envisions employers, insurers and individuals sharing responsibility for reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

“The extra time granted to employers should be the occasion for extra commitment from all stakeholders to fulfilling the promise of the Affordable Care Act. As that process continues to move forward, employers must refrain from actions such as cutting workers’ hours to make them ineligible for employer-provided coverage.”

The goal has not changed, affordable health care options for everyone is just going to take a little longer.  Just because the January 2013 mandate has been changed does not mean companies cannot work to better their own healthcare option.

NH Advocates Praise President Obama’s New Carbon Pollution Standards

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New Hampshire Groups Hold News Conference In Support of New Carbon Pollution Standard and Applaud President for “Backing Up His Strong Words With Strong Action.”

Concord, NH – Today, a coalition of New Hampshire groups, businesses and elected officials supporting federal clean air and climate change safeguards held a news conference, to highlight the support of Granite Staters for the historic Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon pollution standard for power plants announced by President Obama this week.

The President’s decision to take action to cut carbon pollution from existing power plants will significantly address, for the first time ever, the largest unlimited source of carbon pollution, namely carbon pollution from power plants.  Power plants contribute 40 percent of the U.S. industrial carbon pollution.  In addition, the President’s plan calls for an expansion of renewable energy sources like wind and solar and investment in energy efficiency to further cut carbon pollution.

Jonathan Gregory, a business owner of SunRay Solar in Concord, NH said, “The President’s plan to reduce carbon emissions and increase renewable energy demonstrates the leadership we need to compete in the new global economy. This is a win-win situation for all — investing in the clean energy economy while protecting the health and environment of New Hampshire for generations to come.”

Heather Fournier of Revision Energy in Exeter, NH affirmed that people and businesses alike in New Hampshire want more clean energy choices that will lower their impact on the environment and their energy bills. The Exeter business has expanded services to Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts over ten years.  Prioritizing carbon cutting could mean more business and creating more jobs.

Jonathan Mitchell, Training Director IBEW Local Union 490 JATC, said, “These efforts — along with measures to help ensure the smooth transition of workers and communities — will help create jobs all across America while also protecting our communities and stimulating investment in clean technologies and products made here in the United States.

At our Concord training facility we have trained hundreds of electricians. Training consists of AC DC theory, electronics, motor controls and fire alarm to name a few.  Not only do we train on the mechanics of the trades, we cover photovoltaic systems (solar panel installation), building automation and lighting design which fall right in line with the President’s plan.

This type of work isn’t new to us as we’ve been doing it for decades. We have the apprentices and journeyman more than qualified for the work the President outlined in his plan. We are ready, willing and able to handle any job in New Hampshire.”

Catherine Corkery Chapter Director of New Hampshire Sierra Club said, “We applaud President Obama for laying out a broad and common-sense plan for meeting our obligation to protect future generations from climate change.” She continued, “Americans are feeling the impacts of climate change already, right here in New Hampshire in fact, from destructive storms to rising sea levels.”

In thanking the President, Environment New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Sierra Club say this action goes a long way towards fulfilling the “obligation to future generations” that the President outlined in his Inauguration and State of the Union before this week’s climate announcement.

Steve Dzubak, Field Organizer with Environment New Hampshire, said “On Tuesday, President Obama responded to the millions of Americans who have spoken out on behalf of their communities and their families, urging him to lead on climate.  All of us who have felt the effects of global warming, or simply worried about what’s in store for future generations, can take comfort in knowing that President Obama has put the nation on a path toward a cleaner, healthier and safer future.”

Tom Irwin, VP and director of Conservation Law Foundation’s New Hampshire office, said  “We are pleased to see the Obama administration taking action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions – pollution that will have dire consequences for our children and grandchildren if not addressed.” He continued, “It’s been more than five years since the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that carbon dioxide emissions are harmful pollutants that endanger the public health and the environment, and that are subject to regulation under the Clean Air Act.  We welcome the administration’s commitment to finally implement requirements under the Clean Air Act and reduce carbon emissions from power plants, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.  These are much needed actions that are long overdue.”

Link to President’s Plan 

Text of Presidents Speech

National Fact Sheet from White House

NH Fact Sheet from White House

New Hampshire Impacts

  • In 2012, New Hampshire experienced a total of 17 broken heat records, 12 broken snow records, and 11 broken precipitation records.
  • Each county in New Hampshire has ragweed pollution, and Hillsborough County suffers from both unhealthy smog levels and ragweed.
  • By late century, Concord and Manchester could experience about 70 days over 90°F and more than 20 days over 100°F.
  • About 70% of the state’s counties now face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century as the result of climate change.
  • By late century, New Hampshire is expected to see a 20-30% increase in precipitation.
  • New Hampshire has declared disaster 16 times since 2000 due to severe storms and flooding.
  • Sewer overflows are a health risk for 6 communities, including Manchester and Portsmouth.

Do Not Let The Senate Steal Your Voice In The Workplace

NLRB 1With all the trumped up scandals in Washington right now it is hard to keep track of what is going on.  The GOP are furious about Benghazi, even after Hillary Clinton stated she requested additional security funding.  Now there is an issue with the IRS.  Yes it is wrong to target political groups for extra scrutiny but none of the groups were actually hard either.  As the politicos in Washington battle over these issues some of the other important issues are going unnoticed.

Did you know that in less than two months the entire National Labor Relation Board could be effectively closed. The NLRB is where workers go to make their case when their rights have been violated by their employer. Without a functioning NLRB, workers would have no place to go to have their grievances heard and employers will continue to trample the rights of their employees.

Currently the NLRB has only three of its five members. Two seats are vacant. When Board Chairman Mark Pearce’s term expires in August, the Board will be down to two members, which is not enough to form the quorum the Board needs to make decisions.  The US Senate is set to take up the five new appointments by President Obama sometime this summer.  The Senate Republicans are well-known for being obstructionists who oppose anything that is being proposed by President Obama.  First we must overcome this obstruction before we can even begin to discuss filling the board with new members.

As previously stated the NLRB key in protecting the rights of working people. They ensure that workers have the right to free speech without fear of termination.  Time and time again the NLRB has ruled in favor of workers who are exercising their freedom of speech online.

Aside from all the advocacy groups pushing their agendas, social media is based on people talking about what is going on in their lives.  For some this is pictures of the fancy dinner they are eating or their daughters dance recital.  For others it is a chance for people to vent to the world about something that happened to them at work.  These rants about their employers have led to the termination of some employees.  This is why we need the NLRB.  The NLRB has ruled that employees were unjustly fired for speaking out against their employer, if they were speaking out in order to improve their situation at work.

The Communication Workers of America highlight three excellent examples of how the NLRB is protecting your voice in the workplace.

  • Social Media Policies: When T-Mobile USA revamped its social networking policy, it made anonymous comments on social media websites an offense that could result in termination. It was the company’s latest attempt to silence workers who had been articulating workplace issues and discussing joining the Communications Workers of America (CWA) on worker forums, Facebook and Twitter. CWA filed an unfair labor practice charge, asserting that this was a violation of employees’ “protected concerted activity” under the NLRA. But before the case went to trial, T-Mobile USA agreed to a settlement. The company was required to inform all of its employees that they may discuss work-related issues on Facebook and similar websites without fear of reprisal.More recently, because of another CWA charge, a NLRB judge ordered DISH Network to change its social media policy that prevented workers from making “disparaging or defamatory” comments about the company. The policy infringed on employees’ rights, as workers could “reasonably construe” this rule to mean they can’t criticize their employer’s labor practices.
  • Talking about your boss: At Bettie Page, a woman’s clothing store in San Francisco, a group of employees had lodged a number of complaints with the store owners about their manager’s unprofessional behavior. Frustrated with being ignored, employees finally took to Facebook. Holli Thomas posted, “needs a new job. I’m physically and mentally sickened.” Vanessa Morris responded that the manager is “as immature a person can be” and Brittany Johnson agreed that “bettie page would roll over in her grave.” Thomas, Morris and Johnson were fired on trumped up charges. But they filed a complaint, and a NLRB judge found that they lost their jobs as a direct result of their Facebook activity. Bettie Page had clearly violated the worker’s “protected concerted activity” rights under the NLRA, and the judge ordered that it reinstate the three clerks with compensation for any loss of earnings and benefits.
  • Discussing Work Conditions: At Hispanics United of Buffalo, a nonprofit social services provider in New York, Mariana Cole-Rivera started a Facebook thread, asking, “Lydia Cruz, a coworker feels that we don’t help our clients enough at HUB. I about had it! My fellow coworkers how do you feel?” Her colleagues immediately voiced their support, writing, “Try doing my job. I have five programs” and “What the hell, we don’t have a life as is.” Cole-Rivera and four caseworkers who responded to her lost their jobs. But the NLRB found that their posts were the type of “concerted activity” for “mutual aid” that is expressly protected by the NLRA, since it involved a conversation among coworkers about their terms and conditions of employment, including their job performance and staffing levels. The judge ordered that the fired workers be fully reinstated to their jobs with back pay.

These examples highlight the need for workers to have a place to go where their issues can be heard.  The NLRB is already overloaded due to the two vacant seats and this means that workers who are awaiting a hearing are waiting months to have their termination potentially overturned.  This puts an enormous financial strain on those people forced to wait for a hearing.  If the Senate does not take action before August the entire NLRB would effectively closed down, essentially silencing workers voices.

We need to protect our freedoms and our rights at work. To do this we need and NLRB that works.  We need the Senate to take quick action to approve the Presidential appointees.
In a related note, CWA President Larry Cohen went on the Ed Show explaining the importance of the National Labor Relations Board and what must be done to ensure that all 5 members are confirmed by the Senate.