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Trump Is Waging War on the VA’s Union, and Workers Are Living in Fear

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As Don­ald Trump cam­paigns for reelec­tion by declar­ing his love for the mil­i­tary and its vet­er­ans, the union that rep­re­sents more than a quar­ter of a mil­lion Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Affairs (VA) employ­ees says that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has cre­at­ed an atmos­phere of fear and retal­i­a­tion among the peo­ple tasked with tak­ing care of America’s veterans.

More than 250,000 VA work­ers are rep­re­sent­ed by the Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Employ­ees (AFGE), and the union says that the VA’s con­tract is the largest sin­gle pub­lic sec­tor union con­tract in the coun­try. Nego­ti­a­tions for a new con­tract are cur­rent­ly mired before a “Fed­er­al Ser­vices Impasse Pan­el,” which is tasked with resolv­ing bar­gain­ing dis­putes. (AFGE also filed a law­suit against the pan­el itself, charg­ing that its anti-union pres­i­den­tial appointees were improp­er­ly installed. Regard­less, the union expects the pan­el to ren­der a deci­sion on its con­tract in a mat­ter of weeks). The bureau­crat­ic maneu­ver­ings sur­round­ing the con­tract are just the lat­est man­i­fes­ta­tion of a years-long cru­sade by the Trump admin­is­tra­tion to crush fed­er­al unions—one that VA union lead­ers say is push­ing their mem­bers to the break­ing point. 

In These Times spoke to the pres­i­dents of three AFGE union locals, who rep­re­sent thou­sands of VA mem­bers across the coun­try. They paint­ed a pic­ture of an agency in which employ­ees live in fear of retal­i­a­tion from man­age­ment if they speak out about injus­tice in the work­place. And they say that the effects of a set of 2018 Trump admin­is­tra­tion exec­u­tive orders that dras­ti­cal­ly restrict­ed the union’s rights—in par­tic­u­lar by slash­ing the “offi­cial time” pro­vi­sion giv­ing access to union rep­re­sen­ta­tives at work, and by kick­ing the unions out of their long­time office space inside VA build­ings—have weak­ened the VA itself and made work­ers’ lives hard­er, even jeop­ar­diz­ing safe­ty in the midst of a pan­dem­ic. The real­i­ty for VA employ­ees is quite dif­fer­ent from Trump’s rhetoric about valu­ing vet­er­ans above all. 

Keena Smith, the pres­i­dent of AFGE Local 2192 in St. Louis, says that the Trump administration’s orders have evis­cer­at­ed the union’s last con­tract, strip­ping out health and safe­ty pro­vi­sions and whistle­blow­er pro­tec­tions, and severe­ly cut­ting back employ­ees’ rights to fight back against dis­ci­pli­nary actions. She describes a work­place in which VA employ­ees who process claims are “ter­ri­fied” that they will be fired for fail­ing to meet unre­al­is­tic quotas. 

“It’s def­i­nite­ly changed how we work and how we’re able to ser­vice our employ­ees. Over 80% of the employ­ees [here] are vet­er­ans them­selves,” says Smith, who is also a U.S. mil­i­tary vet­er­an. “These attacks become per­son­al… this is the thanks that you give those vet­er­ans who have already done their time. You put on fear tac­tics, and stan­dards that are almost impos­si­ble to make.” 

Smith seems gen­uine­ly stag­gered by the con­tempt with which the admin­is­tra­tion has treat­ed her union mem­bers, who process ben­e­fit and com­pen­sa­tion claims for vet­er­ans. “We lit­er­al­ly got evic­tion notices” for union offices in VA facil­i­ties,” she says, still incred­u­lous. “They said, ‘You have to get out or pay rent.’ What?” 

For the past three years, Lin­da Ward-Smith has led AFGE Local 1224 in Las Vegas, rep­re­sent­ing about 3,000 work­ers at a VA hos­pi­tal. “Pri­or to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion tak­ing over, I can attest to you that man­age­ment and labor had cor­dial rela­tion­ships,” includ­ing week­ly labor-man­age­ment meet­ings to dis­cuss work­ing con­di­tions, she says. That has all changed since Trump’s exec­u­tive orders. Now, she says, man­age­ment is so unre­spon­sive that it has left many of the union’s mem­bers dispir­it­ed and ques­tion­ing the point of the union’s existence. 

“We’d hear rumors like, ‘the union isn’t here any more, there’s nobody for us.’ Espe­cial­ly when we got kicked out of the office and our equip­ment got tak­en away,” says Ward-Smith. Though she still tries to meet with man­age­ment as she can, “I feel like I’m at their mer­cy. I have to some­times bite my tongue and do things on behalf of the mem­bers. But now the man­agers feel empow­ered as if they’re Superman.” 

Christi­na Noël, a press sec­re­tary for the VA, says of the ongo­ing con­tract bat­tle, “AFGE has con­sis­tent­ly fought for the sta­tus quo and opposed attempts to make the VA work bet­ter for Vet­er­ans and their fam­i­lies. It’s no sur­prise that AFGE has tak­en the same approach with its refusal to accept com­mon­sense improve­ments to its col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agreement.”

For Bar­bara Whit­son Casano­va, who has led AFGE Local 2054 in Arkansas for two decades, deal­ing with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion “was like wak­ing up in a for­eign coun­try.” As the VA has become almost com­plete­ly unwill­ing to work with the union unless it is legal­ly required to, a con­se­quence has been that the union is oblig­at­ed to use the legal arbi­tra­tion process to address minor dis­putes that in the past could have been solved with good faith dis­cus­sions. Casano­va says that before Trump, her local might have only filed one arbi­tra­tion case per year; now, it has 17 arbi­tra­tion cas­es in process, each one cost­ing the gov­ern­ment itself thou­sands of dol­lars to litigate. 

“We feel like our Com­man­der in Chief has waged war on his troops,” she says. “The staff is burned out and liv­ing in fear.” 

All gov­ern­ment employ­ees now have “right to work” sta­tus, mean­ing that the union is oblig­at­ed to rep­re­sent them, but can­not make them pay dues if they don’t want to. Nor do the VA’s work­ers have the right to strike, by law (a right that not even pub­lic sec­tor union lead­ers are will­ing to spend the polit­i­cal cap­i­tal to fight for). Those legal restric­tions, com­bined with the Trump administration’s bat­tle against labor rights of fed­er­al work­ers, have left AFGE strug­gling for ways to assert its pow­er. “It’s a bat­tle not to give up and feel total­ly hope­less,” Casano­va admits. 

The VA’s union holds infor­ma­tion­al pick­ets and ral­lies to pub­li­cize its plight, and is enmeshed in law­suits against the gov­ern­ment, but it is unwill­ing to vio­late the law with more aggres­sive labor actions. Boxed in by reg­u­la­tions designed specif­i­cal­ly to lim­it its pow­er, the union lead­ers inside the VA say that the bal­lot box is their only promis­ing route back to nor­mal­cy. AFGE has endorsed Joe Biden, who has said he will roll back Trump’s exec­u­tive orders. Ward-Smith believes that every­thing hangs in the bal­ance on Elec­tion Day. 

“If we con­tin­ue the way we are,” she says, “the union will not be in existence.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 24, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at [email protected]


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How America Continues to Fail the Health Care Workers Battling the Pandemic

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American Red Cross workers travel from one community to another conducting the blood drives that save countless lives in emergency departments and operating rooms.

But they struggle to perform that vital work while keeping themselves safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many health care employers, the Red Cross fails to consistently follow social distancing and other coronavirus safety guidelines.

“Safety shouldn’t be only if it’s feasible,” observed United Steelworkers (USW) Local 254 President Darryl Ford, who represents hundreds of Red Cross workers in Georgia and Alabama. “It should be all the time.”

Eight months after COVID-19 hit America, the nation continues to fail the thousands of health care workers who put their lives on the line each day to help others survive the pandemic.

They still face chronic shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) because the U.S. never fixed the broken supply chains that resulted in highly publicized scarcities of face masks, respirators and other crucial equipment last winter. Some employers refuse to take even common-sense measures to keep workers safe.

The Red Cross failed to provide face shields to protect Ford and his colleagues from blood spatter. And when a company that made the devices offered them for free, the Red Cross declined because of what it deemed the low quality.

“If it’s snowing outside and you don’t have a coat to give me, but you do have a sweater, give me the damn sweater,” fumed Ford, noting his members prefer some protection to none.

Employers’ shortsighted practices not only pose lethal risks to health care workers but ultimately will endanger the patients they serve, especially if a second wave of the virus strikes this winter.

Hospitals, nursing homes and other employers, for example, regularly work health care professionals to the bone despite the danger that understaffing poses both to workers and patients.

Across the country, tens of thousands of patients and workers died after contracting COVID-19 in nursing homes. And although employers had months to fill vacancies and resolve other problems affecting care during the pandemic, workers in these virus hotspots still face severe staffing shortages, lack of PPE or both.

“It’s challenging and it’s stressful,” explained Lynair Gardner, unit griever for USW Local 7898, which represents certified nursing assistants (CNAs), dietary and environmental services workers and other staff members at Prince George Healthcare Center in Georgetown, South Carolina. “But you’re there for people who can’t help themselves. Sometimes, you have to put that compassion first.”

CNAs at the facility took on extra responsibilities when the pandemic hit, such as distributing linens and cleaning up after meals to reduce residents’ contact with environmental services and dietary staff members.

Sometimes, Gardner said, she and her colleagues maintain such a grueling pace that they work through their scheduled breaks without even realizing it.

Instead of recognizing their sacrifices, however, the nursing home insists they work longer hours because of understaffing and give up the flexibility with shift scheduling they long had.

Gardner’s colleagues need to be protected from burnout. But they just as desperately want to be valued by a corporate employer that takes them for granted.

“Just show some respect,” Gardner said, “and treat the employees like you’re really thankful for us.”

Rather than fortify workers for the long fight against COVID-19 that remains ahead, employers flout coronavirus guidelines and retaliate against those who challenge safety lapses. And instead of using its power to safeguard the heroes on the front lines, the federal government helps facilities silence their voices.

Forced to share disposable gowns during the pandemic, three workers at a New York senior-living facility discussed the danger among themselves before one wrote a letter to management citing the infection risk that the requirement posed. The facility responded by firing them.

Donald Trump’s anti-worker National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)—acting through its general counsel, Peter Robb, who has pursued an agenda of undoing generations of cases favorable to workers—sided with the nursing home.

The NLRB dismissed the workers’ unfair labor practice charge after determining their efforts to safeguard their health failed to qualify as protected, concerted activity under federal labor law. The board strained to conclude there was no evidence of “group concern” in the workers’ actions. As a result of that case, health care workers across the country will be less likely to challenge safety risks even as the number of COVID-19 deaths continues to climb.

Since the pandemic began, the USW and other unions representing health care workers successfully forced many employers to adopt more stringent infection-control practices that protected staff and patients alike.

USW Local 9899 President Jackie Anklam pushed Ascension St. Mary’s Hospital in Saginaw, Michigan, to provide more respirators and gowns to workers caring for patients.

She also demanded better supplies for those cleaning the facility. When hospital managers tried to scale back the procedures for sanitizing rooms occupied by patients with infectious diseases, Anklam told them, “Then you go in there.”

Now, another NLRB case threatens that life-saving advocacy.

The agency dismissed another unfair labor practice charge after the general counsel’s office determined that a concrete company could refuse to bargain with union members over sick leave and hazard pay because the parties were in the middle of a contract.

To the NLRB, it didn’t matter that the pandemic had drastically changed working conditions, exposed workers to new risks requiring contract adjustments or created the need for their union to bargain about rights and benefits that couldn’t have been imagined months earlier. The decision potentially means employers in many industries, including health care, will refuse to bargain with workers on critical issues, such as COVID-19 safety practices, while contracts remain in place.

Anklam fears hospitals and nursing homes now will say, “It’s our way or no way,” when unions demand changes to protect staff and patients.

Already, far too many health care employers ignore workers’ concerns while exploiting their professionalism and compassion to keep them on the job.

Ford and his co-workers, for example, take great pride in collecting the blood that not only makes life-saving transfusions available virtually everywhere but also helps to advance research into public health dangers, like COVID-19.

He just wishes the wave of support Americans showed for health care workers at the beginning of the pandemic lasted as long as the health crisis itself and forced employers to make real, permanent changes in worksite safety.

Instead, health care workers perform ever more difficult jobs than they usually do—all without the proper equipment, support or attention they need to keep themselves and their patients safe. For too many Americans, health care workers are out of sight, out of mind.

“It’s back to business as usual,” Ford said.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute on September 8, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).


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Democrats in Congress Should Rethink a Health Insurance Deal That Would Be Terrible for Many Americans

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Congress must act decisively to ensure Americans get needed health care in the face of the novel coronavirus pandemic, both to promote public health and to reduce viral spread. But one Democratic proposal is a massive giveaway to private insurance companies with few redeeming qualities.

Richard Eskow - The Ring of Fire Network

This proposal would require the federal government to cover the full cost of COBRA, a continuation of employer-based coverage for people who have lost their jobs or who are furloughed. Because COBRA is for ex-workers, employers do not contribute to its cost. Instead, people on COBRA are typically required to pay their entire health insurance premium, which now averages around $20,000 a year for a family.

While the government would pay COBRA premiums, this proposal still requires workers to pay out-of-pocket costs that could add up to thousands of dollars.

This approach is inequitable, expensive, and not targeted to addressing the public’s health and safety. It should be set aside in favor of direct payments to doctors, hospitals, and other providers who deliver care to those in need.

Having the government cover COBRA premiums would lock in existing health inequalities. It would not help people who worked in jobs that did not provide health care coverage or who otherwise did not have access to employer-based insurance. And, if you had employer coverage and your employer offered you a low-cost HMO with limited access to care, for example, that’s all this proposal would pay for. But if you were a highly paid employee at a hedge fund and had excellent coverage that cost twice as much, this proposal would pay for your more expensive coverage.

This plan commits tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to private health insurers, regardless of the quality or price of the coverage they offer. That is not where our public resources should be going.

And, to repeat, this proposal does not cover the high out-of-pocket costs that come with most work-based coverage. To get care, people need to be able to afford the deductibles and copays. But, even pre-coronavirus, one in four Americans with insurance went without care because they couldn’t afford these costs. Forty percent of Americans didn’t have $400 in the bank for an emergency. Today, with no steady income, more people have fewer resources and will be forced to forgo care even with COBRA.

Furthermore, this proposal does not make budgetary sense. If enacted, Congress would be paying tens of billions of dollars more for people’s coverage than it would if the federal government paid directly for their health care through Medicare, as Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Pramila Jayapal have proposed.

Why is Medicare less costly? Medicare’s administrative costs alone are more than 10 percent lower than private insurance. Medicare also reins in provider payment rates.

Paying providers directly through Medicare has additional advantages. It treats everyone equally, ensuring that all of us will get the care we need. People can see any doctor they choose. And, there are no financial barriers to care.

Moreover, covering care through Medicare provides real-time data on the scope of COVID-19 through a single electronic billing system, which is sorely lacking today. This data has helped other wealthy countries contain the spread of the virus and effectively deploy resources where they are needed.

The government picking up the tab for COBRA coverage should be seen for what it is: A handout to the health insurance industry. It rewards health insurers who offer inefficient, low-quality, high-cost health plans. And, it does far too little to ensure people get needed care, much less contain COVID-19.

Earlier in April, AHIP, the trade association for the corporate health insurers, made this same proposal in a letter to Congress. Surprise, surprise.

Some of the Democrats behind this proposal have financial ties to the health insurance industry. So, perhaps this legislation is payback for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. If so, shame on these House Democrats.

Whatever the motivation, this is the wrong way to help our nation in a time of crisis. Help should go where it’s needed and where it will do the most good, not where it’s politically expedient.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Diane Archer is a senior adviser to Social Security Works and founder and president of Just Care USA, an independent digital hub covering health and financial issues facing boomers and their families and promoting policy solutions. She is the past board chair of Consumer Reports and serves on the Brown University School of Public Health Advisory Board. Ms. Archer began her career in health advocacy in 1989 as founder and president of the Medicare Rights Center, a national organization dedicated to ensuring that older and disabled Americans get the health care they need. She served as director, Health Care for All Project, Institute for America’s Future, between 2005 and 2010.

About the Author: Richard “RJ” Eskow is senior adviser for health and economic justice at Social Security Works. He is also the host of The Zero Hour, a syndicated progressive radio and television program.


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Coronavirus Shows Capitalism Is a Razor’s Edge

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My best friend works as a standardized patient, which means she is a practice patient for medical schools to train and test students. One day she’ll play an older woman with a pulmonary embolism, her face stricken with worry, the next someone with depression, limp and listless. Each workday medical students fumble at her bedside, and at her body, some nervous and gentle, others over-confident and brusque, as she guides them through learning their craft. It’s not bad for wage work, with each gig paying somewhere between $16 and $25 an hour, although this doesn’t always cover the time spent learning the part, let alone biking miles through Chicago’s potholed streets so she can make it from one 3-hour gig to the next.

Even though it’s not bad, she’s living—like most people in this country—on a razor’s edge. One of her gigs this week was cancelled because of the COVID 19 outbreak, which is now officially a global pandemic. Her employer paid her for the job, because she got less than 24-hours notice, but she will receive no pay for the other upcoming events this and next week that have been cancelled. One of her other gigs (all her jobs are non-union) has a two-week cancellation policy, a source of comfort to her. But what if that workplace gets shut down for more than two weeks? What if all of her jobs are shut down for six? If her income dries up, there’s no designated person to swoop in and help her, no bailout or government agency that has her number and will make sure she’s okay. She’s about two months out from not being able to pay rent or buy food.

My friend’s situation is unremarkable. She’s slightly better off than many Americans, 40% of whom don’t have enough money in the bank to weather a $400 emergency. She’s got $1,960 in her checking account, and $2,010 in her savings—although the latter will all go to her taxes, which are high because she’s classified as an independent contractor at some of her jobs. Perhaps most critically, she has access to extended networks of white wealth that people of color don’t have, and she can call on them in a pinch.

But like 27 million Americans, she doesn’t have health insurance. Of the last two bike accidents she got in, one was serious, but she couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, so she instead relied on friends who are nurses. One diagnosed her with a concussion over the phone. According to a Gallup poll from 2019, 25% of people in the United States say they or a family member “put off treatment for a serious medical condition in the past year because of the cost.” My friend, like all these people, can’t afford to miss work due to sickness, let alone treat what’s wrong with them when there’s not a global pandemic. What will she do if she gets COVID 19?

The GOP just blocked an emergency paid sick leave bill from advancing in the Senate. Oil and gas companies are pressing the White House to grant them a bailout from a downturn linked to COVID 19, and at the same time urging the Trump administration to avoid supporting any paid sick leave policy. Just like we lack a federal paid sick leave law, we have no guaranteed paid bereavement leave in this country. And in case we’d forgotten our precarity, Joe Biden just reminded us by suggesting that if he were president he’d veto Medicare for All—a universal, single-payer healthcare program—because it’s too expensive.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, higher-earning wage workers are “more than three times as likely to have access to paid sick leave as the lowest paid workers.” But only 30% of the lowest paid workers—who are more likely to have contact with the public in restaurants, daycares and retail outlets—get paid sick leave. Workers are not taking this sitting down. In New York, Chipotle employees are walking off the job and publicly protesting the company for allegedly penalizing workers who call in sick. “They want us to shut up,” worker Jeremy Pereyra, who says he was written up by Chipotle for calling in sick, told Gothamist. “They want us to stop. But we’re not going to stop until things get better.”

The first round of job losses is already here. The Washington Post reports that some drivers at the Port of Los Angeles were sent home without pay, others laid off. Travel agencies in Atlanta and Los Angeles let people go, as did a hotel in Seattle, a stage-lighting company in Orlando, and Carson’s Cookie Fix bakery in Omaha, hit by declining customers. “If my job’s laying off people, I can only imagine other employers are as well,” said Baiden King, who lost her job at the bakery, telling the Post she plans to move back in with her parents. “I’m not sure anyone will be hiring.”

Even before this crisis, workers were held captive by the stock market—most gaining nothing directly from its rise, which largely lines the pockets of rich people and distributes wealth upwards when it’s doing well. But workers feel its decline in the form of lost jobs and increased precarity. Now that stocks are tumbling amid the virus outbreak, this extortion racket is escalating, and the fundamental instability and savagery of capitalism is being laid bare.

The systems that are breaking down in this crisis were already broken before it began, and a radical reimagining of what could replace them is the best and only option—for this public health crisis, and for the ordinary, everyday crises that go unremarked. Universal income, Medicare for All, an immediate end to the brutal sanctions regime worsening the outbreak in Iran and around the world, a moratorium on evictions, the freeing of prisoners: Anything less than full social mobilization in the name of solidarity will leave us falling without a net. Or biking without health insurance, to a job that could evaporate.

This article was originally published at In These Times on March 12, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sarah Lazare is web editor at In These Times. She comes from a background in independent journalism for publications including The Nation, Tom Dispatch, YES! Magazine, and Al Jazeera America. Her article about corporate exploitation of the refugee crisis was honored as a top censored story of 2016 by Project Censored. A former staff writer for AlterNet and Common Dreams, Sarah co-edited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War.


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Labor’s civil war over ‘Medicare for All’ threatens its 2020 clout

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Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)Alice Ollstein“Medicare for All” is roiling labor unions across the country, threatening to divide a critical part of the Democratic base ahead of several major presidential primaries.

In union-heavy primary states like California, New York, and Michigan, the fight over single-payer health care is fracturing organized labor, sometimes pitting unions against Democratic candidates that vie for their support.

“It’s a discussion at every single bargaining table, in every single union shop, every single time it’s open enrollment and people see their costs going up,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, a vocal single-payer advocate and one of a number of union officials who spoke to the divide.

The rift surfaced last week, when the 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union declined to endorse any Democrat in this week’s Nevada caucuses after slamming Bernie Sanders’ health plan as a threat to the hard-won private health plans that they negotiated at the bargaining table. But the conflict extends well beyond Nevada.

On one side of the divide are more liberal unions like the American Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union, which argue that leaving health benefits to the government could free unions to refocus collective bargaining on wages and working conditions. On the other side are more conservative unions like the International Association of Fire Fighters and New York’s Building & Construction Trades Council, which don’t trust the government to create a health plan as good as what their members enjoy now.

“It’s an extremely divisive issue within the labor movement,” said Steve Rosenthal, a former political director for the AFL-CIO. “Nobody’s opinions will be changed during the presidential nominating fight, and unions may well be divided over Democratic candidates until the end.”

In New York, the New York State Nurses Association and Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union pressed hard in 2018 for a state single-payer system. But other unions, including the New York State Building & Construction Trades Council, joined forces with private health insurers to kill the bill, funding polling to show opposition to the tax increases needed to implement it and writing op-eds calling the plan a “folly” that would “send jobs and people fleeing” the state.

Now some of those same New York labor leaders are saying much the same about Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sanders’ Medicare for All plans. Gregory Floyd, president of the Teamsters Local 237, called the policy a “disaster” and predicted that few of his 24,000 members will vote for a candidate who supports it. Floyd declined POLITICO’s request for an interview, but said his opposition to Medicare for All is “based on what is best for our members.”

In California, the aggressively pro-Sanders California Nurses Association has long pressed for state-level single-payer, to the point of circulating in 2017 an image of the state mascot, the California grizzly bear, with a knife in its back after the state Assembly leader shelved a single-payer proposal.

The union’s parent organization, National Nurses United, is deeply involved in the 2020 race — endorsing Sanders, criticizing any candidate who doesn’t embrace Medicare for All, and sending armies of members and supporters to phone banks and doorsteps in all 50 states to press for a House vote on single-payer. Earlier this month, National Nurses United announced a new campaign to pressure presidential and congressional candidates to refuse donations from a health industry lobby group that’s spending heavily to kill any possibility of single-payer — a pledge most moderate candidates are likely unwilling to take in an election marked by record fundraising and spending.

Medicare for All is notably unpopular with swing voters in the battleground states of Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to a December poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Cook Political Report.

In Michigan, where 28 percent of the electorate belongs to a union, and where Sanders stunned Hillary Clinton with an upset in 2016, unions have stayed largely silent on the issue. “There is very clearly a split between union leadership and the union rank and file,” said Eli Rubin, president of Michigan for Single Payer Healthcare.

According to a poll released in July by the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, a 58 percent majority of “strong Democrats” favored Medicare for All but only a 48 percent plurality of Democratic-leaning voters. Among all voters, 52 percent opposed Medicare for All. Elderly voters (who turn up at the polls disproportionate to their numbers) were especially resistant, with 59 percent opposing single-payer plans.

Reflecting the divide is Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a centrist Democrat who opposed single-payer during her 2018 campaign but has since vaguely said she supports the idea “in concept.”

Compounding this ambivalence inside the state is labor’s ties to health care. Leaders of the AFL-CIO, the Michigan Education Association, the United Auto Workers, and Teamsters serve on the board of Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurance company. Whitmer’s own father, Richard Whitmer, was the longtime president of Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the company was among the top donors to her gubernatorial campaign.

Meanwhile, in Nevada, the war over Medicare for All is in full swing in Nevada ahead of the Feb. 22 caucuses. Sensing an opening after Culinary 226’s public rebuke of Sanders, many of his Democratic primary rivals swiftly and loudly sided with the union, with some (Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg) emphasizing that they would give labor a choice of whether to keep the health plan they bargained for or switch over to a government-run public option, and with Warren promising that unions will be at the table when the details of overhauling the U.S. health system are hammered out.

But supporters of Medicare for All have successfully persuaded some unions to back the policy, or at least remain neutral. When Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) rolled out revamped versions of their single-payer bills in 2018, they did so with the official backing of the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers, National Nurses United, the American Federation of Government Employees and others.

In an interview, Jayapal said her main argument to unions is this: Even if they fear the unknown, the current system is unsustainable.

“Look, I respect where they’re coming from,” Jayapal, the lead author of the House Medicare for All bill and the health policy chair of Sanders’ campaign. “They bargained hard and gave up wages for these health care benefits and they’re worried. But health care costs continuing to rise is a certainty. And when that happens, wages are going to decline.”

Local unions, which tend to be more outspoken than their national counterparts, are playing an outsize role in the 2020 race. That’s because so many national unions have thus far held back or pledged to remain neutral in the primary. It’s a backlash from 2016, when several big unions endorsed Hillary Clinton early on, only to witness a revolt from their rank-and-file members who supported Sanders.

With locals’ growing influence is a tendency for organized labor to balkanize its support. For example, the independent group Labor for Bernie said Tuesday that more than 1,200 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have signed a petition calling on the national union to retract its endorsement for Biden.

“I don’t know where these people are coming from,” said Rand Wilson, a co-founder of the independent group Labor for Bernie and an organizer for SEIU Local 888 in Massachusetts. “Do they go to the negotiating table? Because they’re on a different planet than me.”

But Nelson, who represents more than 50,000 flight attendants across the country, says Medicare for All supporters are only hurting their own cause when they criticize labor groups that aren’t yet on board.

“If you are not approaching this as an organizer and building a supermajority for this change, it’s not going to happen,” she said. “You have to open your arms wide and give space for everyone to share their concerns and ask questions, and you provide information and find common ground. You don’t shut down conversations.”

Jeremy B. White contributed to this report.

This article was originally published by Politico on February 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.

About the Author: Alice Ollstein is a health care reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering the Capitol Hill beat. Prior to joining POLITICO, she covered federal policy and politics for Talking Points Memo.

Alice graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in D.C. ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2017, she was named one of the New Media Alliance’s “Rising Stars” under 30.

Alice grew up in sunny Santa Monica, California and began freelancing for local newspapers in her early teens. When not working on a story, she can be found riding her bicycle around the region, attempting to grow vegetables in her backyard, and playing with her nephews.


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“I Would Love Medicare for All”: A Nevada Culinary Union Member on Why She Supports Bernie Sanders

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Bernie Sanders is leading in the Nevada polls, but he faces a major obstacle: One of the most powerful actors in state politics has come out swinging against his signature proposal—Medicare for All.

The 60,000-member Culinary Workers Union announced last Thursday that it will remain neutral in the Democratic primary this year. But in the past week, the union has sent out a series of communications to members warning, both directly and indirectly, that Sanders’ plan threatens its hard-won healthcare benefits.

One flyer circulated by the union read, “Some politicians promise … ‘You will get more money for wages from the company if you give up Culinary Health Insurance.’ These politicians have never sat at our bargaining table … We will not hand over our healthcare for promises.”

Sanders’ opponents have seized on the opening to double down on arguments for preserving private health insurance—a position the union shares.

“There are 14 million union workers in America who have fought hard for strong, employer-provided health benefits,” tweeted former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “Medicare for All Who Want It protects their plans and union members’ freedom to choose the coverage that’s best for them.”

Billionaire Tom Steyer, meanwhile, has started airing an ad in Nevada telling voters that “unions don’t like” Sanders’ healthcare plan.

Known nationally as a standard-bearer for militant workplace organizing, the Culinary Union hasn’t just won healthcare benefits—it runs its own 24-hour healthcare center and pharmacy, exclusively for members.

But some members are disillusioned that the union is flexing its muscle against a healthcare policy they believe could deliver a windfall to unions by freeing them to focus on other issues at the bargaining table.

In These Times spoke to Marcie Wells, a shop steward with Culinary Workers 226 who has worked at Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville inside the Flamingo Hotel and Casino for 16 years. Wells discussed Medicare for All, the union’s endorsement decision and her support for Bernie Sanders.

There was a lot of speculation as to whether the union might still endorse Joe Biden. What was your reaction to the decision not to endorse anyone in the primary? 

[Union leaders] said early on that they were not sure if they were going to endorse. When they called this press conference, everyone expected that they were going to go ahead and endorse Biden, because they already said they weren’t endorsing. So why would you put together all that just to repeat yourself?

The literature they put out the night before was not so subtle. It had the words “one, two, three,” and three candidates in order [Editor’s note: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar are listed first on the flyer]. Everyone knows in the caucus, you rank your top three choices. But they’re not officially endorsing.

I think it sends mixed signals, and it’s disappointing that they’re not being straightforward.

Did the union poll members about the endorsement?

No, they didn’t. Typically, I get called for those types of things, because I’m a shop steward.

Talking one-on-one, a lot of members want Bernie. But when we’re in the setting of citywide meetings or things that are exclusive to shop stewards, there’s a clear message that, “the person who wants Medicare for All wants to take away our hard work.”

It’s disappointing as a progressive.

At a town hall the union held with Sanders in December, some members heckled over the issue of healthcare. Can you describe what you saw happen?

At this type of event, all the questions are planned. When Bernie started talking about healthcare, almost on cue, a group started chanting, “Union healthcare! Union healthcare!”

When a speaker said, “I don’t want to give up my insurance,” I yelled back, “I do!”

But aside from what felt like a staged protest, Bernie got a great reception, people were cheering. I mean, he’s the frickin’ union guy.

The culinary union has the reputation of having some of the best healthcare in Las Vegas. How well does it work for you?

Relatively speaking, it is some of the best. But it doesn’t work well for me, because I have chronic illness. I have ankylosing spondylitis and bilateral uveitis that’s recurring. I’ve had this condition since high school, and I’ve been misdiagnosed, delayed diagnosed, not believed as a Black woman, told that I was exaggerating my symptoms.

Most recently, my eyes were so inflamed that my eye doctor called a rheumatologist in the Culinary network, and she wasn’t going to be able to see me for 7 months. I had to do a GoFundMe to pay for a doctor outside of my network so I could not go blind.

I don’t think the private insurance market is good for people with chronic illnesses, and I think it’s pretty ableist to pretend that it is. If I’m waiting 8 months to see a specialist but I’m having symptoms throughout that time, nine times out of 10 I’m going to get fired for missing work. And to even start getting that insurance in the first place, you have to work 360 hours within a certain time frame.

There’s also a copay every time I go to a specialist. More likely than not, I’ll skip something most months. I would love Medicare for All right about now.

Why do you think the union has come out so strongly against Medicare for All?

I think there’s a conflict of interest there. We have a labor union, and a political lobby with a PAC, and a healthcare business, all wrapped up in one.

They built the Culinary Health Center, so that’s theirs. Word on the street is they’ve already paid for the parcel of land to build the next one. So they’re in the business now—they’re the establishment to an extent. So I think capitalism is the reason that they’re coming out against Medicare for All, and it’s just really troubling.

Nevada’s uninsured rate is 14%, and there are big racial disparities in who doesn’t have insurance—in Nevada it’s indigenous people, Black people, Latino people. Medicare for All is a racial justice issue. For the union to have an 80% demographic of [people of color] and be pulling this, it’s just unbelievable. I’m disgusted.

Do you think the messaging against Medicare for All will impact how members vote in the primary?

That’s what’s shitty about this whole thing. Some of these people are going to vote against their best interest because they trusted the Culinary Union.

But a lot of members do want Bernie. The younger members, the members whose young kids are getting them involved. I think I flipped a dishwasher the other day. So we’re all doing our best, but it’s just disheartening that we’re fighting against both the GOP and the union.

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebecca Burns is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has appeared in The Baffler, the Chicago Reader, The Intercept and other outlets. She is a contributing editor at In These Times. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns.


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Medicare for All’s jobs problem

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Rachana PradhanDeanna Mazur, the daughter of a retired steel mill worker who works as a medical billing manager, finds some things to like about the “Medicare for All” policy that she’s been hearing politicians talk about. She likes the notion that all Americans would have health insurance. And it would simplify her own job quite a bit if there were only one place to send medical bills, instead of the web of private companies and government programs that she deals with now. “It would definitely be easier,” Mazur says.

Then again, if it were that easy, her job might not exist at all.

Mazur’s job and those of millions of others have helped turn health care into the largest sector of the nation’s economy, a multitrillion-dollar industry consisting in part of a huge network of payers, processers, and specialists in the complex world of making sure everything in the system gets paid for. If the health care system were actually restructured to eliminate private insurance, the way Medicare for All’s advocates ultimately envision it, a lot of people with steady, good-paying jobs right now might find themselves out of work.

“What if my job doesn’t exist anymore?” she asked in a recent interview.

This question has particular resonance in this part of Pennsylvania, a must-win swing state in the presidential race, which has already seen massive job dislocation from the decline of manufacturing. As Pittsburgh’s iconic steel industry has been gutted, the city’s economy has been hugely buoyed by health care, which has grown into the region’s largest industry — employing about 140,000 people, or 20 percent of the regional workforce. The city’s former U.S. Steel complex is now, appropriately enough, the headquarters of a mammoth hospital system, one of two health care companies deeply entrenched in the city’s economy.

There are lots of health reform ideas that wrap themselves in the “Medicare for All” label, ranging from a single government-run system to plans that maintain a role for private insurance companies. But under the most ambitious schemes, millions of health care workers would be at least displaced if not laid off, as the insurance industry disappears or is restructured and policymakers work to bring down the costs of the system by reducing high overhead and labor costs. The reform proposals being promoted by Democratic presidential candidates have barely grappled with this problem.

Initial research from University of Massachusetts economists who have consulted with multiple 2020 campaigns has estimated that 1.8 million health care jobs nationwide would no longer be needed if Medicare for All became law, upending health insurance companies and thousands of middle class workers whose jobs largely deal with them, including insurance brokers, medical billing workers and other administrative employees. One widely cited study published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that administration accounted for nearly a third of the U.S.’ health care expenses.

Even if a bigger government expansion into health care left doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals’ jobs intact, it would still cause a restructuring of a sprawling system that employs millions of middle-class Americans.

Claire Cohen, a Pittsburgh-based child psychiatrist, voted for Bernie Sanders, the architect of the most sweeping version of Medicare for All, in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. She says the national discussion about single payer and its overwhelming focus on paying higher taxes or losing private insurance misses the point ? she argues individuals would see greater benefit from a health care system without premiums, copays and other costs that increasingly make health care out of reach. But the question about jobs, she says, is a “legitimate” issue ? one she says people haven’t completely thought through.

“You don’t want to leave all these people in the lurch without jobs,” Cohen said.

Having it both ways

The idea of one national health plan covering all Americans has steadily grown more popular in public opinion polls over time, a sea change that coincides with Medicare for All becoming near orthodoxy for progressive Democrats. Prior to 2016, when Sanders made it the linchpin of his insurgent run for president, less than half of Americans supported setting up a such a system, according to Kaiser Family Foundation polling. Now, just over half of the public backs it.

When it comes to the costs of reform, taxes are the headline issue, and the movement’s advocates on the national stage ? Sanders and fellow Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren, among others ? have largely had to defend Medicare for All against charges that middle-class taxes would have to go up to finance a new government-run system. But the question of what single-payer health care would do to jobs and the economy has largely been overlooked. In the past, Sanders has answered questions about the economic ramifications with vague claims about transitioning to other jobs in the health sector.

“When we provide insurance to 29 million people who today don’t have it, when we deal with the problems of high deductibles and copayments and more people get the health care that they want and they need, we?re going to have all kinds of jobs opened up in health care,” Sanders claimed during a 2016 CNN town hall when asked by a retired health insurance worker what would happen to jobs in the industry. “And the first people in line should be those people who are currently in the private health insurance industry.”

Economists dispute the extent to which this would occur. Robert Pollin, co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst who has consulted with Sanders’ and Warren’s teams over Medicare for All, says that while people could be retrained for different jobs, there are no guarantees they’d work in the newly created government health care system, since one of the goals is to cut down on administrative overhead. “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have savings through administrative simplicity and more jobs. The government won’t need these people,” Pollin said.

Health care workers are interwoven throughout the economy, employed by large institutions like hospitals, health insurance companies and nursing homes but also in places like small accounting firms that help clinicians get reimbursed for care, and as independent brokers who help sell insurance products to customers.

Mazur handles medical billing for physicians through Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, the last of which is the most complicated. Under Medicare for All, “They don’t have to worry about, am I going to get paid for this service based on what insurance the patient has? It would be the same rules for everybody.”

In Pittsburgh, workers in the health care economy interviewed for this article weren’t necessarily against a single-payer system, even if it meant their work would be personally affected. But they did consistently say that Democratic candidates for president need to make the employment implications clearer.

Marc Schermer, a Pittsburgh-based insurance broker who sells health plans to individual customers as well as small businesses, says he’d likely experience a temporary setback but believes he’d manage since he sells other kinds of insurance, too. He even thinks single payer is an idea “he could get behind” because removing private insurance companies from the system would simplify things.

“I’m pretty well diversified so that if suddenly the ‘Medicare for All’ thing happened, and companies like United and Highmark and UPMC and Aetna were brushed aside, I would still have something to do,” Schermer said. “But there are a lot of people who are employed directly by those companies who would be up a creek.”

Medicare for All isn’t predicted to disrupt all job types and could even potentially benefit certain types of health care workers ? for example, by expanding the need for caregivers because of a proposed expansion of long-term care benefits. And Medicare for All would provide health benefits to tens of millions who are still uninsured, creating additional demand for doctors and other providers. Still, others are likely to be lost in the short term.

“We vilify the health care industry, but it provides jobs to a lot of people, and not just jobs for wealthy people but jobs for everyday people,” said Janette Dill, a researcher at the University of Minnesota who has studied the rise of health care-related employment among the working class. “That’s one thing it’s really good at.”

Health care jobs in Allegheny County, the region surrounding Pittsburgh, grew from roughly 90,000 in 1990 to around 140,000 this year, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. Another 9,500 people work directly for health insurance companies and about 3,200 work for insurance agencies or brokerages, which includes people who sell health insurance policies.

The power of the health care industry in southwestern Pennsylvania is inescapable. Hospitals and clinics controlled by two competing health care behemoths, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, dot Pittsburgh’s streets. The two companies have slowly moved in on the other’s territory and saturated Pittsburgh’s health care market, with the iconic UPMC brand operating a health insurance arm, and Highmark BCBS running the Allegheny Health Network system of hospitals and clinics.

Both companies declined to comment on the potential impact of Medicare for All on their workforces.

University of Massachusetts researchers who analyzed the 2017 version of Sanders’ Medicare for All bill estimated that nationwide more than 800,000 people who work for private health insurance companies and a further 1 million who handle administrative work for health care providers would see their jobs evaporate.

The workers generally earn middle-class wages, according to the November 2018 study forecasting the economic ramifications of Sanders’ plan. The median annual income of a worker employed in the health insurance industry is nearly $55,000; for office and administrative jobs at health care service sites, it’s about $35,000, researchers said.

“The savings don’t come out of the sky,” said Pollin. “The main way we save money is through administrative simplicity. That means layoffs. There’s just no way around it.”

Extra dollars, extra life?

Of course, the larger problem behind the question of job losses is just how much of the U.S. economy should be devoted to health care.

Economists say there isn’t a magic number for how large or small the health care sector should be. But they often express concern that the U.S. gets too little benefit for the amount of money it spends, with spending levels twice that of many other developed nations and actual health outcomes significantly lower. Much of that money goes to overhead, in the form of middlemen like insurers and the surrounding industries.

“The problem is you’re spending extra dollars right now, and it’s not at all clear you’re getting extra life for it,” said Katherine Baicker, a health care economist and dean of the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy.

Cutting those excess costs has appeal to economists, who prioritize efficiency and value for money. But politically it can be a challenge when what looks like an “excess cost” from a distance looks like a good-paying job to the person who holds it. Nationally, the growing health care sector was an economic bright spot even during the Great Recession, continuing to add jobs while others shed millions of workers, according to an analysis from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Medicare for All also wouldn’t be the first, nor likely the last, initiative that would cause economic upheaval for a major jobs engine. Baicker argues that the jobs piece isn’t a metric that people should use to judge whether single payer is worth it, because in a dynamic economy different sectors grow while others shrink.

“What you need is transition help for those people whose sectors are shrinking,” Baicker said. We may all be better off in the long run when we can produce all the food we need with many fewer people working in agriculture … that doesn’t mean that you can instantaneously turn a farmer into a software engineer or a nurse into a financial expert.”

There’s some precedent for federal programs that help individuals whose jobs have been upended because of broader economic policy decisions, including the Trade Adjustment Assistance program that helps workers displaced by global trade.

The latest Medicare for All bills in the House and Senate, championed by members in Democrats’ most liberal wing, include provisions addressing assistance for displaced workers. The House version spearheaded by Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington state, mandates that for up to five years at least 1 percent of the new health care program’s budget will be spent on efforts to prevent dislocation for health insurance administrative workers or individuals who perform related work at health care organizations.

“This happens every time there’s innovation,” said Jayapal, who co-chairs the House’s Progressive Caucus. “It happens with Lyft and Uber. It happens with movie cameras instead of still photographs. This is part of what happens as you make things better.”

Sanders’ legislation appears to be more limited. The bill allows — but doesn’t require ? that such assistance be provided to workers and caps the amount at 1 percent.

Even in Pittsburgh, not everyone is worried that a national health care law would gut the area’s leading industry yet again. When manufacturing declined in the 1980s in the region, “nobody really cared” and workers were just told to “suck it up” in response to job loss, said Ed Grystar, a longtime union organizer and chair of the Western PA Coalition for Single-Payer Healthcare.

Grystar, who says he spent most of his life negotiating contracts for nurses, says Medicare for All represents a “monumental shift for social justice” to help people access something they deserve. The current system, with its out of control prices and dysfunction, “can’t go on.”

As for the insurance jobs?

“Who cares if [insurance companies] go out of business?’’ Grystar said in an interview. “This is a net positive for society as a whole.”

This article was originally published by Politico on November 25, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rachana Pradhan is a health care reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before coming to POLITICO, she spent more than three years at Inside Health Policy focusing on implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Prior to that, Pradhan worked at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va., and spent most of her time covering city government (with the occasional foray into stories on urban chicken-keeping and the closure of neighborhood pools).

Pradhan is a rare local of the Washington, D.C., area and graduated from James Madison University. She was also news editor of JMU’s student newspaper, The Breeze.


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No One Should Have to Bargain For Health Care

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Negin OwliaeiNearly 50,000 members of the United Auto Workers are on strike, demanding that General Motors pay them their fair share of the billions in profits the company raked in last year.

The response from General Motors was shocking. The automaker, which accepted billions in government bailouts during the last recession, cut off its payment of insurance premiums for the striking workers.

As the news broke, former Vice President Joe Biden was at an AFL-CIO event, campaigning against a single-payer Medicare for All plan that would replace employer-provided insurance. “You’ve broken your neck to get it,” Biden told the crowd. “You’ve given up wages to keep it. And no plan should be able to take it away.”

But what if that’s actually the problem? Why should union workers — or anyone — be breaking their necks to get health care, a basic human right?

Health care has been a constant subject of debate among Democratic presidential candidates. Biden and others have argued that a single-payer system would be unfair to union workers who’ve taken pay cuts in exchange for better health care plans.

But, as GM showed, our current system turns health coverage into leverage for employers. What could unions could fight for if they didn’t have to constantly play defense against employers trying to gut their health care?

If we already had Medicare for All, the United Auto Workers could be using their collective power to fight for higher wages and better benefits. Instead, GM gets to use the health of its employees as a bargaining chip.

Auto workers aren’t the only union workers fighting for health coverage.

West Virginia teachers kicked off a strike wave last year thanks, in large part, to their own fight over insurance. The state offered educators two options: use a fitness-tracking app that forced them to earn a certain number of fitness points, or watch their premiums rise. They chose to strike instead.

Meanwhile, Americans already lose their health insurance all the time. That’s actually one of the biggest problems with the health care system as it stands.

Tying health care to employment is a terrible idea. In addition to failing anyone without a full-time job, it forces people to stay in bad positions just to keep their coverage. And when workers lose their jobs, they lose their insurance too.

That wouldn’t happen under Medicare for All, which would allow workers to make decisions about leaving a job or working part-time without panicking over their insurance coverage.

Then there’s the cost.

Health insurance alone makes up, on average, 8 percent of total wages and benefits, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But workers are seeing their share of the costs rise at a higher rate than their wages. They’re getting stuck with a larger chunk than ever before.

Data shows that this burden falls heaviest on low-wage workers, who are already forced to spend a much higher share of their income on extra costs like premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

By contrast, the Medicare for All plan now before Congress would cover all medically necessary services without co-pays and deductibles — an advantage critics like Biden rarely address.

Right now, the U.S. spends about two times as much as other high-income countries on health care, only to have poorer health outcomes. It’s obvious that the current system isn’t working — for union workers, or for anyone else.

No one should have to bargain for a human right.

This article was originally printed on OurFuture on October 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Negin Owliaei is an Inequality Editor and Researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies. Before joining IPS, she worked as a journalist and digital producer at Al Jazeera Media Network, where she covered social movements and the internet for the award-winning program The Stream. Negin graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in International Studies and English.


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Improving Patient Safety: Worker Wins

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Our latest roundup of worker wins begins with nurses across the country winning new contracts and includes numerous examples of working people organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life.

New Contract for More Than 14,000 California Nurses Includes Improved Protections from Violence and Harassment: Registered nurses at the University of California, members of the California Nurses Association (an affiliate of National Nurses United/NNU) voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new five-year contract. The contract covers more than 14,000 registered nurses at more than a dozen locations. “We are so proud to ratify this historic contract for all registered nurses at UC. Nurses stood together in solidarity and fought back over 60 takeaways that would have directly affected our ability to care for our patients,” said Megan Norman, RN, UC Davis. “We won new language addressing infectious disease and hazardous substances as well as stronger protections around workplace violence and sexual harassment.”

11,000 VA Nurses Ratify New Contract: More than 11,000 registered nurses at 23 hospitals run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, who are represented by the National Nurses Organizing Committee/NNU, voted to ratify a new three-year contract that features workplace violence protections, infectious disease training and emergency preparedness information. “I am very excited about the workplace safety provisions that will improve the safety of our nurses and protect them from violence and injury,” said Irma Westmoreland, registered nurse and National Nurses United board member.

Maine Nurses Win Increased Workplace Safety in New Contract: Neatly 900 members of the Maine State Nurses Association (part of the NNOC/NNU) who work at the Eastern Maine Medical Center (EMMC) ratified a new contract. “This new agreement sets a new bar for quality care and patient safety at our hospital,” said Dawn Caron, bargaining team member and chief union steward for the nurses at EMMC. “When we began this process back in February, we set out to protect the role of our charge nurses and all of the other safe patient care provisions of our contract. The nurses at EMMC are proud to announce that today, we have done exactly that.”

Disneyland Resort Workers Approve Contract with Wage Raise and Bonus: After more than a year and a half of negotiations, Disneyland Resort hotel workers approved a new contract that includes nearly $2 an hour in higher wages and the payment of $1,000 employee bonuses originally announced in January. UNITE HERE Local 11 represents the more than 2,700 hotel workers at Disney covered by the new contract.

UFCW Members at Four Roses Distillery Reach Agreement to End Strike: In September, members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 10D who work at the Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, won a new agreement after a strike that lasted nearly two weeks. “We’re one big, happy, dysfunctional family around here,” Local 10D President Jeff Royalty said. “You know, just like brothers and sisters, you’ll have some hard feelings from time to time, but they’re short-lived.”

Columbia Postdoctoral Researchers Win Right to Form Union: The National Labor Relations Board ruled that postdoctoral researchers at Columbia can form a union. Official elections are being held this week to determine whether or not the Columbia Postdoctoral Workers become members of the UAW. “We are very excited that the NLRB finally issued the decision that Columbia’s postdoctoral workers can unionize despite the university’s efforts to undermine us,” said Alvaro Cuesta-Dominguez, a member of the postdoctoral worker organizing committee and a second-year postdoc researcher. “We look forward to the opportunity to really have our voices heard.”

Federal Judge Sides with FLOC, Rejects Anti-Union North Carolina Law: U.S. District Judge Loretta Biggs ruled that a North Carolina law limiting union organizing for farmworkers was unconstitutional. “North Carolina’s law is clearly designed to make it harder, if not impossible, for the state’s only farmworkers union to advocate for sorely needed protections against exploitation and bad working conditions,” said Brian Hauss, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

New York Port Authority Workers Win Wage Increase: After a long fight, working people at the New York Port Authority represented by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/UFCW (RWDSU/UFCW) and UNITE HERE won an increase to a minimum wage of $19 per hour by 2023. The new agreement includes nearly 5,000 catering workers that were excluded from the previous policy. The proposal could impact tens of thousands of workers at other area airports, as well.

ExpressJet Pilots Overwhelmingly Approve New Contract: United Express pilots at ExpressJet Airlines, represented by the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), have won a new contract that increases pilot pay. More than 90% of those who voted supported the new three-year deal.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on October 3, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 


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The GOP’s Trojan Horse on Health Care Repeal

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On Tuesday, 50 Republican senators showed contempt for their constituents by voting to move forward on repealing our health care, with Vice President Mike Pence stepping in to break the tie.

Nine GOP senators later broke ranks in a late-night session to vote down the Senate’s toxic version of the bill, the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) – which would have rolled back much of the Affordable Care Act and gutted Medicaid, ending coverage for 22 million – but there are more votes to come, including one that may simply repeal care and and strip coverage from 32 million.

The final version of the bill may be nothing more than a placeholder – a Trojan horse for setting up a Republican Senate-House conference committee that will use yet another secretive, undemocratic process to craft yet another version of health repeal.

GOP leaders will want the new version to look just like their previous versions: cut taxes for corporations and the rich, raise the price of coverage for the rest of us, unravel Medicaid, and take health care from 22 to 24 million people.

Among Republicans, only Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Sen Lisa Murkowski of Alaska had the courage to stand with their constituents and vote no on moving forward.

By voting to move ahead on the health care debate, Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada caved to pressure from Trump and casino mogul Steve Wynn. Almost 630,000 Nevadans get their health care through Medicaid and are now in jeopardy.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia caved under the weight of right-wing donor money and attack ads. With three in 10 West Virginians getting their health care through Medicaid, Capito’s state will be harder hit than almost all other states the country.

Ohio’s Sen. Rob Portman also caved, representing a state where hundreds of thousands of people finally got coverage because of expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

It was extremely irresponsible of Portman, Capito, and Heller – who have all expressed concern for constituents enrolled in Medicaid – to throw their weight behind this reckless process without a clear plan for protecting Medicaid coverage.

In statements, Capito and Portman have both said they’ll make good on their concern in the days to come, but both voted with their GOP colleagues for the BCRA on Tuesday night. Heller, who voted against the BCRA, said he wants the bill to be improved.

They need to show this is more than talk. Now more than ever, their constituents need them to stand strong, resist any bullying, and protect Medicaid and health care overall. They’ll do that, if they really do care about their constituents.

And let’s not forget the true heroes in this fight.

These heroes include the West Virginians who’ve been holding Capito’s feet to the fire for months with creative protests and civil disobedience. They also include the Mainers who delivered messages in a pill bottle to Sen. Collins and tracked Rep. Bruce Poliquin down at a Boston fundraiser and reminded him who he’s supposed to represent. And let’s not forget the seniors who braved a Great Lakes blizzard to protest in front of Speaker Paul Ryan’s Racine office.

Like these heroes, tens of thousands of people have shown up at protests and town halls, often speaking up for the first time in their lives. In every corner of the country, people have put their senators on speed-dial, camped out in congressional offices, and rallied friends.

We really are in a fight for our lives. Yet we’re motivated not just by fear but also by moral outrage. We know how fundamentally wrong it is to deprive people of health care.

And our fight isn’t over. Republican leaders wanted to put health care repeal on Trump’s desk in January. It’s the end of July, they’re still scrambling. That’s because of us.

In the coming days, let’s keep making calls and showing up at rallies and protests. Let’s track every vote this week, and raise the pressure on senators and representatives alike if repeal moves to a conference committee.

We’ve shown an incredible persistence in our fight. We’ll show plenty more when it comes to holding politicians accountable for a vote that favors big-money bullying over the people they’re supposed to represent.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on July 26, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Julie Chinitz is lead writer for People’s Action.


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