Taxi workers strike to show opposition to anti-Muslim executive order

Members of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) on January 28 staged a strike at the Kennedy International Airport in New York City to show solidarity with the people being detained at the airport because of President Trump’s executive order banning Muslims from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the US.

“Today (taxi) drivers are joining the protests at JFK Airport in support of all those who are currently being detained at the airport because of Trump’s unconstitutional order,” reads a statement issued by NYTWA, a 19,000 member, AFL-CIO affiliated union.

As a result, the airport’s usually bustling taxi stand was vacant during the Saturday night strike.

“Drivers stand in solidarity with refugees and immigrants coming to America in search of peace and safety and with those simply trying return to their homes here in America after being abroad. We stand in solidarity with all of our peace-loving neighbors against this cruel and unconstitutional act of pure bigotry,” continues the statement.

In addition to standing in solidarity with people denied entry, NYTWA also criticized the executive order itself, which singled out Muslims from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

“As an organization whose membership is largely Muslim, a workforce that’s almost universally immigrant, and a working-class movement that is rooted in the defense of the oppressed, we say no to this inhumane and unconstitutional ban,” said NYTWA.

NYTWA also was concerned about the effect that President Trump’s executive order would have on immigrants and Muslims who make a living by driving taxis and other passenger vehicles, which is already a dangerous job.

According to NYTWA, professional drivers are 20 times more likely to be murdered on the job than other workers.

Trump’s executive order increases this risk, said NYTWA, because at the heart of the order is an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant message that may encourage those who already harbor these sentiments to act on them.

“We know all to well that when government programs sanction outright Islamophobia and the rhetoric is spewed from the bully pulpit, hate crimes increase and drivers suffer,” said NYTWA.

The union went on to say that Trump’s executive order puts non-Muslim members at risk too.

“Our Sikh and other non-Muslim brown and black members also suffer from anti-Muslim violence,” reads the statement.

After word got out that union taxi drivers were on strike at JFK, Uber informed customers that it was suspending surge pricing at JFK.

That move backfired. Many customers interpreted Uber’s message as strike breaking, which led to a spontaneous online boycott.

On Twitter #DeleteUber popped up creating a public relations problem for the ride share company.

Uber tried to halt the damage by issuing a statement apologizing and telling the public that it had not intended to engage in strike breaking.

After the public show of support for its strike, NYTWA issued another statement thanking those who stood in solidarity with the union and its strike against bigotry and criticized Uber for its cooperation with the Trump administration.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is one of President Trump’s economic advisers.

The union also criticized Uber for its role in turning full-time, good paying jobs into part-time, low-wage work.

“Let’s hold Uber and every single corporation accountable for its greed-at-all-cost complicity in (Trump’s) inhumane policy and every such policy that follows. And let’s equally hold them accountable for the politics of impoverishment,” concluded the union.

Tech workers oppose tech firm’s possible role in developing a Muslim registry

Sixty tech workers on January 18 demonstrated at the Palo Alto, California headquarters of Palantir, a secretive data mining company developing databases that can be used by the government to track and monitor people.

The demonstration, organized by Dobetter tech, a network of tech industry designers, engineers, support staff, and business operatives, demanded that Palantir never support the Trump administration in creating a Muslim registry or assist in any way with mass deportations.

According to Fortune, Palantir, a $20 billion company with $131 million in government contracts, “is already working closely with the US Customs and Border Protection agency on a system that tracks citizens and determines whether they are a risk.

“The system, known as the Analytical Framework for Intelligence (AFI), pulls data from a host of federal, state, and local law-enforcement databases to create profiles of individuals, including personal details, travel histories, and even social relationships.”

Fortune notes that AFI could be a precursor for a Muslim registry.

The Intercept reports that Palantir also is working on another people tracking database for the government.

According to The Intercept, since 2011, “the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations has paid Palantir tens of millions of dollars to help construct and operate a complex intelligence system called FALCON, which allows ICE to store, search, and analyze troves of data that include family relationships, employment information, immigration history, criminal records, and home and work addresses.”

Palantir’s founder, is Peter Thiel, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and a senior adviser on President Donald Trump’s transition team.

Thiel’s close relationship with the President, and Palantir’s contracts with agencies that could be involved if Trump decides to implement a Muslim registry caused tech workers like Jason Prado, a Facebook software engineer, to be concerned about the role that Palantir and other Silicone Valley companies might play in mass deportations of Muslims.

“We want to make it clear that the overall tech community is watching what Palantir does,” said Prado to The Verge. “And we want to hold the tech community overall accountable for the values that we as a community have.”

Before the January 18 demonstration, Dobetter tech posted an online petition that urged Palantir  to join other tech companies “in disavowing any involvement with mass deportations,” to reveal what steps it will take to ensure that Palantir’s databases won’t be used for “abusive purposes,” and to dismantle the databases “if abuse cannot be accounted for or prevented.”

After the petition was posted and the call for the demonstration was published online, Thiel responded by saying that if Palantir was asked to design a Muslim registry, the company would not do so.

Prado told The Verge that he was glad to hear about Thiel’s pledge, but that he and other concerned tech workers are “also interested in (Palantir’s) possible involvement in mass deportations and we plan to keep pushing on that.”

Prado is a member of the Tech Worker Coalition, which is working with Dobetter tech to hold Palantir accountable.

They are also interested in addressing some of the tech industry’s shortcomings such as its mistreatment of support staff, who often work for contractors that pay low wages with few benefits.

They are both working on a campaign to expose on-the-job abuses suffered by low-wage contract security workers at Amazon.

Their Stand for Security campaign asks tech workers to sign a petition addressed to Amazon. The petition begins, “As developers, engineers, sales, support staff and allies in this highly competitive tech industry, we understand the importance of security and the tremendous consequences any breach could have.

“We are writing today because we are concerned with Security Industry Specialists’ (SIS) treatment of its security officers at Amazon HQ in Seattle.”

The petition goes on to describe a number of abuses that Amazon security workers have suffered.

Pros and cons of telecommuting

Written by Jennifer, who has written a longer version of this article that can be found at

Decades ago it would have been unimaginable to stay at home and work in your pajamas. But, times have evolved and these days, more people are working from home, or telecommuting..

The Numbers

According to the 2015 Gallup polls, 37 percent of US workers state that they have telecommuted for work, a figure four times higher than the 9 percent recorded in 1995.  Companies also have been increasingly flexible when it comes to allowing workers to telecommute. The 2016 Employees Benefits survey report conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management stated that the percentage of employers offering telecommuting options on a required basis has risen from 45 percent in 2012 to 56 percent in 2016.  No doubt, telecommuting will continue to expand.

The Advantages of Working from Home

Flexibility and Autonomy

The major benefit of working from home is the flexibility that such an arrangement offers. Imagine setting your own schedule as you see fit. You might want to wake up a bit later, take your time reading the news or feed the animals first before sitting down and starting your shift. Working as late or early as you prefer is no big deal as you can just get up and go to bed whenever your work is done. This means no nightmarish traffic to go through (American workers lost 50 hours to traffic in 2015 according to INRIX) or no dangers in the night to contend with if you are working late. There are no dress codes to worry about, no dry cleaners to rush to, or clothes shopping to do every week to keep up with appearances.

Another benefit that comes with flexible working hours is the balance of work and personal lives. Let’s face it, if there is no harmony at home, this will eventually spill into the workplace and vice-versa. Hence, if you can balance work and home life, you will be less stressed and anxious and at the same time spend quality time with loved ones and experience high productivity levels.

High Engagement and Productivity Levels

A study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that telecommuters have high productivity levels and are less likely to take time off from work even when they are sick. US News & World Report also confirm these findings reporting that teleworkers log in 5-7 more hours per week compared to non-teleworkers. This means that telecommuters often work even when on vacation or ill.

For as long as you set the boundaries of when to have a break or spend time with your pets or children, you will definitely have a higher engagement and rate of productivity by working at home. In comparison, an office has many distractions such as ambient noise and colleagues popping in or out for a chat that is often not even work-related.

No Micro-Managers

Being your own boss, at least when you are at home, has a lot of perks. Here, you don’t have to keep looking over your shoulder to see if your manager is sneaking up on you to check your progress. You won’t be dragged into endless meetings and brainstorming sessions that are only taking precious time away from the work you need to deliver.

Home Life Improves

It is quite challenging to balance home and work life, but if you are telecommuting you might actually manage to do this. Instead of hiring someone to take care of your kids, pets or the elderly, you are there for them. Those seemingly endless hours wasted in commuting can be spent with your loved ones improving home life and happiness.

More Time for Yourself

If you telecommute, not only do you get more things done or spend more hours with family, but you also gain extra time for yourself. If you are working for yourself, you might have some free hours to devote to a passion you love such as arts or graphics. You might even decide to enroll in an evening or online course for that accounting degree you really want. If you work hard enough, there will even be enough time to take off for a longer vacation each year. The point is, being a freelancer does have its benefits especially if you are not bound by a company or office establishment.  

The Disadvantages

No Structure and Self-Discipline

It is not easy to coach yourself into having a set routine when you are working at home and have no formal schedule to follow. Self-discipline, in this case, is very important as well as a checklist or plan of what needs to be accomplished during the day. Setting goals and targets are also useful to ensure you stay on track and don’t slack off just because you are at home.

No Pressures to Keep Busy

Apart from your pets and young kids, you might be the only one at home all day long, so there is certainly no pressure to keep on working. Besides, it is really easy to fall into the habit of putting off things that need to be done later on. When this happens, productivity is seriously compromised, so sticking to a proper schedule is of the utmost importance.

Personal Chores Get in the Way

Just as you would be tempted to relax or put off work in lieu of an extended coffee break, there are also piles of home chores waiting for you. Picking up your kids’ toys can easily turn into an hour of dusting, ironing, or DIY stuff. A solution to this issue is to create your own home office space in a corner of the house. If you have a guest cottage, turn this into a home office free from distractions and temptations.  If this not be possible, resist the urge to mop the floors or paint the kitchen until your designated break time.

No Social Life Outside of the Home

Working alone at home is probably not an exciting prospect for those who love the office atmosphere and the camaraderie among colleagues. It is very easy to fall into the trap of social isolation when telecommuting and work burnout is all too real.


Working too hard might be a farfetched idea, but when you are at home, there is nothing to prevent you from stepping into your office and working till the wee hours of the morning. The other side to balancing home and work life is the delineation of boundaries between the two.

What’s Your Choice?

Working from home or telecommuting has its advantages and disadvantages. The type of work you do also has an influence on whether virtual work is the ideal solution or not. However, if you have the chance to enjoy the benefits of teleworking, why not use this opportunity to try it out for yourself before committing to it fulltime?  

Union: Texas state employees need a real raise–now!

Two weeks after the Texas Legislature convened its 85th biennial session, the Texas State Employees Union on January 23 called on the Legislature to raise state employee pay by $6000 a year.

The union at a media conference released data from the state Health and Human Services Commission showing that 6000 state employees are currently receiving food stamps because they aren’t being paid a living wage; furthermore, 30,000 children of state employees qualify for public assistance health care programs such as Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

“It’s hard to see so many of my co-workers struggle to make ends meet,” said Anthony Brown, treasurer of TSEU and an employee at the state’s Department of Aging and Disability Services. “They work hard to make sure that elderly people on Medicaid in nursing homes receive quality care, but some of my co-workers have children on Medicaid because they’re not making a living wage.”

“We need a $6000 a year raise for every state and state university worker now. We can’t wait another two years,” said Brown referring to the fact that the Texas Legislature only meets once every two years.

One of the Legislature’s main responsibilities is to appropriate money for the state budget. During the appropriations process, the Legislature sets employee salary and benefit levels.

During the last session, state employees received small raises but those raises only covered the increased contributions that employees pay into their pension fund. Many state employees actually saw their take home pay go down last fall when premiums for dependent health care insurance increased.

The high premium for dependent health care coverage has caused many state employees to drop or forego their dependent coverage and apply instead for public assistance such as Medicaid.

As a result, 30,000 children of Texas state employees qualify for Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or Texas Health Insurance Premium Payment program. The Medicaid program alone has 23,740 children of state employees on its rolls.

“Those public assistance benefits are costing the tax paying public $119 million a year”, said State Representative Donna Howard, whose inquiry to the state Health and Human Services Commission uncovered these facts.

The number of state employees who qualify for state health care is startling, but what’s even more startling is the fact that thousands of state employees are struggling to put food on the table.

“Two weeks ago, I applied for food stamps,” said Yolanda White, a member of the TSEU executive board, who works at the Lufkin State Supported Living Center, a residence for people with intellectual disabilities.

White, who has worked at the State Supported Living Center for 14 years, makes about $27,000 a year.

“Many of my co-workers are on food stamps and Medicaid,” said White. “Many of us need help taking care of our families.”

White said that it’s not right for hard working people like herself and her co-workers to be on public assistance.

“It’s time to bring state employee pay up to a living wage. We shouldn’t have to struggle when we work hard every day,” continued White.

Rep. Howard called on the Legislature to make state employee pay a priority issue for this session.

Brown said that legislative inaction on raising employee pay would be fiscally irresponsible.

“It makes no sense for lawmakers to be penny wise and pound foolish.” said Brown. “By short changing state workers on their pay, (lawmakers) are having to turn around and spend millions of taxpayer dollars on public assistance programs.”

Unions join fight to save health care

When the 115th Congress opened, the Republican leadership made it clear that killing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was their first priority.

But killing Obamacare is only their first order of business. Their goal is to change the way that Americans obtain health insurance. If they succeed, Medicare will be privatized, many low-income workers will no longer be eligible for Medicaid, and employee health insurance plans will be greatly diminished.

But workers took their first stand in the battle to save health care on January 15 when tens of thousands of people attended Save Our Health Care rallies held in more than 40 cities across the US.

Labor unions played a key role in organizing the rallies that were sponsored by Our Revolution, the political organization that grew out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

The biggest Save Our Health Care rally took place in Warren, Michigan where 10,000 people braved frigid weather to hear speeches by Sen. Sanders, other elected officials, and Cynthia Estrada, vice president of the United Autoworkers (UAW).

Estrada said that we’re telling Republican leaders who want to gut Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare that “we the people are not going to let that happen.”

Estrada also said that union members would be joining people in the streets to make sure that everybody has health care insurance.

“In the UAW, we have health care, and every day it’s a fight to keep it, but I know that the great UAW members standing over there,” said Estrada pointing to the large contingent of UAW members attending the rally. “Are going to fight for everyone who doesn’t have health care because health care is a right for all.”

National Nurses United members were on hand at rallies in Chicago; Portland, Maine; Columbus, Ohio; Los Angeles; Sacramento; San Francisco; Fort Lauderdale; Fort Worth; and Washington DC.

“On this day of action we are standing with our elders, our friends, and family, along with many of our elected representatives to say NO to the Republicans’ disastrous proposals,” said Deborah Burger, co-president, National Nurses United. “At this moment of tremendous confusion about the future of health care in the US, nurses are saying, now is the time to move forward with Medicare for all.”

Shortly after the new Congress convened, the Republican controlled Senate and House of Representatives voted for procedural motions that are the first steps toward killing Obamacare, which has provided heath care insurance for 20 million people who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

And soon after his inauguration, President Trump signed an Executive Order that the new President hopes will lead to the repeal of Obamacare.

The Republican strategy is to repeal Obamacare but then delay implementation of the repeal until they can figure out how to replace it.

But the Congressional Budget Office reported that doing so could cause 18 million people to lose their health care insurance and cause private health care insurance premiums to increase by as much as 20 percent to 25 percent.

While Obamacare has its problems, it has been a life saver for many like those at the Warren rally who carried signs reading, “KILLING OBAMACARE KILLS PEOPLE LIKE ME.”

For Republicans, killing Obamacare is only the first step toward radically restructuring health care.

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Rep. Tom Price, the nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, want to privatize Medicare.

Their scheme would do away with single payer, government-run Medicare and replace it government vouchers that seniors would use to purchase individual health insurance plans.

For many if not most seniors, purchasing individual health care policies would lower the quality of the health care that they receive.

Speaker Ryan also wants to deregulate Medicaid and let states make their own rules for who qualifies for Medicaid, which will leave many low-income and elderly Medicaid recipients with no and little health care coverage.

Rep. Price has sponsored legislation that among other things would provide employers with tax incentives to eliminate their employee health insurance plans as a way of encouraging more workers to purchase private health insurance plans.

Addressing the Warren rally, Sen. Sanders told the crowd that the first order of business of the Save Our Health Care movement is to stop the repeal of Obamacare, but the fight for health care for all must go beyond saving Obamacare.

“Our job today is to defend the Affordable Care Act,” said Sanders. “Our job for tomorrow is to create a Medicare for all, a single-payer health care system,” that provides the same high quality of care that seniors receive through Medicare to everyone in the US.

Postal workers Stop Staples campaign stops Staples

The United State Postal Service (USPS) on January 5 told its largest union of employees that the Postal Service was ending a three-year experiment with postal privatization.

USPS in 2014 began collaborating with Staples, the largest retail office supply company in the US, to provide postal services at 500 local Staples stores. The collaboration between USPS and Staples was part of the Postal Services’ Approved Shipper program, a pilot privatization program.

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU), whose members work in local post offices and sorting centers, launched the Stop Staples campaign to stop the privatization of its members’ jobs. The campaign included a boycott of Staples, the mobilization of union members to spread the word about the privatization of mail services, and demonstrations and rallies at Staples stores.

“We have won the Stop Staples fight,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of APWU, in a broadcast message to members. “We won the fight under the banner that the US mail is not for sale.”

USPS began its Approved Shipper program, which allowed employees at selected retail outlets to provide basic postal services, under the guise of making postal service more convenient to the public.

While the Approved Shipper program was in the planning stages, APWU told management that the union supported making postal services more convenient, but that to ensure that customers receive quality service and that their mail was safe and secure, postal employees should be the ones working in stores to provide mail service.

The Postal Service didn’t agree and went ahead with its privatization experiment.

An internal memo that circulated among Postal Service executives showed that better customer service was not the real reason for the privatization experiment. Its real purpose, according to the memo, was to lower labor costs.

“The deal between the United States Postal Service and Staples was clearly an effort to shift good living-wage, union jobs into non-living wage, non-benefit, non-union jobs,” said Dimondstein.

Privatizing postal jobs was, according to Dimondstein, also a threat to universal postal service in the US and to the security of the mail.

APWU decided that it had to take a stand to protect the integrity of the Postal Service and to protect its members’ jobs.

“If Staples was going to take our work and jobs for private profit, we were going to hit back and affect their bottom line,” said Dimondstein.

The first action of the campaign took place in April 2014 when APWU held demonstrations and rallies at 56  Staples stores in the US.

After the national demonstrations, APWU called for a boycott of Staples. The AFL-CIO added Staples to its boycott list, and the American Federation Teachers and the National Education Association urged their members to avoid Staples when shopping for supplies for their classrooms.

While APWU members continued to leaflet and demonstrate at Staple stores, Staples engineered a merger with its chief competitor Office Depot. The union reacted by opposing the proposed merger.

The union provided the Federal Trade Commission with union sponsored reports detailing the problems that the merger would create.

The Federal Trade Commission blocked the merger, which cost Staples $250 million in penalties that it had to pay Office Depot.

In 2016, the Postal Service Inspector General issued a report on the Staples Approved Shipper program. The report, among other things, found that Staples clerks in many instances were charging the incorrect amount for mail services costing the Postal Service much needed revenue.

The report also found that Staples was “not following mail security requirements.”

Most recently an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the Postal Service failed to meet its obligation to bargain with APWU about shifting union members’ jobs to non-union workers.

Finally in the first week of January, the Postal Service told the union that it will discontinue the Approved Shipper program at Staples in February.

Dimondstein said that the union victory had significance beyond restoring work outsourced to Staples.

“In regards to the USPS’s planned retail privatization expansion to dozens of other corporations, those companies have largely backed-off and gotten the message – mess with postal workers and customers and you will have to tangle with the APWU family!” said Dimondstein.

Now that the Staples experiment has ended, Dimondstein urged the Postal Service to work with the union to expand postal service and make it better.

“With the Staples deal out of the way, there is a fresh opportunity for postal management and the APWU to consider the future expansion and improvement of retail operations without these misguided privatization schemes that undermine great service, good jobs, and a strong postal brand,” said Dimondstein.

Momentive workers gain momentum in their fight for a fair contract

Striking workers on January 13 picketed the Manhattan offices of Apollo Global Management, a private equity fund that manages $188 billion worth of investments.

The workers are on strike at Momentive Performance Materials in Waterford, New York. Momentive is a chemical company that manufactures silicone products at its Waterford plant.

Apollo Global Management is the principle owner of Momentive. Another billion dollar private equity company–The Blackstone Group–also owns a share of Momentive.

Since the private equity companies took control of Momentive in 2006, workers have endured a series of wage and benefit reductions that began in 2008.

When contract negotiations began in 2016, Apollo demanded more benefit cuts and other concessions, but the 700 members of IUE-CWA Local 81359/81380 said enough is enough and voted to strike if Apollo insisted on more cuts.

One of the striking workers picketing Apollo on Friday was Conrad Lape, who has worked at the Momentive Waterford plant for 14 years.

“When these private equity billionaires came in, Momentive starting cutting wages and benefits,” said Lape, to the Albany Times Union. “While I and my fellow workers are just trying to make sure we have health coverage and the ability to feed our families, these hedge funds are getting even richer off of my family’s financial insecurity. Waterford is a small town, and the entire community is disgusted.”

The strikers have endured a brutal winter on strike to stop Apollo’s wage and benefits race to the bottom.

Until 2006, the Waterford plant was owned by General Electric. GE sold the plant to Apollo and other investors for $3.8 billion, most of which was financed by a bond sale.

While Apollo borrowed the money to finance the buyout, the new company and its workers were the ones responsible for paying the nearly $4 billion debt resulting from the leveraged buyout.

As a result of its heavy debt load, Momentive began cutting expenses. In 2008, it announced that it was reclassifying some jobs, reducing the pay of workers who held those jobs by between 25 percent and 50 percent.

The union fought the pay reduction and won a temporary reprieve in the form of back pay for the workers who lost wages, but the company was eventually able to make the wage reductions permanent.

The company again took aim on its workers in 2013 when it froze their pension benefits.

In 2014, Momentive declared bankruptcy. It emerged from bankruptcy in the same year. The bankruptcy allowed it to shed $3 billion of the company’s debt.

But the company continued to look for ways to cut costs, and when the union began bargaining for a new collective bargaining agreement, the company demanded that the workers pay more for their health insurance and accept less coverage. The company also proposed eliminating health care insurance for retirees.

Those and other concessions that the company demanded gave workers little choice but to strike.

The company has tried to keep production going by hiring replacement workers.

The replacement workers, however, are unfamiliar with the chemical processes that take place at the Waterford plant, which has created safety problems.

The union reports that “since the strike began, there have been 30 chemical spills at the plant, over seven times the rate of spills when the trained workers are on the job.”

The spilled chemicals are toxic, which creates a threat to the safety of the community beyond the plant.

The Times Union reports that because of the threat to the community posed by the spills, New York’s Environmental Conservation Commission plans to take enforcement action against Momentive.

Earlier in the month another state agency, the state comptroller, urged Momentive to settle the strike. The comptroller oversees New York state pension funds that hold investments in Momentive.

On January 9, Momentive and the workers’ unions returned to the bargaining table.

On January 13, the same day that union workers were picketing Apollo, the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Department announced that it would withdraw its security detail from Momentive, a sign that the local community is growing tired of Momentive’s efforts to wear down its workers.

The union is urging people who want to support the Momentive workers to make a donation to the workers’ solidarity fund and to sign a petition urging Apollo to settle the strike.

Universal basic income experiment begins in Finland

When the new year began, 2000 unemployed workers in Finland were chosen at random to participate in the country’s universal basic income experiment.

Those chosen will receive a basic income of $580 a month from the government instead of their unemployment insurance.

That amount will cover basic living expenses. Unlike those who receive unemployment insurance payments, participants in the basic income experiment  will continue to receive their monthly income regardless of whether they find a job.

The experiment will last for two years, at which time the government will assess the outcomes of the experiment and decide whether to expand the basic income program.

While Finland is the first country to experiment with providing a universal basic income, other local experiments are taking place in Europe.

The Guardian reports that the Italian city of Livorno began last summer to pay 100 of its poorest residents a basic income of €500 a month and expanded that number to another 100 in January.

Five cities in the Netherlands will conduct similar experiments in 2017, and across the Atlantic in Canada, the province of Ontario will begin a basic income program this spring.

The government of Finland is hoping that providing workers with a basic income will help reduce its unemployment rate, currently at 8.1 percent.

The government sees its generous unemployment insurance as a barrier to job entry for many unemployed workers. Simply put, some unemployed workers can make more money from unemployment insurance than they could if they took a low paying job.

The government could reduce unemployment benefits, but such a solution in a country like Finland, which has a strong social democratic tradition, would likely trigger an unacceptable backlash against the right-center coalition government in power now.

Instead, the government chose to experiment with a universal basic income that wouldn’t be affected by a workers’ return to the workforce.

The New York Times reports that start up entrepreneurs in Finland are having trouble filling jobs because they can’t pay wages comparable to wages paid by established companies like Nokia, which has recently laid of thousands of its workers.

The government is hoping that a basic income will encourage workers to take lower paying jobs, or return to school to learn new skills, or start their own small business.

While Finland’s embrace of a universal basic income is mainly a response to the country’s unemployment problem, Yanis Varoufakis says that a universal basic wage is a necessity for dealing with the problems that capitalism is creating.

Varoufakis is a former Finance Minister of Greece, a leading economist, and a prominent voice of the radical left in Europe.

“Basic income is going to be an essential part and a necessary of any attempt to stabilize society and to civilize it,” said Varoufakis in a speech delivered in May at the Future of Work conference in Switzerland.

The problem, according to Varoufakis, is that the rise of finance capital has caused a lot of problems for the working class. There are fewer good paying manufacturing jobs in Europe and North America and more low wage jobs in the service sector.

Many of the low-wage jobs are at risk. At some point in the not-to-distant future, technological advancements will make it possible to automate many of these jobs.

When that happens, the hand-to-mouth existence of low-wage workers who no longer have their jobs will get worse.

Varoufakis argues that current social democratic measures for dealing with unemployment will no longer work.

In Europe and North America, most social insurance programs that help people survive during periods of unemployment or other hardships are paid for by taxes on the working class, but as more and more workers work in low paying jobs those taxes are becoming unaffordable.

When masses of workers start to lose their jobs to automation, workers will find it even more difficult to pay for the social insurance that provides them with a safety net.

Therefore says Varoufakis we need another way to protect workers and another way to pay for it.

Varoufakis advocates a universal basic income that is paid for by reclaiming the public investment in private wealth.

While capital asserts that wealth is generated privately, Varoufakis points to the public investment that has been essential for the development of new technologies that have made wealth creation possible.

Computers, the internet, biomedical technology, and other wealth producing technologies would not have been possible without billions of dollars in investments made by governments.

However, almost all of the returns on these investments have gone into private hands.

To reclaim the public’s share of the wealth it helped create, governments should “enact legislation requiring that a percentage of capital stock from every public offering be channeled into a Commons Capital Depository, with the associated dividends funding a universal basic dividend” that would be used to fund a basic income for all workers, writes Varoufakis.

Doing so would extend some of the advantages of being rich to the working class.

“Would I not want my children to have a small trust fund that shields them from the fear of destitution and allows them to invest fearlessly in their real talents? . . . What is the moral basis for denying all children the same advantage?” writes Varoufakis.

Teamsters turn back threat to their pensions; prepare for more

Before the holidays, scores of retired Teamsters gathered in Washington DC to urge lawmakers to oppose a bill that threatened their retirement security.

They returned home victorious after convincing lawmakers to omit from inclusion in a must-past budget bill the Multiemployer Reform Act of 2016.

This bill, also called the Composite bill, would have allowed pension plans whose members work or worked for multiple employers to create Composite pension plans that shift investment risks onto the backs of individual workers and retirees.

“We stopped another ambush of our retirement security,” said Greg Smith, a Teamster retiree from Akron, Ohio to Teamsters for a Democratic Union, an organization of rank-and-file Teamster members building union power on the job. “(We) did a lot of hard work to make sure the Composite (bill) wouldn’t see the light of day.”

Smith, a member of National United Committees to Protect Pensions, an organization of local committees of Teamster retirees, also said that retirees who didn’t go to Washington DC made phone calls and sent e-mails.

“It’s the grassroots effort we’ve organized that’s making a big difference.” continued Smith.

Multiemployer pension plans are common in industries such as transportation, construction, and hospitality.

Until recently, these pension plans provided a modest yet secure retirement for millions of hard working people.

But some of these plans have hit on hard times. Pension plans for Teamsters have been especially hard hit. First they suffered large financial losses when Wall Street speculation caused the Great Recession and a subsequent market downturn.

As the markets recovered, the pension plans were hit by the long-term effects of political policies enacted nearly 40 years ago. One of those policies was the deregulation of the trucking industry that allowed hundreds of new non-union trucking companies to begin operating.

These non-union trucking companies didn’t contribute to the multiemployer pension funds that protected Teamsters’ retirement, and their race to the bottom wages and benefits put pressure on union trucking companies to lower labor costs, which in many cases led to insufficient pension contributions from employers.

Forty years ago, the US government also began chipping away at laws that protected workers’ rights to join a union. As a result, union organizing became more difficult, and fewer workers were able to join unions, which weakened their ability to protect pension plans like those that protect retired Teamsters.

The result is that some multiemployer pensions like those of the Teamsters are under funded.

Congress has been trying to deal with the under funding problem, but the solutions that it has considered start from two questionable assumptions: first, the interests of business always take priority over the interests of workers and second, retirees and workers must shoulder more of the risks and burdens of saving their pensions.

Two years ago, Congress enacted its first law dealing with the under funding problem. It also was named the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act. It allowed under funded multiemployer pension plans to reduce benefits.

Last year, the Teamsters’ Central States Pension Fund used this law to propose  pension cuts, but a grassroots effort by retired Teamsters stopped the proposed cuts.

The Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2016 was Congress next effort to deal with the under funding problem. The Composite pensions that it would have authorized are a hybrid cross between traditional pensions and 401(k)-type retirement savings accounts.

Composites are a boon to employers because they make it possible for employers to lower their pension contributions, but they put workers’ retirement security at risk.

Composite plans allow workers to retire with a lifetime annuity, but the amount of that annuity depends on the health of financial markets. If markets take a big hit like they did in 2008 and 2009, the amount of annuity is subject to reduction.

There is another way to deal with the under funding problem. The Keep Our Pension Promises Act (KOPP), sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, would allow the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) to help troubled multiemployer pension plans by paying a small portion of the plans’ benefits in order to prevent benefit cuts.

Financial assistance under KOPP would be paid for by closing two tax loopholes that benefit the very wealthy.

Unlike other proposals, KOPP puts the interest of workers and retirees first, but given the leadership of the new Congress, it is more likely that when Congress turns its attention to dealing with the under funding problem, it will pursue proposals like the Composite bill.

Members of the National United Committee to Protect Pensions are gearing up to fight any new Composite bill that may surface in Congress and to fight other threats to their pension.

“We’re going to continue what we’re doing. We’re going to step up the effort a little bit,” said Mike Walden, chairman of National United Committee to Protect Pension to Channel 26 News in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “We have to get a little more professional, which is why the national committee was formed. And, we have some power on both ends now. But, the majority of our power is still power in numbers.”

Nurses urge Senate to reject Price nomination

Warning that health care in the US will deteriorate badly if the Senate confirms the nomination of Rep. Tom Price to lead the US Department of Health and Human Services, National Nurses United (NNU) a union of 185,000 registered nurses, urged the Senate to reject Price’s nomination.

“If confirmed, it is clear that Rep. Price will pursue policies that substantially erode our nation’s health and security – eliminating health coverage, reducing access, shifting more costs to working people and their families, and throwing our most sick and vulnerable fellow Americans at the mercy of the health care industry,” wrote Deborah Burger and Jean Ross, co-presidents of NNU, to members of the Senate Committee on Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions.

Burger and Ross cited Rep. Price’s record of supporting steep cuts to Medicaid, the privatization of Medicare, and his opposition to key features of the Affordable Health Care Act designed to make health care coverage accessible to low- and middle-income workers, who don’t have health care coverage through their employer.

Rep. Price’s vision of what US health care should look like is embodied in a piece of unsuccessful legislation that he sponsored–the Empowering Patients First Act. As leader of the health and human services department, he will be positioned to lead efforts to realize his vision.

His bill was first introduced in 2009 as a possible alternative to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and has been introduced in but not passed by each subsequent session of Congress.

In 2009, the Congressional Budget Office analyzed Price’s bill and determined that ten years after the legislation was enacted 2 million fewer people would have health insurance than before its was enacted.

Under Price’s plan, health care insurance would be too costly for many working class people.

The bill’s main feature is a tax credit for those who purchase health insurance. Unfortunately, the tax credit is insufficient.

The tax credit would be $2000 a year for individuals or $4000 for a married couple. Families with a child or children would receive a tax credit of $500 for each of the first two children.

A family of four then would receive about $400 a month in tax credits to cover health insurance premiums, far short of what it cost to pay for a health care plan health care plan that provides even a minimal amount of protection for families.

Currently under Obamacare, insurance premiums for a silver plan in the state Texas, a plan that pays 70 percent of health care expenses, on average costs $276 a month.

The total cost of that premium is $785, but the family is eligible for federal tax credit worth $509.

If Price’s plan were in effect, that same family would pay $369 a month after receiving the tax credit, a 34 percent increase over the amount that the same family pays under Obamacare.

Price’s plan also would make it more difficult for people with a pre-existing medical condition such as diabetes to get health care coverage.

Currently Obamacare requires insurers to accept customers who have a pre-existing condition. Price’s plan doesn’t. Instead, it would provide the the states financial assistance to help pay for high risk insurance pools through which people with pre-existing conditions could purchase insurance.

But experience shows that insurance purchased through high risk pools is expensive and out of reach for many.

According to a study published by the Center for American Progress in 2008 before Obamacare became law, “We already know that existing state-based high risk pools can’t provide affordable coverage for nearly enough of the medically needy who have no other options.

“High risk pools have been around for over 30 years and currently exist in 35 states, but they only cover about 207,000 Americans. The biggest barrier to enrollment is cost. High risk pools are inevitably expensive because all of the enrollees have medical conditions that could potentially result in costly medical bills.”

There are other barriers to coverage in Price’s legislation. Low-income workers who currently qualify for Medicaid would no longer do so under Price’s plan, and Price’s legislation would reduce payments to hospitals that treat people who are poor and don’t have health care insurance.

Price also supports a practice called “balanced billing,” in which doctors and hospitals bill patients for charges that exceed the amount paid by insurance plans. These charges can be and often are quite expensive.

Medicare currently bans balanced billing, but Price supports lifting this ban.

“(Lifting the ban on balanced billing) would greatly increase provider and physician revenues,” writes Ryan Cooper in The Week, and expose many seniors to “medical debt induced bankruptcy.”

In calling for the Senate to reject Rep. Price’s nomination, the nurses union also called on the country’s leaders to take steps to insure that all Americans have access to health care.

“Instead of rolling back the protections we currently have, NNU has long advocated that we strengthen, improve, and expand our public Medicare system to cover all Americans,” wrote Burger and Ross in their letter to senators. “That is the type of system in place throughout the developed world that is the best, most cost effective way to guarantee health care for all, reduce overall costs, and sharply cut administrative waste that is endemic to private insurance.”

“As nurses know from the patients we care for every day, without health, there is no security. We cannot risk the very real consequences of Rep. Price’s reckless disregard for the health of our patients and our nation,” Burger and Ross concluded.