Nurses lead fight for health care for all in CA

The California Nurses Association (CNA) and National Nurses United (NNU) called for rallies and demonstrations to protest a decision by the Speaker of the California State Assembly that could kill a bill that would guarantee health care coverage to all Californians.

SB 562, The Healthy California Act, would establish a single payer health insurance program similar to the federal Medicare program, except that it would provide health insurance to all Californians, not just seniors.

On Friday, June 23, Speaker Anthony Rendon announced that he would not permit the Assembly to consider the bill, which the state Senate passed on June 1.

Deborah Burger, president of CNA and co-president of NNU, condemned Speaker Rendon for acting in secret to protect insurance companies and jeopardizing health care for many Californians who could lose health care coverage if the Republican Congress and President Trump are successful in their efforts to scrap the Affordable Care Act.

“The people of California are counting on the legislature to protect them now, not sometime next year, and as polls have shown Californians support this proposal by a wide majority,” said Burger.

President Trump and the Republican Congress have been working hard to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

As Congress gets ready to adjourn for its July 4 recess, Republicans in the Senate are just a few votes short of the votes needed to pass the Senate version of the Obamacare repeal bill.

If their bill passes, 22 million fewer Americans will have health care insurance by 2026. As many as 2.4 million fewer Californians will have health care coverage.

In California, CNA, NNU, and a coalition of 350 groups called Healthy California aren’t waiting for the Republican hammer to drop on health care.

They’re organizing and fighting for the Healthy California Act.

Earlier in the year, members of the nurses union and other supporters of guaranteed health care for all canvassed neighborhoods to build grassroots support for state legislation that will protect Californians from the health care cuts looming in Washington DC.

These efforts led to a mass base of support for the Healthy California Act.

A recent poll commissioned by CNA found that 70 percent of Californians now support a single payer health care plan like the one proposed in the Healthy California Act.

As a result of the grassroots organizing and popular support for a single payer plan, the Senate passed the Healthy California Act by a vote of 23-14.

After the Senate passed the bill, the insurance lobby stepped up its efforts to prevent passage of the Healthy California Act in the Assembly.

Their pitch is that California can’t afford to guarantee health care for all Californians.

But a recent report by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that the state would actually save money by implementing the Healthy California Act.

“Enacting a single-payer system would yield considerable savings overall by lowering administrative costs, controlling the prices of pharmaceuticals and fees for physicians and hospitals, reducing unnecessary treatments, and expanding preventive care,” wrote Robert Pollin, one of the authors of the report in an opinion piece that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. “We found that Healthy California could ultimately result in savings of about 18 percent, bringing health care spending to about $331 billion, or 8% less than the current $370 billion.”

After Speaker Rendon announced that he would not permit the Assembly to consider the Healthy California Act, the nurses union and Healthy California called on supporters to rally at Speaker Rendon’s Los Angeles office on June 27.

Hundreds of people did so and marched into his office to present the Speaker with personal notes describing why they and other Californians needed heath care for all.

Another demonstration supporting the Healthy California Act is scheduled for Wednesday, June 28 in Sacramento, the state capital.

Burger said that the fight for health care for all in California is not over.

“Thousands of Californians have been in motion for guaranteed health care. They are not finished,” said Burger.

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Union leader: Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods accelerates race to the bottom

The leader of a retail workers union said that Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods is “a rotten deal for workers and consumers.”

Amazon announced on June 16 that it was purchasing Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. Whole Foods is an upscale national supermarket chain with 460 stores in the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom. It reported sales of $16 billion in 2016.

The business press reported that because of Amazon’s competitive advantages, its acquisition of Whole Foods poses a threat to the US’ largest retailer Walmart and also to national retail chains such as  Target and Costco as well as to regional grocery chains.

Stuart Appelbaum, president the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), described the acquisition as a “game of Monopoly” that will lead to the loss of good jobs for workers and fewer choices for customers.

“The latest move by Amazon to establish itself as the dominant retailer—both online as well as in the physical world of brick and mortar retail—shows the lengths it will go to destroy competition at any cost in its longstanding battle with Walmart to become the nation’s largest retailer,” said Appelbaum. “This disruptive and destructive battle between two of the nation’s leading low-road employers like Amazon and Walmart can only mean bad news for workers, and ultimately consumers, who in the future will almost certainly be faced with fewer options and no real competition in the retail and grocery industries.”

Like Walmart, Amazon has a dubious record where worker rights are concerned.

In 2014 when a small group of electricians and machinists at an Amazon warehouse in Middletown, Delaware wanted to form a union, Amazon called in a union avoidance consultants to quell the union drive.

According to John Carr, a union organizer who was interviewed for a Time magazine article entitled “How Amazon Crushed the Union Movement,” the workers trying to form the union “faced intense pressure from management and anti-union consultants hired to suppress the organizing drive.”

The New York Times reports that a turning point in the organizing drive came when an Amazon manager told the workers how his family was deserted by a union when his father died while on strike.

After the union lost the vote, it came to light that the manager’s sad story was a lie. The events he described were fabricated and never happened.

In November 2000, 50 workers at an Amazon call center in Seattle began efforts to organize a union. In January 2001, Amazon announced that it was closing its Seattle call center.

Working at Amazon can be arduous and pressure to produce is relentless.

The company closely monitors its employees every move. In Amazon’s cavernous warehouses, workers are constantly pressured to keep on the move in order to meet production goals.

In 2011 when conditions at an Amazon warehouse near Allentown, Pennsylvania got oppressive because of the summer heat, the company showed little interest the workers’ safety.

When temperatures inside the warehouse reached more than 100 degrees, workers requested that the warehouse’s doors be left open to help cool them off. Amazon managers refused.

Workers started coming down with heat related illnesses. A local doctor who treated some of the workers at an emergency room contacted the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration to report an “unsafe environment” at the warehouse

 

Instead of taking steps to make the warehouse safer, Amazon stationed ambulances and paramedics in the parking lot to treat people overcome by the heat.

Appelbaum said that as Amazon and Walmart vie for a bigger share of the retail market, more good retail jobs will be sacrificed as the two companies compete to lower labor costs.

Other competitors will also be affected by Amazon’s merger with Whole Foods. For example, after the merger was announced, the stock price of Costco, a retailer that pays decent wages and treats employees with a modicum of respect, dropped sharply.

One reason given for the precipitous fall was that Amazon’s competitive advantages will make it difficult for Costco to maintain its share of the retail market.

It’s quite possible that Costco and regional retail grocery stores may feel pressure from investors to lower labor standards to keep up with Amazon.

“(Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods) will only accelerate the trend of low-wage employers like Amazon increasing their market share and profits by destroying good jobs–and their competition–in a race to the bottom,” said Appelbaum.

Postal workers union launches national effort to protect jobs and postal services

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) said that a new method that the US  Postal Service is using to determine duty assignments in local post offices “is an all out assault on our jobs” that will reduce service to customers and disrupt the lives of thousands of post workers.

The union also said that the new duty assignment method, which local managers are supposed to use to determine staffing levels at local post offices, “blatantly violates” the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the Postal Service.

Consequently, APWU has launched a nationwide, coordinated effort to stop the contract violations.

“We are gearing up for a large fight,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “I know that if we stick together and stay united, then – just like the Stop Staples and contract struggles – we will be victorious.”

APWU successfully mobilized members, postal customers, and other unions to stop the Postal Service’s plan to privatized services by contracting with Staples, the US’ largest office supply retailer, to provide postal services in Staples stores.

APWU also mobilized members to win a fair contract through its Good Postal Service! Good Jobs! Good Contract! campaign. The solidarity shown by members during this campaign made it hard for the Postal Service to win the concessions it was seeking during the negotiations, which lasted nearly a year.

When an impasse between the two sides was declared, the contract went arbitration.

As a result, according to Government Executive magazine, “the union won a series of new rights and benefits for non-career workers, and protected the benefits of regular, full-time employees the Postal Service had previously threatened.”

The union also won protections against layoffs .

But the Postal Service now appears to be using the back door to achieve what it couldn’t achieve through contract negotiations–reducing layoff protections for career postal employees.

Article 37.3.A.1 in the postal workers collective bargaining agreement with the Postal Service contains specific language about how managers are to determine duty assignments at local post offices.

This language requires Postal Service managers to use “all available work hours” to determine duty assignments.

The new method that the Postal Service wants managers to use ignores Article 37.3.A.1 and instead relies on a fanciful estimation of work hours needed to determine staffing levels at local post offices.

The union is concerned that if the Postal Service uses this new method, local post offices will be left under staffed, customers will be under served, and postal worker jobs will be in jeopardy.

 

The union is planning a national strategy to protect jobs and services at local post offices.

In addition to meeting with management at all levels of the Postal Service to protest the new duty assignment method, the union is conducting a national coordinated fight to stop its implementation.

The union is providing local officers and members with specific training about the duty assignment issue across the country, so that if local managers ignore the collective bargaining agreement when assigning duties locals of APWU will be able to file effective grievances.

Locals are also conducting a public outreach campaign aimed at informing the public about possible threats to services created by the new duty assignment method.

The Baltimore APWU local on June 10 held an informational picket at the city’s main post office. The picket was attended by local members and community supporters.

The union has also designated National Business Agents in each area to work with local officers and members “to develop strong grievances, coordinate our actions, and put our best foot forward in addressing these issues.”

“As postal workers we must fight together against the Postal Service ongoing willingness to blatantly violate the contractual agreements they made with us. It is important that postal workers attend their local union meetings where we can learn from each other and work on strategies to slow or stop management’s plans to reduce service to the community and disrupt the workforce. If we come together in an organized manner, we can win a better Postal Service and a better workplace,” reads a statement issued by the union.

Immigrant construction workers fight for equal pay in KY

About 100 Immigrant workers on June 16 walked off their jobs at a Louisville, Kentucky construction job complaining that they were being paid as much as $20 an hour less than other workers at the same job site doing comparable work.

This is the second time in three weeks that the same workers have gone out on strike at the construction site where a new Omni Hotel is being built. The new hotel will also contain luxury apartments for permanent residents.

According to the striking workers, their hourly pay is between $20 and $26 an hour while other workers are making between $35 and $45 an hour.

The striking workers work for Professional Drywall Concepts, a subcontractor of Performance Commercial Contractors, a contractor for the site’s general contractor Brasfield & Gorrie.

Earlier in the  month, the workers filed a union representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board. The workers want to join the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.

The first strike ended after the workers met with representatives of Brasfield & Gorrie to discuss their complaints about low wages.

At this writing, the second strike is still in progress.

The strikers are metal stud installers, drywall hangers, and drywall finishers. Union workers in the same craft belong to the carpenters union.

The first strike took place over a prevailing wage dispute.

Some immigrant workers from the Omni Hotel construction project in 2015 complained to the Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters (IKOCG), an affiliate of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, that they were being paid less than other workers doing the same work on the project.

The union filed a complaint with the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission charging that the workers weren’t being paid the correct prevailing wage on the job.

The prevailing wage is like a minimum wage for construction workers working on government contracts. It is supposed to be the base wage that a majority of workers in a particular craft or trade in a particular labor market are paid.

For example, if the base hourly wage rate for a  majority of carpenters in a city is $35 an hour, then the base rate for all carpenters on a government project should be $35 an hour.

Until January, Kentucky was one of thirty states that had prevailing wage laws that applied to government contracts.

The Omni Hotel project was considered a government project because half the cost of the $300 million project is being paid for with public funds.

When the Human Rights Commission ruled on the workers’ complaint, it ruled against the union and the workers. It did grant a small raise, but not one that brought the workers up to the level of the prevailing wage of other workers on the job.

Despite the setback, the union and the workers continued to fight to bring their wages up to the prevailing wage.

They suffered another setback in January when the right-wing controlled Kentucky Legislature voted to eliminate the state’s prevailing wage law.

Supporters of the prevailing wage law said that eliminating it would lead to lower wages for all construction workers.

A few months after the prevailing wage law was eliminated, Brasfield & Gorrie sent a change order to Performance Commercial Contractors informing its contractor that neither it nor its subcontractors needed to pay the prevailing wage effective May 14.

On May 24, immigrant drywall workers walked off the job to demand equal pay for equal work.

While they were out on strike, some of the workers were informed by the general contractor that the strikers might be replaced if they did not return to work.

The strikers returned to work on May 26, but they continued to collect signatures on a petition for a union election.

About a week after they returned to work, their attorney filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board for a union representation election. He also filed a charge against Brasfield & Gorrie, charging the contractor with unfair labor practices.

At a subsequent public hearing, Brasfield & Gorrie suggested that it might fire the protesting workers and replace them with contract workers brought in from Georgia.

On July 16, the drywall workers walked off the job for the second time and established a picket line at the worksite.

The immigrant workers have not only been supported by the carpenters union, they have received the support of the Greater Louisville Central Labor Council, which urged union members to support striking workers.

“Once again, Brasfield & Gorrie isn’t playing fair with their workers,” reads a statement issued by the labor council. “Whether you came out last time or not, we hope you will join us in standing in solidarity with the workers on the Omni Hotel project in downtown Louisville.

“Come and go as you please any time during the day. We want as many as possible at the start to show strength and solidarity with these workers.”

Ohio Legislature considers denying Workers’ Comp to some workers

The Ohio Legislature is considering a bill that would exclude some workers from Workers’ Compensation protection.

The Ohio House of Representatives in May passed a budget bill–HB 27– for the state agency that oversees the state’s Workers’ Compensation program. The bill contains an amendment that bars undocumented immigrant workers from receiving Workers’ Compensation benefits.

The bill was sent to the Senate where it was referred to the Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee.

That committee held hearings on the bill on June 13.

Prior to the hearing the Central Ohio Worker Center mobilized people to oppose HB 27.

“This bill is bad for all Ohio workers, and will work against those employers who comply with the law,” states the Worker Center in a posting on its website. “If this bill passes, it will reduce the incentive for companies to provide safe conditions for its workers—and serious injuries among Ohio workers in the most dangerous industries will increase.”

Immigrant workers work in some of Ohio’s most dangerous industries. There are two in particular that rely heavily on immigrant labor–agriculture and food processing.

According to the National Agricultural Work Survey, 78 percent of agricultural workers in the US are immigrants and according to the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “agriculture ranks among the most dangerous industries in the US.”

Meat and poultry processing plants also rely heavily on an immigrant workforce.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “immigrant workers often constitute a significant portion of the worker population on poultry farms and poultry slaughter and processing facilities.”

CDC goes on to report that these workers have a high incidence of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, skin disease, and job related accidents.

Reported injuries in the meat and poultry processing industry are 40 percent higher than in other industries.

By all accounts, undocumented workers make up a significant percentage of the immigrant workers in these two industries.

These workers as well as thousands of others would be left unprotected should HB 27 pass in its present form.

A letter from Ohio faith leaders to senators on the committee, states that denying Workers’ Compensation to one subset of workers exposes them to unacceptable risks and “is an affront to common sense and our common faiths.”

But it’s not just undocumented workers who will suffer if HB 27 passes with its limitations on Workers’ Compensation intact.

In another letter to the senators, food justice advocates point out that “HB 27 will create a subclass of workers who are outside the normal protection afforded to them by Workers’ Compensation. This could encourage employers to subject workers to greater physical risk without fear of legal or financial consequences. Cutting corners with regard to workplace safety will ultimately make all workers less safe.”

According to the Workers Center, saving money by scrimping on safety will give unscrupulous employers a competitive advantage over other employers, which could result in a lowering of safety standards for all workers regardless of their immigration status.

As HB 27 is taken up by members of the Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee, there is some evidence that senators are having doubts about establishing a two-tiered Workers’ Compensation program.

Sen. Jay Hottinger, who chairs the committee, expressed doubts about how the ban on Workers’ Compensation would work in practice.

Hottinger  told reporters after the committee hearing ended that it would be difficult to track people’s immigration status for the purpose of denying them Workers’ Compensation benefits.

“How do you get it beyond just making political statement or a policy statement and actually impact change on it, that’s yet to be determined,” said Hottinger.

Hottinger’s committee will take up HB 27 again on Tuesday, June 20.

Unions want renegotiated NAFTA to put interests of workers first

In written comments to the US Trade Representative, unions urged the Trump administration to put the interests of workers and the public first when it renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

President Trump in April set in motion the process for renegotiating NAFTA.

After that process was set in motion, interested parties had a chance to submit written recommendations for changes to NAFTA.

The deadline for submitting recommendations ended on June 12, and on that day, several unions and the AFL-CIO issued statements outlining their recommendations

The general theme of the recommendations was that NAFTA should be a new kind of trade agreement–one that “prioritizes benefits for working families, not simply benefits for multi-national or global enterprises,” reads a statement from the AFL-CIO.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said that a new NAFTA must be “New Deal” that benefits workers in Canada, Mexico, and the US.

Leaders of other labor organizations made a similar point.

“We must replace this deal written by and for multinational corporations with an agreement that is designed to live up to our values, create jobs, and raise wages for working men and women across North America,” said Chris Shelton, president of the Communication Workers of America.

To make sure that workers receive the benefits of a renegotiated NAFTA, the new agreement must protect workers rights, added Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers.

“Most important among our recommendations,” said Gerard. “Is the need to ensure that internationally-recognized workers’ rights are promoted and also protected through aggressive enforcement provisions. Mexico has become a magnet for foreign investment in sectors like autos and auto parts because workers are not paid fair wages. That must change.”

The AFL-CIO’s recommendations also included changes that would protect the general public against corporate abuses.

“(Our) recommendations include changes to labor and procurement rules, as well as improved consumer protections and new rules to prevent currency misalignment and tax dodging. The improvements are meant to ensure working people receive a fair return on their work and new rules aren’t written to benefit wealthy corporations and CEOs,” reads a statement about its recommendations from the AFL-CIO.

In addition to ensuring that workers benefit from and their rights are protected by a revised NAFTA, unions called for other changes that protect consumers and the environment.

Unions urged the trade representative to eliminate the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) section from NAFTA.

ISDS creates a process allowing investors and corporations from a foreign country to sue a government if the government passes a law or enacts a regulations that might hurt future profits.

ISDS clauses in other trade agreements allowed Phillip Morris, the international tobacco company, to sue Australia for requiring health warnings on cigarette packages and Dow to sue Quebec after the Canadian province passed a law banning certain lawn pesticides because they were a threat to the environment.

ISDS suits aren’t heard in a court of law; instead, they are heard by an arbitration panel composed of trade attorneys.

Hearings before an ISDS tribunal are held in secret and aren’t subject to appeal.

“Giving foreign corporations special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren last year in a Washington Post op-ed piece criticizing the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership treaty.

Other recommedations from the AFL-CIO  include:

  • Democratize the negotiations process
  • Protect consumers by ensuring that pharmacuetical companies can’t use intellectual property rights to “undermine affordable medicine”
  • Strengthen rules of origin language to maximize benefits for workers, farmers, and NAFTA companies and
  • Add strong environmental rules with swift and certain enforcement.

“If President Donald Trump follows our recommendations—if he renegotiates NAFTA, so it’s a real force for higher wages and broadly shared prosperity—we will help him pass it,” said Tumka. “If he uses renegotiation to further rig the rules for the wealthiest few, we will fight him with everything we have. And if President Trump breaks his promise and leaves the worst pieces of NAFTA in place, we will never forget it.”

Texas AFL-CIO: “We’re choosing to stand united” against “show me your papers” law

The Texas AFL-CIO, the state’s federation of labor unions, launched a website urging union members and other workers to take a stand against SB 4, a repressive law that threatens basic rights that people living in the US take for granted.

The state legislature passed SB 4 in May, and Gov. Gregg Abbott immediately signed it into law. It becomes effective on September 1.

SB 4 authorizes local police to demand proof of citizenship or residency status from people they detain for any reason including traffic stops or domestic violence calls.

“We must stand together as working people and union members to oppose the ‘show me your papers law’–SB 4. SB 4 is wrong–morally and economically. So we’re choosing to stay united. We have a different vision of Texas and we’re going to fight for all working people,” proclaims the federation’s website.

SB 4 takes aim at cities that have come to be called sanctuary cities. These cities have chosen to respect their immigrant residents instead of cooperating with the Trump administration to harass and intimidate them.

Under the new law, local officials could be fined or jailed if the state attorney general believes that they are not fully cooperating with efforts by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to deport people who the agency believes are in the US without permission.

Sanctuary cities in Texas, which include most of the states largest cities, are taking legal action to stop enforcement of SB 4.

The Austin City Council recently voted to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) on behalf of the city of San Antonio to stop the implementation of SB 4.

The Dallas City Council also voted to join the suit and the Houston City Council will soon be asked by Mayor Sylvester Turner to join the suit.

Cities that have joined the suit have questions about the constitutionality of the law.

They are also concerned about its impact on public safety.

Local law enforcement officials are worried that if immigrants fear that contact with the police might result in their deportation or the deportation of a loved one, they will be less likely to cooperate with the police to prevent and stop crime.

For the Texas AFL-CIO, SB 4 is a threat to all workers not just immigrant workers.

In a video appearing on the state labor federation’s website, a number of union members explain the impact that SB 4 will have on the working class in Texas.

First, SB 4 will subject immigrants and other workers who look like they might be immigrants to racial profiling.

It also will drive immigrant workers into the shadows as they try to avoid any confrontation that might lead to deportation proceedings.

For example, if an immigrant worker isn’t being paid overtime that she is due, she may decide to not confront her boss about it out of fear that her boss try to have her deported.

Too often attacks on immigrants “are used as cover to suppress the rights of working people who speak up for safe, just, and dignified working conditions,” states the website.

That could be dangerous for all workers.

If immigrant workers are afraid to stand up for their rights on the job, some employers will take advantage and cut their pay, benefits, and working conditions.

Once employers see that they can cut pay, benefits, and working conditions of one group of workers, they will use this leverage to do the same to other workers whether they are immigrants or not.

To stop these potential attacks on all workers, the Texas AFL-CIO is urging workers to stand in solidarity with those who are directly under attack by SB 4 by signing the “Pledge to Stand United.”

It also provides a toolkit that labor and community organizers and others interested in resisting SB 4 can use to fight for justice for immigrant workers.

The toolkit helps people understand immigration laws and recognize the abuses used to intimidate and harass immigrant workers.

“By providing these resources in a single toolkit, we hope labor organizers and advocates may be better prepared to tackle the many challenges that arise in their efforts to help immigrant workers assert their labor rights and gain a voice on the job,” states the federations on its website.