Unions support Haitian immigrants; demand long-term protected status

Bowing to public pressure, the Trump administration extended the temporary protected status (TPS) of 58,000 Haitian workers living in the US, but only for six months.

The extension means that thousands of Haitians living and working in the US won’t face the threat of immediate deportations.

But they are still living in a precarious state because in six months the administration could change its mind.

Unions supporting the Haitian workers were glad to hear that an extension had been granted but criticized the short-term reprieve and vowed to continue to fight for a long-term solution.

“Forcing refugees from a devastated country to live on edge for six months is unacceptable,” said Jeremy Cruz-Haicken president of UNITE HERE Local 737 in Central Florida, where many Haitian immigrants live.  “These hardworking, tax-paying refugees support Central Florida’s economy, and they deserve long-term certainty. We’ll take these six months to fight for a long-term solution.”

Rocio Saenz, SEIU executive vice president, said that the extension was good but too short.

“Doing so for only six months – instead of the 18 month extensions that have been granted in the past – leaves Haitians with TPS in limbo, unable to plan their lives,” said Saenz.

He added that “the fight for another extension must begin immediately.”

The Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program allows the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to grant temporary protected status to immigrants from countries where conditions are unsafe for them to return–countries such as Haiti.

That protection was extended to Haitians living in the US in 2010 after an earthquake devastated their country and left millions homeless.

TPS allows Haitians to live and work in the US without fear of being deported.

Since coming to the US, many Haitians have found work in the food service, hospitality, health care, and tourist industries and some are members of unions including SEIU and UNITE HERE.

Their protected status was up for review, and DHS had to decide before July 22 whether to extend or deny TPS to Haitians.

Under the Obama administration, DHS had reviewed the protected status of Haitians three times and extended their TPS by 18 months each time.

But word had gotten out that the current DHS Secretary John Kelly was considering denying TPS to Haitians because he believed that conditions in Haiti are improving.

But that is hardly the case. After the earthquake, 1.5 million people were left homeless, and seven years after the earthquake tens of thousands remain homeless.

After the earthquake, the United Nations sent peacekeepers to Haiti to provide security, but the peacekeepers brought cholera, which caused an epidemic throughout the country sickening 800,000 and killing nearly 10,000. The epidemic continues unabated.

In 2016, a category 4 hurricane hit Haiti inflicting damages totaling $1.9 billion to a country that the World Bank calls the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world.

59 percent of Haitians live under the national poverty level, which is an income of $2.42 a day.

Lifting the protected status of Haitians would have meant that thousands of people living and working in the US would be deported to a land where they have neither homes nor jobs nor prospects.

That specter led to public protests and calls for the government to extend the protected status of Haitians.

A week before DHS announced its six month extension, 2000 people demonstrated at the Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando, Florida where hundreds of Haitian workers are employed to demand that the Trump administration extend long-term protected status to Haitian refugees.

DHS also heard from humanitarian organizations, unions, business, and elected officials urging it to extend the protected status of Haitians.

The Haitian government told DHS that the current conditions in Haiti make it difficult for the country to absorb the return of so many people.

“The legal and policy case for extending TPS for Haitians was overwhelming,” said SEIU’s Saenz. “Haiti cannot safely handle so many returning deportees because it has not yet recovered from the devastating 2010 earthquake, last October’s hurricane, or a continuing deadly cholera epidemic that was first brought to the island by peacekeepers sent by the UN to help with earthquake reconstruction.”

After DHS announced that it was extending TPS to Haitians for another six months, there was some relief but there was also anxiety that in another six months they could find themselves deported to country where their safety is in peril.

The same holds true for other immigrants who have been granted TPS, which caused Saenz to call for a TPS extension for all who came from countries still recovering from natural disasters and wars.

Saenz also said that the US needs a more enlightened immigration policy.

“We call for a new level-headed approach to other decisions affecting immigrants,” said Saenz. “Stop wasting taxpayer resources to deport persons who have lived here for years who pose no danger to public safety. Restore America’s tradition as a place of refuge, and embrace the Constitution’s protection of religious minorities, including Muslims. And overall work to integrate immigrants to our nation instead of demonizing them and building walls.”

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Unions: Trumpcare hurts workers; enriches the already rich

The Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, was filed in Congress on March 6.

The official title of the Republican bill is the American Health Care Act (AHCA), but D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, is calling the new bill “Trumpcare.”

When the bill was introduced, labor unions condemned it as a gift to the rich paid for by the working class.

One week after the bill was introduced, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of Trumpcare. The CBO analysis confirms that the unions are right.

The New York Times reports that according to the CBO analysis, Trumpcare cuts taxes on the wealthy and corporations by $1 trillion over the next ten years.

Those taxes help pay for federal subsidies that made health insurance affordable for many workers.

Trumpcare eliminates the subsidies, putting affordable health care out of reach for millions of workers.

It also reduces Medicaid funding by $880 billion and caps the growth of future funding. The reduction and cap will cause millions of low-income workers to lose Medicaid coverage.

“This isn’t a health care plan, it’s a shameful handout to corporations and the wealthy paid by working families who will pay for the tax cuts with less coverage,” said Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) when the bill was first introduced.

“President Trump and the Republican Party ran on a promise to immediately repeal the ‘broken’ Affordable Care Act and replace it with something ‘great’,” said Taylor. “Instead, what was unveiled by House Republicans is a plan that slashes health care coverage for millions of Americans.”

Taylor made his statement before the CBO released its analysis.

If anything Taylor may have underestimated the number of people who will lose coverage.

The CBO analysis states that the Trumpcare will cause 24 million people to lose health care coverage over the next ten years. Fourteen million will lose coverage within a year of its passage.

One reason that workers will lose health care insurance is that Trumpcare eliminates Obamacare subsidies for purchasing health insurance and replaces it with tax credits.

But the Trumpcare tax credits are less generous than Obamacare subsidies and don’t increase as the price of health insurance increases.

Additionally, Trumpcare would allow insurance companies to charge older workers much more than younger workers, but  tax credits for older workers will be the same as younger workers.

Trumpcare would also phase out the Obamacare expansion of Medicaid, which made Medicaid available to many more low-income workers.

Trumpcare also changes the nature of Medicaid, which would no longer be a government benefit for workers who meet certain income requirements.

Instead, the federal government would provide grants to states. The states would determine eligibility rules and the level of benefits.

If the federal grant does not cover the cost of everyone who is eligible, benefits would be rationed. Some would get them; others wouldn’t.

“Trumpcare will gut Medicaid expansion and subsidies that have made lifesaving health care available to millions of Americans,” said Taylor.

Trumpcare could also cause employers to drop health insurance benefits for their workers.

Forbes reports that up to 7 million workers could lose their employer-based insurance benefit because of Trumpcare.

One of the reasons that workers may lose their employer-based health care benefit is that Trumpcare maintains the Obamacare excise tax, a 40 percent tax on employer-based health insurance whose premium costs exceed the national average of health care premium costs.

The high cost of the excise tax could cause some employers to drop employee health care insurance. Others may cut benefits to avoid the tax.

The excise tax would  especially hurt union workers, who through years of struggle have won good, affordable employer-based health care insurance.

By maintaining the excise tax, Trumpcare “will drive up already skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs and drive down coverage for the vast majority of Americans under age 65—more than 177 million—who get health insurance through work,” said Taylor.

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United (NNU), also joined the chorus of union leaders criticizing the anti-working class nature of Trumpcare.

“The principal effect of the new bill will be the loss of existing health coverage for tens of millions of people, without any restraints on health care industry pricing practices that add up to massive health insecurity for the American people.” writes DeMoro writing for Common Dreams.

Health care in the US can’t be fixed, continued DeMoro until “our broken, dysfunctional, profit-focused health care system (is replaced by) an improved Medicare for all system,” which would expand Medicare so that it covers everybody.

DeMoro writes that NNU is building grassroots support for a single-payer health care plan like Medicare in the state of California “that could become the national model (for) an alternative to both the ACA and the fraudulently named GOP American Health Care Act.”

 

Union fights Trumpcare’s proposal to tax employee health benefits

This week, members of UNITE HERE will be visiting local offices of their US senators and representatives to tell them to oppose a Republican-proposed tax on employee health insurance benefits.

UNITE HERE is the union of 270,000 workers employed in the the hotel, gaming, food service, manufacturing, textile, distribution, laundry, transportation, and airport industries.

A draft of a Republican proposal to repeal and replace Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare, began circulating among members of Congress on February 10.

A key feature of this proposal is a new tax on workers’ health care benefits.

The new tax on workers’ health care benefits would replace a tax on the wealthy, which currently helps fund subsidies that middle- and low-income workers use to purchase health insurance on the federal and state insurance market exchanges.

The GOP plan, also called Trumpcare, could be introduced in Congress by as early as this week.

UNITE HERE called Trumpcare’s tax on employee health care benefits a “double-whammy” on working class health care.

“The GOP is replacing Obamacare with Trumpcare, which will destroy the best aspects of the ACA while imposing one of the largest tax increases on the American middle class ever leveled by a political party,” said Mike Casey, chairperson of UNITE HERE’s Health Care Task Force. “Over 177 million Americans who depend on employer based health care for their health and well-being will soon be hit with a double-whammy by the GOP Trumpcare plan: a huge new tax on their health benefits followed by higher premiums, higher deductibles and less access to quality care. The GOP is walking the plank with Trumpcare and will soon be swimming with the wrath of an American middle class furious with their dramatic tax increase and cut in health care benefits.”

While UNITE HERE members are talking to senators and representatives about the health care benefits tax, media ads funded by the Working Americans for Affordable Health Care PAC will be informing the public about the new Trumpcare tax proposal.

Some media ads will begin running this week in five US House of Representative districts in California, Indiana, Missouri, and Virginia.

Those five districts are currently represented by Ann Wagner (R-MO), Steve Knight (R-CA), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Barbara Comstock (R-VA) and Luke Messer (R-IN).

In addition to raising taxes on workers, Trumpcare will undo much of the good done by Obamacare.

Since Obamacare was implemented, 20 million people who weren’t covered by health insurance are now covered. For many of these people, access to health insurance was made possible by subsidies provided through Obamacare.

Trumpcare eliminates those subsidies.

Since Obamacare was implemented, the percentage of people with health care insurance decreased from 18 percent to 8.6 percent.

One of the reasons for this steep decline is the fact that Obamacare made Medicaid available to more low-income workers.

Trumpcare reduces Medicaid funding and ends its status as an entitlement program, meaning that many low-income workers who qualify for Medicaid under Obamacare will no longer be able to enroll in Medicaid.

Since Obamacare was implemented, workers with pre-existing health conditions have been able to get health insurance. Prior to Obamacare, insurance companies routinely denied health insurance coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions, but Obamacare banned this practice.

Trumpcare eliminates the pre-existing condition ban.

In place of the pre-existing conditions ban, Trumpcare would help states fund high-risk health insurance pools for people with pre-existing health conditions.

But high-risk pools have been tried in the past and failed to adequately insure people with pre-existing conditions. “States that ran high-risk pools prior to the ACA found it virtually impossible to actually finance them sustainably while covering significant numbers of people,” reports Thomas Huelskoetter of Think Progress.

As part of its efforts to inform the public about Trumpcare’s shortcomings, UNITE HERE called out members of Congress who want to repeal Obamacare and replace it with Trumpcare.

“Members of Congress like Ann Wagner, Steve Knight, Darrell Issa, Barbara Comstock and Luke Messer and all the rest get first-class health care thanks to US taxpayers, and they get it for life,” said Casey. “Yet they have the audacity to consider asking those same taxpayers to pay more in taxes in order to settle for second-class health care. We will fight them in Congress and see them at the ballot box.”

Workers at two Trump hotels settle labor disputes

Union members at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas won their first union contract, and workers at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC won the right to conduct an organizing campaign without management interference.

The two separate agreements with the management of the two hotels were announced on December 21.

In Las Vegas food and beverage and housekeepers, who one year ago voted to join UNITE HERE Culinary Workers Local 226, reached an agreement with hotel management on their first union contract that raises wages and provides a pension, health care benefits, and job protections.

“This agreement is the result of tremendous efforts of the parties’ leadership teams. Both the Culinary Union and the Trump International Hotel Las Vegas extend their congratulations to each other and each look forward to a mutually productive and peaceful labor-management partnership,” reads a statement issued by Local 226.

While the statement suggests that the two parties are on the road toward building a mutually respectful relationship, the history of the workers’ struggle for a union suggests that the road to enlightened labor relations at the Trump hotel may be a bit rocky.

Workers at Trump Las Vegas began talking about organizing a union in 2014. That talk quickly became a full-fledged organizing campaign, and for a year, pro-union workers with the help of union organizers talked one-on-one to other workers about the benefits of having a union.

They told their fellow workers about the 35,000 union workers at other Las Vegas hotels who were paid better wages and had pensions, excellent health care benefits, and job protections.

Some union supporters wore buttons to work to express their support for the union.

Management reacted with a campaign of its own. The Trump Las Vegas hotel, which is co-0wned by billionaire Phillip Ruffin, spent $560,000 to prevent workers from organizing a union.

In June 2014, five workers were suspended for wearing union buttons to work and talking to other workers about joining the union.

A year later, they were awarded back pay for lost wages after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that hotel management had violated their right to speak freely about joining a union.

The union filed other charges of unfair labor practices including allegations of physical assaults against union supporters, verbal abuse, intimidation, and threats.

In August 2015, the NLRB ruled that Trump Las Vegas acted illegally to prevent workers from joining a union by suppressing their free speech, illegally interrogating employees, threatening them with reprisals for supporting the union, and in one instance, physically assaulting union supporters.

Things didn’t get any easier after workers voted in December 2015 to join Local 226. Hotel management refused to bargain with the union for a first contract.

Eleven months after the workers voted to unionize, the NLRB ruled that Trump Las Vegas Hotel management violated the National Labor Relations Act by refusing to bargain with the union

Hotel management reacted by appealing the decision rather than negotiating.

However, management’s attitude toward the union made an abrupt and unexpected about-face, and in December, the two sides announced an agreement on the workers’ first collective bargaining agreement.

The turn around came as President-elect Trump was facing intense scrutiny about his business holdings and the potential conflicts of interest that would exist between those holdings and his responsibilities as President of the United States.

Among the possible conflicts of interest were his shares of ownership in the Trump hotels in Las Vegas and Washington DC that were both subject to unfair labor practices investigations being carried out by the NLRB.

The New York Times reports that Trump and his transition team have been working vigorously to create an image that no conflicts of interest will exist after he becomes President.

To do so they have been trying to resolve some of the most blatant examples of potential conflicts of interest, including Trump’s labor relations problems in Las Vegas and Washington DC.

As a result, the Trump hotels in these two cities moved quickly to settle their labor problems.

In Washington DC that meant reaching an agreement with UNITE HERE Local 25, which has been helping workers at the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC organize a union.

Local 25 announced that the agreement will allow a union organizing drive to proceed without management interference.

“(The agreement) satisfies the union’s goal to represent and ensure strong working conditions for hospitality workers in the Washington, DC metropolitan area,” said John Boardman, president of Local 25.  “We look forward to pursuing a mutually productive partnership with Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.”

Union announces new way to support striking Trump Taj Mahal workers

UNITE HERE announced that it has created a GoFundMe website where people can show their solidarity with striking UNITE HERE Local 54 members who work at the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

About 1,000 cooks, housekeepers, servers, bartenders, and other service workers at Trump Taj Mahal on July 1 went on strike for a new contract that includes pay and benefits similar to those agreed to at four other casinos in Atlantic City.

Most striking workers make about $12 or less an hour.

Trump Taj Mahal is owned by Carl Icahn, a billionaire whose net worth is estimated by Forbes to be $16.5 billion.

When the casino was in bankruptcy for the fourth time, Ichan in 2014 convinced a bankruptcy judge to strip the workers of their health insurance and pension plans.

When the casino emerged from bankruptcy, the union sought to recover the health insurance plan.

Local 54 had successfully negotiated contracts with four other Atlantic City casinos, and the union wanted the new contract with Trump Taj Mahal to include a health care plan similar to the ones enjoyed by other Local 54 members.

When Icahn refused, the workers went on strike.

A month after the strike began, Icahn announced that he would close Trump Taj Mahal on October 10.

Despite the devastating news, members of Local 54 have continued with their strike and are asking people to show their solidarity by contributing to the union’s Hardship Fund through the GoFundMe website.

“Workers have been struggling under Carl Icahn’s reign of terror at the Trump Taj Mahal for over 22 months. Their benefits have been stripped away, and now, Icahn has said that he will close the place in two months,” said Donna Decaprio, financial secretary-treasurer of Local 54.  “These women and men have been on strike for over a month to defend middle class jobs. People ask all the time how they can support the strikers; this GoFundMe campaign is one way to do that.”

Icahn said that he can’t afford to pay for the health care plan that Trump Taj Mahal want restored.

The Guardian reports that it would cost Icahn about $4 million a year to provide the same level of health care benefits to Trump Taj Mahal workers that other Atlantic City casino workers receive.

That’s about the same amount of money that Icahn spent buying back shares from investors in another Atlantic City casino that he owns, the Tropicana, which, by the way, agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement with Local 54 just days before Trump Taj Mahal workers went on strike.

“For the workers, it is the difference between a $12-an-hour job with a $3 benefits package that leaves them on the hook for their family’s healthcare and their own hospital visits, or a $6.65 benefits package that they say would give them a decent, middle-class life. Currently, workers say, the Taj is paying $20 an hour to scabs to staff the hotel, restaurants and gaming services,” reports the Guardian.

Despite the news of the closing, Trump Taj Mahal workers remain on the picket line and the strike continues.

The GoFundMe campaign will help Local 54 replenish its Hardship Fund that helps union members facing financial difficulties.

“Shortly after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Carl Icahn took my healthcare away.  The Local 54 Hardship Committee helped pay my medical bills.  I don’t know what I would have done without their help,” said Patricia Mazur, a 26-year cocktail server at the Trump Taj Mahal.

Lunchroom workers honor Philando Castile with vigil

Union lunchroom workers from Philadelphia’s public schools on July 14 held a vigil to honor Philando Castile, an African American man killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in St. Anthony, Minnesota on July 6.

The Philadelphia workers are members of UNITE HERE Local 634.

Castile, a nutrition services supervisor for the St. Paul, Minnesota public schools, was member of Teamsters Local 320.

“I felt it was important to do this vigil today as a food service worker and mother of two Black sons who have been victims of ‘stop and frisk’ policies,” said Nicole Hunt, a food service worker and UNITE HERE organizer. “We have to come together as a nation to make changes and stop making excuses.”

A posting on the union’s Facebook page expanded on the reasons for the vigil.

“We gathered to honor the life of Philando Castile, a school cafeteria worker and union member who died unjustly during a traffic stop. As a union, we stand against systemic racism, police brutality, and a violent culture that disproportionately affects men and women of color. Join us in the effort to make this change! ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬‪#‎Justice4PhilandoCastile‬ ‪#‎SayTheirNames‬ Unite Here Philadelphia.”

Castile was shot four times by a police officer as Castile was sitting in the driver’s seat of his car. His girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her four-year old daughter were seated in the car at the time of the shooting.

Castile had been a member of Teamsters Local 320 for 14 years.

“I have known Philando ‘Phil’ Castile since he joined the Teamsters back in 2002 and he was an amazing person who did his job at St. Paul Public Schools because he loved the children he served,” said Sami Gabriel, Local 320 president. “He will be deeply missed by his colleagues and his community.”

In Philadelphia, UNITE HERE members gathered in the early evening at Benjamin Franklin High School to honor Castile.

“Our union represents a lot of people of color,” said Saudia Durrant, communications coordinator for UNITE HERE to the local CBS News affiliate. “We really wanted to make it an issue, and a conversation on assessing racism, assessing how we as a union can do our part to make sure a change comes about.”

A statement issued by UNITE HERE said that “The loss of Philando Castile echoes a persistent culture of violence and hate that disproportionately affect communities where our member and their families live and work. In order to stop cases such as Castile’s from happening again, our country needs to organize to change the economic conditions and social biases that perpetuate this culture of violence and hate against people of color.”

“In UNITE HERE we confront power and forces of oppression with collective action,” said D. Taylor UNITE HERE president. “Young Black men getting killed is an affront to everything we stand for. We believe every man and woman has value and rights. As a union, we will confront and take on racism whenever we see it.”

Trump Taj Mahal workers take strike to owner’s doorstep

Casino workers at Trump Taj Mahal  traveled from their home in Atlantic City, New Jersey to New York City to protest the anti-worker policies of the casino’s owner.

One thousand housekeepers, cooks, servers, and bellmen at Trump Taj Mahal went out on strike on July 1 when their union, UNITE HERE Local 54, and the casino’s owner could not reach an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement.

On July 13, they rallied at the Manhattan office of Carl Ichan, the principle owner of Trump Taj Mahal.

At the rally, speakers criticized Ichan’s business practices that prioritize short-term profits at the expense of sustainable, long-term growth.

Those practices, according to the union, have cost the workers their health care benefit, driven down their wages, and left many on public assistance.

Ichan became owner of the Taj Mahal in 2016 when the casino emerged from bankruptcy for the fourth time, but between 2010 and 2014, Ichan was Trump Taj Mahal’s main creditor. During that time he extracted $350 million in profit from the casino.

When Trump Taj Mahal went into bankruptcy in 2014, Ichan used the bankruptcy court to take away the casino workers’ health care benefit.

Under Ichan’s stewardship, wages, which once supported a decent middle-class life for the workers, were reduced by more than one-third.

“I’ve worked hard for twenty-six years cleaning dozens of guest rooms per week at this casino,” said Patsy Heath, a housekeeper at the Trump Taj Mahal. “Now I’ve injured myself on the job, my bills are piling up, and Carl Icahn has taken away my health care so that he can pad his own profits. Icahn has been a disaster for working people at the Trump Taj Mahal, and Donald Trump is crazy if he wants to put him in charge of our country’s economy.”

Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for President, has indicated that if elected, Ichan could be his choice for Secretary of the Treasury.

After the rally at Ichan’s offices, the striking workers marched to Trump Tower to protest the role that Trump has played in the decline of the once prosperous working class of Atlantic City.

Trump owned Trump Taj Mahal when it opened in 1990 and maintained control of the casino and the company that owned it until 2009. During that time, the company that owned Trump Taj Mahal declared bankruptcy three times.

In 2009, he was forced out of ownership by the company’s creditors.

Between 2009 and 2016, when Trump Taj Mahal emerged from bankruptcy for the fourth time, Trump maintained a 10 percent stake in the company.

When Ichan Enterprises assumed full control of the casino in 2016 after it emerged from bankruptcy, Trump’s relationship with the casino ended.

As the striking Trump Taj Mahal workers headed to New York to begin their rally and march, UNITE HERE Local 54 announced that other Atlantic City casino workers represented by the union had ratified new collective bargaining agreements with the owners of Harrah’s, Bally’s and Caesars.

Details of the newly ratified collective bargaining agreements have not been made public.

The striking casino workers have started to get support from other unions.

On July 13, the Communications Workers of America, which won a six-week strike against Verizon, sent a message to members urging them to support  Trump Taj Mahal strikers.

“Trump Taj Mahal workers have had it hard in recent years. First Donald Trump bankrupted the property while extracting millions in earnings. Then billionaire Carl Icahn took it over, using the bankruptcy process to strip workers of their healthcare and even paid breaks,” states the CWA message to its members.

The message asked members to show their solidarity by adding their name to a union letter to Carl Ichan.

“The cooks, housekeepers, bellmen and servers from the Trump Taj Mahal are taking a stand for all of us against corporate bullies like Donald Trump and Carl Icahn who abuse the bankruptcy process to make themselves richer while making it harder for everyone else to makes ends meet,” said the message.