AFL-CIO Joins Broad Coalition to Fight for Affordable Medicines

Yesterday, the AFL-CIO’s own Thea Lee joined AARPDoctors Without BordersOxfam America and the Generic Pharmaceutical Association in urging President Obama to fix proposals in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a trade and economic governance deal currently under negotiation—that could leave us all paying more for life-saving prescription medicines.

One of the most harmful of the provisions Lee warned against including in the TPP was part of the U.S.-Korea FTA. It gives companies that make drugs or medical devices special rights—over and above those they already have under domestic law—to appeal government decisions about whether to include a drug or device in a government health program (such as Medicare) and how much to pay for it.

Public health advocates, doctors and patients don’t receive similar rights—they aren’t even mentioned in these provisions. No  trade agreement should “stack the deck” toward higher prices for life-saving drugs and devices. Yet the U.S.-Korea FTA does, and the TPP might do the same. America’s working people can’t afford unnecessary price increases for pharmaceutical products—to say nothing of our brothers and sisters in developing countries.

Another potentially harmful provision reportedly included in the draft TPP is patent protection so extreme  it will lead to “evergreening” (indefinite perpetuation) of medicinal patents, thus preventing price competition from generic drugs. The AFL-CIO has a long history of supporting intellectual property rights—after all, workers in creative and innovative fields rely on intellectual property protection to support their pay and benefits. But extreme patent protections (like rules requiring a new 20-year patent term every time the drug changes from liquid to pill to capsule, or rules that prevent people from challenging the validity of a patent) are unnecessary and can put our families’ health at risk. That’s just wrong. Such rules hurt patients and simply shouldn’t be in international trade deals.

Finally, to expand access to affordable medicines, many in the coalition argued the TPP must omit investor-to-state dispute settlement, also known as ISDS or corporate courts. These, too, have been in trade deals like NAFTACorporate courts provide foreign investors with private justice, complete with their own special rules and their own private “courts” staffed by private lawyers, unaccountable to the public. Pharmaceutical companies could use ISDS to challenge states’ Medicaid drug pricing policies, such as their use of drug formularies or rebates. These challenges could raise costs for these programs (making it less likely states will pursue the ACA Medicaid expansion).

The TPP must not straitjacket nations’ policy choices regarding how to organize their health care delivery systems. Instead, these agreements should promote U.S. medical and pharmaceutical exports in ways thatrespect the human right to health care and national choices about how to best defend that right. 

Read the full AFL-CIO/AARP/MSF/GPHA/Oxfam letter here.

Sign a petition here demanding the TPP not interfere with affordable medicines or harm working families in other ways.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Why You Should Pay Attention to Qatar’s World Cup Preparations: Punching In

Workers and businesses team up to fight Wisconsin “right to work” push

“The formation of the Wisconsin Contractor Coalition highlights a split in the business community in the state, where manufacturers appear poised to push the labor measure through the Legislature and builders and unions are scrambling to try to stop it.”

New cuts to United States Postal Service hurt rural America the most

Ed Schultz and Mark Dimondstein discussed the future of the post office on MSNBC.

Louisville lawmakers approve minimum wage increase to $9 by 2017

“Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer had said earlier he would veto the council’s original proposal, which would have raised pay to $10.10…However, Fischer said in a statement released after the vote he was pleased with the amended ordinance.”

Qatar’s World Cup preparations are dangerous for workers, say human rights groups

“Hundreds of worker deaths, many apparently from cardiac arrests, have also fueled concerns that laborers are being overworked in desert conditions and shoddily treated.”

2,000 Minneapolis Airport Workers Get New Sick Leave Policy: Punching In

2,000 workers at Minneapolis airport get new sick leave policy

“The new policy, which was unanimously approved by the board on Monday, calls for companies with 21 or more employees to provide at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked.”

More than 60 million households rely on the earnings of a low-wage worker

“There are 25 million low-wage workers in the country, but the figure balloons to 60.6 million by adding the number of people living in their households, including more than 15 million children.”

Good thing Obama had the past five weeks

“Obama feels liberated, aides say, and sees the recent flurry of aggressive executive action and deal-making as a pivot for him to spend his final two years in office being more the president he always wanted to be.”

Chris Christie’s wife is making bank off of management of NJ pension funds

“Angelo Gordon made a prominent hire: Mary Pat Christie, wife of Gov. Chris Christie, who joined the company in 2012 as a managing director and now earns $475,000 annually, according to the governor’s most recent tax return.”

Last-Minute Questions on Applying for Health Insurance

By Nancy Metcalf – Reposted from ConsumerReports.org

What counts as income, and extended deadlines in several states

The weekend brought in a bunch of questions from people who were trying to beat the Dec. 15 deadline to buy or renew health insurance by Jan. 1, but were puzzled by what counts toward their income in 2015.

That’s an important number, because when you fill out your application, you have to give that estimate. It determines whether you will be eligible for tax credits to lower the cost of your insurance premiums.

One reader said she and her husband planned to live off their savings for the next year and wondered if they should put down what they planned to spend from that source. Another reader was unsure whether to report his total income from self-employment , or just his Adjusted Gross Income, which was considerably lower.

Fortunately, we have lots of resources to help answer those questions.

Here’s a full explanation of how to project and report your 2015 income, including what goes into it (and what doesn’t).

And here’s a handy visual aid we created: an annotated Form 1040 that will show exactly what counts and what doesn’t.

For instance, it clearly shows that the couple who wrote in should NOT report withdrawals from a regular savings account as income for 2015. But interest or dividend income those savings will earn will count. And so will any distributions they take from a 401(k) or tax-free Individual Retirement Account.

And the self-employed reader will see that it’s the Adjusted Gross Income at the bottom of the tax form that counts, not his total income.

Enrollment deadline extended in five states

And here’s a housekeeping note for people who live in Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. Their state-run Marketplaces have extended the deadline for purchasing or renewing health insurance if they want it to start on Jan. 1.

Here are the extended deadlines:

Idaho – Dec. 20

Maryland – Dec. 18

Massachusetts – Dec. 23

New York – Dec. 20

Rhode Island – Dec. 23

In all other states, the deadline is midnight on Dec. 15.

If you miss the cutoff in your state, you still can enroll in or switch plans up through Feb. 15. If you finish your application by Jan. 15, your new coverage will start Feb. 1. If you wait until after that, your coverage will start March 1.

Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or part, without written permission.

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7 Reasons Right to Work Is Wrong for Warren County, Ky. (and Everywhere Else)

7 Reasons Right to Work Is Wrong for Warren County, Ky. (and Everywhere Else)

In Warren County, Ky., a fiscal court has given preliminary approval to a local “right to work” for less ordinance. The measure is worded as to prevent any worker covered by the National Labor Relations Act from being required to join or pay dues to a union as a condition of employment. Since it is already illegal in the United States to require workers to join unions, the real focus of the measure is to weaken workers in negotiations with employers for decent wages and benefits. Instead of passing illegal ordinances that are a big waste of time and resources for the county, those efforts should be spent in other ways like focusing on raising wages for Warren County residents.

If you’re in Kentucky, call the fiscal court today and tell them you oppose the right to work ordinance: 1-855-721-3304

Here are seven specific ways that this measure would hurt workers in Warren County, most of which would apply to workers in other Kentucky locales (and elsewhere) if the process were repeated elsewhere:

1. It’s illegal and will create an administrative nightmareA Kentucky court already has said that right to work laws can only be made at the state level. If it goes into effect, it will lead to legal wrangling and make compliance very difficult for companies that work in more than one Kentucky county.

2. The law is being pushed by rich extremists from out of state: The Bluegrass Institute, a Kentucky “think tank,” that is pushing local right to work laws like this one receives massive amounts of funding from out-of-state interests that won’t be affected by the negative impact of such laws on Kentuckians. A shadowy network of groups, many of them connected to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the D.C.-based Heritage Foundation, and the billionaire Koch Brothers, pushes these laws across the country, with little concern about the local impact and without revealing their funding and broader agenda.

3. The law is being advanced with little input with a high level of secrecy: On Dec. 11, the court voted to pass the law. The right to work measure was part of a bill called Promotion of Economic Development and Commerce for Warren County and it was handed out 15 minutes before the vote, a vote that was held 19 out of 20 during the meeting. Where was the public input? Who proposed the measure? Who supported it? What economic impacts would it have on workers? Were any questions asked or answered during the process?

4. It hurts working families: There is a pattern of right to work laws decreasing wages, lowering household income, increasing poverty, undermining workplace safety and failing to improve access to health care.

5. These laws don’t actually boost the economy: A significant body of research backs that claim, and even some conservatives, such as Stanley Greer, a spokesperson for the National Right to Work Committee, have admitted it: “We’re not purporting to prove that right to work produces superior economic performance.”

6. Voters don’t want it: In November, Kentucky voters rejected candidates funded by out-of-state interests with extreme agendas, including right to work.

7. Kentucky residents have other priorities: The state’s hardworking families need a raise, more good jobs and more investment in education. This measure will accomplish none of that.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Is Wall Street A Black Hole for Our Best and Brightest? Punching In

Michigan on track to ban student-athlete unionization

“This is not the first time Michigan lawmakers have moved to stifle organized labor on college campuses. University of Michigan graduate research assistants attempted to unionize, but that effort was chilled by a 2012 law signed by [Governor] Snyder.”

Wall Street is a black hole for our best and brightest

“The financial industry has doubled in size as a share of the economy in the past 50 years, but it hasn’t gotten any better at its core job: getting money from investors who have it to companies that will use it to generate growth, profit and jobs.”

New York’s Democratic Gov. Cuomo to kick 1,000 state workers out of unions

“An estimated one thousand New York state government employees received notices Monday that Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration aims to reclassify their jobs as non-union, a move that could weaken a federation that has previously butted heads with the centrist Democratic governor.”

Another domino falls? Tennessee considers Medicaid expansion compromise

“[Gov.] Haslam, who recently took over as the chair of the Republican Governors Association, will reportedly call a special session of Tennessee’s legislature to consider the package he’s worked out with the Obama administration.”

Democratic Mayor of Louisville Intends to Block Minimum Wage Increase: Punching In

Full-time faculty at Boston area colleges seeking to unionize

“As full-time lecturers, we remain the only group of instructors on campus who don’t have a voice. Tenured faculty have a voice. Part-timers have established their voice. We feel like we need to have the opportunity to be involved.”

Despite election loss, UAW could soon become the union at the VW Chattanooga plant

“If successful, the UAW would achieve its longstanding goal of organizing a foreign-owned automotive manufacturer in the South.”

Democratic Mayor of Louisville, KY wants to veto minimum wage increase

“There are nine sponsors of the increase. Democrats have a 17-9 majority on the council and do not expect any support from Republicans. Supporters do not appear to have the 18 votes needed to override a veto”

Steelworkers President: stop bad trade deals like the TPP

“American workers aren’t whining. They can compete with anyone in the world on an even playing field. But when foreign countries provide illegal subsidies, manipulate their currency, and hand no-cost land, no-interest loans and tax breaks to producers, then it’s bad trade.”

NLRB Rules Employees Can Use Work Email for Organizing

Workers were given a potentially significant tool when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that employees can use work email accounts in union organizing activities, as long as they do it on their own time. The decision reversed a 2007 decision. Workers also are allowed to use work email to discuss wage and other workplace issues. The three Democrats on the board voted yes on the ruling, while the two Republicans abstained.

Bernie Lunzer, a vice president for the Communications Workers of America (CWA), which filed the case in 2012, said the ruling was: “A big victory for workers in general.”

CWA pursued the case after Purple Communications in Rocklin, Calif., refused to allow workers to use company email accounts in a union organizing drive.

The NLRB reasoned:

By focusing too much on employers’ property rights and too little on the importance of email as a means of workplace communication, the Board (in its earlier ruling) failed to adequately protect employees’ rights…and abdicated its responsibility ‘to adapt the Act to the changing patterns of industrial life.’

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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7 Reasons Fast Track Is Off Track

During the secret discussion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, extreme corporate interests are pushing for a Fast Track process that would not only hurt working families in the United States, but in the other countries involved in any final deal. Here are seven reasons why Fast Track is off track.

1. People oppose it: More than 60% of voters oppose Fast Track for the TPP free trade deal.

2. It doesn’t reflect modern values: Fast Track is a copy of the approach to trade taken by President Richard Nixon, pursuing the passage of trade deals regardless of the effects a deal might have on wages, jobs, small businesses and the environment.

3. It’s a job killer: Past trade deals have cost American jobs in large numbers. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement led to the loss of more than 682,000 jobs.

4. It makes it harder for workers to get a raise: Previous Fast Tracked deals have depressed wages and weakened the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain.

5. It increases inequality: Previous trade deals have greatly exacerbated CEO-to-worker pay disparities, so that the current ratio is 354-to-1.

6. It’s undemocratic: Fast Track limits debate and prohibits amendments and doesn’t give the public the opportunity to influence the process.

7. It gives corporations more power: By including “investor-to-state dispute settlement” provisions, foreign investors in the United States and U.S. investors operating in foreign countries can skip traditional methods of complaining about laws they don’t like and sue nations directly in private arbitration tribunals made up of for-profit arbitrators. This would give corporations and foreign interests an influence over our economy that the rest of us don’t have.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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New Ruling from NLRB Could Speed Up Future Organizing Campaigns: Punching In

NLRB decision takes away common management stall tactic

“The rule will require businesses to postpone virtually all litigation over eligibility issues until after workers vote on whether to join the union, thereby depriving management of a stall tactic that unions widely claim benefits the employer.”

Labor unions saved Ford Motor Company “in our darkest hour,” says executive

“Ford, the executive chairman of the Detroit automaker, said in an interview on CNBC’s ‘Squawk Box’ that former UAW President Ron Gettelfinger doesn’t get enough credit for helping to shore up the books during Ford’s ‘darkest hour.’”

Study confirms that the seeds of the Tea Party were planted by Big Tobacco and Koch Brothers

“This report might serve as a wake-up call to some people in the Tea Party itself, who would find it a little disturbing that the “grassroots” movement they are so emotionally attached to, is in fact a pawn created by billionaires and large corporations with little interest in fighting for the rights of the common person, but instead using the common person to fight for their own unfettered profits. ”

Elizbaeth Warren’s anti-Wall Street speech leaves some Republican Senators sore

“There is a lot of talk coming from CitiGroup about how Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect. So let me say this to anyone listening at Citi —I agree with you. Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect. It should have broken you into pieces.”