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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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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Republican Lawmakers Fight for Last-Minute Gift to Big Banks

If Republican lawmakers have their way, one of the final acts of the 113th Congress will be to make it easier for big banks to gamble with taxpayers’ money.

As Congress negotiates a last-minute deal to fund the federal government and avoid a shutdown on Dec. 11, it appears likely that a last-minute trade-off will roll back a provision of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act aimed at limiting bank bail-outs.

The provision, “Section 716,” requires banks that trade some of the riskiest types of financial products to conduct the activity in subsidiaries separate from the portion of the bank that is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

A group of pro-reform senators sent a letter to Senate budget negotiators late last week urging them to leave the controversial provision intact. The letter, signed by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) states, “Section 716 of the Act was a key component of the financial reforms. We urge you to oppose inclusion of provisions modifying or repealing this reform in any funding legislation.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) blasted the efforts to roll back derivatives regulation, calling it “reckless.” She said:

Middle-class families are still paying a heavy price for the decisions to weaken the financial cops, leaving Wall Street free to load up on risk. Congress should not chip away at important reforms that protect taxpayers and make our economy safer.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Philadelphia Could Finally Get Paid Sick Days, If Comcast Doesn’t Block It

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In the past, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has made his position on a paid sick days law very clear. In 2011 and 2013, he vetoed paid sick days bills passed by a majority of the City Council, turning a deaf ear to the nearly 35 percent of Philly’s workforce that doesn’t have access to a single paid sick day.

But third time might be the charm for Mayor Nutter. The Mayor’s Task Force on Paid Sick Leave produced a report this week formally recommending that businesses with more than 15 employees allow all workers to accrue one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. And Nutter indicated he would support such a bill if it came to his desk:

“A healthy worker is a happy worker, and it’s a person that’s ultimately going to be more productive and just spreading a lot less stuff around the workplace,” Mr. Nutter said after accepting the report of a 14-member mayoral task force formed to study the issue.

In 2013, Working America drove hundreds of calls and emails to the Philadelphia City Council and Mayor Nutter’s office urging support for a paid sick days law. After Nutter’s veto, the Council was one vote short of an override.

The fight this time might be over the details. Councilman William Greenlee, who introduced the 2013 bill and is expected to do so again, thinks “15 employees is a little high” for an exemption. He supports exempting businesses with 10 employees or more.

Another player to watch? Comcast, the Philadelphia-based cable giant that lobbied hard against paid sick days in 2013. “Almost all of the $108,429.25 Comcast spent on lobbying in 2011 was in opposition to paid sick days,” reported PRWatch.org last year, “It also is a major contributor to Mayor Nutter, contributing $7,500 to his campaign in 2011 and an additional $8,500 in 2012.”

We’re hoping that Mayor Nutter, who leaves office next year, will side with Philadelphia workers over the corporations that have funded his previous campaigns.

Photo by PhillyCam on Flickr

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Black Beans, Guac and Respect

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In Los Angeles, more than 100 supporters rallied yesterday at a local Chipotle restaurant to ask it to intervene with its supplier, Huhtamaki.

Workers who make the packaging for Chipotle’s burrito bowls work at Huhtamaki, a giant Finland-based company, earn less than $15 per hour.

Huhtamaki is one of the leading producers of single-use packaging in Commerce, Calif. Under previous management, these jobs were permanent manufacturing jobs, but now Huhtamaki hires temporary workers to pay lower wages with no benefits.

Huhtamaki workers in Los Angeles have been organizing for a year for fairness and respect at the workplace. Workers report that the company prioritizes production over health and safety.

Levi Ross, from the Huhtamaki Workers Committee, said, “I’ve been working at Huhtamaki in Commerce, California for three years. I work hard to provide for my wife and two kids, but it’s been a struggle. Despite positive reviews from my managers, I still make barely enough to support my family and I can’t afford health care for my kids. Recently, we tried to talk to management at our plant about these issues, but they ignored us and, instead, retaliated against us for speaking out. Since Huhtamaki is ignoring us, we’re bringing our fight for justice to one of its customers—Chipotle. Huhtamaki supplies Chipotle with burrito bowl containers, a company which proclaims that it follows ethical standards for all the products it uses. We think those same standards should apply to the workers of the suppliers, like Huhtamaki, that Chipotle contracts with, too. Sign our petition here.”

Huhtamaki has more than a dozen plants across the United States and an aggressive expansion strategy in this market based on creating low-wage, precarious employment.

Maria Elena Durazo, from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, spoke at the rally. Los Angeles port truck drivers also showed impromptu support for Huhtamaki workers.

Stand with Huhtamaki workers and sign their petition today.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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‘I Miscarried on Walmart’s Property’

Courageous current and former Walmart workers are calling on the mega retailer to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers including lighter duties where medically necessary and being able to drink water or sit down while at work. They formed a group called “Respect the Bump,” which made huge strides earlier this year when Walmart announced it would make accommodations for workers with complicated pregnancies, including lighter duties when medically necessary.

Unfortunately this policy does not extend to all pregnant workers and is not being implemented consistently, so many women are still not receiving the accommodations they need.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, stand with Walmart workers who are fighting for their right to speak out without fear of retaliation.

Find a Black Friday protest near you and find out more ways to get involved: www.BlackFridayProtests.org.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Former Massey Energy CEO Indicted

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For those of you who have been following the Massey Energy story, the Mine Workers (UMWA) passed along this news yesterday:

United States Attorney Booth Goodwin announced that a federal grand jury today returned an indictment charging Donald L. Blankenship, former Chief Executive Officer of Massey Energy Company, with four criminal offenses. The indictment charges Blankenship with conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and securities fraud. The indictment alleges that from about Jan. 1, 2008, through about April 9, 2010, Blankenship conspired to commit and cause routine, willful violations of mandatory federal mine safety and health standards at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine, located in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The indictment alleges that during this same period of time, Blankenship was part of a conspiracy to impede and hinder federal mine safety officials from carrying out their duties at Upper Big Branch by providing advance warning of federal mine safety inspection activities, so their underground operations could conceal and cover up safety violations that they routinely committed.

The indictment further alleges that after a major, fatal explosion occurred at Upper Big Branch on April 5, 2010, Blankenship made and caused to be made false statements and representations to the SEC concerning Massey Energy’s safety practices prior to the explosion. Additionally, the indictment alleges that, after this explosion, Blankenship made and caused to be made materially false statements and representations, as well as materially misleading omissions, in connection with the purchase and sale of Massey Energy stock.

The FBI and the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General are in charge of the investigation. United States Attorney Booth Goodwin, Counsel to the United States Attorney Steven Ruby and Assistant United States Attorney Gabriele Wohl are handling the prosecution.The four counts charged carry a maximum combined penalty of 31 years’ imprisonment.

Click here to view a copy of the indictment. An indictment is only an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The Massey Energy Upper Big Branch (W. Va.) deadly blast killed 29 in 2010. Families of the victims reacted to the indictment yesterday.

Photo by D.D. Meighen on Flickr. Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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ALEC Politicians Won Big On Tuesday, But Corporations Are Still Leaving

Logo of the software group at the entrance to the headquarters in Walldorf

Joni Ersnt. Scott Walker. Thom Tillis. Many of Tuesday night’s Republican winners have strong ties to ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which brings together legislators and corporate lobbyists to write corporate-friendly legislation.

But while these current and former ALEC members got a boost from their connections and affiliation with the bill mill (in the case of Tillis, the boost came in the form of record spending from dark money groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity), ALEC itself is in dire straits.

The day after Tillis and others claimed victory, the German software company SAP formally cut ties with ALEC.

The [SAP] spokeswoman told Manager that the company abandoned ALEC because of its “merkwürdigen” (strange) positions—such as its support for Stand Your Ground laws, climate denial, and opposition to solar energy deployment.

SAP joins American counterparts like Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Yelp in ending their affiliation with ALEC.

Ever since the secretive organization came onto the public’s radar in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin killing and the press around the “Stand Your Ground” laws they developed, an estimated 93 corporations and 19 no-profits have cut their ALEC ties.

Why is this a big deal? While a lot of information on ALEC is not public, we know that corporations pay at least $5,000 to become members and sit on the organization’s various task forces. When these companies leave–or decline to renew their membership–that means ALEC has fewer resources to recruit legislators, take them on lavish trips, or ply them with expensive steak dinners. It also means ALEC has less capacity to produce model legislation that weakens wages, attacks the rights of workers, stifles clean energy, and privatizes everything from schools to parking meters.

Tillis and his friends are in, but SAP is out. Who is next?

UPDATE. From Center for Media and Democracy’s Nick Surgey, writing in the Huffington Post:

SAP is a particularly big loss for ALEC, because its representative at ALEC, lobbyist Steve Searle, is the Chair of ALEC’s corporate board, and the former corporate chair of ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force. As a leader within ALEC, Searle would have helped drive the ALEC agenda, and would have had inside knowledge of what ALEC has planned for 2015 to continue to stonewall action to tackle climate change.

Photo by Manager-Magazin.de

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How to Talk to Your Friends and Family About…Voting Rights

This is the first installment in a new series in which we give you advice on how to talk to your friends and family about key issues for working families. We know that with family and work responsibilities, you don’t have the time to do all the research on important topics you need to know about to be an effective voter, so we’re going to do that for you and provide you with the best information and messaging about how you can talk to your friends and family.

This time, we’re going to talk about voting rights. It’s an election year and we’re quickly approaching the time when you will be casting your ballot and making sure your voice is heard. Every state is different, though, in how you exercise those rights, and many states have different voting rules that have been passed in recent years. While there are many examples of states pushing laws to expand voting rights, there are also many politically motivated, partisan attempts to manipulate the outcomes of elections by changing the rules rather than by offering policies and politicians the people support.

In any conversation about politics, it is important to talk about values and to connect those values to real-world consequences for the average American. Across the political spectrum, Americans share the value that voting is a right that should be equally accessible to all citizens. A key component of democracy in the United States is the right to vote, and most Americans support keeping the right as free and as fair as possible.

Here are some of the most common topics and arguments you might encounter and the best ways to respond to those arguments:

“We need voter ID laws.”

While it is important to protect the integrity of our elections, the biggest fraud we face in our elections are laws that make it harder for millions of eligible voters to cast their ballot, particularly when those laws are attempts to manipulate the system and subvert the will of the people. Voter ID laws often require forms of identification that tens of millions of Americans don’t have and, in millions of cases, aren’t free or easy to obtain. Flexible voting laws, that guarantee election integrity and allow every American who wants to vote to do so, are vitally important.

“But everybody should have to show an ID to vote.”

The problem is that the new laws generally are so specific in what types of IDs they allow and these laws usually outlaw types of IDs that were previously acceptable without any real evidence that those types of IDs were associated with significant voter fraud. More than 10% of Americans lack a government-issued photo ID and the laws we’ve seen passed in the past four years are disproportionately likely to make it harder to vote for seniors, people with disabilities, students, women and many others.

“But you need an ID to fly or buy a beer.”

True, but if you can’t buy a beer because you don’t have the proper ID, it has no negative effect on the functioning of our democracy or your ability to express your right to vote. When eligible voters are denied the right to vote that undermines democracy and denies people’s rights.

“Early voting should be curtailed because it is a gateway to fraud and double-voting.”

Elections are the time when Americans are the most equal—we all have only one vote and nobody’s vote counts more than anyone else’s. Our elections should remain free, fair and accessible. Many people choose to vote early because of work or family responsibilities, because they are traveling or because they have transportation challenges. Early voting makes it easier for responsible voters to make sure their voice is heard. There isn’t significant evidence of fraud in early voting and it’s wrong to limit access to the ballot for political reasons.

“The system works fine as it is.”

If you are an eligible voter, you should face as few barriers as possible to casting your ballot. Our registration system is inconsistent from state to state and is vulnerable to human error (such as typos and lost or incorrectly entered forms), which can prevent citizens from voting through no error of their own. We can harness technology to modernize our system and give more options to register securely and conveniently. Voters shouldn’t lose their right to vote simply because they move, something that is happening more and more often in tough economic times.

If you or someone you know hasn’t updated his or her registration since moving or needs to register, registering to vote is easy and fast through the AFL-CIO’s TurboVote tool.

If you have questions on what is needed at your polling place on Election Day, check out the MyVoteMyRight website.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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You Have a Secret Weapon in this Election (Tell Your Friends)

It’s not news to anyone that the Koch brothers have billions to spend on influencing elections. But they only have two votes to cast between them. That’s where you come in.

Joyce and Karen Koch, aka the Koch Sisters (they’re not related to each other, or the Koch brothers, but are sisters where it counts), remind us on National Voter Registration Day that our power as people is in our voices and votes, if we use them.

Today, the Koch Sisters challenge you to find at least three people to register to vote.

It’s really easy to register, all it takes is a simple click (no tech savvy required).

Share this link and tell friends and family to register to vote today (even if you think you’re already registered, it doesn’t hurt to check to make sure your registration is up to date).

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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