We Have A Plan To Make Health Insurance Easy To Understand

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We all worked incredibly hard to pass health care reform in 2009 and 2010, and we’re proud to now see millions of Americans accessing high quality, affordable health insurance–many of them for the first time.

But some things haven’t changed. For many Americans, navigating their health insurance is just as complex and frustrating as it was before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. At Working America, we wanted to make sure that information and support before, during, and after enrollment was available to out more than 3 million members–and anyone else who needed it.

That’s why we created Working America Health Care.

By enrolling through Working America Health Care, you have access to licensed professionals that can connect you to almost all the health plan options on the Health Insurance Marketplace (aka Healthcare.gov). But for no additional cost, you also have access to hundreds of benefits available through our partners at Union Plus, including dental and vision discounts.

Most importantly, when you enroll in the Marketplace through Working America Health Care, you have access to a personal Health Advocate: a real person you can call to help navigate the complexities of your health insurance. For no additional cost.

Enrolling through us also makes you a member of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO and the fastest growing organization for working families. Since our creation in 2003, we’ve successfully helped raised the wages of millions of workers, passed paid sick days laws and other worker protections, and helped elect dozens of pro-worker local, state, and federal candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Al Franken, Mark Dayton, and Jeff Merkley.

And yes, this program is open to anyone who does not have a union on the job. That includes folks who are freelancers, unemployed, and retired too.

Want to find out more? Visit our website at workingamericahealthcare.org or call 855-698-2479. We’ll also answer as many questions as possible in the comments.

Bonus: Check out Amy Lynn Smith’s great coverage of Working America Health Care on Eclectablog!

Originally posted on DailyKos

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Minnesotans Understand That Raising the Minimum Wage Is A “Women’s Issue”

Last year, the Minnesota legislature came very close to raising their state minimum wage, which is one of the lowest in the country. The House passed a strong bill, H.F. 92, which would’ve raised the minimum wage to $9.50 and indexed it to inflation. Unfortunately, it stalled in the Senate.

Luckily, Minnesota’s two-year legislative cycle gives workers another chance at a raise. As soon as the session starts in February, the Senate could pass H.F. 92 and send it to Governor Mark Dayton for his signature.

But some DFL legislators are considering another route: combining the minimum wage increase with a package of other workplace reforms under the banner of the Women’s Economic Security Act of 2014.

“Minnesota’s economy is headed in the right direction, but not everyone is sharing in the gains. And when you dig underneath the first layer of economic challenges facing Minnesotans, we find that the people struggling to stay or step-in to the middle class are disproportionately women,” said Speaker of the House Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis), “The Women’s Economic Security Act aims to break down barriers to economic progress so that women–and all Minnesotans–have a fair opportunity to succeed.”

The Act combines a number of other provisions aimed at helping working women:

Private companies contracted by the state would be required to report on pay equity among their workers. The state’s Parental Leave Act, which guarantees workers six unpaid weeks off for the arrival of a new child, would be expanded. It would encourage women to enter non-traditional, high-wage occupations and boost small businesses owned by women. And it would bolster existing protections for victims of domestic violence.

Legislators in Nebraska and New York are also taking the route of a comprehensive package rather than a standalone minimum wage increase.

Conventional wisdom has held that men care about “pocketbook” issues like wages and taxes, while women are primarily motivated by so-called “women’s issues” like reproductive health and schools. But given the wide gender gaps in wages, salary, and overall workplace treatment, even as the number of female breadwinners increases, that approach is fading.

64 percent of minimum wage workers are women, and American women overall earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. 40 percent of all private sector workers, particularly in the female-heavy service industry, can’t take a single paid sick day. Working women caring for children face unique challenges like the rising cost of private childcare, and the percentage of women who are primary or co-breadwinners in their household is at an all-time high.

In Minnesota, whatever tactic is used to increase wages, the current stumbling block appears to be Senate Majority Leader Thomas Bakk (DFL-Cook). Sen. Bakk lead Senators to pass a bill increasing the minimum wage to a meager $7.75 last year, and his statements indicate a hesitance around a higher increase.

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Minnesota’s Economy Is Doing Really Well. So What’s Missing?

Something happened this week in Minnesota that hasn’t happened in many other states lately.

Minnesota budget officials announced that the state will have a surplus of about $1.1 billion. By law, the state must pay back $246 million to the public school system and $15 million to the state airports fund, leaving the state with a surplus of roughly $825 million.

This is great news, and it’s vindication of the progressive path taken by Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL lawmakers, who took control of both the House and Senate in 2012 after a disastrous, short-lived shutdown-ridden Republican reign.

But something Gov. Dayton and the legislature failed to do this year was raise the minimum wage — Minnesota’s minimum wage is $6.25, one of the few states where the wage is lower than the federal level.

With the budget announcement, Minnesota AFL-CIO Preisdent Shar Knutson made this announcement:

“Under the leadership of Governor Mark Dayton and the DFL Legislature, Minnesota is now investing in schools and job creation, making taxes fair, and growing the economy. Today’s news shows how honest budgeting, progressive taxes, and targeted investments lead to prosperity.

“Now, it’s time to keep the momentum going. All Minnesotans should be included in our state’s growing economy. There are still hundreds of thousands of working people making poverty wages. Nobody who works full time should have to live in poverty, especially when Minnesota’s economy is growing.

“When lawmakers return to the Capitol in February, they should continue their work and raise Minnesota’s minimum wage to $9.50 per hour, tie future increases to inflation, and preserve the prohibition on the tip penalty.

“Union members, along with our faith, non-profit, and community partners, will continue to have conversations with Minnesotans and lawmakers about raising the minimum wage.”

To get involved with Working America in Minnesota, contact Chase Brandau at [email protected]

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Minnesota Shows Why Elections Matter for Workers

Flashback to November 2010: As Republican governors win victories across the country, the race in Minnesota comes down to a nail biter. Eventually, Democrat Mark Dayton wins the governorship, beating Republican Tom Emmer by just under 9,000 votes, or 0.42 percent of votes cast.

Working America organizers and canvassers were part of the ground game that put Dayton over the top, and boy, are we glad we did.

Over the last 18 months, the radical anti-worker legislature in Minnesota have passed bill after bill, none of them having to do with the promises of jobs from the 2010 campaign. Gov. Dayton’s veto pen was the only thing keeping many harmful policies at bay: ending Minnesota’s status as a right-to-bargain state, voter suppression, limiting consumers’ rights to class-action suits, a Florida-style “Stand Your Ground” gun bill, and even a bill that would protect asbestos companies from liability.

In all, Gov. Dayton vetoed 10 bills passed by the Republican-controlled Minnesota legislature that are modeled after ALEC legislation. Check out the list.

To get around the veto, GOP legislators voted to put the voter suppression bill to a referendum in November as a Constitutional Amendment. However, as the legislative session ended last week, they decided not to similarly put a harmful bargaining rights bill on the November ballot.

Why? There are lots of reasons, but a significant number of GOP legislators did not want to want the situation over the border in Wisconsin to come to them; enormous protests, national labor support coming into the state, and a complete political standstill.

GOP state Rep. Tony Cornish cited the prospect of “millions of dollars coming in from other states, and thousands of people. Buses emptying out, banners, people camping.” In other words: the fear of becoming the next Wisconsin…Sen. Benson says that the threat of union payback at the ballot box “was enough to divide our caucus.” She attributes her colleagues’ reticence to their “justified concern that the unions, with their massive coffers, will come after people in swing districts.”

They also expressed that they didn’t want a repeat of last year’s Ohio referendum, where a high-profile
“Citizen Veto” of Gov. Kasich’s union-busting law continues to reverberate. Josh Eidelson of Salon calls them the “Cold Feet Caucus.”

As the session came to a close, some Republicans instead opted to reach across the aisle, working with Dayton to approve the construction of a new Vikings stadium. “Thanks to strong leadership from Governor Mark Dayton, Legislative DFLers, and several Republicans on job creation, the 2012 session was redeemed,” said Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson in a statement, “Between a jobs & infrastructure bill and a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis, tens of thousands of Minnesotans will soon be going back to work in good-paying, family sustaining jobs.”

That’s not to say Minnesotans can rest easy. In addition to holding anti-worker legislators accountable, the battle to defeat the voter suppression constitutional amendment is just beginning.

However, if that close election in 2010 had gone the other way, Minnesota working families would be in a much more perilous position: those 10 ALEC bills are just a sampling of what these radical legislature could have passed. From their rights to collectively bargain to their access to the courts, Minnesotans have a lot of reasons to be thankful for Gov. Dayton’s veto pen.

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Indiana Won’t Be Last in 2012 Anti-Worker Push

Indiana became the 23rd state to institute a so-called “right to work” law yesterday. Across the country these laws have depressed wages for union and non-union workers alike, and have contributed to unsafe working conditions.

Unfortunately, anti-worker forces in other states are looking to follow Indiana’s lead.

In Ohio:

An Ohio group has been cleared to continue its effort to push a ballot initiative that would keep workers covered by labor contracts from having to join a union or pay dues.

Attorney General Mike DeWine on Wednesday said Ohioans for Workplace Freedom has provided a “fair and truthful” summary of its proposed right-to-work amendment.

In Minnesota:

A bill to put the right-to-work issue on the November ballot is being authored by state Republicans Sen. Dave Thompson from Lakeville and Rep. Steve Drazkowski from Mazeppa.

And in Michigan:

Some Michigan Republicans have been pressuring Governor Snyder to get behind a right to work bill in Michigan but he wants nothing to do with it, reiterating during congressional testimony yesterday that it would just bring everything to a grinding halt in Lansing.

The political situations in all of these states are different, but fortunately they are all tougher terrain for union-busting bills than Indiana.

Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich has not expressed interest in making “right-to-work” a priority, especially after his similarly anti-worker Senate Bill 5 got overwhelmingly spanked last year at the polls. “If people in this state feel that you need right-to-work, I don’t think people even know what that is,” Kasich said. That’s politician code for “please, leave me out of this.”

Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder is trying to position himself as the moderate of the freshman bunch. Talking about the backlashes in Wisconsin and Ohio, Snyder indicated he doesn’t want a similar situation in Lansing. “If you want to draw it as a contrast, you look at now that they’ve had those things happen, do they have a productive environment to solve problems? Not necessarily,” he told the Huffington Post, “They’re still overcoming the divisiveness, the hard feelings from all of that.”

And thanks in part to Working America pounding the pavement in 2010, Minnesota working families have an ally in Governor Mark Dayton, who opposes right to work. However, he doesn’t have the power to veto constitutional amendments proposed by the majority of the legislature. The current effort by Republican legislators is to put the issue on the November ballot.

All these efforts pale in comparison to Arizona’s blitzkrieg against public unions that caught workers by surprise this week. A series of bills were introduced late at night on Monday and passed out of committee just 48 hours later – including a Wisconsin-style bill that would ban unions from representing any state, county, or municipal employee.

A high profile New York Times piece talked about Republican governors moderating their agendas in 2012. We’ll believe it when we see it. For now, all we’re seeing is a continuation of 2011’s all-out war on workers, and a complete nationwide negligence of the jobs and unemployment crisis.

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