In Ohio, Brown Rallies Workers Against Fast Track

While many of his congressional colleagues have been taking it easy during this two-week Easter–Passover recess, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has been carrying on his longtime fight against Fast Track trade authority and unfair trade deals that cost American jobs.

In Cleveland, during a tour of a Ford plant, Brown said:

Manufacturing jobs are a ticket to the middle class. But we must ensure our auto industry and our workers can compete in the global economy. That means saying no to trade agreements that don’t protect American workers and American companies from unfair trade practices. We can’t fast track the Trans-Pacific Partnership if it means fast-tracking the loss of American jobs.

He has joined the Ohio AFL-CIO in hosting trade forums around the state, including Warren, Toledo, Nashport and Dayton and Tuesday in Zanesville at Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1105. There Brown told union members:

Our trade deals amount to corporate handouts and worker sellouts. While the talent and tenacity of American workers hasn’t changed, their ability to compete has been hamstrung by NAFTA-style trade deals. Trade done right creates prosperity—a leveling the playing field for all companies, strengthening the middle class and lifting workers from poverty. But we cannot allow another trade deal negotiated in secret to shortchange our workers and ship jobs overseas. The last thing we need is another NAFTA.

Ohio AFL-CIO President Tum Burga says that during the past decade, unfair trade deals have cost the Buckeye State 320,000 manufacturing jobs and led to an $18 billion Ohio import/export deficit for 2014. With Brown in Toledo, Burga said:

The proposed ‘Fast Track’ of the TPP represents the same flawed approach to international trade and should be replaced by a new model that focuses on raising wages globally and shared prosperity. Made in America should be more than a slogan, it should be the priority for all economic policy advanced by Congress and the president.

In an op-ed in the Morrow County Sentinel, Brown wrote:

We know that trade done right creates prosperity, and as a progressive, I want trade that provides an on-ramp to the middle class here at home and lifts workers from poverty in America and around the world—not another NAFTA….That’s why we cannot allow a fast track of Trans-Pacific Partnership—or TPP. We don’t need another trade deal negotiated in secret and rushed through the Senate.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Ohio: Join Sherrod Brown, Tim Ryan and Marcy Kaptur to Fight Fast Track

As Congress continues to debate Fast Track trade authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), members of Ohio’s congressional delegation are stepping up and calling for trade policies that are open and transparent and protect things that Ohioans and Americans care about: democracy, jobs, the environment and the Internet. While Fast Track and TPP are being negotiated in secret, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D), Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D), Rep. Tim Ryan (D) and Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga are taking their case directly to the people of Ohio. Like most Ohio residents, they want trade policies that keep manufacturing jobs in the United States.

These working family advocates will hold two forums in the coming week. The first is in Warren on Saturday, March 28, and features Brown, Ryan and Burga. The second is in Toledo on Monday, March 30, and features Brown, Kaptur and Burga.

In advance of the events, Burga said:

For too long, our nation’s trade and investment policies have reflected the influence of powerful corporate interests. They protect what’s important to corporate America but do little or nothing to safeguard the rights of workers and the environment here and around the world. They fuel a race to the bottom in living standards. That needs to change. We need policies that support good jobs at home and sustainable development abroad. We need to enforce the laws already on the books and stop blatant abuses by some countries that stack the decks against U.S. workers.

RSVP to the Toledo forum here. Or you can RSVP to the Warren event here. If you can’t make either event but want to help stop Fast Track, call your representative or you can sign AFL-CIO’s Fast Track petition.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Outsiders Behind Kentucky ‘Right to Work’ Push

Park Hills, Ky., resident and airline pilot Stuart Morrison recently wrote a great op-ed for ripping apart the push for “right to work” in his home state by outsiders with an agenda that doesn’t help Kentucky. Take a look.

Next week, Kenton County commissioners intend to vote on a countywide ban on private-sector “agency shop” agreements between unions and employers. Those are labor agreements that require persons who work in organized shops to contribute to the cost of representing them in collective bargaining and contract enforcement. Such clauses are almost uniformly demanded by union members, who resent having to subsidize the representation of employees who choose not to be members….

I appreciate that the commissioner took the time to discuss this matter with me, but I am deeply disturbed that on a significant issue for our citizens, the legal affairs of the county have apparently been outsourced to right-wing advocacy groups. I am equally troubled that the commissioners have not performed any sort of independent investigation on what the economic impact of this new law would be and have not even held hearings on the matter. I recognize that the same anti-union advocacy groups that claim to know Kentucky law better than the state attorney general also produce studies showing the purported benefits to workers of right to work laws, all of which have been discredited. The underlying fact remains that right to work laws are consistently associated with lower family income, lower rates of health insurance coverage and greater dependence on the federal government for assistance.

The Kenton County Commission seems poised to proceed despite the fact that the issue is already the subject of a lawsuit before a federal judge in Louisville following a similar course of action undertaken in Hardin County. I think that before we enact a law it should be accompanied by an independent review of its legality and economic merits by professionals hired by and accountable to those who live here. The fact that this was not done in any meaningful way tells me that the enactment of right to work is not a matter of considered economic or legal policy, but an exercise in raw political payback against constituencies who have chosen not to support the present all-Republican board.

Read the full article.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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13 Things You Need to Know About Social Security Disability as Republicans Try to Dismantle It

Earlier today, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) spoke at a Center for American Progress (CAP) event about Republican attempts to use Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) as a way to cut and undercut the whole Social Security system. Rather than sticking with the conventional wisdom that Republicans, the media and even some Democrats cling to, Brown argues that what we should be doing now is not just protecting Social Security and SSDI, we should be expanding the programs.

Here are 13 important facts about SSDI you need to know to counter the right-wing spin:

1. SSDI provides protection for 90% of America’s workers and their families if a life-changing disability or illness stops them from being able to work and bring in enough money.

2. SSDI pays modest benefits, averaging just $1,140 per month, less than most workers make before they qualify for the program.

3. For 80% of beneficiaries, SSDI is the primary or only source of income, and it provides a drastic increase in the quality of life of recipients who might otherwise live in poverty.

4. The eligibility criteria for SSDI are among the strictest in the world and fewer than 40% of applicants are approved.

5. Nearly 20% of beneficiaries die within five years of first obtaining benefits.

6. Nearly 9 million workers with disabilities receive SSDI benefits, including more than 1 million veterans. More than 150,000 spouses and nearly 2 million children also receive benefits.

7. Beneficiaries pay into SSDI as a portion of their Social Security payroll tax. The current tax rate is 6.2% on the first $117,000 of earnings a worker makes.  5.3% goes to the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund (OASI), the rest goes to the SSDI Trust Fund.

8. Only one-third of private-sector workers has employer-provided long-term disability insurance, and most of those plans often provide less than SSDI. Only 7% of workers who make $12 per hour or less have such insurance. Most private long-term disability insurance plans are too costly for most workers.

9. Most beneficiaries are in their 50s and 60s, with the average age being 53.

10. Fewer than 4% of beneficiaries earned more than $10,000 during the year.

11. The United States ranks 30 out of 34 OECD member countries in terms of replacement benefit payouts for workers with disabilities.

12. A temporary reallocation of how the 6.2% payroll tax is divided between SSDI and OASI would ensure that both trust funds would be able to remain fully solvent until 2033 and would alleviate the shortage in SSDI funds caused by demographic trends.

13. Beneficiaries face a wide range of significant disabilities, with many having multiple impairments, which include:

  • 31.8% have a “primary diagnosis” of a mental impairment, including 4.2% with intellectual disabilities and 27.6% with other types of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or severe depression.
  • 29.8% have a musculoskeletal or connective tissue disorder.
  • 8.7% have a cardiovascular condition such as chronic heart failure.
  • 9.3% have a disorder of the nervous system, such as cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis, or a sensory impairment such as deafness or blindness.
  • 20.4% include workers living with cancers; infectious diseases; injuries; genitourinary impairments such as end stage renal disease; congenital disorders; metabolic and endocrine diseases such as diabetes; diseases of the respiratory system; and diseases of other body systems

Watch the entire event with Sen. Brown and a distinguished panel of experts on Social Security and SSDI. You also can read CAP’s full report on SSDI.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Obama and Biden to Push for Infrastructure Spending on Wednesday

Photo courtesy Andrew Dallos on Flickr

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama will visit the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, where he will call on more federal spending for infrastructure projects.  Obama has made numerous proposals to increase spending on bridges, roads and other infrastructure projects, but Republicans in Congress have blocked those efforts. The Tappan Zee Bridge is currently in the process of being replaced, financed by a record $1.6 billion federal loan. The old bridge, which opened in 1955, has fallen into disrepair and is serving a daily capacity above what it was designed for. While Congress has failed to provide the funds needed to move forward, Obama is using alternate methods, such as the loan, to help rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure.

“The President will also highlight efforts by the administration to cut through red tape and modernize the federal infrastructure permitting process, and reduce project approval time lines,” the White House official said.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden will appear in Cleveland to give a speech on similar themes of investing in infrastructure and the economy.

As part of Infrastructure Week 2014, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will speak at a rally on Thursday in front of the AFL-CIO headquarters about the vital need for upgrading our infrastructure and the positive impact doing so will have on the economy.

Trumka said:

Putting money in roads and bridges is like planting seed corn. Investing in good jobs yields a good return. When you put seed in the ground, you get something to harvest. When you put cement in the ground, you get roads. When you put steel in the ground, you get train tracks. You get it. But if you don’t put that seed in the ground, that’s not smart. It’s not sensible. It’s not “thinking like business.” It’s cutting yourself off at the knees. And that’s what these politicians are doing to the American economy….

Trumka pointed to a recent American Society of Civil Engineers report that said the country needs to spend $3.6 trillion just to make sure that our current infrastructure doesn’t fall apart, with a similar investment needed to create the next generation infrastructure that will grow the economy.

Follow updates on infrastructure week on Twitter using the hashtag #RebuildRenew and learn more about Thursday’s Jobs and Infrastructure Rally in Washington, D.C., here.

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You Know What Doesn’t Work So Well? Private Prisons

The myth put forth by private prison corporations like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group that private prisons are cheaper than public prisons is shattered by a new report from In the Public Interest, thus undercutting the primary rationale for prison privatization efforts across the country. When pushing for contracts with the many states that use private prisons, these corporations claim they are the better option because they can run prisons more cheaply than the government can. But this report not only dispels that idea, it highlights some of the less-than-savory activities the corporations engage in because of the perverse incentives created by these contracts.

The report details several methods through which private prison companies mislead governments and the public about their supposed cost savings, particularly hiding costs of private prisons, inflating public prison costs, benefiting from mandated occupancy minimums and delaying cost increases until after contracts are signed.

Numerous studies have shown that private prisons are more expensive than their publicly run counterparts. The report details a series of meta-analyses of individual studies conducted on the comparative costs between public and private prisons, and all of them found that cost savings, at best, were minimal for private prisons—in many cases, private prisons were more expensive. One of the few studies that showed private prisons to be more cost-effective was funded by the prison companies and is currently the subject of an ethics inquiry at Temple University. A close examination of many of the states that have invested heavily in prison privatization has shown the failure of the “private prisons are cheaper” idea:

  • Arizona: The state found private prisons can cost up to $1,600 per prisoner per year, despite private prisons often only housing the healthiest prisoners.
  • Florida: Three separate multiyear studies found the majority of the private prisons in the state failed to meet the legally mandated 7% cost savings, while half of the private prisons failed to save any money at all.
  • Georgia: In 2011, private prisons cost the state $45.81 per prisoner per day, compared with $44.51 per prisoner per day in publicly run prisons.
  • Hawaii: The state found the projected savings of using private prison contractors were based on bed capacity rather than the actual number of people incarcerated and that indirect administration costs were not included.
  • New Mexico: Over a five-year period, the state saw its annual spending on private prisons increase by 57% while the prisoner population only increased 21%. A significant portion of the increase was because of automatic price increases included in contracts with the private prison corporations.
  • Ohio: The state expected the private operation of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution would save the state $2.4 million a year, but it has turned out to instead cost the state $380,000 to $700,000 a year.

As the report notes:

To maximize returns for their investors, for-profit prison companies have perverse incentives to cut costs in vital areas such as security personnel, medical care and programming, threatening the health and safety of prisoners and staff.

There are several different reasons that savings fail to materialize. CCA and other companies explicitly seek to increase their profits by changing the details of previously signed contracts. They do this by raising the per diem rates the state pays for each prisoner or by requiring occupancy rates of 90% or higher or the state pays for the empty cells in order to reach the required level. Private prison companies cherry pick their inmates and refuse to house more expensive prisoners. Many contracts exclude those higher-cost prisoners, such as those in maximum security, on death row, female prisoners or prisoners that have serious medical or mental health conditions. Companies also make their costs look lower by inflating the cost of public incarceration when making their sales pitch. They can do this by leaving out overhead costs in their prisons, not including costs the state has to pay in either public or private scenarios in the private prison cost but keeping them in the public prison cost calculation, and leaving out the additional costs of overseeing and monitoring private prisons that the state must engage in if it properly oversees its contractors.

At its national convention last year, the AFL-CIO came out in opposition to the privatization of prisons and the profit motive being used to increase incarceration.

Read the full report.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Ohio Extremists Looking to End Government Transparency and Sell Elections to the Highest Bidder

Anonymous extremists in the Ohio legislature are attempting to change the laws to increase the influence of independent groups in government and make it harder for average Ohioans to know what their government is doing or have any influence on that government.

According to Tim Burga, president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, an anonymous amendment was submitted to a bill currently before the legislature that would eliminate an administrative rule governing campaign finance.  This would mean that contractors working for or attempting to work for the state can spend money trying to influence the outcome of elections of the very people who would potentially give them state contracts.  Furthermore, Burga said the repeal of the administrative rule would make groups that make independent election expenditures no longer required to disclose who made contributions to them.

Burga condemned the amendment:

This amendment will further tilt the field toward the rich and powerful and their de facto control in running state government.  The average Ohioan stands to lose in this arrangement as candidates and elected officials will increasingly turn to independent groups, as opposed to their constituents, for guidance on how to govern our state.  We need a state government that is more responsive to the needs of Ohio at large, not less.  Therefore, we need to move toward a system of campaign finance that increases the scrutiny of the dark money that is flowing into our state to influence our politics.

The irony should not be lost on any of us that this anonymous amendment was likely written by some of the very independent groups it seeks to empower, and it is doubtful any legislators have heard from their constituents clamoring for such changes to our election laws.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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7 Reflections On ACA Enrollment (With A Few Days Left To Sign Up)


With a few days to go for Ohio’s uninsured to get signed up on the health insurance exchange, I’m poking my head out of the trenches to report back on my experience signing people up, and to let PB readers in Cincinnati and Canton know how they can enroll before the deadline.

I’ve been with Working America since enrollment began. We’re Champions of Coverage, meaning that our role is to identify uninsured Ohioans and make sure they have the information that they need in order to get signed up.

Primarily, we’re setting up enrollment fairs, where people can get help with the application, talk to a licensed insurance agent about the plans that are available, and sign up for coverage on the spot. And by signing up with a licensed agent through the Working America Health Care program, you’re joining thousands of others to advocate to continuously improve the health coverage that you receive.

Here’s a list of our enrollment events: make sure your friends know about them!

But, enough plugging. Here are two lists: one for wonky readers and one for activist readers… 

Four Things I’ve Learned While Signing People Up

1. People are happy with their premium. One of the biggest questions about ACA was whether people would feel like they’re getting a good deal. I’ve only talked to one person that didn’t like his premium, and he was one of the few that didn’t get a subsidy. He was still paying less than he did before, he just wanted it lower.

Almost everybody else feels like they’re getting a good deal.

2. People are not happy with the coverage their job provides. I get an awful lot of sign-ups from people whose job offers them a worse deal than they would get on the exchange. They’re either unhappy with the deductible, the premium, or the network. They want to sign up on the health exchange, but they don’t get a discount because they’re covered through work.

3. Ohioans haven’t heard anything about the law. Part of my rap is “what have you heard about signing up for coverage?” and still most people say “this is the first I’ve heard about the Affordable Care Act”. People are surprised to hear that they have to sign up, and even more surprised that they only have until March 31 to sign up.

4. I’ve stopped calling it Obamacare. People think that “Obamacare” is a plan that you enroll in, like Medicare or Medicaid. Calling it Obamacare makes it harder to explain that they may just be eligible to get a discount on the same private insurance plans that were available a year ago.

When I tell people that “Obamacare” is just potential money that they use to buy private insurance, they all wonder what the big deal was.

And or activists…

Three Things Uninsured People Need To Know Before They Get Penalized

1. After March 31, you can’t sign up. Not only is March 31 the last day to go uninsured without paying a fine, but you also can’t sign up after March 31. The next open enrollment period starts in November for 2015 coverage.

You can enroll in Medicaid at any time, but full time workers likely make too much for Medicaid.

2. You pay for your insurance on a sliding scale. I don’t know why it’s taken so long to get the rap this short, but I describe ACA as “the less you make, the less you have to pay for coverage”.

Most uninsured people have been to a clinic or provider that charges based on income. That’s similar to how the health exchange works when it says “you may be eligible for a tax credit”.

3. Full time + minimum wage = really cheap plans. A full-time minimum wage worker earns $16,536 a year. That person’s Silver plan should be $50 a month, and a Bronze between $1 and $33 a month, depending on age and where she lives. Anything less than 40 hours a week at minimum wage would make her eligible for Medicaid.

Reposted from Plunderbund

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Want to Create 5.8 Million New Jobs? Here’s How

If the United States acted forcefully to end currency manipulation by China and other nations—and there is legislation to provide the government the tools to do so—it could create as many as 5.8 million jobs (40% in manufacturing) and reduce the nation’s trade deficit by as much as 72.5%, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Currency manipulation is the largest single cause of the U.S. trade deficit, and the Chinese government is the world’s biggest currency manipulator. It deliberately keeps the value of its currency artificially low and that artificially raises the price of U.S. exports to China and suppresses the price of Chinese imports into the United States. This artificial price advantage is one of many pull factors that encourages U.S. businesses to shut down operations here and manufacture in China instead. Says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

U.S. workers can compete with anyone in the world, but they cannot compete successfully on a lopsided playing field. [Currency manipulation] is a major contributing factor in our lopsided trade relationship with China. Meanwhile, U.S. manufacturing companies and workers bear the brunt of these unfair policies.

The EPI report finds that:

  • Eliminating currency manipulation would reduce the U.S. trade deficit by $200 billion in three years under a “low-impact” scenario and $500 billion under a “high-impact scenario.” This would increase annual U.S. GDP by between $288 billion and $720 billion (between 2.0% and 4.9%).
  • The reduction of U.S. trade deficits and expansion of U.S. GDP would create 2.3 million to 5.8 million jobs, reducing the U.S. jobs deficit by between 28.8% and 72.5%.
  • About 40% of the jobs gained would be in manufacturing, which would gain between 891,500 and 2,337,300 jobs. Agriculture also would gain 246,800 to 486,100 jobs, heavily affecting some rural areas.

Read the full EPI report here.

Bipartisan legislation in Congress (H.R. 1267 and S. 1114) would crack down on currency exchange rate manipulation and hold countries that manipulate their currencies accountable. Trumka says:

We call on Congress to fight on the side of American workers and domestic manufacturers and farmers to put an end to currency manipulation now.

While China is the largest currency manipulator, other nations do so, too. Japan, which is one the 12 TPP nations, (China is not involved) has been accused of weakening the value of the yen to benefit its auto industry.

Currently Japan exports some 130 cars to the United States for every car that U.S. automakers export to Japan. One of the major reason for that imbalance is currency manipulation says the UAW.

As a consequence of Japanese government currency intervention, in a market such as the United States, Japanese imports have seen several thousand dollars in effective subsidies while, at the same time, exports from the United States to Japan have seen several thousand dollars in added costs….The impact of these policies undermines American auto exports and American jobs and the investment they support.

Yesterday, Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), both sponsors of S. 1114, said that without currency manipulation rules as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade and investment agreement and other pending trade agreements, Congress is unlikely to approve the trade bills. Says Brown:

The trade agenda is not moving until currency is part of it.

The Obama administration’s is pushing to have the TPP agreement considered under Fast Track rules in Congress.

Under the Fast Track process, Congress can only vote yes or no on the full agreement. It cannot amend or improve the bill.

Sign the petition to Congress to stop bad Fast Track trade deals over the next four years, including the TPP.

Also, if you haven’t signed a letter for a better TPP, do it here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Tell Kirk, Other Senators: Support Unemployed Workers, Restore Jobless Benefits

Call your Senators TODAY: 845-809-4509

In the past few weeks, U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) has shown a lot of love and respect for the 11 Illinois residents who recently competed for the United States at the Winter Olympic Games. Check out his Facebook page.  But, as many people who have left their comments there say, it’s time for Kirk to show some of the same respect and compassion for the state’s more than 99,000 jobless workers who lost their emergency unemployment benefits in December.

Call Kirk at 845-809-4509 if you live in Illinois and tell him the same thing.

You see, like the more than 1.7 million unemployed workers across the country, many jobless Illinois workers are no long receiving unemployment benefits because Republicans in Congress allowed the federal  emergency unemployment benefits program to expire Dec. 31, and Kirk was one of the majority of Republicans who voted against renewing the program in January and again this month.

But, as soon as Thursday, Kirk and other Republicans will have a chance to do the right thing and vote on a bill to restore the emergency unemployment benefits program that provides a lifeline to workers after their state benefits run out—usually 26 weeks, but now less than that in many states, thanks to Republican state lawmakers.

Kirk—who has indicated he might support a restoration—is a key vote, along with Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Dan Coats (R-Ind.).  If you live in Illinois, Ohio or Indiana, please call Kirk, Portman or Coats today at 845-809-4509 and tell them hundreds of thousands of their constituents and more than 1.7 million Americans need their votes. No matter where you live, please call your senators using the number above and tell them the same thing.  Another 1.9 million Americans will out of benefits by June if the program is not restored.

Here are just a few examples of what Illinois voters are telling Kirk on his Facebook page:

Annie Kiser: You have MANY Republican constituents out of work 26+ weeks. THEY VOTE and your “no” on #EUC will cost you, Mr. Kirk #RENEWUI

Annemarie Purcell Diola: Please push for the extended unemployment benefits as soon as possible. My unemployment ran out the 3rd week of December, where I was approved for 10 weeks of Tier 1 EUC, was only able to collect 1 week of it. I have worked my entire life and followed the rules, but my family is suffering!

Michael Greenberger: And A LOT of veterans were unemployed when you PULLED THE RUG OUT FROM UNDER THEM. Why don’t you support jobless people?

portman et all

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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