The following is a guest post from Pittsburgh Working America member Kayleigh Metviner
I participated in a press conference on Tuesday with the local chapter of Working America, a national economic justice organization, to call for a Pennsylvania state budget that favors education and social services over corporate tax cuts.
A few hours later, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett presented his vision for the state budget, which was not expected to be anything to cheer about. Now, I am a newcomer to Pennsylvania, and I am not going to write in-depth about Pennsylvania-specific politicians and issues. What I am more interested in here is the disconnect between legislation that is both feasible and favored by a majority of citizens, and the legislation that is proposed by Corbett.
Why politicians who face abysmal approval ratings (23 percent for Corbett last week) still try to get reelected is beyond me, but Corbett’s budget proposal is clearly aimed at garnering support this year. And even though most self-identified progressives would rather drink West Virginia’s water than see Corbett reelected, his attempts to pass legislation that appeals to the majority could still be a good thing. Unfortunately, his actual budget proposal makes that very unlikely.
In his speech, Corbett said that his budget sets the agenda in the “spirit” of expanding public education, which…nice. But the state budget doesn’t have a column for spirit, and very few of us have managed to exchange spirit for goods and services. So where is the money for education coming from?
Mainly from a highly unlikely projected increase in state revenues. Despite having predicted a budget deficit by the end of the 2014-2015 fiscal year just a couple months ago, and despite revenue having come in short even of that projection in January, Corbett’s spending plan is dependent on a 4 percent increase in revenue this year.
In contrast, the budget that Working America and community members across the state support would see education and social services funded mainly by closing corporate tax loopholes, like the well-known Delaware tax loophole that deprives many states (except Delaware) of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
We presented this proposal before the release of Corbett’s plan because we wanted to make it clear that there is a viable alternative to empty, feel-good promises and more of the same political floundering that leaves the majority of us, in Pennsylvania and around the country, in a perpetual state of disadvantage. Crafting a state budget is undoubtedly a complex matter, but in the face of complexity, let’s turn to logical and equitable solutions, not “spirit.”
Text JOBS to 30644 to join Working America’s movement for economic justice in Pennsylvania.
Photo by onepittsburgh on Instagram
Tags: budget, Corporate Accountability, deficit, Delaware tax loophole, Education, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, public education, Tom Corbett, Working America
The following is a guest post from Working America member Kayleigh Metviner
Volunteers, supporters, and media gathered at Working America’s Pittsburgh office on Tuesday morning to call for an economically just and fiscally responsible state budget, in contrast to the budget proposal anticipated from Governor Tom Corbett (R-PA) later in the day.
With over 500,000 members in Pennsylvania, Working America is a formidable force in the state, and we are overwhelmingly in support of a state budget that focuses more resources on public education, higher education, and social services.
Our members know that money doesn’t materialize out of thin air, so their calls for well-funded education and social services are accompanied by practical and equitable solutions: closing the Delaware tax loophole that deprives Pennsylvanians of hundreds of millions of dollars a year and expanding Medicaid.
Expanding Medicaid will not only allow more Pennsylvanians to access health care, it also has the potential to lower overall health care costs. On top of this, it will be 100 percent funded by the federal government for the first three years, and that rate would modestly and gradually decrease to 90 percent during years after that. Lowered costs from expanded Medicaid, combined with increased revenues from corporations paying their fair share of taxes will enable our state to fulfill its commitment to our public schools.
Several Working America volunteers read community member comments aloud at the press conference. One member urged Governor Corbett to “budget with greater consideration for education support instead of corporate tax breaks/” Another wrote: “Please, stop the practice of subsidizing large corporations with taxpayer money when programs and research to help the vulnerable are so needed.”
We want to thank those who shared their stories and urge all Pennsylvanians to continue spreading the word about the real possibilities for economic justice right here, right now.
Text JOBS to 30644 to join Working America’s movement for economic justice in Pennsylvania.
Tags: Corporate Accountability, Delaware tax loophole, Education, good jobs, Health Care, Jobs, Medicaid, Pennsylvania, public education, Tom Corbett
What do you do when your world-famous brand is so smashed by the recession that your stock price falls from $75 to $8? What do you do when your manufacturing plant has a culture that leads to high rates of absenteeism on Mondays and Fridays? What do you do when your product takes 18 months to get into the hands of the customers who want it?
Generally, you go out of business.
Unless, that is, your workforce is unionized and they become aware of the problems you face and they decide to be part of the solution. That’s the story of Harley-Davidson, as told by Adam Davidson of the New York Times. Members of the Machinists (IAM) and United Steelworkers (USW) who work for the motorcycle manufacturer are paid living wages compared to manufacturing workers in many parts of the world, but officials at the company never considered moving their factories out of the United States. Their image and customer base are blue-collar Americans who want their hogs made in America by highly skilled labor.
Harley tore down the existing plant and built a new one. Unlike most factories I’ve seen lately, the new plant in York [Pa.,] has people everywhere. There are no robots on the main assembly line (they have various peripheral jobs); instead, hundreds of workers, operating in teams of five or six, manually build each motorcycle. This seemed like an expensive way of doing business, but Magee said that experienced, skilled workers, unlike robots, can constantly adjust to new information. The York plant makes four basic styles of motorcycle, but each has an array of customizable options. There are around 1,200 different configurations, and a new bike starts its way through the production line every 80 seconds. Virtually each one is unique, and workers have no idea what’s coming 80 seconds later. Surprisingly, robots can’t adjust on the fly like that.
Skilled union workers were able to do a job that was too complicated for machines to do and produce a product that revived the iconic brand. While Davidson was at the York plant, he saw a worker fix an assembly problem that literally saved the company more than a million dollars. That kind of worker innovation and cooperation, teamed with a company that is committed to doing things the right way has paid off. Harley-Davidson has gained back almost all of the stock value it lost and bikes get to customers in just a few weeks now. Costs have been cut by $100 million at the York factory, which recently won an IndustryWeek Best Plants award, the industry equivalent of a Grammy. The average worker at the York location has been there 18 years and they are extremely devoted to Harley.
No question that this is a model that other companies should be paying attention to, particularly if they want to be able to weather tough economic times.
Photo by Harley-Davidson on Facebook
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, IAM, Jobs, machinists, Pennsylvania, steelworkers, USW
Politico Magazine released a comprehensive report comparing all 50 states using 14 different indicators of quality of life. In their ranking, the five bottom states (Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama) are all so-called “right to work” states.
Four out of five of the states with the highest quality of living, according to the study, are free bargaining states: New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont, and Massachusetts.
The study confirmed something that more and more working Americans are learning every day: “right to work” laws are wrong for everyone.
Quick review: “Right to work” laws require unions to extend their services to all employees in a bargaining unit, whether or not they pay dues. By making dues optional, “right to work” laws force unions to spend more resources on collecting dues than on advocating for their members–both at the workplace and in the political arena. It’s a roundabout method of de-funding unions that has been instituted in 24 states.
The Politico Magazine study used rankings from the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI, and data on math and reading scores, average income, life expectancy, crime, home ownership, infant mortality, and more.
As 2014 kicks off with legislators and big-money donors pushing “right to work” and other collective bargaining restrictions in–at the very least–Missouri, Oregon, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, it’s important to make it very clear what effects these laws actually have, versus what their proponents claim they have.
A few effects of “right to work” are not disputed by its proponents. The key sponsors of the collective bargaining restrictions Missouri, for instance, openly admit that wages would go down if the law is passed. Indeed, wages in “right to work” states are 3.2 percent lower that in free bargaining states. Essentially, it’s like the average worker is paying an annual $1,500 fee for living in a “right to work” state. (Other reports have found “right to work” states have higher poverty rates, fewer workers with employer-based health insurance, and higher rates of workplace injuries and fatalities.)
But when you combine income with a host of other factors, as the Politico Magazine ranking does, the picture doesn’t get better for “right to work” states. Overall, 15 “right to work” states rank in the bottom 20.
The Politico Magazine ranking is not the definitive scientific report on quality of life. But it does confirm yet again that in places where workers’ right to organize is deceptively circumvented and wages decrease, other important life-quality factors decrease as well.
As legislators push these laws across the country, we should consistently require proof to back up their claims. The actual numbers don’t look too good for them.
Tags: Alabama, ALEC, arkansas, louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Right to Work, Rights At Work, Tennessee, Vermont, wages
Last week, those of us who think voting should have equal access to the ballot received a bit of good news.
The voter suppression law passed in Pennsylvania in March 2012, one of the most restricting voting rights policies in the country, was ruled unconstitutional by a Commonwealth Court judge:
The Supreme Court worked quickly when it addressed voter ID in the run-up to the 2012 election, so it remains unknown whether voters will be required to show photo identification in the May primary.
For now, however, the law is invalid after Judge Bernard McGinley of Commonwealth Court found that it “unreasonably burdens the right to vote” and threatens a fundamental right of hundreds of thousands of qualified voters.
“Voting laws are designed to assure a free and fair election; the Voter ID Law does not further this goal,” the decision states.
The decision confirmed what Working America’s 500,000 Pennsylvania members already understood: The law threatened the constitutional right of Pennsylvanians to vote, and it disproportionately targeted the elderly, students and communities of color.
If that sounds awfully similar to other voting rights restrictions passed in other states, like Wisconsin and North Carolina, that’s no accident. The Pennsylvania voting rights law is based on an ALEC model bill, and State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who shepherded the bill through the legislature, is an active ALEC member.
Republican legislators dismissed concerns that the law had been designed to depress Democratic turnout ahead of the 2012 election. However, Rep. Mike Turzai let it slip at a recorded meeting that “voter ID” would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
“[The] decision is a victory for working families in Pennsylvania,” said Catherine Balsamo, Senior Member Coordinator with Working America. “Folks deserve the right to advocate for themselves and their communities, and the right to vote provides that essential voice.”
In 2012, after the law’s passage, Working America members raised community awareness about the law to help everyday Americans know what they’d need to do to keep their right to vote. Between our media presence, conversations with community members, online actions and more, Catherine, Benita and the Working America team reached an estimated 642,000 people with information about what they’d need to vote.
Our member Benita Campbell was active in that campaign. “It’s another feather in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s hat, because it’s a continuation of our collective struggle,” she said of the decision. “It’s a wonderful way to honor him…If this ruling is upheld, we all win.”
So what’s next? Some Republican legislators are considering an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, or even passing an entirely new bill that could pass constitutional muster. Hopefully, though, Gov. Corbett and his legislative allies will move on from political attacks on voters to the issues that our members actually consider: creating jobs, expanding Medicaid, and adequately funding Pennsylvania public schools.
Tags: ALEC, Corporate Accountability, Daryl Metcalfe, Mike Turzai, Pennsylvania, voter id, voting rights
The most under-reported fact about our health care system in 2014 is this: 5 million Americans don’t have access to affordable health coverage simply because their governors (or majority of legislators) refuse to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Medicaid expansion would cost the states nothing for the first three years, and after that time the federal government would pick up an overwhelming majority of the costs. Yet, when asked, these politicians frequently cite cost as the prohibiting factor to Medicaid expansion. That’s because the real reason would–and should–be embarrassing: they want to be seen as “tough” toward President Obama and the new health care law, and rejecting Medicaid expansion is the best and easiest way to do that.
These politicians include Rick Perry, governor of Texas, where nearly one out of four people don’t have health insurance. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is another: 700,000 Pennsylvanians are denied affordable coverage because of his opposition to expanding Medicaid.
Working America members in Pennsylvania have been active in pressuring Gov. Corbett and the legislature to change their tune. In December, our longtime member Georgeanne Koehler wrote a heartfelt letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in favor of Medicaid expansion, citing her 50 years in the health care industry. “I learned early on that when an illness attacks us it doesn’t care anything about us, not our race, religion, gender or politics,” she wrote in the letter, which she dedicated to her late brother.
John Miklos, a member hailing from Uptown, followed up with a December 26 letter titled “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid.” John described several different common scenarios where the average working person would benefit from expansion. ”These scenarios are not imaginary,” he wrote, “People I know well live them every day.”
James Barum, another active Working America member in Pittsburgh, followed up these letters with a personal story of his own. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published his letter, “Health care needs,” in Thursday’s paper. We’ve included the letter in its entirety:
Health care needs
On the subject of the Dec. 27 letter “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid,” I thought that I would share a personal experience that may give readers pause on this issue.
A friend of mine works in the service industry brewing coffee. One day, when I was in line at that café to buy a drink, I saw her begin to cry while working. She was working furiously, making lattes and trying her best to meet each customer’s needs.
Somewhere in the chaos, a manager and I stopped her. In the break room, I spoke with her about what had occurred.
While picking up a tray, she felt a sharp pain shoot through her back. She always had issues with her back, and this happens to her occasionally, but never this bad. I asked if she had health insurance or could see a doctor, and she said, “No, I don’t, I’ll just have to tough it out.”
This saddened me, but when I heard about Gov. Tom Corbett’s reluctance to expand Medicaid, that sadness turned to anger — anger at the injustice of a friend who works so hard to serve others but cannot get her home state to serve her basic need for health care.
My friend and thousands just like her would qualify for Medicaid if our governor had the courage to put his constituent’s peace of mind above political games.
Nothing will get done if readers don’t give him the “encouragement” he needs.
Take action now: Tell Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett to accept federal funds for Medicaid.
Photo by @Fox43 on Twitter
Tags: Affordable Care Act, Health Care, Medicaid, Pennsylvania, Rick Perry, Texas, Tom Corbett
Pennsylvania Republicans are pushing falsely titled “paycheck protection” legislation that would take away rights from workers and keep them from having good wages and benefits. The legislation would hamper workers’ ability to organize unions and represent themselves in negotiations with employers, leaving them open to any number of assaults on salary, benefits and working conditions. The legislation would prevent the deduction of union dues from public employee paychecks and is supported by groups related to the infamous Koch brothers, wealthy extremists who are behind many attacks against working families across the nation.
But Pennsylvania’s workers are ready to fight back. More than 2,000appeared at a frozen rally Tuesday in opposition to the legislation. Many of those in attendance weren’t members of the unions potentially affected by this legislation. The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO reports:
One of the rallies erupted outside the front doors of the Capitol, where more than a thousand workers were literally frozen out of the event in the nearly sub-zero temperatures because Capitol police claimed the crowd had exceeded capacity limitations in the Rotunda. PA AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder was handed a bull horn by Capitol Police and the nearly frost-bitten crowd had their own impromptu rally on the Capitol steps as Snyder explained the implications of the Koch brother’s-inspired anti-labor legislation.
Supporters of the bill say taxpayers shouldn’t foot the bill for such payroll deductions. As usual with anything associated with the Koch brothers, this reasoning is dishonest, because taxpayers don’t actually pay the minimal costs associated with making such deductions, those costs are included in contracts negotiated between workers and their employers. In fact, paycheck deductions are very standard from people who choose to make United Way contributions, retirement contributions, etc.
Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Frank Snyder told the crowd the real reason behind the legislation:
The supporters of this attack claim this is all about restoring ethics to government. If this were all about restoring ethics then perhaps they would stop trying to prevent the uninsured from gaining access to affordable health care. If this were about ethics they would support raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits to unemployed workers who are still looking for a job. No this isn’t about ethics, this is all about distractions, more smoke and mirrors and playing political games instead of solving our problems: creating jobs, expanding the middle class and putting Pennsylvania back to work. We won’t be fooled.
While the legislation currently being considered only targets public employee unions, there is little doubt that success on this legislation would lead to further attacks on the rights of working families. The Pennsylvania federation said:
Don’t be silent on this issue. We expect this bill to move very quickly, with significant resources flooding into Pennsylvania to back this latest attack on the middle class.
Residents of the Keystone State who support working families and oppose this legislation should take actionand email Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and their state legislators.
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: aflcio, collective bargaining, paycheck deception, Pennsylvania, Right to Work, Rights At Work, Tom Corbett
Georgeanne Koehler is one of our longtime members in Pittsburgh. We wanted to share her letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Healing hope for Medicaid” in its entirety because she expresses so well in a few paragraphs what a hundred health care coverage statistics cannot.
Please read the letter below and remember that our politicians’ actions–or lack of action–have consequences that affect real people, not just headlines.
Healing hope for Medicaid
This letter is in memory of my brother, who had a pre-existing condition and died after he was unable to receive care because of lack of health insurance.
I worked in health care for close to 50 years before I retired. I learned early on that when an illness attacks us it doesn’t care anything about us, not our race, religion, gender or politics.
The hope of recovering from one’s illness was easily found because, up until 12 years ago, medicine was about ethics and the healing of body, as well as mind. When St. Francis, Mercy, Braddock and many small community hospitals closed their doors or were bought out by huge health care systems, I saw with my own eyes and I knew, through my broken heart, that medicine had changed. Ethics were simply thrown away and healing was replaced with profit. When that happens, the hope of recovering from one’s illness depends on whether the person has a health insurance card in his or her pocket.
If I were a betting woman I would take the bet that the banker has one of those cards but not so much the baker, the candlestick maker or the pizza delivery driver (the working poor) — folks too rich to be enrolled in Medicaid, as we know it today, and too poor to qualify for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. This means hundreds of thousands of working poor Pennsylvanians and their children will remain uninsured, and that is not acceptable.
The time is now for Gov. Tom Corbett to open his eyes so he can see that Medicaid expansion is the morally right thing to do for the citizens of Pennsylvania, for within Medicaid expansion is hope.
Take action now: Tell Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett to accept federal funds for Medicaid.
Photo by ryleaxx on Instagram
Tags: Health Care, Medicaid, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Tom Corbett
Thanksgiving is coming up! As I reflect on what I’m thankful for, one of the many things is the healthcare that my family and I had while I was growing up. My dad, a waiter, is in a union, and unionized workers at his restaurant collectively bargained for the healthcare that kept my family secure.
But not all workers and their families can give thanks for their healthcare this Thanksgiving, because some workers don’t have healthcare.
As of January 1st, 613,000 uninsured low-income Pennsylvanians—the majority of whom are working—could gain access to healthcare if Gov. Tom Corbett embraces the opportunity to expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania.
Thus far, Gov. Corbett has been playing politics instead of taking effective action. Instead of simply welcoming federal Medicaid expansion funds, Gov. Corbett is pushing a cumbersome and cost-inefficient plan that may take an alarmingly long time to implement.
It’s easy to be distraught, frustrated, or flat-out furious about Gov. Corbett’s current approach. But the process of getting involved and holding Gov. Corbett accountable can be genuinely uplifting, as Working America member Georgeanne Koehler’s experience shows.
Georgeanne personally knows the weight of Gov. Corbett’s decisions about Medicaid expansion, as her brother passed away at the age of 57 because he couldn’t access the healthcare he needed. Georgeanne has since fought to ensure that no one has to go through what her brother or her family went through.
On Halloween, Georgeanne participated in Working America and One Pittsburgh’s Medicaid expansion event in front of Gov. Corbett’s office. She highlighted what’s truly scary: being uninsured. After the event, Georgeanne wrote about her experience at the event:
On October 31st, 2013, I got up and headed to downtown Pittsburgh to attend a Working America rally to Expand Medicaid. Although I was early, soon I was joined by Working America members, One Pittsburgh members and a few PHAN members.
There were handshakes and hugs, “How are you?” and “What’s been going on with you?”, and smiles all around. I knew most of the folks that came to the rally. These are folks that struggle every day to get through their day, and when the sun sets on that day, they are able to pat themselves on the back because they found a way to made it through another day. Some grieve, just like me, for a family member who was lost because of our broken healthcare system. They know that nothing they do will bring their loved one back, but everything they do will be done to keep another American from knowing that grief.
The folks at the rally have one goal: to make America the best she can be. They know that to meet that goal they have to stand up for fairness and justice, and they do it so well. When the rally ended and the last “See you soon” was said, I found myself filled with overwhelming pride. On Oct. 31, 2013, for a few hours, which seemed like a minute, I stood with true-blue red, white and blue heroes. Oct. 31, 2013 I was the luckiest girl in the world!
You’re invited to join us as we continue to stand up together for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians and their loved ones. Contact me, Catherine Balsamo, at email@example.com or 412-456-2985 to get involved.
Tags: Affordable Care Act, Healthcare, Jobs, Medicaid, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Tom Corbett
Philadelphia teachers on Thursday protested the latest in a long list ofassaults on their jobs. Public school officials are demanding more than $130 million on concessions in terms of salary and benefit cuts because of an ongoing school funding crisis.
The current proposal has teachers taking salary cuts from 5 to 13% and paying more for health care, Reuters reports. In recent years, 30 schools have been closed and nearly 4,000 teachers and other staffers have been laid off. Many teachers are short on supplies for their students and have to pay out of their own pockets or dig through dumpsters to get what they need. Teachers are having to go without aides, even in kindergarten classes. Urban school systems across the United States have been hammered by reductions in state aid since the 2007–2009 recession. In many states, the level of aid still hasn’t returned to pre-recession levels.
The rapid growth of charter schools is a key part of the problem. As more charter schools have opened, students have flocked to them, taking state funds from the public school system. During the upcoming school year, more than one-third of Philadelphia students will be enrolled in charter schools, more than double the rate from 2008.
The teachers’ labor contract expires Aug. 31 and school starts a week after that. Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Spokesperson George Jackson says the union and the school district are still far apart.
Photo via AFT on Facebook
Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW
Tags: Education, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Tom Corbett