Detroit Retiree Invites Governor Snyder Over for Dinner

Donald Smith is one of the 21,000 retired public workers in Detroit facing pension and health care cuts in the wake of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and Detroit Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr’s management of the city bankruptcy.

Detroit public workers have already made sacrifices to keep the city afloat, including a $160 million in annual savings from a 10 percent pay cut, health benefit reductions, and a 40 percent cut in future pension benefits, Orr is making public worker pension cuts a key part of Detroit’s restructuring.

Remember, Orr was appointed by Gov. Snyder to be “emergency financial manager,” a position that does not answer to voters yet can overrule any local elected official. Michigan repealed the governor’s ability to appoint such managers in 2012, but Snyder and the legislature simply passed the law again.

Donald Smith decided Snyder needed to see a human face on Orr’s proposed cuts. He wrote to the governor:

Dear Governor Snyder,

My name is Donald Smith and I worked for the city of Detroit for more than 29 years.

Over close to 3 decades of service to the city earned me a pension of about $800 a month.  After taxes and health care expenses are taken out, I am left with very little money each month to pay my rent, buy groceries and to cover my medical prescriptions.

Because of your decision to force Detroit into bankruptcy, I am starting to wonder which of my basic I needs can live without.  I did not bankrupt Detroit – in fact, I went to work every day to make it a better place to live. So I can’t understand why you would ask retirees like me to give up the pension benefits we earned.

If you believe that we can afford to make do with less, then you must not know us. That’s why I want to invite you to my home so you can get to know me and see what life is like for retired city employees.  I hope you’ll join my family for dinner and hear what really matters to us in Detroit.

We are willing to work around your busy schedule.  We look forward to sharing a meal and our perspective with you.

Smith gets $800 a month from his public pension and $1,000 a month in Social Security. “Sometimes I have to make up my mind between getting my medicine and food,” he told WXYZ.

Gov. Snyder refused the invitation when asked.

Take Action: Tell Gov. Snyder to protect Detroit public employee pensions.

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My Grandfather Spent 20 Years Working In A Detroit Factory

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My grandfather spent 20 years of his life working in a Detroit factory.

He worked hard for what he earned. He trusted that sacrificing some of his pay to invest it in a pension would pay off after years of hard work. So that’s what he did. He retired, and his pension allowed him to provide for himself and my grandmother.

He and his coworkers knew that the pensions that they invested in were a valuable part of their income, not just a handout from their employer.

Right now, in Detroit, Emergency Financial Manager Kevyn Orr doesn’t see pensions the same way.

A quick review: In 2011, Gov. Rick Snyder and his allies in the Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill allowing entire cities to be taken over by “emergency financial managers.” These EFMs, appointed by the governor, were allowed to completely overrule decisions made by local elected leaders.

In the 2012 election, Michigan voters decisively overrode the EFM law. Gov. Snyder and the legislature responded simply by passing another one.

In March, Snyder chose lawyer Kevyn Orr to single handedly manage the city of Detroit. From the beginning, it didn’t seem that Orr had his priorities in order. He said the city had been “dumb, lazy, happy, and rich,” while unapologetically living large in a penthouse, ordering room service, and employing an assistant at $225,000 a year.

In September, Orr proposed a sweeping wage freeze and essentially privatizing public employee pensions. Orr’s spokesperson suggested that city workers do not contribute at all to their pensions.

What Orr isn’t saying is what these workers sacrificed to protect their pensions. They accepted pay cuts, health insurance cuts and cuts to future pension benefits just to guarantee that the pensions they had worked a lifetime for would be there for them when they retired.

This is unacceptable, and we need to do better.

We can’t allow the wealthy elite like Snyder and Orr to take away hard-earned income from working families. Workers like my grandfather worked, saved, and sacrificed for years to make sure their pension would be there. It’s not a piggy bank for Orr and his rich friends to play with.

We need to send Snyder a message now and demand that he respects Detroit city workers.

Together, we can hold leaders like Gov. Snyder accountable and stand up for all working people in Michigan.

Send a message now.

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Progressives and Working Families Rally Against ‘Chained’ CPI and Other Safety Net Cuts

While the country remains shut down because of irresponsible House Republican hostage-taking, progressive members of Congress and working families are looking ahead to fight against any proposed grand “bargain” that would include benefit cuts to Social Security, Medicaid or Medicare. Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) spoke Thursday before working families and allies, specifically rejecting any such cuts.

While some politicians and pundits are proposing the use of the so-called “chained” CPI to determine Social Security cost-of-living adjustments over time, progressives and working families realize that the “chained” CPI would actually cut the income of retirees and people with disabilities. Hostage-taking House Republicans keep changing their random demands to end the government shutdown, and their latest demand is for Democrats to agree to cut Social Security benefits or Republicans will keep hurting people through refusing to pass a clean continuing resolution.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) noted the problems with “chained” CPI: “The ‘chained’ CPI would result in very real and harmful cuts for seniors, the most vulnerable in our society. These cuts would only deepen over time while the cost of living goes up.”

Pointing out a better policy option, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) said: “Instead of talking about the ‘chained’ CPI or cutting benefits, my mom would say you just need to make the pie bigger, we’re just going to talk about one cut—and that’s cut the crap….Cut the crap, scrap the cap.” Currently, wealthy Americans don’t pay into Social Security on any income above $113,700. Scrapping that arbitrary cap would go a long way to shoring up Social Security’s future.

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) made it clear where the CPC stands on these issues: “We will vote against any and every cut to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid,” he said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.”

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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1 Victory on Local Pensions, 5 Battles to Watch

Pension battles are heating up in cities across the nation as conservatives and Republicans are pushing to strip public workers of their retirement plans, often with little or nothing offered as a replacement. The primary argument, although a false one, is that these pensions are “too expensive” and that during times of fiscal woes, cities can’t afford them. In reality, these plans are often little more than veiled attempts to abandon commitments to workers and shift spending to more conservative priorities.

Working families had a victory in Tucson, Ariz., this month when a judge threw an initiative off the November ballot after it was determined that many of the required signatures gathered to put the question before the voters were improperly gathered. The initiative would’ve eliminated the city’s pension plan and replaced it with a 401(k)-style plan.

While there was a victory for working families in Arizona, pension plans in numerous other cities aren’t quite as safe. Here are five cities to watch as pension plans become a more prominent target of conservatives:

1. Cincinnati: A group of mostly out-of-state tea party activists, including the Liberty Initiative Fund from Virginia, succeeded in gathering enough signatures to put an initiative on the Nov. 13 ballot that is very similar to the one that just failed in Tucson. The plan, if passed, would eliminate the city’s pension fund for any future hires, replacing it with 401(k)-style private funds directed by individual employees, effectively privatizing the pension system. Many of the city employees who would be in the new plans are not eligible for Social Security and would have no safety net to fall back on if the stock market did poorly or they failed to successfully manage their new accounts.

2. Jacksonville, Fla.:  The Pew Charitable Trust is partnering with the John & Laura Arnold Foundation and is expected to promote what is called a “cash balance” plan to replace the city’s current pension plan. If the plan mirrors what Pew proposed in Kentucky, it would amount to a significant reduction in retirement savings for future retirees, who would get a set cash amount based on years of service. This measure has not been officially proposed yet.

3. Memphis, Tenn.: The mayor’s office is proposing a series of pension changes that the local Fire Fighters (IAFF) call a barrage of attacks on workers. The proposed changes include setting a minimum age to receive retirement benefits, reducing benefits for employees who take early retirement and using a salary average to determine pension benefits.

4. Phoenix: Citizens for Pension Reform is gathering signatures for a ballot initiative that would switch the city’s pension plan from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan and capping potential benefits for current employees. The switch, similar to the proposals in other cities, would amount to a benefit cut.

5. Tulsa, Okla.: The mayor is also suggesting making the change from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan. The change would affect only new employees and would not include firefighters or police, who are enrolled in a state-managed retirement system.

Photo via Arizona AFL-CIO on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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AFSCME Presents GIFtroit: The Story of Detroit’s Bankruptcy

In a humorous treatment of a serious subject, AFSCME is using GIFs—those ubiquitous, short animated photos—to tell the story of Detroit’s bankruptcy.

Featuring goofiness from cat boxing, to “Seinfeld’s” Newman, corgis on a treadmill, Eminem’s out-of-it halftime interview with Kirk Herbstreit and Brent Musburger and 20 more, GIFtroit outlines the facts behind Detroit’s bankruptcy, including Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) hijacking of state revenue due Detroit, his financial “martial law” edict that strips cities of the power to govern themselves, Wall Street’s role and more.

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GIFtroit also explains how more than 21,000 city retires are threatened with pension and health care benefit cuts while current city workers, including firefighters and police officers, face wage, benefit and job cuts.

While retirees and workers are the targets of the budget-gutting advocated by Snyder’s appointed “emergency financial manager,” Kevyn Orr, GIFtroit points out that Orr is:

Living in a taxpayer-funded hotel penthouse suite, spending extravagant amounts on room service and hiring assistants at $225,000 salaries.

Click here to see all of GIFtroit and share it on Facebook and Twitter.

AFSCME and other Detroit unions are challenging the city’s claims in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and Judge Steven Rhodes is expected to rule on the city’s eligibility for bankruptcy protection later in the fall. Today, more than 100 Detroit workers, retirees and residents who filed objections to the bankruptcy are getting a chance to speak out before Rhodes.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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12 Elizabeth Warren Quotes to Prepare You for Her Appearance at the AFL-CIO National Convention

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) will be one of the keynote speakers at the AFL-CIO 2013 National Convention in Los Angeles from Sept. 8–11. Here are 12 key quotes from her that show why she is a champion of the 99%.

1. “There is nobody in this country who got rich on their own. Nobody. You built a factory out there—good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory….Now look. You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea—God bless! Keep a hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”—September 2011.

2. “People feel like the system is rigged against them, and here is the painful part, they’re right. The system is rigged.”—September 2012.

3. “Hardworking men and women who are busting their tails in full-time jobs shouldn’t be left in poverty.”—August 2013.

4. “Look around. Oil companies guzzle down the billions in profits. Billionaires pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries, and Wall Street CEOs, the same ones that direct our economy and destroyed millions of jobs still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors, and acting like we should thank them. Does anyone here have a problem with that?”—September, 2012.

5. “It is critical that the American people, and not just their financial institutions, be represented at the negotiating table.”—Summer 2009.

6. “Americans are fighters. We’re tough, resourceful and creative, and if we have the chance to fight on a level playing field, where everyone pays a fair share and everyone has a real shot, then no one—no one can stop us.”—September 2012.

7. “And that’s how we build the economy of the future. An economy with more jobs and less debt, we root it in fairness. We grow it with opportunity. And we build it together.”—September 2012.

8. “I understand the frustration, I share their frustration with what’s going on, that right now Washington is wired to work well for those on Wall Street who can hire lobbyists and lawyers and it doesn’t work very well for the rest of us.”—October 2011.

9. “If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re going to jail….Evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night.”—March 2013.

10. “Corporations are not people. People have hearts, they have kids, they get jobs, they get sick, they cry, they dance. They live, they love and they die. And that matters. That matters because we don’t run this country for corporations, we run it for people.”—September 2012.

11. “If there had been a Financial Product Safety Commission in place 10 years ago, the current financial crisis would have been averted.”—Summer 2009.

12. “Nobody’s safe. Health insurance? That didn’t protect 1 million Americans who were financially ruined by illness or medical bills last year.”—February 2005.

Visit the convention website to learn more details to follow the action at convention online.

Photo by mdfriendofhillary on Flickr

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Appeals Court Denies Peabody’s Retiree Health Care Evasion

In a victory for some 3,100 retired Mine Workers (UMWA) members and a setback for Peabody Energy and its attempt to duck its health care obligations, a U.S. Court of Appeals’ bankruptcy appellate panel todayreversed a lower court’s ruling that would have allowed Peabody to shed its responsibilities.

The retirees worked for Heritage Coal before Peabody spun it off to Patriot Coal. The UMWA says Peabody created Patriot solely for the purpose of ducking health care and other obligations for miners and retirees.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts says the court’s ruling was:

A bright ray of good news in what has been a long, dreary period for the retirees, their dependents and widows who have been desperately worried about what’s going to happen to their health care.

The union has been engaged in a Fairness at Patriot campaign to win justice and protect the pensions and health care for the workers and retirees at Patriot and to hold Peabody accountable to its obligations. Says Roberts:

Peabody has spent years trying to get rid of its obligations to the thousands of retirees who made it the richest coal company in the world. This decision foils part of that plan. And it makes us even more determined to keep fighting to make sure the company lives up to its entire obligation to these miners.

UMWA members at Patriot Coal operations in West Virginia and Kentucky last week ratified a settlement the union reached with the company that makes significant improvements in terms and conditions of employment over a federal bankruptcy judge’s order from last May. But says Roberts:

We are now able to turn our full attention to securing the lifetime health care benefits Peabody and Arch Minerals [which also was involved in the creation of Patriot] promised these retirees. If those companies thought our public effort to highlight their poor corporate citizenship was over, they will quickly find out otherwise. We’re moving into a new phase of that effort, and soon. We fully intend to hold Peabody and Arch accountable.

Visit Fairness at Patriot for more detailed information on the struggle.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Drug Savings Act Would Strengthen Medicare Without Harming Beneficiaries

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W-Va.) introduced the Medicare Drug Savings Act of 2013 that would produce savings without passing on costs to seniors.

The act offers a solution that strengthens Medicare’s fiscal footing while shielding beneficiaries from harmful cost-shifting, unlike most other Medicare proposals we hear about. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that restoration of Medicaid-level drug rebates for low-income Medicare beneficiaries would save the federal government $141 billion over 10 years. Here are some critical facts about the bill from the AFL-CIO and other allies:

  • America’s workers strongly support allowing Medicare to secure lower prices drugs. According to a recent national poll, 85% favored “requiring drug companies to give the federal government a better deal on medications for low-income people on Medicare.”
  • Implementing Medicare drug rebates is not new law. Upon passage of the Medicare Modernization Act (MMA), millions of older adults and people with disabilities gained access to prescription drug coverage through private plans approved by the federal government, known as Medicare Part D. At the same time, the MMA severely limited the tools available to the federal government to control spending on pharmaceutical drugs in Medicare. In particular, the MMA eliminated rebates offered by pharmaceutical manufacturers for drugs provided to beneficiaries dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. Applying Medicaid-level rebates to Medicare drugs simply restores a practice that existed for dually eligible beneficiaries prior to the passage of the MMA.
  • Restoring drug rebates to the Medicare program is a proven cost saver. Already the Medicaid program benefits from lower drug prices due to federally determined rebates on brand name and generic medications. A 2011 comparison of 100 brand-name drugs under Medicaid and Medicare Part D found that Medicaid rebates required by law reduced expenditures by 45% for the drugs under review. Whereas, Medicare rebates secured by private drug plans reduced expenditures by only 19%.
  • Pharmaceutical spending on research and development is not at risk. Studies show that research and development investments in particular types of drugs are not directly linked to specific revenue sources, such as Medicaid. These findings, coupled with an examination of industry spending trends, suggest that reinstating Medicare drug rebates will not limit research and development. We reject the argument that pharmaceutical manufacturers will be unable to fulfill their commitment to innovation if the Medicare program is allowed to secure more reasonable drug prices.
  • Applying Medicare drug rebates will not shift costs to Medicare beneficiaries or employers. Some stakeholders claim that applying Medicaid-level drug rebates for low-income Medicare beneficiaries will increase costs for other Part D beneficiaries, but research supports otherwise. The same research suggests that costs for purchasers outside of Medicare—namely employers— will be largely unaffected if the Medicare rebates are restored.

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President Obama: ‘Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security…They Strengthen Us’

Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog

During President Obama’s second inaugural address yesterday, he affirmed we’re stronger when we work together:

But we have always understood that when times change, so must we; that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action. For the American people can no more meet the demands of today’s world by acting alone….No single person can train all the math and science teachers we’ll need to equip our children for the future, or build the roads and networks and research labs that will bring new jobs and businesses to our shores. Now, more than ever, we must do these things together, as one nation and one people.

He also lifted up working peoples’ shared belief in a robust social insurance system.

We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.

Our journey as a nation is not complete until we achieve equality and economic opportunity for all.

For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law—for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote. Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity; until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country. Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for, and cherished, and always safe from harm.

Read the entire inauguration speech transcript here.

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Want to Cut the Deficit? Start by Closing the ‘Mitt Romney Loophole’

Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog

While congressional Republicans are heavily focused on cutting Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare benefits and other harmful budget cuts that threaten the 98%, a better approach is to eliminate loopholes that allow the wealthiest 2% of Americans and Wall Street to pay much less than their fair share of taxes.  Focusing on loopholes keeps money in the hands of working families, which helps the economy grow without increasing hardship and economic insecurity for working people.

Many current loopholes just aren’t fair. Take, for example, what Think Progress calls the “Mitt Romney Loophole.” People like Mitt Romney who manage investment funds get paid in two ways. Part of their income is a management fee that is taxed as ordinary income, currently at a top rate of 39.6%. But fund managers also get a cut of the profits of the investments, which is taxed as a capital gain, with a top tax rate of only 20%. The typical investment manager takes a management fee of 2% and gets a 20% cut of the profits, meaning they avoid paying the normal tax rate on the vast majority of their income, something working families are not able to do. As Think Progress explains:

This loophole is one of the main reasons that Mitt Romney paid a tax rate of just 13.9 percent on income of more than $20 MILLION. Meanwhile, millions of middle-class workers pay a much higher rate on their much, much lower salaries.

Closing this loophole would not only make our tax code fairer and more progressive, it would help raise revenue to protect vital programs and leave room in the budget for investments to grow the middle class. Closing just this one loophole that often benefits the ultra-wealthy would raise $21 billion over 10 years.

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

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