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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Kentucky has one of the most successful health insurance exchanges in the country, with more than 5,000 enrollees in the first month. But even there, five times as many people have successfully joined the Medicaid rolls.
While the private insurance-based Health Insurance Marketplace has had an uneasy rollout, the public, single payer-esque Medicaid expansion has worked phenomenally. If Gov. Parnell was serious about implementing parts of the law with a proven record, he would accept Medicaid expansion in a heartbeat.
But like Govs. Walker, Perry, McCrory and others, Parnell is less interested in giving his constituents access to affordable health insurance than he is in making a political statement. And as a result, insurance premiums are higher for everyone, and thousands remain unable to access the care they need.
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 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.
Sure, to some people #LaborDayIs about barbecues and fashion rules. But #LaborDayIs also about, you know, labor. Today, workers across the country are struggling for decent wages, safe workplaces, affordable healthcare, and even basic civil rights.
North Carolina’s Moral Monday
Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC) and the North Carolina legislature have passed huge cuts to state unemployment insurance, an overhaul of the state tax code, big education cuts and the nation’s strictest voting restrictions. Lead by the NC NAACP’s Rev. William Barber, North Carolinans of all stripes have gathered by the thousands to for huge weekly “Moral Monday” protests to stand up to Gov. McCrory’s agenda.
Oh and thanks to @sherierb for the thumbnail photo.
The Wisconsin Solidarity Singers
After the huge protests in 2011 against Wisconsin’s new collective bargaining restrictions, Gov. Scott Walker and his allies changed the rules at the state Capitol Building in Madison, requiring protesters to have permits. His reasoning? Um, none.
The Wisconsin Solidarity Singers had been gathering in the Capitol every day to protest the Walker agenda through song, and suddenly their gatherings were illegal. Singers started getting arrested. In response, hundreds of Wisconsinites joined their singing brethren to stand up to the ridiculousness of the arrests and the broader anti-worker Walker agenda.
Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, pays low wages, inconsistent schedules, and little to-no health benefits. But across the country, Walmart workers are organizing primarily for respect at the workplace.
Houston workers are fed up with employers committing wage theft – not giving a last paycheck, making employees work after punching out, etc. – and are pushing the Houston City Council to pass a wage theft ordinance.
The D.C. City Council passed the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA) in July, which raised the minimum wage for big box retail workers to $12.50/hour. Walmart responded by freaking out and threatening to cancel construction of their D.C. stores. Mayor Vincent Gray has still not made up his mind about whether to cave to Walmart’s wishes or stand up for D.C. retail workers at stores like Walmart, Best Buy, Macy’s, and Target.
In the 2012 election, Albuquerque voters passed a minimum wage increase with 66 percent of the vote. But in 2013, Albuquerque’s Republican Mayor Richard Berry and members of his city council refused to enforce the new law.
No joke, they are actually telling workers who make as little as $4 or $5 an hour to hire private lawyers to sue their employers. That’s their solution.
Last year, music video performers won a groundbreaking union contract after, establishing workplace standards for the industry after decades of advocacy.
Now, the Dancers’ Alliance and SAG-AFTRA are launching #theUNIONIZEtour to ensure that performers on concert tours have workplace protections, access to affordable health care, and a fair shot at gigs.
Thanks to the activists who came before us, we have federal laws saying that you can’t be fired for being old, female, pregnant, or disabled (yay!). Unfortunately, in 29 states, there are no such protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender workers. That’s why workers’ rights and LGBT groups are organizing to pass a strong Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Millions of domestic workers, mostly women, are employed by households and businesses across the country. Most of them have little to no worker protections – no minimum wage, overtime pay no nothing.
State by state, domestic workers and allies have worked to pass “Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights” to establish basic protections. Ai-Jen Poo, founder and director of theNational Domestic Workers Alliance (and Working America board member #plug) toldThe Nation that President Obama might soon bring domestic workers under the protections of the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which would be “one of the most significant victories for low-wage workers of this administration.”
Auto workers at Nissan in Mississippi have been trying to exercise their basic right to form a union, but are getting blocked by the company. Lethal Weapon/workers’ rights star Danny Glover has been active in calling attention to the situation. Not only that, but Nissan workers in Brazil, France, and South Africa have expressed solidarity. Learn more at DoBetterNissan.org.
Danny Glover: He’s not too old for this. #LethalWeaponJoke
Solidarity in Brazil.
No big deal, it’s just Common. (!!!)
Finally: 11 million undocumented workers and their families
Establishing a path to citizenship isn’t just about immigration. It’s about bringing millions of undocumented workers out of the shadows, where they are currently vulnerable to every employer abuse imaginable.
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.
It felt like someone was playing an April Fool’s joke with the weather, but Working America members in Pittsburgh braved a cold, windy morning to tell Governor Tom Corbett to stop fooling around and accept the federal funds to expand Medicaid.
Tomorrow, Gov. Corbett will meet with U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius to discuss whether or not Pennsylvania will accept federal money provided for in the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid. Here in the Keystone State, those funds would expand coverage to more than 500,000 people and a $43 billion boost to our economy. By the numbers alone, it’s clear that only a fool would turn down this immense benefit for our state.
But the numbers don’t tell the most important stories—the stories of ordinary people in Pennsylvania who regularly go without healthcare or are forced to choose which of their family members will be covered due to the enormous costs involved. Several Working America and Pennsylvania Health Access Network members showed up to tell their stories in front of the governor’s office. For them and for all of our members, access to affordable, quality healthcare is a very personal matter.
Member Barb Linville of Ambridge told her story of coming to Pennsylvania in 2004. At the time, she was still looking for work and did not have private health insurance. Fortunately, she was able to obtain coverage through Pennsylvania’s Adult Basic program. This program allowed her to receive potentially life-saving care when a health issue presented itself soon after. Without this program, her family may have ended up in bankruptcy to cover the costs. Unfortunately, Gov. Corbett has since ended Adult Basic, leaving thousands of people like Barb uninsured. Expanding Medicaid would do a great deal to rectify this problem.
Another member, Shelagh Collins, spoke of her difficulty obtaining healthcare because she is currently unemployed. It’s a terrible catch-22: she has health conditions that need to be treated in order for her to be able to find regular work, but without work she is unable to afford that much-needed care. Expanding Medicaid would help people like Shelagh receive the care she needs so that she can once again be a fully productive member of the work force.
Reverend Sally Jo Snyder and the event’s emcee, Working America Field Director Kevin Brokt, hammered home the point that accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid makes sense not only for boosting our economy and improving public health, but also for fulfilling our basic moral obligation to one another.
At the event’s close, members stretched out a portion of an 800+ page petition signed by more than 9,000 Pennsylvanians urging Gov. Corbett to do the right thing and accept the federal funds after his meeting tomorrow. The message to Tom Corbett was loud and clear: