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:
I had just finished explaining our plan to garner support for the Bring Jobs Home Act, a bill that would eliminate tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and instead invest that money in tax breaks that create jobs here at home. The man at the door continued his response.
“I mean, it sounds like you’re tilting at windmills.”
I smile. I can certainly understand where he is coming from. But the smile has more to do with the particular reference he chose.
“Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? Do you know what quixotic means?”
Yes. Yes I do. Do you?
The term “quixotic” is a reference to the literary character of Don Quixote, the title character in the famous novel by Miguel de Cervantes. I was first introduced to the character via the movie version of the modern musical “Man of La Mancha.” Anyone who watches The Newsroom on HBO may also recall the character and the plot being referenced in that show’s first season finale.
So who is Don Quixote? Cervantes’ book tells the tale of a middle-aged lesser noble in Spain who is obsessed with tales of chivalry and romance that were popular at the time of the book’s writing in 1605. The age of knights and chivalry is long over, but Don Quixote finds some rusty old armor, an aged donkey and an unlikely squire to accompany him on an attempt to sally forth into the world to right all the wrongs and remedy all the injustices around him. He imagines himself a knight of old, his donkey a fabulous steed, the local inn a castle, and its serving girl the famed Lady Dulcinea to whom he will dedicate his heroic (mis)adventures.
The phrase “tilting at windmills” refers to one of his most (in)famous adventures. As he and his loyal squire Sancho come to the top of a hill they are faced with some massive windmills in the distance. Instead of windmills, Don Quixote sees giants that are terrorizing the land and must be slain. He straps on his helmet, raises his lance and charges (as fast as a donkey can charge) the giants he imagines in the distance. When his lance finally strikes, it runs through one of the blades of the windmill and Don Quixote is ignominiously caught up in its turning, going round and round. Sancho asks him if he now realizes they were windmills all along, to which Don Quixote replies that a sorcerer must have surely transformed the giants into windmills at the last second to rob him of his victory and glory.
That’s a long, roundabout way of saying that when someone tells you that your given task is “quixotic” and that you are “tilting at windmills” he isn’t usually giving you a compliment. He is saying, according to the English World Dictionary, that you are “preoccupied with an unrealistically optimistic or chivalrous approach to life” and that you are “impractically idealistic.”
The man continued.
“Outsourcing has been going on for years. Since before you were born, probably. Everyone knows about it. No one likes it, but those big companies aren’t going to let you pass this. Nothing passes the Senate. Toomey won’t vote yes no matter how many people sign up for this. I agree with you but you’re wasting your time.”
I listen patiently. I nod. But unlike Don Quixote I’m not an unrealistic optimist, even if I might occasionally be guilty of impractical idealism. “Maybe you’re right,” I tell him. “Maybe we can’t win on this one. Maybe all my walking up and down these hills going from door to door tonight won’t be enough to win this time. But if you agree with us and you think this is a bill that SHOULD pass, then it’s only a waste of a few seconds of your time to show that support even if we lose. What can it hurt?”
He laughs slightly, and sighs as an acknowledgment that I’m right. He becomes a member of Working America and signs a petition telling Senator Pat Toomey to Bring Jobs Home, as hundreds of others have before him.
Not long after, we knight-errants that make up the field teams across the country at Working America faced our own Knight of Mirrors, the enemy that ultimately vanquishes Don Quixote by forcing him to confront the reality of just how quixotic his whole enterprise is. Toomey voted against allowing the Bring Jobs Home Act to come to a vote in the Senate. It never even came to the floor of the House. The Bring Jobs Home Act failed to pass. The giants and windmills had won the day, just as the man I spoke with that night had predicted.
Defeats hurt, whether they consist of being tossed from your donkey by a windmill blade or whether they consist of watching a disappointing vote count come across C-Span. There are times when even the most passionate and idealistic of activists questions whether all the hard work is worth it. That night in August I had walked up and down steep hills all night and had been left with not only aching feet and sore legs but a desperate need for a shower after all that walking under a hot summer sun. And all for what?
But the story doesn’t end there. As Don Quixote says of knight-errants in the musical version, “each time he falls he shall rise again. And woe to the wicked!” Practical, realistic idealism acknowledges that we can’t win every battle. The war is never over. We lose some of the battles we fight, but we lose ALL of the battles when we stay home. When I left that man’s door that night, I had one parting thought to leave him:
“You know, I might be tilting at windmills. Maybe you’re right. But I’ll keep keep right on tilting til the windmills fall or I do.”
A few weeks later, I got a call from our office in Washington, D.C. Working America was opening up offices in Massachusetts, where Elizabeth Warren was challenging Scott Brown for the Senate. And they wanted me to go.
Talk about a knight-errant– Elizabeth Warren had charged after the giants on Wall Street after the economic meltdown demanding more protection for consumers and tighter regulations on the misdeeds that had caused the mess. Wall Street had kindly thanked her by blocking her for an appointment to the commission that would oversee the implementation of some of her ideas. And all those giant windmills were lined up against her because they did not want an idealistic knight-errant like Elizabeth Warren to have subpoena power in the United States Senate.
When I got that call, Scott Brown was a popular incumbent senator with the backing of the big money financial sector. He was up in the polls. Elizabeth Warren seemed a long shot. Scott Brown seemed like just the kind of windmill I’d like to take a tilt at. Elizabeth Warren never stopped fighting and neither did we.
I spent nearly a month in Massachusetts, knocking on doors and talking to voters and passing out information on the records of the candidates. We trekked on despite the rain from Hurricane Sandy and my first ever experience of a nor’easter. We showed people, one door at a time why Elizabeth Warren would fight for ordinary working families to bring good jobs home, to improve education and to reign in the corporate greed on Wall Street.
And on election night, we won.
And we’re still winning. Every week I see a new story about how Elizabeth Warren is acting as a champion of ordinary people in the Senate. Currently, she is taking to task those who are charged with regulating the misdoings of Wall Street for their assertion that some firms are just “too big to jail.” Senator Warren had some very powerful words for those regulators that had allowed financial giant HSBC off without a single criminal prosecution, despite that company’s laundering hundreds of millions of dollars for drug cartels:
“If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re going to jail. If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life. But 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 — every single individual associated with this — and I just think that’s fundamentally wrong.”
Yes. Yes, it is. But now we have one more knight-errant in the Senate to keep tilting at those giants until we fall or they do.
A beat-up van pulls to a stop just up the road. A creaky screen door opens from the apartment at the end of the building. A young African-American girl runs out toward the van, barely hanging onto a large gym bag that was obviously not meant for such a pint-sized carrier. The driver of the van, a middle-aged white man with glasses and a beard, throws the passenger door to the van open and the little girl tosses the bag onto the floor before climbing in. The apartment door, which had banged shut in the meantime, creaks open again as the girl’s mother waves goodbye.
“Be good. Have fun,” she tells her daughter.
“I’ll have her back by eight,” the driver replies as the little girl shuts the van door and waves goodbye to her mom.
As the van pulls away and disappears around a turn up the street, the girl’s mother allows herself to slump against the door frame for just a moment. She lets go of a long sigh that betrays just how tired she is. She almost doesn’t notice me as I approach her door to introduce myself.
I ask her how she’s doing. I tell her I’m out in the community tonight with Working America to gather support for public education in Pennsylvania.
Even if you don’t live here, you probably know the story. Governor Tom Corbett and his allies in the legislature have cut nearly a billion dollars from public education, hiked tuition at state universities up to 40 percent, and pushed a voucher plan that will further gut public schools. I don’t have to tell this young mother.
“I know,” she says. She glances in the direction of the van’s departure. “My daughter does gymnastics after school. Loves it. They told us they’ll probably have to cut back next year.” She pauses a moment, perhaps considering just what that means. “I can’t afford to send her to a private dance studio. What’s she going to think when I tell her she just has to quit? What are any of our kids going to do after school when they cut all these programs?”
I can tell there’s another question she’s probably too proud to ask, which is, “What am I going to do when there’s no more gymnastics class?” She works all day. She obviously came home and made sure her daughter had dinner and did her homework and had everything ready for the gym. The long sigh as the van pulled away and the moment she allowed herself to rest against the door frame were the first moments she’d had to herself all day. I feel bad for interrupting it.
But she is more than eager to help. She signs up to become a member of our fight for Pennsylvania’s public schools. She writes out a letter by hand telling her state senator what she had just finished telling me. She asks him what she’s supposed to tell her daughter when she can’t send her to gymnastics anymore.
And then she thanks me. Wishes me luck. I can only thank her and tell her we’ll be doing all we can to make sure that’s a question she never has to answer.
As I walk away, I wonder if “all we can” will be enough and if it will be in time for this proud, tired woman and her energetic, hopeful little girl.
This is just one story that I have to share from my first week in training to be a field organizer for Working America. The office is an hour’s drive from where I’m currently living and I’ll probably have to move for the second time in a year to keep at it. But the people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard in just my first week of training have convinced me that it’s the absolute right decision. I’ve spent too much time reading from books and pondering the possibilities. It’s time to get on the ground and join in the fight. And it’s a fight we absolutely have to win.
One street over from the mother and her little girl, I pass by building after building of empty apartments. Many have huge padlocks on doors decorated with the faded, tattered remains once brightly-colored utility shut off warnings and notices. Some of the windows are boarded up, but through the broken ones you can see the evidence of a place long abandoned. Paint peeling off the walls. Piles of trash on the floor. A broken stair. But this place was abandoned long before the apartments were empty.
I am surprised as the first door in a long time actually opens. A middle-aged white woman tells me her story.
She’s about to lose her job. Not because she’s lazy or incompetent or because she’s unwilling to work. She’s about to lose her job because she can no longer get to work.
It’s not just education that’s being cut here. They already cut back on mass transit. This small, previously middle-class community no longer has bus service.
“I don’t have a car,” she says. “Always took the bus to work.” She’s done things “the right way.” She never asked for a government handout. She worked at a low-wage job to support herself. It was enough for a small apartment and to pay the bills, but it wasn’t enough to buy a car – let alone afford the state mandated insurance payments on one on top of it. She’s been getting rides from friends or family when she can now, but she’s already missed work several times. Now her boss is saying she’s “unreliable.” She confesses she probably doesn’t have much time before she joins the ranks of the unemployed.
She, too, is very helpful. She signs onto our fight for education and good jobs and quality healthcare, even though she says she doesn’t believe it will change anything. She, too, writes a letter to her state senator. She, too, thanks me before I can thank her.
I’m touched as I walk away. I know this is a battle we have to fight even if we lose. I shudder at the thought of walking down this same street a month or a year from now and seeing a padlock on this woman’s door.
A few nights later, in a neighborhood consisting of streets lined with small suburban houses with well-kept front yards and even tiny little back yards where neighbors still gather together on front porches or out on their lawns, one could see the planted battle flags of the plutocracy in the “for sale” and “foreclosure” signs stamped into the yards of houses that are now empty. Fewer padlocks here, of course, and more spread out. Perhaps I should have done an accurate statistical tally. One in fifteen houses, maybe? Perhaps on the way to one in ten? After all, I talked with several people who had been laid off and were nearing the end of their unemployment benefits. No new jobs to be found, at least not jobs that could keep up with a house payment. And no, we’re not talking about people who went out and bought McMansions with loans they could never have paid back. We’re talking about very modest middle-class homes affordable on modest middle-class incomes. We’re talking the stuff of the old American Dream.
These people in the middle are waking up. Sure, there are some in those neighborhoods that have bought into Fox News and seem intent on punishing themselves and their neighbors with brutal budget cuts, all while worshiping the idle rich who dance across their television screens.
But most people in these middle-class neighborhoods realize they are getting screwed by the big corporations and the political power they wield. They know for a fact that they’re not lazy, that they’ve worked hard, that they’ve done all the things that they’re “supposed” to do. And yet many are just barely hanging on for dear life. Many are in danger of sliding down into those boarded up, vacant apartments just a mile or two away. And they voiced their support for those of us going door to door fighting for a quality public education for every Pennsylvanian. Their own kids and grandkids will be the ones who suffer if we lose it.
Just a little further west live the people who have fled these suburban, middle-class ghettos. In isolated communities with names like “Whispering Woods” you find winding streets lined with huge cookie-cutter mansions. It’s just a few miles from that neighborhood of abandoned apartments where you could film a post-apocalyptic movie without having to do much to dress the set. But it’s an entirely different world.
People with BMW’s parked in their driveways and huge plasma TV’s complain that government spends too much money. We all have to tighten our belts, they say. My kids go to private school. Why should I have to pay for public education? The unions have too much power. Teachers are overpaid. One person even went so far as to say, “Close the public schools. They’re worthless. The sooner we shut ‘em all down the better.”
If I could take one of them by the hand and walk up and down Juniper Street and Delaware Avenue where I began this diary, would they see? Would they really still demand more tax cuts if they were the ones who had to tell a little girl she had to give up gymnastics? Would they still demand drastic budget cuts if they had to tell that quickly aging single woman to walk five or ten miles to work alone?
There’s only one road leading out to the world of abandoned, padlocked apartments. There are only two leading into Whispering Woods. And now there are no bus stops in either. When will these people ever see each other face to face?
It’s our job to make the introductions. It’s our job to stand up and fight. It’s our job to head to the front lines and build support. It’s our job to bring communities back together again. It’s our job to take up a pen as a sword and a clipboard or iPad as a shield and to hold the line.
It’s our job to tell a little girl she can still take gymnastics.
The truth is, this is just the latest in Gov. Corbett’s longstanding pattern of cutting or privatizing anything in the Keystone State that isn’t nailed down.
Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits stores, run by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), generate nearly $500 million every year for the state treasury. These funds are used to pay for education and other public services. The stores also account for about 5,000 family-sustaining jobs, many of them union.
Gov. Corbett says “getting the state completely out of the liquor business” and instead auctioning off up to 1,200 liquor licenses to individual stores could generate $1 billion over the next four years, to be used toward “the education of our children.” We don’t believe that for a second, and here’s why:
In the past two years Gov. Corbett has shown apathy or downright hostility towards the education of Pennsylvania children: starting with his first budget that cut state education funding by $1.1 billion, so deep that teachers in the cash-strapped Chester Upland School District famously worked for no pay. On top of that, he has made giant cuts in funding for state colleges, reduced funding for early childhood education, abandoned “costing-out” studies that are used ensure poorer school districts get adequate funding, and trumpeted privately-run charter schools at every turn. One columnist called it “bombing public education back to the stone age.”
It’s also worth noting that Vahan Gureghian, owner of one of the state’s largest charter schools, is a huge Corbett campaign donor.
So no, we don’t believe Gov. Corbett when he says this privatization plan is about the education of our children.
More likely, he is interested in generating revenue for private liquor companies, shrinking the available funds the state treasury (to give him an excuse for the next round of cuts), dismantling the PLCB, and busting up the union that advocates for thousands of Pennsylvania Wine & Spirits employees.
That he is doing so while claiming to care about educating our children is nauseatingly cynical – preying on the insecurities of Pennsylvania parents and teachers to sneak through a plan that benefits private corporations.
Pennsylvania Woman Becomes a Super-Activist with the Labor Movement’s Partner for Nonunion Workers
One day in Havertown, Pa., a neighborhood organizer in a red shirt knocked on Vicki’s door, asking how Vicki felt about cuts in her state’s school budget. A retired school teacher who has a grandson with special needs, Vicki worried the cuts her governor was pushing would eliminate resources for special education.
Vicki was already angry about these cuts. She felt that one of the most important people in her life was being targeted. But until that day, she felt powerless to do anything about it. Like so many people, she thought she couldn’t change the process, and that her elected leaders weren’t listening. Then someone showed up at her door with a solution—a strategy to change things.
That day, Vicki didn’t just sign a petition. She became a member of an organization called Working America. She sent a letter to her state senator and governor telling them she wouldn’t stand for cuts that threatened her grandson’s education. And from there, she has gone on to become an activist and a leader in her community.
Founded in 2003, Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, is the fastest-growing organization for working people who don’t have a union on the job. At 3 million strong and growing, Working America empowers people year-round to make a difference in their own communities.
Next, Vicki went to her hair salon, a favorite meeting and chatting place. But the conversation with her stylist wasn’t about the weather this time. It was about state politicians going after her grandson’s special education funding. The stylist said she, too, was worried about the school cuts. “I wish there were something we could do about that,” said the stylist.
And Vicki replied, “Actually, there is something you can do.” That day, Vicki helped her stylist write a letter to their state senator. Her stylist got the salon owner involved. “Everyone who walked into that beauty shop wrote a letter,” said Vicki. Becoming an organizer was “exciting,” she said. “That was a wonderful process.” It happened because she felt stronger as part of an organization—and it’s all because somebody knocked on her door.
“Any time a stranger comes to your door, you wonder, ‘who are they?’” Vicki said. “But they had a way about them that was so inviting, so engaging, and they really brought me in.”
Now Vicki takes part in her local Working America community action team. Once a month she gets together with other local Working America members to share snacks and coffee and talk about key issues. “People talk about their struggles,” said Vicki, “and listening to each other is so meaningful.” Vicki is even training other Working America members to encourage their friends and neighbors to speak out.
Working America’s strategy can be summed up in three words: Strength in numbers. Many people Working America visits feel disconnected, isolated and, like Vicki, powerless.
Joseph, a waiter from Albuquerque, N.M., is a shy young man who reluctantly agreed to join other Working America members at a state House committee hearing about raising the minimum wage but didn’t want to say anything. In the packed hearing room, a high-powered lobbyist from the restaurant industry trade association testified that restaurant workers made “enough money” and that indexing the tipped minimum wage to inflation would put restaurants out of business. Joseph stood up. “I work in a restaurant,” he said, “and I can’t afford to buy a meal where I work.” And many of his co-workers were scraping by, trying to raise families on the low minimum wage for tipped workers.
Joseph had something important to add to the conversation, and he had the confidence to say it because he wasn’t there alone.
“Strength in numbers is the only way to make change,” Joseph said. “People need to organize for the greater good. I like to know that I’m contributing.”
Working America knocks on more than 10,000 doors every week—and two out of three people organizers talk to become Working America members, with many taking action right away on issues such as education, health care and workers’ rights. These members are a vital part of the union movement. Across the country, Working America is partnering with unions to expand the reach of the labor movement and bring working people together on important campaigns.
People are looking for reliable information they can’t get from Fox News and talk radio—and Working America provides it with face-to-face conversations.
Working America doesn’t just visit a member once. It builds relationships, maintains two-way conversations about issues that really matter and gives members plenty of opportunities to get engaged and to become powerful advocates.
Working America members took action in huge numbers to fight anti-union “right to work” for less laws in Minnesota, New Hampshire and Maine. They stood up to Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin. They voted overwhelmingly to overturn the union-busting S.B. 5 in Ohio, helping send it to a resounding defeat. They supported the rights of child care workers in Vermont and fought the radical expansion of for-profit “cyber schools” in Michigan. In one of the organization’s most important recent victories, hundreds of letters from Working America members helped convince Ohio state legislators to drop a proposal—sponsored by the amusement-park lobby—that would have shortened the school year by five weeks. In Texas, union members are strengthening the local labor movement by signing up friends, family and neighbors as Working America members. And Working America is exploring new ways to talk to people about their work and helping them organize to make their lives better.
Vicki and Joseph aren’t alone anymore. They’re making a difference in their communities, and so are thousands of others. That’s the difference Working America can make.
As Vicki said, working together is “a vision our country needs to have.”
“I always believed in the labor movement, even though I don’t have a union at work,” Joseph said. “Working America gave me the outlet, a way to get involved.”
You can be part of this movement, too. Join Working America.
A Pennsylvania state judge yesterday refused to block the voter suppression law that Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R) said “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson said he wouldn’t grant an injunction that would have halted the new voter ID law for the November election. Some estimate the law could disenfranchise nearly one in 10 eligiblevoters—mostly people of color, students, seniors and low-income voters.
Pennsylvania is one of several states where Republican lawmakers have issued new laws that voting rights advocates say are designed to suppress voter turnout. Says AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:
These laws are being pushed for partisan reasons to disenfranchise particular groups of voters. They are cynical and wrong, and they undermine our democracy.
The bill mirrors other voter suppression laws Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed in recent years based on model legislation from the extremist American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
While backers of the voter ID bills claim they are designed to combat voter fraud, Trumka points out:
a comprehensive new report finds that the supposed voter fraud that sponsors of these laws hide behind as an excuse for suppressing the vote is “virtually non-existent.”
The case will be appealed the state Supreme Court. In the meantime says Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale:
we will continue to do what thousands of activists and volunteers did in the Jim Crow South in fighting and defeating poll taxes and other attempts to deny people their right to vote. We will fight to make sure that the people have the right to vote in this major election that will decide the future of our state and nation
Learn how to protect your voting rights at our “My Vote, My Right” website here.
On Friday, Working America members and staff from around Pittsburgh sent a strong message to one of their U.S. Senators: it’s time to bring jobs home.
The Working America team visited the office of Sen. Pat Toomey to drop off letters and petitions in support of a bill to close unfair corporate tax loopholes and encourage job creation here.
“As a city that was built on blue-collar work and manufacturing we know as well as anybody the detrimental impact the outsourcing phenomenon has had on workers and their families,” said Kevin Brokt, field director for Working America. He noted that, in every neighborhood he visits, he hears that jobs are the most important issue.
Toomey has the chance to help by voting yes on the Bring Jobs Home Act, a bill that would help reduce the negative effects of outsourcing by ending tax giveaways to companies that ship jobs overseas—and give them incentives to create jobs here instead. This bill, S. 2884, would close loopholes and make sure we can create good jobs here.
This isn’t the first time Toomey’s constituents have called on him to support the bill. Earlier in the week, a group of Steelworkers and other union members even came with an apple pie in hand—but Toomey’s staff didn’t bring them in for a meeting. So when will Toomey listen to the people he works for—and how will he vote?
Todd Foose, a field manager with Working America, talked about the members he’s met who have been hurt by outsourcing:
This spring I met a Working America member here in the Pittsburgh area who really opened my eyes to what outsourcing means to far too many Pennsylvania families. She told me that she’d worked at the same company for nearly fifteen years. After all those years of loyal service and hard work, she and her co-workers came in one day to find that they were all going to be let go in less than six weeks. Their jobs were being outsourced. To add insult to injury, they also found out that day that they would have to spend those last few weeks training their own replacements.
She told me of one co-worker who quit right then and there rather than suffer the indignity of training someone to replace him. But most stayed. It’s a tough economy and jobs are hard to find. And you can’t collect unemployment if you quit your job. Even if you quit to preserve your dignity.
As I talked more with this Working America member, I realized there was a great irony here. While she would have to pay taxes on the unemployment compensation she received, the company that had sent her job overseas and left her unemployed was getting a huge tax write off to send American jobs somewhere else.
I wish I could tell you her story is unique. But all of us here today know that there are thousands more like her across Pennsylvania, and millions more across the country. It is time we stop asking women like her to have their tax dollars fund the companies that are shipping their jobs overseas.
If you’re a Pennsylvanian, there are many things I know about you, even though we may have never met. You’re a neighborhood, come-join-me-on-my-porch, kind of person. You make sure that Santa Claus never skips a house on your block. You will do anything it takes to give a dying man another day of life. You are the greatness of Pennsylvania.
I worked at St. Francis Hospital from 1964 until the hospital closed in 2002. For most of those years I worked in the Psychiatry ward as a psychiatric aide. We loved caring for the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. I have to admit, caring for the poor was the best part of my job. It was at that hospital that I came to understand the meaning of healthcare. The meaning was healing: a healing of body, mind and spirit. A healing without a price tag attached.
In December of 2007, I was overwhelmed with despair when I found out that my brother Billy, a man with a gentle soul and a loving heart – a heart that didn’t always beat so good – was being denied life-saving cardiac care because he was first denied his right to buy a private health insurance policy. I wondered: When was it that healing was replaced with profit?
Billy applied for Medicaid, but as a pizza delivery driver he made too much money to qualify for that program. Billy died on March 7th, 2009. He was 57 years old. Folks on the street where he died did whatever they could do to give him back another day of life. A teenager folded his hoodie sweatshirt and placed it under Billy’s head in a gesture of comfort.
When it’s time for State Budget talks, I worry: Will this be the year we see deep cuts to Medicaid? This program is a lifeline for the poor and the working poor; for the mentally ill and children who suffer with Autism; for diabetics and their treatment; for a woman with MS; for a man who needs cardiac care; and for an elderly neighbor who needs nursing home care. They all need care, but without money, they may find themselves with no other option than to agree to hospice care.
I think Governor Tom Corbett and our legislators believe that if they cut the life line “for those folks” none of us will care. Maybe they expect that we, like them, will turn a blind eye to the pain and suffering and death of “those folks.”
But they will be wrong. What makes Pennsylvania the greatest state in the Union is that her citizens have a core belief that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. We will stand up, we will have our voice heard, and make no mistake about it, we will fight if our beliefs are put in jeopardy or challenged. We will win that fight because we are neighborhood, come-join-me-on-my-porch, kind of folks.
The following is a guest post from Julie Parker, a Working America Community Action Team member from Bloomfield, Pennsylvania.
There are only a couple of things that almost everyone agrees on. One of them is we love our kids. Even if you don’t have any children, chances are that there is a child in your life somewhere that you love and want the best for.
I have one son. His name is Alex, he is 4 years old, and he loves Thomas the Tank Engine. Alex talks in what I call “train speak.” He says things like, “My boiler aches” and “I popped a piston,” which makes it hard for me to figure out where he is hurting. We don’t hold hands to cross the street, we “couple up.” And if you want him to slow down, you don’t tell him to stop running, you holler “You’re chuffing too fast.” It’s an interesting world.
Alex is enrolled in the Pittsburgh Public School Early Childhood Intervention Program/Head Start. We are slightly over the income requirements, but he qualified because he was a little behind in fine motor skills and in gross motor skills. He receives occupational therapy and physical therapy services as part of the program. Over the past school year, I have watched Alex progress in his writing skills, coloring, balance, and coordination. He has benefitted tremendously from the program and the interaction with other children. And, really, that is the point of pre-school: Get the kids in, get them used to a routine, catch them up where they may be behind, and prepare them for success for the remainder of their education. It is easy to catch the kids up when they are so young and eager to learn.
We won’t be able to return in the fall if Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed budget cuts to education are passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Since we are over income, we would lose our spot in the Early Childhood Intervention program first. I have been trying to find alternatives for the fall in case we are cut from the program. The pre-school in my Bloomfield neighborhood charges $180 per week. Yes, that’s right, per week. That is about the same cost as most private day-care programs.
Without the public school pre-K program, I will have to tell my son that I can’t give him the best possible start with his education because I can’t afford it.
If we value our children and want the very best for them, why doesn’t our state budget reflect that? That’s why everyone who loves a kid should be moved to action by the Pennsylvania State Budget proposed by Governor Corbett.
Working America member Mary Karscig from Shaler, Pennsylvania, is fed up with the Corbett agenda. Since he arrived in office, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has used his post to make deep, painful budget cuts, including a nearly $900 million cut to public education, while leaving loopholes and corporate handouts intact.
In Pennsylvania, 70 percent of corporations pay no income tax thanks in part to the “Delaware tax loophole,” which allows those corporations to set up headquarters in Delaware, which has different tax laws. Oftentimes this headquarters are nothing more than a P.O. box, or a building smaller than a supermarket. The Delaware loophole and other loopholes cost Pennsylvanians $4.4 billion last year.
Mary understands that it isn’t rocket science: why do average Pennsylvanians pay their fair share only to see their school budgets slashed, while companies can legally shirk their responsibility – and with the Governor’s blessing, no less? Her letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Close the loophole,” is below:
Pennsylvania schools and social services can be helped by collecting taxes from corporations currently sliding by in the Delaware loophole. Although corporations are subject to a corporate net income tax, 71 percent of corporations in Pennsylvania pay no tax to Pennsylvania. Why? Because many corporations establish their “home office” in Delaware, a state whose tax laws require no tax payment to other states. Such home offices often equate to a post office box or file drawer. Is it legal? Yes. Is it fair? No!
These corporations often pay lower taxes than a family making approximately $36,000 a year pays. What will happen when the middle class is wiped out and no tax base exists? We must genuinely close the Delaware loophole now; collect the taxes owed to Pennsylvania; and restore funding to health care, social services and education. This will provide jobs for many people, including people like my son who could not find a job in education and returned to school to earn his master’s degree in education. He is now overwhelmed with student loan debt.
To aid our schools and essential social services and to preserve accompanying jobs, everyone needs to pay his or her fair share, not just the middle class.