How Working America Helped Beat “Right to Work” in West Virginia the Old Fashioned Way

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As the sun sets over Beckley, West Virginia, on a cold winter evening, the temperature drops a few more degrees, moving toward the low teens as a pair of feet in boots and Yaktrax crunches snow and ice underfoot on the way to the front door. Then a gloved hand reaches up to knock on the frame.

“Who is it?”

The voice inside seems a bit bewildered. The tone implies, “Who is it that is crazy enough to be out there knocking on my door in this weather?” To be fair, it’s a good question. But it would turn out that the weather was not the only reason the woman behind the door was confused at that sound.

“It’s Working America! Fighting for good jobs and to protect West Virginia workers!”

The door opens and the woman behind it introduces herself in the third person as “Ole Sue,” proud of the fact that everyone in the neighborhood knows her by that name. She speaks with our canvasser about just why we are out knocking on doors on a night like this. The state Legislature in Charleston is considering a so-called “right to work” bill that would be an attack on West Virginia workers, union and non-union alike. More importantly, they talk about why it is important that labor remains strong in the Mountain State.

Ole Sue tells our canvasser that her husband and her daughter have both died in the past few years. Her husband died of black lung. Now she lives alone. She says we don’t have to tell her why unions are important. She takes our pen and paper in hand and writes to her state senator, Dan Hall, telling him exactly why he needs to vote no on “right to work.”

Across town at almost the exact same time, another Working America canvasser comes upon a house with a huge sign proclaiming, “My Neighbor and I are HUGE Steeler Fans!” He smiles because he’s a Steelers fan, too. (By the way, this canvasser is me.)

That small connection helps start a warm conversation at the door. But when I tell the woman why I’m really at her door—to fight against “right to work”—the conversation takes a more serious turn. She asks me why I care enough about it to be out there in the snow and the cold.

I tell her about my own father, a West Virginia coal miner much of his life, who now works on the coal barges: “I know what a union means to him and to every miner.”

I tell her the story of when that was really driven home to me. When I was younger, my dad was out of work for a while and decided to go apply at a non-union mine in Kentucky. It was far from home and hard work, but my dad is the hardest worker I’ve ever known. Even today, having just turned 60, he can work circles around me. Even his days off were filled with work—on the house, on the car, in the yard. My point is that he has never, ever shied away from hard work or a tough job.

He came back from that non-union mine in less than a week. “That place is a death trap,” he said to me. “Someone is going to die in there …”

The woman nods, and I finish my father’s sentence: “… or when they get out.”

The woman has to pause for a moment, then says: “I think it’s terrible what they are trying to do. My husband, my father-in-law, and my brother-in-law all died from black lung in the last 10 years. Our miners go through too much to put up with this stuff coming from Charleston now.” She’s clearly been through a lot as well.

Even through all of that loss, she has remained strong and dignified. She knows that this isn’t about a so-called “right to work.” It’s about right and wrong. Stripping away the progress that’s been won through the blood, sweat and tears of West Virginia’s coal miners is just plain wrong. She knows deep down that her state senator needs to know this, too, if he doesn’t already. She knows all this, but she looks at the piece of paper and isn’t sure how to say it.

“That’s why I’m here,” I say. “Just tell him what you told me. They need to be reminded of what really goes on out here. Tell him what you’ve lost and that he needs to vote no so we don’t lose even more.”

She writes a beautiful letter; one of 13 I gather that night, but among the most meaningful I’ve ever brought back. We talk some more about coal miners and Pittsburgh Steelers football. But finally it’s time to move on because I know there are more people like her who know what this is all really about and whose voices need to be heard in Charleston.

Back at Ole Sue’s, another conversation is coming to an end that both sides are a little sad to see. “Do you know who the last person to come to my door was?” she asks our canvasser, as if to make it known why she was skeptical at first. “It was the police. Got a complaint and came pounding on my door. Years ago. No one comes to the door anymore. But I’m glad you did. And thank you for being out there.”

Ole Sue wrote a beautiful letter as well, one that the canvasser will never forget.

Two women. Two beautiful stories that need telling. Two doors that haven’t been knocked on in a very long time. Two letters to a state senator who had better take their meaning to heart.

The latest reports indicate that “right to work” is dead in the West Virginia legislature, but across the country we’re waging a grassroots battle. In Missouri, we’re urging our members to call their legislators and let them know that “right to work” is wrong. In New Mexico, we’re going door to door and informing voters about the union-busting and wage-lowering that Gov. Susana Martinez and her allies are pushing in Santa Fe under the guide of “worker freedom.” And in Illinois, our members are urging their state lawmakers to push back against the agenda of Bruce Rauner, possibly the most dangerously anti-worker governor in the country.

Wherever Working America is, we are lifting up the voices of those whose doors are too often go un-knocked.

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Former Massey Energy CEO Indicted

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For those of you who have been following the Massey Energy story, the Mine Workers (UMWA) passed along this news yesterday:

United States Attorney Booth Goodwin announced that a federal grand jury today returned an indictment charging Donald L. Blankenship, former Chief Executive Officer of Massey Energy Company, with four criminal offenses. The indictment charges Blankenship with conspiracy to violate mandatory federal mine safety and health standards, conspiracy to impede federal mine safety officials, making false statements to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and securities fraud. The indictment alleges that from about Jan. 1, 2008, through about April 9, 2010, Blankenship conspired to commit and cause routine, willful violations of mandatory federal mine safety and health standards at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine, located in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The indictment alleges that during this same period of time, Blankenship was part of a conspiracy to impede and hinder federal mine safety officials from carrying out their duties at Upper Big Branch by providing advance warning of federal mine safety inspection activities, so their underground operations could conceal and cover up safety violations that they routinely committed.

The indictment further alleges that after a major, fatal explosion occurred at Upper Big Branch on April 5, 2010, Blankenship made and caused to be made false statements and representations to the SEC concerning Massey Energy’s safety practices prior to the explosion. Additionally, the indictment alleges that, after this explosion, Blankenship made and caused to be made materially false statements and representations, as well as materially misleading omissions, in connection with the purchase and sale of Massey Energy stock.

The FBI and the United States Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General are in charge of the investigation. United States Attorney Booth Goodwin, Counsel to the United States Attorney Steven Ruby and Assistant United States Attorney Gabriele Wohl are handling the prosecution.The four counts charged carry a maximum combined penalty of 31 years’ imprisonment.

Click here to view a copy of the indictment. An indictment is only an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The Massey Energy Upper Big Branch (W. Va.) deadly blast killed 29 in 2010. Families of the victims reacted to the indictment yesterday.

Photo by D.D. Meighen on Flickr. Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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AFL-CIO and Working Families Lead Efforts Across the Country to Raise the Minimum Wage

Photo via All-Nite Images/Flickr

While Republicans in Washington, D.C., are doing their best to stop a federal increase to the minimum wage, working families and their allies across the country are fighting to increase the minimum wage at the state and local level. America’s working families consistently support a minimum wage increase, supporting the idea that jobs should lift workers out of poverty, conservatives continue to rely upon disproven criticisms of increasing the wage. But Americans aren’t buying the conservative lies and are demanding that Congress and the president raise the wage for millions of workers, including tipped workers. And many of them aren’t waiting for Washington to get the job done, they’re taking action across the country. The federal minimum wage has remained $7.25 an hour since 2009 and wages for tipped workers have been frozen at $2.13 an hour since 1991. Here’s the latest news on the push for a higher minimum wage across the nation:

Alaska: More than 43,000 signatures were collected in favor of an August ballot initiative that would raise the wage to $9.75 over two years, with an annual increase for inflation.

Arkansas: Labor and community groups are pushing for a ballot measure that would raise the the state minimum wage to $8.50 over the next three years.

Connecticut: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) proposed increasing the wage to $10.10 an hour. The legislature is now considering the bill.

Idaho: Labor and community groups are working on legislation that would increase the wage in the state that has the highest percentage of minimum wage employees in the nation.

Iowa: With the rallying cry “We can’t survive on $7.25!” working families in Iowa are pushing for a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10.

Los Angeles: The Raise L.A. campaign is working on raising the minimum salaries of hotel workers to $15 an hour while the L.A. County Federation invited Pope Francis to visit the city to help champion economic equality for low-wage workers.

Maryland: Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has joined with Raise Maryland in calling for the state’s wage to be raised to $10.10 an hour. They also are calling for tipped workers to earn at least 70% of the minimum wage.

Massachusetts: The Raise-Up Massachusetts campaign is collecting signatures to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot and is organizing a low-wage worker listening tour.

Minnesota: Working families and their allies are pushing to raise the state minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015, with future increases tied to inflation.

Missouri: Low-wage and tipped workers organized and testified at a critical committee hearing for a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour. The bill is active in the state Senate.

Nebraska: The legislature is considering a package of bills backed by local labor groups that would raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour and require employers to provide paid sick days.

New Hampshire: The state’s labor movement and community allies have made raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour one of their top priorities for 2014.

Pennsylvania: A community coalition launched a campaign to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Seattle: Working families in Seattle are trying to recreate the success of allies in SeaTac in an effort to raise the local minimum wage to $15 an hour.

South Dakota: The South Dakota AFL-CIO and allies successfully placed a minimum wage increase on the ballot that will be voted on in November, raising the state’s wage to $8.50 with an annual cost-of-living increase.

West Virginia: The legislature passed a bill championed by the West Virginia AFL-CIO that would raise the minimum wage to $8.75 and would increase the minimum wage for tipped workers.

Do you think America needs a raise? Sign the petition

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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West Virginia: Weak Environmental Laws = Poison Water

Common sense tells you don’t put a hazardous chemical storage facility on the banks of a river, a little more than a mile upstream from a drinking water intake that serves more than 300,000 people downstream. So should the law.

But beyond basic common sense, state and  federal environmental and safety and health rules should be in place to prevent disasters such as the recent West Virginia chemical spill that poisoned the drinking water of families downstream from a largely unregulated and uninspected toxic chemical facility on the banks of the Elk River.

Not only was Freedom Industries allowed to operate the facility, which stored millions of gallons of various so-called “specialty chemicals” in aging tanks along the river banks, it had not been inspected by state or federal authorities since 2001, according to the Associated Press. When the leak occurred it was neighbors, not the company, who alerted officials.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports:

West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection officials have said that their inspectors investigated the situation at Freedom on Jan. 9—not because of an alert from the company, but after neighbors complained of an annoying chemical odor resembling that of licorice.

The chemical industry and others in West Virginia have a long and successful history of fighting environmental and health and safety rules. But as the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards points out, the West Virginia water disaster is:

The latest in a series of environmental and safety disasters related to shortcomings in federal and state oversight that have often been driven by vociferous industry-funded anti-regulatory campaigns….The public pays the price when the regulatory agencies don’t have the legal tools and funding to do their jobs.

AFL-CIO Safety and Health Director Peg Seminario says, “This latest disaster has eerie echoes of the West Texas fertilizer explosion in March 2013—in both cases regulation of the toxic chemicals involved were lacking and there had been no oversight or inspections of the facilities.”

In Charleston, citizens have had their lives upended for days, but thankfully there has been no loss of life. In West, Texas, the damage was more devastating and long lasting with 15 emergency responders killed and hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed.

She said the disasters point out the urgent need for stronger protections and greater oversight by state and federal authorities.

This will only happen if citizens and workers come together and demand that their government take action to ensure safe water, clean air and safe workplaces for all.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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10 Ways Working Families Are ‘Kicking Ass’ for the Middle Class

Sure, working families have been under attack for years, but people across the country are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back to protect workers’ rights and raise living standards for everyone. Here are 10 ways they’re doing it:

1. Increasing the Minimum Wage

Four states (California, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island) have increased their state minimum wage in 2013, and on Nov. 5, New Jersey voters will vote on a ballot measure to increase their minimum wage.

2. Passing “Buy America” Laws

Three states (Colorado, Maryland and Texas) passed laws in 2013 to ensure that the goods procured with public funding are made in the United States.

3. Ensuring Paid Sick Days

Portland, Ore., Jersey City, N.J., and New York City became the latest three cities to adopt standards for paid sick days in 2013.

4. Protecting Immigrant Workers

In 2013, six states (California, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon and Vermont) have enacted protections for immigrant workers, including access to driver’s licenses and education.

5. Cracking Down on Businesses That Cheat Workers

Texas passed legislation in 2013 to crack down on businesses that cheat employees by treating them as “independent contractors” who lack worker protections (such as minimum wage and overtime protection, and eligibility for unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation).

6. Giving Workers the Right to a Voice on the Job

In 2013, some 15,000 home care workers in Minnesota won collective bargaining rights through state legislation, as did 10,000 in Illinois and 7,000 in Vermont. Thousands of other workers around the country have enjoyed organizing wins, too: 7,000 electrical workers, more than 5,000 Texas public school teachers, taxi drivers in New York and other cities, telecom workers, college and university faculty, EMS drivers, hotel and casino workers and domestic workers, to name a few.

7. Protecting Your Privacy on Social Media

Nine states (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington) have passed legislation in 2013 to prohibit employers from requiring access to your social media passwords or information as a condition of employment.

8. Fighting for LGBTQ Equality

Five states (Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont) have passed legislation banning workplace discrimination or recognizing marriage equality.

9. Protecting the Rights of Domestic Workers

Two states (California and Hawaii) have passed legislation in 2013 to protect the rights of domestic workers. California’s Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights will benefit about 200,000 domestic workers, and Hawaii’s will benefit some 20,000 domestic workers.

10. Protecting Voting Rights

Twelve states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia) have passed legislation protecting voting rights in 2013, while voting rights legislation was vetoed by the governors of Nevada and New Jersey.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Peabody, Patriot Settle with UMWA on Retiree Health Care

After nearly a year of protests, rallies, marches and court battles demanding “Fairness at Patriot,” a settlement has been reached that will help cover future health care benefits for the retired coal miners affected by the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal.

The Mine Workers (UMWA) yesterday announced that it had reached a global settlement with Peabody Energy and Patriot that will provide more than $400 million to fund retiree health care costs through the Patriot Retirees Voluntary Employee Benefit Association (VEBA). Peabody will pay $310 million over four years while Patriot will provide the remainder through payments and production-based royalties.

UMWA President Cecil E. Roberts said:

This is a significant amount of money that will help maintain health care for thousands of retirees who earned those benefits though years of labor in America’s coal mines. This settlement will also help Patriot emerge from bankruptcy and continue to provide jobs for our members and thousands of others in West Virginia and Kentucky.

Patriot Coal was spun off from Peabody in 2007, and Peabody transferred the health care and other obligations of the former Peabody miners and retirees to Patriot. Patriot filed for bankruptcy in July 2012. In August, the UMWA reached a settlement with Patriot that restored many of the wage and benefit cuts Patriot instituted as part of its bankruptcy proceedings.

As part of the recent settlement, the union agreed to halt its months-long public relations and direct action effort related to Peabody in St. Louis and elsewhere regarding the effects of the Patriot Coal bankruptcy. Miners and their allies had held several huge marches and rallies at Peabody’s St. Louis headquarters and elsewhere.

Several thousand of Patriot retirees worked for Magnum Coal, a subsidiary of Arch Coal that Patriot acquired in 2008. Arch Coal, like Peabody, was accused of ducking its health care and other obligations of those miners by transferring them to the subsidiary. Arch Coal has yet to settle with the union, and Roberts said:

Arch still can step up and meet its obligation to these retirees. We will continue to encourage them to do so in the coming days.

Roberts said while the settlement with Peabody and Patriot is significant, it does not provide the level of funding needed to maintain health care for these retirees forever.

That is why we are continuing our efforts to pass bipartisan legislation in Congress that will put these retirees under the Coal Act, meaning their long-term health care benefits would be secured at no additional cost to taxpayers.

H.R. 2918, introduced by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.), has 24 co-sponsors from both parties; and S. 468, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), has six co-sponsors.

Photo by Missouri AFL-CIO on Facebook

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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NLRB Truth: 10 Reasons Why the National Labor Relations Board Matters

A radical decision by Republican-appointed federal judges threatens to destabilize the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) if the Board loses a quorum in August. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that two recess appointments made by President Barack Obama in January 2012 were invalid and now NLRB decisions made while those appointees served on the Board are being challenged based on the D.C. Circuit opinion and placed on hold pending resolution of this issue by the U.S. Supreme Court.  This puts many workers across the country in dangerous and unfair situations that hurt them and their families.  The Senate could go a long way towards fixing the problem by confirming five nominations the president has made to the Board, but Republicans continue to obstruct the process in an effort to disable the NLRB and prevent it from protecting the rights of American workers.  Some, like Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have taken the extreme position that the NLRB should be “inoperable” and have vowed to block all nominations to the Board.

Here are ten examples—real stories from workers whose jobs and lives are negatively impacted by Republican obstruction—of why we need a functioning NLRB:

1. Dexter Wray, Alaska: Dexter worked as a maintenance engineer at a Sheraton in Anchorage.  His manager pressured him and several of his co-workers to decertify their union and told them to lie to the NLRB.  When they told the truth, Dexter and two of his co-workers were fired.  The NLRB ruled that the firings and coercion were illegal, but the hotel has refused to rehire them.  Dexter didn’t work for six months and incurred a large medical debt when he lost his health insurance.

2. Michelle Baricko, Connecticut: Michelle is a certified nursing assistant at West River Health Care.  She and her co-workers were locked out for months during contract negotiations.  The hospital’s owner, HealthBridge/CareOne, declared that negotiations were permanently stalled and implemented its own contract, which the employees did not agree to.  The NLRB obtained a court injunction for the company to stop its unfair labor practices, but HealthBridge declared bankruptcy and was able to escape its obligations to the employees. The Board and the employees’ union have appealed the decision.  Michelle was forced to sell her home and still struggles to provide for her three sons.

3. Kathleen Von Eitzen, Michigan: Kathleen is a baker at Panera Bread who organized 17 of her coworkers to form a union.  The company fought back, firing one employee and cutting Kathleen’s pay, giving her a negative evaluation because of her organizing.  The NLRB found that Panera violated the workers’ rights and ordered the company to pay back and compensate employees for cutting their hours. Panera appealed and the case is now stalled in federal court.  Kathleen’s husband has had two heart attacks and can’t work full time.  They can’t afford insurance because of her low pay and their home is now in foreclosure.

4. Susana Salgado Martinez, Nebraska: Susana was fired from Greater Omaha Packing Co., a meat packing plant, after she and fellow employees were accused of planning a strike.  She and her co-workers complained that the production line was moving too fast for several new, inexperienced workers to keep up with and that they were not being paid adequately.  A judge found that Susana and her co-workers were illegally fired and ordered that they be reinstated with back pay.  The case is pending before the NLRB.  Over the last year, she has been unable to find steady work and her family had to file for bankruptcy.

5. Juan Lopez, New Mexico: Juan worked as a janitor for Merchant Building Maintenance.  He and several of his fellow employees complained about sexual harassment, disrespectful treatment by a supervisor and the failure to receive a promised pay raise.  The company temporarily lost the contract that Juan was working on in the Santa Fe Public School District.  When the company was rehired by the school district, Merchant refused to rehire the workers who complained.  The NLRB found that failure to rehire those employees was illegal and that they should be reinstated and given back pay.  The company has refused to comply with the ruling.  Juan has been unable to find steady work since then and has had to skip paying some of his bills.

6. Clarence Adams, New York: Clarence is a Marine and Iraqi veteran who was fired by Cablevision for asking to meet with management, under the company’s “open-door” policy, to discuss stalled contract negotiations.  Two regional offices of the NLRB issued complaints against the company for illegally firing workers and for failing to bargain in good faith.  The company has filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals to prevent the complaints from being enforced.  Meanwhile, Clarence is struggling to provide for his family.

7. Jack Conway, Ohio: Jack and 15 other workers at aluminum products company KLB Industries were locked out during union negotiations.  Five years later, KLB has refused to reinstate the workers or give them back pay as the NLRB and U.S. Court of Appeals have ordered.  Conway hasn’t found regular work since the lockout and has exhausted unemployment insurance.  He barely survives on the $200 a week that the United Auto Workers (UAW) provides to him and the other locked-out workers.

8. Anonymous, Virginia: An employee at BaySys Technologies posted a comment on Facebook about not receiving paychecks on time.  The company fired him or her and threatened to sue the employee for violating a non-disclosure agreement.  The NLRB ruled the firing was illegal and ordered the company to reinstate him or her with back pay.  An appeals court enforced the order, which couldn’t have happened without a functioning NLRB.

9. Richard Salinas, Washington: After Richard and his fellow employees at Oak Harbor Freight Lines went on strike in 2008, the company stopped paying into the workers’ pension and health care trust funds.  The NLRB found this to be an illegal action and ordered the company to reimburse the funds for the missed payment and make up for personal losses the employees incurred when their health coverage lapsed.  The Court of Appeals has delayed enforcing the decision because of the uncertainty about the NLRB.  Richard said he’s close enough to retirement that the missed payments won’t affect him much, but he’s worried about how the loss will affect his younger co-workers.

10. Dave Preast, West Virginia: Dave was a miner at the Cannelton mine in Smithers, W.Va., when the mine was purchased by a new company.  The new owner refused to give him a job because of his union membership.  The NLRB has ruled twice that the refusal was illegal, but Dave and 84 other miners have not been rehired or given the back pay they deserve.  Dave has a 16-year-old son who has needed several surgeries for a life-threatening heart condition.  Luckily, he was able to cover the surgeries through the state’s CHIP program and Medicaid, otherwise the costs could have bankrupted the family.  As of now, Dave is doing odd jobs to make ends meet, but without reinstatement he’ll be forced to live on $500 a month when he retires.

There are many more stories of workers whose lives and livelihoods are in crisis because of this NLRB fight.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Holt Baker, Roberts Among 30 Arrested at Patriot Rally in West Virginia

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker and United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts were among 30 arrested at a rally in West Virginia Tuesday while protesting Patriot Coal’s attempts to abandon its commitments to retirees, most of whom worked for Peabody Energy and Arch Coal before those companies created Patriot. Roberts and others say Patriot specifically was created to fail so the original companies could eliminate retiree health care and pension costs.

Before the arrests, Roberts headlined a group of speakers with a rousing message:

We’re standing for those afflicted with black lung. We’re standing with those who are in hospice care taking their last breath with their priests and ministers and families all around them. We’re standing with those who have cancer. We’re standing with the afflicted because the Bible tells us, ‘Honor your mother and your father.’ [...]

Holt Baker underlined the AFL-CIO’s support for miners in the Patriot fight. Of the steady rain that came down throughout the rally, she said: “That is just the tears of the righteous trying to wash away the injustice of Patriot Coal.”

Both of the state’s U.S. senators sent letters of support for the rally and the retired workers. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) said:

Today’s rally should remind us all of people like Shirley Inman, who left a good-paying job in Chicago for a mining job at home in West Virginia, with the promise of a lifetime pension and health care benefits. Now, after years of on-the-job injuries and a courageous fight with cancer, that promise is gone. This is an unconscionable outcome for Shirley and the thousands of miners and their families who gave of themselves to the mining industry for decades on end. It’s heartbreaking and shameful, and I won’t stand for it.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D) added:

Our miners worked their fingers to the bone every single day to provide the fuel that powers America, and these companies made a promise to them—a promise they earned and deserved.

Watch video of today’s rally at the Mine Workers’ UStream channel.

Last week, hundreds of Australian workers rallied on behalf of their U.S. brothers and sisters. The West Virginia legislature also got involved in the story, with the House of Delegates passing a resolution supporting the retirees and calling on Patriot to honor its commitments. Roberts said he was pleased with the legislature’s action. “It shows that the support for our struggle for justice is growing and broadening, and that these coal companies’ concept of ‘business as usual’ will not be tolerated in West Virginia.”

A concurrent resolution was introduced in the Senate, but didn’t emerge from committee before the legislature adjourned.

For more details on the specifics of the Patriot story, Roberts wrote an op-ed explaining the situation and Fairness at Patriot produced the following video:

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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