Posts tagged ‘Healthcare Reform’

The Real Retirement Crisis » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names


 

“The lifespan of any civilization can be measured by the respect and care that is given to its elderly citizens, and those societies which treat their elderly with contempt have the seeds of their own destruction within them.”

—Arnold J. Toynbee

The astounding, and potentially tragic, aspect of Washington’s three-plus-decade Social Security debate is that it carries on with little regard to the challenges facing the program’s participants. Politicians on the right and center-right feel free to decry resistance to even “modest cuts” in Social Security benefits while ignoring the vulnerability of seniors who are living the effects of reductions already mandated in the program’s last major overhaul, in 1983.

But the situation for seniors – and future retirees – is becoming alarming. A new, supplemental poverty measure introduced by the Census Bureau last November nearly doubled the official estimate of Americans over 65 living in poverty, to 15.9%, mainly due to medical costs not counted in the official numbers. More than 34% were either poor or near-poor—defined as having family income less than twice the poverty line. Half of all retirement-age persons who were no longer working—that is, who were receiving Social Security—had total yearly income of less than $16,140—only a fraction more than the federal minimum wage.

Even small reductions in benefits, or slower growth over a period of years, could tip many of these people into poverty. Countless others, who once believed their personal savings, 401(k)s, employer-sponsored pensions, or the equity in their homes made their retirements secure, are finding out that this isn’t the case either. Meanwhile, the White House, Republicans, and centrist Democrats are reportedly negotiating a Grand Bargain built on the deficit-cutting Bowles-Simpson proposals, which would include deep reductions to Social Security. And state and local governments are scrounging for ways to cut back the rest of the safety net for seniors—targeting Medicaid funds for nursing homes and home health care, housing subsidies, and other benefits.

A true retirement crisis is looming in the U.S., but politicians, obsessed with Social Security projections decades into the future, are disinclined to address it. Financially vulnerable older workers will be affected almost as soon as they retire; workers in their 20s, 30s, and 40s today will be hit much harder.

The Social Security “deficit”—the amount by which annual old-age and Disability Insurance benefits are expected to exceed revenues—was projected in 2011 to total about $6.5 trillion over the next 75 years. But for all the political attention focused on it, the economic impact of that shortfall will be quite moderate, equaling just .7% of GDP. Even the Baby Boom retirement wave wouldn’t make a very big dent in the economy, according to the Social Security trustees, whose 2011 Annual Report estimated that the annual cost of benefits will rise gradually to 6.2% of GDP by 2035, decline to about 6% by 2050, then stabilize at about that level.

By contrast, the U.S. faces a “retirement income deficit” of $6.6 trillion—larger than Social Security’s projected 75-year shortfall and five times the size of the current-year federal deficit. The Retirement Income Deficit is a new measure unveiled in fall 2010 by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. It lumps together all the resources that Americans in their peak earning years will have to retire on: Social Security and pension benefits, retirement savings, home equity, and other assets. It calculates the income people will need in retirement, based on tax scenarios as well as the income replacement targets that Americans at different income levels will likely need to meet.

Social Security and Medicare are perhaps the only ingredients in the Retirement Income Deficit calculation that the elderly can still rely upon. Nearly two-thirds depend on Social Security for more than half their income, and roughly one in five for all of it. Without Social Security, nearly half of Americans over 65 would be living in poverty. If anything, dependence on Social Security has increasing since the latest economic slump, thanks to the collapsed housing market, the recession, decades of stagnating wages, and the disintegration of other elements of the social safety net, among other factors.

Not that it’s a lot to lean on. Social Security only replaces 37% of the average worker’s pre-retirement income at 65. More than 95% of recipients get less than $2,000 a month from the program. Women average less than $12,000 a year in benefits, compared to $14,000 for retirees overall, thanks to the gender pay gap—partially explaining why 75% of old people living in poverty in the U.S. are women. While this seems to merit little discussion in deficit-obsessed Washington or on Wall Street, it draws an alarming picture for anyone familiar with what’s happening in the rest of the country, where a Gallup poll found 90% of people aged 44 to 75 agreeing that the country faces a retirement crisis.

Even before the economic slump, however, there were reasons to worry about the erosion of Social Security.

The Real Retirement Crisis » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

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CALIFORNIA’S ENEMIES OF SINGLE PAYER MUST RESIGN [Senators CALDERON,CORREA,VARGAS, PADILLA, RUBIO, WRIGHT]


Enemies of the people; they betrayed their communities Juan Vargas knows better than this he grew up in Imperial Valley and his father worked the fields to feed him. This is the gratitude that he gives to his community where he lived and worked most of his life. They killed Single-Payer Healthcare in California, and we are not going to forgive them for this; this is a crime against the people of California

Health Professionals – $89K

Alex Padilla can be contacted in Sacramento at 916-651-4020 or in Van Nuys at 818-901-5588
Insurance – $137K
Health Professionals – $105K
Pharma – $67K

Michael Rubio can be contacted in Sacramento at 916-651-4016 or in Bakersfield at 661-395-2620
Health Professionals – $94K
Insurance – $36K

Juan Vargas In Sacramento at 916-651-4040 or in Chula Vista at 619-409-7690
Insurance – $115K
Health Professionals – $46K
Pharma – $28K

Rod Wright can be contacted in Sacramento at 916-651-4025 or in Inglewood at 310-412-0393
Insurance – $87K
Pharma – $45K
Health Professionals – $43K

Thank Senator Mark Leno for championing SB 810 at Senator.Leno@Senate.CA.gov. We do not want to tie up his phones. It is important to thank legislators when they champion our cause, and not just spank them when they do not.

Help Build a Stronger Movement – Order SB 810 Postcards, direct new people to our website, and consider becoming a monthly contributor to Single Payer Now.

Please order SB 810 postcards. They ask Governor Brown to pass SB 810. The legislation will again be introduced in 2013. Asking new people to sign a postcard is wonderful way to have a discussion about the merits of single payer healthcare. We add the names to our action alert list to keep activists engaged in the campaign for universal healthcare.

Graduate Assistants Speak Out On Union


Posted on February 10, 2012 by Richard A. Levins

 One of the most annoying things about being a professor is the day you realize that your graduate students are smarter and more articulate than you are. At first, it bothers you terribly. Then, as time goes on, you come to accept it more gracefully. At least that’s how it’s been for me.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a few comments on my last posting on unions for graduate research assistants at the University of Minnesota. Some were in favor, some objected, but all were thoughtful and worthy of our attention.

I sent out a call for help in putting together my response. Sara Nelson, a graduate assistant and doctoral student at the University of Minnesota, offered something that I can’t improve upon.  So, I will simply quote verbatim:

“The bargaining unit is defined in Minnesota law – the only way to have a union is to have a union for all teaching and research assistants and graduate instructors.

“It is true that, as grad assistants, our work across the university varies greatly – but we are all grad assistant employees, and we are all affected by terms and conditions of our employment determined at the level of the upper administration (though the specifics of our employment are – and would continue to be with a union – determined at the department level). A union would give us the opportunity to negotiate on equal footing with the administration over these basic terms and conditions; a contract would be able to establish base pay, benefits, and job protections for all workers, but this does not mean a flattening of wages across the bargaining unit – above these minimums, diversity among departments is maintained and the functions of individual departments in setting competitive compensation is not curtailed. The fundamental point is that all graduate assistants across campus have the opportunity to provide their input on an initial contract and to vote on this contract, and grad assistants will not approve a contract that is not beneficial to them.

“Further, regardless of differences in pay and benefits, the union is able to give all graduate assistants democratic control in setting the terms and conditions of their employment, which are enforceable in a legally-binding contract.  Regardless of whether we feel satisfied with the status quo, the fact is that it can be (and has been) changed at the whim of the administration. My biggest concern, personally, is less increasing my compensation (though a cost of living increase every few years would be nice) than gaining this democratic control.

“Regarding strikes: strikes are extremely rare (more than 98% of contract negotiations are settled without a strike), and involve a sacrifice for any worker – they are a serious decision that no one takes lightly. Those of us in the social sciences and humanities who may not be funded on external research grants are still required to make progress in order to maintain our positions, and take our work as research and teaching assistants seriously enough not to abandon it except under the most dire of circumstances. A strike requires a 2/3 majority vote, in order to make sure that a super majority of members feel that a strike is absolutely necessary. Further, in the extremely rare case that grad assistants decide they need to strike, no one can be forced to participate in a strike or to discontinue work. The 2/3 majority is designed to ensure that a strike would have strong enough support to succeed.”

I thank Ms. Nelson for her help with this posting. More than that, I thank her and all of you graduate students who are working to find ways that a union can give each and every one of you a stronger voice in administrative decisions. You need it now and, believe me, you will need it much more when you take the next step in your careers.

shareshareshareshareshare

This entry was posted in Economic Policy, Labor Unions and tagged graduate student assistants, graduate student union, Richard Levins, UAW by Richard A. Levins. Bookmark the permalink.

Oakland Politics: The Green Party Rises In Post-Occupy Oakland


Occupy Oakland has given rise to a party that, for a long time, seemed almost dead in Oakland: The Green Party.

Oakland Politics – or to be clear, politics in Oakland, California – has always been marked by wild, turbulent events and eras that left the city vastly different than it was before.  Arguably, this first started with the Civil Rights Movement and the emergence of the Black Panthers, which gave birth to a non-profit community watchdog tradition.  A habit reflected in the actions of organizations like OCCUR, for “Oakland Citizen’s Committee For Urban Renewal.”  Oakland now has a long history of politics as political dissent.  A history continued with the Occupy Movement.

Occupy Wall Street gave birth to it’s more militant brother, Occupy Oakland.  Occupy Oakland is a movement such that its proponents claim it’s not political, but one political group has flurished because of it: The Oakland Green Party, which had its campaign kick-off today in front of Oakland City Hall.

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For the first time in some years, The Oakland Green Party presents more than one or two people running for office in Oakland. The Greens have four candidates: Theresa Anderson will run for the Oakland City Council At-Large Seat currently held by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan; Donald McCleay, who ran for Mayor of Oakland in 2010, is running for the Oakland City Council District One Seat; Randy Menjivar is taking on Oakland City Council President Larry Reid in District Seven; Vicente Cruz II is running for the Oakland School Board District Three Seat.

The Oakland Green Party circa 2012 is supportive of the basic idea of the Occupy Oakland Movement, and wants to channel its more constructive message of helping those who need assistance into a more supportive urban policy.  That’s certainly clear in the message of Ms. Anderson, who says her reason for running is her concern for Oakland’s youth and her assertion that not enough is being done to make Oakland a healthy place for them.   That’s a platform that could work for the long-shot candidate, who’s going up against a person, Kaplan, who has made running for office an art form, and ran for Mayor of Oakland in 2010, coming up third place in a close race defined by Rank Choice Voting.

Where the Oakland Greens go in 2012 will be marked by how well Theresa Anderson does.  If she can stir the kind of grass roots excitement the Occupy Oakland Movement seems to have created, and is now looking for a candidate to back, she and the Greens could alter Oakland’s political course for some time.


Left to right; Vicente Cruz II, Thresa Anderson, Donald Macleay, Randy Menjivar..

Credits:

Beverly Rvas – Zennie62.com

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Corporate Front Group Airs Misleading Anti-Union Ad During Super Bowl


By Travis Waldron on Feb 6, 2012 at 10:45 am

While Super Bowl XLVI will be remembered for its dramatic ending, the issue of workers’ rights and union representation also surrounded the National Football League’s biggest game. A labor dispute nearly cost the NFL its 2011-12 season, and in the days before the game, Indiana passed an anti-union “right to work” law that led to union and Occupy protests at Indianapolis’ Super Bowl festivities throughout the week.

But despite fears from sports columnists and right-wing blogs that the protesters would “ruin the Super Bowl,” the only visible advocacy for some of the game’s viewers came in the form of a misleading anti-union attack ad from a corporate front group. The Center For Union Facts, an organization that has run newspaper ads comparing unions to Kim Jong-il’s authoritarian North Korean regime and endorsed an editorial comparing unions to Nazis, produced and paid for the 40-second ad, which ran in the Washington DC television market just before halftime ended. Watch it:

The ad’s claim that just 10 percent of current union members voted to form the union may be true, but it is incredibly misleading. Federal law mandates that more than 50 percent of a company’s workforce must vote in favor of the formation of a union. Most current union members, however, join unions that were formed years before and know that the union exists when they take the job.

The ad’s implication that the Employee Rights Act would put money in workers’ pockets is also misleading. According to the Economic Policy Institute, right-to-work laws cost workers up to $1,500 a year and also lead to reduced pensions and health care coverage.

Super Bowl broadcasters have traditionally banned ads that advocate for political causes. Year after year, though, it seems that ban doesn’t extend to misleading anti-union ads paid for by corporate front-groups that don’t disclose their donors.
Update

Lee Fang at RepublicReport.org reports that Rick Berman, president and executive director of the Center For Union Facts, was one of the actors in the misleading ad, a report Berman’s company confirmed.

Berman, a multimillionaire lobbyist, owns Berman and Company, a prominent Washington lobbying shop that has crafted “grassroots” campaigns for big corporations. According to its 990 tax form, the Center For Union Facts paid Berman and Company $591,315 for “management services” in 2009.

6 Things You Should Know About Arizona’s Worse-Than-Wisconsin’s Attack on Public Workers


February 5, 2012

Jan Brewer has decided to get in on the union-busting action, introducing a bill that makes Ohio’s and Wisconsin’s attacks on public workers look mild.

Not content to let Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich get all the fame (and recall elections, and ballot referenda) for their attempts to curtail union workers’ rights, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators have jumped into the fray and proposed their own anti-union bills in recent weeks.

Along with South Carolina’s Nikki Haley and Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, Arizona’s Jan Brewer, not content with making her state the least friendly to immigrants and people of color, has decided to get in on the union-busting action as well, introducing a bill that makes Walker’s and Kasich’s attacks on public workers look mild.

Brewer, the Republican left in charge of the state after President Obama tapped Janet Napolitano to be his Secretary of Homeland Security, has been planning anti-union moves since last spring with the backing of the Goldwater Institute. (Named for Barry Goldwater, the think tank pushes for “freedom” and “prosperity”–as long as it’s not the freedom or prosperity of state workers.)

It’s not just Arizona’s right-wingers who are pushing Brewer to beat up on unions–John Nichols at the Nation notes that Walker may have had a hand in helping push an anti-labor agenda, and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is involved. In a speech to the right-wing policy shop behind many of these anti-union bills last year, Brewer complained about her inability to fire government employees and supervisors’ difficulty “disciplining” workers.

This week, the Republicans in the state legislature introduced moves that would make collective bargaining for public workers completely illegal. Here, we break down what you need to know about Brewer and the GOP’s anti-worker agenda.

1. The bill would go further than Wisconsin’s, making collective bargaining completely illegal for government workers.

SB 1485, the first of the bills to take on union rights, declares that no state agency can recognize any union as a bargaining agent for any public officer or worker, collectively bargain with any union, or meet and confer with any union for the purpose of discussing bargaining.

While Wisconsin’s law bans public employees from bargaining over everything but very small wage increases, Arizona’s bill bans collective bargaining outright and refuses to recognize any union as a bargaining unit. Existing contracts with unions will be honored, but not be renewed if this bill passes.

2. Arizona includes police and firefighters in its ban.

Scott Walker famously exempted public safety workers—police officers and firefighters—from his attacks on union workers, but many of them joined the protests anyway. In Ohio, John Kasich’s bill, overturned by his constituents this past November, included the police and firefighters in its elimination of bargaining rights. Now Brewer and her legislative compatriots have decided that police and firefighters should lose their bargaining rights as well.

Arizona, as Dave Dayen at FireDogLake noted, “is changing to a purple state because of an extreme legislature which first demonized immigrants, in what could start a backlash among the Hispanic community. Now, flush with that success, the legislature will demonize police and firefighters. It’s not exactly a textbook strategy for a lasting majority.”

Walker’s attempt to divide and conquer public sector unions by attacking some and not others didn’t work; perhaps that’s why later attempts at similar bills didn’t bother giving special treatment to public safety workers. But as we saw in Ohio, the support of the traditionally conservative police and firefighters’ unions helped unite the state’s voters and bring out record numbers to vote down the bill. Arizona seems to be asking for trouble by targeting police and firefighters with this bill.

3. The state would ban government employers from deducting union dues automatically from a worker’s paycheck.

Not content with banning bargaining, the Arizona legislature is also out to make sure unions can’t collect any money for the work they do. SB 1487 inserts language into existing law that says “This state and any county, municipality, school district or other political subdivision of this state may not withhold or divert any portion of an employee’s wages to pay for labor organization dues.”

This move obviously is aimed to hit unions right in their wallets—taking away the funding they need in order to do more organizing, and carry out political activity.

4. Arizona would ban the government from allowing employees to do union work on company time.

Laura Clawson at Daily Kos notes that in addition to the other measures, Arizona’s Republicans also want to eliminate “release time,” a practice “in which union stewards and other representatives are allowed to spend work time on certain union functions, such as contract negotiations or handling grievances.”

Union stewards and representatives are full-time employees who take on additional responsibilities on top of their jobs—a move like this makes it harder for them to carry out those responsibilities to their fellow workers without fear of facing sanctions from their bosses. Specifically banned by the bill, SB 1486, are “activities that are performed by a union, union members or representatives that relate to advocating the interests of member employees in wages, benefits, terms and conditions of employment.”

5. Brewer also wants to eliminate any job protections for workers, buying them off with pay raises.

Brewer plans to offer public workers their first pay raise in years, a 5 percent increase. The tradeoff? They have to opt out of job protections some of them currently enjoy, including the right to appeal demotions and protection from being fired without cause – they have to become at-will employees.

Like most “merit pay” arrangements, this one sounds good at first—hard-working people will get raises!–but workers see right through it. Odalys Hinds, who works in the state health lab, told the Arizona Republic, “No way will I do it. I won’t take it — it basically would take away our rights. My retirement’s gone up. My insurance has gone up. There’s going to come a day when I’m going to have to pay the state to work.”

6. Arizona is already a “right-to-work” state

The kicker to all this? Arizona workers already enjoy fewer protections than those in Ohio and Wisconsin. Arizona is a so-called “right-to-work” state, where unions cannot collect a fair share of the direct costs of representation from workers who opt out of joining the union—even though the union is compelled to represent all workers.

This means that unlike the midwestern states, Arizona has few union members already and that means there are fewer people who are likely to be outraged and moved to protest by attacks on collective bargaining. Yet Brewer, the Goldwater Institute and the Republicans in the legislature aren’t content with what they have and are moving to make public sector unions all but irrelevant, by making it nearly impossible for them to do their jobs.

Arizona now has a strong Republican majority in the legislature, and so barring a change of heart by a handful of GOPers, the anti-union measures are likely to pass. But if Brewer continues to antagonize working people in her state, John Nichols notes, Arizona does have something else in common with Wisconsin—provisions that allow for the recall of the governor and state legislators, provisions that were used just last year to remove Russell Pearce, the state senator responsible for the state’s hideous anti-immigrant law, from office.
Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @s

The Older Americans Act