Rants & Raves for the Week of February 28th, 2011

Blue Shield does it again. First they file to jack up health insurance premiums by up to 59%.  Then they tried to get around Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones’ request that they delay the increase. Now the insurance industry giant has produced its own study that says their rate increase is “reasonable.” Really? Reasonable for whom? Not for the 200,000 Blue Shield policy holders who will have to pay 59% more for health coverage. Not for the untold thousands who will no longer be able to afford their coverage, or the thousands more who will never be able to afford it. Thanks for your study, Blue Shield, but we need you to be part of the solution, not the problem. Figure out how to contain costs, not pass them on to your customers.


Amazon.com is once again trying to strong-arm California. Why? So they don’t have to be responsible for the billions of dollars in sales and use taxes that other brick-and-mortar businesses are required to pay. Currently, a loophole in the law allows out-of-state retailers, like Amazon and others, a free pass on taxes. Not only does the state lose out on billions in tax revenue, but the loophole puts our local businesses at a competitive disadvantage against online giants. Two new bills, AB 153 (Skinner) and AB 155 (Calderon),  would close these loopholes and make sure that Amazon collects and pays sales tax in California. Rather than pony up and pay the taxes they owe, Amazon is threatening to cut ties with its 10,000 California affiliates if these bills pass. And this isn’t the first time—Amazon now has a reputation of trying to bully states out of similar laws. It’s time for Amazon to pay their fair share in California!


What happens to Republican legislators in Ohio who refuse to throw away public worker collective bargaining rights? They get thrown off of their committees! As part of the GOP leadership’s plan to push through Ohio’s SB 5 — vicious legislation to gut collective bargaining rights for hundreds of thousands of public workers — two pro-worker Senate Republicans found themselves summarily stripped of their committee assignments Wednesday after expressing their opposition to the union-stripping bill. SB 5 then passed by just one vote (with six Republicans voting to protect workers’ rights) and now heads to the state House of Representatives, where anti-worker forces will likely again try to make a shameful mockery of the legislative process. But Ohio workers are out en masse to make their voices heard – this week, upwards of 20,000 rallied at the Ohio capitol to protest SB 5 and the GOP lawmakers who continue to push for its passage.


How would you like to save your family almost $12,000 a year? No, you don’t have to clip coupons. Starting in 2014, the federal health care reform law caps the amount individuals have to pay out-of-pocket for health care. A new study finds that if the cap were in place today, it would save 1.9 million Californians a total of $3 billion a year. That works out to $11,900 for a family and $5,950 for individuals. It makes you wonder why Republicans continue to attack a law that puts billions of dollars back in the pockets of Californians—just not in the pockets of the insurance industry.


Numbers don’t lie, but Governors sometimes do! A flood of public opinion polls this week confirmed that a growing majority of Americans oppose the recent attacks on working families, despite continued—and totally discredited—claims from the likes of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that such attacks will somehow close budget gaps. On the heels of last week’s favorable USA Today poll, a wealth of new surveys released this week found strong public opposition to attacks on public workers’ collective bargaining rights. A CBS News poll found fully 60% of Americans oppose efforts to steal collective bargaining rights away from public workers, Nearly identical numbers were released by several other sources, and a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll revealed a whopping 77% of Americans believe unionized public workers should have the same rights as unionized private sector workers. A recent Pew poll found less than one-third say they currently support the Governor, and even notoriously conservative pollster Rasmussen found that 56% of Wisconsinites are siding with the unions over Walker. Good luck lying to yourself about those numbers, Governor Walker.


State Senator Leland Yee took a stand for public employees this week, firing back at UC Regent David Crane for opposing collective bargaining for public employees. Crane wrote an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle saying that public employees don’t need collective bargaining. Senator Yee immediately sprang into action citing how UC employees struggle to make ends meet while UC executives rake in top million dollar salaries and cushy pensions. The only tool for closing the glaring inequality between top UC executives and the workers who keep UC running is collective bargaining. This is just the opening salvo in what is shaping up to be a battle over the confirmation of UC Regent David Crane, who was appointed by Schwarzenegger last year.


U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis isn’t taking a back seat in the fight for workers’ rights — she’s right out in the forefront. This week, she shared her own personal connection to the Labor movement in a touching op-ed on the Huffington Post. Then, on a phone call with more than 10,000 CWA members this week, Solis (who comes from a California union family) remarked on how inspired and proud of the hundreds of thousands of union and non-union workers nationwide who are taking on the states’ aggressive anti-worker agendas. She also took the opportunity to clarify between “shared sacrifice” and the elimination of workers’ rights. “Budget sacrifices are one thing, but demanding that workers give up their voice is another,” Solis said. “The governors aren’t just asking us to tighten our belts, they’re demanding we give up our uniquely American rights as workers.” Right on, Secretary Solis! We’re lucky to have a real advocate for workers heading up the Labor Department.


A special thanks to Florida Gov. Rick Scott who decided, in his infinite wisdom, to reject $2.4 billion in federal funding for high-speed rail. Florida’s loss is California’s gain! Today Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood indicated that most of those funds will come California’s way. We’re more than happy to take that money off your hands, governor. Good jobs are on the way to California, and they may just arrive sooner than expected thanks to a handful of out-of-touch right-wing governors who apparently are more concerned about rigid ideology than they are creating jobs in their respective states.