Rants & Raves for the Week of March 21st, 2011
The pain of the state budget cuts have not been shared equally in California. While working people have endured billions in brutal cuts, corporations are reaping the benefits of generous state tax giveaways. Just one week after legislators tried to fix the state budget for voting for billions in cuts, Republican legislators are attempting to give away even more money to corporations. State Senator Bob Dutton introduced a bill to grant a sales tax break to corporations to the tune of $1 billion. Yes, a $1 billion hit to the state budget and a $1 billion gift to corporations when the state is making cuts to programs that will cost us in lives, not just dollars. The bill itself is bad enough, but the fact that it had the votes to get out of a Senate committee just makes the whole situation even worse.
Republican governors first tried to scapegoat public employees for state budget gaps and went after their pensions and collective bargaining rights. Since they couldn’t beat down workers and their unions, now they’re going after the unemployed—a group with little political clout or representation. A measure in Michigan would slash unemployment benefits for the jobless, and Governor Rick Snyder says he’ll sign the bill. Other states, including Florida and Arkansas, are also looking at slashing benefits. Once again, Republican legislators are blaming working people and now the unemployed for a financial crisis created big Wall Street banks. Once again, they’re proposing cuts that will not balance their budget and will further hurt the economy taking money out of the hands of the jobless and out of the local economy.
And just when you think you’ve seen it all, another anti-worker Republican governor comes along to lower the bar. In addition to pushing union-busting “right to work for less” legislation, Maine Governor Paul LePage is trying to erase the legacy of workers’ rights at the Maine Department of Labor. He just removed a mural depicting labor history, comparing it to North Korean propaganda. He is even changing the names of conference rooms, claiming they are too pro-Labor. That includes the room named for Frances Perkins, Labor Secretary during the New Deal, and a Maine native. Instead, conference rooms will have ‘neutral’ names that make businesses and employers feel more comfortable. Wow. Apparently, it’s not enough to attack workers’ rights. Governor LePage wants to make workers — and the legacy of the labor movement — invisible.
No longer content to just openly distain working families, unions, the middle class, and all the rights we hold dear, US House Republicans are now quite literally trying to starve our children. Led Rep. Jim Jordan, (R-OH), five Republican house members this week stunned the country with this doozy: HR 1135, legislation to deny food stamp benefits to the children of striking union members. That’s right, if this bill were to pass, federal law would read “no member of a family unit shall participate in the food stamp program at any time that any able-bodied work eligible adult member of such household is on strike.” As if going on strike wasn’t hardship enough, the fact that Republicans want our kids to go hungry as well makes us hungry for new House leadership in 2012.
Has hell frozen over? On the heels of Blue Shield’s announcement that they will not raise health insurance premiums this year, Anthem Blue Cross has decided to cut their proposed rate hike in half. Anthem Blue Cross made national headlines last year for proposing to jack up premiums 39%. They were forced to reduce that number half due to errors in their math. Now, for the second time, the for-profit health insurer will cut the size of the rate increase for 500,000 Californians. Instead of a July 1st premium increase of 16.45%, Anthem customers will only see a 9.1% increase. So why the sudden change of heart? Did Anthem and Blue Shield realize that their rate hikes could make health care unaffordable for many Californians? Maybe. Or maybe it’s the threat of AB 52, the bill allowing the state to reject unreasonable rate hikes that scared the insurers straight. Either way, it’s a win for consumers.
Happy Birthday health care reform! This week marks the first anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law. Just one short year later, Californians have already enjoyed the benefits of health care reform. An estimated 200,000 19-26 year olds are eligible to enroll on their parents health coverage. The law also limits the ability of insurance companies to kick people off their insurance when they get sick and to put lifetime limits on care. Seniors got checks in the mail to help close the “donut hole” in Medicare and children with asthma or diabetes can no longer be denied health insurance. California has taken full advantage of the Affordable Care Act — but there is work left to do. The core provisions of the law do not go into effect until 2014, and Republicans are racing to defund and dismantle the reforms before we get to see all the benefits. The fight to protect and strengthen health care reform continues, but this week, at least, we get to celebrate reforms first birthday.
This week, the Senate Labor Committee again rejected a bill to undermine the eight-hour day under the guise of increased flexibility. Senator Bob Dutton presented SB 367, which would allow small businesses to put workers on “alternative schedules,” essentially waiving their right to daily overtime pay. California law already permits employers to implement alternative schedules if they allow workers to vote or bargain it with a union – al this bill would have done is allow employers to pressure workers to give up the eight-hour day. In this economy, no worker can afford to see take-home pay cut. And the eight hour day actually promotes job creation, because it limits how hard and long an employer can make each worker work. Most important, eight-hour day protection recognizes that after a long day's work, workers deserve to go home to rest, to be with their families, and to do what they will.
Wisconsin workers need all the good news they can get! Fortunately for them, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals yesterday struck down a business-backed challenge to Milwaukee’s Paid Sick Days ordinance, ruling that the landmark measure was not pre-empted the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) or the Labor Management Rights Act (LMRA). In November 2008, over 69% of Milwaukee voters said yes to an initiative requiring private sector employers to offer paid sick leave to full-time, part-time and temporary employees, and for now the law stands. This news is especially encouraging in light of AB 400—California’s Paid Sick Days law currently working its way through the legislature. With any luck, in 2011 California can add this issue to the list of reasons that We Are One with Wisconsin.