Archive for August, 2012

Harkin launches crusade for retirement security

Friday, August 31st, 2012

By Rap Lewis

Senator Tom Harkin is embarked on a crusade to provide security for workers in retirement by rebuilding the nation’s private pension system.

The Iowa Democrat chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, known as the HELP Committee. Over the past two years, the HELP Committee has held a series of hearings on retirement security issues. In a new report, Harkin summarizes the findings of those hearings:

  • There’s a $6.6 trillion gap between the amount U.S. workers have actually saved toward retirement and the amount they should have saved.
  • Half of all Americans have less than $10,000 in savings.
  • Only one in five Americans will receive pension income in retirement.
  • In 2010, nearly 6 million Americans over the age of 65 lived in poverty, and the number is growing.

“For most of the middle class the dream of a secure retirement is slipping out of reach. We are facing a retirement crisis,” Harkin said. “I intend for this report to be a starting place in an evolving discussion about retirement security.

“Over the coming months, I plan to bring together business and labor leaders, policy experts, advocates, and my fellow lawmakers to implement necessary reforms. The retirement crisis is simply too big to ignore, and it is time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

Harkin proposes to address the crisis by creating a new type of privately-run retirement plan he calls “Universal, Secure and Adaptable (USA) Retirement Funds. The new plan would combine the advantages of traditional pensions – that is, lifetime benefits and pooled, professional management – with 401(k) portability and ease for employers.

This would give working families a path to a secure retirement benefit that they could take with them when they change jobs, and that they cannot outlive.

USA Retirement Funds would also make it simple for small employers to offer a benefit without having to shoulder the risk and the administrative burden.

The 75 million Americans who lack a workplace retirement plan could use existing payroll withholding systems to make automatic contributions toward their retirement.

Harkin’s proposal is intended to start a discussion. Interested persons should convey their ideas to Harkin by email at Retirement_Security@help.senate.gov or by regular mail to Retirement Security Project, Senate Comittee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, 428 Dirksen Office Building,Washington, DC 20510.

Corporate America Stole Our Broadly Shared Prosperity 1980 to Today

Friday, August 31st, 2012

By Mark McDermott (Member of PSARA Executive Board)

The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 set the stage for Corporate America’s all-out offensive to reassert their domination of our country and economy. Armed with a comprehensive political and economic strategy, a well-oiled propaganda machine, vast financial resources, a clearly articulated vision and values for America, and a resurgent right wing, the offensive began in earnest.

Relentless attacks against working people and unions, major cutbacks in critical social programs, extensive deregulation of financial industries and other key industries, large tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, and aggressive promotion of free trade and the export of manufacturing jobs were the centerpiece of the big promises to restore widespread prosperity. At the same time, major increases in military spending were coupled with a more aggressive foreign policy. To quote a famous 1984 Reagan re-election ad: “It is morning in America again.” Unfortunately, for millions of hard-working and poor Americans, it was “Mourning in America again.”

What happened under the new corporate dominated regime? Good-bye shared prosperity. Hello stolen prosperity. No longer would Americans, poor, working class, or middle class share fairly in the growing wealth of our nation. My proof? Sometimes pictures are worth a 1000 words. Look the first graph.

During the shared prosperity of the late 1940s to the late 1970s, all income groups of families saw their average incomes double after inflation with the exception of the richest 5%. It was period in which a rising economic tide was lifting all boats. Poverty rates plummeted, income gaps between whites and people of color were narrowing and women began to gain on men.

Many challenges remained to create shared prosperity, and genuine economic opportunity and security for all Americans. However our long-term direction of the nation was producing greater opportunity and security for most Americans. Now look at the second graph.

Since the late 1970s, shared prosperity disappeared. The poorest 20% of families saw their average incomes drop by 11%, the lower middle class’s average income only rose 2% and the middle class’s rose only 10%. During the previous 3 decades the income gains income of these three groups were 116%, 100% and 111%.

The past three decades have been wonderful for the super-wealthy and corporate America. Between 1979 and 2006, the average income for the richest 11 thousand American families rose 386 percent. In 2006, their average income was $35.5 million. Tax rates for the super-wealthy were also cut. By 2010, corporate after-tax profits as a share of the total national income reached a record high while federal corporate tax rates reached the lowest point in more than 60 years. Times have never been better for Corporate America.

Today, we are still recovering from the worst recession since the 1930s. High levels of unemployment, mortgage foreclosures, poverty, and hunger and widespread economic insecurity remain serious problems. To understand the way forward to a renewed broadly shared prosperity and secure future, we must acknowledge that both Republicans and many corporate Democrats strongly supported financial deregulation which allowed Wall Street and Corporate America to collapse the economy and steal our shared prosperity.

Today, we face a crossroads in our nation’s history. The election of Mitt Romney will unleash a new wave of corporate domination and continuation of policies that advance the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the people. The re-election of Barack Obama is critical but it is far from enough. Next month we can begin to explore the long-term strategy to bring renewed economic security and opportunity for all Americans.

We Built this country!

Friday, August 31st, 2012

We wake it up every day, we make it run and we put it to sleep every night And it’s time that we took it back for the American worker. Anyone who says that America can’t afford retirement security, or healthcare, or decent pay for honest work, or great schools, or a postal service, or cops or firefighters and teachers and nurses, well they don’t know what they’re talking about and we don’t accept their defeatism!

– AFL-CIO President, Richard Trumka

Waiting for the next burst of gunfire

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

By Will Parry

What do we do, as a nation, to address gun violence?

After the shock, the horror, the weeping families, the prayers, what do we as a nation actually do to address the issue?

PSARA has not taken a position on gun violence. The thoughts and feelings expressed here are those of the editor. We invite the comments of our members.

But again, what do we do? Do we simply wait for the next inevitable massacre, the work of the next sick and desperate individual, hoping it won’t happen in our home town?

Do we leave unchanged the laws that enable troubled loners to equip themselves with the slaughter weapons of modern warfare?

Do we accept the National Rifle Association’s interpretation of the Second Amendment? That each and every man and woman in the USA has the Constitutional right to buy, load and carry weapons up to and including an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle like the one that sprayed death in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater? And to stockpile 6,000 rounds for that weapon?

The president of the United States, awakened the night of the Aurora shooting, issued a solemn statement, that “we must come together as one American family” and “have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers.”

The Republican would-be president, Mitt Romney, assured the nation that he and his wife Ann were “deeply saddened” and “were praying for the families and loved ones of the victims.”

Is this leadership? To pray but avoid the core issue? To offer no program to check the insane proliferation of military weapons among our people?

Pray. Extend sympathy to the families. Cower before the NRA. And wait for the next wild burst of gunfire.

That burst will come. In the United States, guns claim 84 lives and wound nearly 300 men, women and children each and every day. USA Today reports that there are on average 20 mass shootings each year in our country.

No other country in the world can match such awful bloodshed.

Where is the program that addresses the human toll behind the statistics? Where is the leadership? Where is the political and moral courage?

Defend the imperfect healthcare law, and press ahead for single payer

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

By Robby Stern

PSARA has a long proud history of supporting a single payer health care system. We advocate expanding eligibility for Medicare to include everyone in the U.S. At the same time, we were and are very active in supporting the reforms in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as an important step forward in health care reform.

On the other hand, a significant number of single payer advocates – our political allies and in some cases, our members- were disappointed with the Supreme Court decision. They hoped that a decision striking down the law would lead to a genuine battle for single payer as the only rational option to our dysfunctional health care system. We need not debate these differences among friends. At least for now, the ACA is the law of the land.

One of the complex challenges we face is to support the progressive pieces of the ACA and assist in the fight for progressive implementation of the act while we also develop a strategy for moving the ball down the field toward the goal of single payer health care for all.

Some of the progressive advances in the ACA that are already being implemented prior to full implementation in 2014 include:

  • Children up to age 26 staying on their parents’ health care plans.
  • No exclusion of children up to age 19 for pre-existing conditions.
  • No life time limits. This positively impacts 2.4 million WA residents including 580,000 children who were subject to life time limits.
  • No cancellation of coverage after a patient gets sick.
  • Bars patient co-pays for many preventive services including preventive services in Medicare.
  • Gradually closing the donut hole over a period of years.
  • Sharply limiting what insurance companies can take from premiums as administrative costs. A much higher percentage of premiums most go to actual care or quality improvement.

In 2014, there will be a very large expansion of coverage in Washington including an additional estimated 500,000 uninsured being brought into Medicaid and an additional 300,000 being able to receive federal subsidies to purchase health care coverage. Additionally, pre-existing condition exclusions will be absolutely barred under all circumstances. 2014 is also when the individual mandate kicks in.

This very imperfect law fails to achieve universal coverage and also keeps in place a private insurance system that either must be more heavily regulated (like France) or eliminated. Meanwhile, the law is under vicious attack by the right wing. They seek to repeal the law or thwart its implementation.

To quote Paul Krugman, “What was striking about the anti-reformers is their cruelty. It would be one thing if, at any point, they had offered any hint of an alternative proposal to help Americans with pre-existing conditions, Americans who simply can’t afford individual insurance, Americans who lose coverage along with their jobs. But it has long been obvious that the opposition’s goal is simply to kill reform, never mind the human consequences. We should all be thankful that, for the moment at least, that effort has failed.”

The fate of the progressive reforms embodied in the ACA, the fate of future reforms and the make up of the next Supreme Court rest on the outcome of the 2012 elections. The PSARA Government Relations Committee has initiated a conversation about how we can both defend and support progressive implementation of the ACA and, at the same time push forward the goal of a single payer health care system.

Vermont has led the charge by passing a single payer health care system for Vermonters. They built a broad and effective political movement based on the value that “health care is a human right”! They engaged in a three year intensive grassroots human rights organizing campaign. They helped elect a Democratic Governor who was clear and stalwart in his support for a single payer system and they held elected officials accountable to keep their campaign promises to support single payer.

Organizers of the Vermont victory are now saying to the rest of the country (much as we in Washington said to progressives around the U.S. when we passed the first minimum wage indexed to the cost of living) that the ability of Vermont to ultimately succeed depends on the ability to win victories in other states. We have been told that there will be Congressional legislation introduced to make it easier for states to establish their own single payer systems. Clearly, the chances of such legislation are tied to the 2012 election.

PSARA does not have the organizational capacity to lead the fight for single payer health care in our state or nation. But we do have the capacity to make a mighty contribution to the effort. We have a large core of savvy and devoted activists who have been and will continue to be an asset to any single payer campaign. Many battles on many fronts lie ahead. One battle we are in for the long term is the fight for universal, affordable, quality health care coverage for all!

If North Dakota can do it…

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

The pros and cons of establishing a “state investment trust” – a state bank – in Washington State will be the topic of a Seattle forum hosted by PSARA at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, September 27.

The forum will be held at the Filipino Community Center, 5740 Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, in Seattle.

We are giving our readers early notice because the forum is of unusual importance. It features a panel of State Treasurer Jim McIntire, community banker Darel Grothaus, and Representative Bob Hasegawa, the prime sponsor of the state investment trust bill.

With the economic future of the state riding to an important extent on the legislation, this forum deserves an overflow crowd. Please mark your calendar.

The panelists will discuss the benefits and risks of creating a state investment trust in our state similar to the state bank of North Dakota. That institution has greatly cushioned the impact of the current recession in North Dakota.

During the 2012 Washington State legislative session, PSARA made support for tthe bill one of its top three priorities. It drew the support of other labor and community organizations as well, but because it was strongly opposed by McIntire. it failed to clear the House Business and Financial Services Committee.

The bill will be reintroduced in the 2013 session. The September 27 forum will help us to lobby knowledgeably on the bill’s behalf.

Living up to our new name

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

Since June 21 PSARA has been Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action. Our new name emphasizes our commitment to advocacy and action.

That’s a commitment we take seriously, and even before we changed our name, we’ve lived up to that commitment. Since June 21, PSARA has definitely been in action.

We’ve presented the Seattle City Council with more than 3000 postcards in favor of the Caring Across Generations campaign, participated in a conference to plan new community support for Walmart workers, and marched in the annual LGBT Pride parade.

But “action” is not only collecting signatures, walking a picket line, or marching for equal rights. Sometimes, one-on-one actions are just as meaningful and just as important in the long run.

One of the most important things we can do is to help add new PSARA members. Our goal is to add 275 new members this year. That’s an ambitious goal, but we can do it if we’re willing to live up to our new name.

Wherever we are, in our day-today lives, at the store, in our churches, when we visit friends or relatives, why not bring up PSARA and see if we can’t sign up a new member? That way we build our organization, our numbers, our resources, and our ability to take action in the future when we’re called on to protect our interests or to support our allies.

Even if you don’t have regular contact with some of your friends and relatives, you can give them a PSARA membership and connect them with a new world of political analysis, advocacy, and action. And of course, if your membership is up, please renew it today.

– Mike Andrew

Supreme Court Upholds Arizona’s SB 1070 Racial Profiling Provision

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

By Heather Villanueva

Even though Washington is far from Arizona, the ramifications of Arizona’s controversial immigration law are playing out locally.

That’s how a simple trip to the grocery store turned into a nightmare for one family.

Sira was going to the grocery store with her husband and their son, 12, when they were pulled over by police for a noisy muffler. This wasn’t Arizona. It was in Lynden, Washington, about 5 miles from the U.S.-Canada border and home to many working immigrant families. The local sheriff called Customs and Border Patrol to interpret. The Border Patrol officers proceeded to question Sira’s husband and her other son Ramon, who came to help his parents.

Sira began to have a panic attack. She realized that Border Patrol agents posed a threat to her family. She couldn’t breathe and an ambulance was called to treat her. Even while being treated, Border Patrol agents insisted on questioning her. They asked whether or not she had additional family and demanded addresses. She watched as her older son, Ramon, and her husband were led away in handcuffs. Ramon was given a choice – either he would be arrested or his mother would go to jail. In the end, the father and Sira’s older son were deported.

Immigrant rights at the advocacy group OneAmerica recently released a report that included Sira’s story and many others that reveal racial profiling and discrimination along Washington’s northern border. Incidents like what happened to Sira demonstrate that immigrants in Washington face similar challenges to those across the nation. Arizona, in particular, has become infamous for its harsh treatment of immigrants, including its passage of Senate Bill 1070, signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer in early 2010. The law, which immigrant rights groups, labor unions and civil rights groups agree is profoundly racist and discriminatory in nature, was challenged on its constitutionality and brought to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Supreme Court issued its decision on Monday, June 25th, striking down 3 of 4 major elements but most damagingly, they left in place a discriminatory provision that forces law enforcement to request immigration papers of anyone they suspect might be undocumented. The “Papers, please” provision is under attack by civil rights groups such as the ACLU who claim that it will result in racial profiling and an increased fear of law enforcement. That may result in a decreased level of cooperation between community members and the police on issues of public safety.

The provisions that the justices struck down would have made it a state crime to be non-compliant with federal immigration laws, authorize the arrest of undocumented immigrants without a warrant and forbid undocumented workers to apply or solicit employment or perform work.

Though Arizona is far away, the Supreme Court’s decision is being felt by many in Washington. Immigrants rights, unions, civil rights, and faith groups locally want to build support for federal comprehensive immigration reform in order to put an end to discriminatory laws such as SB 1070 in all states.

“Even without SB 1070 in Washington, taxpaying immigrant families like Sira’s are being singled out” said Adam Glickman-Flora, Vice President of SEIU Healthcare 775NW, a union that represents long term care workers. Many of the union’s workers and clients who receive in-home care are people who belong to immigrant communities.

“The supreme court ruling makes it clear that it is an absolute necessity to mobilize voters and elect people, from the President on down to local city council members who will stand up for civil rights for all in this upcoming election,” Glickman-Flora said. “With a growing numbers of immigrant communities voting across the country in November, we can seize this opportunity to end a hostile this era of discriminatory and hateful policy and replace it with fair and just solutions for all of America.”

(Heather Villanueav is a community organizer for SEIU 1199NW and a member of PSARA.)

Victory at the Seattle Hilton! Company settles with hotel workers

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

By Mike Andrew

In a major victory for Seattle hotel workers, the Seattle Hilton has settled all its outstanding disputes its employees. The hotel had been under boycott since October 2011.

The RC Hedreen Company, which owns the Seattle Hilton and several other properties, put the hotel up for sale in September last year, and it is expected to be sold by September this year.

UNITE HERE Local 8, the union which represents some 100 Hilton workers, demanded that the Hedreen Company sign on to what is called a “successorship agreement,” guaranteeing that hotel workers would keep their jobs, benefits, and union representation when the property is sold.

According to the union, Hedreen has now agreed to make retention of the current workers and continued application of their collective bargaining agreement a condition of any sale.

The terms of the agreement also include wage increases, affordable health insurance premiums, and safer workloads for housekeepers, the union said in a statement on July 10.

“Richard Hedreen showed again his longstanding leadership in our community, doing the right thing for workers and for Seattle,” said UNITE HERE Local 8 principal officer Erik Van Rossum. “The agreement protects the livelihoods of a hundred Seattle area families, and that will have a positive effect throughout the region.”

According to UNITE HERE, a typical full-time worker at the Seattle Hilton makes about $30,000 annually with full family medical coverage, among other benefits.

In contrast, the median wage for a non-union Seattle hotel worker is only $23,000 a year, barely above the federal poverty level, and often without affordable health insurance.

“My wife and I depend on our medical insurance for our lives. If we didn’t have my job, we’d have nothing,” Hilton bellman Chuck Cruise said in a statement released by the union.

Cruise added that he dreaded the prospect of looking for a new job if the Hilton was sold.

“I know I wouldn’t find a job quickly in this economy,” he said. “especially one that would pay a living wage and cover my family’s medical bills.”

According to a report by Puget Sound SAGE, Our Pain, Their Gain: The Hidden Costs of Profitability in Seattle Hotels, the hotel industry is already rebounding from the effects of the economic crisis, seeing a 10% increase in net profits between 2009 and 2010.

In that same period, hotel CEOs saw an average salary increase of 41.2 million, while hotel workers lost ground because of benefits cuts, outsourcing, and increased work loads. That is why union representation – and protecting existing labor agreements in the event a property is sold – is so important.

Union members said that community support was a crucial factor in securing the new contract from the Hedreen Company.

“This is a great victory for the Seattle community,” UNITE HERE organizer Jasmine Marwaha said in an email to supporters. “Our workers truly represent Seattle, from all walks of life and all corners of the globe, and each of you stepped up to support them in their struggle.

“Many of you were in pickets with us under harsh conditions, and many of you told the Hilton you would not patronize a boycotted hotel. Others offered to rearrange huge marches to pass by the Hilton. A couple of you got arrested to take a stand for job security! It ALL had an impact.

“We could not have done this without you.”

These veterans stand for peace

Thursday, August 2nd, 2012

In our June issue, we printed the powerful statement of Leah Bolger, made in court during her trial on a charge of having disrupted a hearing of the so-called “Super Committee” of Congress. A 20-year Navy veteran, Leah Bolger addressed the court as national president of Veterans For Peace. She should have been so identified. We apologize for this unintentional but nevertheless unfortunate omission.

Veterans For Peace (VFP) was founded in 1985 by military veterans opposed to the Reagan Administration’s war against the people of Central America. Today it includes men and women of all eras and duty stations, spanning the Spanish Civil War, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The organization is committed to non-violent activism and “democratic and open” procedures. Its more than 100 U.S. Chapters include those in Tacoma, Olympia, Everett and Seattle. It can be contacted at VFP, Greater Seattle Chapter 92, P. O. Box 31947, Seattle, WA 98103.

Editor Will Parry, who served four and a half years in the Coast Guard during World War II, is now a member of WFT Greater Seattle Chapter 92.