Archive for January, 2013

Richard Trumka & Sen. Tom Harkin on “Fiscal Cliff” Compromise

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:

The agreement passed by the Senate last night is a breakthrough in beginning to restore tax fairness and achieves some key goals of working families. It does not cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits. It raises more than $700 billion over 10 years, including interest savings, by ending the Bush income tax cuts for families making more than $450,000 a year. And in recognition of the continuing jobs crisis, it extends unemployment benefits for a year. A strong message from voters and a relentless echo from grassroots activists over the last six weeks helped get us this far.

But lawmakers should have listened even better. The deal extends the Bush tax cuts for families earning between $250,000 and $450,000 a year and makes permanent Bush estate tax cuts exempting estates valued up to $5 million from any tax. These concessions amount to over $200 billion in additional tax cuts for the 2%.

And because of Republican hostage taking, the deal simply postpones the $1.2 trillion sequester for only two months and does not address the debt ceiling, setting the stage for more fiscal blackmail at the expense of the middle class.

Instead of moving to address our nation’s real jobs and public investment crisis, our leaders will be debating a prolonged artificial fiscal crisis. In the weeks to come, as the confrontation over the economic direction of our country continues, the working men and women of the AFL-CIO will continue to fight to keep poor and middle class families from giving more so rich people can continue paying less. That means a fairer, more progressive tax system, an end to Bush tax rates for the 2% and protection of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from benefit cuts.

Press Release: Sen. Tom Harkin

Tonight, at the 11th hour, we find ourselves considering legislation to address a manufactured ‘fiscal cliff.’ Much of this could have been avoided had the U.S. House taken up the Senate-passed legislation to avert tax hikes on 98 percent of Americans.

“Instead, we find ourselves voting on an agreement that fails to address our number one priority – creating good, middle class jobs in Iowa and throughout the country. Further, it does not generate the revenue necessary for the country to meet its needs for everything from education for our children, to job training, to other critical supports for the middle class. The deal also makes tax benefits for high income earners permanent, while tax benefits designed to help those of modest means and the middle class are only extended for five years. In essence, this agreement locks in a tax structure that is grossly unfair to middle class Americans, one which provides permanent tax assistance to wealthy Americans,
and only temporary relief to everyone else.

“Every dollar that wealthy taxpayers do not pay under this deal, we will eventually ask Americans of modest means to forgo in Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits. It is shortsighted to look at these issues in isolation from one another, especially when Congressional Republicans have been crystal clear that they intend to seek spending cuts to programs like Social Security just two months from now, using the debt limit as leverage.

“I am all for compromise, but a compromise that sets a new tax threshold for the wealthiest Americans while neglecting the very backbone of our country – the middle class – is a compromise I simply cannot support. This is the wrong direction for Iowa and our country, and at a time when our fragile economy
cannot sustain further damage.”

Seattle Says: “No Cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or Service Delivery”

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

By Steve Kofahl

On December 5, at the entrance to the building that houses the Social Security Administration Regional Office (SSA RO), nearly 100 people gathered to send our message to Congress. AFGE Local 3937 organized the one-hour rally, one of about 80 held by the Union at SSA offices throughout the country.

Labor, community leaders and activists joined the assembled crowd. What was particularly impressive and inspiring was the involvement by the Asian/Pacific Islander Community. Gary Tang, Director of the Aging and Adult Services Program at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS), brought 15 immigrant seniors from the Rainier Valley. Sharyne Shiu-Thornton, Deputy Director of the InterIm Community Development Association, escorted 23 elders who walked from the International District. It was very difficult for them to walk, but that does not compare to the hardship that service barriers have created for them.

Diane Narasaki, ACRS Executive Director and Chair of the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition-King County; Doug Chin of the Organization of Chinese Americans-Seattle; and PSARA Board Member Frank Irigon were among the other community leaders who joined us. Cantonese and Mandarin interpretation of speakers’ remarks ensured that all could fully participate.

Speakers including PSARA President and Social Security Works Washington Chair Robby Stern, Sharyne Shiu-Thornton, and Steve Kofahl insisted that earned benefits be protected during the fiscal negotiations, and that SSA service be restored in our communities.

It was fitting that we were in front of the Regional Office of the Social Security Administration. The Regional Commissioner, Stanley Friendship, recently made the decision to close two of our accessible community offices – one in Belltown and the other in the International District – and to relocate the staff to the fortress that is the Jackson Federal Building. There, visitors must show current government picture identification and are subjected to magnetometers, and x-rays of their belongings. For those who speak little or no English, or who can’t afford to pay for expensive parking (since there is none on site for visitors, even the handicapped), the face-to-face service that is often preferred and needed is difficult or inaccessible.

Comments by Seattle Community Law Center Executive Director Alex Doolittle, PSARA Board Member Chuck Richards, and Asian Counseling and Referral Service Executive Director, Diane Narasaki, reinforced the message of the day – No Cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or Service Delivery- just before the event ended at noon.

The fight will continue! PSARA members are urged to call their elected representatives as the 2013 Congressional session commences at 1-888-659-9401. Tell them – No cuts to earned Social Security or Medicare benefits, or Medicaid! No more service cuts!

An infusion of new leadership

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

At the recent PSARA General Membership meeting, the recommendations of the PSARA Elections Committee were approved unanimously by the general membership. Susan Levy was elected as PSARA’s new Outreach Vice President. Susan has been serving on our Executive Board and has been coordinating our outreach discussions since our former Outreach Vice President, Bette Reed, became gravely ill. (Bette and Chaya Burstein, our first political cartoonist, were remembered with a moment of silence at our membership meeting.)

Newly elected Board members include: Imogene Williams, a long time PSARA volunteer and indefatigable grass roots activist; Mike Warren, a former member of the Board who also serves as President of the WA Alliance for Retired Americans; Richard Champion, who is active with the 30th Legislative District Democrats , an officer of the King County Democrats and an active member of Social Security Works WA Education Committee;
Kristen Beifus, Executive Director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition and on the board of the Backbone Campaign as well as Sweat Free Communities/International Labor Rights Forum and Debby Corr, a long time Seattle grass roots activist and a retired teacher and Seattle Education Association member.

Reelected as officers for another term are Frieda Takamura, our Recording Secretary and Edie Koch, our hard-working Treasurer. Relected to the Board are Mary Anderson, Rick Erickson, Frank Irigon, Vivian Lee, Gene Lux, Anita Nath, and Magdeleno Rose Avila.

Our Executive Board is now composed of 25 members. All of these volunteers deserve appreciation for the time they donate to make PSARA a feisty and effective organization!

Calling all independent thinkers

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

By Mike Andrew

In our November issue, I remembered Sen. George McGovern, who died October 21.

This month, I have to remember another iconic figure of the 1970s, but one on the other side of that decade’s political divide – Nixon’s Solicitor General Robert Bork.

Bork was the hatchet man in the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.”

On October 20, 1973, Richard Nixon ordered his Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, to fire the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate break-in. Richardson resigned rather than comply. Richardson’s deputy, William Rukleshaus, also resigned rather than follow Nixon’s orders. Finally Bork, then the third in command at the Justice Department, fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.

A federal judge later found the firing to be illegal in a suit brought by Ralph Nader. It was one of the reasons the Senate rejected Bork when Ronald Reagan appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1987.

“All I will say is that I carried out the President’s directive,” Bork explained. In other words, “I was just following orders.”

If you like following orders, you may not want to join PSARA. On the other hand, if you’re an independent thinker, if you like knowing the facts, making up your own mind, and acting on your decisions, you might want to join with other like-minded people and sign up.

Your membership donation helps us to produce the Retiree Advocate and bring you twelve issues full of hard-hitting articles, most of them written by PSARA members. You’ll also be invited to participate in PSARA forums and discussion groups, to join with other independent thinkers and come to a common understanding about the problems we

face. And you’ll have the opportunity to act on that understanding – whether we join a picket line, or a phone bank, or lobby our elected representatives.

Toward a regional low income transit fare

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

By Robby Stern

PSARA is supporting the Transit Riders Union(TRU), to fight to preserve, expand, and improve the public transportation system in Seattle and beyond, so that every human being has access to safe, affordable, and reliable public transit.

PSARA recently joined with TRU to deliver a letter to King County Council Chair, Larry Gossett. The letter encouraged the Council “to make sure that this program is adequate to the need, and that the application process is simple and dignified.”

The King County Council is convening an advisory committee to assist in the development of a regional low income fare program. Gossett and Councilmember Julia Patterson will chair the advisory committee.

A combination of factors have made public transportation less accessible. They include fare increases, the economic recession and the recent closure of the Ride Free Zone. The letter encouraged the Council “to make sure that this program is adequate to the need, and that the application process is simple and dignified.”

Among the recommendation made by the TRU and its allies in the letter include:

  • No replacement of the reduced Fare Bus Ticket program which allows health and human service agencies to purchase subsidized tickets for the people they serve.
  • A regional low fare program covering all the transit agencies that now recognize the Regional Reduced Fare permit for seniors and people with disabilities.
  • A low income fare that matches the current senior and disabled fare of $0.75.
  • Any individual receiving some other form of income-based assistance (such as food stamps) be eligible for reduced fare.
  • Additionally, a low income fare threshold of 200% of FPL (the federal poverty level) be established for people who would be eligible for income assistance but do not apply for it and/or receive it.

Funding will be an issue for the transit agencies. The letter urged the King County Council to lobby for funding from the legislature, perhaps from the state Transportation Budget to help pay for the low income fare program. In the event, such a source of funds is not available, the letter recommends a county-wide Employer Tax be considered as King County has the authority to levy such a tax.

Boeing bucks marriage equality

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

By Mike Andrew, Associate Editor

In the first challenge to the state’s Marriage Equality Act since voters approved it in November, Boeing says it will deny pension survivor benefits to same-sex spouses. The company’s contract talks with SPEEA, the union that represents some 23,000 Boeing engineers and technical workers, broke off on December 5 without an agreement on the pension issue.

The pension controversy began on November 21 when, according to SPEEA spokesperson Bill Dugovich, the union asked what appeared to them to be “a simple administrative question” – how would the company handle benefits for new Gay and Lesbian spouses?

“We were shocked,” Dugovich said, when Boeing negotiators told them the company had no intention of paying survivor benefits for same-sex spouses, even though the new state law gives them equal standing with opposite-sex spouses.

Boeing officials walked out of talks November 29 while SPEEA’s team was presenting their pension proposal. A federal mediator reconvened the talks December 4, but they broke up on December 5 without any agreement on the pension issue.

SPEEA member Kenneth Aphibal posted a petition on change.org calling on the company “to honor the people of Washington State by extending survivor benefits to employees of same-sex married couples at Contract Negotiations and show equality for all Boeing employees.” The petition now has 76,802 signatures.

Pension survivor benefits are one way that married couples – same-sex or opposite-sex – can make sure at least one of the partners enjoys a secure retirement even if the other one dies.

The SPEEA team was taken aback when Boeing asserted that they were not required to offer survivor benefits to same-sex spouses because their benefits package was administered under ERISA and not under state law.

ERISA – the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 – is a federal law enacted to regulate employee benefit plans, including health insurance and pensions. Many union benefits plans are administered under ERISA rather than state laws.

Because ERISA is a federal law, and DOMA forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, Boeing said it was not required to offer same-sex couples equal benefits. SPEEA is not so sure, Dugovich said.

“We’re consulting our attorneys,” Dugovich said. “Discrimination is discrimination. At some point discrimination laws come into play.”

SPEEA secured medical benefits for same-sex domestic partners in 2000, Dugovich added, and those benefits will remain unchanged, but the union expected Boeing to accept the state’s new marriage law.

SPEEA says that The Boeing Company wants to eliminate all defined benefits pensions, beginning with new hires, and eventually terminate their pension program altogether. In addition to pensions, outstanding issues in the talks include wages, medical insurance, family leave, and the company’s use of outside contractors.

To date, SPEEA has emphasized it is “doing everything possible to avoid the need for a work stoppage,” but barring some movement in the negotiations it may be impossible to avert a strike. At SPEEA’s request, the Martin Luther King County Labor Council granted the union strike sanction on December 5.

Get Ready for Senior Lobby Day

Monday, January 14th, 2013

By Tom Lux & Chuck Richards, co-chairs, Government Relations Committee

Senior Lobby Day is one of our best opportunities to discuss PSARA’s issues with our legislators in Olympia. We had a great turnout last session and had great discussions with many legislators. We hope to have even more of our members participate in the 2013 Senior Lobby Day and we are asking again for volunteers to drive carpools so we can all enjoy the ride, the company and the conversation.

Senior Lobby Day will be Thursday, February 21st. Registration is at 8:00 AM and the program begins at 9:00 AM at United Churches, 110 11th Ave. SE, Olympia WA.

We are asking you to participate, and we are asking for volunteers to drive carpools, and also to lead delegations. If you are interested in helping to lead the conversation with your legislators, to drive or just to participate in Senior Lobby Day please contact: govrelations@psara.org or call the PSARA office, (206) 448-9646.

Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2013!

Monday, January 14th, 2013

By Rich Stolz, Executive Director, One America & a PSARA member

Momentum is developing in Congress behind immigration reform in the new year. Coming out of the November elections, President Obama is now speaking with conviction and Republicans in the House and Senate seem willing to work toward an agreement. We’ve been though several rounds on this issue, but the opening in 2013 feels different.

The Obama administration anticipates heading into the new year with immigration reform as its first major initiative. They have projected an ambitious timetable: a bill through the Senate and, they hope, the House before the August recess. The timing of an immigration bill may depend on resolution of the troublesome deficit issue.

Administration officials say we can expect the White House to set forth its principles on comprehensive immigration reform early next year. The administration is already gathering feedback from stakeholders to shape what advocates hope will be a progressive-leaning proposal.

In addition, a bipartisan group of senators has begun to work on a bill. Democratic Senators Schumer of New York, Menendez of New Jersey, Durbin of Illinois and Bennett of Colorado are working with Republican Senators Graham of South Carolina and McCain of Arizona. This group has laid out a timetable for its own negotiations. They have already been meeting and expect to have a bill ready to introduce in February.

In the House, no official actions are being taken, but Speaker Boehner has recognized the need for reform both publicly and privately, and a bipartisan House group is beginning to discuss the outlines of a bill. House passage is expected to be a rough road, with many thorny issues to be worked out.

Our task in Washington State will be to work with the Democratic members of our delegation to develop the strongest possible bill. We’ll also need to put energy into winning Republican votes for the final legislation.

One America appreciates PSARA’s commitment to the Congressional campaign. Millions of undocumented immigrants in our country are forced to live in fear of separation from their families and enforced departure from the country they have made their home. Together, we’ll fight for just and humane immigration reform for these millions.

Dear Editor

Monday, January 14th, 2013

My partner, Mike Fitzpatrick and I would like to take advantage of your Letters column to thank all the PSARA members who helped during the Referendum 74 campaign in support of marriage equality. Many volunteered at phone banks and many more engaged in discussions with friends and neighbors to persuaded the undecided to vote ‘yes’. And on November 6th your efforts prevailed.

On the evening before Dec 6th my partner and I joined the long line queuing up at the County Courthouse about 10 pm. We were the 134th couple in line. By midnight when the doors opened there were 177 couples on the street. By 3 am we had our marriage license and a special certificate of congratulations signed by the county executive, Dow Constantine. By the end of that first day nearly 500 same-sex couples had filed for marriage licenses.

On Wed. evening Dec 19th our kids joined us for a ceremony to make legal, finally, the state’s recognition of the ceremony we had 22 years earlier at Wallingford United Methodist Church. So, thanks to PSARA members’ support of ‘family values’, 500 newly-married couples in King County have helped Washington state make history.

Chuck Richards, PSARA Board member

To the Editor

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

“It’s a most unusual time. I keep feeling my temperature climb!”

On Sunday, December 9, twenty-five gay couples processed down the aisle at Seattle First Baptist Church, to be married by Pastor Tim Phillips. Trumpets joined the organ and the choir sang, “May this marriage be blessed, may it be sweet milk, like wine and halvah. May this marriage offer fruit and shade like the date palm.”

The church was full. Everyone stood to sing the “Hallelujah” chorus. Everyone was happy, smiling and hugging! Afterwards the celebration continued downstairs in Fellowship Hall.

“A most unusual time,” indeed! It was a joy simply to be there, surrounded by all that happiness…

Imogene Williams, PSARA Executive Board Member