May, 2009

>Kennedy Voice of Senate Reason on Health Care

>Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe which was published in yesterday’s paper, and today the talking heads have been doing their thing: speculating and making it sound like they have information no one else does.

Instead of looking at the spin, let’s look the words from the lion’s mouth and then look at what we here at the UFCW have said.

Kennedy outlines five major elements that are included in his health care plan:

* A choice in health insurance for every American, including a public health insurance option.
* Cost reduction.
* Emphasis on preventative care.
* Home-care of the elderly and those with disabilities.
* Investment in training doctors and nurses.

The choice of a new public health insurance plan is a guaranteed backup that will always be there to ensure quality, affordable health care coverage no matter what. We applaud Senator Kennedy on making this a priority in the legislation he is putting before the Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions, which the Senator chairs.

On cost prevention, the Senator stated:

“We’ll go after fraud and abuse, cut red tape, and make sure that doctors and patients know of the latest, most effective therapies for their conditions.”

Remember a few weeks ago when the health care establishment said it could cut $2 trillion off the cost of health care in 10 years? Well a few days later they took it back. Senator Kennedy’s proposal might actually hold these groups accountable.

“The best way to treat a disease is to prevent it from ever striking. We’ll promote early screening for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and depression.”

My grandmother, a font of New England wisdom much like the Senator, would give me the old “ounce of prevention” line when I didn’t want to brush my teeth as a kid. There is a lot of truth to that.

One program focusing on prevention is the CDC’s VERB campaign. VERB focused on getting “tweens” (what used to be call pre-teens) to be active to prevent childhood obesity and reduce risk to type-II diabetes, and by all measures has been successful.

These types of programs can reduce direct and indirect health care costs across the board.

Kennedy’s proposal is also great for some of the things that is does not include.

There is no mention of a “trigger” option, which had been floated in some circles. The trigger idea was that there would only be a public option if certain specific criteria were met, completely ignoring the fact that our health care system is already in crisis.

Also, Senator Kennedy didn’t mention anything about eliminitating the tax ememption of employer paid health care benefits, an idea that would do nothing to control the costs of health care while adding a huge burden to working Americans.

>Congrats, NYC H&M Employees!

>More that a thousand employees at hip clothing retailer H&M finally have a union contract! Workers at Manhattan H&M stores were organized by Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union Local 1102 and, as a result of the new contract, will have a 3% wage increase per year and scheduling protection, among other benefits.

The H&M organizing effort involved majority sign-up, where a majority of H&M employees signed union cards to gain recognition. Sometimes called “card check,” majority sign-up is a provision of the Employee Free Choice Act which, if passed, would make it easier for more workers to get a union the way that the H&M workers did.

The majority sign-up model used to organize at H&M allowed workers to form a union more quickly than they would otherwise have been able to.

UFCW congratulates the members of RWDSU Local 1102 on their new contract!

>How Much For a Worker’s Life?

>How much would you guess a worker’s life is worth? Millions? Hundreds of thousands? Maybe you can’t even contemplate a thing like measuring human life in terms of pure monetary value. Maybe, like the credit card commercials say, it’s…priceless?

Or what about $7000?

If that last figure seems a little low to you, you’ll no doubt be horrified to hear that that’s the top rate. The maximum amount that OSHA is allowed to fine companies who’ve received citations subjecting their workers to preventable hazards that could result in death or serious physical harm.

This is the palty price WalMart has to pay after OSHA

cited Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for inadequate crowd management following the Nov. 28, 2008, death of an employee at its Valley Stream, N.Y., store. The worker died of asphyxiation after he was knocked to the ground and trampled by a crowd of about 2,000 shoppers who surged into the store for its annual “Blitz Friday” pre-holiday sales event.

This is what a worker’s life is worth. Less than a fraction of 1 percent of those bonuses paid out to AIG executives.

Doesn’t that reflect a problem with our labor laws? As Jason Lefkowitz at CTW Connect points out:

President Barack Obama has brought in a new team at the Department of Labor that is committed to ensuring that every worker has a safe workplace. But they can only do as much as they are empowered to do by the law. And the laws that govern worker protection on the job are shockingly toothless.

Lefkowitz goes on to make the same ask that I’ll make here: Please tell Congress to pass the Protecting America’s Workers Act, which is currently before the House of Representatives. It’s legislation that would put some teeth in our labor laws and strengthen many protections for employees at their workplaces–including upping the minimum fine for the type of citation WalMart received after their worker’s trampling death.

It won’t bring workers who’ve died on the job back to their families and friends. But it would at least give companies pause to think about the consequences of not adequately protecting workers from on-the-job hazards.

Making workers safer on the job? That really would be priceless.