With shut down nearing I would like to wish all of you a safe and happy vacation. We have many new Retirees, as you will see in the Retiree section of this issue of the Reporter. I would like to congratulate the new Retirees as they venture into retirement.
Lets talk about politics, our involvement in the political arena is necessary for our existence as working people. As many of you have seen the fight is with big government and big corporations, which some would consider being one and the same? As working men and women we need to understand that just because it doesn’t pertain to us doesn’t mean it will not effect us. Lets take a look at some issues and how they could effect us.
Democrats Regain Control of Senate
Just before the Memorial Day recess, Vermont Senator James Jeffords announced that he would be leaving the Republican party because of his strong disagreements over the policies of the Bush Administration. Jeffords indicated that he will become an Independent, but will caucus with the Democrats.
How this effects us:
This switch means that the Democrats became the majority party in the Senate when it reconvened on June 5th. Working families will be in a much better position to control the scheduling and content of legislation that is considered now that the Democrats have regained control of the Senate. In particular, they are much more likely to schedule early action on pro-worker legislation such as an increase in the minimum wage and a tough Patients’ Bill of Rights. And they are in a better position to block action on anti-worker measures.
Senate to Take up Minimum Wage/Overtime Legislation
In mid-late June the Senate may debate and vote on a minimum wage hike. Senator Kennedy is expected to offer his bill, which would increase the minimum wage by $1.50 an hour over two years. The UAW and a broad coalition of groups are strongly supporting this urgently needed measure. The minimum wage is currently only $5.15 an hour. This means a full-time year-round worker earning the minimum wage receives only $10,700 a year, nearly $4,000 below the poverty level for a family of three. The real value of the minimum wage is now almost $3 an hour below what it was in 1968.
How this effects us:
Even though this does not effect us directly because of our UAW contract, it does however effect the men and women that purchase our product. If we allow our government and corporations to dictate their wages they will inevitably control ours.
GOP Senator Nickles (OK) is expected to offer an alternative bill that would only increase the minimum wage by $1 an hour over three years. This bill may also contain several poison pills, including:
• Provisions undermining the 40-hour workweek and overtime pay.
• Another large tax cut geared to wealthy individuals and corporations.
The UAW and our progressive allies are strongly opposing the Nickles bill. We are urging Senators to oppose any poison pill provisions, including any overtime takeaways or big tax cuts for corporations and the rich. Also, we are urging Senators to insist on the larger increase in the minimum wage being proposed by Senator Kennedy.
Please contact your Senators as soon as possible on these priority issues. Urge them to support Senator Kennedy’s bill to increase the minimum wage, and to oppose Senator Nickles’ alternative proposal. Specifically urge them to oppose any poison pill provisions that would undermine the 40-hour workweek and overtime pay, or provide another big tax cut for corporations and the rich.
Patients’ Bill of Rights
In June the Senate is also expected to take up a strong version of the Patients’ Bill of Rights. This measure has been strongly endorsed by many labor unions, as well as the AMA, public interest and consumer groups.
How this effects us:
It would guarantee basic rights to all patients. In particular, it would allow patients to:
• Sue HMOs and other health plans for damages in state and federal courts when they wrongly withhold or limit care to individuals.
• Includes whistleblower protections for health care workers who report dangerous conditions.
Not surprisingly, HMOs and the health insurance industry are backing a competing bill. This legislation would only allow suits in federal court, and severely limits damages for "pain and suffering". And it does not include whistleblower protections for health care workers. The White House has thrown its support to this much weaker measure.
In addition, it is possible that efforts will be made to add amendments addressing the issue of access to health care for the uninsured. The UAW and other progressive groups are strongly supporting proposals to expand coverage under the Medicaid and SCHIP programs. But we are opposing tax credit/voucher proposals that would simply give another tax break to the rich, while undermining employer sponsored group health care plans.
Please contact your Senators as soon as possible and urge them to insist on a strong Patients’ Bill of Rights. Specifically, urge them to vote for the Kennedy-McCain-Edwards version of the Patients’ Bill of Rights, and to oppose the Frist-Breaux bill. In addition, urge them to support proposals to expand the Medicaid and SCHIP programs to provide health insurance to millions of additional Americans.