Author Archives: Joe Doc

U.S. Senate Fast Tracks The Fast Track Bill

By The PA. AFL-CIO

- Thank Senator Casey for his courage in standing up for us. Senator Toomey votes to outsource more good jobs overseas. We can stop Fast Track in the U. S. House. Continue your in-district visits to your Representative in Congress.

On Thursday May 21 the U.S. Senate decided to consider the Fast Track bill that will cede congressional leverage to ensure U.S. Trade deals, including the TPP, help rather than hurt America’s working families.

We thank Senator Bob Casey for his courage to stand up for Pennsylvania and American workers by voting no on yesterday’s procedural vote that shuts off debate and shuts out working people. We are disappointed that Senator Pat Toomey voted to fast track the Fast Track bill. Although the bill is poised for eventual Senate passage, there is a ray of hope that some amendments can be made to reduce the harm it will cause.

Both President Bloomingdale and Secretary-Treasurer Snyder expressed their optimism and their gratitude to thousands of workers for their support for continuing the fight for fair trade policies that protect jobs and strengthen our economy. After the Senate vote our fight goes to the House of Representatives where we have a much better chance to defeat Fast Track. As members of Congress return home on their recess please continue making in-district visits to your members of Congress to build and maintain their support to stop the Fast Track. Also stay tuned for more information on a National Call-In Day opposing Fast Track and Free Trade on June 3rd.

Source – http://www.paaflcio.org/?p=5984

State pension crisis: where do we go from here?

By Kevin McCorry

- There may not be three more yawn-inducing words in the English language than: “public employee pensions.”

But considering the $53 billion dollars worth of state employee pension debt currently saddling the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, those words are at the center of nearly every conversation in Harrisburg this spring.

As politicians wage ideological warfare over the best way to deal with the rising costs associated with this debt, teachers and state workers are being targeted for major concessions.

The sharpest cuts, though, would come to the next generation of hires.

Case in point is Sophie Date. At 25 years old, she absolutely beams with excitement when she talks about teaching.

“I’m loving being in the classroom and I want to get really good at teaching, and I know that takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work,” she said.

Date is about to get her master’s in education at the University of Pennsylvania. Coming into the program, she was fairly certain she wanted to join the profession, but after a year student-teaching in a Philadelphia high school, she says she’s found her home.

“I just love being able to build relationships with students on a day-to-day basis and get to see their daily life and the way that they change and the way that they grow,” said Date.

Pennsylvania is in such a hole after a decade of underpaying its pension bill, that top Harrisburg Republicans say it’d be better to get the state out of the pension business altogether. (See here for our full breakdown of how Pennsylvania’s pension liability has grown exponentially).

So, in a way, Date is exactly the type state Republican leaders are banking on – people who love the profession enough they’ll still pursue it even as lawmakers attempt to eliminate guaranteed retirement benefits.

Based on a bill fast-tracked through the state Senate last week, Date – if hired for next school year – would be enrolled in a 401K-style plan where retirement security is tied to the stock market.

The school employees’ pension system (PSERS) says the Senate plan would ultimately deliver benefits about one-third the size of those earned by employees under the current system – benefits which, on average, provide a $25,000 annual payout to a rank-and-file state employees and teachers.

Date remains undeterred by the possible changes.

“I love what I do and I wouldn’t trade that,” she said. “I will make other plans.”

Senate majority leader Jake Corman has been the driving force in the current conversation about rethinking state employee retirement benefits. He insists on major changes to the pension system before considering any of Wolf’s plans to increase classroom spending.

“To retire at a certain age and live 30, 40 years on public pensions paid by taxpayers is an arithmetic problem for us. And we just have to deal with that,” he said. “We have to structure a program that meets today’s world, not a world that we lived in 40, 50 years ago.”

One of the more compelling reasons for ditching pensions is that it takes taxpayers off the hook for lawmakers playing politics.

“You don’t see politicians running around saying, ‘I want to fully fund the pension plans.’ That’s not a good campaign slogan,” said Nathan Benefield, vice president of policy for the Commonwealth Foundation, a free-market Harrisburg think tank.

The biggest reason why the state is facing a massive pension payment spike is because lawmakers, including Jake Corman, voted to increase benefits, and then immediately found other, more politically appealing issues to which to devote state dollars.

This put Pennsylvania 2nd from the worst in the nation when it comes to making its pension payments. New Jersey takes top honors.

“The politics really encourage the underfunding of the plans and the over-promising of the benefits,” said Benefield.

The “real” retirement crisis

Ditching pension plans – like has happened in much of the private sector – puts all the risk on employees, who, as the private sector has shown, are pretty terrible at planning for their own retirement needs.

About half of the workers in the private sector have no retirement savings at all. Those who do, on average, have about $100,000 in the bank as they near the end of their careers – far less than experts suggest.

“Certainly, it does shift the risk to workers,” said Benefield. “If the market goes down, it’s their account that’s going down, and if it goes up, it’s their account that’s going up.”

Some argue that ditching pensions is like throwing the baby out with the proverbial bathwater.

“The real retirement crisis is the collapse of retirement security in the private sector,” said Steve Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, a progressive-minded Harrisburg think-tank. “When you get to retirees, you see the 1 percent economy on steroids.”

Herzenberg argues that the continued decline of guaranteed retirement benefits will create a mass of retirees who will be unable to support themselves without state assistance.

Ending the state pension system for teachers and state workers will make matters worse, he says.

“So you’re telling me that when someone’s about to retire in 2008 or 2009 and they lose 20 percent of their retirement, and therefore they may struggle to make ends meet in retirement, that’s a good thing?” he asked. ” From our perspective, actually, the state is in a much better position than individuals to manage financial market risk.”

Herzenberg supports a plan to keep guaranteed pension benefits, but shift a greater share of the market risk onto employees. When markets dive, teachers and state workers would be asked to contribute more to the fund, lessening the burden on the rest of the state budget.

Cuts to current employees

Even if the state ditched the pension system in favor of a 401k system for new hires, that wouldn’t make a dent in the state’s debt in the short term. In fact, it would cost more state money because new employees wouldn’t be kicking into the pension pool that’s helping to pay current retirees.

This is why senate Republican leadership also wants to reduce unearned retirement benefits for current teachers – a proposal that, if passed, would likely face a stiff legal challenge based on contract law.

“It’s just infuriating that teachers are the ones that are always, ‘Oh, we can go back on their contract,’” said George Bezanis, social studies teacher at Central High school. “‘Their contract can somehow be obliterated without any consequences.’ Whereas everyone else, ‘It’s a contract, we can’t change that.’”

A seven year veteran of Philly schools, Bezanis entered the profession with a master’s degree and the student loans that came with it.

“I could have probably gotten a better job in the private industry. I have friends with master’s degrees who earn way more than I do,” he said. “However, the payoff is that they also have less time off and their pension isn’t guaranteed.”

Down the hall from Bezanis is social studies teacher Alex Humes, who’s in his late fifties and has been teaching in the district for about a quarter century.

“The only option is to work longer. And if that’s something we have to do, I guess that’s what we have to do,” he said. “I could work until the day I die, but when I retire, I’m actually opening up a position for someone younger.”

Less resources available for schools?

Luckily for Humes and Bezanis, all signs point to Governor Wolf blocking any attempt to ditch pensions or reduce benefits.

“I come out of the private sector,” said Wolf in a recent interview. “If I had tried to go to a regulator and say, ‘I acknowledge I haven’t paid what I should have into the system, so now I think it’s only fair that employees take a bath,’ that wouldn’t work.”

But here’s where the issue gets especially tricky. The pension payments that school districts have to make are going to be so high over the next few decades that financially struggling schools are going to be continually grappling to find the resources to meet the needs of kids.

So district administrators like Matt Stanski, chief financial officer for Philadelphia schools, are praying for some sort of measured relief.

“On the one hand, yes, we need a good retirement plan to help recruit and retain highly qualified people; however, we also need good working conditions and to be able to provide the supports for teachers necessary.”

In the end, Pennsylvania’s current pension crisis essentially boils down to this question: Who should pay for the errant decisions of politicians?

Students, teachers, or taxpayers?

Source – http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/homepage-feature/item/82158-state-pension-crisis-where-do-we-go-from-here?linktype=hp_impact

Jim Kenney Wins Democratic Primary For Mayor of Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A former longtime Philadelphia councilman with strong union backing is poised to become the city’s next mayor after winning a six-way Democratic primary.

Jim Kenney captured the nomination despite a pro-charter school group spending nearly $7 million in support of challenger Anthony Hardy Williams, a state senator.

The victory all but assures Kenney will be the next mayor of the nation’s fifth largest city, where Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 7-1.

Early results show the 57-year-old Kenney beating Williams by about a 3-1 margin.

Kenney served on the council for 23 years. He wants to end police stop and frisk, provide universal pre-kindergarten education and raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Two-term Mayor Michael Nutter could not seek another term.

Kenney faces Republican Melissa Murray Bailey in November.

Source – http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2015/05/19/primary-win-sets-up-jim-kenney-to-be-philadelphia-mayor/

From the PA. AFL-CIO – Vote Today: Justice Easy As 1-2-3

- The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO has endorsed David Wecht, Christine Donohue, and Kevin Dougherty – the first three candidates on the Democratic ballot.

A fair and representative Supreme Court is our last line of defense against legislative overreach that might threaten workers’ rights, civil rights, or voting rights in PA. It is also our only chance to restore fairness to our election districts, so that anti-union lawmakers may finally be held accountable to the voters. This is the first time in over 300 years that there have been three seats up for election on the Supreme Court at one time. This unprecedented election gives voters the opportunity to shift control of the Court for decades to come, but we need the strongest candidates on the ballot in November to make that happen. That is why The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO has endorsed three judges who are strong candidates, and champions for working Pennsylvanians. Wecht, Donohue, and Dougherty have also all been recommended by the PA Bar Association.

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO has also endorsed Robert Colville for Superior Court, and Todd Eagen for Commonwealth Court.

Polls are open today until 8:00pm – if you are unsure of where to vote, please visit www.votespa.com to find your polling place.

Source – http://www.paaflcio.org/?p=5966

Gov. Wolf Outlines His Budget, Answers Questions, And Asks For Our Help To Get The Job Done

By The PA. AFL-CIO

- Governor Tom Wolf outlined the details of his budget proposal, answered questions, and asked for our help and support in getting it passed by the Legislature. He thanked President Bloomingdale, Secretary-Treasurer Snyder and the over 8,000 participants who joined the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Telephone Town Hall Conference call last evening covering both rural and urban areas of Pennsylvania. The Governor’s only regret was not enough time to answer the dozens and dozens of questions that were being called in from all over the state by union members.

In his closing remarks the Governor said, “I’m doing this for a brighter future for Pennsylvania. We are trying to make Pennsylvania a better place to live, to work and to raise a family, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but it is also the smart thing to do for us and our children.”

President Bloomingdale said, “So much of what the Governor is trying to do is in our best interests. It is refreshing to have a governor that listens to workers. We have a lot of work to do from now until this budget is passed and it is going to take all of us – our action and our support – to get the job done.”

Secretary-Treasurer Snyder, who moderated the telecast, also expressed his appreciation for the Governor’s participation. He thanked Governor Wolf for being “a different kind of Governor with a different kind of budget – a balanced budget, he emphasized, with both Republican and Democratic ideas that are good for Pennsylvania,” Snyder said.

A toolkit containing materials to help workers discuss the budget with family, co-workers and their legislators is being mailed to hundreds of tele-town hall participants, who volunteered to take action. Toolkits are available upon request.

Source – http://www.paaflcio.org/?p=5973

Unions urge Amtrak to put 2nd crew member in locomotives

By MICHAEL R. SISAK, Associated Press

- Railroad unions are urging Amtrak to put a second crew member in locomotives in the wake of a deadly derailment last week in Philadelphia.

The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen and SMART Transportation say an engineer and an additional crew member would serve as a check and balance on each other.

Engineer Brandon Bostian was alone in the locomotive of Train 188 when it derailed May 12, killing eight people and injuring about 200.

Investigators are looking into why the train was going more than double the 50 mph limit around a sharp curve.

The unions say Amtrak hasn’t had a second crew member in the cab of Northeast Corridor trains since 1983, after Congress ended the requirement.

Also Tuesday, a lawyer for the lead conductor on the train says his client suffered a broken neck and broken back.

Source – http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/item/82132-unions-urge-amtrak-to-put-2nd-crew-member-in-locomotives-

How Do I Know Where to Vote (For Today’s Primary Election)?

By Joel Mathis

- If you’re a longtime Philadelphian, you might already think you know where to vote — the same place you did in the last election, and the election before that. But it’s always wise to check beforehand if that’s really the case: Polling places can move between elections, leaving voters confused and lost — and without a second chance to make your voice heard.

For folks online, probably the easiest way to determine your polling place is to go to the voting app at the Office of Philadelphia City Commissioners website at: http://www.philadelphiavotes.com/index.php?option=com_voterapp&tmpl=component and Enter your street address and you’ll be shown a map depicting your voting precinct and the precise location of your polling place. A column on the left-hand side of the page should also name the location and its address, and let you know whether it’s accessible to people with disabilities. The graphic above shows what, roughly, your map should look like.

(All this, of course, assumes you’re registered to vote.)

You can also find your polling place by getting in contact with either of the two offices listed below:

Philadelphia Voter Registration Office
520 N. Columbus Blvd., 5th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19123
215-686-1590

Or:

Philadelphia County Board of Elections
City Hall, Room 142
1400 John F. Kennedy Blvd.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
215-686-3469

And if you still have problems: Call the Committee of Seventy’s election hotline at 1-855-SEVENTY.

Source: http://www.phillymag.com/citified/2015/05/18/where-to-vote/

Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO Endorsements in the May 19, 2015 Primary Election

- Mayor of Philadelphia: Jim Kenney

City Council Districts:
1 – Mark Squilla
2 – Kenyatta Johnson
3 – Jannie Blackwell
4 – Curtis Jones Jr
5 – Darrell Clarke
6 – Bobby Henon
7 – Maria Quinones Sanchez
8 – Cindy Bass
9 – Cherelle Parker
10 – Brian O’Neill

City Council At-Large:
Democratic Primary:
Ed Neilson
W. Wilson Goode, Jr
William Greenlee
Isaiah Thomas
Blondell Reynolds Brown

Republican Primary: Dan Tinney

City Commissioner: Lisa Deeley

Registrar of Wills: Ron Donatucci

Sheriff: Jewell Williams

————————————–

The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO endorses the following judicial candidates for the Primary Election:

PENNSYLVANIA SUPREME COURT

Judge Kevin Dougherty, (D)
Judge David Wecht, (D)
Judge Christine Donohue, (D)

SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Judge Robert J. Colville, (D)

COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Todd Eagan, (D)

NEWSPAPER GUILD-10 BULLETIN: NO MORE WASTING TIME!

- HAVE YOU FIGURED OUT HOW TO PAY YOUR $12,000 HEALTH CARE BILL?

The Guild returned to mediation today with the hope that the company would arrive with the proposals requested by the Federal Mediator to finally – after 25+ sessions – move the process along.

Instead, company negotiators brought a new issue to the table – a desire to change and presumably cheapen your health care plan, which renews June 1. When pressed for details on their proposed changes, they had nothing but a desire to cancel next Wednesday’s mediation session and extend the present contract another 30 days.

In the very week that the company announced a board of directors, three years of positive cash flow and the launch of a new business section for what was described as a “reborn” Inquirer, the Guild hoped today’s session would carry the positive momentum forward. The company, however, only wanted to engage in more expensive time-wasting by offering not one single idea or proposal in three hours.

Why is it expensive?

As the company knows well because the new VP for Human Resources and a VP for Finance are trustees on our joint Health & Welfare Fund, the plan renews on June 1 with a 14 percent increase, leaving the Fund approximately $2.5 million short of its annual needs to pay for the benefit. The company has offered only $500,000 to fill that gap – a number it has not moved from since bargaining began – forcing the Fund to pick up the deficit as it has for the past two years. The Fund, however, will run out of money in less than a year, so if the company sticks with its $500,000 offer, Guild members will be forced to pick up the $2 million difference. This will be an unmanageable expense for most members (between $4,000 and $8,500 additional for the FIRST year, depending on coverage, with further increases likely every year thereafter) and also leave the company subject to Affordable Care Act penalties.

So what was their plan today with only two weeks until the new rates kick in? After company Health & Welfare trustees chose not to address this issue at the last Health & Welfare meeting and conference call, now they want to change the plan to make it more affordable FOR THEM, which can only mean worse coverage FOR YOU.

Only, they had no specifics, nothing to discuss – they remain habitually unprepared to accomplish ANYTHING ­– and, regardless, any plan changes would require the approval of the Health & Welfare trustees.

Our contract extension expires May 24. At this time the Guild bargaining committee has told the company we do not want another extension. We want to start bargaining.

Our final scheduled mediation session is Wednesday morning. If the company again refuses to come with anything concrete to discuss, our only alternatives will be the filing of an Unfair Labor Practice charge and a strike authorization vote.

In solidarity,

Howard Gensler
Bill Ross
Diane Mastrull
Cindy Burton
Melanie Burney
Regina Medina
Brian McCron

Take Action! State Senate Votes For Outrageous Attack On Workers’ Retirement

By The PA. AFL-CIO

- We told you on Friday about a last-minute bill that the Senate Republicans were trying to rush through the chamber, with no oversight, financial analysis, or hearings. During a whirlwind 3 days, the Senate managed to pass the bill out of the Finance committee and the Appropriations committee, in spite of there being no actuarial analysis of the bill, and the full Senate just passed the bill this afternoon by a final vote of 28 to 19.

(Go To: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/RC/Public/rc_view_action2.cfm?sess_yr=2015&sess_ind=0&rc_body=S&rc_nbr=84 to see how your Senator voted!)

In fact, the rush to pass this legislation was so reckless that the non-partisan State Commission charged with overseeing the pension system lashed out at the Senate for denying them time to properly inspect the legislation.

The Senate had already been called out for dropping a 410-page bill on the Friday afternoon before Mothers’ Day, and for glaring problems with the legislation, including the easing of regulations that would allow our pension funds to invest in companies that do business with state sponsors of terrorism, like Iran and Sudan. The legislation is also clearly unconstitutional, as it unilaterally changes the rules for current employees.

The Senate has already taken their stand, on a nearly party-line vote (Senator Greenleaf was the only Republican Senator to vote against this terrible bill). But we still have a chance to demand that the State House does the right thing.

To E-mail your State Representative NOW and Tell them to OPPOSE Senate Bill 1, Go To: http://act.aflcio.org/c/236/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=10280

Source – http://www.paaflcio.org/?p=5954