January 21, 2003
Congress Holds Key to
Last week, the U.S. Senate approved an amendment to increase fiscal 2003 funding for Amtrak to $1.2 billion. By contrast, leaders in the House of Representatives are seeking to cut the railroad subsidy to $762 million.
Amtrak President and Chief Executive Office David Gunn said that anything less than a $1.2 billion appropriation would guarantee a shutdown of Amtrak by this Spring or sooner.
The higher funding levels are necessary to preserve service nationwide and to maintain bridges and track on the heavily traveled New York to Washington, D.C. route.
Machinists Elect Leaders
The situation for 14,000 IAM members in highly industrial Connecticut is serious, according to Eastern Territory GVP Warren Mart. “Workers are under severe attack,” said Mart. “Job security is eroding, health care is more costly or unavailable and seniors face increasingly difficult circumstances.”
The delegates elected District 26 Assistant DBR James Parent to be president of the State Council and passed a special resolution condemning the Bush administration for prohibiting 56,000 airport screeners from organizing. “It’s an outrage that Bush would label American unions as a ‘national security risk,’” said Parent. “This is the worst example yet of the President using war talk as a pretext for his right-wing, anti-worker agenda.”
Therapists Rally for Contract
The IAM therapists are calling for additional staff and wage increases in line with the national average of 3 to 4 percent. The pediatric caregivers at VPF have not had a raise for more than 2 1/2 years.
In May 2002, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) charged VPF with intimidation, coercion, discrimination and failure to bargain collectively. Additionally, the NLRB found that VPF had violated informal settlements of previous labor board charges.
GE Strike Signals
At a time when health care costs are soaring, employers shift more and more of the burden to workers or drop coverage completely. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, companies increased workers monthly premiums an average 27 percent for single coverage and 16 percent for family coverage between 2001-2002.
“This is a growing problem,” notes IP Tom Buffenbarger. “We can’t fix our healthcare system by simply shifting the costs to workers. We have to find better solutions and we have to find them soon,” he warned.
Maine Drug Law Goes
to Supreme Court
Predictably, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) opposes the legislation. The drug industry trade group claims the law violates Medicaid law and the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause.
PhRMA has fought the legislation since its passage two years ago. Having lost every battle in lower court, the drug industry lobbying arm appealed to the Supreme Court to hear the case.
The Bush administration sided with PhRMA in its legal briefs submitted to the Court. The drug industry contributed heavily to the Bush presidential campaign, and was a major donor to GOP candidates in the congressional elections last fall.
The Maine law was the first such legislation enacted at the state level that puts price controls on prescription drugs. If upheld, it will set the benchmark for other states to adopt similar legislation.
DOL Censors Union Newsletter
Seems Labor Secretary Elaine Chao censored the union’s publication because some political appointees within the Department objected to the union’s characterization of Bush administration policies affecting federal workers.
“We’re taking the matter to arbitration and we’re confident that we’ll win,” said Ron Yarman, president of the National Council of Field Labor Locals (NCFLL).
A recent edition of the union’s publication, The Courier, contains an article describing White House orders to out-source some 125,000 federal jobs. A cartoon on the same page lampoons President Bush for his decision to cut the federal pay increase for this year. DOL cited both items in its order banning circulation of the publication through the Department’s inter-office mail.
The collective bargaining agreement between the union and DOL grants the union the right to distribute printed material to the bargaining unit through inter-office mail unless the material is “libelous or scurrilous.” The union is currently distributing the publication through the mail and via its website, www.ncfll.org.
The union’s membership includes federal OSHA and mine inspectors, wage-and-hour enforcement personnel, employees of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Employment Training Administration and the Employment Standards Administration.