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Workers and Retirees Still Threatened

Public Workers in Wisconsin, Ohio Still Threatened; Retirees Continue to Protest

Wisconsin’s budget stalemate over union bargaining rights shows no sign of resolution, and it could be a long wait, according to the Associated Press. Governor Scott Walker (R) isn’t budging; Democrats in the state Senate who are gone are not planning to come back; and, despite talk of deadlines and threats of layoffs, the state doesn't have to pass a budget to pay its bills until at least May. Even then, there may be other options that could extend the standoff. The bill passed the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Assembly last week after nearly three days of debate. Republicans in the Senate say they have enough votes to pass it once Democrats return.

Further east on Wednesday, the Ohio Senate approved a sweeping bill that would weaken the powers of public employee unions to negotiate contracts, propelling Ohio into the forefront of states seeking to revise public-sector labor laws. Like their counterparts in Wisconsin, demonstrators accused lawmakers of trying to use a budget crisis to destroy public-sector unions. But unlike in Wisconsin, Democratic lawmakers there did not have the numbers to delay the legislation through a walkout. The vote came after more than 8,000 union supporters descended on the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus to protest. The GOP-sponsored bill passed the Senate 17 to 16, with six Republicans voting against it. According to The Washington Post, as the roll call finished, dozens of union supporters in the Senate gallery chanted, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Screeches and shouts echoed down the corridors of the Statehouse, where hundreds of opponents of the bill had gathered.

The bill next goes to the state House, where it is expected to pass, and then to the desk of Gov. John Kasich (R), who is expected to sign it. According to the Post, by including police and firefighters unions, the Ohio bill goes even further than the one under consideration in Wisconsin. There, Gov. Walker has gained national attention by railing against the power of public unions, but he exempted police and firemen from his plan to strip collective bargaining rights. Ohio Republicans revised the bill to restore collective bargaining on issues including wages and hours, but they also extended an existing ban on strikes to include teachers, and they blocked binding arbitration, giving the final say in contract disputes to the government.

The changes don’t maintain workers’ ability to bargain on a wide range of contractual issues, such as pensions and health benefits, as well as on such matters as equipment for police officers and firefighters. Making strikes illegal for all public workers, their supporters argue, effectively neutralizes the power of collective bargaining and removes the incentive to come to the table. Opponents of the legislation said they are already planning to fight it with a ballot challenge. If it gathers enough signatures, the challenge would give voters a direct say on the measure this November. “Public workers did not cause the crisis, and blaming them for it will only serve to decimate the middle class,” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.

96 Cities Protest Cuts to Social Security Administration
House Republicans voted on February 19 to cut $1.7 billion from the Social Security Administration (SSA) budget in 2011, and that could result in workers being furloughed for up to 1 month over the next 7 months. As a result, Social Security office doors may be temporarily closed, phones will not be answered, and claims processing will grind to a halt. On a Wednesday conference call with reporters and Social Security policy experts, U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) and other national leaders demanded a halt to the deep cuts to SSA. During the call, Richard Fiesta, Director of the Department of Government and Political Affairs at the Alliance, said, “These cuts are nothing but cuts for cutting’s sake. Social Security does not contribute a penny to our deficit -- both benefits and the cost of running SSA offices are funded by worker and employer contributions.”

The same day, retirees and SSA employees in 96 cities held informational pickets outside Social Security offices to draw attention to the devastating effects the cuts would have on services. For more information on these actions, go to http://strengthensocialsecurity.org/social-security-keep-it-working. Also, tens of thousands of Alliance members were asked to call their senators this week to drive home the message that the Social Security Administration cuts would hurt thousands of Americans. For a state-by-state analysis of the potential losses Social Security recipients would see, go to http://bit.ly/ihFxtF. Check out http://bit.ly/eVgLZ7 and http://bit.ly/8YG9i0 for photos and videos from Washington state protests of the cuts to SSA.  For Florida, go to http://bit.ly/hrbWYv and http://bit.ly/gxmY2s, and for protest photos from Ohio, go to http://bit.ly/eFJqgy.

Obama to Republican Governors: Opt Out of Health Care Law if You Can Do Better
Since its passage, Republican Governors have asked for flexibility in implementing the health care reform law—and they recently received it. During the Governor’s annual meeting at the White House on Monday, President Obama endorsed a bi-partisan proposal that would allow states to opt-out of implementing the health care reform law, as early as 2014. However, there is a major caveat: state officials must replace the health care reforms with a program that has the same level of effectiveness. This move has been characterized as Obama’s way of “calling the bluff” of Republicans. Many Republican Governors have expressed ideas for how they would implement health care in their respective states, but none of them have produced a plan that provides the same level of coverage, to the same amount of people, for a comparable price.

Factcheck.org Gets a Social Security Fact Wrong
A recent article published by Factcheck.org incorrectly reported that Social Security will face a $45 billion deficit this year. Additionally, the article reported that the program is “in the red.” However, this is simply not true. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the program will bring in $45 billion less in payroll taxes than it did last year. However, the Social Security trust fund, which currently contains $2.6 trillion, will earn $118 billion in interest this year. Therefore, overall, Social Security will not be running a deficit in 2011. The program will pay 100 percent of expected benefits this year and every year until 2037, without contributing to the national debt. “We hope that seniors will remain skeptical of people who try to convince them that Social Security is not financially solvent,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “The program is financially solvent and will remain that way well into the future.”

Source: Alliance for Retired Americans Friday Alert of March 4, 2011

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