Week Ending May 8, 2015
House Approves Radical Budget Plan
This week, the Senate followed in the steps of the House and passed the budget conference agreement negotiated between the House and Senate Republicans by a vote of 51 to 48, largely along party lines.
To recap, this budget is one of the most radical plans that Congress has adopted since it created the budget process in 1974, more than doubling the across-the-board “sequestration” cuts for annually-approved domestic spending to a total of $87 billion in cuts each year for 10 years. These cuts would incapacitate state and local governments and lead to devastating cuts in public services that working families depend upon. At the same time, defense spending would be increased by $96 billion. The budget not only includes no new revenues, but it would further cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations.
The budget would also gut Medicaid funding and shift enormous health care costs to the elderly, disabled, and the states. It would force the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and make college less affordable for many students. Congress must still act on specific annual spending bills to make these sweeping changes. President Obama has vowed to veto such legislation if it is approved by Congress. AFSCME strongly opposes the budget agreement.
Fast Track Debate Expected to Begin in Senate
On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expected to open debate on fast track trade legislation (S. 995). Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has indicated he will attempt to try to block consideration of the bill because McConnell does not plan to include other trade-related bills in the fast track debate. One bill includes a measure to prohibit the importation of goods made with child labor. Another measure would renew the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, providing financial assistance and training funds to workers who lose their jobs as a consequence of trade agreements. TAA and the child labor measures are opposed by Republican leaders and will be defeated unless combined in a single package with the fast track bill.
Tell your Senators that fast track trade deals will ship jobs to low-wage countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia. Fast track gives special rights to global corporations to demand compensation when domestic laws, such as food safety standards and the minimum wage, reduce their profits.
Overtime Threshold Rule
The Department of Labor (DOL) has transmitted a proposed administrative rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review that updates Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime regulations. The proposal is expected to result in increased pay for millions of American workers whose wages have stagnated. Increasing the salary threshold used in determining overtime eligibility is the primary intent of the update. Long overdue, the salary threshold has not kept up with inflation, and with the exception of 10 years ago, has not changed since 1975.
While the proposal is not yet public, it is expected also to address the poorly defined “white collar” exemptions included in the FLSA. Vague definitions of what it means to be a professional, executive and administrative employee for FLSA purposes have enabled employers to abuse the overtime exemptions.
For example, under current regulations, employers can treat low-income workers as managers, make them work 60 to 70 hours a week and not pay them overtime.
AFSCME is working with congressional leaders in support of the proposed rule and applauds progress on this matter and looks forward to the next step in the process of updating these regulations.
Obama Veto of Anti-NLRB Rule Sustained
On May 5 senators successfully blocked any future attempts to override President Obama’s veto of S.J. Res. 8, the resolution of disapproval of the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) new election rules. The Senate voted 96 to 3 on a motion to table the President's veto message, essentially killing any further attempts to formally override it. Prior to the vote, Democrats rallied their colleagues to oppose overriding the veto by stating that a vote to table the veto was a vote to support American workers.
The NLRB’s election rules, which were issued on December 12, 2014, attempt to modernize the Board’s election procedures and reduce unnecessary litigation and delay in the election process. The rules are aimed at making the election process run more smoothly and predictably to the benefit of employers, workers, and unions. If the veto had been overridden it would have wiped out the NLRB’s election rules and would also have prohibited the agency from adopting another rule in “substantially the same form” unless specifically authorized by Congress.
AFSCME applauds the Senate’s vote to implement the NLRB rules and support American workers.
Senators Investigating States’ Use of Private Foster Care Agencies
Prompted by a series of reports from Buzz Feed News of violent deaths and sexual abuse at homes run by National Mentor Holdings, the nation’s biggest for-profit foster care company, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Ranking Member, sent a letter to all 50 governors to ascertain states’ policies and practices on outsourcing some or all of their foster care programs. In their letter, the senators requested information on the degree of privatization, particularly in case management services; accreditation requirements, if any; the process of choosing and contracting with private entities; requirements for inspecting the safety of foster care settings; and any differences between public and private providers; instances of substantiated abuse in foster care placements; distinguishing between public and private providers; and what actions state officials have taken when abuse claims are substantiated.
As the senators acknowledged in their letter, there is no clear child welfare “system.” Rather, there is a web of federal, state, local and tribal laws and practices that are carried out by a mix of public agencies, nonprofit agencies and for-profit companies. The federal government provides state and local governments with funding for their foster care and adoption programs but does not collect information about the agencies or companies to which states outsource foster care. To view the letter, go to: http://www.afscme.org/private-foster-care-letter Governors have until May 29 to respond.
AFSCME Opposes Senate Enforcement-Only Immigration Bill
AFSCME joined dozens of labor and civil and immigrant rights organizations in opposing legislation that solely addresses border security while failing to comprehensively reform our broken immigration system. The Arizona Borderlands Protection and Preservation Act (S. 750) reflects an “enforcement-only” approach that sets unrealistic and unattainable goals for border security. This bill undermines the prospects for meaningful immigration reform by failing to address pathways to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. and opportunities for legal immigration for immigrants outside our borders. It also fails to address the “push factors” that motivate migrants to come into the U.S., often at great risk to their safety. Our failed free trade agreements have exacerbated desperate economic conditions and high crime rates in many of the countries from which migrants have crossed our southern border. AFSCME continues to advocate for comprehensive immigration reform with strong worker protections and a roadmap to citizenship.
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