Week Ending March 1, 2019

Congress and President Donald Trump continue to spar over border wall funding.

  • House Rejects Trump’s Border Wall Emergency
  • AFSCME Urges WATER Act Passage
  • Paycheck Fairness Bill Advances in House Committee
  • Preventing Workplace Violence
  • High Prescription Drug Prices Scrutinized
  • School Employees Champion Public Education Funding
  • Child Care for Working Families Act Introduced

House Rejects Trump’s Border Wall Emergency

This week, the U.S. House passed a resolution of disapproval rejecting President Donald Trump’s border emergency declaration. H.J. Res 46 passed by a vote of 245 to 182 on Feb. 26, with 13 Republicans joining Democrats. The Senate must vote on the resolution within 18 days. Trump made his declaration shortly after congressional leaders approved limited funding for border technology and physical barriers but denied his request for money to build a border wall. Agreement on that bipartisan funding bill finally came after months of bitter disagreements and a 35-day government shutdown. Unhappy with the congressional compromise, Trump now wants to take more than $7 billion from the Department of Defense and $600 million from the Treasury Department to build his border wall to fulfill a campaign promise.

What You Need to Know: Some GOP senators have already expressed support for the resolution of disapproval, but the Senate and House are not expected to be able to override a presidential veto. A two-thirds vote is needed to override the president’s veto, even if the resolution passes the Senate. Some Republican senators have recommended Trump agree to alternative border wall funding without the emergency declaration to avoid the constitutional separation of powers questions raised by the president’s action.

AFSCME Urges WATER Act Passage

AFSCME District Council 20 2nd Vice President Seth Couslar urged Congress to take quick action to invest in and improve water infrastructure. “As a public service worker and citizen, I want my government to show the same devotion to caring for our communities’ water treatment specialists, engineers and other professionals who work tirelessly to provide this fundamental human right.” Couslar appeared at a press conference Thursday to promote Reps. Ro Khanna’s (D-California) and Brenda Lawrence’s (D-Michigan) Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act of 2019 (H.R. 1417), which for years has been a centerpiece of AFSCME’s infrastructure agenda.

What You Need to Know: Federal investments to ensure clean drinking water and the safe disposal of waste water has dwindled from 63 percent of projects in 1977 to just 9 percent in 2014. We’ve seen the crisis this has created in communities like Flint, Michigan. But the problem is widespread throughout the country. The legislation would provide $35 billion to fully fund the Drinking Water and Clean Water State Revolving Funds (SRF), for public schools to test and replace drinking water infrastructure, for grants to replace lead service lines serving households, and for Drinking Water SRF funding for projects addressing chemical water contamination. It would also increase the authorization level for the School Drinking Water Grant Program, first codified in America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, which provides grants to update and replace all lead-containing drinking water infrastructure in schools.

Paycheck Fairness Advances in House Committee

The House Education and Labor Committee voted to advance the Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R.7), which helps alleviate gender-based wage discrimination and ensures women receive equal pay for equal work. In a party-line vote of 27 to 20, Democratic members of the committee agreed to advance this legislation to the House floor for a full vote. The floor vote is expected by April 2, which is Equal Pay Day, and shows how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. 

What You Need to Know: Women make up almost 47 percent of the workforce in America. Their participation in the workforce is steadily climbing, and they are completing college and university education at higher rates. Yet there is still a gender pay gap between men and women across almost all occupations, industries, and trade and educational attainment. Despite these gains, women still only make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes. This percentage is even lower for women of color. This decades-long trend is not only troubling for women’s career and financial success, it also hurts overall economic security of the entire country as women are integral to today’s workforce, and the children and families they help support. This gap also limits their ability to save for retirement.

Preventing Workplace Violence

The workforce protections panel of the House Education and Labor Committee held a hearing on AFSCME-backed legislation to address workplace violence in health care and social service assistance sectors. The panel heard testimony that showed that the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309) is urgently needed. The bill would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a strong national violence prevention standard. Seventy percent of all nonfatal workplace assaults typically occur in the health care and social service assistance sectors. And statistics show that public sector workers are at greater risk than their private sector peers. AFSCME, along with other unions, petitioned OSHA to issue a specific standard to prevent workplace violence centered on evidenced-based best practices. OSHA, in the waning days of the Obama administration, approved the petition but the Trump administration has derailed the process. Passage of H.R. 1309 would ensure OSHA issues a final rule on preventing workplace violence in these two at-risk sectors.

What You Need to Know: By holding this hearing on H.R. 1309, Congress has taken an important first step towards enacting legislation to require OSHA to issue a specific workplace violence prevention standard. AFSCME submitted testimony in support of the bill and encourages lawmakers to co-sponsor H.R. 1309 and move the bill to a House vote.

High Prescription Drug Prices Scrutinized

In a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, seven top drug company executives failed to explain why prescription drug prices cost more in the United States than in other developed countries. While there was bipartisan saber rattling against the outrageous prices of prescription drugs, it remains unclear if there is bipartisan support to enact legislation to lower ever-rising prices. AFSCME has long supported allowing Medicare to use its buying power to negotiate lower prices and legislation that lowers prescription drug prices for seniors and all working families.

What You Need to Know: Drug company executives could not explain why prescription drug prices continue to soar and cost more here than in any other developed nation. Despite the scrutiny, the executives left the hearing knowing they can raise prices because there is no law to stop their price gouging. AFSCME will be working with allies to press for comprehensive legislation that does not shift around the high cost of prescription drugs but lowers them for all Americans.

School Employees Champion Public Education Funding

AFSCME-represented classified school employees from California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island came to Washington, D.C., to advocate for public education funding and to support classified school employees, including paraprofessionals, teaching assistants, aides to students with disabilities, crossing guards, bus drivers, administrative professionals, food service workers, custodians and others. They urged Congress to increase investments in Title I for Disadvantaged Students and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which has decreased since fiscal year 2011. Currently, the federal government only provides about 16 percent of the promised 40 percent share of IDEA funding.

What You Need to Know: The House also passed The Recognizing Achievement in School Employees (RISE) Act (H.R. 276) introduced by Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nevada) with strong bipartisan support by a vote of 387 to 19. A companion bill (S. 323) has been introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) and has seven co-sponsors. It could be voted on by the Senate soon.

Child Care for Working Families Act Introduced

This week, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Virginia) introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act, which would double the number of children receiving child care assistance, help millions of families afford high-quality child care and make significant investments in pre-kindergarten. The bill would amend the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program, so that no family earning less than 150 percent of the state median income would pay more than 7 percent of its income on child care. More importantly, the bill invests resources in increased professional development for child care providers to increase compensation for providers and support education and training opportunities for them.

What You Need to Know: The bill would expand access, improve quality and ensure that all child care workers are paid a living wage and that early childhood educators are provided parity with elementary school teachers with similar credentials and experience. The bill would also support care providers by recognizing the important role they play in meeting the needs of parents working nontraditional hours and by allowing states to use funding for activities focused on providers. The bill would set aside for $8 billion a year for 10 years to enable states to support high-quality preschool programs for 3- and 4-year-olds through a diverse delivery system. AFSCME strongly supports this important bill.

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