Week Ending September 27, 2019

Scalia Approved as New Secretary of Labor: House and Senate Begin Two Week District Work Period

  • Improving Right to Organize
  • Scalia Confirmed to Head Labor Department
  • Funding Government
  • House Panels Review H.R. 3 to Lower Prescription Drug Prices
  • No Surprises: People Against Unfair Medical Bills Campaign Launches
  • Senate Panel Attempts to Revive Air Traffic Control Reform

Improving Right to Organize

Led by Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), members of the House Committee on Education and Labor advanced by a vote of 26 to 21 the “Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act” (H.R. 2474). All committee Democrats supported the bill, while all Republicans present opposed. The PRO Act addresses several problems with current labor law in the private sector by:

  • Implementing Penalties: It holds employers accountable by instituting civil penalties for violations of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
  • Streamlining Election Process: Workers can petition to form a union and get a timely vote without employer interference.
  • Reaching First Agreement and Protecting Fair Share: Mediation and arbitration can be used to enable parties to reach a first agreement and all employers and unions are required to agree upon a “fair share” clause, meaning all workers covered by a collective bargaining agreement must contribute a fair share fee towards the cost of bargaining and administering the agreement.
  • Protecting Workers Who Strike: It prohibits employers from permanently replacing strikers.
  • Ending Misclassification of Workers as Independent Contractors: It clarifies the definition of independent contractors and supervisors to extend NLRA protections to more workers.

What You Need to Know: This bill is expected to be voted on by the full House before the end of the year. In addition, this bill strengthens the ability of private sector workers to organize and eliminates state right-to-work laws. AFSCME continues to gain congressional support for the “Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act” (H.R. 3463), which extends collective bargaining protections for public sector workers. It is important that all workers have the right to join or form a union. 

Scalia Confirmed to Head Labor Department

The Senate voted to approve the nomination of Eugene Scalia to be the next Secretary of Labor. Senate Democrats opposed Scalia because they found him to be an inappropriate nominee who has always fought against workers’ interests throughout his entire career. They found Scalia to be the wrong person for the job, fearing he will risk the health and safety of workers because he puts corporate interests above workers.

  • HELP Committee Vote: Earlier in the week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee voted 12 to 11, along partisan lines, to move Scalia’s nomination to the Senate floor.
  • Scalia Places Corporate Interests Over Workers: Scalia has spent his career in private practice representing corporate clients in fights against working Americans. His actions have weakened workplace safety, benefits and wages, and include opposition to unions and labor policies and regulations that positively impact retirement and equitable pay. 

What You Need to Know: With Scalia as the new head of the Labor Department, he will have the power to further impact workers and their rights in many ways. There is little doubt he will continue to side with corporate interests over workers. That’s why AFSCME voiced strong opposition to his nomination. AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, “We need a champion for working people in the Department of Labor who will advance standards that protect overtime pay, strengthen workplace safety and defend workers’ rights over corporate interests. AFSCME urges the Senate to reject the nomination.”

Funding Government

To avoid a federal government shutdown on Oct. 1, the Senate followed up on last week’s House approval of the stopgap funding bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), by also approving the CR. This will continue government funding at existing fiscal year (FY) 2019 levels until Nov. 21. The president is expected to sign the bill into law.

  • Emergency Declaration Rejected: The Senate also voted 54 to 41 to once again terminate the emergency declaration President Trump has used to override $3.6 billion in congressionally directed funding, including half a billion dollars from construction projects involving schools and child care facilities on U.S. military installations, in order to fund his controversial border wall. Republican Senators Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Roy Blunt (Mo.), Susan Collins (Maine), Mike Lee (Utah), Jerry Moran (Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Mitt Romney (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.), Rob Portman (Ohio), Patrick Toomey (Pa.), and Roger Wicker (Miss.) crossed party lines to overturn the emergency declaration. The House also passed the resolution. The president is expected to once again veto the resolution once it is approved by the House.
  • Annual Spending Bill Approval at a Standstill: The Senate remains deadlocked in approving annual funding bills for the new fiscal year. Senate Democrats oppose efforts to underfund domestic programs, including health, education, labor, transportation and housing. 

What You Need to Know: The short-term spending bill is intended to give the Senate time to pass its FY 2020 spending bills and work with the House to pass agreed-upon funding levels that will adequately fund government agencies and programs. If an agreement is not reached, there will be a need for a continuation of short-term spending bills or a yearlong CR at the current spending level. Efforts to continue to work on finalizing FY 2020 budget bills by Nov. 21 are moving slowly. AFSCME strongly urges the Senate to uphold the budget agreement and increase funds to invest in essential public services for working families and retirees.

House Panels Review H.R. 3 to Lower Prescription Drug Prices

The Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019 (H.R. 3) was unveiled last week and two House panels moved quickly this week to begin work on H.R. 3 and other legislative proposals to reduce drug prices. AFSCME strongly supports H.R. 3 because it will lower drug prices, including insulin, regardless of whether people get their health coverage through a job, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicare or other insurance.

  • Key Provisions of H.R. 3: Drug corporations that refuse to negotiate will pay a very steep penalty tax on their prescription drug sales. It establishes a maximum fair price for prescription drugs based on what other countries (i.e., Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and United Kingdom) are paying for the same drugs. It stops unfair price hikes on Medicare beneficiaries by requiring them to pay a rebate back to Medicare if they increase prices faster than inflation. It caps out-of-pocket costs in the Medicare prescription drug benefit at $2,000, giving beneficiaries the peace of mind of knowing that their prescription drug costs will not bankrupt them or empty their retirement accounts. Lawmakers plan to use the savings from negotiations into improving Medicare benefits, but the details are not in the bill yet.
  • Key Points Made at the Hearing: Patients with diseases, like an incurable blood cancer, should not live in fear of the high cost of the drug they need to stay alive. The federal government gives drug corporations monopolies. It must stand with Americans to stop drug corporations from charging them unjustified, exorbitant prices. American taxpayers foot the bill for much of the research done to invent new drugs. It is unfair for drug corporations to turn around and charge taxpayers again with high prescription drug prices. For many years, other industrialized countries, Medicaid and some federal agencies have routinely negotiated drug prices. The countries that negotiate drug prices pay much less for the same drugs than the United States. It is important to include everyone in the drug price negotiations, not just Medicare. The high costs of prescription drugs raises premiums on work-based health plans.

What You Need to Know: As a candidate, President Trump endorsed federal government negotiations with drug corporations to lower prices, but it remains to be seen if he will support or oppose H.R. 3. A House vote on legislation to lower prescription drugs will likely occur in the fall.

Call your representatives today at 1-866-957-9069.

Urge your Representative to support H.R. 3, the “Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019,” to help working families and retirees afford the medicines they need.

No Surprises: People Against Unfair Medical Bills Campaign Launches

Joining with groups representing consumers, patients and workers, AFSCME is pressing Congress to end surprise out-of-network balance billing. Surprise medical bills are unexpected charges above what a patient’s health plan pays from an out-of-network doctor or hospital that the patient did not choose for needed care, typically emergency care.

  • Use of Surprise Billing on the Rise: Patients are facing more and higher priced surprise out-of-network bills, even when they visit in-network hospitals. These eye-popping bills leave working families with a heavy financial burden and debt. 
  • New Campaign Launched: In support of the newly formed coalition, AFSCME President Saunders said, “It is time to end the shameful practice of surprise medical billing. By standing together and reining in predatory firms that swindle people in their most urgent time of need, we can prevent the extreme and unnecessary financial burden families face when they seek emergency care. As a coalition, we will fight back and advocate for lower health care costs so that working families can have access to the care they need and deserve without going into financial ruin.” 

What You Need to Know: Many of these bills come from providers who work for physician staffing corporations that exploit the vulnerability of patients in a medical emergency or unexpected hospitalization. Surprise medical bills do not happen by accident. These corporations know that patients will keep showing up at emergency rooms no matter how much they charge. A leading House panel is investigating the private investments driving the business model of these corporations. One House panel has adopted the bipartisan “No Surprises Act” (H.R. 3630) and a Senate panel has advanced the bipartisan Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019 (S. 1895), which stops surprise medical bills. Providers that typically charge patients “surprise medical bills” and dark money interests are trying to keep these bills from moving forward.

What You Can Do: To learn more and help fight against surprise medical bills go to http://nosurprisescampaign.org.

Senate Panel Attempts to Revive Air Traffic Control Reform

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Aviation and Space renewed discussions on modernization and potential reforms of the nation’s air traffic control system (ATC). Less than a year after enactment of the five-year Reauthorization of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs in October 2018, Chairman Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is gauging interest in a new overhaul, including possible privatization of ATC programs. 

  • Repeated Failed Past Efforts: Former Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) tried and failed multiple times to achieve his long-held goal of privatizing ATC programs, resulting in the 2018 compromise legislation.
  • Strong Opposition to Privatization Continues: Continued opposition from labor, consumer and business groups sunk privatization attempts in previous years, and business aviation stakeholders reiterated that opposition at Wednesday’s Senate hearing.

What You Need to Know: Multiple FAA shutdowns over the last 10 years and budget cuts have plagued the agency’s ability to run smoothly and implement the NextGen upgrades to navigation systems. While big airlines and supporters of privatization claim separating ATC from the FAA would solve these issues, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found no such benefits.

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