Week of October 1-6, 2018


The Senate and House are now adjourned until after the midterm elections, and will return after Veterans’ Day.

  • Kavanaugh Confirmed
  • Legislative Package to Respond to the Opioid Crisis Goes to President
  • Congress Sends Five-Year FAA Bill to President, Abandons Privatization Ploy
  • United States, Mexico and Canada Move to Change NAFTA

Kavanaugh Confirmed 

On Saturday, the Senate approved the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to be Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by the narrowest of margins, largely along partisan lines by a vote of 50 to 48 for a lifetime appointment despite serious allegations of sexual assault against him and his extreme conservative policy views. He will now likely be the deciding vote on the highest court in the land on rights and liberties impacting working men and women for the next two generations to come. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted present, although she announced she would have been a no. Instead of voting she used a Senate procedure to “pair” with Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT), who was absent to attend his daughter’s wedding. Had Daines been there he would have voted yes, so Murkowski and Daines cancelled each other without affecting the outcome. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) was the only Democrat to vote yes.

AFSCME has opposed Kavanaugh’s confirmation due to his consistent support for corporations over working people. In his tenure as a federal judge, Kavanaugh has routinely ruled against workers and their families.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, “In every conceivable way, Brett Kavanaugh has revealed himself to be unfit for the United States Supreme Court. His extreme hostility to the rights and freedoms of working people is overwhelmingly clear in his record. His confirmation will make it harder for everyone who does not enjoy privilege and power – working people, women, immigrants, people of color and others – to get access to justice in the nation’s highest court.”

Unfortunately, Kavanaugh will be the deciding vote in many labor-related cases coming before the court this term-year. One of the first cases he will review is whether the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which was enacted to prevent age discrimination, applies to all local governments including special districts such as school districts, water districts, park districts, and airport districts. Many of the other labor cases this term will cover issues such as class arbitration agreements, employment contractor agreements, and employee compensation from lost time from work. The final rulings in these cases will have significant impact on workers just like the earlier 5-to-4 decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which abandoned four decades of legal precedent to take away workers’ rights.

What You Need to Know: On Wednesday, GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) filed cloture on the Senate floor allowing the nomination of Judge Kavanaugh to proceed. This move allowed for a majority of members in the Senate to agree to advance the Kavanaugh nomination on Friday – setting up the Saturday final vote. McConnell made his motion even before the Congress received the supplemental background investigation into Judge Kavanaugh from the FBI early Thursday morning. Senate Democrats forcefully declared that the FBI’s supplemental background investigation was also limited and did not even include interviews with Judge Brett Kavanaugh or his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford.

Legislative Package to Respond to the Opioid Crisis Goes to President

With a 98-to-1 vote, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation to respond to the nationwide crisis of opioid addiction. The House passed the same package last week. President Trump is expected to sign the legislation into law. The legislation marks a victory for behavioral health care workers because it includes the AFSCME-backed new federal student loan repayment program for the substance use disorder workforce. AFSCME will be pressing for the full $25 million for funding of this new program when Congress returns after the November elections. The bill also includes an AFSCME-backed change for emergency medical service (EMS) workers. The bill will allow state and local governments to use federal opioid overdose prevention grant funds to train EMS workers and other first responders to protect themselves from on-the-job exposure to fentanyl. The bill also includes a Medicaid demonstration to expand reimbursement for community treatment programs, a limited state option to expand in-patient treatment in IMDs and an expansion of Medicare benefits to cover effective treatment to opioid addiction.

What You Need to Know:  While the bipartisan legislation is a good first step, more needs to be done. Congress must increase the federal investment for community mental health and substance use disorder treatment programs. AFSCME will press for needed policy changes and funding to boost behavioral health care staffing levels to be able to solve this public health problem.

Congress Sends Five-Year FAA Bill to President, Abandons Privatization Ploy

The Senate passed a five-year renewal of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs Wednesday by a vote of 93 to 6, narrowly avoiding a shutdown of the agency for the second time in as many weeks. The legislation (H.R. 302) passed overwhelmingly in the House in September and makes critical long-term investments in aviation programs. Most notably, the legislation maintains the current status of the Air Traffic Contol Organization as a government entity after congressional and corporate leaders attempted to privatize the program for years. The bill also protects the Contract Weather Organization and the AFSCME members who work there, which had also been targeted for elimination. AFSCME fought against changes to the programs during the legislative process.

What You Need to KnowThe $90 billion provided for aviation programs through 2023 will provide crucial funding increases while also protecting against the budgeting uncertainty that has plagued the agency since funding was frozen in 2012. Since then, the FAA has had six extensions and multiple shutdown scares. Labor secured another victory in the legislation by ensuring flight attendants receive a 10-hour rest period between flights, rather than eight hours, from the time their flight touches down until their next takeoff. The bill also requires the FAA to set minimums for seat width and the distance between rows of seats. An amendment to the bill also creates a $1.68 billion relief fund for those affected by Hurricane Florence and other natural disasters.

United States, Mexico and Canada Move to Change NAFTA

Following years of demands from labor organizations, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is being renegotiated. This week, negotiators from the United States, Mexico and Canada released the text of an updated trade agreement. The agreement contains some positives, including language that could potentially improve labor rights in Mexico. For many years, multinational companies have taken advantage of weak labor laws in Mexico to hold down wages, which has encouraged outsourcing and held down wages for U.S. workers.

In fact, the new NAFTA deal has significant problems, including language that will help drug corporations keep the prices of biological products (biologics) like insulin and many cancer treatments higher for longer. Biologics are on average 20 times more expensive than chemical drugs. Locking in the patent monopoly for biologics will delay generic versions and add to the costs of employer health plans, state Medicaid programs and Medicare. Also, the lack of any meaningful new enforcement provisions requested by labor render meaningless the new labor and environmental protections.

What You Need to Know:  There are a number of steps that must take place before the new trade agreement will take effect. The president has not yet signed the agreement, and Congress must pass legislation early next year to implement the deal. Actions must also be taken by elected officials in Canada and Mexico. AFSCME will be fighting to ensure that any final agreement benefits working Americans, including strong enforcement measures to ensure that strengthened labor rights are protected.

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