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Legislation Department
May 21, 1999

Feeling The Pain In The Federal Budget

The budget plan advanced by Republican leaders in Congress would mean devastating cuts in domestic spending programs. The plan calls for cutting domestic spending by $26 billion, or about 12 percent, from popular programs like education, job training, housing, health and human services, environmental protection, medical and high-tech research, and other vital federal programs. The important Labor-Health and Human Services-Education spending bill would be cut by $10 billion and the Veterans-Housing spending bill would be cut by $6 billion. The magnitude of the reduction in the VA-HUD-Independent Agencies allocation will make a difficult situation all but impossible to raise fiscal year 2000 funding for the Public Housing Operating and Modernization programs to the necessary level. Of course, while most federal programs would be cut, defense spending will increase significantly. The Chairman of the House Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, Rep. John Porter (R-IL), said in frustration, "I don’t believe I can get 218 votes for (the bill) with these numbers." Instead, Porter called for making "a reasonable adjustment in the (spending) caps now, on a bipartisan basis." But meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) said, "it’s tough, but it ought to be done." The White House called it "a blueprint for political chaos."

Mandatory Social Security Coverage Comes With A Hefty Price Tag

A new report by Segal Company commissioned by AFSCME finds that the estimated cost to states of forcing public workers into Social Security would exceed a whopping $26 billion in the first five years. Currently, some five million state and local government workers nationwide do not participate in Social Security, including police, firefighters, correctional officers, teachers and others. All are covered by employer-based public pension plans that provide benefits similar to Social Security. The report contains cost projections for each of the 50 states if Congress mandates Social Security Coverage for all future public employees. So far, only the Social Security reform plan introduced by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY) would call for mandatory coverage. Other major plans, including those by Reps. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) and Charlie Stenholm (D-TX), and the Republican leadership proposal by Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer (R-TX) and Social Security Subcommittee Chairman Clay Shaw (R-FL) do not include mandatory coverage.

Juvenile Justice Workers

On Wednesday, May 19, AFSCME juvenile justice workers won a major victory in worker rights. With the help of Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Jim Jeffords (R-VT), AFSCME was able to amend Senate juvenile justice legislation to maintain critical job protections for juvenile justice workers. This amendment would keep intact an existing requirement that juvenile justice programs be administered in a way that would not interfere with existing collective bargaining agreements, negatively impact wages, or displace workers. Similar legislation in the House would also preserve these worker protections.

Legislation For Safer Needles

On Thursday, Reps. Pete Stark (D-CA) and Marge Roukema (R-NJ) introduced the "Health Care Worker Needlestick and Sharps Injury Prevention Act" (H.R. 1899). The bill is aimed at reducing needlestick injuries in the health care workplace.

A press conference was held by Rep. Stark to announce the introduction of the bill (Rep. Roukema was unable to attend at the last minute). Mary Lou Millar from the United Nurses Association represented AFSCME at the event.

The bill would require employers, working with front-line health care workers, to identify, evaluate and utilize needles and sharps designed to reduce injury. Today, health care workers are in serious danger of becoming infected with diseases, such as Hepatitis and HIV, caused by needlestick and sharps injuries on the job. There are an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 occupational needlestick injuries every year. Of those injured, more than 1,000 will contract serious diseases, including up to 40 who will contract HIV.

During the press conference, Kaiser-Permanente highlighted the fact that, while safer needles and sharps were more expensive, the cost of testing and treating injured workers was greater. In fact, the California Occupational Health and Safety Administration recently estimated that a similar law in California will save a total of $100 million each year due to the reduction in injuries.

Now that a bill has been introduced, it is important that we line up as many sponsors as possible. Please help by contacting your Member of Congress and urging them to support this bipartisan bill.

Social Security Privatization

House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer met this week with President Clinton to discuss his proposal to privatize the Social Security meeting. Following the meaning, Archer said that he would conduct hearings on Social Security right after the Memorial Day recess. But, there is a catch. Archer said that any plan considered during the hearings must be certified by the Social Security Administration actuaries as extending the life of the trust fund by 75 years. So far, Archer acknowledged that only his proposal qualifies.

Clinton’s plan, backed by House Ways and Means panel Democrats and soon to be introduced by the lead Democrat on the Committee, Charlie Rangel and House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt (MO), does not. The Clinton plan would extend the solvency of the trust fund until 2055. The president has said that he recommends that a bipartisan commission recommend additional steps to reach the 75 year solvency requirement.

Two bipartisan groups of senators who sponsored privatization plans in the last Congress are teaming up to release an updated plan to privatize Social Security. The senators involved are Republicans Judd Gregg (NH), Rick Santorum (PA), and Charles Grassley (IA), and Democrats Bob Kerrey (NE) and John Breaux (LA). It is not clear if Sen. Moynihan will join this group or continue to support the privatization plan which he sponsored in the last Congress. The plan is expected to cut Social Security benefits, raise the retirement age and permit workers to establish private investment accounts.

Attacks On Labor Resume: The 40-Hour Work Week Is Threatened

A House Education and Workforce panel, deceptively named the Workforce Protections Subcommittee, approved a bill (H.R. 1381) to amend the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to permit employers to omit gainsharing and other productivity bonuses from being included in calculating overtime pay. Since the passage of the FLSA over sixty years ago, employers had been required to include bonus pay when determining a worker’s base hourly and overtime pay. Some AFSCME councils and locals have negotiated gainsharing plans. If H.R. 1381 were to become law, the amount of the gainsharing bonus would not be counted in calculating overtime rates.

Workplace Safety And Health

On May 19th the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Workforce Protections approved the Workplace Preservation Act, H.R. 987, which would prevent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from implementing final ergonomics standards. OSHA’s ergonomics standard seeks to protect workers from crippling injuries and illnesses. H.R. 987, offered by Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), would delay the standard until the National Academy of Sciences completed yet another study on musculoskeletal disorders and ergonomics.

The subcommittee also approved the Safety and Health Audit Promotion and Whistleblower Improvement Act of 1999, H.R. 1439 which was introduced by the Chairman of the Subcommittee, Rep. Cass Ballenger (R-NC). This legislation would allow employers who perform safety and health audits to withhold their findings from OSHA. The right to withhold important safety and health information from OSHA will severely hinder OSHA’s ability to enforce the law. H.R. 1439 also contains an insufficient whistleblower provision which fails to provide adequate protection.

Both bills were reported to the full committee.

Law Enforcement Officers

On May 12, 1999, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) introduced legislation (S. 1016) to give public safety officers, including corrections and other law enforcement officers, the right to join a union, bargain a contract, and seek mediation for labor disputes. This bill is now pending in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House and has already attracted over 200 co-sponsors.

On Tuesday, May 18, 1999, the Senate passed by unanimous consent the Public Safety Medal of Valor Act (S. 39). This legislation would provide a national Medal of Valor for public safety officers, including corrections and other law enforcement officers, who act with extraordinary bravery above and beyond the call of duty. It would establish a Medal of Valor Review Board, composed of 11 individuals appointed by Congress and the president, who would recommend to the president up to 10 candidates a year for this medal. The Public Safety Medal of Valor would be the highest national award for valor by a public safety officer. This legislation has also passed in the House.

Veterans Employment Privatization

In an official transmission to Congress, the U.S. Department of Labor has criticized a report by the Congressional Commission on Service Members and Veterans Transition Assistance which recommended sweeping changes in the veterans employment programs run by the Labor Department. Among other things, the report recommended changes that would allow states to privatize the veterans employment specialists working in the state employment service offices. The report also recommended limiting these services only to disabled veterans or those who have left the armed services for no more than four years. Legislative action has not been scheduled yet on a bill introduced earlier this year which would incorporate the Commission’s recommendations.

Connecticut Data Processing Privatization

Democratic members of the Connecticut delegation have urged the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services to withhold final approval of the state’s proposal to privatize all data processing functions conducted by state agencies. The letter also urges the federal departments to exercise their jurisdiction to review the operational capability and financial background of the prospective state vendor because of the implications for millions of federal funds received by the state. No other state has attempted such sweeping privatization of public data processing functions, and AFSCME is working with other unions to block the plan.

Private School Savings Accounts Approved

The Senate Finance Committee approved another form of school vouchers, a broad-based tax bill that provides tax breaks funded with public dollars for private education expenses. The bill sponsored by Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-GA) allows contributions up to $2,000 a year to IRA-like accounts that can be withdrawn tax-free for private school expenses. A Democratic amendment to substitute a version of President Clinton’s $25 billion school construction proposal was defeated along party lines. President Clinton vetoed a similar bill last year.

SIGN THE PBR PETITION TO CONGRESS

A petition to Congress on the Patients’ Bill of Rights has been posted on AFSCME’s home page at www.afscme.org. By clicking on the petition site, AFSCME members can sign this electronic petition urging Congress to pass a real Patients’ Bill of Rights which includes whistleblower protection for health care workers.

Please sign the petition and urge your members to sign too!