January 31, 2014
President Stays Away from Cuts to Key Programs in State of the Union Speech
President Obama’s State of the Union address avoided mention of some policies that would prove damaging to retirees, such as the chained CPI cut to earned Social Security benefits or other cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. “Now, we must work to increase Social Security benefits,” said Richard Fiesta, Executive Director of the Alliance. Mr. Fiesta added, “We applaud the President’s efforts to attack income inequality. An initiative to raise the minimum wage, and a renewed effort to extend the unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, are two major steps in the right direction.” To read Mr. Fiesta’s full statement, go tohttp://tinyurl.com/ol972dw.
The President also introduced his myRA plan, which would allow some individuals to purchase bonds in a “starter” retirement account which guarantees no risk. The myRA will be safe and simple, but will top out at $15,000 per account and offer modest returns.
Illinois Public Sector Unions Sue to Block Pension Theft
On Tuesday, a coalition called “We Are One Illinois,” which consists of the Illinois AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Service Employees International Union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, the Illinois Education Association and others, brought suit to block the enactment of a sweeping pension reform law in the state. While other employee and retiree groups already had filed legal challenges to the state pension law, the latest lawsuit carries the weight of Illinois’ largest public sector unions. The law was passed to alleviate a $100 billion dollar unfunded pension debt the state has accrued, but there is a provision of the Illinois Constitution which declares public pensions a “contractual relationship” with benefits that cannot be “diminished or impaired.” More at http://tinyurl.com/nemraln.
Illinois AFL-CIO President Michael T. Carrigan said, “Our suit makes clear that pension theft is not only unfair, it’s clearly unconstitutional…Teachers, nurses, emergency responders, and other workers and retirees will not stand by while politicians try to take away their life savings illegally.”
“We stand with the We Are One Coalition against any attempt to take away employees’ pensions, whether they are retired or still on the job.” said Barbara J. Easterling, President of the Alliance.
In Fight of Their Lives, Union Members Rally at Pennsylvania State Capitol
Identical bills currently being debated in the Pennsylvania state House and Senate would stop state and local governments, as well as school districts, from automatically deducting union wages from employees’ paychecks. Opponents of the bills point out that other organizations, including the United Way, are allowed to make use of automatic deductions at minimal cost to the government. In response to the proposed legislation, a rally was held at the state Capitol in Harrisburg on Tuesday. Over 1,000 union members, including several members of the Pennsylvania Alliance, protested against the severe attack on labor and Pennsylvanian workers. More at http://tinyurl.com/ptbtnad.
“This legislation is a blatant attack on worker’s rights, and is absolutely unconscionable,” said Ruben Burks, Secretary-Treasurer of the Alliance. “We hope the actions of the Pennsylvania Alliance and the unions showed Governor Corbett that this is not the will of the people.”
Coalition Challenges ALEC with the Facts
On Monday, a coalition of labor and progressive groups kicked off “Mondays with ALEC,” a day focusing on an aspect of the ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) corporate-funded agenda and ways to fight back, as part of the Stand Up to ALEC campaign. A new fact sheet highlights how ALEC’s agenda targets workers and lowers wages, increasing income equality:http://tinyurl.com/qapc29o.
Today is Intercontinental Day of Action against the TPP; Harry Reid Lends Support
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has signaled his opposition to a bill that would speed the approval of the trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). If not blocked, the bill would allow the TPP to be passed with minimal debate and no amendments. While the White House supports both the TPP and fast track, 151 House Democrats have told the President in a letter that they will vote against fast track. The addition of Senator Reid leaves the administration with an uphill battle.
Today is an Intercontinental Day of Action against the TPP and Corporate Globalization, with dozens of protests taking place in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada to mark the anniversary of the passage of NAFTA. Today’s march in Dallas includes numerous Texas Alliance members. The Iowa Alliance joined Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) of Iowa, the Communication Workers of America State Council of Iowa, and about 50 community members on Tuesday night, braving the -8 degree weather in the Eastern part of the state, for a teach-in on TPP and Fast Track. Jan Laue, President of the Iowa Alliance, highlighted the history of unfair trade starting with NAFTA and spoke about how the TPP will hurt seniors and raise the cost of prescription drugs.
Thousands Join Sen. Bernie Sanders on Monday Night Call
More than 670 Alliance members joined a tele-conference call with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) on Monday night. Thousands of activists from partner organizations were also on the call, which focused on protecting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and creating an agenda that works for all Americans, and not just powerful special interests. “We’ve got to be alert, we’ve gotta be focused, we have to be aggressive,” said Sen. Sanders. “If we do that, I am confident that we will not just protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, I believe we can expand those programs.”
Alliance’s Virginia Chapter Marks Its Third Year
Virginia Alliance for Retired Americans members gathered in Richmond on Tuesday to mark their third year of retiree activism and to build capacity for more. Delegates heard from Ms. Easterling;Doris Crouse-Mays, Virginia AFL-CIO President; Ron Thompson, President of the Virginia Alliance; James Gilbert, Union Veterans Council Director; Judy Beard, American Postal Workers Union National Retiree Director; Jayne Clancy, Legal Consultant for the Alliance; and others. Attendees spoke with Mr. Gilbert about issues affecting veterans, such as transitioning from combat to civilian life and Helmets to Hardhats programs, which connect service men and women to building trades careers. Photos here: http://tinyurl.com/ps7k7qr.