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APRIL 2011

CommonGround

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RHODE ISLAND

Taveras’ “maximum flexibility” is the wrong approach for education crisis By Tom Hoffman When word got around in late February that the Providence Public School District (PPSD) was sending layoff notices to all 1,926 of its teachers, most teachers were surprised, but not shocked. For many teachers, taking receipt of a pink slip from the PPSD is just another sign that spring is on the way. State law requires a warning to be sent by March 1 to any teacher whose employment status may be changed the following year. The vast majority of these notices are usually rescinded throughout the spring and early summer as retirements, transfers, program reorganization and other changes are settled. When the actual letters arrived this year, to those who read them carefully, the difference from previous years jumped out: “... the School Board will consider a recommendation for a resolution terminating your employment in the Providence School District as of the last day of the 2010-2011 school year.” The teachers were being threatened not with layoffs, but with firing. Teachers who are laid off are recalled or added to the substitute teacher pools based on seniority. Terminated teachers are just fired; they have no more right to a job within the school district than any person off the street. Mayor Angel Taveras’ main argument for warning of termination instead of layoff is to maintain “maximum flexibility” in choosing which teachers will be retained in which positions. When people hear “maximum flexibility,” they tend to think,

“keeping the best teachers and getting rid of the worst.” But there is no mechanism for ranking teachers this way in the PPSD, and it is not what the district has indicated it intends to do. What the district can and apparently will do is terminate teachers who happen to be working in schools or individual jobs that are being closed or eliminated. The Taveras administration is currently proposing to close four elementary schools, convert Bridgham Middle School into an elementary school and make smaller grade reorganizations in several schools. The West End is most heavily

PPSD high schools with 240 teachers will probably soon be added to this list, and 18 other PPSD schools were rated as “Tier 3” low-performing by the Rhode Island Department of Education last spring. All of these schools may be reorganized or closed within in the next three years. Whether their teachers will also be terminated is unknown. The full scope of the threats currently facing both the district and the union is staggering. A municipal budget deficit with a restricted tax base. A state budget in almost as much trouble. Teachers have already gone nearly a year without a contract

The union’s challenge is to both save itself, and protect Providence’s schools from their own administration’s self-destructive tendencies. impacted by these changes, while the wealthy East Side, Classical High School and Nathaniel Greene may be completely unaffected. Under the layoff rules, the impact of the closings would be shared by schools throughout the district. In addition to the immediate trauma of closing schools, the long-term impact of these decisions on low-income communities could be grave. This is further complicated by new federal requirements to identify and turn around the state’s “persistently lowest-performing” schools, which in Rhode Island will always tend to be in Providence and Central Falls due to their high concentrations of poverty. Teachers in four Providence schools named low-performing last year may now be terminated. Three more

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and the district may try to impose changes unilaterally as was recently done in East Providence and upheld by the courts. Increases in charter school enrollment may create a downward spiral of funding cuts and school closings. If one plan for five Cranston/Providence “mayoral academies” included in Rhode Island’s federal Race to the Top grant application had been fully implemented this year, $12 million from the PPSD budget would have been “funneled into Cranston” as Cranston Mayor Allen Fung recently put it. Detroit, as it often does, provides a cautionary example. In 2009, Detroit’s school district had a deficit of $200 million. After major cuts to staff and significant concessions on wages and

benefits from the teachers’ union, this year the budget deficit is... $320 million. Students are leaving by the thousands and the district is simply unraveling. Providence may be on the same path. If the terminations in Providence are justified by a crisis, there is no reason to think the same crisis won’t continue indefinitely. For the past several decades, the Providence Teachers’ Union (PTU) has successfully relied on the law, contracts and political influence to maintain good wages, benefits and working conditions for its members. It has collaborated with PPSD on sitebased school management and other issues. It has not had to organize workers internally or externally, activate its whole membership for significant strikes or other actions, or actively reach out to other unions. The next several months will tell us if the PTU’s legal and political strategies are still effective, and if they will be willing and able to engage more actively and deeply in solidarity not only with public and private sector unions, as we have seen in Wisconsin, but also with the lowincome communities most threatened by the attacks on our public schools. The union’s challenge is to both save itself, and protect Providence’s schools from their own administration’s selfdestructive tendencies. It will require every tool, tactic and ally in the union’s arsenal. Tom Hoffman is a former teacher in the PPSD and member of the PTU. He now manages SchoolTool, a project which creates free and open source software for schools in the developing world. R

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Common Ground

APRIL 2011

Senator Brown’s voting record flies in the face of his portrayal as a regular guy By Common Ground Staff A poll taken for the Massachusetts AFLCIO after Republican Scott Brown defeated Democrat Martha Coakley for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat showed that more Bay State union members voted for the GOP candidate. The labor organization termed the results a working-class revolt by union voters, who Wewith sponsor low-cost were unhappy the slow pace of change in Washington and the perception that the Obama spaying/neutering clinics, administration was not doing enough to help the provide adoption middle class. The pollpet of 810 voters, conducted by Hart services, Research Associates, showed that 49 legal low-cost assistance, We sponsor percent of union households in Massachusetts and spaying/neutering clinics, voted forinvestigate Brown, while neglect 46 percent supported Coakley. provide pet adoption abuse cases, and advocate

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John J. Tassoni, Jr. - Publisher Common Ground, Inc.

111 Wayland Avenue, Providence, RI 02906 c. 401.451.1305 f. 401.831.6111 john@commongroundnews.net www.commongroundnews.net

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In preparation for the 2012 elections, Bay State labor leaders are planning to peel away Brown’s union supporters. According to a recent article in the “Boston Globe,” they are attempting to capitalize on workers’ disgust over Republican attacks on collective bargaining rights. One such attack occurred in Wisconsin, where the GOP successfully fought for legislation that stripped away collective bargaining rights from publicsector workers and drastically reduced their pay and benefits. Labor leaders hope Brown’s votes against several bills that Democrats considered important to workers, including an extension of jobless benefits and a summer jobs program for youths, will turn popular sentiment against him. According to the “Globe,” the senator defended his votes by stating he did not want to add to the deficit with those programs. He argued that job growth is best generated by limiting taxes and regulations on businesses. “A lot of blue-collar workers accepted the fact that he was their champion,’’ said Robert J. Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFLCIO, in the article by Matt Viser. “But his votes have not been good for working people in a whole host of areas. When I go to tell everybody this, it’s going to have meaning to people who were laid off.’’ Union leaders told Viser that they face an uphill climb when it comes to unseating Brown. They still need a high-profile Democrat to express a strong interest in running against the senator, whose war chest was at $7.2 million at the start of the year. Also, a “Globe” poll last year found that Brown was the most popular politician in the state. Rich Rogers, executive secretary of the Greater Boston Labor Council, argues that Brown’s votes fly in the face of his image as a regular guy. The first vote Brown cast was to block

President Obama’s appointment of union lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board, which certifies unions and resolves disputes between workers and employers. Then he helped block funding for summer jobs, including almost 7,000 jobs for teens in Massachusetts, based on a deficit-reduction platform. Brown also blocked several votes last year that would have extended unemployment benefits for the long-time jobless, a series of votes that union leaders are planning to emphasize. Brown, who refused to be interviewed for the “Globe” story, has said that he voted against extending unemployment benefits because he wanted the costs to be offset with budget cuts so the measure would not add to the deficit. He even filed legislation that would achieve that, but it stalled. Unemployment benefits were eventually extended as part of a tax compromise, and the senator voted for that measure. A coalition of labor unions and community groups are meeting to figure out how to change Brown’s positive image with voters, and to turn union members’ anger over events in Wisconsin into anger over Brown’s voting record. Brown joined other prominent Republicans to support Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s union-busting campaign, which was sold as an austerity measure. Republicans contend that independent voters are fed up with expensive collective bargaining contracts for government employees, which add to the tax burden, according to the “Globe.” Polls indicate voters have potentially conflicting priorities when it comes to government unions. An NBC-“Wall Street Journal” poll found that 62 percent of respondents think it is unacceptable to limit collective bargaining, but that 68 percent feel public employees should be required to pay more for their retirement benefits.

Dear readers: It has been over a year since we first began publishing Common Ground, the first newspaper reporting on all the positive work of the labor community. I am excited to announce that we have now doubled our printing and now will be distributing papers throughout Massachusetts. We welcome our readers and advertisers from Massachusetts and believe our newspaper will bring both labor communities together even stronger. And it could not come at a better time. We are under assault. Never before in my lifetime have their been such blatant attempt to use the labor community as the scapegoat for governmental executive mismanagement. Look at Wisconsin; just look in our own backyard in Providence where nearly 2000 teachers were fired -- not laid off with the opportunity to be hired back. Fired. Treated like a worker who has no rights. Is this what we want? Is this the example we want set for our children? We must fight back, and one constructive way is with the correct information. No longer will the labor community be silenced by a biased media that has its own agenda. Common Ground is the voice for working people, and not only people who are represented in labor unions. Every worker in America benefits from the labor community. Do you think if we allowed our rights to be further stripped away that the fat cats on Wall Street would implement fairer workplace conditions. They are the ones who outsourced our economy to China. They are the very same ones who got us into this financial mess in the first place. It is called greed, and we have to stand up to it, for our rights, and for all working Americans. I am just one voice of many who believes in 5-day work weeks, overtime, paid sick days, and overall fairness for the people who built our great states and country deserve. I hope you will join me in submitting your stories, and will patronize our pro-labor advertisers. I thank you for the opportunity to put out this newspaper, which is the culmination of my dream.

Sincerely, John J. Tassoni, Jr. Publisher

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APRIL 2011

Common Ground

Page 3

Understanding the motives behind anti-union politicians By Common Ground Staff As federal, state and municipal budget woes worsen during one of the country’s worst economic downturns, benefits in the contracts of public employee unions are being targeted by angry and scared politicians and taxpayers. In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker spearheaded a successful drive to obliterate collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers and drastically decrease their pay and benefits. Republican lawmakers say the measure is in effect because a legislative agency published the bill despite a judge’s order against such action and an injunction blocking enforcement of the law. The Wisconsin GOP’s unionbusting campaign sparked similar efforts in other states as well as prolabor demonstrations in Madison and other cities throughout the country. In Providence, where union supporters rallied for their brothers and sisters in Wisconsin, Rep. Joseph A. Trillo (R-Dist. 24 Warwick), who has been a leading voice in favor of reforming the benefits and compensation given to public employees, has introduced legislation (H5882), which will put the clamps on contractual terms subject to collective bargaining. In a release issued by the Legislative Press Bureau, Trillo says he introduced the legislation because of the enormous strength and prominence gained by public sector employee unions who have consistently encouraged their members to run for office. Once elected, he claims, union sympathizers write and support laws that tie the hands of mayors and town

administrators, preventing them Social Security program, it would spending while providing the from making decisions to run their be ill-advised to tamper with the public with adequate services. municipalities. pensions the remaining teachers He called Taveras’ wholesale According to Trillo, will need when they retire. Flynn firing of the city’s teachers and extraordinarily generous benefits knows government budget deficits plans to shutter four schools an and compensation for public sector include underlying complex issues, overreach, and said that he hopes employees have Rhode Island cities but he argues that it is wrong to it was a rookie mistake. Flynn and towns teetering on the verge of impose solutions that depend on believes the terminations are an insolvency. His legislation, which deep concessions by unions. “attempt to go after” contractual excludes police and fire personnel Such givebacks are more recall and seniority provisions. and prison guards, attacks difficult to allow, Flynn said, when Several teacher contracts are those benefits and goes after the union officials take into account expiring this year, and Flynn automatic deduction of dues from that some government entities expects union locals will continue paychecks. have failed to adequately fund to make concessions school In another assault on organized pension plans over the years for a administrators will seek to cope labor, Providence Mayor Angel variety of reasons. Organized labor with budget constraints. He Taveras announced the firing of all and government officials, he said, pointed out many unions have 1,926 teachers in his city’s schools have to work within the collective agreed to contribute more toward effective at the end of the school bargaining process to finds ways to health insurance premiums, to year. The first-term mayor claims eliminate budget deficits. Instead of accept reconfigured health care his only motive behind the firings knee-jerk reactions such as the one plans and to work under pay is to address a more than $100 displayed by Gov. Walker, Flynn freezes. million budget deficit. thinks it’s possible to negotiate “Everyone is aware these are Frank Flynn, president of efficiencies that cut government extraordinary times,” he said. the Rhode Island Federation of The Boston Newspaper Printing Teachers and Health Pressmen’s Union Local 3 Professionals, calls Welcomes elected officials’ assaults on organized Common Ground labor awful and an to effort to destroy the Massachusetts middle class that unions helped to The Officer and Members of Local 3 look forward to your build. While the monthly newspaper highlighting all of the good work powers that be tell Unions and their members are doing to improve the quality of life for all working people throughout the the public their Commonwealth of Massachusetts and beyond. motive is to balance budgets, what they Martin A. Callaghan President are trying to is Kevin M. Toomey Stephen M. Sullivan “control all of the Secretary-Treasurer Vice President money,” Flynn said. 172 Longfellow 79 Parkingway He explained Providence, RI 02907 Quincy, MA 02169 Tel: 401-781-1007 Tel: 617-328-7705 that because just Fax: 401-461-2121 Fax: 617-328-6912 half of the teachers Representing Newspaper, Commercial, & Specialty Pressmen, in Rhode Island Bindery Operators, HVAC, Maintenance and Electrical Technicians pay into the federal in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Connecticut

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Common Ground

APRIL 2011

The under-compensated public employee By Common Ground Staff When there is a crisis of public safety, the people working to protect the public are labeled as heroes. But during the current economic crisis, the public sector has become a target. Lately, public sector compensation is being compared to private sector compensation by those pushing for bigger budget cuts. But those making comparisons gloss over pertinent details. People should consider two important factors when comparing public and private sector compensation: the employee’s education level and the cost of benefit compensation. Higher education plays an important role for the public sector, according to a 2010 joint study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research and the Political Economy Research Institute. The study demonstrated that

between 2005 and 2009, 55.4 percent of public sector workers in New England had a bachelor’s degree or more and 29.8 percent had an advanced degree. This statistic varies significantly from private sector workers. “By contrast, only 37.9 percent of private-sector workers had a four-year college degree or more, and just 13.3 percent had an advanced degree,” wrote authors Jeffrey Thompson and John Schmitt. In the work force, higher education usually comes with a higher salary. With the public sector’s higher percentage of college and advanced degree graduates it would be assumed the public sector’s employee costs are greater than the private sector. However, in the public sector, higher education does not always mean more money for employees. Joseph A. Montanaro President Gary Glittone Vice President Steven Kirby Financial Secretary

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In fact, according to a graph taken from an EPI Briefing Paper by Jeffrey Keefe in 2010, “the private sector compensation premium jumps to 37 percent for a professional degree, 31 percent for a master’s degree, and 21 percent for a doctorate.” These percentages are a national average that takes into account an employee’s total compensations of both wages and total package benefits.

sector employees also receive more of their compensation in the form of benefits. An explanation for public sector employers compensating with higher benefits may be because it allows employers and employees to not pay partial income tax at compensation. According to the U.S. Congress Joint Committee on Taxation in 2006, the federal government sacrifices $300 billion annually in income

“Even after inflating state and local wages by a factor designed to capture the higher benefits in the public sector, state and local government workers continue to face a penalty in total compensation after we control for workers’ formal education and their age” Not only do educated public sector employees make less than their private sector counterparts, but it has long been understood that public

tax revenue to finance these benefits. Public sector employers of large organizations are cutting their own costs by providing higher

benefits, but one important question remains: Does the cost of providing higher benefits to public employees more than make up for their lower wages? Not according to an EPI Briefing Paper by Jeffrey Keefe, who found that even with greater benefit compensation, the public sector’s total compensation is still less than the private sector. Thompson and Schmitt also found similar results for the public sector after factoring in education and benefits. “Even after inflating state and local wages by a factor designed to capture the higher benefits in the public sector, state and local government workers continue to face a penalty in total compensation after we control for workers’ formal education and their age,” writes Thompson and Schmitt.

Massachusetts AFL-CIO resolves to support minimum wage increase Robert Haynes, President of Massachusetts AFL-CIO explained in his resolution that he supports an increase in the minimum wage for both state and national workers. Haynes believes it is time for an increase in the minimum wage because the expensive cost of living and a poor economy keep people in poverty. “Without indexing the minimum wage to the rate of inflation, workers are locked in perpetual and increasing poverty,” said Haynes in his resolution.

Because Massachusetts has not raised its minimum wage since 2006, Haynes said the wages should be raised in accordance with the inflation rate, which is determined by the consumer price index. Neither the federal government nor Massachusetts has laws requiring an annual adjustment of the minimum wage, but nine other states have passed laws requiring this yearly action.

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APRIL 2011

Common Ground

Page 5

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Unions are mistakenly to blame for economic downfall By Common Ground Staff There are misconceptions that negatively impact the image of labor unions. These misconceptions, if cleared up, could help to change the way the public views its laborers and could help the chances of maintaining the rights that they work so hard for. America is in a rebuilding phase; anyone can tell you that. We all know that things haven’t been great, and there has been a lot of finger-pointing to try and place the blame on a particular catalyst. Labor unions and their employees have become a preferred choice in the blame game, and this is because of the cost to uphold those unions. In any state budget, the highest cost is arguably labor. This

does not mean that union wages are the reason America fell into a recession. In fact, “there is no correlation between collective bargaining and budget deficits,� according to Joseph Slater of Toledo Law School. Collective bargaining is not the reason that these states are under funded. In most states, Slater says, employee benefits are established by law, not through collective bargaining. Therefore, attempting to remove the right to bargain won’t stop unions from receiving their benefits; it will simply cause an uproar and continued resentment from both sides. So what are the options? First, a state cannot declare bankruptcy, even though

many of them are on the verge of it. If a state did call for a bailout from the federal government, you can bet that one of the first budget items to be restructured would be employee benefits and wages. Even if they don’t declare bankruptcy (which isn’t likely to happen as it is prohibited), their inability to pay off their debts will still prompt budget cuts to employee wages and benefits. Some states may try to dismantle unions, and many fear that it has already begun with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s actions. The trend looks to continue with other states as they look to mimic the dissolving of bargaining rights. The teacher layoffs

in Rhode Island are another step in the wrong direction. President Obama set himself up for disapproval by putting a freeze on government salaries. This sends the message that he believes “public sector workers are part of the problem, as they do not merit an increase in wages,� according to Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois. “There is a lot more at risk than balancing a few state budgets.� While serious changes appear to be on the horizon for the organized labor community of America, a few things can be made clear out of the gray that exists in the conflict. One thing is that labor unions

are not the reason our country finds itself in an economic uphill climb. They are an easy target to blame for the financial woes we are experiencing, but the real problem lies in greed, mismanagement, and illegal activity from corporate America. With declining numbers of union workers, there is less money being spent on wages and benefits now than at any time in the last decade. Removing collective bargaining rights is meaningless, as benefits and pensions are set by the state. Attempting to abolish unions is not the answer. Slashing jobs and labor costs will not bring us out of the red; it will only cause more problems.

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Page 6

Common Ground

APRIL 2011

Unions propose compromise health plan to cut costs A coalition of labor unions representing teachers, firefighters, police, snowplow operators and other municipal employees throughout the Commonwealth announced its support today for a compromise plan to reduce local health care costs while preserving collective bargaining rights. The Public Employees’ Municipal Health Coalition cited the difficult economic conditions in Massachusetts and the coalition’s commitment to saving jobs and preserving crucial local services as the reasons for its willingness to negotiate changes that will save municipalities tens of millions of dollars each year. The State House announcement came just one day before a legislative hearing on the issue. The announcement is designed to break a logjam that has lasted for several years by striking a balance between those who want the system to remain the same and those who want municipal administrators to have unilateral control over employee health insurance benefits. Unions signing on to the plan are: AFSCME Council 93; American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts; Massachusetts AFLCIO; Massachusetts Laborers Public Employee Council of Massachusetts and Northern New England Laborers District Council; Massachusetts Municipal Police Coalition; Massachusetts Police Association; Massachusetts Teachers Association; Painters & Allied Trades District Council #35; Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts; SEIU – Local 888; SEIU/NAGE; and United Steelworkers Sub-district 3. “The unions have been at the

table for the past seven years seeking a solution to this problem,” said MTA President Paul Toner. “We call on municipal managers to join us in our effort to achieve a reasonable compromise. We are willing to make sacrifices to save jobs and vital services for our communities and our students. Like the public employees in Wisconsin, however, we will fight hard against any proposal to undermine our collective bargaining rights.” The coalition’s plan, like a proposal released earlier this year by Gov. Deval Patrick, calls for establishing a benchmark level for health insurance spending that municipalities and employees would have to reach. Expedited bargaining over the changes would occur, with all of the unions and retiree representatives in a municipality negotiating as a team. (This is called Section 19 bargaining after the provision in state law that permits it.) The needed savings could be achieved by negotiating to enter the state Group Insurance Commission or by negotiating plan design changes to reduce premiums, such as increasing co-payments and deductibles. The proposal, which is not yet in bill form, would also require that some of the savings go to employees. “Everyone understands that achieving savings on health insurance to protect public services is a necessity in these tough times,” said Robert Haynes, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “Achieving savings and collective bargaining are not mutually exclusive. Workers who have long had rights to negotiate over

health insurance should maintain those rights to negotiate how savings are achieved.” Savings could be shared by establishing municipal Health Reimbursement Accounts through which employees with high medical costs would be reimbursed for a portion of their expenses. Some municipalities already have HRAs, although these accounts currently are not permitted for state employees or for municipalities that participate in the GIC. “We are very concerned about employees and their family members who have chronic medical conditions and therefore have very high outof-pocket costs,” said Edward Kelly, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts. “These employees need a safety net. That’s the whole point of insurance.” Thomas Gosnell, president of AFT Massachusetts, stated, “After lengthy discussion, we believe that our proposal will enable cities and towns to obtain substantial savings without undercutting collective bargaining.” The coalition proposal would set limits on how long the municipality and unions have to bargain the changes under Section 19. If no resolution was reached in that time, the issue would go to a speedy dispute-resolution process. “The default solution can’t be that the municipality gets the final word,” said Anthony Caso, executive director of AFSCME Council 93. “If that were the case, city and town officials would have no incentive to reach an agreement through bargaining.”

The plan also calls for all Medicare-eligible retirees to enroll in Medicare. Under current law, that requirement only takes effect if a city or town has voted for the mandate, and a number have not. “Cities and towns can save millions of dollars a year by having retirees join Medicare,” said Toner. “Section 19 bargaining would again be used to make sure that retirees receive the supplemental Medicare insurance to which they are entitled. Even with some of the supplemental insurance costs covered, municipalities save a lot of money when the federal Medicare system picks up most of the health care tab.” The municipal health care issue has been under discussion since 2004. In 2007, a law was passed under which municipalities would, for the first time, be permitted to participate in the GIC. Since then, 31 cities, towns and other governmental entities have joined. Last year, however, the GIC took the rare step of making mid-year plan design changes, increasing co-payments and adding a $250-perperson and $750-per-family deductible to all of its plans. These mid-year changes upset many employees who had just voted to join the GIC and were a factor in discouraging more municipalities from joining. Under the union proposal, midyear plan design changes at the GIC would not be allowed, and the GIC would have to have greater employee representation. The coalition’s proposal for a balanced process stands in contrast Continued on page 7 - UNIONS

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Common Ground

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Understaffed nursing at Tufts result in increased patient risk Tufts Medical Center nurses say that recent cuts in staff and other changes in how they deliver care mean that nurses are caring for more patients at one time on nearly every unit. These changes, they say, have transformed the hospital from one of the best staffed in Boston to the worst. For example, according to figures derived from a public database posted by the Massachusetts Hospital Association, each Tufts nurse in pediatrics cares

for at least 1.4 critical care patients, compared with 1.03 patients at Massachusetts General Hospital, the nurses’ union says. To compensate for chronic understaffing, Tufts is forcing nurses to work overtime and to “float” from one area of the hospital to another, according to the Massachusetts Nurses Association. The group represents 1,200 nurses at the hospital and is trying to prohibit these practices in a new contract.

UNIONS - Continued from page 6 to a bill filed by the Massachusetts Municipal Association over the past several years. The MMA plan would give municipal leaders the right to make unilateral plan design changes in line with the GIC without collective bargaining. Savings would not have to be shared. “The MMA plan is unacceptable,” said Haynes. “There is no fairness when all the power is on the side of management – when collective bargaining is turned into collective begging. We cannot be part of the solution if

Even so, nurses said, there are delays in assessing patients, giving them medications and tests, and in changing bed linens. More patient falls have also happened because nurses cannot get to their bedside as quickly to help patients walk. Hospital spokeswoman Julie Jette said in an e-mailed statement that “Delivering high-quality and cost-effective care is critical for our patients and the health care system. Understanding this is not

as simple as reviewing a particular number of patients per nurse. We are developing a new model of care at Tufts Medical Center that utilizes the skills of many clinical team members, including nurses, to deliver the best care possible. We are confident that our new model is working because we are seeing excellent results in our quality metrics.” For example, Jette cited the hospital’s low infection rate for patients receiving nutrition, hydration, and

medication through tubes called central lines. However, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine supports the idea that low numbers of nurses can hurt patients. In a review of 197,961 admissions between 2003 and 2006 at one unnamed academic medical center, researchers found that the risk of a patient dying increased 2 percent for each nursing shift that had a below-optimal number of nurses.

we’re not part of the process. We will continue to fight the MMA proposal, while at the same time working with state and local officials to attack the root of the problem: excessively high health care costs that continue to grow.” SEIU-Local 888 President Bruce Boccardy concurred, stating, “Middle- and low-income taxpayers, including our members, are unfairly burdened with the escalating costs for health care. We must remedy this unfair and immoral reality that is crushing our members and so many Americans.”

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Page 8

Common Ground

APRIL 2011

The last thing that should be cut today is funding for worker safety Often those making the most heroic sacrifices receive the least attention. Worse, the money needed to protect these heroic workers may not be available. Congressional Republicans have enacted a budget slashing funding for OSHA, the agency responsible for enforcing worker safety and health standards. The budget also cuts funding for the agency that issues tsunami warnings. As the disaster unfolds in Japan the public is being

advised to evacuate or find shelter where they are. But some are doing neither. Somebody is pumping water into the reactors to cool them, someone is operating valves inside the secondary containment structure and somebody is fighting the fires that have broken out. These are workers. Fires and explosions at the reactors have injured, as of this writing, 15 workers and military personnel and exposed up to 190 workers to elevated radiation.

A “New York Times” article by Keith Bradsher vividly explains the Japanese working conditions at the nuclear sites during the disaster: “They crawl through labyrinths of equipment in utter darkness pierced only by their flashlights, listening for periodic explosions as hydrogen gas escaping from crippled reactors ignites on contact with air. They breathe through uncomfortable respirators or carry heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They wear

white, full-body jumpsuits with snug-fitting hoods that provide scant protection from the invisible radiation sleeting through their bodies.” Even though workers are wearing full bodysuits and air packs, some forms of radiation can penetrate any gear. Each worker is most likely wearing a dosimeter, which measures radiation exposure. Protecting workers in this situation is usually based on three principles: distance, time and

shielding. In the Japanese plants, extensive damage in an emergency situation would mean that distance and shielding are limited controls, so the controlling variable is time. But time is also the enemy in that workers will need to stay on site to keep the situation under control. During the Chernobyl accident in 1986, operators and firefighters received high doses of radiation, sometimes within minutes. More than two dozen died of acute radiation illness.

Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Tragedy The event leading to the creation of many workplace safety regulations had its 100th anniversary last month. On March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers – mostly young women and immigrants – died after a fire broke out at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company in New York City. Many jumped to their deaths because the exits were padlocked and there was no adequate means of escape. In the wake of the tragedy, the New York Legislature passed laws requiring mandatory fire drills,

automatic sprinklers, unlocked doors during work hours, and many other wage and hour reforms that we take for granted today. But when the laws were first proposed a century ago, industries called them overly burdensome. They called sprinklers “cumbersome and costly” and warned that the new laws would drive “manufacturers out of the city and state of New York.” Sound familiar? Massey Energy, the largest producer of Central Appalachian coal, with its own

interesting track record on workplace safety, is warning that the sky will fall if we institute more safety rules for coal mining. Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House budget proposed $99 million in (FY 2011) OSHA’s budget; meaning a loss of 415 OSHA personnel which include 200 inspectors. The impact of the cuts on OSHA would be made worse since the agency would have only

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Page 10

Common Ground

APRIL 2011

Complete streets to come to Providence By Abel Collins Imagine Rhode Island streets as safe for pedestrians, cyclists and bus riders as they are for cars and trucks: fewer but better designed crosswalks, tree-lined streets with narrower lanes to calm traffic, safe routes to schools, comprehensive bike lanes connecting the city, inviting sidewalks where businesses can sell their wares, and bus shelters that actually provide shelter. Imagine streets designed to reclaim their function as vibrant public spaces rather than the corridors for automobile traffic and parking that they have become. Can you picture streets that provide us with more than one viable transportation choice when we step out the door? What you are seeing is a complete street. Providence doesn’t need a technological leap for complete streets. Providence is a little more than 20 square miles. Every destination is within walking or bicycling distance. The biggest obstacle is the carcentric mindset that has been at the center of our planning and economic development strategies. The movement to bring Complete Streets planning to Rhode Island’s cities and towns is gathering momentum. Thanks to the work of Sierra Club RI, the AARP and the Coalition for Transportation Choices, Newport, Middletown, and South Kingstown have all adopted complete

streets resolutions. Even as I write these lines, Providence and Portsmouth are working toward resolutions of their own. Furthermore, the Department of Health is running a Healthy Places by Design program that will bring complete streets design to three pilot communities, and the Department of Administration is working with the Department of Transportation to implement the Safe Routes to School grant program. With all the energy going into these efforts plus a little coordination, Rhode Island can soon hope to have safe routes everywhere. At the same time that state agencies, local governments and nongovernmental organizations are involved in fostering this transition to complete streets policy, statewide complete streets legislation will be considered during this session. Moreover, complete streets require more than just a shift in governmental thinking. We, the street users, whether on our bikes, in our cars, or on our feet, are equally responsible for recognizing that streets are a shared public space that should be safe for everyone. If you want to help bring complete streets to Rhode Island, contact abel.collins@sierraclub.org. Abel Collins is Program Manager at RI Sierra Club.

U.S. House attacks Social Security By John A. Pernorio Last month the House passed a Continuing Resolution (H.R. 1) that included devastating cuts to the Social Security Administration. Under the Continuing Resolution, $1.7 billion would be cut from the SSA budget in 2011. Such a drastic reduction in funding could result in workers being furloughed for up to a month over the next seven months. Without these workers, up to 400,000 people will have their applications for retirement, Medicare and survivors’ benefits significantly delayed. During a congressional budget hearing with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Democrats warned that cuts to the budget of the Social Security Administration will have an adverse affect on Medicare as well. “The Social Security Administration processes the new enrollments into Medicare. Furloughs at the Social Security Administration would lead to backlogs in processing new enrollments and gaps in coverage for nearly half a million new Medicare beneficiaries.” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D- Calif. Social Security does not contribute to the deficit; it should not be cut to reduce the deficit. Social Security Administration cuts will hurt thousands of American workers and retirees. John A. Pernorio is President of Rhode Island Alliance for Retired Americans.

Factcheck.org gets a Social Security fact wrong A recent article published by Factcheck.org incorrectly reported that Social Security will face a $45 billion deficit this year. Additionally, the article reported that the program is “in the red.” However, this is simply not true. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the program will bring in $45 billion less in payroll taxes than it did last year but the Social Security trust fund, which currently contains $2.6 trillion, will earn $118 billion in interest this year. Therefore, overall, Social Security will not be running a deficit in 2011. The program will pay 100 percent of expected benefits this year and every year until 2037, without contributing to the national debt. “We hope that seniors will remain skeptical of people who try to convince them that Social Security is not financially solvent,” said the Alliance for Retired Americans. “The program is financially solvent and will remain that way well into the future.”

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Common Ground

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Chamber of Commerce responds to Governor Lincoln Chafee’s proposed budget By Laurie White The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, under the direction of its Board of Directors and with input from its membership base, has studied Governor Lincoln Chafee’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012, and its potential impact on the Rhode Island business community. We feel that while the spending blueprint includes some laudable proposals which the Chamber believes would improve the state’s business climate, including reduction of the corporate income tax rate and reform of the minimum franchise tax, the Chamber does not support

the methods identified in the budget for drawing new sources of revenue. Specifically, the Chamber is opposed to sweeping expansion of the sales tax base to include dozens of new goods and services. We believe that the proposed $165 million tax increase would only depress spending activity in what is already a sluggish economic recovery for the state. It would also apply onerous regulatory burdens on the state’s small business community. In addition to the sheer magnitude of revenue enhancements, the Chamber believes that the two-tiered structure

is overly complex and could potentially increase the cost of doing business in our state for local companies. We firmly believe that simplicity and predictability are keys to successful economic development. Further, with the ranks of the unemployed still numbering around 65,000, the Chamber does not feel that now is right time to eliminate the job development tax and at the same time introduce combined reporting. Large multi-state employers are critical players in our economy and as these large employers shrink, the impact on Rhode Island’s

economy will no doubt be profound. And finally, the Chamber is concerned that the proposal, in its current form, does not address the underlying root causes that are responsible for the chronic structural deficits the state continues to face, specifically spending. The Chamber reached this position after much consideration by its Board of Directors and outreach to our diverse membership base. Collectively, the business community and the state’s policy leaders have made great strides on the comprehensive tax reform in the last few

years, and to backslide now would negatively impact the long-term health of our economy. The Chamber encourages the Governor and General Assembly to work together to find meaningful and permanent solutions to the budget deficit, and to find new ways to grow the state’s economy. It is imperative that Rhode Island continues to create a strong foundation from which to build, one that will create new jobs, new investment and new levels of prosperity for all Rhode Islanders. Laurie White is President of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.

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Edward Kelly was elected president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts today at the monthly membership meeting attended by more than 700 firefighters at Lantana’s in Randolph, MA. He will lead the organization’s Edward Kelly 12,000 members. Kelly, who has been serving as interim president since January 21, succeeds Robert B. McCarthy who retired earlier in January after 23 years as president. In accepting his membership’s presidency, he said: “I am honored by the faith the membership has bestowed in me, and hope to serve the families of firefighters throughout the Commonwealth with the same passion as Bobby McCarthy. We live in challenging times and I pledge to work with all

members to ensure that we keep the citizens of the Commonwealth safe. “It has been a true honor to serve the 12,000 members and their families of the Professional Fire Fighters of MA during the past 26 years,” said McCarthy. “Together we’ve won many legislative battles, and succeeded in putting in place policies that protect our safety and the public we protect. We’ve faced challenges together and always stood tall as a membership. I thank the membership for their faith and trust in allowing me the honor and privilege to serve as their President since 1987.” A career firefighter with the Boston Fire Department, Kelly will continue to serve as a Boston firefighter, currently assigned to Tower Ladder 17 in Boston’s South End. Prior to serving as president of the PFFM he served as president of Boston Firefighters Local 718. Kelly lives in Dorchester with his wife Katy and two children.

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Common Ground

APRIL 2011

Fixing a broken system Gov. Chafee added his voice to many others in calling for Rhode Island to break the cycle of borrowing money to support transportation. The governor’s budget proposed a transportation infrastructure fund to avoid gas tax increases and wasteful interest payments. The Coalition for Transportation Choices (CTC) has been working to develop a system that would begin to create stable and sustainable funding for our roads and bridges and our public transportation system. The Transportation

Investment and Debt Reduction Act of 2011, (S148, H5789), proposes to supplement the gasoline tax with new sources of income for transportation funding. The Act channels resources to RIDOT (to maintain existing roads and bridges), RIPTA and municipalities to fix potholes, improve walkways and create safer streets. In addition, it helps reduce our crippling debt service. For every $10 million received through new funding sources, RIDOT’s biannual bond will decrease by $5 million. The Debt Reduction

Act is a win-win for the state. By developing a sustainable funding source, and by reducing the state’s debt-service obligations, the people of Rhode Island get safer roads and expanded service from RIPTA and less debt burden. Rhode Island currently funds transportation through the gasoline tax, which is 32.5¢ per gallon. RIDOT receives 21¾¢ per gallon (or about $94 million annually), and RIPTA receives 9¾¢ per gallon (or about $40 million annually). This system is unsustainable. As cars become more fuel

efficient and gas prices increase, the gas tax yields less and less money each year. In the last four years, gas tax yield has declined 12.9%, leading to perennial budget shortfalls for RIPTA. Moreover, most of RIDOT’s share of the gas tax does not even go for transportation projects; it goes to pay interest on previous transportation bonds. Rhode Island, like other states, gets hundreds of millions of dollars a year in federal highway funds, but, the state must provide a 20 percent match. Rhode Island has always borrowed the 20 percent match through bonding

only to create a growing debt burden for future generations of Rhode Islanders. So much of the DOT budget does not go to fixing and maintaining roads, bridges, bike paths; and it does not go to create jobs. Among those supporting the Debt Reduction Act are the CTC, the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission, several members of the RI General Assembly, the Department of Transportation’s Mike Lewis and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood.

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Common Ground

APRIL 2011

Scott Walker’s false choice By Richard Trumka Close to 200,000 working Wisconsinites have been given the following choice by Gov. Scott Walker: If you want to keep your job, give up your rights. If you want to keep your rights, give up your job. The choice is a false one, manufactured for political reasons. The real question, the one at the heart of our economic debate, is this: Do we continue down a path that delivers virtually all income growth to the richest 1 percent of Americans, or do we commit to rebuilding the middle class? The business climate couldn’t be stronger. Corporate profits reached an annualized level of $1.7 trillion in the third quarter of 2010, the highest figure since the government began keeping statistics 60 years ago. But, as we’ve seen, high corporate profits are not enough to drive robust and equitable economic growth. Three years after the onset of this epic recession, unemployment is still near double digits, millions of

Americans are facing home foreclosure, and wages have been stagnant. In our consumer-driven economy, that pulls down businesses as well as tax revenues. Our entire economy is weaker when we have the kind of income inequality that we have today. The freedom of workers to bargain for decent living standards, safe workplaces, and

have gone to extraordinary lengths in recent years to effectively eliminate the freedom of workers to collectively bargain. That’s one reason why middle-class wages have stagnated since the 1970s, and why the U.S. is at risk of becoming an hourglass economy—one with all the income at the top and the people at the bottom. Sadly, a group of

Our entire economy is weaker when we have the kind of income inequality that we have today. dignity on the job has been a cornerstone of our middle class. It’s also recognized in Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This right ensures that there is sufficient spending power to drive the consumer demand, which makes up two-thirds of our GDP. And it benefits all Americans—not just those who are in unions. It’s no secret that boosting corporate profits no longer translates into shared prosperity. Many private-sector companies

radical Republican governors is working overtime to export the most short-sighted privatesector labor practices into the public sector. Not only are they demanding steep cuts in wages and pensions for public workers, they also want to take away workplace rights, so that workers can no longer bargain for better compensation and benefits. But average citizens have little interest in taking away workers’ rights. According to a

CBS/New York Times survey, Americans support bargaining rights for public workers by a nearly two-to-one margin. Despite their best efforts, governors like Scott Walker haven’t convinced Americans that public workers are at fault for state budget woes. Nor does economic research support their arguments. When adjusted for education, experience and training, the data show that public-sector workers are paid less than their private-sector counterparts. Right now, state and municipal budgets are in trouble primarily because of high unemployment, falling incomes, and losses in the stock market. Together, these lead to lower tax revenues and depleted pension funds It wasn’t teachers or firefighters or nurses who crashed the stock market and caused the recession that led to millions of layoffs and foreclosures. It was Wall Street, which has suffered no consequences after nearly destroying the global financial system in

2008. Wall Street bonuses averaged over $128,000 per person in 2010, more than six times the average pension for a retired public-service worker in Wisconsin. So here’s working America’s message to governors like Scott Walker and New Jersey’s Chris Christie: We believe in shared sacrifice. But we don’t believe in your version of shared sacrifice, where working people do all the sacrificing. We need to improve the climate for America’s middle class. We need tough rules to protect the health of workers and consumers, fair taxes on the super-rich to support decent public services, fair trade policies, and a 21st-century approach to workplace rights, which recognizes that highperformance enterprises depend on making employees a part of the team. That’s a recipe that can repair not only our budgets, but also our body politic. Richard Trumka is the national President of the AFL-CIO.

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Common Ground

Springfield adopts stronger workers’ rights language with Comcast spoke forcefully in favor of the resolution. The Springfield City Council unanimously “This language will encourage Comcast to passed a resolution supporting stronger respect their employees’ right to organize; to workers’ rights language in the city’s next cable allow their employees to bargain collectively, TV agreement with Comcast. The resolution and to respect workers’ rights.” calls on all businesses with city contracts to, In addition to Moran, the city council “comply with the National Labor Relations meeting was also attended by IBEW Local Act and all applicable state and federal wage 2324 Business Manager John Rowley, and hour laws.” President Martin Feid, member Steven The city’s previous ten-year contract for Thomas and IBEW cable and internet organizers Steve Smith services expired on “Now more than ever during these tough and Donald Cronin. January 28, 2010. economic times, we have to fight to protect “With so many The resolution also urged that the rights of working families,” said Rivera. Comcast workers in Massachusetts seeking all city contracts “I am proud to help lead that fight.” to form unions, this include language resolution should in their agreements really give them more confidence,” said IBEW to, “encourage a healthy relationship with its organizer FRI. Steve Smith. There are 30about 20 employees by respecting their right to organize AUGUST 27 to MON. AUGUST Comcast garages in Massachusetts. and to bargain collectively with their employer, Similar workers’ rights language has also and to engage in other protected, concerted been proposed by six towns on Martha’s activities to improve their wages and working EXTENDED HOURS: SUN.-THURS. 11 PM Vineyard and by the City of Cambridge. conditions.” FRI.-SAT. MIDNIGHT Comcast techs in the Fall River and The resolution was proposed by Ward 6 Fairhaven garages are leading an initiative City Councilor Amaad Rivera. to begin talks with management about their “Now more than ever during these tough wages and working conditions. However, economic times, we have to fight to protect the despite having proved that a strong majority rights of working families,” said Rivera. “I am 8-11 Sun.-Wed. • 9-12 Fri. & Sat. want to collectively bargain for improvements, proud to help lead that fight.” Comcast management is still refusing to Springfield resident and IBEW Local 2324 discuss these issues with its employees. Verizon technician member Brian Moran

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Common Ground

APRIL 2011

Drug abuse among the elderly Drug abuse is not just for teens and young adults anymore. Many older adults and seniors make up a sizable number of drug and alcohol abusers. Some of these older drug users have been using drugs for decades. Beginning in the 60’s some of these baby boomers continued on with their drug and alcohol abuse into adulthood and now into retirement. Many seniors, however, have had a late onset of drug and alcohol abuse, mainly because of changes in their lives. A recent edition of AARP magazine quotes a report from SAMHSA as predicting that the “number of boomers with substance abuse problem will double from 2.5 million in 1999 to 5 million in 2020.” The article notes that the need for treatment will

also double and blames it on the proliferation of prescription medication use. The drugs most likely to be abused by seniors are prescription drugs. With the increased health issues and access to medications for symptoms of pain and anxiety, the rates of senior drug abuse are rising. Individuals over age 65 make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, but they are responsible for 13 percent of all prescribed medications in the country. Many of these drugs are misused or abused by the elderly. While it is often unintentional, many older adults do knowingly misuse their medications or alcohol. Recent studies show that 17 percent of people over 65 have an alcohol abuse problem. There are many reasons the elderly would abuse drugs or alcohol.

increased blood pressure, risk of stroke and heart attack. Because an elderly person can be on a substantial amount of prescription medication, drug abuse is a difficult problem to identify. Increased confusion, decreased memory and coordination problems are to be expected with old age, but these are also symptoms of drug abuse. Family and friends should also watch for depression, changes in mood, unexplained injuries, lack of interest in important things, and distancing from family and friends, as these can be signs that someone is abusing drugs. There are resources and treatment options for seniors who have a drug or alcohol addiction. The best way to handle this problem is to create awareness

Retirement brings many changes in a person’s life, such as a disruption in their routine, lack of responsibilities, reduction in income, and decrease in social activities. Seniors are more likely to suffer from loneliness because of the death of a spouse, child, or other loved one. Their continued physical health issues can take a toll on their mental health as well. Due to age, serious side effects may affect the elderly more than other people. Seniors already on prescription medication pose a problem when abusing drugs because the two drugs can interact poorly with each other. Changes in the way the body metabolizes drugs can also cause more serious effects because they stay in the body longer. Increased cognitive impairment is possible, as well as

about it. Older adults, as well as their families, need to know about senior substance abuse, its dangers, and how to detect and treat it. Treatment Solutions Network has spent many years observing the way addiction has virally affected society and our network is particularly sensitive to the way addiction has permeated the retirement community. If you think it’s difficult to find affordable treatment with your current job, try to get help on a fixed income. If you are looking for answers for yourself or a loved one facing retirement and addiction simultaneously, call Treatment Solutions Network today and get the answers you need to make this time in your life a dream, not a nightmare.

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Common Ground

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Page 18

Common Ground

APRIL 2011

First year anniversary of Affordable Care Act By Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts Federal and state officials and healthcare advocates gathered at the State House on March 23, 2011, to highlight national health reform in a forum entitled, “Understanding the Health Insurance Exchange: Why Now, Not Later?” The event marked the first anniversary of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also known as the national health reform law. On this important anniversary event organizers served a birthday cake – celebrating the fact that national health reform is now one year old. The event was co-sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration, HealthRight, and Ocean State Action, and featured the Office of Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts (Chair of the RI Healthcare Reform Commission), Health Insurance Commissioner Chris Koller, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Regional Director Christy Hager, Small Business Administration Regional Director Jeanne Hulit, HealthRIght Executive Director Amy Black, Ocean State Executive Director Kate Brock, and several Rhode Island legislators. The ACA was signed into law by President Obama last year, and while the law sets up the national healthcare reform guidelines, many details of how programs will work are left up to the states. That means in the time leading up to 2014,

Rhode Island has a lot of decisions to make that will shape the structure of the healthcare system in our state. The Rhode Island Healthcare Reform Commission is the group in state government charged by Governor Chafee with implementing federal healthcare reform in Rhode Island. Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts, who has decades of experience in health-related issues, was appointed by Governor Chafee earlier this year to lead the commission. The ACA was created with the ultimate goal of getting as many Americans as possible into

the General Assembly. Exchanges must be set up by states by the year 2014, or states will default to the federal government to set up the exchange for them. “Today’s forum and the commitment shown by Lieutenant Governor Roberts and other leaders demonstrates why implementation of the Affordable Care Act will be a success for the residents of Rhode Island,” said Christie L. Hager, regional director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. There are also a number of benefits for small businesses in the

“I’m very encouraged by the significant progress we are making in Rhode Island toward full implementation of national health reform” - Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts affordable, effective healthcare coverage. One provision that must be decided on at the state level is the creation of a health insurance or health benefit exchange. An exchange is a state-created online marketplace for individuals and small businesses to purchase insurance. It will provide a number of different coverage options with more information and transparency for consumers to make informed cost and coverage comparisons. Currently, legislation that will define the structure of an exchange for Rhode Island is before

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ACA, including the small business tax credit that went into effect for tax year 2010 and is variable based on the number of employees in the business. “The Affordable Care Act supports our nations’ entrepreneurial spirit as our economy is showing signs of growth,” said SBA New England Administrator Jeanne A. Hulit. “Entrepreneurs who want to start a small business no longer face ‘job lock’ because they fear not having health coverage.” There are many more benefits

in the law now in effect, including guaranteed insurance for people with pre-existing conditions, no co-pay coverage for preventive care and screenings, Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” discounts, protections against insurance cancellations, elimination of lifetime limits on care, insurance assistance for early retirees, and more consumer protections, to name just a few. “I’m very encouraged by the significant progress we are making in Rhode Island toward full implementation of national health reform,” said Roberts in a statement read by her Chief of Staff Jennifer Wood at the event. (Roberts was representing Rhode Island at the National Lieutenant Governors Association in Washington, D.C., and was unable to attend the event.) “The opportunities and funding made available to our state via the Affordable Care Act are moving us closer to a high quality healthcare system that is sustainable and affordable for all Rhode Islanders,” Roberts said. As the RI Healthcare Commission begins to assess how national health reform will be implemented in Rhode Island, regular updates will be available at www.healthcare.ri.gov. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts is Chair of RI Healthcare Reform Commission.

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APRIL 2011

Common Ground

Page 19

BLET members ratify MBCR contract Members of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen have ratified a new collective bargaining agreement with the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR). Votes were tabulated and the new four-year contract provides members with general wage increases worth 13.7 percent over

the life of the agreement. The agreement runs through June 30, 2013, with retroactive pay back to 2009. BLET National President Dennis Pierce thanked those involved in the process, noting that over 84 percent of the members eligible to vote returned ballots as part of the ratification process. “I congratulate General

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allowances and instructor allowances. Members would also receive a $1,000 signing bonus. In terms of work rule changes, General Chairman Kenny said that pay for layover time will be increased from halftime to five-eighths time. “It is truly significant as it breaks the long standing ceiling of halftime and sets in place

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Common Ground

APRIL 2011

Common Ground

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