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AUGUST 2012

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From addict to treatment consultant By Common Ground staff Peter Barbuto is used to seeing strange numbers flash across the screen of his iPhone all day. “It rings all weekend,” Barbuto said. “It rings all the time.” Sometimes it’s a distressed parent. Other times, a concerned boss. Or a down-and-out person who knows he needs help. All of them have this in common: they are hoping Barbuto can offer advice, consolation, and help them find a way to get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse for their loves ones, employees, children, or themselves. For Barbuto, a treatment consultant for Treatment Solutions, it’s the calls from worried parents who are with a son or daughter at the ER that leave a lasting impression. When one of those calls comes through, he remembers how helpless his own father felt when Barbuto himself was at a treatment facility. “There’s a certain stigma and guilt that surrounds it,” Barbuto said. A mother or father may sometimes feel a sense of shame, or worse, failure, over having a child who has

become addicted to drugs or alcohol, Barbuto said. But he knows better: an addicted child says nothing about someone’s worth as a mother or father. “My dad is probably one of the greatest guys you’ll ever meet,” Barbuto said. He tries to provide the same advice and comfort to parents that his own father once received from friends and others in his community when Barbuto was entering treatment. “There’s no black and white … there’s a lot of gray,” Barbuto said. What might have been helpful for him, may not work for someone else. “You know what the best treatment center in the world is? The one you get clean in.” Barbuto can lend not only his personal experience, but also his professional expertise. Usually, that means getting someone into the right treatment facility for their needs and then getting their insurance company to fund it. For everyone who is not a celebrity or a millionaire, the average person is lucky to get their insurance company to pick up the tab for a five to seven-day stay in a facility—barely enough time to go through detox.

But Treatment Solutions is able to work with insurance companies to obtain benefits that are normally not utilized, allowing stays to be extended much longer, up to an average of 42 days, according to Barbuto. The longer stays increase Peter Barbuto, someone’s chances of treatment consultant truly recovering from an for Treatment Solutions. addiction. “We’re able to send people to these treatment centers that normally wouldn’t be able to afford them,” Barbuto said. He says he tends to work with a lot of unions and blue-collar people who have good insurance. Barbuto serves as the middleman between them, a treatment center, doctors, and others trying to help them. In a See Barbuto, page 7

RI ‘ahead of country’ on health care exchanges By Common Ground staff The recent Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the health care reform law allows for its implementation to move forward across the country, but Rhode Island was already ahead of the game. State officials here have been hard at work implementing one of the centerpieces of the law—the new health care exchange—and they didn’t let the high-stakes legal battle in Washington, D.C. delay their efforts. The exchanges are essentially online portals where consumers will be able to buy and compare health insurance plans and apply for federal subsidies if needed. States have the option

of creating their own exchanges— otherwise, their residents will have to use one set up by the federal government. Last fall, Gov. Lincoln Chafee opted for the first choice, issuing an executive order establishing the exchange and appointing a 13-member board to oversee it. The exchange currently is a division in the executive branch which reports to the Governor. Exchange board members include state Health Insurance Commissioner Chris Koller, Health Department Director Michael Fine, and Health and Human Services Secretary Steven Constantino. Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts has

also been spearheading the process through the RI Healthcare Reform Commission, which she chairs. The commission’s work is focused on several priorities. One of its top priorities is expanding affordable access to high-quality care which is being done through the exchange and through the expansion of Medicaid. (The commission’s work is even broader than that though. It is also focused on building the infrastructure for reform, the healthcare workforce, and payment reform.) As of this spring, just a dozen states had established exchanges. Other than Rhode Island, New York went the

executive order route. The rest set up the exchanges through legislation. To assist in its efforts, Rhode Island has received about $65 million in three separate federal grants and funding appropriations: a $1 million planning grant, $5.2 million Exchange Establishment Level I funding, See Health Care, page 3 R

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Common Ground

AUGUST 2012

One-third of AFT teacher contracts not settled By Common Ground staff One third of the teacher contracts in the locals affiliated with the Rhode Island chapter of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have yet to be settled, one month before the start of the school year. Both fiscal and education policy issues are expected to be at issue in the negotiations for all three locals, according to Frank Flynn, President of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals. The Rhode Island National Education Association (NEA) is also expected to face a number of unsettled contracts as its teachers return to the classroom in the fall. However, a final list had yet to be compiled as of press time. NEA spokeswoman Karen Jenkins said state officials usually tally which locals are still in contract negotiations by mid-August. This time one year ago, a third of the NEA locals—or 24, out of 71 total local affiliates—did not have settled contracts. (That figure includes two municipal locals as well as half a dozen in higher education.) For the AFT, the three locals whose contacts have expired or will have expired are: Local 915 in Warwick, Local 1567 in Central Falls, and Local 1702 in Johnston. Two of those locals, Central Falls and Johnston, have had expired contracts for a year. In Central Falls, the delay stems from the bankruptcy proceedings that affected the entire city. Former Central Falls receiver Bob Flanders, a former state Supreme Court justice, had petitioned federal bankruptcy court to allow the schools to be included as part of the city for

the purposes of bankruptcy. But, at the end of March, the court denied that request. The reasons for the delay are less clear in Johnston. Flynn said that general economic factors are at work. He said there had been discussion of going into mediation, but that had yet to become final as of the middle of last month. In Warwick, teachers have been working under a one-year extension of their last contract. That extension expires on Aug. 31 and, as of mid-July, no new agreement was in place. Negotiations began in February and the school district has requested mediation, according to Warwick Teachers’ Union President Jim Ginolfi. The next step, by state law, is to select a mediator who is acceptable to both parties. Like other local union leaders, Ginolfi said he could not get into the details of ongoing negotiations. But overall he indicated that talks are going well. “We are in negotiations and hopefully we have a contract by the time this one expires,” Ginolfi said. “When you’re talking, that’s good,” he added. Flynn said the issues central to the negotiations are common to all three districts. “Obviously, the economic forecast is dismal,” Flynn said. For many communities, unfunded pension liabilities, reductions in state aid, and the expiration of federal stimulus funds are driving efforts to reduce the costs of the contract. Those problems may be particularly acute in Central Falls, where it was reported earlier this year that the district had a budget deficit of $5.6 million for the new fiscal year that started in July.

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Salaries and health care are the two most significant cost-areas of a contract where negotiations are most likely to be concentrated, Flynn said. He said he is not seeing too much of a movement to eliminate step increases. As far as salaries themselves, districts as a general rule seem to be seeking freezes or modest pay raises, according to Flynn. But health care is being targeted as an area where district negotiators want to shift more of the costs onto teachers. There are a variety of approaches that districts are taking, including increases to premiums, co-pays for things like prescription drugs and office visits, and bumping up the deductible. “There are a lot of different ways to spread the cost out and reduce the cost of plans,” Flynn said. Two other issues common to negotiations involve the implementation of statewide policies. One is the education commissioner’s interpretation of the Basic Education Plan and how that would affect job selection and transfers, especially seniority rights, Flynn said. The other is the new statewide teacher evaluation system, which has to be fully implemented this year. How the implementation would affect various areas of the teacher contract has to be worked out in negotiations at each district, Flynn said. (Currently there are three state-approved models. Coventry, which is an AFT local, has its own. The rest of the AFT locals have either moved to the standard state model or adopted the state-approved alternative Innovation model, which has been spearheaded by AFT.)


Common Ground

Common Ground publisher named recipient of national award RHODE ISLAND STATEHOUSE – State Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr., D-Dist. 22, Smithfield, North Smithfield and the publisher of Common Ground, has been named a recipient of the Bruce F. Vento Award, presented by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. The award will be presented at the 14th annual McKinneyVento Awards ceremony to be held in Washington, D.C., in November. In a letter announcing Tassoni’s selection for the award, Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center, said that “as a long-time advocate for homeless and poor persons, and as the architect of the landmark Homeless Bill of Rights, you have demonstrated the power of the law to change lives for the better.” The Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights, based on legislation sponsored by Tassoni, was enacted into law this year. The Homeless Bill of Rights will guarantee that no person’s rights, privileges, or access to public services will be denied or abridged solely because he or she is homeless. The Law Center presents the Bruce F. Vento Award to elected officials who have advanced policies to address the needs of homeless persons. It was named in honor of the late

Congressman Bruce F. Vento, who championed legislation to help homeless people become self-sufficient. The McKinneyVento Homeless Assistance Act was the first, and is still the only, major federal legislation addressing homelessness. Tassoni, who is serving his sixth and final term in the Rhode Island Senate, has been a strong and vocal advocate for the homeless and the rights of the homeless. He is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Government. It was as a direct result of hearings held by the committee that Rhode Island reactivated the permanent Interagency Council on Homelessness, an 18-member panel charged with developing a strategic plan to end homelessness in the state, in cooperation with state agencies, community-based and volunteer organizations, advocacy groups, and businesses. Tassoni this year also received the Senator Jack Reed Advocacy Award from the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless and was the 2011 recipient of the Partners in Housing Public Service Award presented by Rhode Island Housing.

Health Care, from page 1 and $58.5 million in Exchange Establishment Level II funding. As of the start of this year, Rhode Island was the only state to have receiving Level II funding as federal officials hailed it as a model for other states, according to “Governing” magazine. “The Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act has reaffirmed the work of the RI Healthcare Reform Commission and the progress being made on the RI Health Benefits Exchange, ahead of the rest of the country,” said Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts. “There is an open and collaborative process taking place among stakeholders—insurers, providers, community partners and our state and federal government—to help move us toward expanding access to affordable healthcare for Rhode Island families and small businesses.” Since Chafee’s executive order, state officials have hashed out a model for how consumers will use the exchange, issued a Request for Proposals from software vendors interested in creating and running the exchange, have hired an executive director for the exchange, and taken other key steps—putting Rhode Island on track to have its exchange be operational by the end of 2013. “I’m excited to continue the work

of developing the Exchange to create a place where Rhode Islanders not only can compare and buy health insurance, but also check to see if they qualify for Medicaid—and eventually, food stamps and other government programs,” said Christine Ferguson, the new executive director of the exchange. “Rhode Island families and small businesses soon will have a place where they can easily buy and compare health insurance options. Some residents will even qualify for free or low-cost insurance depending on their income.” Other than selecting a software vendor—a process that had yet to be completed by the end of July—the state is currently expanding the staff of the exchange, which has no other employees other than the new executive director. Five key core staff members are expected to be hired in the next couple of months, according to the Lieutenant Governor’s office. The exchange has to be ready to enroll Rhode Islanders by Oct. 1, 2013 and it must start offering coverage by Jan. 1, 2014. So far, the state is on course to meet these federal deadlines. In the meantime, the exchange is working on a marketing plan to publicize the new availability of coverage and improvements to existing coverage

for Rhode Islanders. State officials are also fleshing out the consumer assistance and customer support functions of the exchange. And, in the next few months, they will be working with insurance companies to decide what plans will be sold to consumers on the exchange, according to information provided by the Lieutenant Governor’s office. “One of my priorities as a consumer representative to the board is to ensure that the exchange is ‘the place’ people want to go to enroll in health coverage because they know it offers quality health plans at a reasonable price,” said Linda Katz, who is the policy director at the Economic Progress Institute, formerly the Poverty Institute. She said many of those using the exchange will be eligible for either Medicaid or Premium Tax Credits to help fund private insurance. “So I also want to ensure that consumers can easily enroll in these programs,” Katz said. “And finally, I want to see a strong consumer assistance program put in place so Rhode Islanders know about the benefits of using the exchange, the insurance affordability programs and have help navigating the enrollment process and choosing a plan that works best for them.”

AUGUST 2012

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The Union Stewards Prayer Grant me, Oh Lord, the genius to explain to my brothers and sisters the policies and plans of our great union even though no one explains them to me. Give me the understanding that I may forgive the apathetic member, curb the overly ambitious member, and accept the views of the member who does nothing until I have done something... and then tells me what I should have done and how I should have done it. Oh Lord, make me formidable in debate, logical in argument and fearless in confrontation. Let me be a lawyer, actor, mathematician, sage, philosopher, sociologist, and economist; pleasing, cajoling, threatening, and belaboring so that I make the best of a good case and a good case from no case at all. Teach me, Oh Lord, to stand at all times with both feet firmly on the ground …. Even when I don’t have a leg to stand on.


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Common Ground

AUGUST 2012

‘Made in China’ Olympic uniforms spark outrage By Common Ground staff News that the U.S. Olympic Team would be wearing uniforms bearing the Made in China tag sparked outrage and patriotic fervor across the political spectrum last month, with one top U.S. Senator actually calling for the Ralph Lauren-designed uniforms to be burned and remade in America. ABC News first reported in early July that the parade uniforms U.S. athletes would be wearing for the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in London were “made in China.” The news set off a bipartisan firestorm of controversy. “I think the Olympic committee should be ashamed of themselves. I think they should be embarrassed. I think they should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over again,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in widely reported remarks. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, shared his outrage. “You’d think they know better,” Boehner said. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic minority leader in the U.S. House, said that U.S. Olympians represent the “very best” of America and therefore should be wearing U.S.made uniforms. The issue seems to have hit a nerve among the public, amid news of sluggish job growth and renewed controversy over the outsourcing of jobs and heightened public

attention to the deepening trade deficit with China (particularly in Rhode Island). Between 2010 and 2011, the U.S. trade deficit in goods with China jumped from $645.9 billion to $737.1 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The outsourcing of jobs to overseas factories where wages are lower and working conditions are poorer also continues apace at an estimated rate of 300,000 jobs a year, according to Forrester Research, Inc., a Bostonbased consulting firm. ‘Insult to American workers’ Even U.S. Olympic paraphernalia marketed to American consumers appears to be made in China as well, as one local Rhode Islander discovered. John Pernorio, president of the Rhode Island Alliance for Retired Americans, happened to be watching a segment of QVC, a cable sales outlet, where Olympic hats and other clothing were being marketed with the call to “take pride in the USA.” So Pernorio called to make sure the items were actually U.S.-made. He was told they weren’t. Instead, the clothing hailed from China and Bangladesh. “What an insult to the American workers and their families: ‘Let’s support the USA but buy items made in China and Bangladesh,’” Pernorio wrote in an e-mail message to Common Ground. “What about ‘Let’s support the USA Olympic Team and buy American-made

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Olympic clothing?’” Nationally, calls for the uniforms to be made in the U.S. were soon followed by formal legislation, submitted by U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-NJ, mandating that Olympic uniforms be U.S.-made and barring the U.S. Olympic Committee from deviating from that rule without first checking with Congress, according to a report in “Politico”. 80 U.S. manufacturers passed over An AFL-CIO activist, Andy Richards, turned up the pressure on the committee with a petition on SignOn.org, demanding that the U.S. uniforms be U.S.manufactured. “Hundreds of Olympians from the United States will be competing in the Summer Olympics in London at the end of this month,” Richards wrote in a widely circulated e-mail to MoveOn members. “These athletes represent values that make America great: hard work, determination, and pride in our country and the things we can accomplish as a nation. Unfortunately, the U.S. Olympic Committee seems to have forgotten some of those values.” A major labor federation based in Los Angeles also released a list of 82 domestic-based manufacturers that could have made the clothing in domestic factories, including All-American Clothing, Brooks Brothers/Garland Manufacturing, Oshkosh B’Gosh, Peerless

Garments, Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., and Sterlingwear of Boston. U.S. scores Olympic win By the end of the month, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Ralph Lauren finally bowed to public pressure, announcing that future uniforms would be made in the U.S. beginning with the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. In making the announcement, Ralph Lauren released the following statement: “For more than 45 years Ralph Lauren has built a brand that embodies the best of American quality and design rooted in the rich heritage of our country. We are honored to continue our longstanding relationship with the United States Olympic Committee in the 2014 Olympic Games by serving as an Official Outfitter of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams. Ralph Lauren promises to lead the conversation within our industry and our government addressing the issue of increasing manufacturing in the United States and has committed to producing the Opening and Closing ceremony Team USA uniforms in the United States that will be worn for the 2014 Olympic Games.”

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AUGUST 2012

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Key bills close loopholes for construction trades By Common Ground staff The building and constructions trades notched several key wins in the waning days of the legislative session, which saw the passage of four bills that closed loopholes on wage and hours rules and the misclassification of workers. “I’m pleased,� said Michael Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council. He said the bills were common sense public policies that would allow departments to better work together to prevent unscrupulous companies from skirting key labor rules that affect the compensation and working conditions for members of the building and construction trades. The bills had the broad backing of the AFL-CIO and BuildRI, a labor-management partnership which includes the building and construction trades council as well as the state chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, the regional chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, and the New England Mechanical Contractors Association. “Last night was a very successful night at the General Assembly for union contractors and workers,� said Greg Mancini, executive director of BuildRI, in a message to members and supporters the day after the bills passed. “The General Assembly passed legislation that BuildRI co-drafted that will assist in leveling the playing field in our industry.� The four bills that passed both the House and Senate are the following: 1. Cracking down on delinquent contractors: One set of dual House and Senate bills mandates that the Contractors Registration Board either revoke or suspend the license of a contractor who has not paid fines for violating wage and hours laws—and has not reached out to the Department of Labor and Training to set up a repayment agreement. Sabitoni said the legislation puts some teeth into the rules, allowing the department to better enforce collection of fines. “If you don’t pay, you lose your license. So that seems like a pretty simple policy,� Sabitoni said. “This isn’t a union, non-union issue. It’s a workplace issue.� (The bills are: S-2341 and H-7995.) 2. Coordination among departments: In what Sabitoni described as another example of good, common-sense public policy, new legislation passed says that various state agencies and departments now have to coordinate their investigations on matters that affect workers, such as minimum wage enforcement and the misclassification of someone as a contractor, rather than an employee. Sabitoni compares the situation among some state departments to the lack of communication between the FBI and the CIA pre-September 11. “It’s almost like the same

thing,� he said. The Division of Taxation hasn’t been talking to the Department of Labor about its investigations and vice versa, he said. The legislation, Sabitoni said, is geared towards cracking down on a booming underground economy in Rhode Island in which unscrupulous contractors try to bypass the rules so they can cut down the cost of one of the biggest budgetary variables in any project—the cost of labor. The issue is one that has an impact far beyond just the labor community: in 2009, a Senate panel found that as a result of misclassification of workers as independent contractors rather than employees, the state could be losing out on as much as $50 million in uncollected income tax, unemployment insurance, temporary disability insurance, and workers compensation premiums. The problem also is not unique to Rhode Island. That same Senate report cited IRS estimates that more than three million workers nationwide had been misclassified, costing the federal government $1.6 billion in lost revenues. (The bills are: H-7564 and S-3039.) 3. Misclassified workers can now sue: The most important of the four bills that passed, according to Sabitoni, is one that allows workers who have been misclassified by their employers as independent contractors, rather than as employees, to sue over the matter. “Showing up with a shovel is not an independent contractor. You’re an employee,� Sabitoni said. “That is rampant in our industry.� In technical terms, the bill creates a private right of action for such violations. It also increases penalties, creates individual liability for wage and hour violations, and institutes civil penalties for misclassification, according to a BuildRI summary. Those new penalties would be at least $500 and up to $3,000 per misclassified employee. Each subsequent offense could cost as much as $5,000 per employee. In addition, it incorporates the existing whistleblower law as the way to remedy any retaliation by an employer against any wage or hour claims, according to BuildRI. For Sabitoni, the right for a misclassified worker to now civilly sue is a big change. Those workers, the legislation says, will be “entitled to recover any unpaid wages and or benefits, compensatory damages, and liquidated damages� up to two times the amount of unpaid wages and benefits owed. They also can seek a reinstatement of employment, fringe benefits and seniority rights. And they have up to three years to do it. Sabitoni says that the right to sue is now the “biggest

deterrent� against companies wrongly classifying workers as independent contractors. (The bills are: S-2422 and H-7509.) 4. Transparency on public projects: New legislation would make the certified payrolls—that is the names, classification, and wages of contractor workers—on public projects public information. The purpose of the bill, according to a BuildRI summary, is to “address the practice of URI and RIC of redacting the names of employees from public works certified payrolls, thereby essentially rendering useless the enforcement benefit of the daily log requirement passed last session—since you cannot match the daily log to the certified payrolls.� The bill amends state law allowing entities that track certified payrolls to “confirm the legitimacy of these documents by verifying that the employees listed on the certified payrolls worked the hours claimed,� according to BuildRI. Sabitoni said the bill had two specific goals in mind. The first is the general goal of transparency, which he said benefits everyone, including taxpayers, who deserve to know if they are getting their money’s worth on a public project. The second is to make sure that bonding agencies and insurance companies pay benefit packages and wages if a company goes out of business. (The bills are: S-3040 and H-7615.) Sabitoni credited four lawmakers with helping to steer the bills through to passage in the General Assembly. On the House side, he said the building and construction trades had worked with Rep. Stephen Ucci, D-Cranston, Johnston, and Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, the chair of the House Labor Committee. In the Senate, key allies included Sen. Josh Miller, D-Cranston, Warwick, and Sen. Michael McCaffrey, D-Warwick. Looking ahead to next year: One last loophole Just one bill on the BuildRI legislative agenda did not pass: legislation that would have provided for a “definition for determining independent contractor and employee status by creating a presumption of employment,� based on additional criteria “superimposed� over existing IRS criteria. The legislation ran into “vigorous opposition� last year and the version this year had a number of changes intended on addressing the issues raised by opponents. Sabitoni said the building and construction trades council will make another attempt to close what he describes as the last of the loopholes. “That will be our focus next year once and for all,� Sabitoni said.


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Common Ground

AUGUST 2012

In retrospect, RI Supreme Court was on target!

A look back at a court decision that maintains proper balance in dispute resolution By John A. Furia In retrospect, sometimes small packages contain big things. Indeed, a small town in southern New England, Little Compton, became the locale for an important court case. A case that was big enough to earn an appeal all the way to the Rhode Island Supreme Court. In this case, the International Association of Firefighters, IAFF Local 3957 of Little Compton, appointed a staff member from their State Association to serve as their designated representative in a pending arbitration hearing. In turn, the town was represented by legal counsel chosen by town administrators. In the course of the arbitration proceeding, the Town of Little Compton generated a legal appeal on a number of key issues: Should non-lawyers be parties to proceedings in contract arbitration cases? Should unions have the right to choose who would represent them in arbitration proceedings? Should such hearings be restricted to lawyers only and be exclusionary? In a phrase, need only attorneys appear? Motivation and Importance What motivated the town to pursue this challenge may be difficult to discern; but, it wasn’t difficult at all to see that the Rhode

Island high court understood the importance of the issue. The justices understood the long-standing practice and tradition of unions representing their own members, with practitioners that had years of experience in conflict resolution. Therefore, it was important to note that, in the view of most informed observers, the Rhode Island Supreme Court was right on target in upholding the right of unions to select their own representatives, instead of having to rely solely on lawyers. Legal Reasoning In reviewing the reasoning behind court’s decision, it’s apparent that the justices displayed the value of practical legal experience gained by their prior exposure to dispute resolution and that that expertise proved invaluable in resolving this case. The court also noted the history and acceptance of non-legal union representation in labor board hearings and in other dispute resolution forums. It relied, still further, on U.S. Supreme Court precedent, referred to as the “Steelworkers Trilogy,” when that court upheld the use of arbitration as the preferred mode of conflict resolution for contract disputes. The challenge raised by the Town of Little Compton would have

undone all of that history, all legal precedent and, in addition, all of the hard work done by practitioners in resolution of disputes and also would have substituted the prospect of endless litigation, legal appeals, and court intervention as the only avenue to resolving collective bargaining disputes. Against that backdrop, the Rhode Island high court ruled that established practices would continue. Further, it noted that the justices would not “disturb the status quo at this time.” The Rhode Island Supreme Court understood that it made no sense to disrupt existing procedures and practices that have been an effective tool for resolution of contract disputes. Cost and Timeliness Indeed, issues of cost and timeliness of dispute resolution need to be more fully considered in evaluating this legal challenge. One should look no further than at the time and expense involved in litigating this very case, a dispute that began approximately four years ago. At the very moment when cities and towns are facing diminished financial resources for critical municipal services—why should additional costs be incurred in endless litigation when effective methods already exist? It doesn’t

pass the test of common sense! Time to Innovate Indeed, in view of this case, state and municipal leaders should work on improving dispute-resolution procedures and seek ways to minimize costs. It’s an opportune time to have the cities and towns— and unions—work together to expedite arbitration appeals and reduce costs with jointly negotiated procedures to streamline the entire process. In short, it’s time to innovate, not litigate. In retrospect, the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruling on this issue may have provided an invaluable moment for all parties to review ways to minimize costs and maximize resolution of conflicts— without court intervention. So, if the opportunity to improve conflict resolution occurs, then it can be justifiably said that sometimes big things do indeed come in small packages. John A. Furia is a member of the Augsburg College faculty. Augsburg College is located in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) and has been named one of the leading higher education institutions in the Midwest. Mr. Furia previously served for over 20 years as Executive Director of AFSCME New England, District Council 94.

Juicing vegetables offers many nutritional benefits By Joy Feldman, NC, JD Cellular cleansing. That is one of the many benefits of juicing. By oxygenating and cleansing the body, you create and enhance the health and fitness of your body from the inside out. Juicing your veggies provides your body with a boost of nutrients, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals in a form that the body can easily utilize, absorb, and digest. Easily absorbed minerals such as calcium, potassium, and silicon are contained with fresh juice. These minerals help the body to restore the biochemical and mineral balance in the cells. In addition, juicing concentrates the nutrients by eliminating the fibrous part of the

raw vegetables and/or other foods that are juiced. Studies show that the nutrients from juiced vegetables are present in your bloodstream within 30 minutes of consumption. My favorite veggies to juice are carrots. And there are many good reasons that Bugs Bunny always ate his carrots. History shows that the carrot has been recorded as medicine by the early Greeks, and has since been valued by many different cultures. Carrot juice, the king of vegetable juice, is often referred to as the “miracle juice” because of its many health benefits. Research finds that it provides protective agents in the building and maintenance of

health in both young and old. It has a delicious sweet flavor that makes it very appealing to everyone, either plain or combined with other green vegetables. This orange vegetable has one of the highest amounts of beta carotene, as well as a cohort of other carotenes. It not only contains vitamins B, C, D, E and K, it’s also mineral rich with calcium, copper, magnesium, potassium, sodium phosphorus, sulfur, and iron. These alkaline minerals help soothe and tone the intestinal wall, as well as build bones and teeth. This protein and mineral rich juice also builds skin, hair, and nails. Additionally,

carrot juice has a tonic and cleansing effect on the liver, which helps to release bile and excess fats. The juice is also excellent because it provides a readily bio-available form of calcium. Give this sweet vegetable a try and before long, you too will be saying, “What’s up Doc?” Joy Feldman is a nutritional consultant, writer, and lecturer. She is the author of Joyful Cooking in the Pursuit of Good Health and Is Your Hair Made of Donuts? Learn more at www.joyfeldman.com and www. isyourhairmadeofdonuts.com.

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Common Ground

AUGUST 2012

Page 7

Barbuto, from page 1 given week he might do five to ten placements, with a fraction of them actually going to a facility affiliated with Treatment Solutions. The rest—if they do not have a top insurance plan—he will refer to other facilities, something he can afford to do because his job is salaried, rather than commissionbased. ‘I was a nice guy’ Barbuto was born and raised in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in a predominantly blue-collar community. For Barbuto, recreational drug use and drinking started when he was a young teenager, not realizing how dangerous they were. “Unfortunately using alcohol and drugs as adolescents, it’s almost like breathing it’s so prevalent,” Barbuto said. His substance abuse did not go unnoticed by others. He recalls coaches, teachers, and distinguished community members confronting him and telling him that his behavior patterns were unhealthy. And Barbuto would stop for periods of time, only to eventually start using and abusing again. He insists that, by many measures, he was just a normal good kid. He was a baseball player at Boston College High School and

continued to play when he went to Merrimack College. “I was a nice guy. It’s not like I was a bad kid,” Barbuto said. “I had every intention of being a good guy and doing well in life.” But narcotics put him on a different path. As Barbuto grew older, his recreational substance abuse grew into a full-blown addiction to prescription pain killers, cocaine, and other heavy narcotics. Ten years after he started using, he couldn’t even start a normal day without first getting high. “Your life is literally overrun by narcotics,” he said.

The day he entered treatment— his ‘Sobriety Day’—is September 9, 2006. He spent a few months in other treatment facilities before finally entering Gavin House in South Boston, where he spent about six months completing his recovery and building a support network. He finished the program in May 2007. He had one more hurdle to clear: his trial, one year later, where he was sentenced to probation by an understanding judge. A new life After leaving treatment, Barbuto went to work for the Gavin Foundation, the umbrella organization for Gavin House. He later moved on to the South Boston Collaborative Center, a division of the Boston Public Health Commission, where he did case management in the Old Colony public housing development. A lot of what he was doing, he says, was just being a “broker for beds.” Those with great insurance he referred to a company he came to know very well: Treatment Solutions. Over time, Barbuto observed a pattern: it was easier to get someone placed in a treatment center in Salt Lake City through Treatment Solutions than to find a local bed for

‘My world blew up’ After college, Barbuto worked in golf operations at country clubs. He moved out to Chicago, then back to Massachusetts, living in Cape Cod. It wasn’t until he was 26 that his addiction finally caught up with him. “Eventually, what happened at the end of the day, I started stealing money,” Barbuto said. He was arrested and indicted. And that was the wake-up call that he needed, Barbuto says, to seek treatment for his addictions— something, he adds, that he did on his own initiative, not to meet some pre-trial mandate.

someone for just five days. When his contact at Treatment Solutions took on additional responsibilities, the company tapped Barbuto to be their “man on the ground” in the greater Boston area. It’s work for which Barbuto, now 32 years old, has a passion because he can relate on such a personal level with those whom he is helping. “I love my job,” Barbuto said. Mike Blackburn, a former Providence firefighter and currently the Senior Vice President of Business Development at Treatment Solutions, describes Barbuto as a tremendously valuable employee who is always available to help clients. “Peter lives his recovery every day,” Blackburn said. “He lives his personal recovery by helping others.” Blackburn says that the company’s motto is to treat every client with the respect and dignity they deserve. The approach of Treatment Solutions is to provide the highest possible quality treatment for everyone, regardless of whether they are down to their last 25 cents, or they are carrying around a $50,000 check. “Peter just emulates that,” Blackburn said.

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Common Ground

AUGUST 2012

Roberts elected to leadership of Lieutenant Governors Association PROVIDENCE—Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts has been elected to the leadership committee of the National Lieutenant Governors Association (NLGA). Roberts was elected unanimously on July 20 to serve as treasurer of the professional association for the office-holders, who are first in line of succession to be governor in all 50 states and the U.S. territories. “As a NLGA leader, Lt. Gov. Roberts will work with her bipartisan peers to find and foster multi-state and regional solutions to problems,” said NLGA Executive Director Julia Hurst. “Lt. Gov. Roberts led passage of a policy resolution in support of the national goals relating to

Alzheimer’s disease on Friday. Specifically, her effort garnered awareness that lack of participation in clinical trials is the largest current factor holding back progress on disease treatment. Her work gained collaborative agreement among lieutenant governors to support in-state and regional efforts across public and private sectors and medical and university institutions to increase participation rates in such trials,” said Hurst. “The NLGA has a record of working in a bipartisan manner to address issues impacting all states and the nation,” said NLGA Chair and Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray. “Lieutenant Governor Roberts will contribute to the work of the Executive Committee as we increase collaboration and build partnerships to support resources for states across the country.” The committee meets about three times a year and is responsible for charting the course of issues

and work to be pursued by the nation’s secondhighest state and territorial office-holders. The position is for a one-year term that expires July 2013. “I’m excited to take on this important role for the Association,” Roberts said. “I look forward to exploring more ways to build on our strengths as a collective of leaders who find solutions to challenges in state government, notwithstanding our diverse politics on the issues facing our home states.” Roberts is serving her second term in office as Rhode Island’s lieutenant governor. She is chair of the RI Healthcare Reform Commission, the body in state government tasked with making recommendations to Gov. Chafee on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Rhode Island.

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Common Ground

AUGUST 2012

Page 9

Elizabeth Warren vows to fight for unions By Common Ground staff Common Ground reached out to Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren, Democratic candidate for Senate, to learn her position on minimum wage, right to work, job outsourcing, public pensions and unemployment insurance extensions. Minimum Wage Some people believe that the U.S. minimum wage needs to be increased from its current level of $7.25 an hour to as high as $10. What’s your position on this—do you support or oppose increasing the federal minimum wage and why? If you don’t support the increase to $10 but would back an alternative increase, please specify what that would be. I support an increase in the minimum wage and policies that will create jobs and spur economic growth. For far too long, hard working families have been squeezed. Flat wages and rising core expenses have made it harder and harder for working people to make ends meet. At the same time, CEOs and the super-rich have seen their pay skyrocket — even when they get fired. It is critical that we rebuild our middle class and make sure hard working families have a fair shot at the American dream.   Right to Work What is your position on “right to work” legislation? How would you vote on this issue if it came up in the U.S. Senate after the November election? I oppose “right to work” legislation. These proposals undermine collective bargaining rights and diminish the ability of unions to advocate on behalf of workers. As Senator, I will work to support workers and their unions, not push for legislation that would undercut them.

 Job Outsourcing The U.S. has lost 50,000 manufacturing facilities and six million jobs to outsourcing. What specific proposals do you support or will you advocate for in order to “bring jobs home.’”  After decades of losing American jobs, we must fight back. Manufacturers and businesses succeed when they have the basic building blocks to be competitive. If we create the climate for our manufacturers to be competitive, we can bring jobs back to America – and we can keep them here. It’s time to end tax deductions for outsourcing, along with other preferential tax tricks that encourage multinational corporations with armies of lawyers and accountants to locate operations outside the United States. Instead of pushing jobs out of the country, we should reward companies that bring jobs home, and we should invest in workforce education and training, research and development, affordable and reliable energy, and a robust infrastructure of roads, bridges and ports to reduce the costs of getting goods to market. These are the kinds of investments that create the conditions for manufacturers to succeed – and for them to create jobs here at home. The Republicans in the Senate have made clear where they stand on fixing the tax code to keep jobs in America: they’re simply not interested. The Republican effort to block the Bring Jobs Home Act was bad for jobs, bad for Massachusetts, and bad for the country.

  I firmly support a strong pension and benefits system. The federal government and the states need to work together to strengthen and improve these systems. People should know that they will receive the pensions they bargained for, which is why it is important that we support the PBGC. As a Senator, I will fight to protect the retirement security of public sector employees.   Unemployment Insurance Extension Would you support or oppose any further extensions to unemployment insurance and why? If you oppose, what alternative measures do you support to help those who are unemployed?   I support a strong unemployment insurance system and support efforts to improve that system. Across the commonwealth and the country, too many families are reeling from the effects of the jobs crisis. We need to get people back to work now while building a strong foundation for our future. But as long as workers are unable to find work, we also need to make sure our unemployment insurance system is strong enough to help them get back on their feet. That includes passing further extensions if economic conditions demand it. 

  Public Pensions Some have said that state public pension funding issues need to be addressed through legislation at the federal level. Do you agree or disagree with this and why?

editor’s note: Senator Scott Brown was provided with the same questions, but his campaign declined to answer.

Whether you are a union member or not, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO is committed to preserving the rights of all workers and advocating for decent wages, health and retirement benefits, safer workplaces, and a dignified quality of life for all working families.

During these difficult times, now more than ever, workers need a strong, unified voice speaking out on each other’s behalf. By advocating for all workers, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO is working to preserve the middle class, and protect you and your family. Steven Tolman President

For more information call

Louis A. Mandarini, Jr. Secretary-Treasurer

(781) 324-8230 or visit www.massaflcio.org


Page 10

Common Ground

AUGUST 2012

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Common Ground

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The core of the college debt bubble By Shelley Honeycutt financial picture. Making a college selection choice with only 25 to 50 percent of the information is a recipe for long-term financial disaster. Nationwide, families are quietly struggling with this college debt issue. The majority of private student loans require co-signers, which means that parents are on the hook if their child can’t make the payments. Additionally, both private and federal student loans are not dissolvable in bankruptcy. Compounding the issue, loan servicers are not clear about these borrowers’ options in times of hardship. Since some loan servicers make more money in fees and interests when students default on loans, their motivation to provide payment solutions is questionable. For these often-frustrated families there are a variety of solutions for both federal and private loan debt. Under the federal loan program there are old and new regulations that, when combined, can provide lower payments, loan forgiveness options, and even loan cancelation options. For private loan borrowers there are consolidation options and little-known methods to remove co-signers from these loans. The College PREP Collaborative offers free seminars on college debt and services to help families. Learn more about their upcoming events by e-mailing Shelley@CollegePREPcollaborative.com. Shelley Honeycutt is the Managing Partner for the College PREP Collaborative.

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So Mike, how did you get involved in the EAP and addiction treatment business?

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I became involved in the EAP/MAP programs because of my own struggles with addiction, as I have been in recovery for many years. Twenty-five years ago, I was asked by my Union President to start a committee to assist our members and their families who needed help with addiction and mental health issues, because of my own experiences, I was excited to help. We started a silent committee to offer confidential help to Firefighters and their families who were struggling with these issues. I spent several years obtaining certifications in the field and have been helping members and their families ever since!

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What is next for you and Treatment Solutions Network? We are working with a committee focus group comprised of leadership from Boston Fire, Boston Police, Providence Fire, MA Department of Corrections and MA Sheriff’s Department. This group is being directed by a highly accomplished therapist to design programs specifically geared toward Unions, Public Safety Officers and to help us better serve the Employee Assistance Professionals we work with. Our programs are designed to find the best possible solution to Dual Diagnosis problems. Solutions that combine, long term success, financial flexibility, and clinical practice into effective services.

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Common Ground

AUGUST 2012

Page 13

George Washington University professor is the new director of health exchange In June, Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced Christine C. Ferguson as the director of the Rhode Island Health Benefits Exchange. The exchange will link consumers and employees with affordable health coverage and is supported by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. “It is an economic imperative to solve the problem of the uninsured and rising healthcare costs in our state, and the health benefits exchange will help us address this challenge,” Chafee said. “Christy’s leadership and experience in state health policy, implementation of the ACA, healthcare delivery system reform, Medicaid, healthcare financing and management, and many other areas makes her the ideal choice for leading the Exchange.” Her appointment became effective last month. So who exactly is Christine Ferguson? Most recently, she held the post of professor at George Washington University, where she had a unique ability to translate across sectors—public and private, state and federal, profit and nonprofit. These skills are the result of an unusual combination of experiences as a health-care purchaser, regulator, and provider in federal and state leadership roles in both the executive and the legislative branches of government. Her work has included state health policy, implementation of the ACA, health-care delivery system reform, obesity and chronic disease, Medicaid, health-care financing and management, child health and development, and public health preparedness. (Ferguson’s work as health exchange director is full-time, but she will retain her affiliation with GWU, although not in any teaching capacity.) She has been recognized as one of the nation’s 100 most influential lawyers by the National Law Journal, and one of the 25 Most Influential Working Mothers by Working Mothers Magazine. David Broder and Haynes Johnson

heralded her as a “profile in courage” in their book The System. A sought-after speaker, she has appeared in key media outlets such as USA Today, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, the Huffington Post, the Today Show and the Associated Press. As Commissioner of Public Health in Massachusetts, Ferguson oversaw the Department of Public Health and the Department of Health Care Finance and Policy. She led initiatives addressing public health emergencies and substance abuse; established a unique collaboration with the Executive Office of Public Safety; and implemented the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety and Medical Errors Reduction. She was also a key member of a two-year effort to establish a new department for Early Education and Child Care. “We have made tremendous progress in reforming our state’s health-care system to benefit Rhode Islanders, and we’re leading the country in developing a health benefits exchange,” said Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, Chair of the RI Healthcare Reform Commission. “However, the increasingly unaffordable cost of health coverage for our state’s families and businesses must be addressed, and health reform implementation must continue to move forward in Rhode Island. Christy Ferguson is a nationally respected leader who can help Rhode Island to navigate the challenging waters of health-care reform whatever may change at the federal level in the coming months and years.” Ferguson also has direct ties to Rhode Island. From 1995 to 2001, she ran the Rhode Island Department of Human Services under Gov. Lincoln Almond’s twoterm administration. She oversaw nearly one-third of the state’s annual budget, providing Medicaid and services for low-income families, children, senior citizens, veterans, and those with disabilities. She also led efforts

with the Department of Administration to retool and oversee state employee health benefits. Rhode Island’s innovative achievements in health care, Medicaid managed care, early education and child care, and welfare reforms were widely recognized during her tenure. Of particular note, Rhode Island had the nation’s highest percentage of children with health-care coverage. Prior to her service in Rhode Island, Ferguson served as counsel and deputy chief of staff to the late U.S. Senator John H. Chafee from 1981-1995 where she led his wideranging policy initiatives on national health, economic, and social policy. She served as lead staff for the Mainstream Senators in their 1993-1994 attempt to develop a bipartisan health reform proposal and was responsible for incorporating the concept of an “individual mandate” in that proposal. She has served on the board of Blue Cross Blue Shield of RI and of the Neighborhood Health Plan, a Rhode Island nonprofit health insurer. She recently completed her second term as a member of the board of Children, Youth and Families at the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine. She is also a member of the IOM’s Standing Committee on Family Planning. She has served on the boards for the National Academy of State Health Policies and a variety of other state and national organizations. Ferguson holds a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from Washington College of Law, American University.

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Page 14

Common Ground

AUGUST 2012

Quick Start Marketing lands endorsement from Jeff Foxworthy Comedian to endorse all-natural insect repellent THE BUGPATCH® Ozark, AL – Quick Start Marketing, manufacturers of the THE BUGPATCH®, has joined forces with Jeff Foxworthy, the well-known comedian and outdoorsman. Anyone who has ever been outdoors knows mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, no-see-ums, black and yellow flies, and other insects can be a real menace. Jeff knows firsthand how the Bug Patch offers the most effective, safe and convenient protection with its transdermal delivery system. “This is a great product for any outdoors activity. THE BUGPATCH® can make any outdoor experience much more enjoyable,” Foxworthy said. “No sprays or lotions, no missed spots, [and] two days of coverage! I became a believer right away and now I won’t go outside without one. I am very excited about the potential of this product.”

One BUGPATCH® delivers up to 48-hours of full-body protection. THE BUGPATCH® is the only patented product available in the market for anyone that wants all-natural, full-body protection rather than spraying themselves with chemically based products that only protect you where you spray and have to be reapplied every few hours. The Thiamin B-1 based formula is completely natural and provides convenient protection without the smell or mess of sprays, wipes, and bands. Commonly taken orally as a vitamin supplement with recognized health benefits, Thiamin is eliminated not only in the urine but excreted through perspiration as well. Using the skins’ unique ability to absorb and release, THE BUGPATCH® delivers a far more effective dose of B-1 supplement, maximizing protection from biting

insects. Each patch contains 50mg Thiamin B-1. Available in two-packs for a suggested retail price of $1.99 and six-packs for a suggested retail price of $4.99, THE BUGPATCH® is also economical and affordable. THE BUGPATCH® has also been classified by the U.S. government as a “green” product. THE BUGPATCH® is currently available at several national and regional retailers and also on our Web site at www.originalbugpatch.com. Locally, it is available at Jerry’s Hardware in Narragansett and the Food Mart convenience store in Wakefield. For more information on THE BUGPATCH®, call Tom Dusseault, Q.S.M. Regional Sales Manager, at 401-792-3553 or tomdusseault@yahoo.com.

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Common Ground

AUGUST 2012

Page 15

Alcohol abuse among firefighters Many heroes drink to cope, but help and support are available Back in ‘93, Cincinnati’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducted a survey to help indicate potential stressors, psychological distresses, and alcohol problems among firefighters. Out of 145 firefighters, 29 percent had problems with alcohol use and/or abuse. Also in the survey, “hearing that children are in a burning building was the highest ranked stressor.” Plain and simple, firefighters deal with more extreme stressors on a daily basis than the average working citizen, and since that study, it’s not as if the life of a firefighter has gotten any “easier”— today, the threat of alcohol abuse among firefighters is more than double that of the general population. Take these statistics: Cases of alcohol abuse were more common than cases of PTSD after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Nearly 25 percent of the Oklahoma City firefighters in a sample survey were diagnosed with active alcohol disorders after the bombing, and another 25 percent had alcohol problems before the bombing (firechief. com). Cornell University’s Smithers Institute at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations conducted a study in 2004 to learn about the effects of 9/11 on FDNY first-responders and found 11 percent were at risk for a severe drinking problem, and only 5 percent of those surveyed said they’d seek professional treatment for a drug or alcohol problem (firehouse.com). There are several main reasons why a firefighter may turn to alcohol: emotional trauma (which commonly leads to PTSD), physical injury, or the “work hard,

play hard” atmosphere that can surround an off-duty firehouse community. Whatever the reason, departments all over the country have been adopting and adapting policies to help prevent alcohol abuse among their own departments. Mike Healy, an addiction specialist, former chief fire instructor, and close friend of Treatment Solutions, was involved in New York’s volunteer fire service for 42 years. He got clean and sober 24 years ago and has since toured all over the country to talk about his experiences. Both of his sons are in the fire department—one a former chief, the other a current chief. “There are over 750,000 volunteer firefighters in this country,” he says. “These are normal people doing abnormal things. You pull up to a burning building that everyone else is running out of… and we’re running in. You see people die. You may be carrying a dead baby out of a building. You see people at their worst. It’s a very emotional type of career. At the end of the day, what’s everybody going to do? Alcohol is involved in a lot of what goes on in the firehouses, [either] with career or volunteer firefighters. It usually starts innocently enough. And most things firemen do, they do together. Emergency services in general usually run the same: you hang with your own—the people who understand.” The zero tolerance policy In April 2002, the New York City Fire Department started cracking down on their departments, enforcing a zero tolerance policy on illegal drugs and announcing they would terminate any firefighter who failed a random drug test. The International Association of

Fire Chiefs (IAFC), among others, has since advocated a zero-tolerance alcohol policy for all of its members worldwide—though it’s really up to each department’s supervisor to adopt this kind of policy. Mike Healy says, “To not have a zero tolerance policy is stupid... But there’s a lot of tradition in the service, and part of the problem is that we’ll do anything to protect each other. We’re so used to protecting each other that when someone has a problem, it’s harder to recognize; it takes longer to figure out and longer to do anything about.”  There is help available Treatment Solutions’ National Fire Services Member Assistance Program, in conjunction with the NVFC, offers a 24/7 toll-free, confidential phone line not only available to firefighters, but also to their family members in need of assistance and guidance with alcohol, drugs and/or critical incident-related concerns, issues, or questions. “Let’s say you’re a firefighter or volunteer, and you come home and find out your kid is on Oxycontin. What do you do? You can call that number and wind up personally speaking with Mike [Blackburn, Treatment Solutions’ Senior Vice President of Business Development and retired Rhode Island Fire Department Battalion Chief ] or myself for help,” Mike Healy says. “So you know you’re speaking to one of your own.”   If you or a loved one needs help with alcohol or drug abuse, call the NVFC at (1-888-731-FIRE 3473) or visit the National Fire Services Member Assistance Program.

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Page 16

Common Ground

AUGUST 2012

How the Supreme Court health ruling affects seniors By John A. Pernorio The recent Supreme Court ruling on President Obama’s health care law gave the green light to helping children, workers, and retirees get affordable health care. Americans of all ages can now live more secure, knowing that their health and well-being are no longer tied to the whims and greed of the big insurance companies. Of all the lies and confusion that still surround the Affordable Care Act, perhaps the greatest is that so-called “ObamaCare” is bad for seniors. This is just plain false. The truth is the new law is helping millions of retirees better afford to see a doctor and fill a prescription. The 3.6 million seniors with the highest drug costs have already saved an average of $600 on their prescriptions. Thirty two million seniors have received free, life-saving tests for chronic diseases. The new law strengthens the Medicare Trust Fund by eliminating taxpayer overpayments to insurance companies that provide some Medicare benefits. But even though the highest court in the land has ruled in favor of the law, its opponents have not given up

the fight. As of this writing, a repeal vote in the U.S. House was set for July 11. The effort to repeal this law is being fueled by the big insurers and other corporations who have long profited handsomely at our expense. They are targeting seniors—the highest turnout voting bloc—with shameless scare tactics and misinformation. So next time your local politician talks repeal, ask them what exactly do they want to take away from us—the lower prescription drug costs? Or the free annual exams and screenings for diabetes and cancer? House Republicans and presidential candidate Mitt Romney want to not only repeal these new benefits for seniors, but also replace traditional Medicare with a voucher program. Under this plan, seniors would receive a small voucher, or coupon, to purchase coverage in the expensive, unfair private insurance market. Unless you plan on staying healthy and wealthy, these vouchers may not be enough. Medicare is a core part of the American middle class. It is one of our nation’s greatest success stories,

rooted in shared American values of hard work and fiscal responsibility. For decades, a worker sets aside a small portion of each paycheck to Medicare for the peace of mind of knowing they will have a healthy, secure retirement. The new law strengthens Medicare and protects the middle class from the terrible greed and unfairness of the private health insurance industry. Repealing this law weakens Medicare and weakens the middle class. But seniors care about more than just themselves. We are happy that the new health law allows our grandchildren to stay on their parents insurance until age 26, giving them time to land a job with benefits. We are happy that our children’s health is no longer held hostage to insurance companies discriminating against preexisting conditions or finding loopholes to cancel coverage when they need it the most. Middle class families of all

ages need the security of knowing they won’t go bankrupt when someone gets sick. While the new law makes historic gains for seniors, I worry that with all the fear, misinformation, and namecalling in today’s political climate, not enough seniors know how this law helps them. We cannot allow these important gains for seniors to fall victim to fear and ignorance. To protect the health of current and future retirees, we must help our friends and neighbors separate fact from fiction in this new law. John A. Pernorio is president of the Rhode Island Alliance for Retired Americans.

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Common Ground

AUGUST 2012

Page 17

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Common Ground

AUGUST 2012

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Common Ground

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