Friday, June 23, 2017

Uprising over healthcare spills over onto Senate floor

By Joelle Fishman and Win Heimer   People's World   June 20, 2017

The message of the standing room only crowd at Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s emergency field hearing on health care at the State Capitol on Monday morning was clear: Do not repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and do not allow the Senate Republican version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) to pass and leave millions without coverage.

The packed hearing, called on one day’s notice, took place hours before Democrats took over the floor of the U.S. Senate to protest an expected vote on health care overhaul that Republican leaders have been crafting in secret with no public input or oversight.

The next two weeks are considered “code red” in the fight to stop a Republican maneuver to repeal the ACA.  The  House-passed AHCA would end coverage for 23 million people, gut Medicare, raise costs for seniors, de-fund Planned Parenthood, and re-instate the ability of insurance companies to deny coverage to those with “pre-existing conditions,” while providing huge tax cuts for the super rich.

On Monday night one senator after another took the floor to oppose the cruelty of the expected bill and to call upon the people of the country to make their voices heard.
Blumenthal passionately told of the hard facts, personal testimonies, anger and fear expressed at his emergency field hearing in Hartford that morning.

Reflecting the mood of the country, health care professionals, advocacy groups and Connecticut residents had lined up to testify in opposition to the attempt by Republicans to push a bill through that will leave millions devastated and cost lives.  Each speaker received thunderous applause, as did Blumenthal.

According to Protect Our Care Connecticut, in this state alone 220,300 people would become uninsured including children, disabled and elderly.

One woman testified that the ACA saved her hundreds of thousand of dollars when she needed extensive and complicated treatment for an autoimmune disease. “It literally saved my life,” she said.
Another woman detailed the painful debilitation of her daughter as a result of opioid addiction and urged that money targeted to fight this scourge not be eliminated from the healthcare budget as would be done in the AHCA.

Speaking of the Republicans’ plan, Blumenthal said “We will use every tool at our disposal to limit this measure…Speed and secrecy are a recipe for disaster.”

He vowed to personally read into the record all of the testimony presented at the hearing and promised to hold another hearing “as soon as we know more” Looking toward the future as he has done at other rallies, Blumenthal said to loud applause, “ultimately we will have a single payer system.”

Testimony was presented from Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman, Comptroller Kevin Lembo, the state’s Healthcare Advocate, representatives of the Connecticut AIDS Coalition, New Haven Legal Services, the Center for Medicare Advocacy, Protect Our Care CT, the Connecticut Alliance for Retired Americans and many others who described the disastrous effects the Republican plan would have on their personal lives.

The field hearing followed protests against the Republican “no-healthcare plan” in Connecticut and across the country during the Memorial Day congressional recess. Voters made it clear they had the 2018 elections in mind.

The 100 people who gathered in the rain on the New Haven Green holding up cardboard tombstones with captions exposing the horrors of the plan, were told that they made an impact far beyond Connecticut.

“Thank you for your activism,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal told them.  “Thank you for making your voices heard.”

Two days earlier, at New Haven’s Bella Vista senior housing complex, dozens of residents and guests applauded as Sen Chris Murphy and Rep. Rosa DeLauro arrived for a forum on healthcare.

“Enough is enough,” said Murphy at Bella Vista  “We have to speak as one” against making $600 billion in cuts to health care in order to give $600 billion in tax cuts to billionaires, drug and insurance companies, and allowing 23 million people to lose all coverage.

When one audience member said she didn’t see how the bill could be stopped in the Senate, DeLauro reminded her that years earlier when it seemed impossible, Newt Gingrich’s “Contract for America” that threatened every social program was stopped by a large public outcry.

The first version of Trump’s American Health Care Act was also stopped earlier this year when the town hall meetings of Republican members of Congress were flooded with angry constituents who made it clear that they did not want to repeal the Affordable Care Act and all its benefits.

The same outrage is now being directed at the Senate by many resistance groups, unions and civil rights organizations across the country.  The National Women’s Law Center issued a call to flood the Senate phone lines and demand that the Republican attack on health care be stopped because it “threatens the health care of millions of people including women, elderly people, children, and people with disabilities.”

Voters in eight states with Republican senators up for election in 2018 are especially being urged to jam the phone lines with calls from constituents.  Those states include Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Unity and Solidarity on May Day

The King-Davis Labor Center was filled with unity and solidarity at the People's World May Day rally. Workers' fightback on all continents was highlighted in a slideshow. A certificate of appreciation was presented to newly elected State Rep. Joshua Hall who ran on the Working Families Party line.

Gwen Mills, Secretary-Treasurer of UNITE HERE, showed a video message from Yale graduate teachers Local 33 president and faster Aaron Greenberg, inspiring support for their struggle against Yale and Trump for union recognition. Kermauli Brown, AFT CT medical assistant at Community Health Services, Mustafa Salahuddin, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1336, and Ciro Gutierrez member leader of SEIU 32BJ also spoke. Excerpts from Gutierrez follow:

"This May Day has been - as never before - a day of struggle and opposition to the anti-migrant policy of the Trump Administration. Standing against this administration, immigrant workers have argued that we are not criminals, we are hard workers — many of us are union members with long history of social struggle. Trump knows that and wants to extinguish the flame of resistance against the injustice that, along with many others, we keep burning in this country.

"May Day is a day when the world remembers the sacrifice of the martyrs of Chicago in their struggle to establish the fair, 8-hour work day. But it must also be a day to measure and forecast the future of working-class struggles.

Millions of Americans have taken the streets to oppose Trump's immigration policy, its attack on the environment and its support of the interests of millionaires and billionaires. This May Day community organizations, movements of faith, labor unions and legislators raised their voice to unite the people to resist to win.

"Nearly 1000 people were at the "Here to Stay" rally at the state capitol defending the rights of immigrants, celebrating their diversity and honoring a healthy climate. All the highest elected officials of the state publicly declared their allegiance to the rights of all state residents, regardless of their immigration status, and their opposition to the harsh immigration policies of the Trump Administration

"This is a united front that will not only resist the Trump administration, but eventually, replace it."

Make Your Voice Heard for Health Care


With millions of lives at stake, protests against the Republican no-healthcare plan filled streets and town hall meetings across the country during the Memorial Day congressional recess. The message was clear: voters will remember in 2018.

The 100 people who gathered in the rain on the New Haven Green holding up cardboard tombstones with captions exposing the horrors of the plan, were told that they made an impact far beyond Connecticut.

"Thank you for your activism," Sen. Richard Blumenthal told them. "Thank you for making your voices heard."

He, along with his Connecticut colleagues, has been leading the opposition in Congress against repeal of the measures in the Affordable Care Act that enabled 24 million people to get coverage, eliminated pre-existing conditions, and ended limits on coverage.

Two days earlier, at New Haven's Bella Vista senior housing complex, dozens of residents and guests applauded as Sen Chris Murphy and Rep. Rosa DeLauro arrived for a forum on healthcare.

"Enough is enough," said Murphy at Bella Vista "We have to speak as one" against making $600 billion in cuts to health care in order to give $600 billion in tax cuts to billionaires, drug and insurance companies, and allowing 23 million people to lose all coverage.

When one audience member said she didn't see how the bill could be stopped in the Senate, DeLauro reminded her that years earlier when it seemed impossible, Newt Gingrich's "Contract for America" that threatened every social program was stopped by a large public outcry.

The first version of Trump's American Health Care Act was also stopped earlier this year when the town hall meetings of Republican members of Congress were flooded with angry constituents who made it clear that they did not want to repeal the Affordable Care Act and all it's benefits.

The second version, even more draconian, did pass the House and is now before the Senate.

"The AHCA is dead on arrival in the Senate," said Blumenthal, adding that a select Republican group is re-working the bill in secret. He advocated a long term goal of Medicare for All. "Don't give up, it is not impossible," he said adding that it is a simple solution to insure healthcare as a human right.

Resistance at Yale Inspires Unity for Workers Rights

People's World May 19,  2017
by Joelle Fishman and Art Perlo

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The fast by Yale graduate teachers in Unite Here Local 33 will enter its 27th day as Yale’s Commencement processional wends its way through the New Haven Green on Monday, May 22.  An unprecedented gathering of many thousands from New Haven, across the state of Connecticut, and up and down the Eastern Seaboard, will mark that day with a powerful show of unity and solidarity to demand that Yale stop stalling and negotiate a first contract now.

“The cause for which the graduate teachers are fighting does not belong to them alone. A secure living, fair benefits, a workplace free from racism and sexual harassment, and a voice in their conditions—these are the rights of all working people,” wrote 28 national labor, faith and social justice leaders and elected officials in an international solidarity statement. “We honor their spirit of unity, a powerful contrast to the spirit of Trump and his efforts to divide,” the sign-on statement concludes.

The stand being taken against the $25 billion Yale University has become a center of resistance to the Trump attack on working people and especially on unions.

Because of Yale’s position as an elite institution, the struggle of these graduate teachers has become a focus of resistance, not only to Trump personally, but to the whole gang of billionaire vulture capitalists in his cabinet and in his corner.

The case is compelling.  The graduate teachers followed the letter of the law.  They complied with the National Labor Relations Board requirements exactly and overwhelmingly won their union representation elections in eight departments.

But Yale continues to flout the law, stalling until Trump’s new NLRB is installed and empowered to overturn the decision that the graduate teachers have the right to a union and collective bargaining.
When Rep. Keith Ellison left his home in Minnesota on Mother’s Day and flew to New Haven to visit the encampment named “33 Wall St.”, he learned firsthand, taking careful notes, of the stories that led these graduate teachers to “fast against slow.”

The fasters explained that they need a union contract and grievance procedure to address sexual harassment experienced by a shocking 54% of female graduate students; to address the fact that there are only 30 African American male graduate students out of 3400; to address the lack of mental health and wellness programs, and to address poverty wages.

Rep. Ellison promised to push hard.  As Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee he challenged Democrats to give all-out support, saying “If Democrats don’t stand up for collective bargaining, then what do they stand for?”

The majority of Unite Here members across the country are workers in hospitality and casinos. The union’s largest base is in Las Vegas, where Unite Here international president D. Taylor led a successful strike at the Frontier Hotel for six years, four months and ten days, before assuming his current position.

Taylor, who came to participate in the candle light march marking the beginning of the fourth week of the graduate teachers’ fast, said the union has put everything into this fight. “It is ground zero of the resistance for worker’s rights,” he said.

The struggle at Yale is an important national test of the ability of unions and workers to move forward in the Trump era.

This struggle has revealed that Yale, which institutionally claims to be opposed to many things Trump stands for, is in essence just another wealthy corporation that embraces Trump/Republican policies to protect its wealth and power.

The struggle is also important because it is crystallizing an alliance within the labor movement. Anchored by sister Unite Here locals 34 and 35, the university support staff, and the Yale Union Retirees Association, support has been pouring in from sheet metal workers and building trades to bus drivers and healthcare workers as well as the AFL-CIO.
 
At the same time, the struggle is forging new alliances between labor and the environmental movement and the community.  Local 33 has not limited its attention to the immediate conditions of the graduate teachers.  On their website, 33WallSt.org, they have exposed Yale’s corporate ties to the fossil fuel industry and environmentally destructive corporations, pulling the rug out from under the University’s claim to leadership on climate change. They have shed light on Yale’s ties to vulture capitalists like Trump’s Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross who have devastated communities including New Haven through plant closings and massive fraudulent home foreclosures.

Extraordinary organizing is being done by New Haven Rising, the union’s community allied organization. “Our fight is for jobs,” exclaims director Rev. Scott Marks, who leads nightly door knocking in neighborhoods with high unemployment, largely Black and Latino, making the connections to the graduate teachers struggle for a union.

The community that has emerged in solidarity with Local 33 is the hope for the future.  Each day new visitors and conversations at the 33 Wall St site open up new and often unexpected relationships.  Community groups and supporters come to hold their meetings there including the Democratic Town Committee, the Working Families Party and the Communist Party.  Muslim, Christian and Jewish services have been held there. Families have celebrated special occasions there. Graduate teachers marched from there with immigrant workers on May Day. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp have visited numerous times. Dozens of young people are coming into leadership there.

On the first day of the fast, Local 33 president Aaron Greenberg said that he hoped the action would inspire joy in the struggle, provide strength and bring people together.

When the diverse outpouring of support becomes evident in the demonstration outside Yale’s commencement on Monday, May 22, the statement to Yale and Trump will be clear: no institution, even a $25 billion elite university, is too big to be forced to treat workers with dignity and respect.  The graduate teachers and their many allies will call on Yale’s President Salovey to end the fast and sit down at the collective bargaining table.

Fasters Expose Yale-Trump Axis

May 9 People's World
by Art Perlo and Joelle Fishman

When Yale University refused to negotiate a first contract with graduate workers following an overwhelming NLRB election victory in eight departments, it was clear that this $25 billion institution was relying on their Trump administration connections to torpedo recognition of UNITE HERE Local 33.

Instead of giving up in despair, the determined graduate teachers launched a “fast against slow.” Eight Local 33 leaders inspired by Gandhi, César Chávez and Martin Luther King, Jr. decided they would not eat or drink anything except water until President Peter Salovey begins talks. In Beinecke Plaza adjacent to the administration building and Salovey’s office, the union erected a structure which is staffed around the clock.

The graduate workers’ courageous stand for democratic rights and union rights is inspiring widespread support as part of the national resistance against Trump’s anti-worker policies.
The ties between Yale and the Trump administration run deep. On day ten of the fast, Local 33 turned a public spotlight on the connection with Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce and the wealthiest member of Trump’s cabinet of billionaires.

Ross’ $10 million donation to Yale’s business school, the School of Organization and Management (SOM), bought naming rights to the school’s library, and a seat on SOM’s Board of Advisors.
On May 5, graduate teachers from Local 33 infiltrated SOM and hung a large banner on its front, renaming it “Trump University.” Other union members sat down in front of  the library, chanting “Trump, Ross, Salovey! Negotiate without delay!” They were charged with creating a disturbance.
Meanwhile, the eight hunger strikers sat outside in the pouring rain, while 150 supporters picketed, wearing posters of Salovey with Trump’s orange hair.

The union issued a research paper, detailing the Yale-Ross-Trump connection.

Wilbur Ross is best known as the “king of bankruptcy.” He acquired his billions by buying up bankrupt companies like LTV and Bethlehem Steel, stripping their assets, devastating their communities and leaving their workers without jobs and with little or no pensions.
During the bankruptcy proceedings of the Atlantic City Trump Taj Majal, Ross struck a deal favorable to Trump that led Bloomberg Businessweek to call Ross the President’s “former savior.”
Ross was also connected with the mortgage company AHMSI, later sold to Ocwen Financial. These companies participated in the wave of millions of foreclosures nationwide, often accompanied by bad faith and outright fraud.

In New Haven, the struggling city whose center is occupied by Yale, many working class families have been foreclosed and evicted, some caused by the Ross-connected companies.

Yale’s endowment has investments in these mortgage companies. While graduate teachers protested at Yale’s SOM, eight retirees from Locals 34 and 35, representing the university’s support staff, sat in at Yale’s investment office. They demanded to meet with the chief investment officer, outraged that their pension funds are invested in predatory companies associated with the Trump administration.
At the same time, UNITE-HERE union members in Palm Beach, Florida picketed in front of Ross’ home, and a spirited group protested in Washington, DC at the Department of Commerce which Ross heads.

The union has established a special website 33wallstreet.org to expose other aspects of Yale’s ties to Trump and its unsavory investment strategy.

Yale’s graduate teachers explain that they want a union because they have poverty wages and need a grievance procedure to resolve the racism and sexual abuse they experience on campus.

In February, the graduate teachers, who do much of the undergraduate teaching and grading at the University, won union elections in eight departments. The elections had been ordered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after twenty five years of stalling by the University, which has consistently denied the teachers’ right to a union.

Instead of accepting the elections, certified by the NLRB, Yale has refused to negotiate with the union, and has appealed the NLRB ruling.

The union submitted petitions with the names of 12,000  Yale students and workers, New Haven and Connecticut residents, and city and state elected officials. But Yale would not negotiate.

So on April 25, eight graduate workers began the “fast against slow.” They are checked by medical professionals daily, and when one has to drop out another graduate worker takes their place.
The union accused Yale of deliberate stalling — dragging out appeals until Trump appoints new members to the NLRB who will likely support Yale’s contention that the graduate workers are not really workers and declare the election results invalid.

Whatever its liberal image, in reality Yale University profits from its relationships with the Trump Administration.

In addition to Ross, Trump appointed two other Yale alumni to his cabinet: Wall St. financier Steven Mnuchin is Secretary of the Treasury, and retired neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson is Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Trump also appointed Yale alumnus Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder of the Blackstone Group, as adviser on economic policy.
The struggle has attracted national media attention. Daily marches, rallies and other actions in solidarity with the fasters, have inspired Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and Mayor Toni Harp, dozens of clergy and community organizations, fifty campus faculty and 1,000 undergraduate students to stand together against this Yale-Trump axis.

Singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, in New Haven for a performance, came to the site with bottles of water saying the fast will “carry to the very heart of America.”

The battle for workers’ rights that Local 33 graduate teachers have taken head-on is ground zero of the battle for all workers’ rights in our country today.