AMERICAN Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Lee Saunders issued the following statement in response to President Trump’s decision to end vital health care subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
He said: ‘With this decision, the president has ushered in the era of Trumpcare, under which Americans will have fewer coverage choices and face skyrocketing premium costs. By sabotaging the health care system just as open enrollment is set to begin, the president has all but guaranteed that insurers will abandon the market and working families will bear the brunt of the pain.
‘Americans will go broke, get sicker or worse because of this decision. There is no reasonable justification for the president to have taken this action. Making the lives of Americans leverage for political purposes is unacceptable. Congress must move forward quickly with legislation that builds on the progress made through the Affordable Care Act instead of sabotaging it.’
Meanwhile, SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry and 32BJ SEIU President Hector Figueroa issued the following statement on the deteriorating situation in Puerto Rico and the House-passed disaster relief bill. They said: ‘While Congress was taking its first steps to relieve the suffering in Puerto Rico, President Trump was making the situation worse with yet another early morning tweetstorm.
‘Threatening to pull out crucial first responders while the death toll keeps increasing is unconscionable and an affront to the oath he swore on January 20. His new nominee for Department of Homeland Security Secretary, who will be in charge of the response, should immediately and publicly commit to not scale back relief efforts or otherwise worsen the situation.
‘Unfortunately the bill passed by the House of Representatives today is the very least they could do to address the calamitous natural disasters battering our nation. This is a barebones down payment on what will ultimately be needed and SEIU members from New York to California are going to make their voices heard to ensure this down payment is fully realised.
‘The rising death toll is a direct result of the poor response effort. SEIU members are on the ground doing everything they can to help the sick. We demand the same from our elected leaders.’
• In an open letter published on Friday, NFL player Russell Okung, a Pro-Bowl linebacker for the Los Angeles Chargers, called on his colleagues to come together in a more organised manner as the focus on those ‘taking a knee’ or otherwise demonstrating against police violence and racial injustice has become the focus of threats and intimidation by President Donald Trump, the league, and team owners.
First published in the New York Times, the letter speaks to the power of Colin Kapearnik’s original protest message, one Okung laments has too often been lost in the conversation, but also to the systems at work that have kept players more divided in both their message and actions, especially compared to the league’s powerful owners.
He writes: ‘Currently, the will of the players who align with Kap’s message is being diluted. Rather than our collective voice prevailing in a way that spans the league, you are seeing individual teams respond separately to the protest in 32 different ways. It’s telling that these decisions are being made at the team level and not being driven by the interests of the players collectively.
‘Some teams are standing and locking arms. Some are staying in the locker room. And some are now being banned from protesting altogether. While many of us can be grateful that our ownership groups don’t take direct orders from the President, we are also aware that the owners are much more united than we are as players.
‘While I don’t have all the answers as to how to ensure we are not robbed of this moment, I am convinced that we will never make progress if we do not find a way to come together and take action that represents the will of the players. What we have is strength in numbers.’
Okung contends: ‘I’m about shifting the narrative. We can’t be distracted by what (Trump) is trying to do. We’re honing our voice. We’re not unified against Trump, we’re unified against social injustice.’
• Union workers at Saint John’s Medical Centre, who are in the midst of negotiating an agreement, picketed last Wednesday to protest at what they claim is understaffing at Santa Monica, California’s 75-year-old hospital.
The picket also was intended to draw attention to a plan that ‘would prohibit workers from publicly airing concerns about patient care,’ said officials for SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West (SEIU-UHW).
‘Our goal is to provide the best patient care but that’s hard to do when we’re short staffed and unable to respond to patients’ calls for help,’ Linda Phongsvej, a Respiratory Therapist at the hospital said in a statement.
She said: ‘Patients should have confidence that when they walk into the hospital that someone will respond as soon as possible. This is what my co-workers and I strive for, and why we are raising the issue of staffing.’
SEIU officials said a survey of 154 Saint John’s workers conducted last month found that 47% reported staffing cuts in their departments over the past year. More than a third ‘indicated that understaffing delays their ability to respond to patient call lights,’ union officials said.
Hospitals across the country are cutting staff as they grapple with flat reimbursements and escalating costs for salaries, medicines and supplies, according to STAT, a newsletter that focuses on the nation’s $3.4 trillion healthcare industry.
Saint John’s is Santa Monica’s fourth largest employer and had 1,750 employees last year, according the City’s Department of Economic Development. More than 450 workers at the hospital – including nursing assistants, licensed vocational nurses, respiratory therapists and pharmacy technicians – are members of SEIU.
Union officials say the hospital is proposing a ‘gag rule’ that prohibits workers from speaking publicly about patient care problems, calling it ‘an attempt to deter them from reporting serious issues.’
City Council member Kevin McKeown, who stopped by the picket, said understaffing was a ‘public safety issue’. Too few staffers at a big box retailer is an inconvenience, but understaffed hospitals are an urgent health care and public safety issue,’ McKeown said. Santa Monica residents and their families need to know that local hospital stays include adequate personnel on hand to tend to patient needs.’
• Electric car manufacturer Tesla – which is in the midst of ramping up production of the Model 3 – fired hundreds of workers last week at its headquarters and factory. In a statement, the company cited performance reviews as a reason for departures from its workforce of more than 33,000 and said that it is continuing to grow.
Workers estimated some 400-700 workers have been fired, however, the company expects that overall attrition will be similar to last year, and that this won’t impact Model 3 production.