Washington, D.C. – A group of healthcare professionals and SEIU members submitted an amicus brief in King v. Burwell on Wednesday to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of working families throughout America. The case under consideration challenges the power of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to issue tax credits to millions of working Americans who enroll in private health insurance through the federal healthcare exchange. The tax credits have meant that millions of working women and men in approximately 36 states have gained affordable, quality healthcare under the law and can now see a doctor, afford lifesaving prescription drugs, and be free of the fear of medical bankruptcy.
The healthcare professionals are members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), America’s largest healthcare union, which joined them in filing the brief.
The “friend of the court” brief takes apart the so-called “carrot and stick” premise presented by the petitioners of the court by making it clear that Congress never intended to present a “carrot” to incentivize states, nor a “stick” to penalize Americans in states that did not create and run their own state exchanges. Furthermore, the brief shows this theory is simply a politically motivated fabrication, not supported by the text of the law, by its purpose, by its legislative history, or by the understanding of any state when making the choice whether to create and operate its own state exchange.
SEIU member Marcus Sandling, M.D, signed on to the amicus brief to tell the court the risks are too high for the patients he sees in his internal medicine residency in a New Jersey hospital. “When patients can actually afford health insurance, it makes it much easier for them to develop a real relationship with their doctor,” Sandling said. “Patients with chronic illnesses like diabetes or hypertension become much more proactive about getting preventive care because they know they can afford to do it. In short, the law is working and as a physician, I’d hate to see these gains jeopardized by a court case.”
According to healthcare experts, healthcare coverage for more than 8 million working people hangs in the balance in this case, as well as the risk that healthcare premiums would increase dramatically–by as much as 35 percent–for many more Americans.
The court will hear oral arguments in the case March 4 and SEIU nurses, doctors and healthcare workers will be there to share their stories of how the law is improving the health of their patients.
SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said, “We are confident the law was written to improve the lives of all Americans, no matter where they live or where they work, and the court will not allow a political agenda to endanger the health of so many working people who are counting on the affordable healthcare the law delivers.”
When we set out to get a Cal/OSHA workplace violence prevention regulation in place to cover all healthcare workers in the state of California, many people said it would be 10 years or more before we saw anything like that. Some said it was just flat out impossible. Our response then was the same as it is today: We will not only get this done, we will do it in less than 4 years … and guess what? We are right on target!
This past year, we’ve gone from submitting our petition to the Cal/OSHA Standards Board, to having it accepted, to moving quickly into the process of getting the actual regulation written. Along the way, we’ve educated, mobilized, and organized around the hazard of workplace violence in the healthcare industry.
We are now in the first weeks of our third full year of the campaign and we believe that a draft of the regulation will go to the Cal/OSHA Standards Board by the first week of June. They will then take a few months to review that language and bring it to committee and public comment before voting. The good news is that Governor Brown signed into law SB 1299 requiring Cal/OSHA to have a workplace violence prevention regulation for healthcare workers promulgated by June 2016 (a law that we were successful in amending to ensure that the scope of our regulation would not be limited).
We hit the ground running in 2015. We anticipate reviewing the first draft of the regulation very soon and are coordinating a task force of healthcare workers to do a first read with us. (If you are interested in being part of that group, please email or call Richard at 626-375-6426.)
Aside from working on the regulation itself, we are gearing up for two actions that will coincide around Workers Memorial Day – one in the Los Angeles area and one in Sacramento. When we have the details in place, we’ll post the information here.For now, save the dates of April 29 (Los Angeles) and May 6 (Sacramento) for these “Safe Workers Save Lives” actions.
Finally, Cal/OSHA’s next meeting about the regulation is scheduled for Thursday, February 5, at the Caltrans Building (100 South Main Street) in Los Angeles. This will be a critical meeting for everyone to attend because it is to discuss the first draft of the regulation. Please save the date and email Kathy to let us know you’ll be there.
There is no doubt you have heard about the fight for living wages by now, as protests sweep across the country to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour. It seems like a no-brainer to those of us who have ever struggled to make ends meet, or even those of us who have witnessed the rising costs of living, especially in the metropolis of Los Angeles. Not to mention the lack of time-off, wage theft enforcement, and guaranteed sick days, as if these are all optional human considerations in this day and age.
Last week, Voices from the Valley and Well LA organized a story sharing of individuals who have witnessed firsthand the devastating impact of today’s working conditions. Ingela Dahlgren, SEIU Nurse Alliance of California’s Executive Director, was among the panel of participants who shared particularly moving and uniting stories that had everyone ready to protest and stand up for their rights by the end. The gathering was hosted at MEND Center for Poverty in Pacoima, CA, a lean nonprofit dedicated to providing food, clothing, healthcare, job services, and more to help break the bonds of poverty and create a self-reliant, caring community in the San Fernando Valley (SFV).
The event kicked off with Council member Felipe Martinez speaking on his commitment to his community and constituents to raise the minimum wage. Listen on as we share the stories of your neighbors:
Lydia Flores is a single mother of an Autistic child and works as a Cashier at Smart & Final. Her work provides no sick days and she struggles with taking her child to the hospital yet also having enough to pay the bills. A mother shouldn’t have to chose between her child and surviving, especially when working full-time. This needs to change.
Mike Prysner is a recent veteran who was unable to find a job after coming home from service despite his best efforts. This is due to the lack of transition we have for our veterans in translating their combat skills to today’s world. Veterans are twice as likely to be unemployed, and 20% of those unemployed in this country are actually female veterans. This should not be the case for our hardworking brothers and sisters who come back after service to this country. This should be recognized.
Ingela Dahlgren had a few stories to share about the cases she has witnessed as a nurse, such as seeing four little girls come in progressively ill from a cold transforming into bronchitis and infections simply because their father and mother were unable to take any days off without risking being laid off. Another gentlemen lost his foot from progressive development of diabetes because he was unable to take off his work to get it checked out. The tragedy is that his right foot was his source of livelihood for controlling the forklift. She also spoke of her co-worker Rosa, who continually had to come in sick because her contracting company did not allow paid sick leave. It is unacceptable for any individual to disregard health issues for themselves or their family because their employers refuse to recognize the importance of personal safety and health. This is a grave disregard.
Lupe Galindo had a particularly emotional testimony as a student who was born and raised in SFV. She comes from a family who has struggled and her father was a victim of wage theft, the illegal withholding of wages or benefits that are rightfully owed. She told us all that, “I know there are families everyday who attend to others but cannot attend to themselves or their own family.” This is injustice.
Laura Macias had much to say in Spanish that was fortunately translated for all of us to understand, including her two children proudly listening in. She currently works at two separate McDonalds despite their poor treatment and stressful work environment. She has lived in Pacoima for 10 years and recalled that before moving there, all she heard about were how many problems there were in Pacoima, but that this wasn’t true in actuality. Their local high school graduation rate happens to be over 99%, one of the highest in the nation, with 95% going on to college, a true example of what community service and goodwill can accomplish. One day, when Laura asked her employer if she could leave her shift early to take her sick son to see the doctor, she was coldly told she would have to let them know a month in advance. Despite being an upstanding employee, her management retaliated by lowering her hours and not providing a single raise for three years. When the minimum wage was finally raised in 2009, her wage received only a .05 cent increase to match. Despite her calm poise at sharing this event, the shock and fury of the crowd was palpable . This cruel behavior should never be tolerated in the workplace and these corporations should be held accountable for their inhumane attitudes towards the employees who make their success possible. This will change.
By the end, we were all in agreement that this is our time to speak powerfully and that we should be proud to share our stories, never ashamed. Indeed, it is our right to live a good life, to be able to spend time with our families, and live stress free. As a union of California nurses, we are committed to standing up for the rights of all individuals and protecting their health and safety, including raising the minimum wage to provide relief to those who may be suffering. There is a shift developing; locally, nationally, and globally. This is just the beginning.