When Workers Fight: NUHW Wins Battle with Kaiser

National Union of Healthcare Workers

National Union of Healthcare Workers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Cal Winslow, Beyond Chron

The therapists, counselors, and social workers at Kaiser Permanente in California have won a magnificent victory. In a last minute retreat, in the face of an open-ended strike, Kaiser, the giant California health care corporation, settled with 1400 workers and their union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

The therapists’ victory is a landmark, in healthcare and above all in mental healthcare. The bottom line: these workers have won patient care ratios, they’ve won the right to advocate for patients, and they won these in a context of a nationwide drive to cut costs and press productivity in an industry awash in cash.

For Barry Kamil, a psychologist with 34 years experience at Kaiser in Richmond, CA, “It’s an historic victory. It puts our union in the forefront of the movement for getting mental health care on par with medical care.  Kaiser’s resistance has been unbelievable; they wanted to eliminate us as a union.”

The Kaiser workers won on economic demands as well; 6 % the first year, 4.5% plus bonuses in the second and third years of a three year contract. They protected their pension benefits; Kaiser – what’s new – proposed erasing their defined benefit plan.
Continue reading

Detroit Bankruptcy Takes Aim at Pensions

Last year Detroiters protested the “emergency manager” law, Public Act 4, that yesterday enabled an appointed official to put their city’s fate in the hands of a bankruptcy judge. Photo: Stephen Boyle.

Detroit hit the Trifecta yesterday—the third in a series of body blows that politicians have landed on the city’s working people.

The Michigan legislature passed “right-to-work” in December and gave the governor the right to impose “emergency managers” on cities two days later. When Detroit’s emergency manager Kevyn Orr announced Chapter 9 bankruptcy Thursday, he was following a predicted trajectory that will lead to further impoverishment and privatization. Continue reading

The Real Causes—and Real Solutions— to the U.S. Pensions Crisis

By Jack Rasmus

Jack Rasmus

A pension crisis of major dimensions is growing in the US across all three forms of defined benefit plans (DBPs)—public, private single employer, and private multi-employer plans.

Corporate America and its political friends have begun to use the economic crisis that commenced in 2007 as an opportunity to initiate and expand yet another offensive aimed at further undermining defined benefit pensions in the U.S. Having already begun in 2009-10 with a new attack by governors on public employees’ pension plans, the Corporate Offensive over the subsequent eighteen months has expanded to include new coordinated attacks on private sector multi-employer and single employer DBPs as well.

Contrary to corporate, press and politicians’ claims, the crisis in pensions has had nothing to do with pension benefit increases for the workers. In many cases pension benefits have been frozen or actually reduced over the past decade and especially so since 2008.

Rather the crisis is directly attributable to government and corporate policies that have been implemented over the past thirty years—including, but not limited to, two decades of government encouraged management practices reducing pension funding, stagnant jobs and wage growth since 2001, massive speculative investment losses by pension funds, the collapse of the economy, jobs, and pension contributions after 2007, and the failure of the US economic recovery to restore jobs and wages the past three years, 2009-12.

Brief Overview of the Pensions Funding Gap

Multi-employer defined benefit pensions in the 1990s averaged shortfalls in funding (i.e. ratio of assets to liabilities) of only a very manageable $30 billion throughout the decade.

A 2009 Report by the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, the quasi-government agency responsible for ensuring pension funds stability and solvency in the private sector, had a funding shortfall of $355 billion. A similar scenario applies to ratios and shortfalls in funding for single employer pensions, with funding shortfalls of approximately $407 billion. The highly respected Pew Center’s 2008 estimated public sector pensions gap for 2008 of $452 billion.

But the shortfalls in all the defined benefit pensions are overwhelming the result of economic conditions, government policies, and corporate practices over the past 12 years. In 1999, state public employee pensions were 103% funded, according to the Pew Center. Similarly, private pensions—multi-employer as well as single employer—were in good shape at the beginning of 2000. Whatever has happened is therefore clearly a consequence of events and policies since 2000.

Employers sense an opportunity today to falsify the facts regarding the causes of defined benefit pension shortfalls, and to use that falsification to attack and dismantle what’s left of defined benefit pensions that now cover barely 18% of the workforce compared to three decades ago when the percentage of coverage was two thirds or more. What facts are being conveniently ignored in this new corporate offensive?

Corporate Manipulation of the Pension Funding Gap

Corporations have not hesitated to take advantage of the funding gap that they themselves have largely created, with the help of compliant politicians.

On the multi-employer side, the employer new offensive is evident in a series of banks’ reports claiming the funding gap is even greater than it is. By making extreme low-ball assumptions on returns, banks’ research departments and corporations argue the gap for multi-employer plans is significantly higher than even the PBGC has estimated. Their conclusion is major reductions in pension benefits are therefore required, even though pension benefit payments are not the source of the problem.

This strategy of overestimation of the funding gap, cherry-picking the worst assumptions and then extrapolating the losses in a straight line out for decades, has been adopted as well by governors and state politicians intent on cutting pension benefit payments to resolve a crisis workers did not create.

Continue reading

Waste Company Locks Out Teamsters in Bid to Eliminate Pensions

By Josh Eidelson

Josh Eidelson

Following private sector trend, Republic Services/Allied Waste insists on 401(k) plans

At 9 p.m. Tuesday night, the country’s second-largest waste disposal company locked 79 workers out of their jobs. The day before, Republic Services/Allied Waste gave the Evansville, Ind., workers an ultimatum: accept management’s “last, best and final” offer, or be locked out of work. The union, Teamsters Local 215, blames the lockout on management’s insistence on permanently eliminating workers’ pensions.

“It’s a kind of extraordinary move in labor relations to lock workers out unilaterally,” says Louis Malizia, assistant director of the Teamsters Capital Strategies Department. “So there could be a return to work—the company need only open the gates and then let workers continue to work while they try to resolve issues at the bargaining table.”

Continue reading