The ongoing saga of congressional Democrats’ attempts to squeeze their ‘big, bold’ budget blueprint through the legislative process continues to unfold, though Reuters reports that President Biden and Democratic congressional leaders are finally nearing consensus and hope to reach a compromise later this week. President Biden met with 19 lawmakers on Tuesday, and after these meetings, Representative Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the Progressive Caucus, conceded that the spending package would likely be reduced to $1.9 to $2.2 trillion dollars over the next decade, though she still expressed her optimism about “getting to an agreement on a really transformational bill that will fundamentally lift people up.”
In the meetings on Tuesday, Biden reportedly informed members of the House Progressive Caucus that his proposal for free community college would not be included in the final reconciliation package. Additionally, The President revealed that the current child tax credit would likely be subject to butchery. Initially expanded under Biden’s American Rescue Plan (signed into law in March 2021), the CTC provides an automatic monthly payment of $250 to $350 per child for families with a gross income less than $150,000, and, in order to appease the demands of “moderate” Democratic Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), under the current negotiations it will (1) be extended merely one year instead of being made permanent; and (2) will become means-tested. Biden confirmed, however, that an expansion of Medicare to include vision, dental, and hearing services will remain in the bill, which has long been a priority of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
As centrist Democrats continue to insist on paring down the social spending package, it bears mentioning that Senate appropriators on Monday unveiled plans to increase military spending by an additional five percent for fiscal year 2022, which adds up to total defense spending of more than $7 trillion over the next 10 years, a telling juxtaposition that Esquire pointed out on Tuesday.
Officials with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) threatened on Tuesday to revoke approval of the state occupational safety plans in three GOP-controlled states — South Carolina, Arizona, and Utah — thereby asserting federal jurisdiction over workplace safety within these states. The move comes in response to these three conservative states’ having missed the deadline to implement the Biden Administration’s emergency regulations for healthcare facilities, which were designed to protect healthcare workers from the ravages of COVID-19 by requiring personal protective equipment, certain safety measures, and paid sick time. Under federal law, as labor reporter Dave Jamieson explains in HuffPost, states may administer their own workplace safety plans, so long as they are at least as protective of workers as federal regulations. Twenty-two states have enacted their own OSHA plans, and though these state plans must ostensibly comply with federal regulations, their enforcement tends to be much weaker. OSHA officials announced that if these three states fail to come into compliance with federal standards, however, federal inspectors could take over enforcement of workplace safety regulations within them. Jamieson notes that this saga could serve as a preview of the looming battles over the Biden Administration’s upcoming vaccine mandates for large employers, which many Republican-led states have vowed to resist.
Hospitals in New York have been rapidly consolidating in recent years, and the Empire State has come to be dominated by a small network of mammoth private health systems. In fact, forty-one New York hospitals have closed all of their inpatient services over the last 20 years, and the 12 largest hospital systems in the state now control 70 percent of all inpatient acute care beds. These mega-systems, which represent part of a national trend towards healthcare provider consolidation — and an even larger global trend toward greater capital concentration worldwide — command a large share of the market and tend to charge higher prices. In response to these conditions, a group of nine labor unions representing hundreds of thousands of workers in the state have launched a collaborative endeavor, titled The Coalition for Affordable Hospitals, to advocate for state action to address hospital consolidation and rising healthcare prices. “We’re launching this campaign because the days of our members being held hostage here in New York by predatory hospital pricing is coming to an end” declared Kyle Bragg, president of 32BJ SEIU. Among other things, the Coalition is supporting a bill in the New York State Senate that seeks to eliminate anti-competitive practices among hospitals and would provide payers with greater leverage to negotiate prices with healthcare providers. Some have suggested that a single-payer healthcare system would be the most effective solution to hospital consolidation.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported on Monday that as Tennessee labor unions are becoming more aggressive amid the nationwide labor shortage, business groups in the state and the GOP-dominated legislature are attempting to enshrine the state’s so-called “right-to-work” law into the state constitution. Tennessee has been a “right-to-work” state since 1947, the year that passage of the Taft-Hartley Act greenlit the anti-worker practice, which allows workers who are represented by a union, and thereby receive the higher wages, better healthcare, and other benefits of a union contract, to nonetheless refuse to pay union dues. The PRO Act, for what it’s worth, would prohibit “right-to-work” laws. The Tennessee General Assembly approved an amendment in April of this year to include “right-to-work” in the state constitution, which Tennessee voters will be asked to approve in a statewide referendum in November 2022. State lawmakers have insisted that “right-to-work” “has been one of the most important factors that has driven the economic growth of Tennessee,” ignoring the fact that workers in The Volunteer State, whose dismal union density is third-lowest in the country and less than half the national rate, enjoy an average income nearly 20 percent below the national average, the general trend for “right-to-work” states. Bill Dycus, president of the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council, has vowed that the AFL-CIO will fight aggressively to defeat next year’s ballot proposal.
Finally, some positive news to end the day, as faculty at the University of Pittsburgh overwhelming voted in favor of joining the United Steelworkers. The final vote count, tallied on Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, found that 1,511 faculty members voted to join the union, while 612 voted against. The successful organizing effort, which includes more than 3,000 tenured professors and part-time faculty, may portend a wave of unionization at Pitt, the city’s oldest university — four weeks ago, I noted that staff members at Pitt, those who are employed by the university but are not faculty or graduate students, had launched a separate unionization drive at all five of the university’s campuses. Though the election formally began at the end of the August, Tuesday’s vote is the exciting culmination of a five-year organizing campaign. The faculty will now select a bargaining committee to begin the process of negotiating a collective agreement with the university’s administration.