The Blog of the Frances Perkins Center

Archive for May, 2009|Monthly archive page

Single-payer proponents ask for a seat at the table

In Legislation Today on May 15, 2009 at 1:02 pm

The Senate Finance Committee, under Chair Max Baucus (D-Montana), has been holding hearings on health care reform, one of which was held last Tuesday. Proponents of a single-payer health care system–modeled on Medicare and, like Frances Perkins’s most significant accomplishment, Social Security, available to all–were upset that they did not have a representative at the table at any of these hearings. Jerry Call, who attended our conference on May 2nd and spoke up there for the single-payer system, was one of the protestors at the May 12th hearing. Here’s a YouTube video of that event (Jerry appears after about 7 minutes).

Here’s what Jerry said at our conference, talking about the discussion that took place in the Health Care for All workshop:

We’re basically faced with two choices. In probably June or July or maybe as late as August, the Administration will come out with a mandatory for-profit insurance program similar to what Massachusetts has done and failed at. And I think the sense of the group was that we’re pretty much going to lay down and accept it. We’re going to go with the political will of this mandatory insurance program. We’re not going to get a public program out of it. Not only is it not feasible, it’s not advisable. And Baucus already said last week that he is putting it aside, which is the same thing as if  he said it is off the table. It’s off.

So the other option to that is, the other side that we discussed was, well, we could be idealists, if you will. We could step out there and try to do something about it. We could stand up for our principles and say “Let’s go out and let’s demand a single payer Medicare for all system.” So that’s the simple choice. I mean, you can either go out and demand it or you can just lay back and take what Obama will give you. Which is a mandatory for-profit insurance system.

On the same day as the Senate Finance Committee Hearing, May 12, sent an email to members asking them to call their senators and urge them to make sure that a Medicare-based health insurance option stays in the president’s plan. They claim that the Republicans are planning to kill that option:

Luntz wrote a confidential memo that laid out the Republican strategy: Pretend to support reform. Mislead Americans about the heart of Obama’s plan, the public health insurance option. Scare enough people to doom real reform.

If you want to know more about that public health insurance option, check out The Case for Public Plan Choice in National Health Reform: Key to Cost Control and Quality Coverage by Jacob S. Hacker of Berkeley. Here’s the PDF: Jacob_Hacker_Public_Plan_Choice


Western Maine Labor Council recognizes Frances Perkins and the Center

In Events on May 11, 2009 at 7:10 am

On May 2nd, the Western Maine Labor Council held their annual breakfast observing Workers’ Memorial Day and May Day in Lewiston. It was attended by 150 people. Several awards were presented, including one to Frances Perkins and the Frances Perkins Center. Here’s what the Lewiston Sun-Journal reported:

A third award went to the late Frances Perkins and the newly created Frances Perkins Center in Newcastle.

Perkins, who had deep family roots in Maine, was the secretary of Labor under Franklin D. Roosevelt, the first female cabinet member, a principal author of the New Deal and a lifelong champion of working people and workers’ fundamental right to organize.

Leslie Manning, deputy director of the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Standards, delivered a dramatic biographical sketch of Perkins’ life beginning with her witnessing the tragic deaths of 146 young immigrant women in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City. The tragedy influence her life and led to her being known as “the Mother of the New Deal.” Her grandson, Maine resident Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall, accepted the award.

Read the full article here.

Leslie Manning and Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall at the WMLC breakfast

Leslie Manning and Tomlin Perkins Coggeshall at the WMLC breakfast

The end run around blocking change

In Legislation Today on May 6, 2009 at 4:10 pm

Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, wrote a fiery blog post in the Huffington Post last night: “Corruption is Dangerous to Your Health.” In it, he excoriates the corporate lobbyists who effectively block so much legislation that would improve the lives of all Americans, such as paid sick leave:

More than 160 countries, the Times tells us, have laws that ensure all their citizens receive paid sick leave and more than 110 of them guarantee paid leave from the first day of illness. The US does not. The reason goes no further than the influence of money on politics.

There’s a way to change this culture of corporate influence and it’s a piece of legislation called “The Fair Elections Now Act,” H.R. 1826 and S. 752. Here’s what Congressman John Larson and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree wrote in a join editorial in the Kennebec Journal yesterday:

The Fair Elections Now Act, which has been in the works for more than a year, takes the big money out of our political system and empowers small donors and average Americans. Our proposal, which would be entirely voluntary, would require candidates for Congress to qualify by raising at least 1,500 small contributions of between $5 and $100 from in-state residents. Once they qualify, they will receive an upfront grant, based on the average costs of winning campaigns in recent elections, for their primary campaigns; and if nominated, another grant for their general election campaign. Candidates will also receive a 4:1 match for in- state contributions. No individual may give more than $100 and that match will stop after a certain spending level is reached.

The Fair Elections Now Act builds on the experiences of states to perfect a system that has cleaned up local elections across the country. In Connecticut and Maine, more than 80 percent of candidates for the state Legislature now participate in a clean- elections system. The clean-elections laws in these states have let lawmakers get back to doing the people’s business, tackling big issues such as the economy and the environment without the influence of lobbyists and big donors.

Senator Durbin is the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, and Senator Arlen Specter is the co-sponsor. The House version is sponsored by Larson and has 24 co-sponsors. Without the need to raise millions of dollars to wage a competitive campaign, candidates (and thus, elected officials) would not be beholden to corporate pressuring. It’s not that the voices of corporations would be silenced; they would simply be a part of the chorus instead of the solo divas.

We advocates for social justice have a choice. In each battle — for health care, workers’ rights, etc. — we can fight the corporate interests lined up against us, or we can go to the root of the problem and free our legislative process from its addiction to corporate dollars. Systemic retooling is not easy but it’s the only way to make an end run around those powerful entities blocking change.

Frances would say, “Seize the moment — before it passes”

In Biography, Legislation Today, New Deal Legislation on May 6, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Much has been made of economist Paul Romer’s statement, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Yes, Congress passed the Economic Recovery Act, and yes, it was huge. But unfortunately, much of that money is now going to shore up states’ income-starved budgets — instead of stimulating the economy in new ways. And another huge amount has gone to shore up financial institutions, without a penny of that trickling down to regular people.

We’re not done, yet. I hope no one thinks that we are. We have decades of painful diminution to make up if we expect the middle class to return to its previous robustness, and that’s going to take massive investment. Of tax dollars.

If we don’t do it now, it may never happen. There may never be another chance, and the United States will continue its downward slide.

President Franklin Roosevelt and his Labor secretary, Frances Perkins, had a vision of the kind of place we could be living in today, the sort of standard of living we could be enjoying. It’s embodied in their “Economic Bill of Rights.” Their initial work — including social security, unemployment insurance, a minimum wage — was passed in 1935. But the rest of the list and most notably, national health care, was interrupted by the onslaught of World War II.

Yet, they never lost sight of those social justice goals.

January 11, 1944, FDR said this in an address:

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens.

As World War II came to a close, FDR and Perkins knew it was time to again turn to their social justice agenda. Unfortunately, illness and death intervened. FDR died on April 12, 1945, before these goals could be enacted.

Frances Perkins, upon hearing of FDR's death on April 12, 1945. (Image: NARA photo, SSA website

Frances Perkins, upon hearing of FDR's death on April 12, 1945. (Image: NARA photo, SSA website

Imagine what America would be like if these rights were recognized and supported. Sixty-five years after the “Economic Bill of Rights” was announced, we have the opportunity to make them real. But only if we move fast. Who knows what fate lies in store for us?

Advocating for a NEW New Deal

In Events, Uncategorized on May 6, 2009 at 1:23 pm

On Saturday, the Frances Perkins Center sponsored a conference called “The New New Deal: Building an Economy That Works for All of Us.” While, in a week or two, we’ll be releasing a report detailing the discussions and suggestions that came out of the conference, here are a few pictures. The conference was supported by grants from the Maine Department of Labor, the Women’s & Gender Studies Program at the University of Southern Maine, and Maine Initiatives: A Fund for Change.


Panelists included, from left to right: Cliff Ginn, Opportunity Maine; Garrett Martin, MECEP; Tim Belcher, MSEA/SEIU; John Christie, Augusta Career Center; Sarah Standiford, Maine Women's Lobby; Laura Boyett, Maine State Bureau of Unemployment

Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree chats with attendees before the start of the conference

Maine House Speaker Hannah Pingree chats with attendees before the start of the conference

Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman responds to a comment fom the audience

Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman responds to a comment fom the audience

Not shown are panel moderator Ben Dudley from Engage Maine and keynote speaker Dr. Teresa Ghilarducci.