Author Archives: afscme

Puerto Rico bondholders balk at deal to divide sales taxes

Source: Bond Buyer, June 12, 2018 (Subscription required)
 
Major Puerto Rico bondholders are balking at a tentative agreement that would steer to owners of sales-tax-backed debt a large chunk of the revenue they’ve been pledged, threatening to prolong a fight over one of the biggest issues in the island’s record-setting bankruptcy.  The so-called ad hoc group of general-obligation bondholders told a U.S. court it has objections to the potential deal that court-appointed agents for the commonwealth and the entity that sold Puerto Rico’s sales-tax debt, called Cofinas, released last week. The deal triggered a rally in the price of the Cofina bonds, which would be repaid first and receive more than half of the sales-tax receipts that were dedicated to repaying the securities. …

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Judge orders information for possible independent Puerto Rico bond investigation
Source: Robert Slavin, Bond Buyer, June 7, 2018 (Subscription required)
 
Title III bankruptcy Magistrate Judge Judith Dein ordered the Puerto Rico oversight board and government to provide more information for a possible independent investigation into the territory’s debt.  The Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, led by attorney Luc Despins, asked in mid-May to be allowed to conduct its own investigation, which would start no later than Aug. 15. The committee said an existing investigation, being conducted by Kobre & Kim under a Sept. 1, 2017, contract, is undermined by the potential bias of three board members who have present or past connections to Puerto Rico’s municipal finance industry. It fails to look into “identifying bad actors or potential causes of action” against existing debt, the committee argued. …

Democrats call for 9/11-style commission to investigate Trump Puerto Rico response
Source: Frank Dale, ThinkProgress, June 6, 2018
 
Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are calling for an independent commission to investigate the Trump administration’s response to Hurricane Maria and the storm’s aftermath in Puerto Rico.  During a news conference on Wednesday, Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) requested an investigation “similar to what we had in 9/11 to examine the death toll, the federal response and how federal agencies such as FEMA may have responded sluggishly based on artificially low numbers.” Velazquez vowed to introduce legislation that would lead to the creation of an independent commission — though passing it in the current Republican-controlled Congress will be a challenge. … 

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Unions try to thwart $250M Southampton hospital project

Source: Aidan Gardiner, The Real Deal, June 12, 2018
 
Three unions — the Civil Service Employees Association, New York State United Teachers and the Public Employees Federation — are trying to block state legislation necessary to build a $250 million hospital on Stony Brook’s Southampton’s campus, 27 East reported. The unions don’t like the plan for operating the hospital once it’s built, saying that the majority of the employees would not be subject to civil service laws. The legislation, which needs to be voted on before the legislature closes on June 20, would allow Stony Brook to lease the property to the nonprofit Southampton Hospital Association, which would then raise the money to build the hospital. …

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State Unions Throw Up Roadblock To Key Bill Clearing The Way For New Hospital In Southampton
Source: Joseph P. Shaw, 27 East, June 8, 2018
 
State unions are working to block legislation to clear the way for Stony Brook Southampton Hospital to begin raising money for a new facility on the college campus, apparently concerned about the potential future impact on the workers they represent. … But a trio of state unions representing workers at hospitals like Stony Brook University Hospital, which is owned and operated by the State University of New York system, have formally opposed the legislation, worried that it might be an attempt to move jobs from the public sector to the private sector. At issue is the unusual arrangement at the heart of plans for the new hospital, a key to the affiliation agreement between the former Southampton Hospital and the Stony Brook system that was finalized less than a year ago, according to Mr. Chaloner. … Three state unions—the Civil Service Employees Association, New York State United Teachers and the Public Employees Federation—issued a memo strongly opposing the legislation. Their concerns, Mr. Chaloner said, are rooted in the fact that Southampton Hospital was a private entity, and its workers remain represented by a different union focusing on the private sector, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. …

Iowa auditor agrees to examine privatized Medicaid savings to see why estimates abruptly tripled

Source: Tony Leys, Des Moines Register, June 8, 2018 
Iowa’s state auditor has agreed to look into the see-sawing estimates of how much Iowa taxpayers are saving by having private companies run the state’s $5 billion Medicaid program.  Department of Human Services leaders last month abruptly tripled their estimate of those annual savings, from $47 million to $140.9 million, without explanation.  The new estimate was still 39 percent less than the $232 million that former Gov. Terry Branstad predicted state taxpayers would be saving by now under his controversial decision to privatize the health care program for 600,000 poor or disabled Iowans.  State Sen. Pam Jochum, an outspoken critic of Medicaid privatization, asked State Auditor Mary Mosiman last month to look into what was going on with the estimates. …

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Iowa’s estimated savings from Medicaid privatization triples to $141 million, after plummeting 80 percent
Source: Tony Leys, Des Moines Register, May 18, 2018
 
The state’s official estimate of how much Medicaid privatization is saving Iowa taxpayers has suddenly tripled, a few months after it had plummeted 80 percent.   The Iowa Department of Human Services provided no explanation of how it came up with the new number.  State administrators now estimate the annual savings at $140.9 million, according to a letter they sent this week to a legislator. In December, their savings estimate was $47 million for the current budget year, which runs through June.  Former Gov. Terry Branstad predicted in 2017 that the savings for this budget year would be $232 million.  David Hudson of Windsor Heights, who leads an official advisory committee on Iowa’s Medicaid program, expressed frustration after reading a letter from the department to a legislator who asked for the savings estimate. …

Iowa House again passes Medicaid oversight legislation
Source: James Q. Lynch, The Gazette, April 23, 2018
 
The Iowa House once again has unanimously approved legislation providing oversight of Medicaid managed care to deal with what the bill’s manger called “bumps in the road.”  The House earlier passed similar legislation, but it failed to meet a deadline in the Senate. So the House passed House File 2483 on a 95-0 vote. The earlier version was approved 97-0. … The bill makes a statement “to the Department of Human Services, to the citizens out there who are being served by these managed care organizations, to the providers, that we feel very strongly in doing what we can to provide oversight over the process of this privatized Medicaid approach that has created so many bumps in the process and taken up so much of our time,” Heaton said. …

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Hell on Wheels

Source: Kiera Feldman, ProPublica, June 4, 2018
 
Even in the bruising, often chaotic world of New York’s nighttime trash collection, Sanitation Salvage cuts a distinctively brutish profile. Its role in Diallo’s death — and, in April, the death of an elderly Bronx man run down while crossing the street with a cane — has set off a firestorm for the company as well as the city agency that oversees the commercial trash industry.  An investigation by Voice of America and ProPublica, drawing on thousands of pages of public documents and interviews with more than a dozen current and former workers, depicts a workplace environment in which concerns about safety, as well as workers’ rights and compensation, are flouted despite years of complaints from workers to regulators.  Records show that more than three-quarters of Sanitation Salvage trucks have been ordered off the road after federal safety checks. Yet the company has paid lobbyists to fight local legislation that backers say would compel haulers to improve on working conditions and safety. …

Jenne introduces bill to create public benefit corporation for Massena Hospital

Source: Abraham Kenmore, Watertown Daily Times, June 1, 2018
 
A bill introduced by Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne, D-Theresa, on Tuesday would move the publicly owned Massena Memorial Hospital into a public benefit corporation, shifting financial responsibility away from the town while keeping the hospital from going private. … The Massena Memorial Hospital has been looking to find a private hospital to affiliate with for several years now, as the hospital continually operates at a loss. At the end of 2017, the hospital reported it had a net annual loss of $5.6 million — an improvement over the prior year when it had lost $6.8 million. … The bill is supported by the state Civil Service Employees Association, whose Local 887 represents hospital employees.  “This is supported, we have supported in the past and continue to support,” said Mark Kotzin, spokesman for CSEA. “CSEA has always been opposed to privatizing the hospital.”  Mr. Kotzin said the union had been working with Ms. Jenne for some time. …

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Massena Memorial Hospital sees big financial improvement, but still finishes January in the red
Source: Andy Gardner, North Country Now, February 28, 2018
 
Massena Memorial Hospital finished January in the red but saw a significantly lower net loss than in previous months, where they were bleeding huge sums of money. The hospital lost $61,556 in January, which is down sharply from the $1.8 million loss they booked for December. … At the December meeting, Kerrie French, the president of MMH’s CSEA chapter, expressed concern over the hospital’s leasing a Da Vinci robotic surgery tool. She questioned the hospital for paying the lease at a time when she says staff are being cut. MMH CEO Robert Wolleben said the tool is being used elsewhere in the region and is bringing in patients who would have gone to other facilities. A statement given to the press at the close of the meeting says the tool “offers patients less blood loss, less pain, shorter hospital stay, and small incisions for minimal scarring.” …

Massena Memorial lost more than $5 million in 2017; CFO says operation deficit was less than 2016
Source: Andy Gardner, North Country Now, January 22, 2018
 
After losing $1.8 million in December, Massena Memorial Hospital finished 2017 more than $5 million in the red, but financial documents show they generated more income than last year and ended with a smaller loss from operations.  “We did better than the previous year, it’s not exactly where we want to be but it’s better than the previous year by $1.2 million … generated $6 million more net revenue than the previous year because of new physicians, new services,” MMH CFO Pat Facteau said. … The head of MMH’s CSEA chapter questioned their use of the device at a time when she says positions are being cut.  “I know there’s been some cutbacks on staffing. With this DaVinci tool, I’ve heard it’s $18,000 a month for rental. Are we actually making $18,000 a month to at least break even? Without leasing that, it would save us a lot of jobs,” union president Kerri French asked.  Wolleben said her figure was wrong, and they are paying $15,200 a month on a lease. He says they acquired it to stay competitive in the region and they need to perform a few procedures per month to break even. …

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D.C. Circulator operations contract going to a new provider

Source: Luz Lazo, Washington Post, June 4, 2018
 
The District plans to award a 5-year, $140-million contract for the operation of the D.C. Circulator to RATP Dev, a provider of transit systems in cities across four continents, including Washington where it runs the D.C. Streetcar.  The goal is to have a contract in place by July 1 to allow for a 90-day transition; RATP Dev would be the operator effective Oct. 1. The deals needs approval by the D.C. Council.  RATP Dev will run day-to-day operations of the six-route bus system, taking over from First Transit, which has run the Circulator since its inception in 2005. …

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Exclusive: Audit finds DC Circulator buses crumbling, unsafe for service
Source: Max Smith, WTOP, April 7, 2016

Ninety-five percent of DC Circulator buses inspected by an outside firm had at least one safety problem so significant they should have been pulled from service, according to an audit obtained exclusively by WTOP. Transit Resource Center, an independent transit consulting firm, conducted the audit last August, but it was closely guarded until now. The audit found an “unacceptable” number of the most serious safety defects in the Circulator fleet. … Overall, the audit finds the D.C. Department of Transportation and Metro have failed to carry out effective oversight of First Transit, the private contractor that operates the Circulator. DDOT owns the buses, and contracts with Metro to oversee First Transit. The audit notes that First Transit keeps buses for the Potomac and Rappahannock Transit Commission in Northern Virginia up to industry standards with about three smaller defects per bus, but falls woefully short when it comes to the Circulator.

District Exploring a Semi-Privatized Streetcar, Bus System
Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington City Paper, Housing Complex blog, June 26, 2012

Well, this could be a way to build a massive infrastructure project without busting the city’s budget: The District Department of Transportation is asking for ideas on how to bring in private capital for a 22-mile chunk of the original 37-mile streetcar system, and build it over the next five to seven years.

A request for information issued today also includes a proposal for a non-regional bus network, possibly independent from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority, that would include and expand upon the Circulator.

KanCare Contractor Must Fix Backlog Problems Soon Or Face Fines

Source: Jim McLean, KCUR, May 30, 2018
 
The company that processes applications for Kansas’ privatized KanCare Medicaid program faces potentially steep fines if it doesn’t fix problems, responsible for massive backlogs, by the end of this week. Maximus, a Maryland-based company that specializes in managing “human service programs” for states and the federal government, has operated the “KanCare Clearinghouse” since 2016. There have been problems from the start. In March 2016, federal officials grew concerned about growing backlogs and ordered the state to provide monthly reports about what it was doing to fix the problem. …

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Does KanCare work? The state’s data is so bad, legislative auditors can’t tell
Source: Andy Marso, Kansas City Star, May 9, 2018
 
A debate has raged in Kansas for years over KanCare, the privatized Medicaid plan enacted by Sam Brownback in 2013. Brownback and his successor, Jeff Colyer, have touted the program as a tremendous success that has saved the state $1 billion while improving care for 400,000 low-income and disabled Kansans. Democrats, provider groups and people who care for disabled Kansans have said it’s rife with billing problems, secrecy and decisions based more on money than quality care. … After a year of work, those auditors recently released their determination: the state’s data is so bad, there’s no way to know. “These data issues limited our ability to conclude with certainty on KanCare’s effect on service use and limited our ability to interpret cost trends,” the auditors wrote. “More significantly, data reliability issues entirely prevented us from evaluating KanCare’s effect on beneficiaries’ health outcomes.” …

Kansas lawmakers dispute over possible passing of current KanCare 2.0 plan
Source: Kate Inman, Four States, April 23, 2018
 
Some Kansas lawmakers say they’re frustrated the state could move forward with the current version of KanCare 2.0.  The KanCare Oversight Committee heard more than five hours of testimony today from dozens of groups and people calling on the state to not move forward with KanCare 2.0. KanCare is the state’s privatized medicaid program.   During the committee meeting, some lawmakers wanted to revoke the panel’s previous support for Governor Colyer’s plan for KanCare 2.0. Under his plan, the state would implement work requirements and other eligibility rules.  The committee chairman says there isn’t enough time for lawmakers to recommend changes to KanCare 2.0 while others say it’s their job. …

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Shovels Down: White House Drives Dagger Into Infrastructure Bill

Source: John T. Bennett, Roll Call, May 25, 2018
 
The White House formally drove a dagger into the passage this year of the kind of massive infrastructure package called for by President Donald Trump. What is on the White House’s legislative agenda for the rest of the year includes another tax package, a farm bill, more federal judiciary nominations — and possibly immigration legislation. White House legislative affairs chief Marc Short told reporters Friday that infrastructure will slide into 2019. He blamed election-year politics, saying Democrats have signaled in recent conversations they are uninterested in handing Trump a victory ahead of the midterm elections. …

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Opinion: Rebuilding Schools, Bridges—and Lives
Source: Richard Trumka and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Wall Street Journal, May 14, 2018

As unions, businesses, engineers and policy makers celebrate Infrastructure Week from May 14-21, we’re reflecting on the investments that add value to America. For every dollar a country spends on public infrastructure, it gets back nearly $3, according to a 2014 study from the International Monetary Fund. Keep this in mind when you hear that the American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, has called for $2 trillion to repair, renovate or replace water lines, public schools, bridges and mass transit systems. On top of that, another $2 trillion could make America the global leader in the infrastructure technologies of the future, such as high-speed rail and smart utilities. … When you see that the ASCE’s infrastructure report card gives the nation overall a D+, don’t hang your head. The U.S. can get that grade up. But it won’t happen with a plan like President Trump’s , which would cut Washington’s contribution to infrastructure projects from 80% to 20%, quadrupling the burden on cash-strapped cities and states. The true way forward is to do the opposite: Put the federal government back in the business of building America’s future. …

States That Raise Tolls and Taxes Will Have an Edge in Getting DOT Funds 
Source: Ted Mann, Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2018

States and cities that raise taxes and tolls will have a better chance at winning federal money for roads and bridges, part of a Trump administration strategy to have states carry a bigger portion of infrastructure spending. The move is a result of a Transportation Department overhaul to a popular infrastructure grant program, giving it a new name and tweaking the criteria that will determine which project applications will win federal funding. Under the overhaul, which was launched last week, applicants for grants this year will be judged in part on whether they can show that they have generated “new, non-Federal revenue” to help cover project costs, according to a DOT document. That will mean local agencies that raise taxes or tolls to pay for bridges, transit lines or road improvements will be more likely to win some of the $1.5 billion pool of funding authorized for the program this year. …

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Privatization Plan Defeated in NH

Source: Melissa Weinstein, AFSCME Now, May 30, 2018
 
What if you and your co-workers were forced to leave a job you loved, to which you’d dedicated your career, so that non-union private contractors could be hired for a fraction of the cost? More than 100 Nashua, New Hampshire, School District custodial workers had been facing that prospect for the past 2½ years. Until recently, that is.  Members of AFSCME Local 365 (AFSCME Council 93) finally won the battle against privatization of Nashua School Custodian services. Faced with the threat of politicians putting corporate interests before quality public services, members successfully mobilized to elect Nashua School Board members who understand the value and commitment of public service workers. Following that victory, the board voted 6-1 in late February to negotiate a new contract with AFSCME members, whose contract had expired in 2016. …

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Nashua BOE rejects privatization plan
Source: Hannah Laclaire, The Telegraph, February 28, 2018 (Abstract)
 
The Nashua Board of Education has rejected privatization, ending two and a half years of discussion about the topic and protecting more than 100 union service-based jobs within the district. … Last fall, the Supreme Court of New Hampshire sided with the Nashua School District in an appeal from the union that the district committed an unfair labor practice by refusing to bargain with the Nashua Custodial/Janitorial Staff concerning the district’s plan to move toward privatization at the end of the term of the “collective bargaining agreement between the parties.” …

School board-custodian case moves close to Supreme Court
Source: Tina Forbes, The Telegraph, September 22, 2016 (Abstract)

The Nashua School District is one step closer to having its case considered by the New Hampshire Supreme Court after the state Public Employee Labor Relations Board denied the district’s request for a rehearing on its plan to privatize some of its custodial workforce. The labor board handed down its decision on Tuesday, more than a month after the school board voted to appeal the labor board’s initial decision in favor of the district’s custodians.

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These U.S. Workers Are Being Paid Like It’s the 1980s

Source: Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg, May 25, 2018
 
Thanks to a web of loopholes and limits, the federal government has been green-lighting hourly pay of just $7.25 for some construction workers laboring on taxpayer-funded projects, despite decades-old laws that promise them the “prevailing wage.” Over the past year, the U.S. Department of Labor has formally given approval for contractors to pay $7.25 for specific government-funded projects in six Texas counties, according to letters reviewed by Bloomberg. Those counties are among dozens around the nation where the government-calculated prevailing wage listed for certain work—such as by some carpenters in North Carolina, bulldozer operators in Kansas and cement masons in Nebraska—is just the minimum wage. …

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Inviting Private Sector to Build Roads Raises Wage Questions
Source: Chris Opfer and Jasmine Ye Han, Daily Labor Report, April 13, 2018 (Subscription Required)
 
The Trump administration wants the private sector to take the wheel on many U.S. road and other upgrades, raising questions about whether construction workers will still get the compensation required under federal contracts. The Davis-Bacon Act obligates contractors to pay workers on federally funded construction projects a local prevailing wage and certain benefits set by the Labor Department. The law is meant to ensure that the government doesn’t shortchange workers. But some Republican lawmakers, businesses, and conservative advocacy groups say “prevailing wages” exceed market rates and bloat taxpayer-funded construction projects as a handout to labor unions. Although the law isn’t likely to be scrapped anytime soon, lobbyists have stayed busy pushing to get Davis-Bacon provisions explicitly included in new spending legislation. That activity ticked up following a post-recession infrastructure spending binge and kept the questions coming about which projects require prevailing wages. …

Trump’s Davis-Bacon Quote Turns Construction Industry Heads
Source: Elliot T Dube, Bloomberg BNA, April 14, 2017
 
Construction industry stakeholders got a jolt when President Donald Trump recently approached what a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official called a “third rail issue” for building trades unions: changes to the Davis-Bacon Act. Trump said in a New York Times interview published April 5 that he was “going to make an announcement in two weeks” regarding Davis-Bacon. The law requires contractors on federally funded construction projects to pay prevailing wages for a given area. …

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