Sunday, January 31, 2010, 11:49 AM - Political developmentsThis week a report from the Legislative Analyst Office (LAO) questions salary reductions of state personnel who are funded through targeted and user-funded mechanisms:
http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2010/stad ... 012710.pdf
The Workers' Comp Appeals Board is "user funded" by assessments on employers. Those assessments also fund Cal-OSHA and labor standards enforcement activities.
But WCAB staff have been subject to furloughs. The Governor plans salary cuts from which the WCAB staff would not be exempted. This is causing great consternation among WCAB staff and staff at other user funded agencies.
The LAO report by Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor notes that:
"It is unclear, however, why the administration chooses to implement the 5 percent unallocated cuts to parts of personnel budgets not funded by the General Fund. The administration's rationale communicated to our office-that the overall size of state government is too large-is arbitrary and not based on any reviews of specific program workloads or personnel effectiveness."
The LAO recommends to the legislature:
"The administration has not put forth a credible rationale why unallocated reductions should be extended to personnel expenses funded by special funds, federal funds, or other nongovernmental funds.
If the Legislature chooses to implement unallocated personnel reductions, we believe that it should do so only for General Fund personnel budgets in departments."
Will the administration back off its plan? Or will they trot out another lame spokesperson to defend this policy?
We shall see.
Friday, January 29, 2010, 08:56 AM - Political developmentsA "collapsed souffle in an unused kitchen in the back of an empty house"....
That sounds like a line from a writing of French surrealist Antonin Artaud, who wrote that "life is a costume grafted to a dead tree".
But the souffle line is from Peggy Noonan. Noonan, former Ronald Reagan speechwriter, and current Republican pundit, uses the line in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal to claim that healthcare reform is dead.
Noonan posits that, despite Obama's insistence that Congress not give up now....now when we are so close..., that "The bill will now get lost in the mists and disappear".
If Congressional Democrats were looking for a road map on healthcare reform, the State of the Union address offered few clues. We're almost into February without a clue as to how the White House proposes to rescue this sinking healthcare reform enterprise.
I've argued in the space recently for salvaging the effort with a scaled back bill to focus on politically popular elements such as eliminating preexisting conditions coverage refusals, allowing purchase of healthcare plans across state lines, eliminating other insurance carrier abuses such as recissions, creating incentives for doctors to practice primary care , and promoting clinics in underserved areas.
Healthcare economists will tell you that the trick is trying to keep costs down if preexisting condition coverage limits are banned. Will healthy people decide to avoid buying insurance coverage until they are sick? If millions of people game the system in that way then costs are shifted and premiums would rise .
There are ways to structure a ban on exclusions due to preexisting conditions, although they are not pretty and perhaps unworkable for many. To gain coverage individuals could be required to pay premiums retroactive to when they were diagnosed with the particular condition.But would this work? Such a solution would be unaffordable in all likelihood. A diabetic who either could not pay for coverage or chose not to pay for coverage could go for years without coverage before developing expensive complications. Do we allow insurers to then refuse coverage for this person (as happens now) or do we allow them to purchase coverage? And if we allow them to purchase coverage do we exclude coverage for the diabetes itself or only for its complications? Or do we provide full coverage for that person even though they did not pay into the system for years?
Perhaps we could force insurers to write coverage for people who have underlying chronic diseases provided that they purchase the insurance while the disease is relatively quiescent. Under that scenario a diabetic may have had episodes related to ketoacidosis, for example, but if the diabetes was under control then he would be guaranteed the right to buy insurance. Setting up bright lines as to when individuals could and could no longer purchase insurance would be tricky.
But tricky is not an excuse to do nothing. Why should a 20 year old diabetic be doomed to a lifetime of no insurance coverage? And do the anti-tax tea party folks want to pay (through their taxes) for that diabetic's treatment in county-run emergency rooms? Or would they just refuse him ER treatment there?
Dealing with such difficult issues is the reason we have such lengthy, perhaps convoluted, Senate and House healthcare bills. The goal was to force most people to have insurance and create mechanisms to help people who couldn't otherwise afford it.
But the majority of voters are unhappy about such an expanded scheme.
Hopefully the Congressional leadership has some creative health economists who can put together a credible but scaled back plan.
I agree. This souffle is collapsing.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010, 10:46 PM - Political developmentsA top national priority of labor, the Employee Free Choice Act, appears to be a casualty of the the Massachusetts Senate election.
With Democrats no longer in control of a filibuster-busting 60 seats, the EFCA is unlikely to move out of the Senate. And in any event, opposition from some Democrats already meant that any bill would be watered down.
Labor union membership has been shrinking for years, particularly in non-public worker unions. The Employee Free Choice Act was touted as a way for labor to regain strength by facilitating organizing. This is a dreadful blow to unions who hoped for a resurgence.
As a piece in today's Politico by Jeanne Cummings notes, labor union voters in Massachusetts broke for the the Republican, Scott Brown. In that way labor's own members torpedoed remaining hopes for the EFCA:
It's one more example of how expansive hopes for progressive change have come asunder under the Obama administration.
Today it appears that there's discord in Democratic leadership ranks:
And progressive pundits such as Bob Herbert are raising uncomfortable questions about the Obama vision ("Obama's credibility gap"):
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/26/opini ... rt.html?em
Monday, January 25, 2010, 08:57 PM - Political developmentsGovernor Schwarzenegger's popularity is at an all-time low, but the Guv still has the urge to stick it to working people.
A new Field poll found that 59% believes that California is in worse shape than before Schwarzenegger took office:
http://www.field.com/fieldpollonline/su ... ls2324.pdf
Only 7% of Californians believe California will be in better shape when Schwarzenegger leaves office than it was when he took over from Gray Davis.
One theme emerges from the Schwarzenegger years: the Governor's war on working people.
That's further confirmed in a piece by Shane Goldmacher in today's Los Angeles Times, titled "Schwarzenegger's budget plan puts unions in the cross-hairs":
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me ... gle+Reader
Targeted in the Governor's budget appear to be the following:
-home care workers for the elderly and disabled (whose numbers would be reduced)
-state prison guards (the Gov. proposes to privatize prisons)
-teachers (whose seniority provisions would be reduced)
This is in addition to the furloughs which have impacted thousands of state workers.
Schwarzenegger claims that the public sector needs to take a haircut.
Steve Maviglio, a Sacramento Democratic strategist, calls it a "jihad against organized labor."
There's little evidence that the Governor-or his party-are willing to look at revenue sources from the corporate sector.
It's yet another signal that this Governor is not likely to be a negotiating partner for anything positive for injured workers or the unions to whom they belong.
Friday, January 22, 2010, 10:31 AM - Political developmentsLos Angeles public TV station KCET has done an excellent program on the poor performance of Cal-OSHA. You should take a look.
The show, "Protected or Neglected?" can be seen via streaming video on the KCET website:
http://kcet.org/socal/2010/01/protected ... afety.html
The KCET site also has a number of interesting links. Here is the letter from 47 Cal-OSHA inspectors and District Managers documenting the effect of board policies on the work of the inspectors:
For those of you who may have trouble running the streaming video, here are some of the bullet points found in the KCET investigation, produced by Karen Foshay:
-under Gov. Schwarzenegger, safety enforcement has suffered
-the 3 person appeals board focused on eliminating a hearing backlog but in the process resolved many cases by drastically reducing fines on employer safety violations
-as a former Cal-OSHA counsel noted, fines are now getting to the point that they are cheaper than parking in a red zone in San Francisco
-from January 2009 to September 2009 safety violation penalties were reduced 69% of the time; penalties were often reduced to fines of $500 or less
-dissenting opinions by a former appeals board member appear to be missing from case files, leading to the question of whether the agency is attempting to stifle dissent. Cal-OSHA staff were recently warned not to speak to outside sources about the agency
-damaged morale at the agency led 47 inspectors and staff to write a protest letter (see link above)
-California currently has 186 OSHA field inspectors for the full state. That's one for every 86,000 workers. There are more fish and game inspectors than Cal-OSHA inspectors. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill to add more inspectors
-agribusiness giant Dole Foods was offered as one example of a company that has allowed managers to discourage workers from reporting injuries. Managerial bonus programs apparently gave managers incentives to prevent workers from filing claims. Some farmworkers were sent to faith healers and some encouraged to return to Mexico (Note, the KCET site has documents on the Dole investigation)
The KCET show notes that there will be State Senate hearings on Cal-OSHA and also a federal review of the program. Both are overdue.
I represent a worker who was seriously injured on a construction site.
Cal-OSHA did a cursory investigation, failing to talk with the injured worker or the witnesses who were working with the injured party at the time of the accident. The whole investigation was a joke.
Worker safety is the flip side of workers' comp. Injured workers have gotten the short end of the stick under the Schwarzenegger reforms, with disability payouts severely limited by the application of the AMA impairment guidelines.
Before further tinkering with workers' comp, is the administration prepared to fix Cal-OSHA?