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How Exploited "Independent Contractor" Truckers Drive Pollution in Our Ports

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Colorado Health Care at a Crossroads: Building a Path to Health Care for All


On Tuesday, October 16th in Denver, CO, please join state legislators, advocates, and other decision makers at a public forum to discuss the current and future status of health care in Colorado.

Progressive States Network with a number of national and state partners is sponsoring a panel of state legislators, national leaders, and progressive advocates where we will present priorities for progressive health care reform, discuss the unique needs facing Colorado, and share lessons learned from reform approaches in other states.

RSVP at: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/1665/event/index.jsp?event_KEY=31125

Progressive States in the Media

In other health care news, Progressive States Senior Health Policy Analyst Adam Thompson teamed up with Washington State Senator Karen Keiser to pen an opinion editorial for the San Francisco Chronicle on the need for states to lead in health care reform.

Strengthening Communities

BY Nathan Newman

How Exploited "Independent Contractor" Truckers Drive Pollution in Our Ports

It's well-known that deregulation of the trucking industry has led to worse working conditions in the industry and lower safety standards on the road. But new coalitions are focusing on the way conditions in the trucking industry contribute to pollution that chokes trucking hubs like our ports.

A recent report found that that pollution from trucks coming into the Port of Oakland contributes directly to 1 in 5 West Oakland children having asthma. Because the trucks are driven by "independent contractor" truck drivers who make as little as $8 per hour, they don't have the capital to upgrade to clean emission trucks. And because such independent contractors are barred from forming labor unions, they can't bargain collectively to negotiate for higher rates to make such investments possible.

Reacting to exactly this problem in ports along the West Coast, coalitions involving public health, environmental, religious and labor groups have formed to advocate for cleaner trucks and safer working conditions. In Los Angeles and Long Beach, the American Lung Association of California joined with local Sierra Club advocates to work with the ports unions to form the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports. They are modeling their solution based on the Port of Vancouver, which has already taken action to require that trucking companies using the port use trucks driven by employee-drivers, not independent contractors, improve wages, and upgrade environmental standards. 

The California Assembly Committee on Labor & Employment, chaired by Assemblymember Sandre Swanson, held a special hearing on September 20th to promote a plan to phase-out "owner-operators" in the ports by 2012 and reduce pollution in the ports by 80% in that five-year period.

The Broader Problem of Independent Contractors on the Roads: Similar problems of low pay and lower safety for the public plague the rest of the trucking industry. FedEx Ground has tried to build a low-wage workforce by categorizing its drivers as independent contractors, although a California Court of Appeals panel found that the company has abused the definition of independent contractors since FedEx controlled the drivers actions, even if the drivers were stuck paying for the upkeep of their trucks. An even larger class-action lawsuit by FexEx Ground workers in 35 states has been brought to federal court in Indiana.

The problem of misclassification of independent contractors has received special focus in the construction industry, including passage of bills such as Illinois's HB 1795 to tighten rules on when people must be given the full legal rights of being an employee. As the debates in West Coast ports and the lawsuits over FedEx workers show, focus on tightening independent contractor rules is increasingly moving onto our roadways to stop what some call "sweatshops on wheels".

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Increasing Democracy

BY Nathan Newman

Why Does President Bush Hate the States?

It's not just the veto of SCHIP funding for state children's health care funding.

Bush is threatening to veto a range of programs to which the federal government contributes funding. 

Bush wants to cut federal aid programs by about $3.8 billion, according to Federal Funds Information for States, a Washington-based organization. The House has called for an increase of $13.8 billion, and the Senate is headed toward a $10-billion increase.

Bush is threatening to cut funds for programs ranging from community policing to Community Development Block Grants to the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Republican Opposition to Bush's Veto Threats: In attacking these state grants, Bush is defying bipartisan support for many of the programs. As the Los Angeles Times details, members of his own party have denounced his proposed cuts:

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-AL) took to the Senate floor complaining about the president's proposed $1.6-billion cut in aid to state and local law enforcement at a time when violent crime is on the rise...

Rep. Joe Knollenberg of Michigan, the top Republican on the House Appropriations subcommittee that writes the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget, called proposed cuts to the Community Development Block Grant "unacceptable to any mayor, city council or governor, and unlikely to be agreed to, at least by my conference..."

Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) helped engineer a successful bipartisan effort in the House to boost to $460 million the federal funding to reimburse states for jailing illegal immigrants. Bush has proposed no money for the program.

Why Federal Funding is Needed:  The last item highlights exactly the kind of program where federal support for local programs is so obviously appropriate. While studies show that undocumented immigrants pay more in taxes than their costs to government, many local governments have legitimate complaints that the federal government collects many of these taxes, including social security taxes for which the federal government has to pay no benefits. Programs like the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) were designed to channel some of those increased tax revenues to states that are particularly impacted by new immigrants to help them deal with increased costs that local tax revenues might not fully cover.

Even as Bush is demanding hundreds of billions of dollars for his Iraq War, state leaders have been left with the responsibility to deal with the domestic needs the White House has largely ignored. Threatening to shut down the federal government because Congressional leaders are trying to help states fund those needs is the height of fiscal recklessness.

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Valuing Families

BY Nathan Newman

Falling into the Gap: 41 Million Working Families Lack Needed Health Care, Housing and Child Care

A large group of American workers make too much to qualify for work supports like Medicaid and Food Stamps, but don't make enough to afford health care and other needed benefits, according to a new report, Bridging the Gaps, by the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC, and the Center for Social Policy at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.  

The report is being released in conjunction with a national conference on the issue, where a range of speakers from various organizations, including the Progressive States Network, will be discussing what can be done to to change policies to expand eligibility and coverage for families facing hardship. As the report emphasizes, "Our main economic competitors in industrialized countries in almost all cases have higher minimum wage levels and employer-sponsored and public supports."  The solution is a combination of improving the quality of jobs and government support for workers in bad jobs. The Earned Income Tax Credit is singled out as an especially effective tool for increasing support for working families without a lot of additional bureaucracy.  The report also argues for integrating programs across income groups.

Another way to reduce the gaps would be to expand some work supports to cover all families, not just those at the bottom of the income distribution. This builds on the success of programs like Social Security, which is generally available to all workers and their dependents.

The report highlights models where states are working to create universal health care programs or moving towards universal pre-kindergarten programs.  Instead of focusing help just at very poor families, we need to recognize that the labor market has become increasingly unequal, so that a whole range of working families need support. More universal programs help bridge the gaps as families move up and down the economic ladder.

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Research Roundup

While the right-wing complains that SCHIP encourages parents to drop employer health coverage for their kids, less discussed is the fact that families with employer-sponsored insurance spend as much as 12.9% of income in out-of-pocket copays and other expenses. The Urban Institute highlights why SCHIP is so important in expanding coverage and also helping families gain access to affordable health care coverage.

While the overall poverty rate was 12.3% in 2006, women were much more likely to be poor than men, with 14.1 million poor adult women compared to 9.5 million poor adult men, a gender gap that leaves women 41% more likely to be poor. Legal Momentum has highlighted this problem in a new policy brief. 

Medicaid enrollment declined in fiscal year 2007 for the first time in a decade, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, partly because new citizenship documentation requirements caused delays in processing applications and partly because of lower unemployment. Kaiser expects at least 42 states to expand coverage for the uninsured in the next year.

A number of states are creating innovative early education programs for low-income children using federal Title 1 funds. In Title I and Early Childhood Programs, CLASP outlines many of the best practices used by those programs, including how to attract well-trained teachers, deal with the broad risk factors associated with poverty, provide comprehensive services for the families of children in the programs, encourage parental involvement, serve limited English and developmentally disabled children, and accommodate working parents in the programs.

In Analysis of Fiscal Year 2006 TANF and MOE Spending by States, CLASP has prepared state-by-state charts of how states use federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grants and state Maintenance of Effort (MOE) funds.

Lower prices, lower wages and, now, it turns out, lower property taxes are all part of the Wal-Mart formula for profits, according to a new report by Good Jobs First. The company has systematically filed more than 2100 property tax challenges to lower property tax assessments for their facilities.  Even though Wal-Mart has lost most of these tax assessment challenges, communities still often lose tens of thousands of dollars in the costs of hiring outside lawyers, appraisers and other consultants to deal with Wal-Mart.


Please email us leads on good research at research@progressivestates.org

Resources

Why Does President Bush Hate the States?

Federal Funds Information for States

Congressional Research Service - Frequently Asked Questions about the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP)

Economic Policy Institute - War Spending Placed Above Domestic Priorities

How Exploited "Independent Contractor" Truckers Drive Pollution in Our Ports

Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports

Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports - Fix, Lead, Grow: Vancouver's Solution to a Broken Port Trucking Industry

East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE) - Taking the Low Road: How Independent Contracting at the Port of Oakland Endangers Public Health, Truck Drivers, & Economic Growth

Colorado Law Blog - Safety Lost With Lax Trucking Rules

FedEx Watch

IL HB 1795 - An Act Concerning Employment in Construction Industry

Eye on the Right

The Arkansas Attorney General certified a ballot initiative last week aiming to prevent gay families from foster-parenting. The initiative is just another step in the Right's campaign, which was thwarted last year by a Arkansas Supreme Court decision that struck down an outright ban on gay foster parents.

Now they've taken a hint from the anti-abortion movement's tactical shift towards legislating cumbersome and arbitrary regulations for abortion providers, so called TRAP laws. The Arkansas initiative avoids an explicit outright ban, instead banning foster parents from living with a sexual partner outside of marriage. Since gay couples are barred from marriage, they therefore can't foster parent.


Got a lead for Eye on the Right? Sent it to eyeontheright@progressivestates.org.

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The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
J. Mijin Cha, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
John Bacino, Communications Associate

Please shoot us an email at dispatch@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

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