Protecting Worker Freedom from Mandatory Meetings

Protecting Worker Freedom from Mandatory Meetings

Thursday, March 6th, 2008


Protecting Worker Freedom from Mandatory Meetings

Workers often face a no-win situation: they are forced into employer-sponsored meetings where they are harangued with the employer's political views or anti-union propaganda and, if they actually speak out with their own opinions, they get punished or even fired.

With a new bill, HB 4132, which was approved by West Virginia's House of Delegates last week, at least employees would have the option not to attend such mandatory meetings without being fired.  Employers would have the free speech right to hold the meetings and employees would have the free speech right to skip them.

New Jersey was the first state to approve a "Worker Freedom" law back in 2006, although the Colorado legislature approved it as well that same year, only to see it vetoed by their governor. Chambers in New Hampshire, Michigan and Vermont have all approved Worker Freedom bills as well, all part of the increasing movement by states to find ways to support stronger labor rights given the existing weaknesses of federal labor law. 

In a country that talks about free speech a lot, it's often forgotten that the Constitution ends at the corporate door, unless legislators act to protect it. As West Virginia Delegate Mike Caputo, a sponsor of the measure, said, "Now I don't want to take anybody's free speech away, and the employer certainly has that right [to hold meetings]. But in free speech, a person should have the right to walk away as well." 

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Washington State to Hold Insurance Companies Accountable

On Friday, the Washington State Legislature enacted SB 5261 which will restore state oversight of the individual health insurance market.  The law authorizes the Insurance Commissioner to disapprove unreasonable rate increases and establishes a sliding-scale medical loss ratio for insurers.

As Families USA discusses, medical loss ratios require insurers to spend a certain amount of premium revenue on direct medical care.  These laws help ensure more of our premiums are used on medical care and less on administrative costs, including profits and bonuses. The Washington bill sets up a tiered loss ratio that is tied to the number of people an insurer denies for coverage. For example, a rate of denial under 6% equals a loss ratio of 74%, meaning 74-cents of every premium dollar must be spent on medical care. Insurance companies that deny coverage to more people, more than 8% for example, face a loss ratio of 77%.

Washington State had ended rate review in 2000. But after years of premium increases and broken promises by insurers not to increase premiums, lawmakers decided to hold insurer's accountable. The debate was fueled by estimates that insurers have surpluses totaling $1.4 billion and a report by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that a state-based non-profit insurer transferred $49 million in premium revenue over the past three years to a faltering for-profit subsidiary in Arizona. 

The rate oversight bill was a key legislative goal of the Healthy Washington Coalition, a broad coalition of health care advocates and stakeholders working to "achieve secure, quality, affordable healthcare for all Washingtonians."

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Virginia Senate Passes Foreclosure Moratorium Bill

The Virginia Senate took a big step this week and unanimously approved moratorium on foreclosures for homeowner with high risk mortgages. The bill,  SB 797, introduced at the request of Governor Tim Kaine, provides a one month moratorium on all high-risk mortgage foreclosures. The measure is much needed relief for a state that has foreclosure rate increases of more than 750% in some areas.

While the Virginia Senate is the first legislative body to pass a moratorium, Massachusetts was the first state to provide relief for homeowners facing foreclosures. Last November, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law legislation that would provide mortgage holders a 90 day "Right to Cure" before foreclosure and also provide rental rights to tenants of foreclosed properties. We highlighted the "right to rent" as a way to keep people in homes and decrease the number of vacant properties saving neighborhoods from suffering from increase crime and decreased property values.

Currently, New York state and Minnesota have the boldest moratorium bill. NY AB 9695 / SB 6724 sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman James Brennan and Republic Senator Frank Padavan, would give a one-year moratorium on all home foreclosures. Since it was introduced, the bill has added over 60 Assembly sponsors and would preserve the financial position of both parties, ensuring that the mortgage holder and lender are not punished. As Assemblyman Brennan said, "There's nothing wrong with giving people some time to see if better arrangements can be worked out." The bill sponsors and supporters will hold a press conference at Brooklyn Borough Hall 209 Joralemon Street, at 1pm this Friday, March 7 to formally announce the legislation and answer any questions.  MN HF 3612 would also impose a one-year moratorium on foreclosures from subprime loans.

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Research Roundup

ACORN has just released a policy options report for state legislators on how to deal with the foreclosure crisis that includes policies to not only deal with the current crisis, but also work to prevent the crisis from happening again in the future.

Despite the conventional wisdom that immigrant voters are clustered in a few states, new research by the Brookings Institution shows both the wide ranging and rising impact of new immigrants on likely electoral outcomes in different states, as well as the diversity of the views and likely impacts by different immigrant communities.

As states discuss "cap-and-trade" auctioning of carbon credits as a way to reduce greenhouse emissions, the Center for American Progress report, Getting Credit for Going Green, cautions that poorly designed systems may do little to help the environment, so states need to consider how to combine mandatory reductions for ALL polluters, as well as specific financial incentives, including properly designed offsets, to achieve real benefits.

A two-tiered system of financial services, driven by the rising economic inequality in the United States, is ushering in a new era of de facto redlining, according to a new paper, Do Subprime Loans Create Subprime Cities? Surging Inequality and the Rise in Predatory Lending, from the Economic Policy Institute

Highlighting the problem of corporate tax giveaways, the Iowa Fiscal Partnership in Giving Away the Farm: Iowa's Tax-Credit Bonanza argues that there is too little accountability in such programs. The report argues that the state should disclose the corporate beneficiaries of tax legislation, revise benefits that waste taxpayer dollars with little proven economic benefits, and place a moratorium on new credits until greater transparency is established.

In 2006, public school teachers earned 15.1% lower weekly earnings than other employees with comparable education credentials and experience, more than three times what this gap was just a decade before, according to a new brief by the Economic Policy Institute.

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Protecting Worker Freedom from Mandatory Meetings

Progressive States Network, Protecting the Freedom to Form Unions

Worker Freedom Bills: West Virginia, Michigan, New Jersey

AFL-CIO, State and Local Legislative Issues: Fighting for Workers Rights

Paul Secunda - Towards the Viability of State-Based Legislation to Address Workplace Captive Audience Meetings in the United States

Washington State to Hold Insurance Companies Accountable

Healthy Washington Coalition - 2008 Legislative Agenda

Families USA - Establishing a Medical Loss Ration

Families USA - Good Ideas: Positive Approaches to Improve the Private Market

Progressive States Network - Insurance Reforms to Ensure Fairness and Access to Coverage

Virginia Senate Passes Foreclosure Moratorium Bill

Progressive States Network - Dealing with the Foreclosure Crisis at the State Level

Virginia: SB 797

Massachusetts: HB 8095

New York: AB 9695 / SB 6724

OpEd: Need for Speed

In this Baltimore Sun opinion editorial, Progressive States Network Policy Specialist Julie Schwartz calls for investment in broadband internet infrastructure in Maryland.


The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
J. Mijin Cha, Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
John Bacino, Operations Manager
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator

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