Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Report Shows Billions in Raises for Workers Over 4 Years

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Since the Fight for 15 began, 19 million workers have won raises totaling $61.5 billion. (Fibonacci Blue/flickr.com)
Since the Fight for 15 began, 19 million workers have won raises totaling $61.5 billion. (Fibonacci Blue/flickr.com)
HARRISBURG, Pa. – As thousands of low-wage workers staged strikes and protests in cities across the country, a new report shows the fight for a $15 minimum wage is making a difference. Tuesday's job actions in more than 320 cities nationwide marked the fourth anniversary of the first Fight for 15 strike by fast-food workers in New York.

According to Yannet Lathrop, researcher and policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, their report shows that the movement has had an impact, raising wages for millions across the country.

"Since the Fight for 15 started, 19 million workers have benefited from this, and the total raise that workers have received is over $61 billion so far," she said.

Still, 43 percent of U.S. workers are earning less than $15 an hour. Opponents of raising the minimum wage say it will cause job losses, and hurt small businesses.

But Lathrop noted that in Seattle, which has begun phasing in a $15 minimum wage, there has been job growth in the restaurant industry, the employment sector most affected by the increase.

"We also saw lower unemployment rates compared to the state as a whole, so overall the indication is that the $15 minimum wage has not really caused a catastrophe as predicted by opponents," she explained.

At least 20 cities and dozens of large companies have raised their minimum wages since 2012. New York and California have passed $15 minimum-wage laws and voters in four states approved raising their minimums in this month's election.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

PA School District Says Transgender Students Have No Protections

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

The transgender students in one Pittsburgh-area high school can use only single-stall restrooms, or ones that don't match their gender identity. (sarahmirk/Wikimedia Commons)
The transgender students in one Pittsburgh-area high school can use only single-stall restrooms, or ones that don't match their gender identity. (sarahmirk/Wikimedia Commons)
PITTSBURGH - A suburban Pittsburgh school district claims it is within its rights to require transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms that don't match their gender identity - or to use totally separate facilities.

The Pine-Richland School District asked a federal court on Monday to dismiss a lawsuit filed on behalf of three high school seniors, saying neither the Constitution nor federal law protects transgender students. Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, an attorney with Lambda Legal, said several other courts have disagreed with the school's argument.

"Courts in Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Wisconsin have already held in favor of very similar claims to the ones we're making under Title IX and the Equal Protection Clause," he said.

According to Gonzalez-Pagan, the school board reversed its longstanding, inclusive restroom policy in response to pressure from anti-LGBT groups and individuals.

"For several years, transgender students were allowed to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity," he said, "and the administration nor we are aware of any problems or incidents, or misconduct by any students."

Meanwhile, he said the three plaintiffs in the case have found their senior year disrupted, and their safety and security at school compromised.

"They feel stigmatized and marginalized for being forced to either use a restroom that nobody else is forced to use or being relegated to use restrooms that are not consistent with who they are," he said.

The restroom policy was enacted this fall. Lambda Legal has requested a temporary injunction preventing the policy from being enforced. A hearing on that request is scheduled for Dec. 1.

More information is online at lambdalegal.org.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Election Brings Fear to PA Immigrant Community

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Immigration advocates say they are planning to disrupt ICE raids. (sanctuaryphiladelphia.org)
Immigration advocates say they are planning to disrupt ICE raids. (sanctuaryphiladelphia.org)
PHILADELPHIA – President-elect Donald Trump's election victory is raising fears in Pennsylvania's immigrant community.

Trump has said after he takes office he will move quickly to cancel President Barack Obama's Deferred Action program for immigrants who arrived as children, and ramp up deportations of undocumented immigrants.

Peter Pedemonti, executive director of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, says immigrants his organization has interviewed are speechless and in shock.

"Their children are terrified that they're going to be separated, but we're also hearing people talk about, 'We've always known that this hate and racism has been a reality for us in this country, and Trump's victory is bringing it to the surface for everyone to see,'" he relates.

Trump has said many undocumented immigrants are dangerous, and they use government resources they don't pay for. But studies show undocumented workers actually pay billions in taxes without being able to receive benefits.

Pedemonti notes that those who advocate on behalf of the immigrant community in sanctuary cities throughout Pennsylvania and the across country are committed to continuing their work.

"What I hear is people digging deep and being really grounded in their faith traditions,” he states. “Looking to their faith to respond, recommitting to organizing, standing up against this hatred and fear and racism."

In Philadelphia the New Sanctuary Movement maintains a 24-hour-a-day Emergency Raid Hotline to report raids by immigration officials. The movement also plans to recruit 1,000 people in the next two months to disrupt raids in progress.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Reviewing Medicare Coverage: Now's the Time

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Medicare recipients may save hundreds by switching medical or prescription plans. (Money Images/flickr.com)
Medicare recipients may save hundreds by switching medical or prescription plans. (Money Images/flickr.com)
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Medicare's annual open enrollment period is under way, a time for recipients to look at their options for medical and prescription drug plan coverage for the coming year.

Pennsylvanians on Medicare have until Dec. 7 to decide to keep their current coverage or make changes. Plans often modify their coverage and cost sharing, and notify consumers about those changes for the coming year.

Bill Johnston-Walsh, state director for AARP Pennsylvania, says recipients need to be aware of those changes to both medical and prescription drug plans.

"We strongly recommend that they look and review those notices of change carefully, compare current choices with other available plans, and change to a different plan during open enrollment if it better meets their current needs," he stresses.

If no changes are made, existing coverage will renew automatically. But AARP notes that some consumers can save hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses just by switching to a different plan.

Johnston-Walsh breaks the considerations down into four categories – cost, coverage, convenience and customer service.

"Compare monthly premiums, annual deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance,” he advises. “Review the doctors and pharmacies as well as the prescription drugs and other services that you'll need in the upcoming year.

“Look at the local doctors, the pharmacies, the services that are included in the plan. And then consider the quality of service that a plan provides."

There is help available to sort through the options. Johnston-Walsh says free assistance is available by phone from Pennsylvania's APPRISE program.

"There's counselors there that will explain the Medicare benefits, sort through the health and prescription options and help complete the enrollment process for the individuals," he states.

APPRISE counselors can be reached toll-free at 1-800-783-7067. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

GOP Request for Poll-Watcher Change Rejected

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Federal courts have repeatedly found voter fraud is extremely rare. (redjar/flickr.com)
Federal courts have repeatedly found voter fraud is extremely rare. (redjar/flickr.com)
PHILADELPHIA – A federal judge has denied the GOP's challenge to Pennsylvania's poll-watching law. Republicans filed their lawsuit just two weeks ago, claiming a provision of the state law controlling the placement and activities of poll watchers is unconstitutional. The ruling said the request was not timely, not in the public interest and failed to meet the standard for last-minute action by the court.

Adam Gitlin, counsel with the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, calls the ruling "decisive."

"Unless there is some emergency appeal that the GOP is successful with, the restriction that said poll watchers have to be from their home county will stand on election day," he said.

The Republicans claim that additional poll watchers are needed to prevent voter fraud but have not produced evidence that voter fraud actually is a problem.

Gitlin said laws in place to protect the integrity of the voting process are up to the task, as shown by the recent arrest of a woman in Iowa who attempted to vote twice, for Donald Trump.

"These processes work, and therefore it's no surprise that there really is very little evidence of successful voter fraud," he added. "You're more likely to be struck by lightning than commit voter impersonation."

Federal courts repeatedly have found that actual voter fraud is extremely rare.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Pennsylvania and other states have filed federal lawsuits seeking to prevent voter intimidation by Republicans. Gitlin notes that comments in social media and other venues have raised concerns that private individuals or poll watchers challenging voters at the polls may go beyond what is allowed by law.

"That doesn't mean we know they're going to do it but there's more indication than there has been in previous elections that potentially intimidating behavior is going to happen," he explained.

Gitlin emphasizes that claims of a "rigged" election or suggestions of voter intimidation should not deter people from exercising their right to vote.