Issues / Legislation

Week Ending September 27, 2019

Scalia Approved as New Secretary of Labor: House and Senate Begin Two Week District Work Period

Improving Right to Organize

Led by Chairman Bobby Scott (D-Va.), members of the House Committee on Education and Labor advanced by a vote of 26 to 21 the “Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act” (H.R. 2474). All committee Democrats supported the bill, while all Republicans present opposed. The PRO Act addresses several problems with current labor law in the private sector by:

What You Need to Know: This bill is expected to be voted on by the full House before the end of the year. In addition, this bill strengthens the ability of private sector workers to organize and eliminates state right-to-work laws. AFSCME continues to gain congressional support for the “Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act” (H.R. 3463), which extends collective bargaining protections for public sector workers. It is important that all workers have the right to join or form a union. 

Scalia Confirmed to Head Labor Department

The Senate voted to approve the nomination of Eugene Scalia to be the next Secretary of Labor. Senate Democrats opposed Scalia because they found him to be an inappropriate nominee who has always fought against workers’ interests throughout his entire career. They found Scalia to be the wrong person for the job, fearing he will risk the health and safety of workers because he puts corporate interests above workers.

What You Need to Know: With Scalia as the new head of the Labor Department, he will have the power to further impact workers and their rights in many ways. There is little doubt he will continue to side with corporate interests over workers. That’s why AFSCME voiced strong opposition to his nomination. AFSCME President Lee Saunders said, “We need a champion for working people in the Department of Labor who will advance standards that protect overtime pay, strengthen workplace safety and defend workers’ rights over corporate interests. AFSCME urges the Senate to reject the nomination.”

Funding Government

To avoid a federal government shutdown on Oct. 1, the Senate followed up on last week’s House approval of the stopgap funding bill, known as a continuing resolution (CR), by also approving the CR. This will continue government funding at existing fiscal year (FY) 2019 levels until Nov. 21. The president is expected to sign the bill into law.

What You Need to Know: The short-term spending bill is intended to give the Senate time to pass its FY 2020 spending bills and work with the House to pass agreed-upon funding levels that will adequately fund government agencies and programs. If an agreement is not reached, there will be a need for a continuation of short-term spending bills or a yearlong CR at the current spending level. Efforts to continue to work on finalizing FY 2020 budget bills by Nov. 21 are moving slowly. AFSCME strongly urges the Senate to uphold the budget agreement and increase funds to invest in essential public services for working families and retirees.

House Panels Review H.R. 3 to Lower Prescription Drug Prices

The Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019 (H.R. 3) was unveiled last week and two House panels moved quickly this week to begin work on H.R. 3 and other legislative proposals to reduce drug prices. AFSCME strongly supports H.R. 3 because it will lower drug prices, including insulin, regardless of whether people get their health coverage through a job, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicare or other insurance.

What You Need to Know: As a candidate, President Trump endorsed federal government negotiations with drug corporations to lower prices, but it remains to be seen if he will support or oppose H.R. 3. A House vote on legislation to lower prescription drugs will likely occur in the fall.

Call your representatives today at 1-866-957-9069.

Urge your Representative to support H.R. 3, the “Lower Drug Costs Now Act of 2019,” to help working families and retirees afford the medicines they need.

No Surprises: People Against Unfair Medical Bills Campaign Launches

Joining with groups representing consumers, patients and workers, AFSCME is pressing Congress to end surprise out-of-network balance billing. Surprise medical bills are unexpected charges above what a patient’s health plan pays from an out-of-network doctor or hospital that the patient did not choose for needed care, typically emergency care.

What You Need to Know: Many of these bills come from providers who work for physician staffing corporations that exploit the vulnerability of patients in a medical emergency or unexpected hospitalization. Surprise medical bills do not happen by accident. These corporations know that patients will keep showing up at emergency rooms no matter how much they charge. A leading House panel is investigating the private investments driving the business model of these corporations. One House panel has adopted the bipartisan “No Surprises Act” (H.R. 3630) and a Senate panel has advanced the bipartisan Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019 (S. 1895), which stops surprise medical bills. Providers that typically charge patients “surprise medical bills” and dark money interests are trying to keep these bills from moving forward.

What You Can Do: To learn more and help fight against surprise medical bills go to http://nosurprisescampaign.org.

Senate Panel Attempts to Revive Air Traffic Control Reform

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Aviation and Space renewed discussions on modernization and potential reforms of the nation’s air traffic control system (ATC). Less than a year after enactment of the five-year Reauthorization of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) programs in October 2018, Chairman Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is gauging interest in a new overhaul, including possible privatization of ATC programs. 

What You Need to Know: Multiple FAA shutdowns over the last 10 years and budget cuts have plagued the agency’s ability to run smoothly and implement the NextGen upgrades to navigation systems. While big airlines and supporters of privatization claim separating ATC from the FAA would solve these issues, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found no such benefits.