community-based, non-corporate, participatory media
A verdict is reached in the Steubenville Rape trial; local employee hour cutting in anticipation for the Affordable Care Act; and on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq war, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Iraqi groups come together to launch the Right to Heal campaign.
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Rustbelt Radio for (March) (25), 2013
Welcome to this week's edition of Rustbelt Radio, the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center's bi-weekly review of the news from the grassroots, news overlooked by the corporate media.
On today's show...
Rustbelt Radio is broadcast live from WRCT studios every other Monday at 6 PM on 88.3 FM in Pittsburgh, and the program airs again on WRCT every Tuesday morning at 9AM.
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We turn now to local stories.
President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or ACA, into law in 2010 in an effort to expand health care coverage, control health care costs, and regulate the health insurance industry. Since then, various pieces of the Act have been implemented. The “individual mandate” takes effect on January 1st, 2014. This means that all U.S. citizens and legal residents must have health coverage. They may be covered through publicly-funded programs such as Medicaid or Medicare, or they receive health coverage through their employer. Anyone who is ineligible for those two options will have to buy coverage themselves, or pay a penalty.
A major change in employee health care coverage that is built in to the ACA is that organizations and businesses who have more than 50 employees must provide health coverage for those who work at least 30 hours a week, or the employer faces a penalty. In contrast, as it stands now, even people who work 37.5 hours a week or more, typically defined as full-time employment, are still not guaranteed inclusion in their employer's health care plan. It is extremely rare that part-time workers receive health benefits.
There is, however, a current nation-wide trend whereby employers are pre-emptively cutting employee hours to less than 30 per week so that they will not be required to provide health coverage next year. These employers are starting to cut hours now, to avoid legal ramifications of the cuts. Employers may be held accountable for compliance retroactively for up to a year. Lately the list of companies cutting employee hours to dodge coverage includes Wendy's, Universal Studios, and the state of Virginia, which is cutting hours for about 10,000 employees.
Colleges and universities rely heavily on adjunct faculty to keep costs down since these adjuncts rarely receive health coverage and other benefits. According to a Wall Street Journal article updated January 2013, colleges are increasingly choosing to cut adjuncts' hours to under 30 per week to avoid providing health care coverage for them in 2014. Locally, CCAC has made this move, cutting hours for approximately 200 adjunct faculty and 200 other employees. As Adam Davis, an adjunct professor at CCAC since 2005, says in an interview with the Post-Gazette [quote] It's kind of a double whammy for us because we are facing a legal requirement [under the new law] to get health care and if the college is reducing our hours, we don't have the money to pay for it [end quote]
This individual mandate to purchase health coverage if not provided by one’s employer is especially concerning to workers in states who do not accept the Medicaid expansion option. As of March 13th, Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Corbett has said he does not want the state to participate in the expansion. Medicaid expansion, which is another piece of the Affordable Care Act, is a federally-subsidized program designed to provide more people with Medicaid health coverage by increasing the income eligibility requirements.
Another local non-profit institution under suspicion of cutting part-time workers’ hours to avoid providing them with health insurance is the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh or CLP. The link between a recent change in staffing policy and the Affordable Care Act was verified by three different internal communications to staff, but CLP's Communications Manager has denied that the staffing policy change is connected to the ACA. The following is an excerpt from an internal communication to staff:
[quote] In addition to being a good organizational practice and ensuring a fair, consistent approach with staff scheduling, recent regulations passed in the “Affordable Care Act”, the 2010 health care reform legislation, have also pushed CLP (and other employers) toward a review and possible revision of our staffing model. (The regulations describe a regular schedule of 30 or more hours per week as full time employment.) For these reasons, we are implementing parameters for how part time staff will be scheduled and budgeted [end quote]. This document goes on to explain how the target range for part-time staff is 15-25 hours per week, not to exceed 29 hours per week.
At this time, the library provides insurance for full time employees only, with full time being 37.5 hours of work per week.
Though publicly funded educational institutions like CCAC have been on the receiving end of funding cuts, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh seems to be financially healthier than ever. Allegheny County residents recently passed a referendum to pay a library tax which raised $2.8 Million in 2012, and the Library expects it to raise $3 Million in 2013. The Library's 2013 budget includes a 3% increase from the Allegheny Regional Asset District or RAD, and a goal to increase private fundraising by 21% over 2012 budgeted figures. State funding for the Library stayed level.
The following was written to Rustbelt Radio in email communication with Suzanne Thinnes [pronounced thin - es] , Communications Manager for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh: [ quote] The Library is not or has not made changes to staffing because of the Affordable Care Act.
We have an annual review process of our staffing. Each year, as part of our annual budgeting process, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh looks at staffing models and occasionally makes adjustments over the long term to provide a consistent and fair approach to staffing and to ensure that we are meeting current service needs. It is good organizational practice to regularly review our staffing model. The law provides another reason for continuing this review but has never been the primary factor. In the Library’s 2013 budget, funding for part-time staff increased, including a 3% approved increase for staff compensation. We have also increased our number of full-time staff (at least 27 positions in 2012). A mix of full and part-time staff has long been the practice at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (and at most other libraries) to ensure sufficient coverage for public service for all hours open. [end quote]
That was a quote from Suzanne Thinnes [pronounced thin - es], Communications Manager for CLP on the issue of cutting hours for employees at the library. Thinnes’ explanation is counter to what was shared with part time library staff by supervisors in three communications, including a document we quoted earlier, which stated [quote] the “Affordable Care Act”, the 2010 health care reform legislation, have also pushed CLP (and other employers) toward a review and possible revision of our staffing model. [end quote] – and then asks staff to not exceed 29 hours per week by keeping careful track of their hours.
Here is a Rustbelt volunteer reading a testimony from a Carnegie library employee who wanted to speak anonymously to this issue:
That was an employee from the Carnegie Library speaking on the hour cutting they have experienced at the library.
Employers do have a motivation to cut part timers' hours, as Rob Cullen of the health care blog "What If Post" writes:
[quote] employers who don't provide health benefits do have a big incentive to keep an individual employee's hours under 30 per week, because they only have to pay the penalty if someone works more than 30 [and they are not covered]… [end quote].
Cullen also writes [quote] The way employees might be able to protect themselves from having their hours cut back is under Section 510 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which prohibits organizations from making employment decisions specifically to prevent an employee from obtaining or keeping benefits coverage. The might is important—lawyers […] seem to disagree on whether this protection applies to the Affordable Care Act [end quote].
That was a quote from Rob Cullen of What If Post blog.
The ACA is a substantial change to how health care will be done in this country and there are a lot of facets we could not cover here. You can learn more at whatifpost [dot] com. Cullen also suggested listeners check out the Kaiser Family Foundations’subsidy calendar to see what your monthly premium for health coverage based on your age and income may be, at (web address) health reform dot kff dot org slash subsidy calculator dot aspx.
This story was produced by Lizzie Anderson
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You are listening to Rustbelt Radio, the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center's bi-weekly review of news overlooked by the corporate media. We turn now to other independent news from beyond Western Pennsylvania.
You're listening to Rustbelt Radio, the Pittsburgh Independent Media Center's bi-weekly review of news from the grassroots.
* Steubenville_Trial_Final_Cut.mp3: 42:12
That was part one of a two-part feature; we will bring you the conclusion on our next show. Anonymous and the media will return to Steubenville on April 15th as the grand jury convenes. Anonymous has promised to maintain a 24 hour a day prescence outside of the courthouse, and online, until very last verdict is read by the grand jury. It has promised to start a new campaign, Oprollredroll 2.0, on April 15th
For more of Don and Amanda's Steubenville coverage, visit www.mobilebroadcastnews.com
And now we present the Indymedia Calendar of Events:
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Our hosts this week are [The Queen of Sheba ] and [Jessica McPherson ] with contributions from [ Amanda Blackburn, Lizzie Anderson, Don Carpenter, and Jessica McPherson ]. This week's show was directed and produced by [Jessica McPherson ]. Special thanks to all of our hosts, producers, and contributors.
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