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August 6, 1999

What's wrong with defeat of Patients Bill of Rights

Let's lighten the burden of prescription drug costs

New HQ for Jackson National

Employers pushing for drug and alcohol testing on job sites


Benefit set for paralyzed mother

While some 2,300 slot machines hummed inside the $203 million MGM Grand Casino which opened in Detroit on July 29, work continued next to the building on a big hole in the ground which will become a 3,000-spot parking deck. At the controls of the rig is Tony Daguanno of Operating Engineers Local 324. Nearly 400,000-man-hours have gone into the nearly year-long project to build the 425,000 square-foot casino.

What's wrong with defeat of Patients Bill of Rights

"You're either part of the solution or part of the problem."
- Eldridge Cleaver, 1968.

Last month, in a breathtaking display of what's wrong with health care in America, Senate Republicans on July 15 defeated the Democratic-sponsored, labor-backed "Patient's Bill of Rights."

Below is a column by the Wall Street Journal's Albert Hunt, which explains how political ideology has moved many Republicans way out of the mainstream when it comes to the problem of regulating HMOs. The best way to explain what happened with the 53-47 defeat of the Senate bill is to tell you about some of the practices that will be allowed to continue in the health care industry, thanks to the GOP vote:

  • Patients still can almost never sue their HMOs for malpractice.
  • A patient's doctor still cannot make the final decision over what procedures are medically necessary. Republicans instead passed a provision that leaves the final decision for medical procedures to a doctor in the insurance company.
  • Republicans let HMOs impose "gag rules" on doctors, preventing them from discussing all treatments with their patients.
  • Republicans defeated a provision to let patients keep their same doctors for a few months if they are forced to switch health plans.
  • Women cannot choose their obstetrician-gynecologists as their primary care doctor. Under the Republican legislation, women cannot see Ob-Gyns without their primary doctor's permission.

"Most Americans would be shocked to know that HMOs are immune from responsibility for their actions," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. "No other industry in America enjoys this immunity…This immunity is literally a license to kill."

Republicans countered that widening the limited circumstances in which patients can sue HMOs would result in an avalanche of lawsuits that would send health care costs through the roof. Kennedy responded by citing Congressional Budget Office estimates the Democratic bill would only increase health costs by 4.8 percent over five years.

Democrats have vowed to make patients' rights a campaign battleground in 2000. Republicans, who control both the U.S. Senate and House, have had the say over far-reaching Democratic proposals to give 161 million Americans greater control over their health insurers.

"How can a law which excludes 100 million Americans, allows insurance companies to make critical medical decisions, exposes health care workers to retaliation when they speak out on behalf of a patient and denies patients access to specialists be labeled patient protection?" asked AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

President Clinton called the Republican defeat of the bill "a sad day for health care in America." Clinton called their managed care legislation "merely toothless and half-hearted protections,'' adding, "The people deserve a bill that protects them, not the insurance companies." Vice President Al Gore called the Republican version of the legislation a "fraud" and said that Clinton "will veto it in a minute."

The AFL-CIO supported the Patients' Bill of Rights sponsored by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.). "When Washington politicians bow to the pressure of well-heeled insurance company lobbyists, working families lose out,'' federation President John J. Sweeney said.

The AFL-CIO states more than 90 percent of Americans believe that a patient protection act is needed. Today, some 80 percent of people with private insurance are in managed care, which tries to control costs by eliminating unnecessary care and coordinating treatments.



Let's lighten the burden of prescription drug costs

By David Bonior (D)
U.S. House
Minority Whip

For many seniors, the proper medications taken at home can spell the
difference between maintaining an active and independent life style, or
being home-bound or hospitalized.

But prescriptions are becoming harder and harder to fill for millions of American seniors who are living on fixed incomes. Prescription drug prices have skyrocketed as much as 20 percent over the past two years. For the typical senior who uses several prescriptions to fight off such diseases as arthritis, hypertension and heart disease, the long-term cost of pharmacy visits can be devastating.

This burden is worsened by the fact that Medicare does not cover the cost of most prescription drugs. The original Medicare plan, passed in 1965, was written at a time when patients' lives were more often saved by scalpels than by pharmaceuticals. Many of the drugs we now routinely use to treat heart disease, cancer and arthritis did not even exist in 1965.

It is time to modernize Medicare to keep up with today's treatments.
For these reasons, I am fighting to include a prescription drug benefit as part of our efforts to strengthen Medicare. I believe that when a doctor prescribes crucial medication, Medicare recipients should be able to follow their doctors'

Making prescription drugs more affordable will help seniors from all
walks of life. Nearly half of the 15 million seniors in our country that
don't have any prescription drug coverage are middle-class Americans. This
is not the way to honor people after a lifetime of work and good
citizenship. No American should be forced to choose between buying food and
buying medicine, and yet we know this happens. We can do better. Now is
the time for our nation to strengthen and improve Medicare.

The President has proposed a plan in which seniors can choose for
themselves an optional Medicare prescription drug benefit. Under the plan,
beginning in 2002, beneficiaries will be able to choose a prescription drug
benefit for a monthly premium. Medicare will then pay half of a recipient's
prescription drug costs up to $2,000. By the year 2008, the prescription
drug benefit will be increased to $5,000. Because there is no deductible,
beneficiaries would be covered starting with their very first prescription.

Older and disabled Americans will also benefit from the volume
discounts that Medicare will be able to secure by buying in bulk.
Prescription drugs will be available to seniors at rates that they would
never have been able to negotiate on their own. And seniors would still
have access to these discounted prices even after they have exceeded their
benefit limit.

By responsibly using our budget surplus, we can make
Medicare solvent and include this prudent prescription drug benefit. We can
help ensure that our seniors are able to enjoy their later years confident
that good health is not priced out of reach.

I believe that this proposal is a good start, but I also hope that
we can do more. There are seniors who are struck by costly catastrophic
diseases and who could easily exceed the $5,000 cap. I am committed to
providing relief to these seniors who are most in need as they try and fight
critical illnesses.

Above all, we need to ensure that those companies which are
providing their employees with solid prescription drug coverage have
incentives to continue. We must make sure that in the area of expanding
prescription drug coverage, our nation moves forward - not back. We need to
fix what is broken, but protect what is right.

By controlling conditions and diseases early and not waiting for
them to become catastrophic, we can plan a better future for our parents and
grandparents. By making prescription drugs affordable, health care will be
less costly, more effective and less worrisome for seniors and will provide
our families with a greater peace of mind. We can commit to secure and
modernized Medicare that offers prescription prices that are reasonable and
fair. It is the least we can do.



New HQ for Jackson National

By Marty Mulcahy

LANSING - In a way, the Jackson National Life Insurance Co. has purchased a good insurance policy for itself.

The nation's 20th largest insurance company insured a quality job by entering into a project agreement with construction manager Granger Construction Co. and building trades unions to construct their new world headquarters building.

A DRAIN PIPE gets the measure of Bart Anderson of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 333 and Shaw-Winkler He was working at the Jackson National Life Headquarters.

"We're right on schedule for occupancy," said Bill Vincent, director of facilities management. "The steel and concrete work are clearly at the level of quality that we expected when we entered into the project agreement."

The four-story, 317,000 square-foot building at I-96 and Okemos Rd. will replace the Jackson National's existing HQ six miles away in Lansing. The new building, which began in February 1999, will consolidate six business sites into one location for 1,200 workers.

"With so much new business and steady growth during the last five years, JNL has outgrown its current building," said Robert P. Saltzman
the company's president and CEO. The project is expected to be complete in November 2000.

Last week, the steel was about one-third complete, concrete was being poured, drainage pipe installation was ongoing, and earth was being moved all over the site.

Jackson National Life has more than 1.7 million policies and $40 billion in assets.

A STRUCTURAL STEEL section at the Jackson National Life headquaters gets a lift from iron workers Bill Shue of Local 340 and Jim Brown of Local 25.



Employers pushing for drug and alcohol testing on job sites

By Patrick Devlin
Greater Detroit
Building Trades Council

The time has arrived for a standardized process for random drug and alcohol testing of construction workers on many major job sites in Southeast Michigan.

Throughout much of this decade, the owner and contractor communities have talked about requiring men and women in the trades who work on their job sites to be tested for drug and alcohol use.

This summer, the talk is over, and reality is setting in. Construction workers are required to pass drug and alcohol tests before going to work on no less than 19 major projects, including some on the property of Daimler-Chrysler, DTE Energy, Ford Motor Co., General Motors, and Northwest Airlines. Now, provisions for random testing are being put into place.

The Greater Detroit Building Trades Council supports the idea of drug and alcohol testing for construction workers. First and foremost, doing what we can to eliminate the use of drugs and alcohol on construction sites can't help but improve safety.

Second, submitting to the test is in keeping with an employment trend from around the country - employers are increasingly requiring a more secure work environment by requiring drug and alcohol testing of their own employees as a condition of employment.

Third, having a ready workforce that is drug- and alcohol-tested is a great marketing tool, and is one more feature we can offer employers as an incentive to hire union. We can rightly claim that a major portion of our workforce has willingly submitted to a drug test, greatly reducing the potential liability of contractors and owners.

Fourth, if a worker does have a substance abuse problem, a positive result may provide him or her with a wake-up call to get some help.

The Greater Detroit Building Trades Council, together with Management and Unions Serving Together (MUST) and the Great Lakes Construction Alliance, have developed a program that has involved hiring the providers of the MOST drug screening system. Developed by the Boilermakers International Union, it gives employers a reliable way to test workers while maintaining privacy for workers. There are 4,000 building trades workers currently in the system.

Here's how it works:

Each worker can voluntarily submit to an annual drug test. The status of the employee is available through a plastic, scannable employee card. On the job, the employer can scan the card or access the necessary information through a restricted access, toll-free number to see if the construction worker is in compliance with the program.

A worker's status is available only to a single medical review officer, who can only tell a hiring contractor whether a worker is listed as "current" or "non-current." Privacy is maintained because "noncurrent" could mean that a worker didn't pass a drug test, but it could also mean he or she hasn't taken the test.

The procedure provides portability of the worker's drug-free status from project to project. There's also a random testing aspect of the program designed to test 25 percent of the program's participants per year.

On projects that require random testing, the enrolled employers will be submitting on a monthly basis a listing of the employees who are eligible for the random testing. That list will be forwarded to MOST for random selection, which uses double-blind software to pick workers.

After MOST randomly generates that list, forms for the selected employees will be made out and delivered to their job sites with pre-approved test collectors. The selected workers will immediately be required to submit a sample for testing. Breath alcohol testing will be required at the same time.

Some building trade union leaders support the concept of drug and alcohol testing, some don't. The same can be said of individual workers, some of whom may feel the testing is an infringement on their rights. But on projects whose owners require drug and alcohol testing, the workers really don't have a choice.

Whatever your opinion, it's important to keep in mind that the drive to implement a system for drug and alcohol testing is coming straight out of the owner community, and the screening system that's in place is totally voluntary. Workers don't have to pee in a cup if they don't want to. They can continue working in their craft at job sites that do not require testing.

However, if the opportunity arises for you to work at the $1.2 billion Northwest Airlines midfield terminal project, you're going to have to submit to drug and alcohol testing. The same goes for General Motors, which is requiring drug and alcohol testing on all of its construction projects as of Aug. 1. Ford Motor Co. has three major projects ongoing that require the testing.

Many projects sponsored by the above owners are operated under GPA, NMA or project labor agreements. When members voluntarily submit to drug testing on these projects, an all-union project is guaranteed.

And the list of projects and employers who require drug testing is only going to get longer in the future.



New rule rewards good guy employers

The Clinton Administration has finally put into place a proposal that promotes employer compliance with labor laws and protects workers' right to organize.

The new mandate, in the works for two years, links the award of federal contracts to contractors' compliance with labor, taxation, employment, environmental, antitrust or consumer protection laws. The business community claims the rules will result in blacklisting and give union labor and unfair advantage.

AFL-CIO Building Trades Department President Robert Georgine said the rule would "prevent habitual corporate lawbreakers" from getting corporate contracts. "For too long, companies with outrageous health and safety records and flagrant violations of our labor, environmental and employment laws have been allowed to contract freely with the government and profit from taxpayer dollars."


Industry pay hikes continue moderation

New U.S. construction labor agreements are averaging $1.11 per hour or 3.9 percent in 1999 - only one tenth of a percent ahead of last year's numbers.

Construction Labor Research Council Executive Director Robert Gasperow told the Bureau of National Affairs that the continued moderation in contract settlements during a building boom in much of the nation is a reflection of "a good economy and responsible bargaining."

Inflation today is nearly nonexistent, he said, so workers are getting more bang for their pay increases. He said other factors are a competitive marketplace and a desire by the industry not to return to the late 1960s and early 1970s, when pay increases were "out of control."



Grand Hi-Reach, 324 reach agreement

A seven-month-long union organizing campaign at Grand Hi-Reach has resulted in a union contract.

The management and 14 employees of Grand Hi-Reach - a Brighton-based firm which rents and sells forklifts, scissor lifts and snorkel lifts - have agreed to become signatory with Operating Engineers Local 324.

Local 324 and Grand Hi-Reach management have had a contentious relationship after the company stonewalled union organizing efforts.

"This is an example of what happens when you have hard-working union business representatives trying to achieve a goal," said Local 324 attorney Doug Korney. "I think it was a wise business move on the part of Grand Hi-Reach. They probably looked at the cold hard facts and decided that it was easier to compete in the marketplace with union labor."

In April, an article on this page urged union members and contractors to utilize unionized firms when they go to rent their lift equipment, and now Grand Hi-Reach is one of those signatory firms. Grand Hi-Reach can be reached at (248) 446-9333.

"We're glad Grand Hi-Reach has signed a contract, and we welcome them with open arms," said Local 324 Business Rep. Dennis Gillow. "We look forward to representing the new members and working with the management."


Benefit set for paralyzed mother

A benefit to help Wanda Rule - a 27-year-old single mother of two kids who was paralyzed in a snowmobile accident - will be held from noon to midnight on Saturday, Aug. 21.

Helping organize the event is pipe fitter Rusty Kurtzalls, who said it is scheduled to take place at Liberty Park in Huron Township. The $20 donation includes an ox roast, beer, 12 bands, face painting, and more.

The benefit will go towards purchasing a van, wheelchair lift and to make renovations to Wanda's home. Donations can be sent to the Wanda Rule Special Needs Trust, PO Box 31-1481, Detroit, MI 48231-1481.

For more information, call Rusty evenings at (734) 955-1663.


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