North Dakota AFl-CIO Legislature Watch - Week 11

Sisters and Brothers,

Believe it or not, week eleven of the 65th Legislative session just passed. The days go by slow, but the weeks fly right past. In fact, this week is the deadline for referrals of bills into appropriations. The time for testimony will be soon over and the slow grinding arguments over how to pay for what the legislature has passed will be upon us.

Though not strictly Labor bills, I followed a few this week that would have impacts on the working poor and other allies. HB-1308 in its original form would have made addiction screening for Temporary Aid to Needy Families mandatory. This was amended to make it softer, but many in both the hearing and on the Senate floor opposed it, and it failed in the Senate.

Studies around the nation have shown that drug screening for assistance recipients finds less than 1%. Understand also that TANF is a very small amount of aid that only goes to families with children and is limited to a maximum of 60 months in a lifetime. In fact, there are presently only around 350 people in the state of North Dakota who would fall under this screening requirement. Following what the rest of the nation finds, North Dakota would only find between 1 and three people in threr drug screening These screening mandates are a waste of money, and it is very difficult to prove that they have any effectiveness in helping the children under the programs.

We feel strongly that this is just another chapter in the long war on poor and working people. In the strategy of divide and conquer, getting working people to hate poor people has always been a big step. Understand also that this is only the beginning. Drug and alcohol screening for unemployment recipients is already in the works in Congress.

I also watched the Socialist Casino Bill, HCR 3033 get shot down in committee. Even after Al Carlson tried to amend it into allowing private casinos instead of state owned ones. The committee’s rejection of this bill upset him enough to demand it go back into the same committee that rejected it. Yeah… really! Apparently, this was his legislative mulligan. Send it back and pretend the committee didn’t actually work on it already. Amusing!

Let’s be honest. We don’t need socialist or even state owned casinos that are going to kill the economic engines that already exist in our poorest of counties. What we need are laws that support our workers when they are hurt, programs that offer training and protection for those who lose their jobs to help them find another without going bankrupt. And if we are going to have economic development, let’s do it in a way that will benefit all of us.

We also need to find ways of healing the rift between our native sisters and brothers and many others in this state. The casino bill in any form is just a vindictive jab against the tribes, one that is petty and unwarranted.

Our teachers and public employees are still facing one heck of a fight ahead of them in the next few weeks in so many different ways. There is a public employee hiring freeze bill forcing the remaining employees to work harder for no extra pay. There were bills limiting available tax revenue and, of course, Al Carlson’s 85 page hostile takeover of the Public Employees Retirement system that would have put him in far more control. Fortunately, this last was rejected in committee and replaced with a possible study.

For more info please click the following link.

Since so many of the bills we have either supported or opposed have already moved through, I feel that a solid review of some others would help.

HB-1197 relating to asbestos lawsuits has made it through both houses but was amended slightly. This one should not cause workers any undue harm.

HB-1193, the economic harm bill that would greatly affect strikers, picketers and others. Everyone is still keeping quiet about this, and there is not much pressure to pass it in the senate. At the very least, it will be amended and hopefully will just disappear altogether.

HB-1251 related to inmates building modular homes for poor families. This would be an excellent place for many of the Trades, if they are allowed to get involved, to shine in helping people who want a second chance in life to get skills training.

That’s it for the state report, but we have to start looking at the national working people’s fights too 

I MEAN WE REALLY HAVE TO START PAYING ATTENTION!!! The Trump administration is throwing out numerous policies that are going to deeply affect all of us. We cannot just let them go by!

For instance, the Affordable Care Act current replacement has been predicted by the Congressional Budget Office to drop 14 million people off of insurance immediately and 24 million people in the next ten years. These are mostly poor working people. Understand that these numbers are not some left wing guesses. The CBO estimates are the Republican controlled government’s own estimates of the effects of this bill. In North Dakota alone, this will force the closings of several rural hospitals and will certainly kill people in this state.

The Trump budget, in addition, is a disaster for anyone who is not a millionaire. The rich will get more tax cuts while the rest of us survive off of scraps. It cuts education by 13.5% and transfers millions of public money into private schools leaving far less money for the rest of us.  It also eliminates after school programs that help working families with caring for their children while they work and many other damaging policies.

It cuts the Labor Department by nearly 21% slashing job training and safety programs. This alone is a stab in the back for every worker in this great nation. We pay our taxes, and we work very hard to keep this country running. We do not deserve a 21% cut to the department in charge of helping us.

There are numerous slashes (16.2% to be exact) to human service programs like meals on wheels, fuel subsidies and other programs our elderly rely on to survive. Not to mention cutting absolutely essential programs in the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Health along with training for essential medical personnel.

And for all those who are involved with farming or know people who are, the Trump budget cuts Ag funding by 21% also. Farm incomes are down 50% overall from four years ago, and he wants to cut Ag programs? Wow!

Together these cuts are going to be a catastrophe for the average working and retired person, and all of it is to give the richest few percent another tax break. Do not for a minute believe that the money is not there to pay for these programs. Corporations are more profitable now than they have ever been. Most are making money hand over fist and paying nothing in taxes and racking up billions in financial reserves. In 2014 Apple had $178 billion in cash reserves! $178 billion!!! Not investments but in cash reserves. Microsoft had $90 billion and Google $60 billion. In 2015, US companies had a total of $1.73 trillion in cash. And none of this counts the company investments or personal wealth of the top 1% of real actual people.

The amount of revenue going to corporations and the upper slice of the economic ladder is staggering, and the money for these essential services is there and has been for decades. The United States cannot maintain our place in the world by cutting our children’s educations and denying workers the ability to retrain for new careers. Any plan for the future need to involve serious investment in our people and their children. Any other option is the path to becoming a second-rate economy and country.

Please watch closely and begin to fight back. The North Dakota AFL-CIO will be sending out actions in the next few days to put pressure on our government to not slash programs for working people 

In Solidarity.

Waylon Hedegaard
President/Secretary Treasurer
North Dakota AFL-CIO
(701) 595-3334