Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

by Payal Mehta

Yesterday marked the 50th Anniversary of Medicare, the nation’s first national health insurance program. As soon as President Johnson signed it in 1965, 20 million Americans were immediately covered, and today that has grown to over 54 million.

To celebrate, events were held in Washington, D.C., and around the nation. In Washington, the day started with a rally in the Senate Park hosted by National Nurses United (NNU). The rally featured speakers like Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Executive Director of NNU RoseAnn DeMoro, and Representative Donna Edwards (D-Md.). Click here to watch a video of the rally.

Senator Sanders spoke passionately about expanding Medicare to cover everyone as a single-payer national health care program. Not only did he and the other speakers want to expand Medicare, but to improve it too by protecting it from further privatization threats.

Later in the afternoon a panel hosted by Representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) that Public Citizen helped organize honed in on the expansion and improvement of Medicare as well. The panel featured a riveting conversation between members of Congress and advocates for universal health care. To view the panel celebration, click this link. Public Citizen’s own President Robert Weissman eloquently enlightened us about the harsh reality that we are in and what we need to do advance single-payer Medicare for All in the United States.

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By Nicole Arbabzadeh

In 2014, I finally was able to save enough money to landscape my backyard. As a first-time homeowner, what should have been an enjoyable experience that resulted in the increase of my home’s value quickly turned into an ongoing nightmare wrought with loss and a backhand from the legal system.

I had hired a licensed contractor who had earned my trust with his 28 years in business and persuasive promises and reassurances. After agreeing to the pricing and layout of the yard, I was surprised with a contract that contained a forced (or pre-dispute binding mandatory) arbitration clause. He read only parts of the contract and none of the arbitration agreement. When I had inquired about the contents of the agreement, he stated that it was one, mutually beneficial, two, the most economical option, and lastly, did not involve lawyers.

At the time, I was unaware that none of these claims were true. I later discovered through research and inquiry that forced arbitration, in actuality, strongly favors corporations, is oftentimes much more costly than court and the agreements usually contain an attorney’s fees provision, as did mine.

It is hard to overstate the contractor’s recklessness. The contractor’s failure to measure the yard resulted in a significant increase in the prices of each item contracted for by several thousands of dollars. Ultimately, this mistake resulted in him being unable to provide some of the items, and others only at significant additional cost. He charged for a shipment that was never delivered and for an order that was never made. He also denied ever hiring his subcontractor. Having already been charged an excessive downpayment — for services not rendered — I eventually stopped the work. However, by that time, I had already handed over a large sum of money.

To make matters worse, the contractor did not obtain permits and damaged my property with the improper installation of an electrical conduit that violates local fire safety law. I was left with property damages and a few unfinished, improperly installed items — but mostly with a large, expansive field of dirt in my still desolate backyard.

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By Andrew Gibson

More than a quarter of all Americans are considered financially underserved because they lack access to traditional financial institutions. This is often a result of one’s geographic location or low income. In order to access their finances and make bill payments, these underserved Americans are frequently forced to rely upon alternative financial services like money transfers, check cashing services and payday loans. These businesses frequently prey on the financially underserved by including large fees, high interest rates and forced arbitration clauses with their products.

Companies should not have free rein to exploit low-income Americans by trapping them into a vicious cycle of debt. Accordingly, Public Citizen has signed on to the Campaign for Postal Banking with others like the American Postal Workers Union and Americans for Financial Reform to advocate for expanding the non-banking financial services offered by the U.S. Postal Service.

According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG), an independent oversight agency within the USPS, more than 68 million adults in the United States rely on services like payday loans, check cashing, and prepaid debit cards to access their earnings and pay bills.

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By Emily Myers

On April 22, U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va) introduced H.R. 1927, a bill that would severely limit the ability of citizens who have been harmed or ripped off to band together in a class-action lawsuit. The bill stipulates that in order to be certified as a class, each individual member must prove they have suffered an injury identical in type and extent to the proposed class representative(s). This would create unnecessary red tape for people who have suffered harm at the hands of corporations and institutions and effectively ban them from forming class actions. Historically, class actions have been an efficient and economical way for consumers and citizens to reconcile their disputes with employers and companies. Below are five of the most important class-action lawsuits that would have been threatened by Rep. Goodlatte’s bill.

Anderson v. Pacific Gas & Electric Company

Immortalized in the film Erin Brockovich, Anderson v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. allowed the residents of Hinkley, California, to be compensated for the medical costs of PG&E’s negligence. PG&E had been knowingly dumping hexavalent chromium, a recognized poison since 1925, into the town’s groundwater. In 1996, the lawsuit was settled for $333 million, the largest civil action settlement at the time. This case would have been virtually impossible to win had the residents of Hinkley been prohibited from banding together. Unless we want to encourage corporations to freely pump carcinogens through our water, we need to protect the right to class-action lawsuits and oppose Rep. Goodlatte’s bill.

Brown v. Board of Education

A class-action lawsuit was behind one of the most important civil rights cases of all times, ensuring that the quality of one’s education would no longer be decided by the color of one’s skin. After the Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas, decided to maintain its racially segregated elementary school system, African-American children of elementary school age brought a class action lawsuit challenging the system in a federal court in Kansas. The case ultimately was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court together with similar class actions filed on behalf of children in South Carolina, Virginia and Delaware. Those fighting for social justice argued that “separate but equal” was a myth because as long as black and white schools remained segregated they would never be equal. On May 17, 1954, The court agreed, and a major milestone in the civil rights movement was reached. If we want to keep moving our society forward to achieve better civil rights protections, we cannot restrict class-action lawsuits.

Anderson et al., v. Cryovac Inc. et al.

You may know this case from the John Travolta movie, A Civil Action, but outside the world of cinema, it had major impact on the lives of Woburn, Massachusetts, residents. The named plaintiff, Anne Anderson, and six other Woburn families sued Beatrice Foods, the John L. Riley Tannery, and W.R. Grace & Company, a New York company that owned and operated the Cryovac Division manufacturing plant, for polluting the town’s drinking water with trichloroethylene, perchloroethylene and other toxic chemicals. Woburn families had suffered immensely at the hands of these companies’ actions. In addition to health problems like skin rashes, vision difficulties, miscarriages and headaches, 12 Woburn children, eight of them living within a half-mile radius, had been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. The plaintiff class ultimately was rewarded a settlement of approximately $8 million. The expense of proving companies are responsible for causing an illness is very high since experts are required to help draw the connection to who caused the harm. It’s only efficient to bring such cases as class actions, where multiple persons have suffered some harm caused by the same entity or entities. The fact is, a class action was the best hope for Woburn families, as it is for many people.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Litigation

In March of 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground, spilling 11 million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound off the coast of Alaska. Until the BP Oil spill in 2010, the Exxon Valdez spill was considered to be the worst environmental disaster in the United States. In addition to the appalling environmental degradation, the livelihoods of local people plummeted as a result of the spill. A class action was filed on behalf of 32,000 fishermen, Alaska natives, landowners, and others. U.S. District Court Judge H. Russell Holland stated that, “Exxon officials knew that carrying huge volumes of crude oil through Prince William Sound was a dangerous business, yet they knowingly permitted a relapsed alcoholic to direct the operation of the Exxon Valdez through Prince William Sound.” After years of appeals and renegotiations, the plaintiff class was awarded $1.515 billion. The negligence of Exxon Mobil leading up to the spill was staggering, and the harm the corporation did needed to be reconciled. Rep. Goodlatte’s bill would prevent people affected by corporate wrongdoing from banding together and seeking justice, as those harmed by the Exxon Valdez spill did.

Lois E. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Company

Lois E. Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., depicted in the film North Country, was the first sexual harassment class-action lawsuit. Filed on behalf of Lois E. Jenson and 14 other female workers in the EVTAC mine in Eveleth, Minnesota, in 1988, the conclusion of the case changed worker protection laws on both the state and federal levels and set a precedent for other class actions aiming to end workplace harassment and discrimination. The women involved in the class-action lawsuit were subjected to extreme harassment in the form of stalking, abusive language, threats and intimidation. Since 1984, Lois E. Jenson had repeatedly tried to bring attention to the problem but was met with additional hostile behavior and eventual dismissal. A class-action suit allowed her and 14 other women to be compensated for the traumatizing harassment they endured. In 1994, the case ended with an out-of-court settlement after years of delay by the judges and jury. The 15 women received a monetary settlement from the EVTAC mine of $3.5 million. It’s extremely important that we keep Rep. Goodlatte from turning back the clock on women’s ability to challenge harmful behavior in the workplace like sexual harassment.

Emily Myers is an intern with Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division

Today, we remember the victims of fatal workplace hazards and observe Workers Memorial Day. We have all encountered a hazard in the workplace at one time or another. Whether it was a slippery floor, unguarded machinery, blocked emergency exits or a frayed electrical cord, hazards in the workplace come in many different shapes and forms.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, during 2013 (most recent data available) 4,585 workers died on the job, averaging 13 fatalities per day nationwide. Although it is true that the rate of occupational fatalities has decreased since the inception of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1970, far too many families are still losing loved ones due to employer negligence and workplace accidents.

Recent examples of workplace fatalities around the nation during the past several weeks have been prevalent in the media. In New York City, a 40 year old worker was crushed by a crane that collapsed. In Philadelphia, a 42 year old carpenter fell 80-feet to his death from a scaffold. In San Francisco, a 28-year old was struck and killed by a rolling pipe in a job-site accident near Highway 101.

The resources that have been appropriated to OSHA to protect worker safety and health are dismal at best.

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