Wednesday, August 02, 2006

 

Downsizing of Employee Benefits

According to a News Journal article, published on July 28, 2006, employer are cutting employee benefits to rein in costs. The article written by Luladey B. Tadesse, highlighted that since 2001, employers have cutback in their spending in employee benefits across the spectrum. Both private and public firms have engaged in this practice. Here is the article:

Private employers have cut benefits to Delaware workers since 2001, according to a report released by the state this week.
The cutbacks at private companies, which employ nearly 60 percent of the state's workers, included health care, paid time off and retirement.
"Across all the major types of benefits, there has been some declines," said George Sharpley, senior economist at the state Department of Labor, who wrote the report. The study compared benefits in 2001 and in 2005.
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Larger companies offer more generous benefits and saw fewer benefit cuts, but companies of all sizes are shrinking benefits to cut costs, the study found.
Some of the most notable cutbacks were in health care. In 2001, 93 percent of workers in the private sector were employed at companies that offered health benefits; last year, that dropped to 88 percent.
Delaware workers are coping with fewer choices in health care providers, and those working in larger companies are paying more out of pocket.
"We encourage all of our companies to offer the richest benefits they possibly can, but as costs go up, they make cuts," said Richard Heffron, senior vice president for government affairs at the state Chamber of Commerce. "It's one place they make cuts because it's easy, it's quantifiable. And frankly, health care has gotten so expensive."
Sixty percent of companies in Delaware offered some health care benefits last year compared with 63 percent in the nation as a whole.
"We are seeing some large trends in the increase in cost of the health care benefits and what is going on with that is the reduction of coverage," said Bruce Prangley, principal at Mercer Heath & Benefits, a human resources consulting and research firm.
Annual health benefit cost increases peaked three years ago at nearly 15 percent. Since then, costs have risen at a slower pace, estimated at 6.1 percent in 2005, to an average of $7,089 per employee, according to Mercer.
Still, for many small businesses in Delaware, health care costs remain too high. Only 50 percent of the companies with fewer than five employees offered any type of health care, compared with 95 percent of companies with 50 or more workers.
"It's a huge concern," said Richard Ungerbuehler, chief operating officer at Sky-Trax Inc. in New Castle, a 2 1/2-year-old company with about eight full-time employees. "We simply cannot afford 401(k) plans, dental benefits or even eyeglass benefits."
Instead of offering comprehensive coverage, Ungerbuehler tries to keep his workers happy by offering them flexible schedules, stock options and other work-life balance benefits.
But as benefits continue to dwindle, employers are finding they have to work harder to retain workers.
"I run a very large risk of losing an employee," said Kim Iorii, owner of Cakes by Kim, a bakery in Wilmington, with seven full-time employees who haven't been offered any benefits so far.
But for the first time in 10 years, Iorii is shopping around for health insurance for her workers.
She hopes to cover about 25 percent to 50 percent of the cost of health insurance.
One employee that Iorii would like to keep is Jessica Pepe, who closes the bakery each night and helps out in baking and decorating cakes.
"I go to the doctor a lot," said Pepe, who has been covered by her mother's health insurance, but will no longer be eligible today, when she turns 19. "I was born with cleft palate and I have had a couple of surgeries. I have one more to go, and with the health benefits it will be a lot cheaper."

What's next?

Monday, June 19, 2006

 

A Time of Reckoning for General Motors and Industrial Workers

General Motors faces a huge test in the next 18 months. Why worry? The circumstances and consequences that surround GM's possible failure to survive will send shock waves through workers ranks in America like we have never seen.

The declining market share from 40% not too long ago to the low 20's now has been a free fall and the forecast for more loss is not being made by others but by GM itself. Three dollar gas is stifling sales on a fleet dominated by gas guzzlers yet if CAFE standards go up this company will implode because the Japanese auto manufacturers are poised to capatalize immediately and GM is not. The multitude of car brands that are kept to pacify dealers and avoid a money drain of a brand that goes the way of the buffalo is not helping either.

So why care? It's only a car company, right? Maybe so, but the possible downfall of GM will affect worker pensions, worker health care benefits, retiree health care benefits and jobs. For every auto or manufacturing job there are four other jobs tied to it.

While GM struggles to survive they still pay Roger Smith $1,000,000 a year in retirement for being the guy who lost almost 10% market share while the CEO of GM. We need to think about how we deliver health care, keep retirement safe and keep decent jobs here in America. GM has challenges that has given us opportunities to make things better for workers. Rushing around to keep the GM plant in Delaware is indeed a good thing but addressing the bigger issues of pensions, jobs and health care is the greater challenge.

Mike Protack

 

A War We Can't Win??

Do we stay or do we go? The policy in Iraq is now on center stage in the House and Senate. Not because of the progress made in Sunni areas, the new government in place in Iraq or the series of elections in Iraq but because there are elections here in the United States this fall.

There are still many who are spring loaded to hate the war because they claim Bush lied to the country or the war was illegal. It is time for that sentiment to go away and deal with reality, we are there and we need to acknowledge that if we leave Iraq , the country with the third largest oil reserves in the world will likely fall to an unstable and threat filled terrorist government.

Yes, we must go but when the time is right and not based on political needs of individual politicians but the security and political needs of the United States. I was asked last week on the radio if we were wining or losing in Iraq, I said "right now, it's a draw." These are critical times in Iraq and the media there is offering up the American political landscape to Iraqis and they are clearly wondering if America is an ally or a self absorbed super power.

Unilateral disengagement or "cut and run" will not work. Our "allies" in Europe will relish in our dimished stature. However, staying the course will work only if Americans think the course can be obtained without a lot more casualties and an endless commitment. This is the President's challenge.

Mike Protack

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

 

The Future of Iraq

I spoke on WDEL today about the future of Iraq and Afghanistan. Everyone is looking for the answer on these nations.

Here is mine. As they stand up , we stand down and sooner rather than later. The post invasion time has been challenging for the United States but our servicemen and women are doing a great job and they should be Thanked every day and night. We must see our effort in both countries as events we can not lose and I would say right now the score is tied. We are not losing but we have a long road to victory. For instance ,the US Air Force plans on being in Iraq for 10 years so we are not going anywhere soon. What we do while we are there is the important thing.

Yes. many say now "Bush Lied" about WMD's but the list of people who thought Hussein had WMD's is long, Madeline Albright, William Cohen, Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger and Nancy Pelosi. I don't know if they did or not but I know they don't now and that is important.

We must support the new Iraqi government but also demand their uninterrupted march towards a functioning government that serves it citizens. Until I can be convinced they can't we must stay and win.

Mike Protack

 

Congress fails Us Again

Congress again forgot about Americans and took care of themselves. They voted a 2% pay raise, the seventh straight pay raise despite a 23% approval rating. There was a short lived move to stop the raises but it was beat back quickly and decisively.

To make up for that pay raise we were told of massive fraudulent payments made with Hurricane Katrina funds. Girls Gone Wild Videos, Champagne at Hooters and Lap dances to name a few.

Would someone please tell me what Congress has done right this year??

What about Health Care, Retirement or Runaway Spending?

Monday, June 12, 2006

 

Border Babble

The immigration debate has reached fever pitch with the talking heads and self proclaimed pundits who for the most part neve served a day in uniform of any kind making shrill and non productive remarks. Somehow, they missed Canada. Take a look from NCPA:Canada's lenient asylum, immigration and refugee-status laws have made the country a haven for terrorists with easy access to the United States, says the Washington Times. The threat was spotlighted Thursday at a hearing held by House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims.
According to David Harris, formerly strategic planning chief for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS):
Much of the problem stems from the fact that in per capita terms, Canada takes in double the number of immigrants and three to four times the number of refugees as the United States.
Moreover, Canada is unable to effectively screen and integrate these immigrants, with approximately 90 percent of applicants from Afghanistan and Pakistan being insufficiently vetted for security purposes.
Canada's security problems have been further exacerbated by the fact that politicians from the Liberal Party, ousted from power in January's national elections, curried favor with Islamists and friends of the Tamil Tigers.
On the positive side, new Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose Conservative Party has been in power just over 100 days, and who heads a minority government, has acted to ban the Tamil Tigers. But the Islamist threat has benefited from a lethal combination of Saudi money and radical clerics that have helped turn Canada into a home of radicals who fought in such places as Chechnya, Afghanistan and Bosnia. In total, according to Canadian intelligence, there are more than 350 jihadists and 50 terrorist groups with a presence in Canada.
Most troubling of all, says the Times, is the testimony of Janice Kephart, a former counsel to the September 11 commission: "...terrorists with Canadian, Caribbean or Mexican citizenship can move in and out of the United States...virtually unconcerned about detection," and that al-Qaida is working to exploit these weaknesses in order to attack us again.

Monday, June 05, 2006

 

Education in Delaware $$$$$$$ and More $$$$$

The Sunday News Journal ran a very good story on the money spent in education particularly on salaries of more than $100,000. For every 300 students in Christina School District there is an administrator making more than $100,000 a year. Statewide, the ratio was one for every 400. I think we can do better for our students and I think I chose the wrong profession.

Now, I appreciate every one getting a good salary for what they produce but in a state where we have almost 7,000 assaults a year that result in a suspension and where over 90% of the schools do not pass the DSTP I think I smell grade inflation of a different type.

So now because of mismanagement by hiring people the district could not afford at the high end the folks at the low end, frontline teachers are being laid off. Where was the legislature, where was the Secretary of Education, where was the State Auditor and where is the accountability? It seems education in Delaware is like corporate America where the top folks make mistakes, fall short of goals and still make out great while those at the bottom of the food chain suffer. We deserve better.

Why do we have 19 school districts anyway?? A state with barely over 100,000 students and we need 19 districts? We seem to put more $$$ into education and we produce less. Yes, I hear about the incremental changes in the DSTP but when the NAEP test is compared those gains vanish.

Why not so something simple. Establish Accountability and Opportunity Scholarships.

1. If a student attends a school that doesn't pass the DSTP with at least 70% then that student can take $5000 to any school he wants to. That would be an Accountability Scholarship.

2. If the student above is low income then he gets $10,000 to go anywhere he wants to go. That would be an Opportunity Scholarship.

Now for those who say that would take money away from public schools yes it would. But then there would be fewer students to educate and there would be more money per student. A good deal for all.

Now for those who say that would let tax money go to religious schools. Yes it would but Medicare and Medicare allows $$$ to go to St. Francis Hospital doesn't it?

Now for those who say it would take the cream of the crop I doubt it but when your mission is to educate all students does it matter?

These proposals are not for or against Public Schools but they are for parents and students because they deserve it.


Maybe our schools suffer because our students can't vote.

Mike Protack
















 

Retirement in America-Golden Years?

Retirement in America used to be built on three co equal parts. Social Security, individual savings and personal savings. Unfortunately, unless you are a member of Congress or a corporate executive you will most likely come up short. For instance, Mr. Carper is worth almost 4 million dollars and has a pension from four government offices while having never held a private sector job.

I think we deserve better.


Take a look at www.ntu.org and you will see all of the goodies members of Congress get that we don't and we pay for. Their pensions alone are at least 3-4 times as lucrative as a private sector pension for someone of the same income level. Well, you may say they deserve it. I doubt it because while they get theirs, we don't. Congress has sat around when company after company has dumped their pensions and in most cases the loose laws written by Congress promoted the dumping of workers pensions. Case in point, when USAIRWAYS dumped their aircrew pensions it was reported to be funded at about 83% when in reality it had about one half that in real assets.

Even better, the Bankruptcy laws create an atmosphere where employees are at the bottom of the ladder. The "super priority" status puts employers in the back of the bus-to stay and Congress at the trough to stay.

Personal savings is at an all time low, about as low as the 1930's. Yet, personal savings will be needed given the demise of company pensions. In fact, the proclaimed 401k option will leave a hole of about 7-8 years for most Americans where all they will have is social security which is poverty plus 10%.

What can we do?? I know we can do better.

1. Congress needs to stop taking money from the social security trust fund and instead pay that money back and allow voluntary individual accounts in government backed securities. This in no Wall Street give away, it is a lifeline to folks to make 3-4% rather than 1%.

2. We need to promote savings and now. The design of most tax laws for wealthy people and businesses is to hide income. We need to do that with everyday Americans. How about Freedom Funds which would be individual accounts that are pre tax in three areas. Education,Retirement and Long Term Health Care(nursing home care). These accounts would allow up to 5% pre tax savings after each family member took a $10,000 personal deduction.

The average two income family in Delaware with two children would pay no Federal income tax!

3. Congressional Pensions should reflect the private sector and not Enron style acounting.

4. There should be a mandatory 401k for new workers of 5%. This will allow social security to weather the baby boomers and keep Social Security solvent for the next 45 years.

A Better Deal For Delaware

Mike Protack


Sunday, June 04, 2006

 

If Things Are So Great, Why Are We So Mad?

Welcome to a BLOG dedicated to asking why we tolerate elected officials and policies that do not have a positive effect on us. It won't be about gossip because gossip won't fill your gas tank for less than $50 or educate your kids nor protect your retirement. This BLOG will be our future.

President Bush is at 36% approval and Congress is at 23% yet we are told everything is going so great. Interest rates are low and so is unemployment. Orders for consumers goods and non defense orders are up. Even better, GDP growth is up. So why the discontent?

Well, that is because those facts don't mean much to 95% of America. In fact, by a 35% margin Americans see the economy getting worse than better. This isn't about Iraq, it is much more than that.

I think we can do better as Americans but I know we won't until we realize it will mean moving past the big egos and small minds in elective office that have done very little to make a difference to us. While many of us have lost pensions, they have their pensions. While we sweat health care, they have our tax dollar supported care. While we worry about jobs, they are practically immune to any chance of losing. Our lives will not get better until we change their lives.

This BLOG is a call to arms for the following, safe retirement, decent jobs, being able to afford gas to go to work, getting your kids educated without school districts "losing track" of millions of dollars and getting health care that is flexible, affordable and portable.

Contribute to this process or take the crumbs they give us.

Mike Protack for US Senate
www.mikeprotackforSenate.com

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