Lawmakers hit secret VA scheme to partially privatize health care. Five congressional Democrats, all military veterans, have warned the Department of Veterans Affairs against its reported scheme to partially privatize VA health care by merging part of its system with the Defense Department’s health system. In their letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin, Reps. Anthony Brown (Md.), Ted Lieu and Salud Carabajal (Calif.), Collin Petersen (Minn.) and Ruben Gallego (Texas) criticized the merger of DOD’s Tricare system with the VA’s Choice contract care program. Choice lets vets who live too far from VA centers to use private doctors, who VA later repays.

A merger would push more vets onto a private health care system that doesn’t provide integrated care and has problems treating special disorders afflicting veterans, such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and exposure to Agent Orange. It also would cost the vets more out of pocket, the lawmakers said.

“This latest attempt to dismantle the nation’s largest and most important health care system is a disgrace to the men and women who have served this country. It’s selling out veterans and the care they deserve,” said J. David Cox, a retired VA psychiatric nurse and president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Workers raise concerns about wage theft by Amazon subcontractors. Workers subcontracted to deliver packages for Amazon, citing multiple instances of not being paid, protested at the online shopping giant’s Eagan, Minn., facility in the first step of a campaign to raise awareness of wage theft occurring in the Amazon business model, which uses large numbers of subcontractors and so-called independent contractors who lack worker rights (including the right to unionize).

The demonstration also marked a move beyond what other Amazon drivers have done: sued. Others have won worker wage theft/misclassification cases against Amazon and its subcontractors in Los Angeles, Arizona and Seattle, location of the firm’s headquarters.

U.S. becoming “hereditary aristocracy” of wealth at the top. The country is becoming a “hereditary aristocracy” with wealth concentrated among a few at the top while the rest of us struggle, a new study says. Drawing on federal data, analysts Chuck Collins and Josh Hoxie in “Billionaire Bonanza: The Forbes 400 and the Rest of Us” report the Forbes 400 of the wealthiest people in the nation own as much wealth as the bottom 64 percent, 204 million people in the United States. That’s equal to the populations of Canada and Mexico combined.

“The elite ranks of our billionaire class continue to pull apart from the rest of us,” the report says. “We have not witnessed such extreme levels of concentrated wealth and power since the first Gilded Age more than a century ago. Such staggering levels of wealth inequality threaten our democracy, compound racial and class divisions, undermine social cohesion and destabilize our economy,” the authors warn.

Collins and Hoxie see a sign of hope: an “emerging anti-inequality movement” of students in deep debt, workers whose incomes have been flat for decades and families whose wealth is at zero or below. “Over the course of little more than a generation,” a similar movement in the Progressive Era “fashioned a much more equal America. We can do the same.”

Teamsters claim big win vs. largest opioid distributor. In a big win for shareholder activism, and in particular for Teamsters Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall, stockholders in the nation’s largest opioid distributor, McKesson, voted down the firm’s compensation policies and ordered the board to split the positions of chairman and CEO. The twin moves punished current boss John Hammergren for his failure to halt the company’s role in the opioid scourge.
“For the first time ever, shareholders voted to hold a company accountable for its role in the opioid epidemic,” said Hall, a West Virginian whose state has been hit notably hard by the plague. “The country’s largest drug distributor cannot get away with ballooning executive pay and failures in oversight as Americans die every day from opioid addiction.”

McKesson is the top drug distributor in the nation, but paid particular attention to flooding West Virginia with the pharmaceuticals. With McKesson leading the way, the three largest drug distributors shipped enough hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to West Virginia from 2007-12 to provide 235 pills to every West Virginian.

Though the Teamsters – and West Virginia officials — have led the charge against the drug firms’ overdosing customers on opioids, other unions and other states are joining in, Teamster magazine reported. Besides West Virginia, state Treasurers in Illinois, Pennsylvania and California sent letters to the drug company czars “reinforcing the union’s call for them to address the business practices that have led to the opioid crisis,” the magazine added.

Three more campuses show union activism. Within weeks, employees at Columbia College in Chicago went on strike, Fordham University voted to unionize, and the University of Georgia launched an organizing drive.

News briefs courtesy of The Labor Paper

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