Editor’s Note: Unlike previous Rick Smith Files, this month Raging Chicken Press brings you three interviews from the Rick Smith Show from the November 16, 2011 show that all deal with the issue of privatization. We wanted to bundle these three interviews into one post to underscore that the story of privatization is happening in virtually every sector of our public lives today. Taken separately, each segment tells a powerful piece about the current political climate in Pennsylvania and nationally. Taken together, we can see a systematic move to privatize everything. Each privatization effort has its own dynamics, but each one is merely a local adaptation of the general tendency by Republicans and many Democrats to privatize the Commons and redistribute wealth to the wealthiest 1%.
Irwin Aronson: Stripping Workers’ Compensation, Socializing Risk, Privatizing Rewards
Lead in music (Leroy Van Dyke – “The Auctioneer Song”):
[Rick Smith]: Well, you know, that sounds like what’s going on here in the State Legislature as they’re hocking off state assets. They want to sell of the state Wine & Spirits shops. Hey! Let’s get rid of education…let’s privatize that. Oh, yeah! What about the roads and bridges? Yeah, let’s sell that! Let’s privatize it all. Sell off what is yours and what is mine. And I go back to are there any worker protections in Conservative World? I point to this story in Michigan, House Bill 5002, where they want to be able to say, “you know what? Injured worker? If there’s a job out there that we think you can do…well, whether you can get it or not, whether you’re hired or not, were going to take money away from you.” Isn’t that beautiful? Welcome to Conservative World. Amazing stuff.
Anyway, I’ve got our good friend Attorney Irwin Aronson on the phone here to talk to us a little bit about these privatization schemes and maybe a little about this workers’ comp thing. Irwin, thanks for taking time for me.
[Irwin Aronson]: Hey, good to be here, Rick. Good to hear your voice and it’s a wonderful week here in Pennsylvania.
[Rick Smith]: As the attacks come fast and furious. You know, I look at this comp bill that they’re trying to push through in Michigan…and, again…you know there’s part of me that says let’s just do away with workers’ comp altogether and give me my Constitutional right to sue back.
[Irwin Aronson]: Well, I don’t disagree with you much and I know that I’m an old guy with gray whiskers, so I have a memory. This is just one more piece in Michigan of a very old wine in a new bottle. Back in 1996 and again in 1999, we faced exactly the same kind of attack on workers’ comp right here in Pennsylvania. My good friend and colleague, Dave Wildeman and I described it in our effort, which was only successful in part to beat it, as “phantom jobs with fictional income.” What they proposed to do back then in Pennsylvania—and I’m sure we’re going to see it again in this environment—was that they would make up a job somewhere that allegedly was available within a workers’ comp claimant’s limitations and conditions, and if that person didn’t get the job, they would attribute that phantom job that nobody could identify with any precision—it was just a general job that might exist in the economy—they would attribute that fictional income from that phantom job to the individual. And, that didn’t have one impact, it had two impacts.
The first impact is that it cut his or her benefits to which he or she was entitled, immediately. But, the second impact, which is far more significant, is that if one is totally disabled under the workers’ compensation law, one is entitled to benefits as long as one remains totally disabled. But if one is partially disabled, in other words, can do some work—like the phantom job they would attribute with this fictional income—then you’re considered to be, not totally disabled, but partially disabled. And, Pennsylvania’s workers’ compensation law says that anybody who’s partially disabled, regardless of how severe that partial disability is, is entitled to a maximum of 500 weeks of benefits. Slightly less than ten years. After that? Tough luck buddy, you’re on your own. That’s the other cynical point.
I will tell you, Michigan’s law, on that point, is very similar. So, part of it is assigning a phantom job with fictional income to a claimant to cut their benefits immediately. Part of it is to terminate their lifetime disability compensation into 500 weeks period of compensation no matter what the dimension of their injuries. And, we have to remember that workers’ compensation is a replacement, as you indicated, for your normal, otherwise existing, in every other context, right to sue people who hurt you. This is a wildly cynical approach.
[Rick Smith]: What it is, is the attack on workers’ rights across the country. It’s just the next—basically from every direction—attack on workers’ rights.
[Irwin Aronson]: Yeah, it absolutely is. One of these weeks when the opportunity presents itself, I would like to spend time doing a segment exclusively on workers’ compensation, and the history of workers’ compensation in the United States and here in Pennsylvania, because there was a social contract that gave rise to workers’ compensation. Workers gave up their right to sue in return for what was supposed to be a guarantee of income when they get hurt trying to earn a living. This was not merely to protect workers, but also to protect employers from the uncertainty of the outcome of classic law suits. We lost our right to sue, they lost their right to contest. Ever since that time, in 1913 here in Pennsylvania, there has been a march toward constant erosion of the right of workers who are victims of the workplace. Anybody who describes people who qualify for workers’ compensation any other way is a liar or a fool.
[Rick Smith]: We look forward to that segment very soon, because I think it’s an important topic and I think these attacks…pointing these attacks out is extremely important. I did want to get to something else as well.
As we’re looking around, this privatization commission and all of the privatization that is coming—House Bill 310 and 11, P3s—Public Private Partnerships, privatizing our transportation systems in places like Allegheny County, privatizing our liquor stores—Wine & Spirit shops. To me, again, more theft from people like you and me, handing off to the Koch Brothers and the billionaire class.
[Irwin Aronson]: No question that it is. It just shocks me. I think that we need a privatization commission to determine how privatized our government has already become, because very clearly, the people who are coming up with these ideas are on the public payroll. They swore and oath to protect us, to protect our Constitution, to protect our laws and all they are doing is advocating the demise of those things.
I will tell you, this March, whether they call it “vouchers” that Governor Corbett is advocating, which is the privatization of education; or, they call it the sale of the State Wine & Spirit shops, which is the privatization of a very successful corporate enterprise in which you and I and everyone in Pennsylvania are beneficial shareholders, that cuts our taxes by $400 or more million a year while providing family-sustaining jobs, with family-sustaining benefits in every single county in this state; or, it’s privatization of our crumbling bridges and roads in the so-called, phoney “P3s” in which just yesterday they stripped out any protection for our community standards in the legislation that they are now considering to create them. There is a thread here, and you hit the nail on the head. Our government has been privatized already and they’re just trying to now swallow up our assets that we own. Maybe, just maybe, somebody ought to privatize that Capitol building and lock the door. If they’re not in session, they may be able to do a little less violence to us.
[Rick Smith]: Yeah and I’m hoping for the holidays to come quickly, because the attacks that I’ve seen and I look at this Privatization Commission that they’ve put together. It’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “what” they’re privatizing. And, you look at some of the names on that list…there’s nothing that those people believe that is in the purview of government. They don’t believe in government, they hate government, and they want everything privatized and profitized.
[Irwin Aronson]: With all due respect, I don’t disagree with you often, but I disagree with you right now.
[Rick Smith]: Alright.
[Irwin Aronson]: They don’t hate government, they love government because government socializes their risk and privatizes their reward. And that’s what this is about.
I’m old enough now to recall the days when urban mass transit systems were all private. After the privateers wrung the last penny of profit out of them, they ran away and abandon them. That’s why we have a Capitol Area Transit in Harrisburg, a Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia, a Port Authority of Allegheny County out in the greater Pittsburgh area, and so many others in towns as small as State College, as large as Allentown and Scranton. That’s the reality. These have all been private before. None of this is new. The Walnut Street bridge in Harrisburg that is now only half of a bridge used to be a toll bridge. When the toll operator found that it needed to be repaired, he turned it over to the city. The Market Street bridge in Harrisburg and virtually all the bridges in Pittsburgh and many of the bridges in Philadelphia were all private toll bridges at one time, owned by private entrepreneurs when it was entrepreneurial. As soon as they ran into trouble, they ran like hell from them and turned them over to we taxpayers to finance them. And now that we have paid for decades to fix them up, they want to steal them off of us again!
[Rick Smith]: And that’s why I look at House Bills 310 and 11, especially 10 when you’re talking about transportation, going back doing exactly what you’re saying. Now that we’ve built these transit systems back up, now that they’re functional, they’re working, people are using them, now, the profiteers, they want them back.
[Irwin Aronson]: Profiteers-Privateers. We have a problem in our society and the problem we have in a nutshell here in Pennsylvania and throughout the country, is that we are acquiescing in socializing risk while we also acquiesce in privatizing the rewards associated with that risk. And that just cannot stand.
[Rick Smith]: How do we stop it?
[Irwin Aronson]: We stop it they way we talk about on this show very frequently. We get up, stand up and don’t give up our rights. We participate in this political process. Every time we get frustrated by it is a reason to get more involved in it. Ultimately, while they can out-spend us, there are more of us than there are of them and we can out-vote them if we merely exercise our franchise.
[Rick Smith]: There you go. Contact them early, often. Let them know, no more privatization, please.
[Irwin Aronson]: Let them know: no more privatization. But, let them know we’re watching. That they can’t do things in Harrisburg and Washington and tell a different story when they come home on our dime for the weekend.
[Rick Smith]: Excellent point. Irwin, always great talking to you. Have a great weekend, congratulations to our daughter on getting married, nothing but the best thoughts from us here at the program for her and for you and your family as well.
[Irwin Aronson]: Thanks so much! This will be the best weekend ever, because my little girl is going to become a Mrs.
[Rick Smith]: I’m dreading that day myself. Thanks so much, Irwin.
[Irwin Aronson]: Thank you!
State Rep. Scott Conklin: The Sorry State of Pennsylvania Politics
Music Intro: Billy Bragg, “You Fascists are Bound to Lose”
[Rick Smith]: Welcome back to the Rick Smith Show! Check out the website at RickSmithShow.com. I gotta tell you, I hope you’re as flipping mad as I am about this stuff. Changes to the workers’ comp system, hocking off all of our state assets. I mean, you look at it. The attacks are fast, they’re furious, and their coming from one party. Look, the Republicans, they’ve got it in for us. Selling off our assets, privatizing education, privatizing the state Wine and Spirits shops, privatizing our transportation systems.
I can’t get it out of my head…last night…Colorado, putting advertising on kindergarteners’ report cards! Is that what we’ve come to? It’s a damn shame. I’ve got State Representative Scott Conklin on the line. Scott, thanks for taking time for me.
[Scott Conklin]: Hello, Rick Smith, how you doing tonight!
[Rick Smith]: I’m angry, I’m frustrated, I’m ticked off. You guys are killing me over there!
[Scott Conklin]: Hey, don’t look at me…for the ninth time this session, they [the State House Republicans] cut off debate again tonight. I mean…you see, the way they run the House floor now, is that they just cut off debate. They make amendments out of order. They cut off debate. So, this way you don’t have to put up with opposition. It’s such a great way to run a democracy. You know, the best way to run a democracy is through dictatorship, because it just keeps things flowing much easier.
[Rick Smith]: Yeah, I mean, the people driving the steamroller…well, you’re not killing me, the guy driving the steamroller, he’s the one killing me.
[Scott Conklin]: It’s bad, Rick.
[Rick Smith]: I look at these bills that I was just talking to Irwin about: House Bills 310 and 11. More Public-Private Partnerships. We’re going to give our money to profiteers. House Bill 310, we’re going to privatize the transportation systems in second-class cities that we’ve built up over the years. House Bill 311…what the heck, let’s get rid of the state Wine & Spirit shops. And now I see the voucher thing going through. We’re gonna pass privatization of education. What are we coming to?
[Scott Conklin]: We’re coming to the way we were….and you and I have talked about this before…they’re trying to put it back to the way it was before the beginning of the 20th Century. It was in the 60s when they realized they had 3,000 school districts, we couldn’t manage them, there was a discrepancy between rich and poor, there was segregation. So what they did was they made 501 school districts in Pennsylvania so it’s easier to manage.
What are we doing today? We’re now tearing the school systems apart into separate entities. We’re going to make winners and losers. In fact, at the end of the day, we’re doing to have less education dollars and less of an education for our children by the time we get done with vouchers, because there is only so much money.
For some reason, I don’t understand the disconnect that these legislators have. They talk about wanting to lower property taxes. Well, the only property taxes that hurt you are your school property taxes. So, their theory is if we give less money to schools, all that is going to happen is that property taxes are going to raise and the private schools who are for-profit—who, by the way, last year Students First gave more money to candidates than the teachers’ union gave to candidates. So, that should be sending up a red flag as it is.
Rick, it’s crazy. It’s upside-down. It’s crazy. There’s no debate. You’re right. The steamroller that is going over the citizens of Pennsylvania. But our problem is that we can’t get people out to vote. This election cycle happened again last week. Less than 23% turnout. We can’t get people out to vote.
[Rick Smith]: And maybe…I’ve been saying for the longest time…you go back to the old labor saying: sometimes your stomach has to be empty before your head gets right. And maybe things have got to get much worse.
Maybe my kid has to bring home a report card with an advertisement in the corner. I am just…I cannot tell you how flipping mad I am. It’s not even my school district. In the Conservative World of Coors Brewery—Golden, Colorado—the school district out there in Golden, Colorado…they’re putting advertisements on kids’ report cards.
[Scott Conklin]: It’d be nice if they put a coupon on it and gave a discount for Coors beer. That way, you know, it’d make it something tempting.
[Rick Smith]: There ya go. Make the kids forget the fact that they’re not getting an education. What’s amazing to me, is that this is a school district with 90,000 kids in it and they get $30,000 a year to put these ads on these kids’ report cards. What’s amazing to me is how cheap we are selling off our assets. I go back to our transportation system, I go back to the Wine & Spirits shops, I go back to education. We’re privatizing all this stuff and we’re not—I’m telling you—we’re not getting anything for it.
[Scott Conklin]: Very little. As you saw, first they said we were going to get millions of dollars until they realized that the vendors weren’t willing to pay $2.3 million. So, now it becomes a “moral issue” and the way to the “moral issue” is to put out three times as many liquor licenses as there is now. So, their way to morality is to make getting booze easier. It makes no sense to me, whatsoever. Well, it does….the only sense it makes is you’ve got to follow the money. Where’s the money coming from? And who’s giving it. As Will Rogers once said, “We have the most loyal politicians in the world. Once they’re bought, they stay bought.
[Rick Smith]: Excellent point. You know, I look at this and I’m waiting for this uprising and I’m seeing people around the country at these different Occupations…here in Harrisburg you see 20-30 people out on the Capitol steps, but I’m waiting for the mass uprising. Where it’s not just people you can easily marginalize. To where it’s middle-income people, it’s everybody saying, “enough is enough.”
[Scott Conklin]: What they’ve done, masterfully, is that they’ve made people turned off by politics. I tell folks all the time, when you look at the last few election cycles, to where the Democrats are getting beat right and left, the Republicans are voting at the same numbers they have always voted. When you look at almost any race and you look at what the Republican candidates received, it’s the same amount each time. When you look at what the Democratic candidates receive, it’s going down and down and down over the election cycles.
So, what they’ve done masterfully—and I’ve told people this for years—negative advertising and negativity doesn’t change a vote. What it is, is that it keeps a certain population of people home. And, as the average Democrat, the average blue-collar person, the person who just works night and day, are normally…are pretty moderate folks. They really don’t want to get involved in a lot of dirty play. The dirtier it’s gotten over the past thirty years, the more partisan it’s gotten, it’s turned those folks off and they aren’t coming out. So, the strategy is working.
[Rick Smith]: It is by design. And, you go back…I think it was 1980…Paul Weyrich was one of the co-founders of the Heritage Foundation, he was speaking before a gathering of about 20,000 ministers down in Dallas, Texas and this is…listen to what he told them:
I mean, right there. This is back in 1980, this was the game plan and they have followed it to a “T.”
[Scott Conklin]: That is an excellent clip, I’ve never heard that before. That is an excellent clip.
[Rick Smith]: But it explains everything that they’ve done. The voter suppression stuff—Oh, well we want to have granny who’s been voting at the same poll for 70 years, we want her now to have a photo ID. And, we want to have all of these restrictions on people’s right to vote. I thought it was a right.
[Scott Conklin]: When you look across…in Florida and in other states where they realized that the working class is a majority that votes Democrat. So, what do we do? We give them early voting, we realize that Democratic candidates are doing better because the single-mother, the guy who works night and day and doesn’t take a day off work, is able to vote when [she or] he has the time. What do they do? They realize that and they want to get rid of the early voting now, they want to make it harder for people to vote, because then they know that the folks that work, raise the children, work in the fields, work in the mines, work in your local grocery store, have too hectic of a life to be able to get to the polls to vote. And they know that, so they want to make it as difficult as possible for them to get there.
[Rick Smith]: You know, my question always to Democrats is why don’t we take a page from the Republican playbook? Why aren’t there bills…I mean, you look at Daryl Metcalfe. He’s been proposing the same insane legislation pretty much from the day he came in and now here we are years later and they’re actually talking about it. Why don’t we have Democrats who throw wild ideas out there like…oh, I don’t know…same day voter registration? Hey, try to encourage more people to vote. Why don’t we hear of something like that every single legislative term?
[Scott Conklin]: You know, I mean, you know I have the early voting registration out there. We have other people who have the same day voter registration legislation out there. We just…it’s…we keep going out and we keep beating the drum, but one of the problems we’re having right now, Rick, is that we’re so far in the minority that the agenda…I mean, we really have to beat to control the agenda. They’ve used every parliamentarian move there is to keep any of that stuff off the books.
[Rick Smith]: But, Scott, I thought these were the transparency people, these were the accountability people, I thought these were the people who were going to do government differently, in the open of sunshine. Isn’t that what’s going on?
[Scott Conklin]: It’s only good government when it’s good for you to get elected. But once you’re elected, as the Speaker said today, when our leader, Frank Dermody, asked to speak on the suspension of the rules, which they did again for the ninth time—most that’s ever been done under any session was four times, we’re not even half-way through and he’s done it nine times already—he asked, “why can’t we speak?” And the Speaker proudly told him that he has historical precedent that the leaders do not get to speak on the suspension of the rules. The historical precedent was that the leader Sam Smith had done it earlier and that was the historical precedent for why we can cut off debate.
[Rick Smith]: Just amazing. And you know what bothers me is that we’re not seeing that…that should be splashed across every headline in every newspaper across this state.
[Scott Conklin]: Again, we’re having a hard time getting our folks involved. I mean, I’ve been a union guy since 1977. What were the last statistics? Forty-five percent of school teachers voted for Corbett and seventy-two percent of the union people voted for Corbett in the last election.
[Rick Smith]: Yeah.
[Scott Conklin]: I mean, it’s unbelievable. We’re even having trouble getting our own members, our own brothers and sisters to understand how important it is for them to really look at the candidates and really look at these issues.
[Rick Smith]: Yeah, and I go back to it’s because it’s what’s in their ear. And I do believe…I don’t believe they’re bad people, I don’t think they’re uneducated, I think it’s what they’re hearing, it’s the messaging they’re getting, it’s the dominance of the right-wing to get their message out through their talk radio venues and their publications. After all, these newspapers are big conglomerates, it’s big business.
[Scott Conklin]: The last bastions…the last…the only thing that’s holding them up from having control of everything are the unions right now. That’s it.
[Rick Smith]: Which is why they’re trying to destroy them.
[Scott Conklin]: Their number one goal is to destroy the unions, you’re absolutely right. I mean, folks, remember what we are. We’re a group of individuals who put a little bit of money together to grow a big pot to stand up for workers’ rights. If they splinter this and they get rid of us, there is not going to be any way to be able to stand up to them. I mean…prevailing wage…I love the argument on prevailing wage. They say it’s too high. Well, how’s it set? These men who are in business have to submit their payrolls. The only one’s who have to submit their payrolls happen to be union contractors. Why don’t the non-union contractors have to submit their payrolls? They don’t submit them because many times maybe all their workers aren’t verified citizens. Or, they’re doing the bait and switch where they have a carpenter and they pay him ten hours but then they pay him 30 hours on laborers wages. That’s why they don’t them. And it always shocks people when you explain that to them. All they have to do…if these business people are so adamant about lowering prevailing wage, just tell them to submit their payrolls.
[Rick Smith]: Yeah, I had a guy who worked for a non-union contractor who said his boss won’t…they won’t take any prevailing wage jobs because it’s too onerous. And I said, the onerous part is you making a decent wage. That’s the onerous part.
[Scott Conklin]: Absolutely.
[Rick Smith]: But, again, you have to explain those things. And part of it is that I think people have to hear that the prevailing wage is, like you said, it is the prevailing wage of the area. And we need to have those to have local, non-transient building and construction trade here at home so we can have buildings that are built well. Because, why? The people live there, their kids are probably sitting in the classrooms. We want roads and bridges built well by the people who are going to drive over them. I don’t want people coming through, doing the construction work, and leaving and leaving us behind with a mess.
[Scott Conklin]: We’re going to have an interesting next year. As you know, on the House floor right now…you were talking about building bridges and roads. I’m trying to figure out how the Governor is planning on doing building and roads when he signed Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge, which, by the way, did you see that he just put out a letter stating that a fee is a tax.
[Rick Smith]: Right.
[Scott Conklin]: Half of the Republican body has signed this no-tax pledge. We’re running a bill tomorrow on the House floor—the severance bill—which they cut off debate on tonight, which takes all local control away from your local municipalities to do anything about drilling, it’s in this bill. But how are planning on passing a bill when Grover Norquist, their hero, has called a fee now a tax. Tomorrow should be very interesting for those who are listening, they really want to watch tomorrow’s vote and see exactly how it goes, knowing full well that after members have decided that they will not vote for any type of tax increase.
[Rick Smith]: Jeez, oh man. And you wonder why the people of the state of Pennsylvania look at Corbett and look at the Republicans and go, “hey, yeah, they’re in the pocket of the drillers.”
[Scott Conklin]: Government by gimmick. The shame is, it works.
[Rick Smith]: And, again, it’s all about the messaging. I hear the ads on the radio: “My drilling company is blah, blah, blah. Oh they’re so wonderful, we love our drillers.”
[Scott Conklin]: And, you know what? What’s so funny about this is that I’m not against the drilling industry. I think the gas industry does a good job. We need the natural gas. What I’d really like to see though is for them to pay property taxes like they used to before 2002, or just be able to reimburse just as the coal company does.
[Rick Smith]: I want to be like Texas. I want to be like Texas.
[Scott Conklin]: Texas, you know, I tell folks all the time—Texas is a wonderful state. Local municipalities, I mean—and I say this tongue-in-cheek—can increase sales tax if they want, there is a high tax ratios. Pennsylvania’s corporate tax might be 9.9% but 70% of the businesses don’t pay it because they use the Delaware loophole.
[Rick Smith]: Oh, Scott, I gotta be honest with you. I could not sit in your chair.
[Scott Conklin]:It’s getting difficult these days, Rick. It’s probably the reason why I’m bouncing around so much on the phones. We as a state—and I know you have have to wrap this up with me—but, we as a state have to get our elected officials to understand that we are there for the people and not for corporations. And the only way we’re going to do that is get the people involved again.
[Rick Smith]: I’ve got to tell you, I think people are finally waking up. My government teacher back in high school, when I graduated back in ’85, but my government teacher back then said that the Republican party is bought and paid for by big business and special interests. The Democrats on the other side, and this is a knock on you, are in favor of big government and big social programs. And his premise was, you people in the middle, you have to decide, are you closer to rich or poor? It was an interesting exercise in thought process if you really go down that road.
[Scott Conklin]: And then you’ve got guys like myself who are business men, who have always been a business man, and who are Democrats. As I tell folks, I’m a small business man and I’ve been fortunate…the business I have is retail, but I was in the construction business for years…the retail business is holding its own, it does a pretty good business here. I’m going to tell you right now…I’m in a group of 80 percent of Pennsylvania business people…and what people fail to understand that there is no corporate—I’m not a corporation, I’m strictly a mom-and-pop shop—and at the end of the day I don’t get any type of kickbacks from the government, I don’t get any type of incentives to hire. I’m based on just like you. I pay a three and a half percentage income tax and what kills me the most is my property taxes. And that’s why I don’t understand when all these guys talk about business, 80% of the employment…or 75%, it depends on what year it is, is employed by people like me. I’m the guy who’s employing these folks and I’m a Democrat. And I’m a Democrat because Democrats are better for me and my small business than what Republicans are. And it always shocks me when my business friends always say, “well, you know, we’re Republican.” And I say, well what does the Republican party do for you guys? You don’t get any of the big corporate breaks, you don’t get any of the stuff, you pay property taxes and personal income taxes. You hire people. It just makes no sense to me as a business man why folks aren’t voting Democratic.
[Rick Smith]: That’s an excellent point. And the other part of it is that I say is that you want to have people, you want strong labor unions so people have more money in their pocket, so they have disposable income, so they come to small mom-and-pop establishments like yours and like others, so that you can feed your kids as well.
[Scott Conklin]: Absolutely. This little mini-mall we have is…as I call it to my wife, I call it the stinky stuff, the expendable cash stuff, the candles, the little gifts. We don’t sell it unless you have extra money in your pocket.
[Rick Smith]: Yep. Well, keep us up-to-date on what’s going on. Tomorrow we’re going to keep a close eye on what’s going on. We’d love to have you back early, often, and any time you’ve got a moment for us.
[Scott Conklin]: Rick, I appreciate it and you know I’ll just call in when you least expect it.
[Rick Smith]: Alright, I look forward to that.
[Scott Conklin]: Thanks, Rick, you have a good night.
[Rick Smith]: Scott Conklin, State Representative, I appreciate the time.
Marcie Boyer: Corbett’s Proposal to Privatize Nurses in State Prisons
Music intro: WAR – “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”
[Rick Smith]: I’ve got to be honest. I never thought I would hear a Republican talking about outsourcing and saying, “it’s just crazy.” Dave Argall, State Senator, Republican here, against the idea of outsourcing the nurses jobs at our State prisons. You look around the country what we’re seeing is we’re seeing the privatization of not only the prisons, but also the functions inside the prisons. And for those people who go, “Oh, yeah! Privatize it! Privatizing it better!,” because, you know, it’s more “efficient.”
Check out New Mexico who just fined the Geo Group who is one of the big, for profit prison industry people—just fined them $1.1 million for under-staffing, because they need to maximize profit. Now this is a company, Geo is a company, that made $1.1 billion in the first nine months of this year. It’s all about putting money in their pocket. They don’t care about the working people.
Now, understand, these people in these prisons, this is dangerous stuff. So, if you don’t have proper staffing and you don’t have proper training, you’ve got problems. And that’s why…you know, look…You’ve got two Republicans that are against it. Good on them for proposing a piece of legislation to not do this—what the Governor wants to do. I say, we shouldn’t be privatizing any of that stuff.
We’ve asked Marcie Boyer, she’s an RN and the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, PA, to come talk to us. Today they were out with an informational picket. She’s here to talk to us a little bit about that. Marcie, thanks for taking time for me.
[Marcie Boyer]: Sure, I’m happy to be here.
[Rick Smith]: So the governor has this plan that the ten State prisons around the State…he wants to outsource the nursing jobs. Is that right?
[Marcie Boyer]: Correct, correct.
[Rick Smith]: I’ll tell you right from the start, it sounds like a dumb idea to me. No one has been able to show me where privatizing these kind of functions, saves me as a taxpayer any money, or, protects the workers either.
[Marcie Boyer]: Well…or protects the public even more importantly. This really is about the community and what happens when prisoners aren’t given the appropriate health care and then return to the community. They become your neighbors and my neighbors and now they have TB or Hep C or something that wasn’t treated because we’re all about profit rather than caring about the population that we serve.
[Rick Smith]: You know, I look at this job and I’ve got to be honest with you, Marcie, I wouldn’t want it. I wouldn’t want to be a nurse in a correctional facility. I’ve heard too many horror stories or inmates beating up nurses, raping the nurses…all of these horror stories. I look at this Geo situation…under-staffing levels…I hate to think about that happening here in our state, to my neighbors.
[Marcie Boyer]: Well…and we do too and I think that’s why we’re so adamant that this shouldn’t happen. I mean, we are part of safety and security in prisons. The nurses who work in prisons are trained. We go to the academy, we learn how to be safe and secure—as safe and secure as you can be—inside a state prison. The vendors don’t go to the academy, they don’t have that sort of training, and nursing is totally different inside the prison. Most nurses walk around with a pair of scissors in their pocket and bandages…you can’t do that inside a prison.
[Rick Smith]: Yeah, you walk around with a pair of scissors in a prison and that could be your throat being cut.
[Marcie Boyer]: Exactly.
[Rick Smith]: You know, I would hate to see…because here’s what it inevitably turns into down the road in my opinion and correct me if you think I’m wrong. You get these for-profit groups in there and they say hey, we need to get the lowest priced nurses to take these jobs, you have massive turnover, extremely high turnover rates. They end up going to a staffing service who says, “hey, we’ve got a job for you today. Go on over to this place.” They find out it’s a prison, and they’re not thinking the way you’ve been trained.
[Marcie Boyer]: Exactly. We have three agencies now that we can call if we are short-staffed and only one person from out of three agencies responds to those calls. So, it has been difficult. We have a pretty steady staff. We don’t work short. We are fortunate that we have enough nurses to come in and do the job. But, we’ve seen what happens. A number of years ago they tried this at Graterford [State Prison] and that’s exactly what they found out. People who came in one day, didn’t come back the next day. You know, you have to have a tough skin to work in prisons. You get called every name and have rude things said on many occasions and people who come in, don’t want to come back a second day.
[Rick Smith]: I honestly cannot imagine being a woman in a male prison.
[Marcie Boyer]: It’s a challenging job.
[Rick Smith]: I would say it’s a lot more than challenging. In can’t imagine. You know, it’s one thing for Herman Cain to sexually harass somebody, I can’t imagine what goes on in a prison setting.
[Marcie Boyer]: Well, we work with excellent officers here, very professional, and I think we’re well taken care of in that respect. So, that’s not the biggest issue for us. The biggest issue is certainly job cuts, you know, no one wants to see any more jobs cut in this country, in this state. We also know what a health crisis it’s going to be if this becomes a for-profit business. I mean, even now we are the watchdogs a lot of times, because our physicans and our PAs [Physician Assistants] are private. A lot of our mental health people are private. So, you know, the nurses who are state employees do become the watchdogs and we worry…who’s the watchdog if we’re not here when it’s all private? Who’s going to be here to look after the inmates and make sure things are done appropriately?
We see that now. In one of the facilities, we have have had…um…they’re eight months behind, one of the private facilities in Pennsylvania…they were eight months behind in TB testing. You know, that’s a real health hazard for the community if people get out of prison who aren’t treated or who were not reviewed for any disease process along the lines of TB.
[Rick Smith]: And beyond that. If you don’t catch it in one person or two, it then spreads and then you have…what quite frankly…within that little community…what could be an epidemic.
[Marcie Boyer]: Exactly. Exactly. And people don’t stay in prison. 85% of these people are released from prison. So, that’s a big number who are returning to the community everyday. I think…we hear a lot of criticism…well, “how can you take care of inmates?” You know, “they get better health care than we do.” Well, these are the people who are coming back to the community. These are the people you are going to be sitting beside in church, that are going to be cooking your food at a restaurant. They need to not come back to the community and cause a health crisis.
[Rick Smith]: Excellent point. You know, instead of making the argument “why do they get it,” why not ask the question why don’t we all have health care.
[Marcie Boyer]: Exactly.
[Rick Smith]: I mean, that’s the bigger question. You’re listening to the Rick Smith Show, we’re here with Marcie Boyer. She’s an RN at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill. Today they had an informational picket where they came out and handed out information about what a bad idea it is to privatize.
Again, this governor and his privatization crew, the wrecking crew they’re trying to sell off every asset this state has, privatize—well, profitize—every job and everything that we the people here in the state of Pennsylvania own.
Let’s talk for a second about the training you folks get. As I understand it, it’s pretty extensive training. Not only medically, but also in things like self-defense to almost like being a psychologist as well.
[Marcie Boyer]: Right. I mean, we’re pretty much everything. The nurses are here 24/7 just as the officers are here 24/7. And so, working together with them, when someone is in crisis, we’re the people who are called upon to go out to the Blocks, to talk to the inmates, to, you know, let the doctors know what’s happening. We review every year continuing education programs on suicide prevention, on self-defense, and, as the officers do, we go to the academy for three weeks as a new employee to learn what it’s like to work inside the gates of a prison. To learn what to look for, to be as safe and secure as you can be. And then on an annual basis, we also do reviews every year to keep those skills current.
[Rick Smith]: So, if we privatize this, if we do what the governor wants to do and hock this off and let the private, for-profit interests take it over, will that type of training continue? And then I’ve got to question the record-keeping. I’ve got to question, you know, what history has shown us in these situations. Will it be the same status? Will you have the same type of training for the people who take over?
[Marcie Boyer]: Well, we don’t now. The vendors who come in…the docs, the people who are not state employees do not go to the prison. And, you know, we’ve had problems in the past with someone one signing out a pair of scissors, leaving them in a coat pocket that gets hung up. They see that person put the scissors there and now they know that someone hung that coat up and walked away from it. So, yeah, there are problems like that exist already because they’re not as attuned as the people who have gone to the academy and learned what it means to be safe inside a prison.
[Rick Smith]: So, two Republicans—State Representative, Mike Fleck, and Republican State Senator David Argill—have proposed legislation. I’m assuming this is going to be a bipartisan thing—the Republicans, historically, have been pro-outsourcing, pro-privatization, but this seems to me almost like a no-brainer.
[Marcie Boyer]: Exactly. And we’ve done legislative visits. I visited one of the local Republican legislators here a few weeks ago and he’s smart enough to know that this isn’t going to be cost-saving. And what happens to the oversight? And they were two of his questions. What happens to the oversight? That was his big concern. Who’s now responsible and does it take away any liability from the State if someone is going to sue? Of course it doesn’t take the liability away from the State. So, we’ve seen it all over the country. There was just a recent article about Carisen Health Services and Correct Rx in Maine…and they’re being sued. Once again, it was for not following through on care, it was for poor staffing, and not getting seen in a timely fashion. So, we know that the problems are out there with private health care systems in prisons.
[Rick Smith]: I say it’s working, leave it alone. So, what do you want me to do? What do you want Rick Smith to do? What do you want our listeners to do? What’s the ask? How do we stop this? How do we throw this back? What do we do?
[Marcie Boyer]: Well, I think we have to have everybody talk to legislators, you know, talk to the Governor. Certainly, let him know that the public doesn’t support this, that it is about a public health care crisis if we go to the lowest bidder. And just keep putting it in front of people so that they know that we’re very serious about what a health care threat it can be and what a security threat it can be to the communities.
[Rick Smith]: Excellent, excellent. Marcie Boyer, I appreciate the time. Thanks so much. Excellent discussion. Thank you.
[Marcie Boyer]: You’re welcome.
[Rick Smith]: Again, I look at this and another privatizations scheme…Nobody’s shown me that cost-savings, nobody’s shown me how this is going to benefit us, and this is another one.