Katrina exposes crisis in public health

Katrina’s devastation wrecked Louisiana’s public hospital system, leveled at least one New Orleans hospital, and left tens of thousands of residents of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama without basic health care services.

“There was a failure beforehand” to plan for catastrophes, Benjamin said. “There was a failure of implementation” of those plans that had been created. And “there was a failure in environmental planning,” which resulted Katrina’s floods releasing poisonous chemicals from many toxic waste sites in the New Orleans area.

You have a real fundamental failure in public health, and this is just the tip of the iceberg in the U.S.,” he warned.

The other panelists — Fire Fighters Occupational Safety and Health Director Patrick Morrison, AFSCME industrial hygienist Denise Bland-Bowles, AFGE communications specialist Adele Stan and AFT/UFT industrial hygienist Ellie Engler — discussed the specific hazards they found in New Orleans after Katrina.

Morrison cited the dangers of water-borne disease to first responders. School district bus drivers had to come back after the flood waters receded, said Bland-Bowles, but “they’re not trained to deal with sludge, slurry and mold.”

Benjamin noted health problems in the wake of Katrina: Were people even safe? Were those still in the city [New Orleans] getting health services? Could people move back into their homes, given all the toxins?” he asked.

Many of the same problems described could recur in other disasters, including hurricanes and terror attacks, the panelists said.

Morrison said that even now, four years after 9/11 — where his union lost 343 New York City Fire Fighters plus their priest when the World Trade Center towers collapsed — telecommunications systems between first responders crashed in Katrina. That failure must be fixed, he warned. The National Incident Response System created after 9/11 “looked great on paper, but it wasn’t there” when Katrina hit, Morrison said.

A second facet of the communications breakdown was failure to get the word to the most-vulnerable groups, particularly the poor, and to help them to move away from danger. “I don’t know where FEMA was. They’re still trying to get organized,” Morrison said.

The public health system - its hospitals and clinics, which were damaged or destroyed by Katrina - is practically the entire health system for the poor in areas such as New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. But public policy in terms of aiding that system and equipping it to treat massive numbers of people in a disaster does not recognize that fact, Benjamin noted. In the Katrina-hit area, Bland-Bowles said, the public health system needs to be completely reconstructed. That would hold true for other disasters, too, panelists added.

When a major city is evacuated and smashed, as New Orleans was, it needs basic public health workers — sanitarians, restaurant inspectors, environmental health specialists — to help ensure it is habitable again. But its own employees are scattered all over the country, the panelists noted. That leaves inspection often in the hands of private industry, which may be unable or unsuited for the job.

The key decision is whether to restore mold-devastated buildings, or tear them down as completely uninhabitable and build again from scratch. The mold devastation affects not just plaster walls but basic structural supports of buildings, Bland-Bowles said, but many area insurers are resisting findings that buildings must be condemned.

The panelists said that, given federal budget cuts and the Bush administration’s attitudes towards the poor, unions may be left with the task of stepping in and ensuring public health care in future disasters. They also have to stand up and defend public services, which people rely on when disaster hits. We need to be brave enough to fight for those services, despite the catcalls,” Stan concluded.


The Defense Department released more details about the National Security Personnel System late last month.

Hundreds of pages of documents were released just before Thanksgiving, offering a draft of “implementing issuances” concerning the personnel system’s human capital components.

DoD divided the draft into six sections: conversion, staffing and employment, classification, compensation, performance management and workforce shaping.

The draft calls for non-supervisory employees to be grouped into one of 11 job types, which are subsequently divided into four pay bands. Supervisors would be placed into one of four job types, and then placed into one of three pay bands.

Under the proposed plan, job performance would be rated on a one-to-five scale and pay raises would be tied to that rating.

The issuances can be found at http://www.cpms.osd.mil/nsps/issuances.html.

DoD originally had wanted to begin implementing NSPS last month, but delayed the personnel system until Feb. 1, 2006. A coalition of federal unions, led by the American Federation of Government Employees, is seeking to derail the personnel system. (See DoD DELAYS NSPS UNTIL FEBRUARY at http://www.fednews-online.com/view_publication.aspx?publicationId=8618.)

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia will begin hearing the case Jan. 24, 2006.


Why the president's new immigration scheme won't work

By Clarence Page

December 2, 2005

WASHINGTON -- On the day before President Bush launched his new border security and guest-worker proposal, he was almost upstaged by a timely and telling U.S. Border Patrol complaint: The labels on their uniforms read "Made in Mexico."
It's "embarrassing" to wear a uniform made in Mexico while protecting the country's border with Mexico, T. J. Bonner, president of the border cops' union, told the Associated Press.
It's also symbolic of the real world with which Mr. Bush must reckon. Borders, artifacts of the political world, crumble these days before the relentless pressures of the money world. The president, a businessman who happens to occupy the world's most powerful political office, has come up with an immigration plan that tries to satisfy both worlds - and fails.
For one thing, his plan is not new. It is the same temporary guest-worker program he unveiled in January 2004. It has only been repackaged with more emphasis on border security, much less on the guest-worker plan, which sounds to many in Mr. Bush's own conservative base like an amnesty similar to others passed since the 1980s. To critics, amnesties only reward lawbreakers.
Mr. Bush is merely trying to calm and take control over the rising political storm that he helped to generate around immigration, an issue that has erupted in anti-immigrant backlash as volunteer "Minutemen" have stirred up publicity with their makeshift border patrols.
Immigration divides Mr. Bush's conservative base more deeply than any issue since Harriet Miers' doomed Supreme Court nomination. His border security/guest-worker scheme could easily meet that same unhappy end. Some of his most outspoken fellow conservatives are calling for a range of anti-immigrant measures. Some proposals are as radical as a wall along the entire 2,000-mile Mexican border, using military forces to patrol the border and creating a volunteer marshal program to help patrols.
One bill sponsored by Rep. Nathan Deal, a Georgia Republican, would go so far as to end this nation's time-honored practice of granting automatic citizenship to children born here to undocumented immigrants. Mr. Deal's suggestion is sad, unnecessary and, I am confident, far outside the mainstream of how fair-minded Americans really feel about immigration.
A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics survey in April found that 67 percent of respondents favored using the military to guard the Mexican border, but 62 percent favored allowing undocumented immigrants working in the United States to apply for legal temporary-worker status.
That's what Mr. Bush wants, although he cautions that it is not another amnesty. But one wonders: If his guest-worker plan is not offering amnesty, what does?
The program would allow immigrants now illegally in the United States to obtain legal status for three years with the possibility of another three-year extension if they have a job and their employer vouches for them. The workers would be required to go home after their time is up, but the president has been vague about what is to be done about those who decide they don't want to go back.
What's missing is a serious crackdown on the biggest magnet that draws illegal immigrants: jobs. Employers and consumers love cheap labor, as long as it is not competing directly for their jobs. Mr. Bush shows no desire to get in the way of that cozy relationship.
We don't need tougher penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegals; we only need to enforce the tough penalties that already have been legislated. Instead, employer sanctions have been so poorly enforced that prosecutions of employers have plummeted in recent decades. When the law lacks teeth, it is ignored.
The result has been a make-believe immigration policy: The president pretends that undocumented workers will police themselves, and the rest of us pretend to believe him.
We need something more sensible. America thrives on immigration. It is part of our national character. But we also need some semblance of order - and fairness.


President Signs Off on Pay Raise for Feds
December 1, 2005
By Ralph Smith
URL: http://www.fedsmith.com/articles/articles.showarticle.db.php?intArticleID=773

It has been a long, winding road, as usual, for the annual pay raise for federal employees. But at least the end is in sight and federal employees now know that they will be getting a raise next year.

President Bush has signed the bill approving the appropriations for the Departments of Transportation, Treasury, and Housing and Urban Development. The bill provides about $138 billion to run these agencies during the next year.

As we reported previously, this is the bill that contains a provision for the 3.1 percent pay raise for federal employees. This means that the 3.1 percent average pay raise for federal employees has been passed by Congress and signed off by the President. It also means that, if you are a federal employee, you will be getting a raise in January.

How much of a raise will you get? We don't know. You won't know the actual amount of your 2006 raise until later.

Many federal employees receive locality pay. Employees working in those higher cost of living areas receive additional money. The amount of the raise to be devoted to locality pay and the amount for the basic pay raise has not been determined--or at least not publicly announced. President Bush will issue an executive order in the next few weeks that outlines how much of the money goes into the basic pay raise and how much for locality pay.

Approval of the pay raise means that civilian federal employees and military personnel will be receiving the same pay raise. And, in an unusual twist, it also means that active federal employees will be receiving less of an increase in 2006 than the 4.1% to be received by many federal retirees.

The most likely reason for the discrepancy is that setting the pay for active federal employees is a process that ends up taking a year (sometimes more) and the debate usually begins early in the year. The cost-of-living increase for retirees is determined by a formula that is calculated in the fall. In effect, the inflation that started showing up later in the year was reflected in the retiree increase; it was not fully considered in the increase given to active federal employees.

You can check out the amount of current and historical pay received by federal employees by grade and by region using our pay calculators. In response to those readers who have been asking when we will update our pay calculators to reflect the 2006 pay increase, we cannot update the calculators until all of the information is in hand. The 2006 calculators will be posted some time after that information is released.

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