Social Security advocates formed human chains in at least 45 cities from coast to coast yesterday to protest the "chained CPI," which they insist is nothing more than a backdoor attempt to drastically slash the benefits that millions depend upon for survival.
The demonstrations at official buildings, state capitals, public parks, municipal centers, and in front of the offices of lawmakers were organized by the Alliance for Retired Americans and drew the backing of a host of labor and community organizations. In cities from San Francisco to Washington D.C. seniors, the disabled and their backers turned July 2 into a national day of action in defense of Social Security.
The chained Consumer Price Index is a new way of calculating inflation that would produce lower yearly cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients. It is based on the idea that seniors don't need full cost-of-living increases because they automatically adjust what they purchase when prices go up. (If chicken is too expensive, they'll buy beans, for example.)
The cumulative cost in cuts to seniors would be up to $1,000 yearly by the age of 85 for a recipient who now receives, on average, only $14,000 yearly.
The events in 45 cities drew impassioned speakers who addressed the demonstrators.
"The chained CPI is a cold, calculated cut to our Social Security benefits and some cuts never heal," declared Barbara Easterling, the Alliance president.
Seniors who could not join the actions yesterday joined the Alliances' online campaign which flooded the emails of lawmakers with messages against the chained CPI.
Sympathetic Democratic lawmakers joined the human chain events in numerous cities, including Providence, R.I., Albuquerque, N.M., and Indianapolis, Ind.
It wasn't just seniors who were on the move coast to coast this week, however.
Fast food workers once again stepped up to flex their muscles.
In Washington, workers at the food court at the Ronald Reagan building downtown staged their second one-day strike against their fast food employers, who have been paying them minimum wages, denying overtime by shipping them from store to store in the same day and imposing onerous working conditions.
Good Jobs Nation, which helped organize similar one-day strikes by low-income fast food workers in other cities nationwide in the past several months, organized the D.C. event, with aid from the Service Employees.
The D.C. protest drew support from several city council members. Workers demanded the building's landlord, the federal General Services Administration, crack down on the fast-food contractor employers who low-ball and mistreat them. Good Jobs Nation filed a formal complaint against the contractors the week before with the Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, which enforces pay laws.
"Just because we're from the lower class doesn't mean we don't have rights. We have rights just like everybody else," Subway sandwich shop worker Cecelia Hernandez told the crowd massed outside the District Building, D.C.'s city hall.
Also in D.C., the Communications Workers took the cause of naming five permanent members to the National Labor Relations Board to the doorstep of the main roadblock, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce headquarters.
Their protest featured Jimmy Suisa, illegally fired by CNN after a 20-year career there. He's waited a decade for justice from the labor board - and who, thanks to Senate GOP filibusters, the Chamber and its business backers orchestrate, must wait even longer.
"I was on the bargaining team before" the firing "and being let go is not easy," he told the crowd in front of the Chamber's entrance. "My case has been in limbo since 2003. I'd rather keep" - actually return to - "my job there and then leave on my own terms," Suisa said. He now works at PBS, "but I'm at the bottom of the list there."
"I know what the laws are, but they can't be enforced, because there isn't a board," he added.
The big business group is directly responsible for the GOP filibusters and deadlock that have left the board at such a point that it could cease to function in late August, said ET organizer Carey Biggs-Adams. Thanks to the chamber and its political allies, "By Labor Day, there could be no labor law in this country," she said.
In Chicago too workers were on the move. The protest from Teamsters Local 727 was actually a picket line - of 16 funeral directors and 59 drivers. Houston-based funeral home giant Service Corporation International had forced them to vote to strike, starting the morning of July 2. The local also filed labor law-breaking charges of bad faith bargaining, among other offenses, with the NLRB's Chicago regional office.
"In 40 years as a funeral director I've helped thousands of people through some of the most difficult times in their lives. Striking is not something I ever thought I would have to do," said John Liberatore, a director at Piser Funeral Services in Skokie, Ill., a northwestern Chicago suburb. "We will not picket any funeral we arranged prior to this vote. For any future arrangements, we have created a website and a hotline to help our families connect with a community-friendly company while the strike is ongoing."
Photo: Alliance for Retired Americans Facebook page