We celebrate Labor Day by honoring workers — especially the forgotten workers. Stay-at-home mothers who home school their children are often forgotten. Others who are forgotten are those who work in school cafeterias, those who empty bedpans in nursing homes, and ordinary local guys, like my plumber. He is smart, honest and he never overcharges. These are just ordinary people. Most have no degrees — no fancy pieces of paper to frame and hang on their walls. These are the “good guys”. They keep our country and homes running. They are the real backbone of the economy.
There are also many others. Can anyone celebrate Labor Day without thinking about farm labor? If you are too old to remember it, or too young to have ever heard of it, now is the time to crank up your computer and watch “Harvest of Shame,” the amazing documentary made by Edward R. Murrow.
There is no labor more important for our existence and survival than farm labor. Often those who work in the field are the most overworked and underpaid. In Vermont, we should be sensitive to the plight of workers on dairy farms. Often they live in substandard housing. They live in fear of exposure if they lack the “right” papers. In Bennington, we depend on the workers from the Caribbean Islands who harvest the apple crop every year.
One of our nation’s greatest scandals is the treatment of child farmworkers who never seem to have the legal protections necessary. In California, who are looking out for the kids? They often are exposed to dangerous chemicals while working long hours in the blazing sun.
An examination of the labor force must also include those who are overpaid — corporate CEOs. Corporations have the right to compensate administrators any way and in any amount the board determines – but, the unfair distribution of wealth is taking a toll on the unity of our country. It is unpatriotic. Voters need to speak up and protest the exploitation of workers, which is necessary to provide the CEOs with such obscene compensation packages. This widespread policy of excessive pay for corporate CEOs can be easily fixed by changing the tax code. Place a one hundred percent tax on all income above $100,000 — or a one hundred percent tax on all income that is more than five times the minimum wage. Of course, members of Congress are not willing to do that. It is obvious why. We know whose side they are on. A simple change in the tax code could eliminate poverty and provide health care to everyone.
The most outrageous compensation scheme is often in the so-called “nonprofits.” Of all those, the health care business is no doubt the worse. It is the most dangerous because it is, in part, responsible for a lack of universal access to quality health care, which can lead to death. The U.S. has the most expensive health care system on the planet — but it is far from the best. Quality of health care in Thailand and many other countries is far superior — so much so that many Americans have become medical tourists. Patients will do anything to avoid the “assembly line,” dehumanized health care in the United States. Bumrungrad Hospital in Thailand is one of the world’s best.
Compare the hospital in Thailand to our local hospital which made nationwide news in a 60 Minutes Expose’. Remember the ‘Ronald Comeau’ case a few years ago. Quality of local health care has not improved. If we don’t want the plug pulled prematurely, maybe we all need medic alert bracelets engraved with “Don’t Pull the Plug”.
Think back to the good old days when we were patients. Then we became customers. Now we are just algorithms. Has your doctor made eye contact with you lately, or is your doctor focused on a computer screen during the entire length of your annual visit? This is not always the doctor’s fault. They did not design the electronic record system, but maybe they could fix it if they organized and at least tried. There are increasing numbers of patients who have no doctor at all. Many good doctors have left. It is time to change the law and allow doctors from Cuba to come to the U.S.A.
Not all doctors are overpaid. Some are underpaid. The problem is that too much of the money goes to the top and too little to real health care providers at the bottom of the wage scale. This has resulted in a loss of quality in health care and puts patients at risk.
Take a good look at the following numbers from IRS Form 990 reports. Can they be justified?
• Vermont Hospital CEO pay – 2016
• University of Vermont Medical Center: $2,186,275
• Dartmouth-Hitchcock: $1,494,669
• Southwestern Vermont Medical Center: $620,368
• Porter Medical Center: $612,877
• Rutland Regional Medical Center: $565,038
• Central Vermont Medical Center: $503,385
• Gifford Medical Center: $470,574
• Copley Hospital: $435,524
• North Country Hospital: $417,940
• Brattleboro Memorial Hospital: $390,731
• Northwestern Medical Center: $378,272
• Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center: $374,660
• Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital: $350,764
• Springfield Hospital: $264,563
• Grace Cottage Hospital: $124,800
Just one more fact: Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO, compensation is being kept secret.