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Florida Workforce Cuts Hurt Critical Services

by Omar Tewfik  |  December 18, 2014

Florida Workforce Cuts Hurt Critical Services Under Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the state workforce is shrinking dramatically, and that is having a drastic impact on government agencies.

Under Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the state workforce is shrinking dramatically, and that is having a drastic impact on government agencies that are charged with protecting at-risk children, monitoring water quality, and providing assistance to out-of-work Floridians, among other critical services, according to a recent report released by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR).

These cuts significantly curtailed the ability of important state agencies to provide vital services to Floridians, the report concluded. These staff cuts are disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations, including children. One such agency is Florida's Department of Children and Families, the state's Child Protective Services.

Earlier this year, the Miami Herald published an eye-opening series of reports that show how staffing cuts within the department in recent years inhibited the agency's ability to prevent hundreds of deaths among children living in abusive environments.

"After Florida cut down on protections for children in troubled homes, deaths soared. The children died in ways cruel, outlandish, predictable and preventable," the report found.

Those who rely on the services of the Department of Children and Families are not the only victims of the relentless cuts to essential personnel and the vital services they provide to Florida. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection now lacks the ability to adequately monitor water quality throughout the state in order to determine safety for public use. Until the state hired back 250 employees, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity was unable to implement its new unemployment benefits system. For several weeks, tens of thousands of Floridians had to scrape by without any checks coming in.

Since Scott took office in 2011, he slashed the state work force by a staggering 9.6 percent.

“There is no question we face more of these harmful cuts when the Florida legislative session begins on March 3rd,” said AFSCME Council 79 Pres. Jeanette Wynn, also an AFSCME International vice president. “That is why we must strengthen our PEOPLE program and hold politicians in the state Legislature accountable when they hurt working families and retirees. If we do not stand up to the systematic attacks by right-wing politicians on our state workforce, Floridians from all walks of life will continue to see the quality of life in our state diminish.”

Stand up now. If you're an AFSCME member, you can contribute to PEOPLE, or pitch in a little more and become an MVP today!  

Wal-Mart Gets Called Out for Wage Theft

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  December 18, 2014

Wal-Mart Gets Called Out for Wage Theft

Wal-Mart will have to pay back $151 million in stolen wages to approximately 187,000 employees after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of workers who were forced to skip breaks and work off the clock.

That’s a lot of money, but it’s a drop in the bucket for Wal-Mart, which rakes in profits in the hundreds of billions.  The world’s largest corporation has for years been boosting its profits by shortchanging its already low-paid workers, even closing stores in Canada to prevent unionization. 

Wage theft is a common crime that doesn’t get enough attention.  Most states do little to protect workers from greedy, overreaching employers.  As a result, 60 percent of low-wage workers report that they aren’t always paid for their work.  The 187,000 Wal-Mart employees who were forced to work through their breaks represent only a fraction of the problem.

Corporations like Wal-Mart need to be held accountable to the law. That’s why AFSCME joined with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in filing a brief in support of the workers. We are proud to stand with Wal-Mart workers and others who are struggling to earn a living wage.

New Jersey Pension Boards Join Unions in Fight Over Pension Cuts

by Clyde Weiss  |  December 17, 2014

New Jersey Pension Boards Join Unions in Fight Over Pension Cuts Thousands of union members rallied outside the Statehouse in 2011 against a proposal to alter public workers’ pensions and health benefits. (Photo: AP)

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to shortchange the state’s pension plans by $2.4 billion is wrong and should be overturned, trustees of the state’s largest pension funds said in a lawsuit filed last week.

The pension trustees’ decision to take Governor Christie to court follows lawsuits filed in June by 14 unions, including AFSCME, over the governor’s plan to undermine the retirement system in order to fund other priorities.

The Board of Trustees said in a statement that they “have been abandoned by their counsel, the Attorney General, who has chosen to side with the Governor by claiming the [existing] funding law is invalid.” As a result, the trustees hired their own counsel “to collect the money owed to the pension funds and which have been diverted to more politically popular causes.”

“We are saying that money is due to the fund,” said Tom Bruno, board chairman of the Public Employees Retirement System.  “We have a fiduciary responsibility, and that is to protect the fund, as well as to collect the monies that are due to the fund.”

Trustees of the Public Employees’ Retirement System, the Police and Fire Retirement System and the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund charged in a statement that Governor Christie “has shamelessly broken his word by derailing the proper funding of the pension funds, while at the same time demanding participants endure benefit reductions and higher employee contributions.”

Christie’s efforts to balance the state’s budget on the backs of public service workers, while handing out massive tax subsidies to well-heeled corporations, are indeed shameless. We expect a judge will soon come to the same conclusion.

Chicago Council OKs Major Taxi Reforms

by Meg Lewis  |  December 17, 2014

Cab Drivers United - AFSCMELess than six months after Chicago taxi drivers first came together with AFSCME to form their own organization, the City Council of Chicago passed a far-reaching reform package that will provide immediate economic relief to every Chicago cab driver. 

The Taxi Fairness Ordinance of 2014 will boost drivers’ income by reducing lease rates, reducing fines and providing drivers with a share of taxi advertising revenue.  In addition, the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection committed to reducing credit card fees and to revising rules and fines that have long denied drivers’ due process.  The average driver will see an annual savings of $5,000-$8,000 as a direct result.

“These reforms won’t hurt the city or consumers,” said cab driver Nnamdi Uwazi, “but they will help the 12,000 drivers in the City of Chicago to provide a better life for our families.”

The measures enacted by the Taxi Fairness Ordinance resulted from demands that drivers identified and proposed to the city in a letter signed by nearly 100 drivers who attended the first meeting of Cab Drivers United (CDU), AFSCME Council 31 last June. 

The drivers presented their demands at a series of meetings with the taxi commissioner, spoke out at a town hall meeting, met with dozens of aldermen and organized an action that brought hundreds of CDU activists out on the streets to protest treatment at the hands of city authorities.  Their efforts were supported by thousands of AFSCME sisters and brothers who came out to support the call for justice and dignity at a rally during the July national convention.

“This ordinance is a testament to what drivers can achieve when they come together,” said Council 31 Assoc. Dir. Tracey Abman.  “Cab Drivers United kicked off in June, signed up more than 3,500 drivers in just a few months, and today we’ve taken this important step forward. We’re excited to keep building our union to help drivers solve problems, win respect and better provide their vital public service to all of Chicago.”

New Contract Good Tidings for Holiday

by Carli Stevenson  |  December 16, 2014

New Contract Good Tidings for Holiday After 12 years of a city administration that wouldn’t give them a raise, workers for the City of New Albany have reason to celebrate this holiday season. The rank-and-file members of Local 1861 ratified a new contract by a near unanimous vote of 24-1.

NEW ALBANY, Ind. – After 12 years of a city administration that wouldn’t give them a raise, workers for the City of New Albany have reason to celebrate this holiday season. The rank-and-file members of AFSCME Local 1861 ratified a new contract by a near unanimous vote of 24-1.

“There’s hope now, I think,” said Donny Blevins, president of Local 1861. “This is just the beginning.”

The new agreement between the city and the drivers, laborers and other workers who keep New Albany’s streets, traffic signs, parks and other public areas safely maintained is a huge boost for the southern Indiana local. Workers won a 3 percent raise for 2014, retroactive to the first of the year, with a lump sum payment of back pay.

The contract included a reclassification of current positions effective Jan. 1, 2015, for efficiency and to facilitate the much-needed raises. Workers of all classifications will receive a 2-percent raise for 2015.

Local 1861 members spend their own money on the tools, safe boots and clothing necessary to do their jobs safely and effectively. The new contract increases their reimbursement for tools from $200 to $300 annually, and their clothing reimbursement from $200 to $300 annually. Workers also will get a $150 reimbursement for their work boots.

Other important victories in the contract are expanded funeral leave to include additional extended family members and prorated longevity to date of retirement.

President Blevins says morale improved since the contract ratification.

“This definitely gave the members a booster shot,” he says. “We’re still behind, thanks to inflation. The price of gas went up; the price of milk went up. But there is no comparison to what we had before.” 

Using Company Email for Organizing Is OK

by Pablo Ros  |  December 15, 2014

Using Company Email for Organizing Is OK The National Labor Relations Board decided this week that employees may use their company email accounts to organize their fellow workers.

Reversing a previous ruling, the National Labor Relations Board decided this week that employees may use their company email accounts to organize their fellow workers, as long as they do it on their own time.

The NLRB is an independent federal agency that protects employees’ rights to organize, and it prevents and remedies unfair labor practices.

“Once an employer gives an employee access to the company email system, then the business cannot restrict what the employee emails, so long as it is generally workplace-related and isn’t during working hours,” the NLRB ruled.

The ruling applies to private-sector workers only.

The use of email as a form of communication is very common in workplaces across the nation and “has expanded dramatically in recent years,” the NLRB stated. It now also is a legitimate tool for employees to use to help them organize their fellow employees

Quick Action Saves Lives in Early Morning Blaze

by David Patterson  |  December 11, 2014

Quick Action Saves Lives in Early Morning Blaze AFSCME Local 3351 members and Athens, Ohio, firefighters Brian Mace (left) and Tony Stoncel fought the November 16th blaze.

ATHENS, Ohio – A call that came in at 4:11 a.m. to firefighters, members of AFSCME Local 3351 (Council 8), in this college town turned out to be notice of a huge blaze that would send five of them to the local hospital and into the care of their union sisters and brothers of AFSCME Local 1252 (Council 8).

Thanks to the brave work of the firefighters and police officers who responded to the fire, no one was seriously injured.

For hours, historic downtown Athens glowed orange as firefighters from six departments battled the blaze. Flames shot from roofs of buildings more than a century old. Many were storefronts at ground level with apartments housing mostly Ohio University students on the upper floors.

Firefighters worked to get to the heart of the blaze behind a large door but had to find another route.

“There were live electric wires above the buildings that were arcing because of the flames that kept us from making a direct attack on the fire,” said Curt Cline, an Athens City firefighter and Local 3351 president. “That’s when we broke through a concrete block wall to gain safe access to the fire. But by then the fire had grown out of control.”

Police officers and firefighters scrambled through the buildings alerting those in the apartments as flames blew out windows and jets of water from two ladder trucks beat them back.

Rachel Portik, a 21-year-old nursing student at Ohio University, woke to the sound of a firefighter banging on her door.

“None of our alarms were going off, but you could smell smoke,” said Portik. Some 40 students were evacuated from the apartments.

Three Athens City police officers alerted renters in the burning apartment building to get out, sometimes by kicking in the front doors of their apartments, according to Cline.

“But when they tried to escape from the third floor, the smoke was too heavy,” Cline said. “They were forced onto the roof along with a rescued student. Thankfully, a ladder truck from the nearby Plains Fire Department was used to rescue them.”

Paid Sick Leave: It’s Catching

by Pablo Ros  |  December 11, 2014

Paid Sick Leave: It’s Catching According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 61 percent of all workers in the private sector get paid sick leave.

The trend continues. In Massachusetts, voters approved a ballot initiative on Nov. 4 that guarantees paid sick leave to all workers. Trenton and Montclair, New Jersey, and Oakland, California, did the same. In Oregon, lawmakers are pushing a bill that would require employers to provide up to seven days of paid sick leave to their employees. And in Tacoma, Washington, Mayor Marilyn Strickland has come up with a proposal to guarantee three days of paid sick leave to all employees.

How many workers in our nation benefit from paid sick leave? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 61 percent of all workers in the private sector do. That’s appalling but not surprising.  It’s just another consequence of the assault on unions by corporations and political extremists.  Declining union membership means nearly four out of 10 private-sector workers come to work sick – or don’t get paid.

The picture is noticeably different for state and local government workers, where union membership is stronger. For decades, AFSCME helped raise workplace standards for all public service workers. Today, nine out of 10 workers in state and local government receive paid sick leave and, of those who belong to a union, it’s nearly everyone – 97 percent.

Employees shouldn’t have to risk their health to do their jobs. A healthy employee is a productive one. That attitude appears to be catching.

Missouri Home Care Providers Win Contract

by David Card  |  December 09, 2014

Missouri Home Care Providers Win Contract After six years of organizing, members of the Missouri Home Care Union overwhelmingly voted to approve their first contract with the state.

After six years of organizing, and finding the courage to tell their stories in front of legislators, the community and the press, along with intense phone banking, home visiting, letter writing and frequent visits to the capitol, members of the Missouri Home Care Union overwhelmingly voted to approve their first contract with the state.

“[O]ne thing we know for sure is there would be no rights, no contract, no voice, no quality home care council, nothing if we didn’t pull together and make it happen,” said home care attendant Elizabeth Travis. “We still have work to do to get our agreement put into effect, but we are on our way and if we keep stepping up we will get there.”

The contract, which the Missouri Quality Home Care Council also voted to accept, empowers the 33,000 individuals who use Missouri Consumer Direct home care to set their attendants’ wages, rather than third-party vendors. Many of the state’s nearly 12,000 home care providers will receive a wage increase to the new hourly minimum of $8.50 and consumers have the right to lift their attendants’ wages up to $10.15 without vendor input. The new contract also provides for holiday pay, grievance procedures and a stronger support system for care providers.

The victory results in part from an exciting new model of organizing that focuses on collaboration between home care providers and consumers. It’s based on the belief that consumers understand better than anyone that improved working conditions for the people who care for them will lead to a more stable, reliable workforce. That’s something consumers need to maintain their independence.

“Without my attendant I can’t live the life I want to live,” said Kyle Auxier, a home care consumer from St. James. “We need to get our priorities straight, and this agreement gets us on the right track. I’ll definitely pay my attendants as much as I can, and I believe given the opportunity, my fellow consumers in the program feel the same way.”

Pregnancy Should Not Be a Disqualification

by AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes  |  December 09, 2014

This excerpt is from the Huffington Post.

Pregnancy should not cost women their paychecks. But that's exactly what happened to UPS delivery driver Peggy Young when she became pregnant in 2006.

Under doctor's orders not to lift anything weighing more than 20 pounds, she asked her employer for light-duty work, an accommodation UPS is required to give under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and frequently offered to other employees with a similar need.

But UPS said no and forced her to take unpaid leave for six months, depriving her of income, benefits and health insurance at a time when she needed them the most. When she asked for an explanation for why she did not qualify for an accommodation other employees were getting, a senior manager told her she could not even enter the building. Her pregnancy was too much of a liability.

Read the rest of the article here.

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