Blog

Anti-Labor Pols Preparing Union Attacks in Key States

by Raju Chebium  |  December 09, 2016

And so it begins. Emboldened by the results of the 2016 elections, right-wing lawmakers in several key states are preparing fresh attacks on labor unions, according to a report in The Hill.

Since anti-labor lawmakers seized control of Congress in the 2010 mid-term elections, unions in erstwhile labor strongholds like Wisconsin, Ohio and North Carolina were forced to play defense as state lawmakers “advanced measures limiting public employee unions’ collective bargaining rights and unions’ power to compel workers to contribute dues,” the Capitol Hill newspaper noted.

Labor-friendly lawmakers were able to defeat similar attempts in states like New Hampshire, Missouri, Kentucky and Iowa. But that may change after this year’s elections now that the right wing controls the White House, Congress and several state legislatures and governorships.

“Republican leaders in New Hampshire, Missouri and Kentucky are planning in the coming months to take up and pass so-called right-to-work measures,” The Hill said. “Twenty-six states currently have right-to-work laws on the books, and governors-elect in both Missouri and New Hampshire campaigned on pledges to implement those laws in their states.”

Related pieces on the coming war on the labor movement are here, here and here

Trump’s Labor Pick May Try to Silence Workers’ Voices. We Won’t Let Him

by Pablo Ros  |  December 09, 2016

Trump’s Labor Pick May Try to Silence Workers’ Voices. We Won’t Let Him

When the U.S. Labor Department was created in 1913, it was thanks to half a century of efforts by workers and their labor unions to have “a voice in the Cabinet.” Its purpose was to “foster, promote and develop the welfare of working people, to improve their working conditions, and to enhance their opportunities for profitable employment.”

Perhaps Andrew Puzder, Donald Trump’s pick to head the Labor Department, should think twice before taking on the responsibility, since it’s so completely at odds with his values and track record.

As CEO of the fast food company that operates Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., Puzder’s career has been a long sequence of greedy decisions that consistently put profits over workers. He is an opponent of raising the minimum wage and of expanding eligibility for overtime pay, and he is a strong critic of worker protections enacted by the Obama administration.

When the U.S. Labor Department investigated thousands of complaints at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, they found labor law violations in 60 percent of them, according to The New York Times.

“Donald Trump was elected president on a promise to be a champion of working people,” said AFSCME President Lee Saunders. “His early Cabinet appointments haven’t instilled a lot of confidence that he will be true to his word. And now, his choice to be Secretary of Labor may be the worst of all.”

Saunders continued: “This selection is an insult to the grassroots ‘Fight for $15’ movement that has done so much, against great obstacles, to help fast food workers and others earn a living wage.”

AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka described Puzder as “a man whose business record is defined by fighting against working people.”

Trump’s Puzder pick and his Twitter attack on the president of a United Steelworkers local in Indiana who called him out on his lies have American labor leaders worried that they “may be facing their gravest crisis in decades,” the Washington Post reports.

AFSCME has been a strong supporter of Fight for $15, most recently rallying alongside airport workers who make less than a living wage. And we are committed to protecting workers’ rights and fighting on behalf of working families whose voices must be heard.

Much like he nominated an anti-public schools advocate to head the Education Department and a climate change denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Donald Trump has chosen an enemy of workers to lead an institution that’s supposed to have workers’ best interests in mind. Instead of listening to their voices, Puzder is likely to ignore them at best, or even try to silence them.

Attacks on Wisconsin Corrections Officers Reach Crisis Level

by David Patterson  |  December 09, 2016

Attacks on Wisconsin Corrections Officers Reach Crisis Level Photo credit: Nancy Hauck

A 20-year-old working her first week as a new Corrections Officer (CO) at the Waupun Correctional Institution (WCI) in Wisconsin survived a violent assault by an inmate serving 40 years for 1st degree attempted intentional homicide. Officers are warning that assaults like this – along with persistent staff shortages – are reaching a crisis level.

“Experienced Corrections Officers say safety has never been worse in our facilities, and appeals to administration leaders have fallen on deaf ears,” said Rick Badger, executive director of AFSCME Council 32. “The large number of assaults on our officers this year is bad enough. I hope something truly horrible doesn’t have to happen before they improve staffing and facility conditions.”

In 2015, the last time numbers were collected, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections reported 291 completed assaults and 70 attempted assaults that involved 442 correctional institution staff members. There were 61 injuries to staff members. Many times these incidents involve overworked CO’s, understaffed facilities and overcrowded prisons.

So what is the reason for the higher numbers of assaults? Most CO’s will tell you it was the passage of Act 10 in 2011. The law virtually stripped away the rights of public employees to bargain collectively for wages, benefits and working conditions.

Since Act 10’s passage, maximum security WCI has reported staff shortages of 70 or more officers at most times, according to CO’s working there.

At maximum security Columbia Correctional Institution (CCI) in Portage, forced overtime required many CO’s to work 16-hour shifts, according to officers who spoke to the Portage Daily Register. Officers also perform their duties shorthanded while the facility houses 281 more prisoners than it was designed to hold, according to its 2015 annual report.

Overcrowding, too, has forced prisoners to double and even triple-up in cells intended for one prisoner, according to reports in the Portage Daily Register.

Such overcrowding and short staffing leads inmates to push boundaries, reported one anonymous corrections officer quoted by the Portage Daily Register, after an assault there. “They’re getting bolder and bolder,” he said. “Something really, really bad is coming.”

Some Corrections staff have called for the revival of security labor/management committees (much like those created under their former collective bargaining agreement) that fairly represent both CO’s and other staff as well as Corrections’ management. These committees could discuss policies and procedures to better ensure officer safety, though Act 10 severely undermined the ability of officers to speak freely and frankly without fear of retaliation. Not surprisingly, employer-appointed safety boards implemented since Act 10 have not found favor with staff, who consider them one-sided and toothless.

Adding more concern to this possible powder keg, since Act 10 a record number of senior rank-and-file staff in corrections decided to retire rather than work dangerous duty where their voices would not be heard and respected by the administration. More than 8 percent of officer and sergeant positions were unfilled in April 2015, reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. That’s four times the rate back in April 2010, before Act 10.

“Act 10 created this crisis,” said AFSCME Council 32’s Badger. “A Wisconsin CO in 2010 earned a fair wage and fair benefits, had a voice in his workplace and considered it a career to be proud of. There was little turnover, professionalism was respected, and assaults were low.

“Today, wages are low and benefits are costly,” he added. “COs have less voice on the job, especially in facilities where the union has little presence and turnover remains high. These institution’s populations continue to grow and overcrowding has become the norm.”

Badger said “it’s no surprise that assaults and understaffing have reached a crisis level.”

Conditions have gotten so bad that even new officers hired after Act 10 are beginning to understand why rebuilding a strong union presence is more important than ever. Council 32’s current organizing push is beginning to show results. The number of AFSCME members is starting to rebound in some of the state’s hardest hit institutions.

What Donald Trump Really Thinks of Working America

December 08, 2016

What Donald Trump Really Thinks of Working America (Photo by Jamelle Bouie)

Donald Trump ran for president promising to respect the working people of America. Now, at his very first opportunity to show respect to America's working families, the president-elect has failed the test.

Just last week, Trump was touting his effort to keep jobs at a Carrier plant in Indiana from moving overseas. Thanks to corporate tax breaks offered by Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Carrier is keeping hundreds of jobs in the state.

But Trump wasn't honest with the workers at Carrier or the American people. And Chuck Jones, the president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, which represents workers in the Carrier plant, knew he had to hold him accountable. He explained Trump was taking credit for 350 jobs that were already slated to stay, but that 550 workers would still lose their jobs.

"Trump and Pence, they pulled a dog and pony show on the numbers," Jones said.

Jones told the truth. And Donald Trump responded by personally attacking Jones and our union sisters and brothers across this country.

Trump took to Twitter to say that Jones "has done a terrible job representing workers" because Jones wouldn't let Trump get away with lying. He suggested that the steelworkers should be working harder.

Trump attacked a union activist for standing up for his members. We need to stand up to Trump and hold him accountable.

We've put together a page where you can send a message directly to Trump letting him know how you feel about his disrespect to Chuck Jones, the United Steelworkers, and working women and men across America.

Click here to tell Donald Trump to show respect to America's working families.

You Don’t Say! Trump Oversold Carrier Deal

by Raju Chebium  |  December 07, 2016

Turns out the Carrier deal may not be as big of a deal as President-elect Donald Trump promised.

Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence made a big to-do about cutting a deal to prevent a Carrier Corp. plant in Indiana from moving to Mexico, supposedly saving some 1,000 factory jobs in the process. But that number may be, well, inflated.

Just listen to Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, which represents Carrier employees. According to a story in today’s Washington Post, Jones was disappointed to hear from Carrier “that only 730 of the production jobs would stay and 550 of his members would lose their livelihoods, after all.” Jones told the Post that Trump, “for whatever reason, lied his a-- off.”

The Post is one of a number of news outlets to report on how Trump and his supporters exaggerated the impact of the Carrier deal. You can find other examples here, here and here.

Our Voices

December 06, 2016

AFSCME believes that every person working to sustain his or her community deserves respect.

America’s communities never rest. Streets need cleaning. Families need care. Students deserve well-run schools, and our neighborhoods demand safety.

Public service isn't just a job. It's a calling. It's hard work, and it's largely unsung.

But it means everything to know we're making our communities better. That’s why I’m committed to public service, and why I’ll never quit.

Meet the AFSCME members who make their communities thrive. Like Tyler Moroles, a program analyst at the Minneapolis Housing Authority. Moroles helps families receive housing vouchers for rental assistance. “My work reaches 16,000 people and 5,500 families,” he says. “These are families that could be you…If you lost your job, you’re just a couple of paychecks away from being that family.”

Meet Macgandra Ray, a child welfare specialist from St. Louis, Missouri. “The work is really dear to my heart, because when you have children in the juvenile system, people tend to forget about them.” That’s why she’s an advocate for them, ensuring the children receive the resources they need to heal and succeed.

Read these stories and more at http://neverquit.afscme.org/voices/.

Talks Resume for San Diego's Sharp Nurses

by Clyde Weiss  |  November 30, 2016

Talks Resume for San Diego's Sharp Nurses Photo courtesy of UNAC/UHCP

It's back to the bargaining table for the registered nurses at San Diego’s Sharp HealthCare, whose plan for a three-day strike starting Monday was called off after management offered improvements to their earlier proposal.

"Over the past week, Sharp has made slight improvements in some of their proposals addressing nurse turnover,” said Christina Magnusen, RN, president of Sharp Professional Nurses Network (SPNN), an affiliate of the United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP). “Sharp seems to now recognize the need to be in a better position to recruit nurses, and keep them once they’ve spent the money to train and orient them, so they will stay and make a career at Sharp. We remain hopeful that we can more fully tackle this crucial issue and complete the contract."

Negotiations resumed Tuesday.

The key issue – nurse recruitment and retention – has been the sticking point as the nurses contend that inadequate pay is the cause of high turnover at the Southern California hospital chain. More than 500 nurses have left the company in just the first nine months of this year because hourly pay is $8 to $15 less than what other nurses earn at area health organizations.

Talks to craft a contract that addresses such concerns, and others, have been going on since July. In October, more than 300 nurses and allies gathered in solidarity with Sharp Healthcare nurses at the San Diego Convention Center.

A 10-day strike notice demonstrated to management that the nurses were committed to resolving the recruitment and retention problem, and ending what the nurses said was Sharp’s repeated violations of federal labor law, including prematurely abandoning negotiations.

What Do We Want? $15! When Do We Want It? Now!

by Bart Acocella  |  November 30, 2016

What Do We Want? $15! When Do We Want It? Now! Hundreds of union members, faith and community leaders rally to support fair wages for Washington National Airport workers. (Photo by Kris Stith)

Last week, skycaps, baggage handlers and cabin cleaners worked extra hard, on the busiest days of the year, to get air travelers to their Thanksgiving destinations as safely and efficiently as possible.

This week, they’re insisting on fair pay for all the important work they do.

On Tuesday, AFSCME joined SEIU, UNITE-HERE, other unions, faith and community leaders for a rally at Washington National Airport to insist on a $15 an hour wage and a union for airport contract workers.

Hundreds of people gathered to stand in solidarity with the workers, many of whom are living in poverty, making less than $7 per hour plus unreliable tips. Aynalem Lale, a wheelchair dispatcher at Dulles Airport, spoke about her daily struggle and what a well-deserved raise would mean in her life.

“If I made $15 an hour,” she said, “I would only [need] one job, and I would not have to sleep in the airport between jobs.” She added: “We deserve respect and…job security and enough to support our families.”

Following the rally, the crowd marched nearly a mile to the other end of the airport to present the demand for a raise at the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority offices. Workers also authorized a vote to strike during the December holidays.

This airport march and rally was just one of more than 300 events occurring nationwide, to mark four years to the day since the launch of the Fight for $15 movement. Tens of thousands of people participated in protests and demonstrations, a day of disruption that included acts of civil disobedience in front of McDonald’s restaurants from coast to coast.

The Fight for $15 has enjoyed resounding success in a short period of time, already leading to wage increases for more than 22 million people. But AFSCME and its partners won’t quit fighting until all working families get the dignity and respect they deserve, until they get at least the $15 per hour it takes to make ends meet.

Trump: Where the Rubber Hits the Road

by Lee Saunders, AFSCME President  |  November 30, 2016

Last week, families came together to express gratitude for all the blessings in our lives. If your Thanksgiving table was anything like mine, there was plenty of lively debate about politics and current affairs, about what a Trump administration will mean for our country’s future.

First, it cannot mean a rise in hate speech. It must not mean attacks on women, religious minorities, LGBTQ people and communities of color.

There’s no question that white nationalists have been emboldened by this election, or that Donald Trump has stoked fear and resentment for political advantage. This has to stop, and the president-elect has an obligation to stop it. It’s the very opposite of what makes America great.

If he is truly committed to unity and healing, there may be opportunities for cooperation — perhaps on infrastructure investment, as long as it provides good-paying jobs and not just corporate boondoggles. I don’t believe obstructionism should be our default position, as it was for the right wing from the moment President Obama was elected. There’s too much at stake for short-term political brinkmanship. We in the labor movement and the progressive community will work with President-elect Trump when — but only when — doing so aligns with our values.

The Trump campaign tapped into legitimate frustration on the part of so many working people. It’s time to address this economic insecurity, and we will hold the president-elect’s feet to the fire to ensure that he does.

But in many cases, the Trump governing agenda seems to contradict the Trump campaign platform.

If fighting for the forgotten woman and man is the president-elect’s goal, for example, it’s unclear how trillions in tax cuts for the wealthy get us there. The same goes for a rollback of the Obama administration rule allowing millions more Americans to receive overtime pay. And if wresting power from the elites is a defining principle of a Trump presidency, does it make any sense to undo regulations that rein in greed and excess on Wall Street?

For generations, it’s been the labor movement that has led the way in lifting living standards for working people. Why, then, would someone who claims to be working people’s champion pursue a national right-to-work law that would crush collective bargaining rights? Although Trump suggested he would shore up the retirement safety net, there are indications that he will move to privatize Medicare and convert Medicaid to a block grant program.

Such an approach would mean Draconian benefit cuts inflicting pain and hardship on millions of people. It is also deeply unpopular. Recent polling shows that 80 percent of Trump voters believe “protecting Social Security and Medicare” should be a priority for the incoming administration and new Congress.

Donald Trump was elected on a pledge to help working people. Now is his chance to show us, not tell us. We will give him every opportunity to prove his sincerity, and we will not miss an opportunity to oppose him if he doesn’t.

Judge Blocks Obama Rule Giving Overtime to Millions

November 23, 2016

Judge Blocks Obama Rule Giving Overtime to Millions

In a huge blow for millions of workers, a federal judge in Texas has blocked the Obama administration’s new rule that would grant automatic overtime pay to workers making more than $47,476 per year. “This is an extreme and unsupportable decision and is a clear overreach by the Court,” said the Economic Policy Institute in a statement.

The new cap — a rise from $23,660, would have ensured that millions of workers across the country are paid the overtime they’re entitled to for the work they do. The rule was supposed to go into effect December 1, but Judge Amos Mazzant of the Eastern District of Texas issued an injunction against the rule going into effect.

The Obama administration estimates the rule would have given 4.2 million workers the overtime pay they deserve, and helped a total of 12.5 million people by strengthening the current overtime rule.

“In this month’s election, voters spoke loudly and clearly about their economic anxiety,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. “Blocking the overtime rule, which would have given millions of Americans a raise, is a cruel slap in their face.”

The big winners in this decision are corporations who now will get out of paying fair wages to employees making more than $23,660 who work more than 40 hours a week. Their allies like the Chamber of Commerce, along with right-wing elected officials, have pushed to defeat the new rule.

The judge’s decision flies in the face of previous precedent, which for decades has given the Labor Department the authority to set a threshold for salaried workers. By rejecting that threshold, the judge makes it much easier for employers to declare that salaried workers are ineligible for overtime. It also allows more abuse of the overtime system as it adds confusion to who is eligible and who isn't.

Get news & updates from AFSCME