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Correctional Officers and Employees Never Quit; We Won’t Either

by Pablo Ros  |  May 03, 2016

Correctional Officers and Employees Never Quit; We Won’t Either Photos by Nancy Hauck

Correctional officers and employees in public institutions all over the country help keep our communities safe. And just as they never quit doing their jobs 24/7, their union will never quit fighting for their rights on the job.

AFSCME is the union of 85,000 correctional officers and employees. During National Correctional Officers’ and Employees’ Week, we thank them for their service and recommit to always standing with them to make our union stronger.

In the last year, our union has become a lot stronger. Our AFSCME Strong campaign has structured our conversations with our co-workers about issues we care about and can fix together. We’ve had more than 340,000 one-on-one conversations with AFSCME members from correctional officers to school bus drivers. More than 26,000 have joined our political action fund, PEOPLE, because to improve public services and secure our jobs we need to elect lawmakers who stand with working families.

Safety is key in many workplaces. But in correctional settings, it is often a top priority. That’s why having a voice on the job is so important.

Not long ago, a correctional officer was taken hostage by an inmate at Mansfield Correctional Institution in Ohio. It was no accident. It happened because, despite warnings about short-staffing, she was left alone in the presence of a violent felon.

Chronic understaffing is an issue in facilities from Iowa to New Mexico and Maryland. State prison populations continue to increase while many governors and state legislatures continue to slash budgets. AFSCME and affiliate unions are urging lawmakers to improve staffing levels and make other systemic changes that reduce safety risks to prison staff, inmates and surrounding communities.

It’s because we never quit that we’ve achieved important organizing victories. In Anoka County, Minnesota, juvenile probation officers formed their own AFSCME local union after the county board froze their wages while giving other county unionized employees the raises they deserved. And it’s because we never quit that we’ve achieved important contract victories, including one won by Hawaii public safety officers, who recently achieved substantial wage increases.

Next week, leaders of AFSCME correctional units from around the country will meet to discuss strengthening our power in the sector, including key issues such as prison privatization, mass incarceration and federal legislation affecting our members.

Also, they will join members of the AFSCME Law Enforcement Advisory Committee at the candle light vigil for fallen law enforcement officers, among whom are corrections officers.

So, yes, this week let’s be extra thankful to our sisters and brothers who serve our communities as corrections officers and employees.

#ThankATeacher Today – National Teachers Appreciation Day

by Clyde Weiss  |  May 03, 2016

#ThankATeacher Today – National Teachers Appreciation Day

When you think about the persons who influenced you the most, besides your parents, a teacher no doubt comes to mind. Many of us still recall the name of our favorite teacher – the one who gave you the encouragement to become the person you are today. So, today – on National Teachers Appreciation Day – take a moment to thank that person who made such a difference in your life, or the life of your child.

How? The National Education Association (NEA), together with the National PTA offer several good suggestions for giving a shout-out on to that special teacher this week (May 2-6 is National Teacher’s Appreciation Week). They suggest:

  • Post a picture of yourself with your favorite teacher, past or present;
  • Post a picture of yourself holding a piece of paper with a simple message saying “thank you” to a teacher and why you’re thanking her or him;
  • Post a picture of your child with her or his teacher.

Use the hashtag #ThankATeacher when sharing. Also, use this graphic when you share with friends.

“Teachers are real life superheroes. They make an immense difference in the well-being and long-term success of children nationwide,” said Laura Bay, president of National PTA.

Did you know that, on average, teachers work more than 52 hours a week? That includes 30 hours on instruction and 22 hours on such tasks as preparing lessons and grading papers, reports the NEA, citing a survey by the National Center for Education Statistics 2011-12 Schools and Staffing Survey.

Another interesting fact about U.S teachers: The average annual base salary of a full-time public school teacher is $53,100, the NEA noted, also based on the same survey for the period of 2011-12.

President Obama’s proclamation this year for National Teacher Appreciation Day and National Teacher Appreciation Week, states,” In working to ensure all our daughters and sons have the chance to add their voice and perspective to America's story, our teachers help shape a nation that better reflects the values we were founded upon.”

Yet, it notes, “there is still work to be done” to ensure that America’s children get the best possible education.

“That is why my administration has been committed to better recruiting, preparing, retraining, and rewarding America's teachers,” the proclamation says. “Following the worst economic crisis our country has seen since the Great Depression, my administration supported significant investments in education through the Recovery Act to keep more than 300,000 educators in the classroom.”

AFSCME is proud to represent the many women and men who teach and care for children in homes, day care centers, pre-K classrooms, before-and-after school child care and Head Start programs. Learn more here. They also work in K-12 schools and also institutions of higher learning, helping to make sure that children and students have the best environment for learning.

So here’s to our teachers – and also the many people who help them perform their daily tasks – who never quit making our nation great by helping the next generation. We are in your debt.

Child Care Services Are Worth a Living Wage

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  May 01, 2016

Child Care Services Are Worth a Living Wage Courtesy of Center for the Study of Child Care Employment

Can you put a price on the safety, happiness and education of a child? Child care is an absolutely critical service. The women and men who do this kind of work aren’t just part of our economy, they’re part of our families and communities.

But wages for child care providers aren’t in step with the value of the work they do. Hourly wages in the child care sector are just $10.31, which is 39 percent lower than the national average for hourly earners. One in seven child care providers lives in a household with an income below the poverty line. The cost that parents pay for child care has skyrocketed in the past 25 years, but real wages for the workers who spend time with our children haven’t risen at all.

That’s why we recognize May 1 as Worthy Wage Day. Since 1992, on this day, child care providers and their allies advocate for better wages and working conditions. This is a problem that must be addressed at every level. State programs are underfunded, labor laws have historically undermined the value of child care workers, and our culture does not always recognize the importance of child care services.

AFSCME represents thousands of child care workers who devote their careers to enriching the lives of children. We stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers as they call for respect and a living wage. 

AFSCME Couple to Celebrate 14 Years of Love at Convention

by Pablo Ros  |  April 28, 2016

AFSCME Couple to Celebrate 14 Years of Love at Convention Cindy and Doug Cook

Cindy and Doug Cook couldn’t be more excited about attending AFSCME’s 42nd International Convention in Las Vegas this July.  Not only because they’ve been AFSCME members for a combined total of more than 60 years. And not just because they’re big believers in what workers can achieve when they stand together, even in the face of a great challenge. Their trip will be unique for a very personal reason. 

Cindy and Doug met at the AFSCME International Convention in Las Vegas in 2002. They were married in Las Vegas in 2006. So this year they’re going back to celebrate the 14th anniversary of their meeting and their 10th wedding anniversary. Their union was “literally union-made,” they say, and they are looking forward to sharing this special moment with their AFSCME sisters and brothers.

How they met

On the Sunday before Convention 2002, Doug was swimming in the pool at the Paris Hotel when he first set eyes on Cindy. “I saw this beautiful girl sitting by the pool, dangling her feet in the water,” he says. “So I swam up to her and we started talking.”

“We clicked immediately,” Cindy recalls, “and we ended up talking for over two hours. He made me feel like I had known him all my life.” 

At the time, Cindy was an employee of the City of Erie, Pennsylvania, and president of AFSCME Local 2206 (Council 13). Doug was (and still is) an equipment operator for Thurston County, in Olympia, Washington. He’s also a member of AFSCME Local 618 (Council 2), where he has served as vice president. Though they came from opposite sides of the country, they had much in common, including their union activism. They spent the rest of the week together, attending convention activities and getting to know each other. 

“It was then that our friendship was born,” Cindy says.

They never quit on each other                                                                                                                                                  

Love in the UnionAfter the 2002 Convention, Doug and Cindy went back to their respective homes. For the next three-and-a-half years, they did the “East Coast/West Coast thing,” as Cindy puts it.  At first, they visited each other in Las Vegas, then Doug visited Erie. Cindy then visited Olympia. Through 2005 they spent all of their vacation time traveling back and forth.

“When we weren’t together, we spent hours on the phone,” Cindy recalls. “It was crazy because we both realized we had found something completely unexpected and extremely rare and special.”

Their love for each other resulted in the decision to spend the rest of their lives together. “It was frightening to leave my family and friends, which I will always miss,” Cindy says, “but it turned out to be the best decision of our lives. We’ve never been happier.”  Cindy found a job with the Washington State Department of Ecology and, within one month, moved to Washington. They bought a house and married on Feb. 19, 2006. She is now a member of AFSCME Council 28.

Going Strong

While the past 10 years have been full of happiness, the couple has not been free from struggle. In 2012, Doug was diagnosed with a type of cancer called non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. For the next six months, he would have to undergo chemotherapy at the University of Washington in Seattle, 60 miles away.  

“Going through something like that changes your whole outlook on life,” Cindy says.  “Going through this struggle made us stronger and drew us even closer together.”

“How Cindy stuck with me was remarkable,” Doug says. “She was by my side at every appointment, every test, and every session of chemotherapy.”

Thanks to her union contract and her co-workers, Cindy was able to use shared leave on the days that Doug was being treated. It’s what allowed her to be by Doug’s side.  “It was so important for me to be with him,” she says, “because we had no idea what the future held for us.”  

“Cindy was unbelievable,” Doug says. “Her love and support is why I’m here today.”

Workers Memorial Day: Fighting for the Living

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  April 28, 2016

Workers Memorial Day: Fighting for the Living

We go to work every day to make a living — but all too often, the workplace takes lives instead. Today is Workers Memorial Day, a time to reflect on the working women and men who were killed or injured on the job.

Thanks to the efforts of advocates and activists in the labor movement, workplace safety has improved considerably in recent decades. We lobbied for laws and negotiated collectively for contracts that require protective equipment and thorough safety procedures. But the battle isn’t over.

In 2014, the most recent year for available statistics, more than 4,800 working people died as the result of workplace accidents and injuries, and another 50,000 died from diseases caused by workplace exposure. That’s 150 lives lost every day as the result of unsafe working conditions. (This is the highest annual total since 2008.)

Some workers are at higher risk than others. Latino workers, particularly those who were born outside the United States, are more likely to be injured or killed on the job than the general population.  In 2014, 748 Latino workers died as the result of workplace injury.

As public sector employees, AFSCME members are also at particular risk. Federal OSHA standards do not cover many state and local government workers, and public sector employees are 56 percent more likely to be injured on the job than our private-sector counterparts. Although some states have state OSHA laws that protect public sector workers.

It’s up to all of us to make sure our workplaces are safe and healthy. We need strong contracts, comprehensive laws and co-workers who are willing to speak up when they see potential dangers. Let’s put an end to these preventable tragedies.

Splash Medics Continue Mission to Prevent Child Drownings

by Justin Lee  |  April 27, 2016

Splash Medics Continue Mission to Prevent Child Drownings Lisa La Russo and Armando Reyes teach water safety tips to children at John Stallings Elementary in Corona, California. (Photo by Ashley La Russo)

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. – Splash Medics has provided life-saving water safety tips to more than 2,000 children since AFSCME Local 4911 members founded the nonprofit in 2015. The group plans to visit another 50 schools this summer and release a children’s book, Toby the Dolphin. This is just part of their effort to reduce the high number of water-related injuries and deaths in their county.

“We’ve had a lot of drownings this year already, and this month there were two kids that drowned in one weekend,” said Paramedic Lisa La Russo, a member of AFSCME Local 4911. “We are working to get education to every school, parent and child.” 

Drowning is the leading cause of death for children under five, according to Riverside County Injury Prevention Services. This statistic is no surprise to the front-line Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and paramedics who often respond to emergencies involving children, and many of which are preventable water-related incidents.

Several members of Local 4911 have volunteered with Splash Medics to educate the public on the importance of water safety. EMT Fawn Lawson-Huntington was recently featured on CBS Local 2. "We're teaching kids to always swim with a buddy, always have a grown-up watching, no running, and wear your life vest,” Lawson told reporter Laura Yanez.

“It only takes seconds for a child to drown,” Lawson-Huntington added. “And I know how tempting the cell phone is, but even in the moments that you’re answering a phone call [or] scrolling through Facebook, a child could drown.”

These tips are highlighted in their upcoming children’s book, Toby the Dolphin and Water Safety. Splash Medics will read their book to school children at Amelia Earhart Elementary School in Indio, Calif., on May 4 at 9 a.m.

Click here to make a contribution to Splash Medics.

At Lebanon Correctional Institution in Ohio, 100 Percent AFSCME Membership

by Clyde Weiss  |  April 26, 2016

At Lebanon Correctional Institution in Ohio, 100 Percent AFSCME Membership Phil Morris, Ohio correctional officer and OCSEA chapter president, participated in a recent AFSCME Strong training exercise. (Photo by Pattie Boy / OCSEA)

As a correctional officer at the Lebanon Correctional Institution, about 30 miles from Cincinnati, Phil Morris knows that safety and security means having someone to watch your back. That’s the way it is with the members of his union, Ohio Civil Service Employees Association/AFSCME Local 11.

They are stronger because they’re united, watching out for one another.

“We’re what actually protects our membership from wrongdoing or harm from management,” explained Morris, president of OCSEA Chapter 8310, which represents approximately 300 employees at Lebanon, a Warren County facility operated by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

So it should be no surprise that when Morris participated in an AFSCME Strong blitz in early April – having one-on-one conversations with other officers in his unit – all but the six new hires were already members of his union. The new hires all signed up.

“We’ve maintained 100 percent membership at my institution,” Morris said. “Fair share is really not an option. We’ve never had anyone who said, ‘I want to be fair share.’”

Two officers who happened to be fair share (and who worked a different shift than Morris), became members during the blitz.

Having one-on-one conversations with his fellow union members was an exercise in building unit cohesion. “They were committed,” he explained, “but I wanted to get back to the roots of what we are, and we are the grass roots. A lot of time that gets forgotten. Sometimes, we have to get back to the basics and let folks know we are here – that we do have our fingers on the pulse, and we do care. We want to know what’s up with you.”

What’s up with the officers in his unit has a lot to do with being safe in an inherently dangerous environment. A security staff of approximately 350 is responsible for maintaining the peace in an institution that houses 2,478 inmates.

Morris has worked there nearly 12 years – his first union-represented job. He works the first shift, lasting from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. With much gang activity to watch out for, safety is always on his mind. “At the end of the day, we want to be able to walk out the same way we walked in – on both feet,” Morris said. “We are surrounded by folks who have nothing but time.”

During the two-day AFSCME Strong blitz, Morris and other members reached out to more than 200 members to conduct “assessments” – holding one-on-one conversations about issues that concerned them. Not unexpectedly, many of those conversations involved the state’s efforts to sell state-run correctional facilities to for-profit companies.

“Gov. Kasich had already put five prisons up for sale in his first term as governor of Ohio,” Morris said. One was later sold.

“They’ve already privatized our food service with Aramark,” he added. Inmate medical care is also heavily outsourced. “What they say is that it’s to save money, but in our eyes it’s to cut corners. You get what you pay for.”

The conversations also turned to more positive subjects, particularly education benefits provided through OCSEA. Partnering with a community college, the union is able to provide a program that provides free college education to eligible members who are accepted into the school. Vision and dental insurance are other benefits that he discovered “a lot of them either didn’t know about, or forgot.”

The AFSCME Strong blitz “is a good grass-roots campaign,” he said. “It was good to get out there to talk to the folks, one-on-one, and not being made to feel they were being pressed for information. It was good to revisit some of the things we don’t talk about enough. We wanted to make sure their voices were heard.”

He said the members also appreciated the interest he showed by asking about their concerns. “They enjoyed that casual, if not intimate, experience of being able to talk without being pressed or put on the record,” he said. “Candid would be the better term.”

As a correctional officer, Morris will never quit caring for the women and men who work with him, making sure they’re safe. Nor will the two-term chapter president ever quit on his union, whose members depend on one another to build strength in the workplace.

“One common thread they all agree on is having a voice in the workplace,” he said. “They know that we are there, and we’re there to help.”

Prince Was a Champion for Working People

by Kenneth Quinnell, AFL-CIO  |  April 26, 2016

The world lost a musical icon last week. You’ll read about his impact as a musician and an entertainer elsewhere, but let’s take a second to look at Prince’s career-spanning fights on behalf of working people.

For more than 40 years, Prince was a union member, a long-standing member of both the Twin Cities Musicians Local 30-73 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and SAG-AFTRA. Beginning with “Ronnie Talk to Russia” in 1981 on through hits like “Sign o’ the Times” and later works like “We March” and “Baltimore,” Prince’s music often reflected the dreams, struggles, fears and hopes of working people. (And he wasn’t limited to words, his Baltimore concert in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death raised funds to help the city recover. I got to sit on the right side of the stage, high in the rafters, to watch joyously.) Few of America’s artists have so well captured the plight of working Americans as Prince, putting him in the line of artists like Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen as working-class heroes.

Ray Hair, president of AFM, spoke of Prince’s importance: “We are devastated about the loss of Prince, a member of our union for over 40 years. Prince was not only a talented and innovative musician, but also a true champion of musicians’ rights. Musicians—and fans throughout the world—will miss him. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and fans grieving right now.”

And this is a key part of his legacy. Prince was deeply talented and could have easily made his success without much help from others. And yet he was a massive supporter of other artists, from writing and producing songs for artists as diverse as Chaka Khan, the Bangles, Sinéad O’Connor, Vanity, Morris Day and the Time and Tevin Campbell (among many others) to his mentoring and elevating of women in music, to the time where he put his own career on the line in defense of the rights of artists. And every musician that came after owes him a debt of gratitude.

The music industry has a deeply troubled past, with stories of corporations exploiting musicians, especially African American musicians, being plentiful enough to fill libraries. At the height of his popularity, Prince decided that he would fight back. He was set, financially and career-wise, and had nothing to gain from taking on the onerous contracts that artists were saddled with when they were young, inexperienced and hungry. If he lost everything by taking on the industry, he still had money and fame to rely on. But he knew this wasn’t true for many other musicians, and Prince was always a fan of music, and he knew that taking on this battle would help others. So he took on the recording industry on behalf of music. On behalf of the industry’s working people—the musicians themselves.

And it cost him his name and his fame.

In the ensuing battle, Prince famously renounced his birth name and began performing under an unpronouncable symbol instead of a name. He fought the company at every turn, even writing the word “slave” on his face in protest of the conditions he worked under. He said: “People think I’m a crazy fool for writing ‘slave’ on my face. But if I can’t do what I want to do, what am I?” For the rest of his career, which never recovered to his early heights, he continually fought to change the way that record companies treated artists, explored new ways to distribute music to fans and battled to give artists more control and more revenue for the art they create. In a still-changing musical landscape, Prince was one of a handful of artists who helped shape a future where musicians, working people, get the fruits of their labor.

In honor of Prince’s passing, check out his performance, an all-time great, at the country’s largest annual event brought to you by union workers, the Super Bowl.

Would You Like Ribs or a Hot Dog with Your AFSCME Strong?

by Mark McCullough  |  April 25, 2016

Would You Like Ribs or a Hot Dog with Your AFSCME Strong? AFSCME Retiree leader Melba White joined hundreds of her AFSCME sisters and brothers to celebrate the union’s growth over the past year and to keep the momentum going. (Photo by Mark McCullough)

MIAMI – While much of the country starts to shed the winter layers, the mild April weather in South Florida proved the perfect temperature for a picnic uniting AFSCME members across Miami-Dade County

Spearheaded by five locals but inclusive of all AFSCME members, retirees and their families, the picnic included a DJ, raffle, bounce castles, games and playgrounds to keep folks moving and entertained. There were tables set up to register voters, and for members to join or increase their contributions to AFSCME’s political, grassroots lobbying and fundraising arm, known as AFSCME PEOPLE.

They even had an opportunity to adopt a pet, thanks to the participation of Miami-Dade County Animal Services Department.

“Events like this really help to remind you that we are all in this together, no matter what local you are part of, what job you do or what you worksite is,” said Claretha Stewart, an AFSCME retiree and former AFSCME Local 1184 member. “It helps to show what all the hard work, rallies and meetings are for – to make our union family stronger so our families at home can be stronger too.”

Members had plenty of ribs, chicken, watermelon and other great BBQ food to choose from throughout the day while they talked with co-workers, caught up with old friends and made plenty of new ones as well.

But it wasn’t just fun and games. There was plenty of AFSCME Strong organizing too.

Melba White, president of AFSCME Retirees Subchapter 45, was reminding members of the value of staying involved during retirement. “People spend a career serving their communities and having that impact doesn’t have to end when you stop going into the office. It just evolves to reflect the new chapter in your life as well,” said White.

Meanwhile, AFSCME Local 3292’s David Diaz urged members to support AFSCME’s PEOPLE program and also to ensure they and their family members are registered to vote at their current address.

“We have already seen how unpredictable this election season can be, and with so many critical races in Florida this year, we need to have a strong showing by AFSCME members in the August primary and November general election,” said Diaz. “We have had a great response. What AFSCME picnic can go more than a few minutes without politics becoming a topic of conversation?”

Organizers said they were pleased with the turnout and hope it will be the start of an annual tradition.

“I’ve met a lot of AFSCME members but I have never met one that doesn’t like a good picnic,” said White.

Hillary Calls for Automatic Voter Registration

by John Noonan  |  April 25, 2016

HOUSTON, Texas – Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in a speech April 22 at Texas Southern University, called for automatic voter registration for everyone who is eligible when they turn 18, unless they chose to opt-out.

Secretary Clinton called on those who are working to make it harder for eligible voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote to “stop fear mongering.”

The Democratic Presidential candidate specifically referenced the scores of right-wing attacks on voting rights at the state level. Many states, like Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio have laws requiring registered voters to show their IDs before casting a ballot. These laws, advanced under the guise of stopping voter fraud, disproportionately place barriers to the ballot box in front of communities of color and the elderly.

Many advocates believe that these barriers to voting are precisely the point of these laws since voter fraud so rarely occurs. In her speech, Secretary Clinton rightly diagnosed voter fraud as a “phantom epidemic.” She made it clear that, as President, she would expect Congress to repair the harm caused by the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous decision to overturn key provisions of the Voting Rights Act.

That 2013 ruling required states with histories of disenfranchising minorities to submit voting law changes to the Department of Justice for review.

Currently three states – Oregon, California, and West Virginia – have a system of automatic voter registration. Advocates in the states have filed similar legislation in 23 other states.

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