Listen Up, Congress! This AFSCME Member Has a Message for You

by Pablo Ros  |  March 23, 2017

Listen Up, Congress! This AFSCME Member Has a Message for You Patricia Byrd urges Congress not to slash Medicaid at a Capitol Hill press conference as New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (orange tie) looks on. (Photo by Ben Hodapp)

As the U.S. House of Representatives gets ready to vote on a bill that threatens to leave millions of people without health insurance, AFSCME retiree Patricia Byrd went to Capitol Hill with a clear message: Hands off our Medicaid.

A former social worker from Panama City, Florida, Byrd worked for 27 years to help families in need afford the medical care they needed. She saw firsthand the way Medicaid can change lives for the better. And she knows Medicaid saves countless lives every day.

Medicaid is also very personal to Byrd, whose 92-year-old mother is wheelchair bound and has dementia. She is in a nursing home and needs around-the-clock care paid for by Medicaid that Byrd and her husband couldn’t possibly afford out of pocket.

Her story is the story of millions of Americans. She knows this not just because of her experience as a social worker, but also because the more she speaks out, the more she hears from families like hers.

“Our story is not unique,” Byrd said at a press conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. “There are millions of families in situations just like mine. I’ve seen them up close, I’ve lived this my whole life.”

Byrd sent a passionate plea to Congress and President Donald Trump on behalf the working families whose lives depend on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. She was joined by New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker.

“Medicaid is a lifesaving program that lifts up countless families,” Byrd said. “These are our parents, our children, and our family members, and one day it may even be you. So please, hands off our Medicaid.”

An Era of Scorn for Our Government Workforce

by Lee Saunders  |  March 23, 2017

An Era of Scorn for Our Government Workforce

Back in 1932, a group of Wisconsin state employees banded together to defend their rights as civil servants, pushing back against a corrupt spoils system that would reward friends of politicians with important public-service jobs that demanded nonpartisan professionalism.

That was the beginning of the formation of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. I am proud to serve as president of AFSCME, where we represent 1.6 million men and women -- everyone from bus drivers to sanitation workers to emergency medical technicians -- who never quit working to serve and strengthen their communities.

Over the decades, even as our union has grown, we have had to contend with adversaries trying not just to hold down our members' pay and benefits but who fundamentally denigrate and disrespect their work. That reflexive scapegoating of public workers has now reached a fever pitch. Around the country, right-wing politicians, underwritten by corporate interests, are going after the rights and the economic security of those who work for the public good. They're not just trying to knock us down; they want to take us out.

Nowhere has that been more true in Wisconsin, which since 2011 has been in the vanguard of the effort to take away public employees' hard-won employment rights. But what Wisconsin's legislature and governor did was just the beginning. Last month in Iowa, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill gutting government employees' collective bargaining rights. The new law, which AFSCME's Iowa affiliate is challenging in court, means that most of Iowa's state and local public workers now have the right to negotiate only their base wages -- and a limited one at that. They no longer can bargain over other benefits or terms of employment such as health insurance, transfers and layoffs, or evaluation and grievance procedures.

Illinois' Republican governor, private-equity billionaire Bruce Rauner, also has made it a top priority to kick public employees to the curb. Aiming to dictate rather than negotiate, Rauner has tried to force-feed our state members an unacceptable contract that includes a four-year wage freeze and a 100 percent increase in health-care premiums.

Now the presidency of Donald Trump has ushered in a fresh wave of withering attacks on public employees at the federal level. Just days after taking the oath of office, Trump imposed a federal hiring freeze. And a new bill moving through Congress would eviscerate civil-service protections, making it easier to fire career government employees without due process. The president's proposed fiscal year 2018 budget is so austere that it would, according to the Washington Post, expedite "a historic contraction of the federal workforce."

Trump's proposed cuts to non-defense discretionary spending make sequestration look generous. Low-income housing, environmental protection, scientific research and international diplomacy all would take major hits, affecting the livelihoods of both federal employees and the people they serve. The Labor Department, for example, would be cut by more than one-fifth, with huge implications for job training, wages, occupational safety and more.

And then there is the issue of ill-advised privatization. The Obama administration, after careful study, announced last summer that the federal government would no longer contract with private prison companies. But the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, reversed that decision last month, even though private corrections corporations are a cancer on the criminal-justice system, contributing to the mass-incarceration epidemic and operating prisons with deplorable safety measures, sanitary conditions and rehabilitation records.

Meanwhile, Trump and his team have taken every opportunity to smear those who have devoted their careers to the common good and the public interest. We have seen this in his tweets attacking the intelligence community and judges and in his disparagement of data generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We have seen it in his campaign promise to "remove bureaucrats who only know how to kill jobs"; in Newt Gingrich's call for "straight-out war" on the civil service; and in top White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon's talk of "deconstruction of the administrative state."

Public employees don't expect to get rich, but some basic respect for the important jobs they do isn't too much to ask. Instead, in too many states and localities from coast to coast -- and now more than ever at the federal level -- their hard work is rewarded with pettiness and scorn. Not from their neighbors, but from politicians with an agenda.

When you attack public workers, entire communities suffer -- their schools, hospitals, roads and more. To undermine law enforcement, social workers and 911 dispatchers, and their counterparts at every level of government, is to hurt the citizens who depend every day on the services they provide.

(This post originally appeared in Governing magazine). 

AFSCME Council 65 Expands by 156 Workers in South Dakota

by David Kreisman  |  March 23, 2017

AFSCME Council 65 Expands by 156 Workers in South Dakota

REDFIELD, S.D. – For the past year, workers at the South Dakota Developmental Center (SDDC) have been leading an organizing drive to address serious safety concerns and conditions at the facility – and in early March, their hard work paid off.

The direct support employees and medical assistants at SDDC voted overwhelmingly in favor of forming a local with AFSCME Council 65. As a result, 156 workers at that state-run facility are now covered by AFSCME.

As the organizing campaign got underway, former employee Paul Register resigned his position after nearly a decade at SDDC, amidst serious safety concerns that were not being addressed.

Residents of SDDC have intellectual and physical disabilities. Last year, former employees accused SDDC of “having a hostile administration, staff shortages and a dangerous work environment,” according to the Associated Press. The center’s director at the time resigned.

SDDC has 340 employees, but is short nearly 50 workers, Register told, a local news consortium. According to Register, as of January, 2016, the number of resident assaults had increased so much that employees were afraid to come to work. Five sustained concussions, while another endured a facial laceration that had to be glued shut.

Furthermore, Register said, many of the residents come from a state correctional facility, though the SSDC is not set up to accommodate residents with such complex needs.

“My peers at SDDC led an employee union campaign for over a year,” Register said, according to a press release from Council 65. “I’m a little awestruck at their determination. They stayed unified to have a voice for better safety measures for SDDC clients and staff.”

In 2015, Register attempted to get the safety issues addressed by the state but ran into multiple roadblocks.

“The only reason the state took steps to address safety problems was these issues were now in the public’s eye, but not enough has been done,” he said.

The new AFSCME-represented employees will nominate co-workers to establish their bargaining team to start negotiations with SDDC. Their goal is to negotiate a contract that addresses safety concerns, hours of work, overtime and other working conditions.

No on Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Court

March 23, 2017

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders issued the following statement today opposing Judge Neil Gorsuch for appointment to the United States Supreme Court.

“Before receiving a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch needed to answer fundamental questions, both about his past record and about how he would apply the law as a Justice on the highest court in the land. On both accounts, Judge Gorsuch has come up short.

“Judge Gorsuch has failed to demonstrate and give fundamental assurances that he would be an independent voice on the Court who will use the Constitution to protect the rights of everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful.

“He failed to adequately address a troubling record of ruling against everyday working people, instead siding with employers, corporations and Wall Street despite often blatant and draconian violations of basic worker rights, safety and consumer protections.

“It is clear that he believes corporations are people and his judicial philosophy would likely further tilt the scales of justice against working families.

“At a time when the country is facing deep divisions, the American people cannot afford to confirm a nominee to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court if that nominee’s commitment to the Constitution’s guarantee of equality under the law is shrouded in doubt.

“We urge the U.S. Senate to oppose the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court.”

We’re Better Than This Trump Budget

by Raju Chebium  |  March 22, 2017

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal would be a cruel blow to working people and the poor. It would also eviscerate a host of programs that keep America going – Meals on Wheels, education, school lunches, cancer research, safe drinking water, counterterrorism and so on and on. In fact the budget  is so terrible, so mean-spirited that even many Republican governors are furious.

Watch our latest video, which shows how past presidents made sure to lift up America, not tear it down. We deserve better than the Trump budget, America. We are better than this.

Elissa McBride Elected AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer

by AFSCME Staff  |  March 22, 2017

Elissa McBride Elected AFSCME Secretary-Treasurer Elissa McBride (Photo by Khalid Naji Allah)

LEESBURG, Va. – The International Executive Board of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees today by acclamation elected Elissa McBride as its new secretary-treasurer. McBride, who will assume office effective immediately, has served as AFSCME’s director of Education and Leadership Training since 2001.

“AFSCME members are the backbone of our communities,” McBride said. “Members of our union staff our libraries, maintain our roads, care for us in times of medical crisis, ensure the safety of our children and much more. I am honored to serve as their secretary-treasurer, and I pledge to serve with passion, integrity and commitment as we continue to organize for workers’ rights and fight for public services.”

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders added: “Elissa McBride has been a dynamic force in our union for more than 15 years. As a superb educator and organizer, she has helped lead us through a period of growth and change. She never quits fighting for our members, and for all working people, to get the respect they deserve. At this critical moment in AFSCME’s history, she has the energy and expertise we need to put us on the right course for the future.” 

‘I Know I Was Right, AFSCME Helped Me Prove It’

by Mark McCullough  |  March 21, 2017

‘I Know I Was Right, AFSCME Helped Me Prove It’ Tarcara Lamkin

As a state employee, Tarcara Lamkin knows she’s serving her community every day. 

As a senior clerk with the Florida Department of Health’s Magnolia Women's Health Center, she was an integral part of ensuring that Jacksonville residents stay healthy and are aware of sexually transmitted diseases.

But after 10 years of solid work, all that came to a halt for the AFSCME Local 3038 member in May 2016. Following some unsettling conversations with her supervisor, Lamkin was told she was losing her job.

“They were claiming that I was a bad employee but in 10 years nobody has questioned my work ethic,” said Lamkin. “Everybody I work with knew I am not a passive person when it comes to getting the job done. So if it was a misunderstanding, a personality conflict, I’m not sure, but it was not because of the quality of work I was doing.”

None of the charges added up. On top of that, some of the absenteeism charges were actually covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). AFSCME, a strong supporter of FMLA, has deep experience in enforcing that 24-year-old law through contracts and has highlighted its value over time. Lamkin and her AFSCME Florida representative used that experience and knowledge to expose defects in the actions taken against her.

“From day one, I know AFSCME had my back, that they knew the contract and that they would fight for me,” said Lamkin. “They were able to look into each charge and say, ‘OK, this is what they are claiming but let’s show what really happened.’”

AFSCME Florida highlighted the FMLA violations, showed that Lamkin wasn’t afforded due process, underscored management’s failure to follow progressive disciplinary procedures and poked holes in other aspects of management’s case against her.

Lamkin won her case in early March, 10 months after she lost her job. She’s preparing to return to work and will soon be back serving her community after winning the back pay she deserved.

Her case underscores AFSCME’s commitment to fighting for each member no matter how long it takes. With each victory, AFSCME improves the working lives of public service employees in Florida and throughout our country.

Lamkin is thankful for AFSCME Florida’s support and advocacy.

“I knew I was right, AFSCME helped me prove it,” she said. “You never know what is going to happen and when you are going to need it, and that is why I am AFSCME strong from now until I retire.”

Women in PA Take Never Quit Attitude to a New Level

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  March 21, 2017

Women in PA Take Never Quit Attitude to a New Level Cheryl Dondero, director of Dauphin County (Pa.) Drug & Alcohol Services, speaks at AFSCME Council 13’s annual Women’s Conference in Pocono Manor, Pa. (Photo by Jennifer George)

AFSCME Council 13’s annual Women’s Conference in Pocono Manor, Pa., attracted a record 600 attendees, including 100 new activists who had never attended this important event held during Women’s History Month this year.

The main focus was on building the union through education, but the conference also sought to raise awareness amongst the attendees about the dangers of drug addiction.

According to the AFSCME Council 13 website, Joette Dudeck, AFSCME Local 3864 member, shared her family’s tragic story about losing her daughter to drug addiction. Sister Joette detailed how her AFSCME sisters helped her get through tough times.

On March 10, demonstrating their commitment to fighting drug addiction, attendees hosted a silent auction, raising thousands of dollars for Sage’s Army, an organization seeking to change the social stigma associated with the disease.

“Not only was this our largest women’s conference,” said Dave Fillman, AFSCME Council 13’s executive director and an AFSCME International vice president, “but we raised awareness about a struggle that far too many AFSCME families face. Joette’s courage to tell her story and the compassion in the room demonstrates the never quit attitude of our members who will always stand by their sisters and brothers.”

Council 13 represents more than 67,000 public service employees in Pennsylvania.

Maybe Eight is Enough

by Lee Saunders  |  March 20, 2017

When Judge Neil Gorsuch raises his right hand in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has some important questions to answer.

As a Supreme Court justice with a lifetime appointment, he needs to provide some assurance that he would be a voice for all people, not just the privileged and powerful. Would he tilt the playing field against consumers and in favor of large corporations? Would he safeguard civil rights or roll them back? Does he believe it should be easier or harder to vote in a democracy?

Since his nomination, Judge Gorsuch has been reticent about addressing these critical questions. But he has left a paper trail, a record as a judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that provides some insight into his views.

He appears to channel Mitt Romney in his belief that corporations are “persons” – and therefore may deny workers health care options based on the corporation owner’s religious beliefs. That was his view in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius in 2013, and favoritism toward business interests seems to guide his judicial philosophy.

The Associated Press described Gorsuch’s approach to workers’ rights cases as “coldly pragmatic, and … usually in the employer’s favor.” In one dissenting opinion last year, Gorsuch concluded that a trucking company was justified in firing a driver, who, fearing for his safety with his body numbing in subzero temperatures, abandoned his cargo after waiting for roadside assistance for several hours.

In several cases, Judge Gorsuch has put a thumb on the scale in favor of powerful institutions and against vulnerable individuals seeking fair treatment from the system. For example, he ruled that a boy with autism did not have a legal right to educational resources allowing him to apply at home the intellectual and social skills he learned in school.

And he denied a cancer-stricken Kansas State University professor’s request for extended sick leave.

Gorsuch has opposed class-action lawsuits. He has argued that it should be harder for consumers to sue Wall Street firms for fraud and other wrongdoing. He supports legal theories that could endanger important protections for clean air and safe food.

And by embracing the theory that political contributions are an expression of First Amendment rights, he would clear the way for billionaires to have even more influence on our elections than they currently do.

We are open to learning more from Judge Gorsuch about his views on these issues. That’s what the hearings are for, and we hope he will be forthright. Given what we currently know, it’s not clear that he can be trusted to defend the interests of working families, people who find themselves on the wrong end of an unbalanced economy, the very “forgotten man and woman” whom President Trump claims to speak for.

Surely it would be inconsistent for a president who has railed against Wall Street and global elites to appoint a justice who would enshrine the principle that corporations are people.

Supreme Court justices have the power to make decisions affecting the lives of millions of people for generations. So this nomination deserves careful vetting and review. Particularly now, with our country politically divided, we need a justice for all Americans – an independent voice and not an ideological warrior, a consensus builder and not a controversy seeker.

If that shoe doesn’t fit Judge Gorsuch, then the country would be best served leaving this seat on the Court vacant, just as it has been for the last 13 months.

Nothing in the Constitution says that the Supreme Court must have nine justices.

If the current nominee cannot be fair to all Americans – if his approach to the job would be one of bias and not balance – then maybe eight is enough.

Lee Saunders is the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, which represents 1.6 million members. This post also appeared as a column in today’s edition of The Hill, a newspaper covering Capitol Hill. To access the column, go here

New York Emergency Medical Technician Killed in Ambulance Hijacking

by Alfredo Alvarado, District Council 37  |  March 17, 2017

New York Emergency Medical Technician Killed in Ambulance Hijacking Emergency Medical Technician Yadira Arroyo (Photo courtesy Fire Department of New York)

NEW YORK CITY Emergency Medical Technician Yadira Arroyo was killed and another was injured March 16 when a 25-year-old man attempted to commandeer their ambulance.

Arroyo and EMT Monique Williams were responding to a nighttime emergency call in the Soundview section of the Bronx when someone on the street noticed a man riding on the back bumper of their ambulance and alerted the workers.

When the Local 2507 (DC 37) members pulled over and confronted the man, he shoved them aside and took over their vehicle. The man knocked Williams to the ground, but put the ambulance in reverse and ran over Arroyo, authorities said.

Arroyo, a 14-year veteran and mother of five children was pronounced dead that evening at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx.

“An Emergency Medical Technician lost in the line of duty bravely doing her job and encountering the kind of danger EMTs should not have to confront,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference, alongside Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro and Uniformed EMTs, Paramedics and Inspectors Local 2507 Pres. Israel Miranda.

“We know our EMTs are brave. They do crucial work–they save lives–but they should not ever have to be subjected to violence.  And yet, that danger always exists for them,” de Blasio added.

“It is difficult to convey the depth of our sorrow and anger,” said DC 37 Exec. Dir. Henry Garrido. “EMT Yadira Arroyo was literally a life saver. She went to work every day knowing that, at a moment’s notice, she could be called upon to face the awesome responsibility of saving a person’s life. Senseless violence snatched her from her children and family.”

Garrido, also an AFSCME International vice president, added, “All of her union sisters and brothers are shocked by the cruelty of her death, and we will do all we can to help her loved ones get through this terrible time and to comfort her EMT partner Monique Williams as she recovers from her wounds.”

Arroyo and her partner were assigned to Station 26 in the Morrisania section of the Bronx.

Williams was treated for minor injuries and shock.

“This is a very sad day for our family entire FDNY family,” said Miranda. “Yadira was a respected professional among her colleagues and also respected in her community. Yadira will always be a part of our family.”

Arroyo is the eighth emergency medical worker and third woman to die in the line of duty, according to Nigro.

Charged with Arroyo’s death was Jose Gonzalez, 25, of the Bronx. Police charged him with murder, grand larceny and operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs.

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