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ALEC, Legislators Caught Making Sausage

by Pablo Ros  |  May 21, 2015

”Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made,” American poet John Godfrey Saxe once said. Now there is video proof of just how ugly that process can be — especially if the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is involved.

Investigative reporter Brendan Keefe of Atlanta 11Alive TV News followed the story as far as he could at a resort hotel where ALEC lobbyists and Georgia state legislators worked on “model legislation.” Barred from the backrooms, he dug up the story through other means, including working the bar where a corporate lobbyist and Ohio state legislator supplied inside information.

ALEC officials tried to intimidate Keefe by bringing in Georgia state troopers, but the reporter stood his ground and got the story about how Georgia legislators and corporate lobbyists were literally voting on what laws to support. The result is powerful footage of sausage-making at work.

The report comes amid new revelations in an IRS Whistleblower Complaint that ALEC is engaged in tax fraud – essentially a corporate lobby masquerading as a charity. The organization has lost more than 100 corporate sponsors over the past year.

OMG! Are You Prepared for a (Union-Made) Summer?

by Clyde Weiss  |  May 20, 2015

 OMG! Are You Prepared for a (Union-Made) Summer?

Yikes! Summertime is just around the corner and you’re not prepared. For help, look no further than our handy dandy guide to union-made products.

These products not only will help prevent sunburn but they will also support good American jobs that provide living wages and benefits negotiated through collective bargaining.

Pull out the ChapStick, slather on the Coppertone, grease up that John Deere ‑ all products produced by working women and men who have safe working conditions and rights on the job because their union fought for them.

Buying union-made products also helps create an economy that works for all of us.

Shop Union! Print out this list and take it with you when you go to the grocery store, sporting goods store, hardware store or shop for a new air conditioner.

AFSCME Helps Push Kenney to Win in Philly

by Omar Tewfik  |  May 20, 2015

AFSCME Helps Push Kenney to Win in Philly Jim Kenney is flanked by more than 100 AFSCME members as he stands with AFSCME District Council Presidents Fred Wright (DC 47), Pete Mathews (DC 33) and Henry Nicholas (NUHHCE District 1199C) at an endorsement rally. Photo Credit: Omar Tewfik

PHILADELPHIA — AFSCME members were instrumental in helping a former member to a decisive win in the Democratic primary for mayor on May 19. Jim Kenney, the son of a firefighter and a former AFSCME District 1199C member, trounced the other five candidates in the crowded primary despite massive spending by pro-charter school hedge fund billionaires who backed another candidate.

Members of AFSCME District Council 33, District Council 47 and National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees (NUHHCE) District 1199C mobilized union members and their families throughout the city. With the help of AFSCME retirees, they made more than 100,000 phone calls, knocked on nearly 23,000 doors, sent more than 114,000 pieces of mail, and reached 20,000-plus members through digital outreach.

During an Election Day canvass launch at District 1199C, Kenney told members, “You know how you get your wages? You unionize and you negotiate with your employer. That’s what sets what the real wage should be based on the economy and based on your value as employees and I am so proud — I am extremely proud — to be supported by this union.”

During the campaign, Kenney ran on his progressive record and positions on strengthening public schools, forging new partnerships and accountability between the community and law enforcement, and fostering an economy that works for everyone.

Kenney faces competition in the November general election, but the Democrat traditionally is a strong favorite in Philadelphia.

The Season’s Hottest Accessories: Tattoos, Vintage Boots… and a Union Card?

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  May 20, 2015

The Season’s Hottest Accessories: Tattoos, Vintage Boots… and a Union Card?

Do you have a pile of old AFSCME T-shirts in the back of your closet? It turns out there’s a market for those! We noticed this shirt for sale in a trendy vintage shop on etsy.com, where it sold for $15. There are old AFSCME jackets going for as much as hundred dollars on eBay!

The union movement is getting a lot of renewed attention these days, and not just because we’re fighting back against unprecedented assaults on working people. There’s something retro-cool about the labor movement. Young people show strong support for unions. And for those who might want to join a union, we can promise a whole lot more than vintage T-shirts. To name a few:

  • When you finally need prescription lenses in those horn-rimmed glasses, you’ll be glad you bargained for optical insurance in your contract.
  • You eat local and buy local. Why not join your local, too?
  • Some of your favorite things are union-made. You can find the union label on every can of PBR—and dozens of other fine beverages.
  • There’s nothing more normcore than job stability.
  • Do you like vinyl records? We’ve got that too.
  • Think you’ve got a sweet moustache? Wait till you see AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. 
  • The average union member makes $207 more per week than her non-union counterpart and is more likely to have paid vacation time. You’ll totally be able to do Coachella next year.
  • And of course, we were into it before it was cool:

    Three men from the 70's with protest signs, perms, and AFSCME "In the Public Service" shirts

But there are serious reasons that young people could use a union. This may be the first generation of Americans that ends up worse-off than their parents, and it’s all because our economy has been twisted to favor wealthy business owners over working people.

Maybe you’re saddled with student debt and the interest just keeps piling up. Maybe you’re working an unpaid internship that seems to be adding more to the company’s bottom line than to your resume. Maybe you’re working a part time or temp job doing something that could have been a career back in your parents’ day – but you’re barely staying afloat.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The McJob economy wasn’t inevitable. It was carefully planned by the people at the top who are making big profits from low wages and poor working conditions. But when ordinary people talk back and advocate for a better system, we can rebuild an economy that works for everyone. We know it’s possible because we’ve done it before. Let’s bring it back into style.

Maryland Law Would Regulate Outsourcing

by Clyde Weiss  |  May 20, 2015

Maryland Law Would Regulate Outsourcing

Maryland public employees will play a greater role in ensuring the state does not outsource public services in a reckless manner under a measure signed into law last week by Gov. Larry Hogan.

“Public employees often have the best suggestions on how to promote efficiency and save taxpayer dollars,” said AFSCME Maryland Council 3 Pres. Patrick Moran. “No one knows how to improve service delivery more than the hard-working women and men who have been providing the services for years.”

The legislation was a top priority for AFSCME Maryland, which worked closely with legislators and agency staff to push for its passage.

The law will reduce the risk of contracting failures in the state, ensuring that any outsourcing effort “is truly the most effective option,” said Shar Habibi, director of research and policy for In the Public Interest, a comprehensive resource center on privatization and responsible contracting.

Previously, Maryland state agencies were required to consider alternatives before contracting out a public service, including allowing public employees to do the work. The new law, sponsored by Delegate Keith E. Haynes, will help ensure fairness both to taxpayers who foot the bill, and the public service workers who already perform the work.

State agency officials now are required to meet with a representative of the affected employees at least 60 days before entering into a contract. That includes a representative of the employees’ union. In addition, the law requires a legislative audit of contracts of outsourced services as a way to prevent cost-overruns and other problems that otherwise could go unnoticed, hurting the interest of the state’s taxpayers.

Also, the new law extends these protections to the state’s Department of Transportation and the public university system, which had been exempted from rules designed to strengthen oversight and accountability of the contracting process.

Such increased oversight is designed to give Maryland taxpayers “faith that their tax dollars are being spent wisely,” said Habibi, whose organization is pushing these common-sense reforms as part of its Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda.

Maryland is the latest of a growing list of states curbing reckless outsourcing of public services. “In The Public Interest will continue to encourage reforms that ensure public contracts with private entities are transparent, fair, well-managed, and effectively monitored, and that those contracts meet the long-term needs of communities,” Habibi said.

Last year, In the Public Interest issued a report demonstrating pervasive problems in government outsourcing to for-profit companies. Learn more about how states are working to stop bad outsourcing decisions here.

Right-to-Work Scam Hurts All Workers

by Joye Barksdale  |  May 18, 2015

Right-to-Work Scam Hurts All Workers

State lawmakers in Missouri who eagerly jumped on the right-to-work bandwagon last week should have done their homework. Maybe if they had, they wouldn’t have passed a bill that will fail union and nonunion workers alike.

The Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) issued reports recently detailing how the right-to-work (RTW) scam hurts workers by weakening collective bargaining and unions’ ability to negotiate good wages and benefits.

According to EPI, wages in RTW states are 3.1 percent lower than they are in non-RTW states. That’s a difference in pay of $1,558 a year for a typical full-time, full-year employee, the report says. 

“At their core, RTW laws seek to hamstring unions’ ability to help employees bargain with their employers for better wages, benefits and working conditions,” the EPI report stated.

What’s the biggest difference between employees in RTW and free bargaining states? In states without the RTW scam on their books, workers are more than twice as likely to be in a union or protected by a union contract, EPI says. That’s ultimately good news for all workers, because the wages and benefits unions negotiate help to set the standard across industries and regions – and thereby build the middle class.

Unfortunately, middle class income has shrunk in tandem with the marked decrease in union density since the late ‘60s.  The Center for American Progress Action Fund finds that the RTW scam reduces wages and undermines unions “at a time when wage increases could bolster our middle class and strengthen local economies.”  

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

by Clyde Weiss  |  May 18, 2015

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

In a world where the growing gap between the rich and poor keeps getting larger, we are not surprised to learn that the painting pictured here, “The Field Next to the Other Road” by American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, just sold to a so-far anonymous buyer for $37.1 million at a Christie's auction.

At the same auction, a Picasso painting sold to an anonymous buyer for $179.4 million, breaking all records for an artist’s work sold at auction.

For Christie’s, it was a $1 billion art sale that broke all the records. For the rest of us, it’s cause for concern. There’s something wrong with this picture. Neil Irwin, senior economics correspondent for The New York Times, put it this way in a recent column:

“The astronomical rise in prices for the most-sought-after works of art over the last generation is in large part the story of rising global inequality. At its core, this is the simplest of economic math. … But the number of people with the will and the resources to buy top-end art is rising, thanks to the distribution of extreme wealth.”

As New York dealer Francis Beatty, of Richard Feigen & Co., told artnet after the sale, “Fifty million is the new normal.”

If that’s the new normal, something definitely is wrong. It’s wrong because average working Americans are not just falling behind – they’re sinking. Adjusted for inflation, incomes are at their lowest point since 1996, reports Inequality.org.

Meanwhile, last year, the CEOs whose companies make up the S&P 500 Index received, on average, $13.5 million in total compensation – an increase of 15.6 percent from the previous year, according to data compiled by the AFL-CIO’s Executive PayWatch.

“It hasn't always been this way,” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders wrote in Roll Call. “There was a time in our not-so-distant past when poor Americans could work their way into the middle class. There was a time when people in the middle class could afford to buy a home, send their kids to college and save for retirement. Today, middle-class families must make a choice - a home, college or retirement. They no longer can do all three.”

Saunders wrote that “Unions were and continue to be the only organizations willing to stand up and fight for working people and the middle class. And it is unions that can get us out of the mess we're in now.”

AFSCME is trying to help create an economy that works for everyone.

Missouri Legislature Passes Right-to-Work Scam

by Namita Waghray  |  May 15, 2015

Missouri Legislature Passes Right-to-Work Scam

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The anti-worker majority in the Missouri Legislature passed so-called “right to work” legislation last week, defying Gov. Jay Nixon to issue his promised veto of the bill.

The legislation allows workers to receive the benefits of a union contract without having to share in the costs of collective bargaining. A “model” created by the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), such “right-to-work” scams are meant to under undermine workers’ rights by weakening their unions.

The measure was approved 92-66 in the state House on May 13, one day after the Senate passed the bill, 21-13. Despite its approval, opponents worked on both sides of the aisle to defeat the measure. Of the members who voted against it in both houses, 27 were Republicans.

The vote fell short of the two-thirds necessary to override an expected veto by Governor Nixon, who condemned the vote.

"Attacking workers and weakening the middle class will not create jobs," Nixon said. "In fact, rolling back the rights of working people would weaken our economy by lowering wages and making it harder for middle class families to move up the economic ladder." Read his full statement.

Similar anti-worker legislation is  being pushed in other states as well. Lawmakers in Kentucky and New Mexico rejected such bills earlier this year, and Missouri workers have warned that the right-to-work scam will hurt the state’s economy.

“I care for Missouri's heroes and I can barely make ends meet on my already low salary," said Wendy Battaglia, a certified nurse assistant at the Cameron Veteran's Home, AFSCME Council 72. "Right-to-work will make it even harder for workers across Missouri to get a fair shake so they can care for their own families.”

 

Connecticut Workers to Receive Up to $125 Million in Layoff Settlement

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  May 15, 2015

Connecticut Workers to Receive Up to $125 Million in Layoff Settlement

More than 2,700 Connecticut public employees are about to receive justice after a 12-year fight as the Legislature is set to approve an out-of-court settlement for up to an estimated $125 million in back pay and additional leave time.

The settlement stems from Gov. John Rowland’s decision in 2003 to fire 2,300 unionized workers and force an additional 400 to take lower paying jobs. Under the guise of fiscal savings, the three-term governor attempted to break the unions by targeting only bargaining unit members for layoff. AFSCME Council 4 members didn’t back down, working in concert with the 16 unions that comprise the State Employees Bargaining Agency Coalition to take the state to court and fight the injustice.

The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in 2013 that the state violated the employee’s First Amendment right to freedom of association by discriminatorily laying off only union members. They concluded that the state employees were fired because of their union membership.

“Rowland’s disrespect for the Constitution and the laws he swore to uphold devastated our communities and deprived Connecticut citizens of vital public services,” said Sal Luciano, Council 4 executive director and also an AFSCME International vice president. “We stood with other unions to fight back and seek justice, and we won.”

The long fight was worth it, said AFSCME Local 562 member Merisa Williams, a state clerical employee who, like many layoff victims, was out of work for six months.  “It sends a clear message to elected officials across the country that when you target workers – unions and their families – we will not be bullied and we will not give up until we get justice for all workers,” she said.

The settlement, estimated to be worth between $100 million and $125 million, is pending approval by the state legislature. A breakdown of how much each effected worker will receive is still to be determined. “Council 4 members will keep the pressure on the state legislature to ensure that all the 2,700 people receive their just due,” Executive Director Luciano said.

 

From Farm Hand to AFSCME Strong

by Omar Tewfik  |  May 15, 2015

From Farm Hand to AFSCME Strong Melvin Starchia makes his rounds knocking on doors and talking with members. Photo credit: Omar Tewfik

PHILADELPHIA – Melvin Starchia, 55, is AFSCME Strong. He took a roundabout route to get there, but the shop steward with AFSCME NUHHCE District 1199C at Temple University Medical School is giving voice to others on the job and encouraging his coworkers to volunteer for labor walks to get out the vote.

A participant of one of the many AFSCME Strong trainings taking place around the country, Starchia has been involved in every weekend canvass since March to get his fellow AFSCME sisters and brothers out to vote in Philadelphia’s primary election on May 19.

Reflecting on his long march to union activism, Starchia says with pride, “I came from the potato fields to the tomato fields to the union hall.”

Born and raised in rural Virginia, Starchia, his mother and his two siblings lived on a farm they didn’t own, working the land to make ends meet. There was no bathroom in the house and they ate beans and biscuits five days a week. Chicken was a luxury.

At age six, Starchia began working in the fields, picking potatoes and tomatoes so that his family could afford enough money to move to Philadelphia where there was promise of better opportunity. “You’re not even in first grade, but you’re working,” he said, recalling his childhood.

“I remember my mother would hold her head down when talking to store owners,” he said. If she didn’t “bite her tongue” and spoke up about work conditions, she could be fired, Starchia added. Seeing that unjust dynamic between employer and employee as a young boy, Starchia promised himself that when he got older and began working, he would always be able to look his boss in the eye.

After moving to Philadelphia and completing the 10th grade, Starchia found a trade job as bricklayer in West Virginia through the Job Corps, which allowed him to get the equivalent of a high school diploma. But the seasonal work wasn’t enough to sustain a living. He later joined the Pennsylvania National Guard.

Honorably discharged after his service, Starchia worked multiple jobs as a housekeeper, cab driver and security guard in order to pay the bills. It wasn’t until he joined NUHHCE District 1199C in 1988, and the job at Temple University Medical School, that he finally found financial stability and the voice on the job he pledged to have when he was a young boy.

“If you don’t have a union and don’t have a contract, you don’t have a voice,” he said. “They pay you what they want, and they talk to you any kind of way.”

Through his contract, Starchia makes enough money to sustain himself and his family. He has health care and a pension for retirement, something his mother, who worked so hard to provide for him and his siblings, never did.

“We’ve got to fight for everything we have,” he says. “No one will give you what you deserve unless you stand together.”

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