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Atlanta AFSCME Members Beat Back Aramark

by Clyde Weiss  |  March 04, 2015

Faced with the loss of their AFSCME-negotiated wages and benefits, and even their jobs, cafeteria workers at the Atlanta Public School District, members of Local 1644, persuaded school board officials this week to reject a bid by outsourcer Aramark to take over operations.

The 450 food service workers, cashiers and managers who fought Aramark are currently employed by food service vendor Sodexo. As its five-year contract with the school district was about to expire, the school board considered a bid by competitor Aramark that did not guarantee the existing cafeteria employees their jobs.

Nor did it guarantee that – if they kept their jobs – the workers would retain their recently negotiated wages and benefits. Those included sick leave, holiday pay, employer-paid life insurance, bereavement leave, a wage increase and an employer-matched 401(k).

Contending that Aramark’s attempt to underbid Sodexo would create a “race to the bottom,” Local 1644 members built a coalition with parents, school teachers and clergy to let the community know that switching to Aramark threatened the health of the students.

“It was all done in solidarity,” said cafeteria manager Deanna Evans, also an AFSCME Local 1644 steward. “We all stood united – the city workers helped us with this fight. The bus drivers, the mechanics and other AFSCME members helped us.”

They spoke out at school board meetings every month for the past six months, passed out leaflets, and issued a report comparing the two companies. Local 1644 also backed its case with a white paper that detailed Aramark’s alarming and scandalous record.

They also marched on Aramark’s Atlanta offices – twice – and knocked on the door to tell them they weren’t welcome. “They called the police on us,” said Evans. “They said they didn’t want to be bothered with us.”

Local 1644’s efforts were successful. On March 2, the board voted 9-0 to retain Sodexo as its cafeteria vendor.

Their key to victory, said Evans, was that “we did a little investigating and agitation, and we kept agitating. We presented a strong front. We didn’t just go in and say, ‘we like Sodexo.’ We presented facts. A lot of leg work.”


Right to Work’s Racist Roots

by Joye Barksdale  |  March 04, 2015

Wisconsin is the latest state where political extremists are pushing the right-to-work scam. By now we know that no matter how refined the arguments, the laws have one main goal: busting unions. But aside from the scam’s union-busting agenda, right-to-work also has a sordid racial past.

Back in the early 1940s, Vance Muse was an oil lobbyist and ardent segregationist with a history of supporting anti-worker causes. He opposed the 8-hour workday and child labor laws, as well as women’s rights. And he detested unions largely because, aside from believing them to be communist fronts, he was certain their growth would lead to mixing of the races.

Here’s a quote from Muse:

“From now on, white women and white men will be forced into organizations with black African apes whom they will have to call ‘brother’ or lose their jobs.”

Muse was the founder of the Christian American Association, an organization that pushed the right-to-work scam in Texas and other states. He was successful in getting a bill passed in Texas in 1947. Within two years, such laws were on the books in 14 Southern states, which were particularly susceptible to Muse’s race-baiting arguments.

But Muse wasn’t content with the state-by-state approach. At the time of his death in 1950, he was working on a right-to-work amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Because of right-to-work’s disturbing history, we should not only look at the stated intent and consequences of these laws, but also closely examine their backers – including ALEC and the Koch brothers. Do they know the backstory of the right-to-work scam, and if so, are they OK with it?

“The people supporting right-to-work should explain why they’re not racists,” says Alan Webber, a candidate for governor in New Mexico in 2014 and co-founder of the business magazine Fast Company. “I don’t believe they are, but we need to make them understand there’s a racist history to the whole right-to-work movement.”

Chicago Cab Drivers Lobby City Hall on Safety, ‘Rideshare’

by Dave Kreisman  |  March 03, 2015

CHICAGO– Following their successful protest over serious public safety and economic security concerns, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 is ratcheting up the fight, taking it to City Hall with a petition campaign.

“Over 300 of us braved the cold to make our message heard loud and clear that the city is not doing nearly enough to protect public safety and our livelihood in terms of so-called ‘rideshare’ services,” said Ram Jhally, a veteran Chicago cab driver and Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 member.

“Since they seem to not want to listen to 300 of us, we’re collecting signatures from thousands of drivers across Chicagoland,” Jhally said.  “Maybe they just need a little help seeing that this issue isn’t going to go away until they take the proper steps to protect our jobs and public safety.”

Collecting petition signatures at cabstands, Mosques, community centers and both Midway and O’Hare airports, the drivers expect to collect enough signatures to force the debate.

“Right now they are sitting on their hands, and allowing a billion-dollar corporation to set public safety policies and, at the same time, letting Uber go around regulations we’ve obeyed for years.  It’s not fair, and it puts the public’s safety at risk,” added Jhally.

Indiana Labor Growing Despite Roadblocks

by Steven Quick Sr.  |  March 03, 2015

Reports of organized labor’s demise in Indiana have been greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain. In spite of political and legislative attacks over the past decade, Indiana’s labor movement has grown by 50,000 new members since 2012.

In 2005, 30,000 state employees were stripped of their right to collective bargaining by the stroke of the governor’s pen. In 2012, a so-called “right-to-work” law was enacted to cripple unions by forcing them to represent workers who refuse to pay for representation.

But today, union membership in the Hoosier state stands at 10.7 percent, according to new statistics released by the U.S. Labor Department. That number is up from 9.3 percent in 2013, and 9.1 percent in 2012, when “right to work” was passed.

Despite the roadblocks to unionism, 299,000 Indiana workers opted to organize or join a union at their workplace in 2014, according to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report. This suggests that Hoosiers understand all too well what it will take to reverse the growing income inequality in Indiana and across the country. Unions work.

Hoosier workers are tired of the promise that if we just work harder we can get ahead. Our productivity has gone up for decades while wages have continually stagnated. Hard work has very little to do with achieving success in a system that is rigged in favor of the high-powered political donors who reap the benefits from the politicians who do their bidding.

The current system is broken. There’s no guarantee anymore that putting in more hours at work will result in a raise or a promotion. There’s no guarantee that getting a college degree will result in anything more than crushing student debt.

It hasn’t always been this way. 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.

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 — and are — getting an increasing amount of Hoosier workers out of the mess we’re in now.

While extremist politicians refuse to raise the minimum wage despite overwhelming public support, it is unions at the bargaining table hammering out contracts that raise wages for working people. As corporate lobbyists seek to eliminate regulations that protect workers, it’s the shop steward fighting for a safer workplace. When anti-worker governors come up with another scheme to steal pensions it is union members going door-to-door to warn the public.

The benefits to workers who form a union are concrete and undeniable. Unionized workers earn on average $207 more per week than their nonunion counterparts, according to the BLS data, and are more likely to have employer-sponsored health care and a guaranteed retirement plan.

At a time when so many Americans are feeling beat down by an economy rigged against them, the peace of mind that comes with a good union job is immeasurable. Unions provide better wages and benefits, job security and a better standard of living. In fact, union workers are just plain happier, according to a recent study reported by The New York Times.

And no wonder. Not only do they earn more, but they’ve got a real voice at work. Unions are the agents of change that our nation so desperately needs.

(Steven Quick Sr. is an AFSCME International vice president and a 32-year employee of the Indianapolis Department of Public Works. This article originally appeared in the South Bend Tribune.)

Ohio Members Win $150,000 in Pension Pay Dispute

by David Patterson  |  March 02, 2015

After years of delays, a Lucas County (Ohio) judge set aside an arbitration decision and ordered the City of Toledo to write a check to approximately 100 AFSCME Local 7 members who were wrongly denied the pay they were owed as part of a disputed pension-pickup wage agreement.

In 2011, union members reached an agreement on a contract that included a pension-pickup wage proposal. That meant that 800 city employees covered by the contract would each begin to pay approximately $2,575 of their Ohio Public Employee Retirement System (OPERS) contribution and, instead of receiving an across-the-board pay increase, would receive a $750 lump-sum payment in 2012 and 2013 to help offset their pension payment. 

“The trouble started the day after we ratified the tentative agreement,” said Local 7 Pres. Don Czerniak. “When we got the city’s final draft of the contract, the pension pickup proposal was changed. We told the city this is not what we negotiated and sent it back.”

The city claimed that rather than cut checks to each employee, the agreement was limited to only those “affected workers” who were on the payroll before January 2009.

In the previous contract, the approximately 100 workers hired after January 2009 were required to pay their full OPERS contribution so the pickup phase-out didn’t apply to them, according to the city. Union members argued the contract made it clear that each bargaining unit member was entitled to the $750 payments.

When the union refused demands to sign the contract, both sides filed charges with the State Employment Relations Board, and in early 2012 the city’s claims were dismissed.

However, the city took the matter to arbitration and won. Then the union fought back.

Believing the arbitrator exceeded his authority by altering the contract, Ohio Council 8 took the case to the county Common Pleas Court for a definitive ruling. There, the court ruled in the union’s favor and the judge ruled the case so convincingly for the union that there would be no need for a rehearing.

Stop ‘Fast Track’ in Its Tracks

by Clyde Weiss  |  March 02, 2015

Trade deals that only consider corporate interests can hurt America’s working families. Past trade agreements led to a massive loss of jobs and caused wages to stagnate. They made it easier for corporations to send American jobs overseas, devastating communities such as Detroit. Trade deals can also put our health at risk by allowing food products into our country that do not meet U.S. safety standards.

But these trade deals are a boon to rich corporations, which will take advantage of the deal and send more jobs overseas to countries with low wages and weak environmental rules.

Because so much is at stake, trade negotiations must be conducted in an open and above-board manner so that the public can know what is in an agreement. This is especially important now as the United States is negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a large deal with a dozen other countries that make up 40 percent of the world’s economy.

But corporations, U.S. trade negotiators, many in Congress and even President Obama want to fast track the TPP before the public even knows what’s in it. This is undemocratic, of course. But corporations and trade negotiators prefer to do their deal making in the dark, and fast track ensures that their work cannot be undone.

The American people stand to lose under this arrangement. Remember, it was the loss of jobs through earlier trade agreements that factored into the downward spiral of Detroit. The cascading consequences included the loss of public services, job cuts, and reduced pay and benefits (including promised pensions) of public service workers. The TPP would even allow corporations to sue governments over regulations that reduce their profits, and even drive up the cost of prescription drugs.

For more on what’s wrong with TTP check out this video by Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration (now a professor at the University of California at Berkeley).

Walker Called Out to Apologize for Slur

by Clyde Weiss  |  February 27, 2015

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker owes the nation an apology for comparing the public service workers who protested his decision to take away their bargaining rights with the murderous terrorists of the Islamic State, said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders, who characterized Walker’s statement as “disgusting.”

Walker made his widely condemned comment during a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, declaring, “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world.”

President Saunders called Governor Walker’s statement “the desperate act of a craven, career politician, not a leader whose values are aligned with what this country stands for. In Madison, we marched alongside military veterans, firefighters, police officers, nurses, librarians and teachers. There were senior citizens and children. College students and clergy."

In demanding that the governor apologize to the nation, Saunders cited the many AFSCME members who responded (and died) during the terrorist attacks in New York on 9-11.

“We’re not going to stand by and let Scott Walker smear hard-working Americans, simply because they exercise their first amendment freedom to disagree with him,” he said. “You don’t attack good men and women who give their time every day to make this country a better place.”

Others condemning Walker’s statement included Jim Tucciarelli, president of AFSCME Local 1320 in New York, who witnessed the attack on the World Trade Center and lost friends there. “Governor Walker, I know terrorism,” he said. “Today, after hearing your words, I also know the sound of cowardice.”

Carroll Braun, a retired police officer from Hagerstown, Md., and a member of AFSCME Council 67, said in an interview that his first reaction was outrage. “Then I was totally disappointed that a governor who is running for president of the United States is comparing union workers to terrorists.”

Braun said those demonstrators were simply public employees, many like him who worked hard every day to keep the public safe. “I was a police officer and union member for 25 years,” he said. “Now I’m being compared to people who killed and burned people alive. Walker is not qualified to be president, making statements like this. If he’s got that much hatred toward public employees, how can he run the government?”

Wisconsin Workers to Turn Up the Volume

by Omar Tewfik  |  February 27, 2015

MADISON, Wis. – Thousands of Wisconsin workers will descend on the Capitol here at noon Saturday for a rally that promises to be even larger and louder than the two that took place earlier this week.

Sign up to attend tomorrow’s rally

Tell your elected officials NO on the right to work scam in Wisconsin

AFSCME members were among some 5,000 Wisconsin union and community members who rallied here Tuesday and Wednesday to protest the “right-to-work” scam that was rushed through and approved by the State Senate Wednesday. The Senate voted 17-15 late in the evening to move the bill forward despite hearing testimony from thousands about how the bill would hurt their families by lowering wages for all Wisconsin workers while also undermining workplace health and safety.

With hundreds of Wisconsinites waiting to give their testimony on Tuesday, Senate Labor and Government Reform Committee Chairman Steve Nass abruptly cut the hearing short, citing a “credible threat” to disrupt it. Nass refused to present evidence of any credible threat.

At the Wednesday rally, speakers slammed Nass and his allies in the Senate for listening to outside special interest groups instead of people who actually live in Wisconsin and for walking away from the rally. “I was here at the Capitol, waiting since 10 a.m. to give testimony when our elected officials decided to undemocratically silence my voice,” said Connie Smith, Wisconsin Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals. “So I am here today because I will not be silenced.”

Sign up to attend tomorrow’s rally

Tell your elected officials NO on the right-to-work scam in Wisconsin

Texas Corrections Members Fight for Pension, Pay Issues

by Ebony Meeks  |  February 27, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas – AFSCME Texas Corrections members from Huntsville, Palestine, Gatesville and Angleton showed up in full force Feb. 23 to testify before the Senate Finance Committee about the importance of addressing pension and pay raise issues during this legislative session.

Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, presented the department’s requested budget, which includes a 10 percent pay increase for correctional employees. “The increase will help fill vacancies in areas where we are competing with oil fields for employment,” said Livingston.

AFSCME Texas Corrections commends the TDCJ for supporting a pay raise, but is pushing for more than 10 percent. Vacancies and short staffing are issues across all 106 state-run facilities. AFSCME Texas Corrections submitted a proposal to increase retention by putting state correctional employee pay rates on par with the five largest counties in the state, which on average receive about $4,500 more than TDCJ employees.

Sgt. Jackie Parsonage, from the Jester IV unit, testified about the tough decisions officers in her unit have to make due to the low wages they receive. “I’ve had to pick officers up and drive them to work because they couldn’t afford to put gas in their car. They have to decide between putting food on the table and addressing their medical needs,” said Parsonage.

“TDCJ is the second largest prison system in the United States but has some of the lowest-paid correctional employees,” said Local 3920 President Catherine Wilson, CO IV, Marlin Unit, in her testimony. “We deserve better pay to allow us to do our jobs more effectively and efficiently.”

Besides their testimony, AFSCME Texas Corrections members delivered cards to the offices of legislators, urging them to approve pay raises. The cards were signed by more than 8,000 correctional employees.

Richard Salazar, laundry manager from the Powledge unit, received a mixed reception during his office visits. “Senator (Kevin) Eltife’s office was very well versed on our issues. I was able to sit down and talk in detail about the issues we face as correctional employees and at my unit specifically. Some of the others were completely out of touch with what we deal with on a daily basis,” said Salazar. “It’s going to take more visits and more correctional employees reaching out to their elected officials to really get the changes we deserve.”

Organizing the Unorganized is Top Priority

by Clyde Weiss  |  February 27, 2015

The decline in America of major industries, offshoring of jobs and “the rise of relentlessly anti-union companies” all hurt the labor movement, but workers still demand a voice on the job through a union, and it is the job of labor to help them gain it, contends AFSCME’s Paul Booth in an article recently published in The American Prospect magazine.

Booth, executive assistant to AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders, takes issue with those who say organizing new union members “is impossible, futile, or a thing of the past,” or simply that “the labor movement is dead, or dying.”

“I am upset that there’s so little acknowledgement of the millions of workers who have risked much to try to unionize” over the past 40 years, he wrote in the article, titled “Labor at a Crossroads: The Case for Union Organizing.”

To counteract the effects of all the anti-union strategies that eroded labor’s ranks, “many unions changed what they did, and how they did it,” he wrote. That included helping to organize millions of workers in occupations not previously served by unions. They include “home care and child care providers, nurses and emergency medical technicians, hotel workers, adjunct college teachers, transportation security officers, taxi drivers, wireless telecom workers, drug store workers, truck drivers in ports, pickle harvesters, bakery workers and passenger service agents.”

Booth wrote there also is a growing worker movement “outside of the unions” that includes temporary, casual and contractual workers. Even so, he wrote, “they are indeed part of the worker movement” and they “need to find a way to combine with existing unions” as other workers have done for decades.

“So let us all be missionaries – missionaries for solidarity, for organizing, for growing our unions and for the fights for justice,” Booth wrote. “It’s not a new idea, but it’s the right idea. Organizing the unorganized is the highest priority for labor, and for all of our hopes for change.”

Read the full article here.


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