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Missouri Home Care Workers Win Raise

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  October 23, 2014

After months of collecting signatures, rallying in cities across the state and meeting with local officials, Missouri home care providers and the people they care for were able to celebrate a big victory last week – a first contract!

The Missouri Home Care Union, an AFSCME/SEIU partnership, reached an agreement with the state that will raise hourly wages up to $10.15, guarantee premium pay on holidays, and make the home health care system more transparent and responsive.

Their hard work paid off big time for the home care workers, many of whom were making minimum wage or barely above it.  Their pay is among the lowest in the nation. It’s not enough to pay the bills, and it certainly doesn’t reflect the value of the work they do caring for seniors and people with disabilities.

That’s why Michael Richards of Moberly, along with his caregiver Karen Harlan, traveled to St. Louis last week to deliver more than 400 petition signatures to Gov. Jay Nixon.  Richards says he wouldn’t be able to leave the house without the help of Harlan, but the current system doesn’t value what she does.

“I got into the home health care system and it completely changed my life,” he says. “These workers are out working nine, 10, 11 hours a day and then they go home and live on food stamps at the poverty level.  People like them keep people like me alive and well and they deserve more than that.”

Sarah Auxier and her son Kyle, from St. James, also have been active in the union.  Kyle has muscular dystrophy, and Sarah works around the clock to care for him.  But she can’t support herself on the income she gets as a home care attendant, so Kyle has to hire someone else while Sarah works a second job. 

“His other attendant has four jobs and is barely making ends meet,” Auxier says. “It was so embarrassing to say to her, you have this huge responsibility, Kyle relies on you for everything, and you’re only worth $7.75 an hour.”

The contract is a big first step, and it will make life a little easier for Missourians like Richards and Auxier.  When home care workers and consumers work side by side to advocate for change, they can raise the standards for everybody. 

Leading the Way to Vote Early in Atlanta

by Helen Cox  |  October 23, 2014

ATLANTA – AFSCME Local 1644 members who work for Atlanta Public Schools and the City of Atlanta are encouraging their co-workers to vote early this election season. Last week they joined local teachers in voting early at South DeKalb Mall to launch early voting across the state. 

Although every election is important, close U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races have caused increased interest in this midterm election.

“My co-workers and I are voting early because on Election Day we’re going to help other people get to the polls,” said Local 1644 member Tracey Thornhill. “There are some big races happening and we can’t let any excuses stand in our way.”

“We’ll be driving folks to the polls and helping them make educated decisions,” she said. “Just like every election, we all need to stand up for ourselves and all working families.”

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia offer early voting, increasing access to the democratic process. Click here to find out more about what options you have available in your state.

The benefits of early voting include greater participation by traditionally disenfranchised voters and reduced stress on the voting system on Election Day.

 

Trayvon Martin’s Mother Urges Florida Women to Go Vote

by Cynthia McCabe  |  October 22, 2014

With Election Day just two weeks away and early voting already under way, more than 14,000 Florida women came together for a teletown hall Wednesday night to talk about the importance of getting out to vote.

The mother of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton, encouraged women on the call to get out and vote. Traditionally, midterm elections see lower voter turnout than presidential elections. In 2010, only 41 percent of the electorate turned out to the polls.

“Our voices need to be heard,” Fulton said. “We need to be sure we’re helping other people get to the polls. That we’re supporting early voting.” She added, “We just have to be very vigilant and very aggressive.”

Fulton encouraged Floridians to make a plan to vote. If you’re in Florida, you can take a second now to make your plan to vote.

Eighty-one percent of the women on the call Wednesday night said they’ve already voted early or planned to vote early. The call also offered women the opportunity to sign up to volunteer in getting out the vote across the Sunshine State

Faced with mounting attacks on everything from jobs and a minimum wage to expanding Medicaid, from retirement security to the right to vote, Florida women and all Florida voters are faced with a choice at the polls. Issues like improving public education and health care, preventing gun violence, and making higher education more affordable, are on the table this election.

“Each of us must decide what part we will play in this moment,” AFSCME Pres. Jeanette Wynn said. “Will we let the anti-worker, anti-union, anti-poor, anti-people forces continue to accumulate more power and influence over our political system and even more of our nation’s wealth? Or will we stand together and raise our collective voices in support of the values we hold dear?”

Joining Fulton and Wynn on the call were Monica Russo, president, SEIU Florida State Council, and Marίa Rodriguez, Executive Director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

“It’s critical for us as women as leaders in our households, communities churches to make our vote plan and help our friends and our neighbors make their vote plan,” Russo said. “In 2010, our communities did not vote. Our vote really matters.” 

They Want Us to Stay Home on Nov. 4

by AFSCME President Lee Saunders  |  October 22, 2014

In recent weeks, a series of court rulings blocked implementation of discriminatory voter identification laws in Wisconsin, Arkansas and Texas. But on Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed a lower court and allowed Texas to move ahead in what U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called "a major step backward to let stand a law...designed to discriminate."

Please read my latest entry on the Huffington Post here.

President Saunders Honored as “Progressive Champion”

by Clyde Weiss  |  October 21, 2014

Accepting the Campaign for America’s Future’s Progressive Champion Award, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders promised that our union will “fight like hell every single day” for working families, and to get out the vote on Nov. 4 to prevent a “nightmare” if anti-worker candidates prevail at the polls.

It’s up to unions and progressive organizations like the Campaign for America’s Future to “knock on those doors, make those phone calls, convince folks that it’s important to have their voices heard on Nov. 4,” Saunders said. “Governors across the country are trying to steal our voices, take collective bargaining away from public sector workers. Our members are energized and they’re fighting back.”

President Saunders accepted the award on behalf of AFSCME’s 1.6 million members, “because they’re the everyday heroes who really work behind the scenes to keep public services running.”

Lily Eskelsen García, the newly elected president of the National Education Association (NEA), presented the award to President Saunders, noting that both the NEA and AFSCME represent millions of hard-working Americans who contribute to the national economy.

“We stand between a profiteer and his profits,” she said. “It’s a dangerous place to stand. I have seen Lee stand there with courage and conviction.”

Also honored with Progressive Champion Awards were New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio andSaru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

In his acceptance remarks, Mayor de Blasio said that he and other progressive leaders like President Saunders and Jayaraman “put forward a vision of what progressive change looked like” that is now spreading nationwide. “I’ve seen mayors, in particular, all of this country moving on paid sick leave, moving on higher wages and benefits, moving on early childhood education” because “we have to respond to people suffering.”

Watch President Saunders deliver his acceptance speech here.

Stopping A ‘Wisconsin Moment’ in Connecticut

by Michael Byrne  |  October 21, 2014

“How ya’ll doing?” AFSCME President Lee Saunders asked as he  walked into the Bridgeport, Conn., water treatment plant garage where workers were coming in on a shift change.

Saunders was there to talk to members about “the most important election in your lifetime.” Earlier, at the other end of the city, he met with four groups of lunching state social service case workers and clericals from Council 4 bargaining units totaling more than 1,100 members, discussing the danger to their jobs and bargaining rights if they allowed a rich extremist to deliver on his promise to bring a “Wisconsin moment” to Connecticut.

“You know what a ‘Wisconsin Moment’ means?” he asked a group of West Haven, Conn., municipal and board of education workers later that day. “It means we are stripped of our voice and our rights. That’s what [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Tom Foley wants to deliver here in Connecticut.” Foley is running against incumbent Dan Malloy. Nodding in agreement was West Haven Mayor Ed O’Brien, the son of a former West Haven police officer and member of AFSCME Council 15, who was on hand to thank the municipal employees and their union for working with him to reach a fair collective bargaining agreement.

It was the public safety officers of AFSCME Council 15 and their affiliate, AFSCME Local 724, who sponsored the raucous rally in New London the day before. Surrounded by labor leaders, Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio of New London declared that his city was a “union town,” a fact on display all along a downtown intersection – signs from AFSCME, the UAW, Fire Fighters, Iron Workers, Carpenters, SEIU, the Teamsters, American Federation of Teachers and the Amalgamated Transit Union, among others.

Saunders looked out upon the horde of labor supporters and declared, “The rights we have didn’t fall from the sky. We got them because we fought for them! And we have to fight to keep them.”

At every stop, Saunders reminded workers that they have the power. This election is in our hands. If we turn out the vote of people who share our values, who want to preserve the middle class, who care about quality public services, then we will win. “Bad things happen when good people stay away from the polls,” he said.

At the water treatment plant in Bridgeport, where the workers had struggled for several years to finally win a good contract with an English company trying to maximize its profit at the city’s water waste treatment facility, Saunders was blunt.

“Whether we keep our rights and our jobs comes down to whether we have political leaders who care about us and our jobs,” he said. “We know that with Tom Foley, we may be cut out entirely – just like we were in Wisconsin. We can’t afford to allow that to happen in Connecticut. We have to talk to our friends, our families, people we know care about working families. Those one-on-one conversations will make the difference.”

The next day, Saunders helped kick off a “Labor Walk” at the Teachers’ union hall in Meriden, Conn. , sponsored by the AFL-CIO. Then, after the whirlwind tour to rally the troops in Connecticut, Saunders was off to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and other states where labor may tip the balance. Three weeks to go, so much work to do. As he told Council 4 members at every stop, “We’ve got to be prepared to work this election as if the future truly depends on it. Because, sisters and brothers, it does.”

AFSCME Stands with Wal-Mart Workers Who Demand a Living Wage

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  October 21, 2014

With $473 billion in worldwide sales just last year, you would think that Wal-Mart could pony up a living wage to its employees. But its 1.3 million employees in the United States are scraping by on poverty wages with no benefits and irregular hours, even as the six members of the Walton family are worth $145 billion from Wal-Mart profits. 

That’s why Wal-Mart workers and their allies, including AFSCME, marched to the offices of the Walton Family Foundation in New York City and Washington, D.C., Oct. 16. They had a simple request for the Walton family: $15 an hour and full-time hours.

“We must send the message that we refuse to live in a low-wage part-time economy driven by the Waltons’ profits,” D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton told the crowd.

Marchers shut down traffic in front of the offices, but the foundation refused to meet and hear their demands. The Walton Family Foundation is an organization established to create the appearance that the Wal-Mart founders are charitable with their wealth. But Forbes magazine describes the charity as a form of tax dodge. It spends most of its money on education “reform” designed to replace our schools and teachers with corporate charters.

Wal-Mart’s wealthy bosses could do a whole lot more if they chose to share the company’s profits with the people who work to make it happen. Those workers desperately need a living wage and stable schedules that allow them to spend time with their families. 

Unfortunately, Wal-Mart’s inhumane employment practices set the pattern for other employers. That’s why unions are working to change Wal-Mart, to help working families.

Walker: Minimum Wage Serves No Purpose

by Dave Kreisman  |  October 16, 2014

MADISON, Wis. – After avoiding the question in his first debate with Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke, Gov. Scott Walker finally offered an answer during a live broadcast of his sit-down with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“What is your position on the minimum wage?” asked columnist Dan Bice. “Should we have it?”

“Well, I’m not going to repeal it, but I don’t think it serves a purpose,” Walker responded.

While the facts paint a clear picture that raising the minimum wage would boost earnings for 16 million people and bring 900,000 Americans out of poverty, Walker once again stands against middle-class values and on the wrong side of history.

According to a poll conducted by the Marquette University Law School, 59 percent of Wisconsinites support increasing the minimum wage.

Walker’s latest flub comes only days after his first debate with challenger Mary Burke during which, when asked about Wisconsin’s lack of job growth compared to the rest of the Midwest, Walker responded that the state “doesn’t have a jobs problem, we have a work problem.”

Agree to disagree, Governor.  You might think sitting last in the Midwest for job growth is acceptable, but to the people of Wisconsin, last in the Midwest and 35th in the nation isn’t cutting it.

Court Backs Voting Rights in Wisconsin

by Clyde Weiss  |  October 16, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a case involving Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 voter suppression law, slapped down efforts by lawmakers to limit who can vote. 

Governor Walker’s 2011 law was designed to ensure his own re-election, and the election of other anti-worker candidates by restricting the turnout of groups of voters less likely to vote for them, especially minorities and young people, who cannot provide certain types of identification.

A congressional study of voter ID laws, issued last week, compared voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee to four states that lacked those restrictions and concluded that such laws reduced voter turnout by as much as 3 percent. 

“GAO’s analysis suggests that the turnout decreases in Kansas and Tennessee beyond decreases in the comparison states were attributable to changes in those two states’ voter ID requirements,” the report said.

Extremist lawmakers like Governor Walker argue that such laws are aimed at preventing voter fraud, but there is little evidence of voter fraud in Wisconsin or nationwide. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman concluded this April that “virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin. The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past,” or was likely to “become a problem at any time in the foreseeable future.”

Judge Adelman ruled at that time that Governor Walker’s voting restrictions violated both the equal-protection clause of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The 6-3 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Adelman’s ruling, effectively blocking the law.

The Wisconsin ruling came on the same day that a federal judge in Texas struck down that state’s restrictive voter ID law as unconstitutional. U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales-Ramos wrote that those legislators who pushed the law “were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law’s detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate.”

Unfortunately, a federal appeals court reinstated the Texas voter-ID law for the November election. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit did not rule on the law’s merits, so there is still hope that, eventually, it will be overturned as the case moves up the legal ladder.

Unions Make Sense for New Orleans Tourism Industry

by Helen Cox  |  October 16, 2014

NEW ORLEANS – In a historic win for New Orleans hospitality workers, 900 Harrah’s Hotel and Casino employees are now in contract negotiations after winning the right to organize with UNITE HERE and the Teamsters through successful card-check campaigns.

It was also a win for union conventioneers, since previously the only other unionized hotel in New Orleans was the Loews Hotel. The addition of Harrah’s workers doubled the city’s hospitality industry union membership. Still, there are more than 70,000 New Orleanians employed in the industry.  

In 2013, more than 9 million visitors came to New Orleans, spending $6 billion in the process. With the addition of a new unionized hotel, revenues are likely to increase with additional union functions, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders pointed out in a letter this summer to the president of Hilton International, whose Riverside property in New Orleans is being organized by UNITE HERE.

Much like New Orleans Cab Drivers for Justice AFSCME Local 234, these newly unionized hospitality workers hope to create a stronger tourism industry and also better their working conditions.

“Just like us cab drivers, hotel and food service workers help keep New Orleans’ tourism industry up and running,” said Delores Montgomery, president of AFSCME Local 234. “Having a union will enable them to fight back against mistreatment and abuse. More and more workers in the tourism industry are joining unions and when we stand together, we’re going to be unstoppable!”

Unlike other U.S. cities with large tourism revenues – such as Chicago, New York and Las Vegas – New Orleans’ union membership in the hospitality industry remains low. The industry stands to benefit if hotel owners respect their employees’ efforts to unionize. 

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