by Clyde Weiss | May 23, 2016
Minnesota state patrol vehicle inspector Jim Ullmer Jr. had been building strength in his union through member-to-member engagement long before the idea became the foundation for our AFSCME Strong program, which launched early last year to build a stronger union nationwide through one-on-one conversations with fellow workers.
“Our mission throughout the year is to visit every single member at their workplace to make sure they know we’re there,” says Ullmer, a member of the executive board of Department of Public Safety Local 3142 (AFSCME Council 5). In fact, he and Catherine Claude, the local’s treasurer, travel throughout the state each year to meet face-to-face with the nearly 700 members of the unit, who work in every county in the state.
“We’ve done that every year for probably the last 10 to 15 years,” Ullmer says. He’s been working for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety for 32 years, and has always been an active member of his union.
Recently, he and Claude traveled 1,009 miles – from Worthington to Thief River Falls – to talk with workers about issues that matter to them in their workplaces. Ullmer acknowledged that it’s hard on them and their families to be on the road so often. “You adjust, you adapt, but we get it done,” he says. “Sometimes, I don’t know how, but we do.”
They also personally deliver the union’s contract, discuss any grievances and make sure to talk about the importance of staying with the union, or joining if they haven’t already.
“When we go into a workplace, everybody knows your name, because we’ve been there so many times,” he says. “There’s no surprise when we walk in.”
They’re even welcomed by the supervisors and managers, he adds. “For the most part, we have really good relationships with everybody.”
Ullmer makes that trek with Claude a few days at a time, then return to their regular jobs (he inspects school buses in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area; she’s a driver-examiner in St. Cloud).
Last fall, Council 5 launched its AFSCME Strong training program and Ullmer was among the first to learn. He discovered that AFSCME Strong was “more focused than what we did” during his previous one-on-one meetings with fellow workers.
“I probably collected close to 300 recommitment cards and got 35 to 40 fee payers to convert to membership during the latest campaign we’ve been on,” Ullmer says.
Overall, members of Local 3142 who participated in the AFSCME Strong blitz had one-on-one conversations with about 500 workers who recommitted to our union by signing “maintenance of membership” (recommitment) cards during the AFSCME Strong training blitz.
Even though the blitz is done, Ullmer and Claude are still at it. “We still have a couple of spots we’ve got to go,” he says. “We’re going to see everybody. I do it, quite honestly, because it’s important and because my local supports me – our officers, Executive Board, stewards. It’s a local mindset we have. We don’t have all the answers but we sure try. We’ll never quit, we’ll never surrender. We’ll keep going, no matter what it takes. We’re going to do it!”
by Olivia Sandbothe | May 23, 2016
May 1 is International Workers’ Day. But did you know that the entire month of May is often celebrated as Labor History Month?
It was working people who made America what it is today. America became an industrial power thanks to the workers who laid down railroads, toiled away in mines and assembled machinery—and a modern nation thanks to those who taught schoolchildren, cared for the sick and provided sanitation. We enjoy quality of life and peace of mind because of the efforts of brave women and men who stood up for safe working conditions, shorter workdays and an end to child labor.
But we don’t always hear these stories in history class. Too often, the names of rich and powerful people dominate our memory of the past while the contributions of ordinary people are overlooked or forgotten entirely. That’s why states like California have established Labor History Month as a time to learn more about our roots.
The history month is meant as a time for schools to teach about the history of labor. But if your area doesn’t recognize the month, there are plenty of resources to help you learn more on your own.
The AFL-CIO has a timeline of labor history that can help you get started. This page has detailed biographies, oral histories and classroom resources for more in-depth reading. Some cities even have labor history trails, like this one in Chicago, so that you can walk in the footsteps of famous strikers and activists.
The year 2016 marks a number of important anniversaries. It’s now been 130 years since the Haymarket Incident, a turning point in the fight for the eight-hour workday. Ninety years ago this month, the Railway Labor Act created the first federal protection for the right to organize as a union. Seventy-five years ago, A. Philip Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters first called for a march on Washington to end racial discrimination in the workplace. And 50 years ago, agricultural workers’ unions joined forces to create the United Farm Workers.
The working conditions that we enjoy today didn’t simply materialize out of thin air. Our predecessors had to fight for them. Let’s take time this month to talk to our children about why we’re union and why that legacy is worth defending. If we want to keep the labor movement alive, we have to make sure that future generations understand how we got here.
by Zac Bears | May 20, 2016
WESTMORELAND, N.H. – Brenda Howard has served patients at Maplewood Nursing Home for 32 years. As a medication nursing assistant and licensed nursing assistant (MNA/LNA), she assists registered nurses in daily nursing care for people of all ages. The main reason she’s done this difficult work for so long, she said, is to care for people. It isn’t just a job, it’s a calling.
“It’s not only the residents,” Howard, an executive board member of AFSCME Local 2679 (Council 93), said. “I’ve met a lot of great families that still keep in touch with me after they’ve lost their loved one. Yes, I care for grandma, but the outside family members are just as important.”
Howard noted that her facility serves an essential role in the community, which the people in the area understand and respect. Many family members volunteer at the home, and the staff provides counseling, support groups and other services that help during the difficult time of losing a loved one. The building is also in a beautiful location, she added, which allows residents and families – who face difficult circumstances – to draw comfort.
“It’s a county home so we take anybody,” Howard said. “There are other homes that can pick and choose. We don’t discriminate. We help in bad situations, like when people have no place else to go.”
In recognition of Howard’s experience in direct nursing care, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan appointed Howard to a new commission that will address the state’s health care workforce shortage. The path to Howard’s selection started with a phone call between Harriett Spencer, Council 93’s New Hampshire coordinator, and Amy Kennedy, the governor’s policy director, to discuss representation of health care workers in the state.
Howard will be the sole union representative on this special commission, which plans to tackle the statewide shortage of health care workers. Howard’s six years of service on the New Hampshire Board of Nursing provide her with a clear understanding of how the shortage affects health care facilities throughout the state. It’s a crisis that has even caused a delay in the opening of a mental health facility.
And Howard’s experience gives her more than a few ideas of how to change the health care workforce for the better. While a lot of focus is on recruiting new workers into health care, Howard says that retention of health care workers is a major issue as well.
“Keeping the ones you have is just as important as hiring new workers,” Howard said. “We lose a lot of them. We need to nurture them, make them feel more wanted and treat them better to make sure they want to stay.”
Their work is hard and largely unsung, but it matters because they help make their communities better.
She helped develop the idea of the medication nursing assistant (MNA), who assists nurses by providing non-injection medications, as a member of the Board of Nursing. This frees nurses to focus on more intensive treatments and perform more medical assessments.
“Over the years, nurses have come to respect MNAs and see that they are a benefit,” she said.
Howard’s experience and knowledge clearly will help improve New Hampshire’s health care workforce, but the job goes beyond that for her.
“The quality of time that you can give a person at the end of life is the most special,” Howard said. “I’ve taken care of all age groups. Sometimes it’s more difficult, but sometimes it’s good that you had the opportunity.”
by Omar Tewfik | May 20, 2016
Thanks to a new rule issued this week by the Obama administration, roughly 12.5 million working Americans are very close to receiving a long overdue and much deserved raise. The administration’s overtime rule, which becomes effective December 1, more than doubles the existing overtime salary threshold from $23,660 to $47,476. That means white collar, salaried employees who earn less than $47,476 annually will now be eligible for overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours in a week. The salary threshold will be adjusted every three years. The rule represents one of the most sweeping steps taken by the administration to address income inequality in an economy that is out of balance and favors a wealthy few.
“The administration’s overtime rule will help to reverse this imbalance by helping to ensure that working people get paid for the work they already do,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders in a statement. Raising the overtime threshold, Saunders said, “will not only help to restore the 40-hour work week, but also improve incomes and grow the middle class.” As President Obama explains in a message on whitehouse.gov, the rule is expected to put $12 billion more in the pockets of hardworking people during the next 10 years.
For decades, middle-class Americans have seen their wages decrease while a handful of already wealthy and powerful people get even richer. While this troubling trend persists, working people in this country are actually working longer hours and are even more productive than ever. Still, no matter how hard they work, no matter how efficient they are or how many hours they put in on the job, everyday Americans are finding it harder and harder to sustain themselves and their families, let alone get ahead.
“As someone who has worked 20 years in public service on the front line in my community, I believe my colleagues and I deserve respect, dignity and fair treatment and wages,” said Leslie Tilton, an Ohio Department of Corrections Employee and OCSEA member who attended an event to promote the rule, in Ohio with Vice Pres. Joe Biden, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, and Sen. Sherrod Brown. “That’s why as a union we fight to achieve that goal every day, not just for ourselves, but for our communities and other hard-working people across the country.”
Tilton has seen friends and family, including parents with young children, struggle under the burden of working long hours without being compensated fairly. “That kind of situation puts a tremendous and unfair burden on a working family. I think the rule speaks very highly of the administration’s commitment to help reinforce the continuing contributions of the labor movement to all working people in this country.”
Immediately after the overtime rule was released, right-wing members of Congress announced preparations to block the rule. AFSCME will vigorously oppose any attempts to overturn this economic boost for working families.
by David Patterson | May 19, 2016
It happens too often. In the suburbs of Minnesota’s Twin Cities, fully half of all low-income families who are granted federal Section 8 rent subsidy vouchers can’t find a decent place to live in a community with good schools for their children.
But thanks to the Metropolitan Council and members of AFSCME Local 668 (Council 5), who operate the largest housing and development authority in Minnesota, some 45 families are getting counseling to help them find a place to live in a safe neighborhood with good schools and better opportunities for their kids to succeed.
“Housing does matter. Place matters,” said Local 668 member Terry Hardin, a Met Council senior outreach coordinator. “You are helping families do better. You are helping children do better.”
The Met Council’s Community Choice program is part of a national movement affirming what research and data analysis show: A better neighborhood often means better long-term outcomes for children. President Obama proposed $15 million for mobility counseling to help low-income families move to safer neighborhoods with better schools and access to jobs.
Met Council staffers spent months crunching data on neighborhoods – looking at school performance, poverty rates, access to parks and even grocery stores. Then they recruited families who must commit to two years, set career and housing goals and agree to take courses on topics such as financial literacy, conflict resolution and housekeeping.
Families then create a rental résumé, including credit and job history. “It's like a job résumé. We tell them to treat this as if it's a professional application,” Hardin said.
For landlords, Section 8 tenants mean a guaranteed payment each month and Community Choice families receive more oversight than typical families on Section 8, which provides more peace of mind for potential landlords.
Hardin, along with fellow Local 668 member Corina Serrano, also a Met Council senior outreach coordinator, often go with clients to look at apartments and explain the Section 8 program to landlords.
“The challenges we are seeing is the landlords just don't have enough information,” she said.
by Kevin Zapf Hanes | May 19, 2016
For the past several months, New York’s CSEA Local 1000 has conducted its own version of AFSCME Strong, our program to build a stronger union through one-on-one conversations with co-workers, called “Never Quit.” It’s already achieved amazing results, and last week’s blitz in the Albany region is the latest proof of that success.
During the blitz, CSEA members made 9,300 phone calls to co-workers, distributed 6,500 flyers, conducted 1,400 visits to members’ homes and worksites, and signed more than 1,800 Never Quit campaign cards, demonstrating their commitment to their union.
“The Albany blitz was a team effort,” said Danny Donohue, CSEA president and also AFSCME International vice president. “Members and leaders came in from all over the state to carry out one of our most successful blitzes. It was truly empowering to see and feel the energy and engagement.
“Reengaging our members through the ‘Never Quit’ program is lighting a fire that will spread from the work trucks to the negotiating table, from the nursing home to the halls of the state capital and will continue to grow our union,” added Donohue.
CSEA, the largest public employee union in New York state with more than 265,000 members, plans to build on its recent successes with blitzes coming to Suffolk and Erie counties.
by Pablo Ros | May 18, 2016
Robert Mills was visiting relatives in southern New Mexico when he heard the sound of a crash. About 150 yards away, a neighbor riding an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) had driven into the side of a passing vehicle and was lying unconscious on the road, apparently unable to breathe.
“His face was kind of smashed in, and he looked like he was fighting to get air in,” Mills recalls. “It looked like his lungs were trying to catch breath but couldn’t.”
The car’s two passengers had stepped outside but didn’t know what to do, were standing there frozen. The victim’s wife and daughter had come running down the road and were hysterical. They were crying and screaming. Another person with a cell phone had called 911.
Mills didn’t have any medical training, but he’d heard that when a person is unconscious sometimes the tongue can block the airway. So he opened the man’s mouth and stuck his fingers in there.
“He was able to get some air in and started to come awake,” Mills says. “But he was pretty dazed. I lay him on his side so the fluids could drain out of his mouth, and he started saying, ‘Oh, God, help me! Oh, God, help me!’ I was trying to keep him from getting up. I said. ‘You need to stay down, you’ve been in an accident. But I believe God is helping you right now. We’ve got an ambulance on the way.’”
The victim survived, and no doubt God was on his side that day. But so were Mills and the paramedics who arrived shortly after. Mills says he felt so good about what he’d been able to do – save a person’s life – that when he came back to Independence, Missouri, he decided to change careers and become an EMT.
Since then, Mills has saved lots of lives, not just in his home city of Independence but as far away as Iraq, where he served as a medic in a unit of combat engineers whose mission was to find roadside bombs and neutralize them. Mills and his team worked around the clock, seven days a week, and for every 10 explosives they found, they were able to disarm seven of them before they went off.
“We were literally saving people, soldiers and civilians, from getting blown up,” Mills says. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
Today, Mills works for American Medical Response (AMR) in Independence and is a member of AFSCME Local 1812. He is an active member of his union, he says, because it’s through their union that he and his co-workers can have a voice and make improvements to their profession, potentially saving even more lives.
“You absolutely need to have a collective voice,” he says. “We’ve learned this. We’ve tried to speak out without a union, on our own, individually. We’ve tried to make improvements, talk to the company, advocate for changes. But it doesn’t work unless you’re speaking collectively with one voice.”
Although AMR has a high turnover rate, Mills says he will stay in his job for the foreseeable future because he wants his city to have excellent ambulance service. Residents deserve it, he says, and he’s eager to make some progress.
“This is the best shot we’ve had, since we formed a union,” Mills says. “And we’re going to get there.”
On EMS Week, which was established in 1974 to celebrate EMS practitioners and the important work they do, let’s remember and give thanks to Mills and the many EMS professionals who save lives and make their communities better.
by Lee Saunders | May 18, 2016
Thriving communities are not accidental. Communities thrive because of you: the women and men who maintain roads, care for the sick and seniors, and keep our neighborhoods safe. So your work should come with a paycheck that can help you feed your family and save for a rainy day.
While it has never been easy to make sure the rights you’ve earned are protected, we faced an especially egregious and politically motivated attack brought to the Supreme Court two years ago. The wealthy special interests behind those attacks were not content to make representing you more difficult — they wanted to make representing you impossible.
The future did not seem to hold much promise for us. But we remembered this truth about ourselves: AFSCME always looks to the future with resolve.
Whether it is members of Indiana/Kentucky Council 962 who rallied before the Jefferson County School Board in Kentucky to highlight low wages, short-staffing and increased classroom responsibilities, or Local 3299 in California helping nearly 100 subcontracted custodians and parking attendants at the University of California-Berkeley campus, we never shrink from a battle.
We Are AFSCME Strong
We also answered with a campaign to be strong — AFSCME Strong — to help us better address your needs. Through thousands of one-on-one conversations, we listened to what you discuss at the dinner table after the kids are excused, and what keeps you up after you’ve tucked them in at night.
The hard work is paying off. To date, we welcomed more than 276,400 new members into our union. And we are growing, even in right-to-work states. We are stronger now than even a year ago in states like Florida — for example, where more than 1,000 new members statewide signed up with Council 979 — and Georgia and Texas.
A Spirit of Confidence, the Will to Grow
So while we still feel the torrential downpour, we are withstanding the winds and moving through the storm.
To be clear, we still have battles to win to protect the rights we earned. And I know about some of the challenges you face. I’ve crisscrossed the country, meeting with you at work sites to listen to your stories, and your worries. You’ve told me about facing layoffs. You’ve shared how you’ve taken on outsourcing like members of Local 1179, who fight those attempts in Narragansett, Rhode Island. And all while you raise and sustain your families.
It is a tall order, but we’ve faced and overcome adversity before. We can either mope — or mobilize.
And we made a clear choice.
AFSCME, let’s proceed with a spirit of confidence and a spine of steel, and seize this opportunity to put our adversaries on notice.
AFSCME will never quit fighting so that our families will thrive.
by Pablo Ros | May 17, 2016
May is a time to celebrate the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to our country’s economy, diverse culture and richness. During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), we pay tribute to the fastest-growing minority group in the nation, as well as the accomplishments of its many individuals, including labor leaders.
One of AFSCME’s very own, Johanna Puno Hester, is a champion for the homecare cause in California and leader of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), where she serves as national president. She began her career with AFSCME in 1999 as lead organizer for the Organizing and Field Services Department, organizing 2,000 recreation and park assistants in Los Angeles. She also worked in several other organizing campaigns, including at the University of Maryland and New Mexico University. Today she serves as special assistant to the executive director of United Domestic Workers (UDW), The Homecare Providers Union/AFSCME Local 3930. She is also an AFSCME International vice president.
How did you first become interested in the labor movement?
I was exposed to it through my father, who was a hotel worker and active in his union. He was a shop steward. I was born in the Philippines and by the time I joined him in the U.S. when I was 15, he was a business agent for HERE (as it was known then), Local 2 in San Francisco. I got started in the labor movement because every weekend I had to go to a picket line with him in San Francisco. There was a restaurant that they were viciously fighting with at the time, and a few other hotels. So I was introduced to it in an action-oriented way.
Who inspires you?
Right now who inspires me are mothers who are hard-working and who give their all for their families and to uplift other women. (Johanna is a mother herself; her daughter, Isabel Malaya, is 5 years old.)
What motivates you to keep going every day?
I think what motivates me is my own family and its history in this country. I am lucky to have a job and be documented and working and able to vote in this country. So many immigrants, especially the undocumented, suffer abuse at the hands of employers. That really angers me. But the anger gets turned into motivation to fight back. We have a responsibility to fight back because other people can’t.
What are some of the issues or campaigns you’re currently working on?
I am privileged to work on a campaign called Interpreting for California to build medical interpreting services into the Medi-Cal program. About 50 percent of Medi-Cal patients of California speak English less than well and the interpretation needs are mostly being filled by children or strangers in the hospital halls. We need to change that. Another campaign I am privileged to work on is the child care campaign in California: We’re trying to get more families to have access to quality child care services. We want to win collective bargaining rights for Family Child Care Providers because everyone deserves a voice on the job!
What personal contribution are you most proud of?
I am personally proud of the work I have done to build a San Diego Chapter of APALA, where we are creating space and uplifting progressive API voices where there has been little or none, as well as the work I have put in to bring the labor-faith, community with border patrol workers in San Diego. I am truly in a privileged position to be the national president of APALA, which gives a voice to often-unheard Asian American Pacific Islander union members. It’s a national platform to give a progressive voice to union workers. I will continue to use that platform to build power and a better understanding of our community so unions can organize our Asian American Pacific Islander workers, but also to build power for APIs and other workers of color, to form and or join a union.
by Pablo Ros | May 16, 2016
It’s almost here, the season when it becomes so hard to stay indoors! One weekend you’re off to the beach, another weekend you’re going camping. Almost every night, it seems, somebody in your neighborhood is grilling in their backyard.
Many public service workers also spend their days outdoors. For highway, public works and parks workers, environmental and conservation officers, fresh air is part of the job.
That’s why it’s important to know that this spring and summer, mosquito season could be more than just a nuisance. To ensure your nature outings are memorable for all the right reasons, and that the public service you perform so proudly doesn’t endanger your health, take a few preventive measures to keep the Zika virus away.
The Zika virus is spread through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. An outbreak began in Brazil in May 2015 and has spread to several Latin American countries and U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.
The symptoms of the virus are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). But a Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defects including microcephaly brain defects and death.
Unlike other mosquito-borne illnesses, Zika can be sexually transmitted by men to their partners. And there is currently no vaccine for it.
Although there have only been few cases of the virus in the continental U.S., it is almost certain to spread during the warmer months ahead. That’s why it’s important to take a few preventive steps:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents.
- Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or buy permethrin-treated items.
- Install or repair window and door screens. Do not leave doors propped open.
- Mosquitoes lay eggs near water. So, once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover or throw out any items that hold water like tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpot saucers or trash containers.
- Tightly cover water storage containers (buckets, cisterns, rain barrels) so that mosquitoes cannot get inside.
- Mosquitoes rest in dark, humid areas such as under patio furniture. Use an outdoor flying insect spray in such areas.
- If you have a septic tank, repair cracks or gaps. Cover open vents or plumbing pipes. Use wire mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito.
- Kill mosquitoes inside your home. Use an indoor flying insect fogger or indoor insect spray to kill mosquitoes and treat areas where they rest. Always follow label directions.
For more preventive measures, visit the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.