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A City’s Turnaround Point, Led by Its Public Workers

by Helen Cox  |  April 17, 2014

Monroe, La. – When Monroe City Attorney Nancy Summersgill earlier this month announced she would terminate AFSCME Local 2388’s contract, it was a low point for a community where public services were neglected for far too long.

In recent years, reductions in city personnel deteriorated public services. Just a few years ago, 13 sanitation trucks served local residents.  Now, only five do.

But city workers who are members of Local 2388 stood up to this latest attack on their community’s wellbeing and rallied immediately in support of protecting public services and their contract. They pointed out major contract violations and convinced Summersgill and Mayor Jamie Mayo to reverse their union-busting position. Today, city government is more willing than ever before to speak directly with workers.

AFSCME workers are fighting to increase city personnel and for an across-the-board $1-an-hour raise. They want all workers to make at least a living wage of $10 an hour.

“Now that we’ve protected our rights, we can do anything,” said Robert Johnson, president of Local 2388. “We’ve doubled the size of our union since this fight began. We’re always stronger if we stand together on behalf of the community and the workers.”

California Pensions Boost State Economic Growth

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  April 17, 2014

Public employee pensions benefit more than just the retirees who receive them. As a new report out of California shows, pensions are good for the whole economy.

The state-conducted study concludes that CalPERS, the California public employee retirement system, creates more than $30 billion in economic growth each year.

When workers save for retirement, they are ensuring they will have money to spend at local businesses in later years.  California’s retired workers spend enough to add $30.4 billion to the state’s economy. The study estimates this spending is responsible for creating more than 100,000 jobs. That’s in addition to the $20.7 billion the CalPERS portfolio invests in local businesses.

When people like San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed talk about dismantling California retiree benefits, they’re not just threatening the livelihood of retired public servants. Pension “reform” is a danger to jobs and growth in every part of the economy.

AFSCME President Urges Students to Be “Disrupters”

by Joye Barksdale  |  April 17, 2014

State College, Pa. – AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders encouraged Penn State University students to be “disrupters” and join the labor movement if they want to make a difference today, much like the sanitation workers of AFSCME Local 1733 did in 1968.

Saunders gave the 23rd annual Philip Murray Memorial Labor Lecture this week at Penn State’s School of Labor and Employment Relations. The audience included students, faculty members, AFSCME members and members of other unions.

The lecture is named for Murray, the first president of the United Steelworkers of America, who was also the second president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. It brings labor leaders together with members of the university community to talk about the role of the labor movement in a democratic society.

Saunders said the sanitation workers were risk-takers whose bold strike “upset the social order” and challenged the status quo. He also talked about the labor movement’s role as the last line of defense for people who are beset by student-loan debt, low wages, disappearing retirement security and other financial pressures. He reminded the audience of the labor movement’s achievements and said unions are the key to an economy that works for everyone.

Unions are more important than ever at a time when there is a tremendous gap between the very wealthy and the average working family, he said.

“Look, we aren’t bashing the rich. This isn’t about income envy,” Saunders said. “What we’re saying is that our nation isn’t going to get any stronger economically if money keeps flowing out of workers’ pockets and into Donald Trump’s.”

There is another problem with tremendous income inequality, he said. “When so much wealth and power rests with so few people, they exercise outsize influence on our political system, drowning out other voices.  They rig the system.”

Unions are the answer, he said, because they “play a role in lifting up all workers whether or not they’re in unions. The contracts we bargain put pressure even on non-unionized employers to increase wages and benefits. In areas where there is a union, you get paid more. Not just if you’re in the union. All of you get paid more.”

Saunders mentioned the walkouts by workers in fast-food chains, as well as the recent move by football players at Northwestern University to join a union. In 2014, he said, “people view joining a union as radical.”

“Learn about and become part of the American labor movement,” he said. “Be a disrupter, just like the sanitation workers of Memphis were in 1968.”

AFSCME Ohio Members Protest Pay Discrimination

by David Patterson  |  April 16, 2014

Public employees of a child support agency in Mahoning County, Ohio, are trying to figure out why they were excluded from a pay increase given to other county employees in exchange for agreeing to pay more in pension contribution costs.

The workers are members of AFSCME Local 3577, Council 8, and they are protesting what they see as unfair treatment on the part of the county government. They are employed at the Mahoning County Child Support Enforcement Agency, or CSEA.

“We are not asking to be rewarded,” said Local 3577 Pres. Jeannette Droney. “CSEA employees are only asking to be treated the same as other Mahoning County employees.”

In 18 other county agencies, including the county commissioner’s office, all affected employees received a cost-neutral pay adjustment that makes up for the increase in individual pension costs. The so-called “pension flip” places the full pension contribution costs on the employee and ends the county’s past practice of covering a significant portion of them.

“We’re not against paying our share of pension costs,” Droney said. “We just want to have the county make up the difference to our members like they did with everyone else, including CSEA management.”

David Arquilla, vice president of Local 3577, said it was an issue of fairness.

“We want to know why our members are singled out,” he said.

Wisconsin to Connecticut: 2011 Could Happen to You

by Clyde Weiss  |  April 16, 2014

Ken Weaver, a Wisconsin AFSCME member who fought with thousands of others in 2011 to try to preserve workers’ collective bargaining rights, recently spoke to hundreds of Connecticut union members, warning them that the same could happen to them if they’re not vigilant.

Weaver, a retired Wisconsin Department of Transportation construction inspector and member of AFSCME Local 758, Council 24, spoke at the “We Are Not Wisconsin” forum held in Middletown, Conn., and sponsored by the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), of which AFSCME Connecticut Council 4 is a member.

Despite its name, the forum is meant to bring home the reality that Connecticut, like any other state, could lose its union rights if right-wing lawmakers gain control of the Statehouse and the governor’s mansion.

Weaver noted that Wisconsin was once a union-friendly state. Then elections in 2010 turned the tables on workers, bringing in a right-wing governor, Scott Walker, and tipping the balance of power in the Legislature to favor anti-union forces.

“That is all this is – politics,” Weaver said.

Weaver told his Connecticut sisters and brothers that though workers in Wisconsin “may have been knocked down, we’re fighting every day. The war is long from over. It never ends.”

Dawn Tyson, president of Connecticut AFSCME Local 538, Council 4, was among those impressed by Weaver’s message. A processing technician for the Department of Social Services, she said Weaver’s comments “really brought it home for me. They made me feel energized. But they also awakened me and made me realize the threat is very real. It is an ever-present danger.”

In Anti-Worker Vote, Missouri Legislators Bow to Outside Donors

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  April 16, 2014

Despite strong opposition from both sides of the aisle, extremist lawmakers in the Missouri state Legislature are pushing ahead with a so-called “right-to-work” law that could mean a big pay cut for the state’s middle class.

HB 1770, sponsored by Eric Burlison of Springfield, stalled this week after nearly a third of House Republicans voted against it in a procedural vote.  But Speaker Tim Jones says he’ll do whatever it takes to get the votes he needs to pass the bill.  Why?  Because big national donors like the Koch brothers and fiscal radicals like Grover Norquist issued their marching orders, and House leadership isn’t about to disappoint the people who help pay their bills.

Many members of the Legislature know that “right-to-work” isn’t right for Missouri, and Missouri’s workers don’t support it. Republican John McCaherty says he voted against it because he knows that “right-to-work” will hurt his constituents. If HB 1770 were to pass, he says, “here in the St. Louis area we undoubtedly would see a drop in wages.”

But concern for the people you represent is no way to get ahead in a political climate that’s all about out-of-state money.  One Republican representative, Ron Hicks of St. Louis, found himself hounded by interest groups who smeared his name and even sent robo-calls to his home phone number following his “No” vote.

“I understand right-to-work is a big issue across the nation, but I think I should still be able to vote the way my constituents want me to vote,” he told the Washington Post. “This one time I’m going outside the box to stick up for my constituents and all the sudden I’m a RINO [Republican in name only]?”

If the bill passes the Legislature, the measure will appear on a statewide ballot in August, where wildly misleading ballot language will obscure the real intent of the law.

But Missouri voters should make no mistake: “right-to-work” isn’t about your rights at all. It’s simply an attempt to sow division among coworkers and drain union resources so that workers can’t bargain for better pay and conditions.

Jersey City Medical Center Workers Fight off Attacks, Ratify Contract

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  April 16, 2014

Jersey City – Despite a year and a half of threats and attacks from management and its union buster attorneys, workers at the Jersey City Medical Center successfully voted recently to ratify their contracts by overwhelming majorities.

In doing so, more than 600 center employees, who are members of AFSCME Locals 2254 and 3680, District Council 52, cemented their desire to preserve a long collective bargaining history.

Workers at the JCMC were subjected to undue intimidation and harassment, and several union leaders were terminated and disciplined. These unprecedented attacks did not deter our sisters and brothers from the fight to protect their collective bargaining rights. They voted to authorize strikes and filed charge after charge of illegal activity with the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, which sided with AFSCME members.

“By approving and signing their contract, workers at JCMC made clear that bully tactics and illegal acts will not silence the workers,” said Rich Gollin, executive director of AFSCME District Council 52. “They stood strong, preserved 40 years of collective bargaining rights and sent a clear message that workers’ rights cannot be bought and sold.”

Having survived the million-dollar union-busting attacks, Locals 2254 and 3680 will rebuild to strengthen their resolve to prevent future ones. With the help of DC 52 and AFSCME International, workers at JCMC will continue to have a strong voice in their workplace.

Public Libraries, Loved by All, Remain Under Attack

by Pablo Ros  |  April 14, 2014

Despite an overwhelming majority of Americans who love and use their public libraries, legislators are slashing library budgets and cutting back on library services.

According to a recent report, more than two out of three Americans “are actively engaged with public libraries.” And even those who aren’t regular users recognize the value libraries provide to the community.

Despite this, funding for libraries has declined in recent years, and like other public service workers, library employees’ benefits are under attack. In Detroit, for example, library workers are facing serious threats to their retirement security after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder pushed the city into bankruptcy.

Local and state decision-makers across our country should heed citizens’ calls to support library services. Public libraries remain central to the life of their communities.

AFSCME is proud to represent more than 25,000 library workers and trusted helpers nationwide, more than any other union. We are also a leading advocate for equitable pay for library workers and for full funding for public libraries.

On National Library Workers Day, April 15, we extend a special thanks to our sisters and brothers who are employed in public libraries for the valuable services they provide. And we encourage everyone, during National Library Week, April 13-19, to visit your local library, check out that book you’ve been meaning to read, and thank the library employees.

 

 

In Mudslide Recovery Effort, Value of Strong Community Services

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  April 11, 2014

A month after a mudslide devastated the small community of Oso, Wash., killing at least 35 people, the community is still picking up the pieces. As rescue crews search more than 250 acres of wreckage and engineers work to control further flooding, people in the surrounding Snohomish County are trying to rebuild their lives. At times like these, the value of strong community services and dedicated public servants becomes most apparent.

“I’m immensely proud to be governor of a state that so quickly rallies around those in need, and to work with employees who care so deeply for the people they serve,” Gov. Jay Inslee recently said in a statement of appreciation to Washington state employees who are helping in the recovery effort. “Keep doing what you’re doing – it matters.”

AFSCME member Darren Bowerman, a corrections officer with Local 1221/ WFSE, lost six family members in the mudslide. WFSE established a fund to collect donations for the Bowerman family in this difficult time. If you would like to contribute, you can write a check to the Foundation for Working Families with a note that the donation be disbursed to the Bowerman family. The check can be mailed to:

Foundation for Working Families
Bowerman Family
314 First Ave W
Seattle, WA  98119

More than two dozen state agencies are involved in the recovery effort.  While workers with the Department of Transportation are clearing roads and monitoring safety conditions, the Department of Fish and Wildlife is transporting personnel and equipment at the scene, and the Department of Social and Health Services is working to coordinate the delivery of food aid and mental health services to the people affected.

But these first-line services are only part of the story. State workers with the Department of Revenue and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner are helping people who lost homes and property to find financial assistance. The Department of Licensing has set up an on-site station to help people replace identification documents that were lost in the mudslide. And the Department of Early Learning is working with child care providers to make sure they are prepared to respond to these kinds of emergencies.

Our AFSCME sisters and brothers in Washington are earning well-deserved praise for the valuable services they provide at times of emergency. But it’s important to remember that they help strengthen their communities through their work not just when disaster strikes, but year-round.

California Votes for Responsible Public-Private Deals

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  April 11, 2014

California elected officials are standing up to protect the public services in their communities from corporate outsourcing.  The state Assembly in Sacramento recently passed HR 29, a resolution that urges the state to embrace the principles of the Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda.

The Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda is a set of guidelines for responsible public-private partnerships developed by In the Public Interest, a group that advocates for public control of public services. By adopting these principles, governments pledge not to enter into contracts with private companies unless those companies pay their employees a living wage and make their financial records open to the public. The agenda also calls for competitive contracts that can be canceled if corporations fail to uphold their promises to taxpayers.

California is the largest jurisdiction to pass the agenda so far.  Even though the resolution is nonbinding, it sends a strong message to corporations that see public services as an opportunity to turn a profit on the taxpayer’s dime.  In recent years, the Golden State was targeted by corporations trying to buy up everything from its universities and prisons to its water resources.

Many of these outsourcing projects replace quality programs that employ highly-skilled civil servants with shoddier services that pay workers less than a living wage.  It's a bad deal for workers and for the public.

“We believe the civil service system is the way to provide the best quality services at the lowest price for California’s taxpayers, and the pathway to a sustainable economic future for our state,” said AFSCME California Political and Legislative Dir. Willie Pelote.