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Tulsa AFSCME Members Rush in to Clean Up After Tornado

by Clyde Weiss  |  April 01, 2015

Residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma, are getting back on their feet following a devastating tornado on March 25. AFSCME members – many of them also from Tulsa – are helping them do that.

AFSCME Local 1180 members are on the front lines of the response. They are city workers who maintain streets and sewers, drive heavy equipment trucks and perform a myriad of other administrative and labor trade functions. Since the storm, many helped clean up debris and downed trees, and performed other critical tasks as part of their daily jobs.

Now they’re stepping up as members of AFSCME, to help their community recover. On Friday, April 3, Local 1180 volunteers will meet at their union hall and then head out to clean up debris that the city did not pick up. “We want to give back to our family, friends and community,” the union said on its Facebook page. They’re also setting up a fund for tornado victims.

Local 1180 Pres. Vincent McGee, who drives a heavy equipment vehicle for the city, said city workers were cleaning up streets and helping citizens who needed it within hours of the disaster. But many neighborhoods still require assistance, especially those with elderly residents who are unable to handle the cleanup of their own properties, or cannot afford to hire someone to do it for them. His local, along with other unions, will go out Friday to lend assistance.

 “Our goal is to get in those areas and to talk to local businesses and see if they will help us out as far as getting dumpsters in the area,” he said. “This is a long-term goal. It’s not something we’ll do this Friday and not do again.”

McGee, who lives in nearby Okmulgee, did not personally experience the tornado, which registered EF-2 on the Fujita scale (top winds estimated at 135 mph), according to the National Weather Service in Tulsa. The Tulsa-area tornado killed one person, while other tornados and storms that same day left three others dead.

TornadoDestiny Huddleston, Local 1180’s chief steward, barely escaped the tornado that passed by her neighborhood. A treasury revenue processor in the city’s Finance Department, she was home in the west end of Tulsa when the storm hit.

She had just started to prepare dinner when a neighbor knocked on her door to make sure she heard the storm siren. “As any Oklahoman would do,” she said, “I went outside to watch. You don’t always go hide.” But she also prepared her hall linen closet, which would be her safe room, just in case. 

“I walked back outside a few minutes later because the sirens had stopped a moment.” She recalled. “I could see clouds starting to funnel.”

That’s when a next-door neighbor stepped outside to get her husband into their storm cellar. Seeing Huddleston, she shouted at her to grab her 9-year-old son and her 4-year-old nephew and take refuge in their cellar, too. Luckily, she did. “I could hear loud winds,” she said. “Tree limbs hitting, the whistle of the wind. It was loud and it was fast and it was raining really hard.”

Without a radio, they all waited about two hours before venturing outside, where they found the neighborhood survived without significant damage. “Just some downed tree limbs,” she said – and a plastic child’s swimming pool lying in the middle of the street.

Huddleston later ventured out to help clean up the debris. She also made a donation through the local Red Cross. The union donated 15 cases of water to a church that housed victims. Huddleston and McGee will be out there again, with their fellow AFSCME members, picking up more debris.

“We will go out,” Huddleston said, “and make a big impact.”

If you wish to help, contact Local 1180 at 918-584-0334, or message them on Facebook.

VIDEO: Martin Luther King Jr. - The Struggle Continues

by Michael Byrne  |  April 01, 2015

It was 47 years ago this Saturday, April 4, that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in Memphis, Tennessee, where he went to rally support for sanitation workers trying to organize with AFSCME. He was a true champion of worker’s rights as well as civil rights, and if he were alive today he would certainly still be on the front lines with us.

Four years ago, with public service workers facing grave challenges in many states across our nation, we looked back at Dr. King’s words and vision and found new inspiration in the fights ahead, creating a video with a soundtrack that includes Aaron Neville singing “America the Beautiful.” Neville recorded the song expressly for the video.

Today, we present that video on our blog in memory of Dr. King. The struggle continues, but we are comforted by the strength and compassion that Dr. King brought to the arena. As you listen to his words and watch him connect to Americans of all races, you can’t help but believe that, indeed, we shall overcome.

In Milwaukee County, Big Raises for Bosses, Nothing for Workers

by Dave Patterson  |  March 31, 2015

Milwaukee County’s Department of Health and Human Services Dir. Hector Colón just received a 39 percent raise in pay recently thanks to Milwaukee County Exec. Chris Abele. But for the other 4,000 county workers, Abele can’t find a dime to spare.

“Chris Abele says he wants to reward good work but he forgets about the hard-working county employees who keep our roads safe, maintain our parks, ensure our water is clean and care for our elderly and most vulnerable,” said Boyd McCamish, executive director of AFSCME Milwaukee Council 48. “Like so many politicians, he's preoccupied with rewarding his cronies."

Colón’s raise of $48,682 put him at $175,000 with the stroke of Abele’s pin. There are now nine county managers who are paid more than $129,000, according to 2015 salary figures, and many were given raises without public notice.

County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic criticized Abele for giving these raises without informing the public. Dimitrijevic specifically questioned how Abele could justify a 39 percent boost to Colón’s pay just a few months after the administration and board debated cuts in funding to homeless shelters and indigent burials, and the closing of public pools.

“It seems out of balance when it comes to employees’ compensation,” said Dimitrijevic.

In the meantime, low wages for most county employees have hurt job recruitment for county positions and created more turnover, as employees moved to similar jobs in other counties that pay more.

Obama Rejects NLRB Restrictions

by Michael Byrne  |  March 31, 2015

New federal rules designed to expedite private-sector union elections will stand, thanks to President Obama, who reversed congressional action with the stroke of his pen.

Obama said the changes, recently made by the National Labor Relations Board, are needed because they make it easier for workers to join a union. “One of the freedoms of folks here in the United States is that if they choose to join a union, they should be able to do so,” he said. “And we shouldn’t be making it impossible for that to happen.”

President Obama also praised unions for helping to establish fair labor standards, eliminating child labor and improving wages and benefits for all workers.

The GOP-led Congress in early March blocked the NLRB rules, which are opposed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups. On March 31, President Obama signed a “memorandum of disapproval” overturning the congressional decision.

The new rules are intended to “streamline Board procedures, increase transparency and uniformity across regions, eliminate or reduce unnecessary litigation, duplication and delay, and update the Board's rules on documents and communications in light of modern communications technology,” the NLRB said when it first proposed the rules in 2011.

The Senate voted to reverse the NLRB rules the same day that California RN Brenda Crawford, a UNAC/UHCP member, testified the rules are needed to keep employers from dragging their feet and foiling workers’ desire to organize for better pay, benefits and quality of life.

Obama also announced that the White House this fall will host a summit “on increasing the voice and the rights of workers here in the United States.” Pointing to a recovery that has benefited mostly the people at the top while the middle class struggles, the President said we should “give workers the capacity to have their voices heard, to have some influence in the workplace, to make sure that they’re partners in building up the U.S. economy, and that growth is broad-based …”

2015 Family Scholarship Winners

by Yanik Ruiz-Ramón  |  March 31, 2015

Congratulations to the 2015 winners of the AFSCME Family Scholarship!

Each year the AFSCME Family Scholarship Program provides ten $2,000 scholarships to high school seniors that will be renewed for $2,000 each year for a maximum of four years, provided the student remains enrolled in a full-time course of study. The scholarship may be used for any field of study.

Learn more here.

The winners are:

  • Taylor Chambers, California, Local 1902
  • Jacob Chapman, Illinois, Council 31, Local 1048
  • Elishiah David, Oregon, Council 75, Local 132
  • Rachel Hay, Washington, Council 2, Local 1857
  • Riley Magner, Massachusetts, Council 93, Local 3643
  • Tyler S. Maurer, Pennsylvania, Council 86, Local 2151
  • Bryan McCoy, District of Columbia, Council 26, Local 2910
  • Parsa Najmaie, Minnesota, Council 5. Local 2474
  • Daria Rose, New York, CSEA, Local 880
  • Alejandro Trevino, Michigan, Council 25, Local 1390

Minnesota Members, Retirees Lobby Legislators

by Clyde Weiss  |  March 31, 2015

Nearly 1,000 Minnesota workers – members of AFSCME Council 5 – and retirees blitzed the state Capitol in St. Paul on March 25 in their annual Day on the Hill. Before meeting with their legislators, the activists started with a news conference at a downtown hotel. They pushed an agenda for change that includes:

AFSCME Pulls Women’s Conference Out of Indiana

March 30, 2015

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on March 26 signed into law a bill that legalizes discrimination, allowing businesses to refuse service to customers simply because they are gay or lesbian. Further, since Governor Pence claims disingenuously that it is about religious freedom, his law protects any business owner who refuses to hire someone of a different religion from their own.

This un-American law sets Indiana and our nation back decades in the struggle for civil rights. It is an embarrassment and cannot be tolerated. As such, AFSCME will move our 2015 Women’s Conference in October from Indianapolis to another state. Additional details about the conference’s new location and any necessary date change will be announced as they become available.

The 1.6 million members of AFSCME cannot in good conscience make such a sizeable financial investment in Indiana knowing that women and men in that state are deliberately targeted for discrimination.

Throughout our proud history, our union has stood up whenever injustice has occurred – be it for striking sanitation workers in Memphis in 1968, or for the victims of apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s. Governor Pence’s law, motivated by ultra-right-wing zealots, is an affront to the vast majority of those in our nation who believe that every American deserves equal treatment under the law, no matter whom they love or where they worship. 

AFSCME is pulling our Women’s Conference out of Indiana this fall as a sign of our disgust and disappointment with Governor Pence’s discriminatory law. We stand with the ever-growing number of corporations and associations who are taking similar action this week, and demanding fairness for all in the state of Indiana.

Chicago Cab Drivers Rally Troops at AFL-CIO NextUP Summit

by Dave Kreisman  |  March 30, 2015

CHICAGO – With more than 1,000 young union members from across the nation in town, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 member Ezz Abdelmagid was proud to lead activists in a virtual action aimed at educating them and enlisting their support. The drivers are working to reform the separate and unequal system Mayor Rahm Emanuel created when his administration licensed so-called “rideshare” operators Uber and Lyft. 

“Cab drivers in Chicago are the motor that keep our great city moving throughout the year. Yet despite being an integral part of Chicago’s transportation system, we’re treated like second-class citizens,” said Abdelmagid.

“We attend school to become a cab driver. We undergo drug and physical tests. Our cabs are highly visible and under constant scrutiny by city inspectors and the police department. Yet when Mayor Emanuel and the city gave Uber a license to operate, they did so based on a promise, creating a two-tiered system,” continued Abdelmagid.

Abdelmagid led attendees in a virtual action, encouraging young union members to take a “selfie” with their cab drivers and to send that photo in a tweet or post it to Facebook during their time in Chicago.

Abdelmagid also asked those in the audience to send tweets to Mayor Emanuel, Alderman Emma Mitts and Alderman Anthony Beale, the chairs of the Licensing and Transportation Committees respectively, asking them to begin to fix the two-tiered system by holding a hearing so the public could comment.

“We’re asking these leaders to take a stand, to protect public safety, to protect our livelihoods, to take action on rideshare today. Send a tweet right now using the hashtag Cab Drivers United and send a message to the city that we won’t stand idly by while a billion-dollar corporation destroys our livelihood,” Abdelmagid said.


Arbitrator Rules for Iowa State Employees on Health Care

by David Patterson  |  March 27, 2015

An arbitrator empowered to determine a contract impasse between the State of Iowa and its 19,000 state and judicial branch employees represented by AFSCME Iowa Council 61 ruled in favor of the workers when it accepted the union’s health insurance proposal requiring the overwhelming majority of the state and judicial branch employees to pay a $20 monthly healthcare premium. The move saves most state employees thousands of dollars per year.

The health insurance issue was a major sticking point in reaching a new two-year collective bargaining pact, with Governor Branstad’s negotiators unsuccessfully seeking a 10 percent employee premium payment for AFSCME members in 2016 and 15 percent in 2017. Talks that started in November failed to reach a voluntary agreement by the mid-February deadline.

“We are pleased that the arbitrator found in our favor on health insurance,” said AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan. “We believe the process worked in such a way as to appropriately balance the interests of state employees and state government. The arbitration award shows that Iowa’s current collective bargaining process works.”

Governor Branstad has long been at odds with state employees and has been pushing for state employees to pay large health insurance premium payments since he returned to office in 2011 for his fifth term. The latest contract calls for pay raises of about 6 percent over two years, but Branstad won’t propose a bill to fund the raises, saying that the costs must come from each agency’s budget. Most state employees have not had a raise in three years.

“With this fair decision, AFSCME members are pleased that we will be able to look forward and focus on providing public services to Iowans,” added Homan.


New EMS Contract Promotes Safety, Raises Pay, Protects Health Care

by Justin Lee  |  March 27, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Emergency medical service (EMS) professionals working in 13 counties across California voted to ratify a new three-year agreement with the ambulance company, American Medical Response. The deal will improve safety by limiting the number of consecutive work shifts, providing pay increases and protecting health care for the nation’s largest collective bargaining unit of private EMS personnel.

The new collective bargaining agreement improves work conditions for 1,800 EMTs, paramedics, dispatchers, registered nurses, mechanics, vehicle supply technicians and office support personnel employed at AMR in Contra Costa, Placer, Sacramento, San Benito, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Stanislaus, Sonoma, Tulare and Yolo counties.

The victory is the result of two years of intense negotiations with a company that—despite growing corporate profits—proposed increasing workers’ health insurance premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs. Workers rejected the company’s backward proposals and stood united for a contract that advances their profession while improving EMS in their communities.

 “Standing together in a union gives us strength to improve patient care and provide security for our families,” said Sami Abed, a 13-year paramedic in Santa Cruz county and president of United EMS Workers-AFSCME Local 4911. “Having that power is important for EMS professionals anywhere.” 

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