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AFSCME Women Make a Difference Every Day

by Clyde Weiss  |  March 28, 2017

AFSCME Women Make a Difference Every Day Darniece Shirley

Women make up close to 60 percent of AFSCME’s membership, so it’s critical to ensure that women are represented in our union’s leadership, from the national level to local unions. That’s why three of those leaders – alumni of AFSCME Women’s Leadership Academy – honored us on Tuesday at AFSCME’s headquarters, during Women’s History Month, by sharing their own stories of leadership.

“One thing we’ve learned through the Women’s Leadership Academy,” said AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Elissa McBride, who introduced the speakers, “is that folks develop basic skills not just in the classroom but also by doing the work and by taking action with your co-workers in your local, and through mentoring.”

Each of them, said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders, would explain how “they’ve been able to have a positive impact in their union, and how far they have come on their leadership journey.”

First up was Darniece Shirley, a member of the first graduating class of the AFSCME Women’s Leadership Academy in 2013.

Laura Butler Laura Butler

An actuary at the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking in Washington, D.C., and a member of AFSCME District Council 20, Shirley said she knew little about her union when she got her job in 2011.

In 2013, she ran for recording secretary, a position which she said led her to “take a deeper dive” into her union. That included the Women’s Leadership Academy, where she chose, as her first project, to create “AFSCME for Newbies,” an electronic guide to the union that members received as soon as they got their jobs.

“It helps them navigate the waters,” she said.

Also addressing AFSCME was Laura Butler, a social worker at Spring Grove Hospital Center in Maryland, and a member of Maryland Council 3, who graduated from the Academy in 2014. She was instrumental in the creation of AFSCME’s Next Wave Leadership Academy, to foster the growth of young and new members in taking on leadership roles in their unions.

Dr. Rhonda Wallace Dr. Rhonda Wallace (Photos by Clyde Weiss)

As secretary-treasurer of her local, she began a project to create a Next Wave Leadership Academy for Council 3.

“It was really important for us to train young voters to get out there on the street and, hopefully, to be ready in the next few years” to take on greater responsibilities, she said.

Dr. Rhonda Wallace, a licensed professional counselor and a community developer at the Prince George’s County Health Department in Cheverly, Maryland, also addressed AFSCME’s staffers. A member of Council 67, Wallace is also a member of the National Women’s Advisory Committee and coordinator of her union’s first regional Women’s Conference, which is coming up soon. She offered advice she learned from others, including President Saunders:

“As a leader, you must pull someone along with you, reach back and pull forward. That’s one thing I learned at AFSCME. That’s one thing I know I’ll make a difference in.”

AFSCME women make a difference every day, in their jobs, their community and in their union. During Women’s History Month, we say thank you for making our union stronger.

Friday the 13th Redefined for Union Plus American Dream Sweepstakes Winner

by Union Plus  |  March 28, 2017

Friday the 13th Redefined for Union Plus American Dream Sweepstakes Winner Pictured (left to right) are CSEA/AFSCME retiree Frank Valone, his wife Michele Valone, and CSEA Western Region 6 President Flo Tripi. (Photo courtesy Union Plus).

Frank Valone was in shock. The retired Civil Servants Employees Association/American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (CSEA/AFSCME) member arrived home from a week in the hospital, having been diagnosed with lymphoma. It was Friday, January 13, and he was pondering the fight of his life when he received a call.

“It was Union Plus calling, wondering if I’d checked my email,” he said. “They waited while I did, and when I read I had won, the worst week of my life suddenly took a turn for the good. I felt hopeful, and I was so grateful. I’ll never think of Friday the 13th the same way again.”

Valone’s $30,000 grand prize marked the end of the American Dream Sweepstakes sponsored by the Union Plus Credit Card Program, which celebrated three decades of the Union Plus member benefits program.

Prior to his retirement in 2002, Valone was a 15-year senior plant utilities engineer at the Roswell Park Cancer Center. Founded in 1898 and headquartered in Buffalo, New York, the Center is America’s first facility dedicated to cancer research. Valone savored his role because his team served as the Center’s catalyst, making sure it received the power it needed to operate 24 hours a day.

“The union was a true fraternity,” he said. “They negotiated contracts and provided benefits that I feel were well earned and deserved. We worked hard, giving the facility what it needed to succeed, and the union worked hard for us.”

Valone entered the sweepstakes because it gave him a chance to dream, but he never imagined winning.

“It’s been tremendous,” he said. “My wife and I want to use this money to travel more – maybe to Maine or to Pennsylvania to ride steam trains, but it’s also great to know that while I have good insurance, this money could come in handy with my healthcare expenses.”

Valone’s story caps the Union Plus 30th Anniversary American Dream Sweepstakes. To read the stories of all the winners, visit

To learn more about all of the Union Plus programs available to union members, including the Union Plus Credit Card, wireless discounts and savings on travel and entertainment, visit

(Credit approval required. Terms and conditions apply. Union Plus Credit Cards are issued by Capital One, N.A. pursuant to a license by Mastercard International Incorporated.

©2017 Union Privilege. All rights reserved. Union Plus benefits are for participating union members, retirees and their families. Union Privilege, 1100 1st ST NE, Suite 850, Washington, D.C. 20002).

A Friend Never Quits on a Friend, or a Co-Worker. That’s Why He’s a Hero

by Clyde Weiss  |  March 27, 2017

A Friend Never Quits on a Friend, or a Co-Worker. That’s Why He’s a Hero Left to right: Dan Johnson and Gordy Holdt, members of Red Wing, Minnesota Local 737 (Council 65) (Johnson family photo)

The snow had fallen 9 inches in Red Wing, Minn., on Feb. 24. At the city’s wastewater treatment plant, snow packed down by vehicles had become “glare ice,” said Dan Johnson, an assistant wastewater treatment operator who also goes by D.J.

A member of AFSCME Local 737 (Council 65), D.J. was out in that snow and ice along with his co-workers, including Gordy Boldt, a utility operator in his early 60s.

When Boldt’s plow truck got stuck in the snow and ice, D.J. and a seasonal worker called Jason Key fetched a tractor to pull it out. That’s when Boldt walked down the driveway and slipped on the ice.

“He went straight down and slid like a board,” D.J. recalled. “Gordy jumps up, brushes off and swears it hurts.” 

Later, when Key congratulated Boldt for pulling the truck from the snow, Boldt said, “What truck?”

Key thought he was joking. But Boldt insisted that he hadn’t pulled a truck from the snow and then denied other events that had happened to him that morning. Exasperated, Key took Boldt to see D.J. and said, “You gotta talk to Gordy. Gordy can’t remember anything,”

“I go, seriously, tell me that you’re OK. Do you remember hitting your head? He says, ‘I never fell,’” D.J. said.

D.J. examined his friend’s head and eyes, looking for a neurological abnormality like dilated pupils. Sadly, he had experience in this area. His son had died of a neurological condition at the age of 7.

D.J. knew he needed to get his friend to the hospital fast. At the emergency room, a doctor diagnosed a concussion and said it was “really good we got him there as fast as we could,” D.J. said.

Released that night, Boldt did not return to work for about six days, and still has no memory of the events of that snowy day. But he’s back to normal and jokes about forgetting to do this or that, D.J. said.

Dedication to your job and your community is also about being dedicated to your co-workers and workplace safety. By making sure his co-worker got the attention he needed, D.J. displayed a never quit attitude. His story demonstrates yet again why we say AFSCME members never quit – not on their community, not on their jobs and not on their co-workers.

Never Quit Service Awards

D.J. said he just did what needed to be done. He was really surprised to learn that Paul Drotos, an environmental officer for the city and a retired past president of Local 737, had nominated him for an AFSCME Never Quit Service Award.

“It’s a pretty tight-knit crew,” Drotos said of the wastewater plant workers. “We were all concerned and appreciative that D.J. did the right thing and got Gordy hospital care as soon as possible, which is the most important thing.”

D.J. said, “I wasn’t looking for recognition. I know if it was me, he would have done the same.” Nevertheless, he added, “It’s an honor.”

Do you know someone deserving of a Never Quit Service Award? Click here to nominate that AFSCME member.

DC EMTs and Paramedics Vote to Join AFSCME

by Justin Lee  |  March 27, 2017

DC EMTs and Paramedics Vote to Join AFSCME

Nearly 200 emergency medical services (EMS) professionals serving our nation’s capital have won their union election to join AFSCME District Council 20

With more than 70 percent voting yes late Thursday, they will now have a collective voice at American Medical Response (AMR), a private medical services provider, to improve professional standards and patient care for D.C. residents.

“We want to make sure we have adequate rest between shifts so that public safety is not compromised," said Emergency Medical Technician Daniel Hoock. “It’s about making sure our patients are getting the best care possible.”

Workers at the company united to address ongoing issues that affect patient care, such as scheduling, fatigue, training, equipment and employee turnover.

Mosiah Grayton, another emergency medical technician, began her career in EMS because she is passionate about helping people. She decided to unite with her coworkers because she wants to be able to continue her education.

“I can’t further my education because of scheduling,” said Grayton. “We never know when we’ll get off work. I can’t afford to go down to part time because I’ll lose my benefits.”

The union will submit a request for bargaining to AMR’s management team so the two sides can immediately begin the process of collective bargaining and improving standards at the company.

Approximately 25,000 EMS professionals nationwide are members of AFSCME, including AMR employees across the country and the uniformed emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and fire inspectors of the Fire Department of New York. 

AFSCME Reacts to House Leadership Pulling the Health Care Bill

by AFSCME Staff  |  March 24, 2017

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders had this to say after the House health care bill was pulled from the floor today:

“It was obvious to the tens of thousands of Americans who flooded town halls and phone lines, and the majority of American voters who opposed the American Health Care Act, that this abomination of a bill was nothing more than tax giveaways for corporations and millionaires disguised as health care legislation. 

“Working families, medical professionals, seniors and child advocates, and voters of all political stripes made themselves heard loud and clear: anything that dismantles the progress made under the Affordable Care Act is unacceptable.

“We must continue to hold our leaders accountable to President Trump's repeated promises to working families on health care: nobody loses their coverage, and no cuts to Medicaid or Medicare.”

VMO Strengthens New California Local

by Kevin Brown  |  March 24, 2017

VMO Strengthens New California Local Betha Perez

Persistence can be a virtue. Just ask Betha Perez. A senior custodian for the University of California-Merced, and AFSCME Local 3299 member, Perez is a shining example of our union’s Never Quit attitude.

Imagine volunteering on an out-of-town organizing campaign for two weeks but meeting with little success initially. Many people would’ve given up, but not Perez. This volunteer member organizer (VMO) wasn’t about to quit trying to get more members involved with Public Employees Union, Local 1.

In February, Perez was among three AFSCME Local 3299 members who traveled to Richmond, California, to demonstrate their unwavering commitment to strengthening AFSCME.

“I remember thinking how proud I was to have the opportunity to share my experience with other workers as I drove to Richmond,” Perez said.

She found herself listening more than sharing before she could ask Local 1 members to sign support cards.

“I really started to connect with these workers when I realized we shared some of the same issues,” said Perez. “As I listened to their stories, I began to genuinely share my similar experience. That made it easier to gain respect for one another and build a relationship.”

Last October, more than 6,000 public service workers represented by Local 1 voted to unite with AFSCME. Local 1 was a big contributor to AFSCME’s success in adding 12,000 new members last year though most other unions saw membership declines.

“We knew joining the AFSCME family would bring many resources to our union,” said Mike West, Local 1’s president. “Having the unwavering commitment of volunteer workers from Local 3299 was a huge boost to our recent organizing efforts.”

Perez became active with Local 3299 after growing tired of the mistreatment of her coworkers. When she discovered that management was violating the contract, she realized that change would have to start with her and every individual union member. That realization became the catalyst for her passion for strengthening our union and led her to serve as a VMO to help Local 1 add new members.

“This is an exciting new chapter for Local 1 AFSCME and I'm happy to be a small part of making their union stronger,” Perez said.

As working Americans face unprecedented attacks, AFSCME needs more VMOs like Perez to help extend worker protections to even more public service workers from California to Maine, from Washington to Florida. We need more volunteers who will do the work and be persistent in our quest to expand our union one new member at a time.

To learn how you can become a VMO and help your fellow public service workers protect their rights and build a real future for their families, click here.


Listen Up, Congress! This AFSCME Member Has a Message for You

by Pablo Ros  |  March 23, 2017

Listen Up, Congress! This AFSCME Member Has a Message for You Patricia Byrd urges Congress not to slash Medicaid at a Capitol Hill press conference as New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (orange tie) looks on. (Photo by Ben Hodapp)

As the U.S. House of Representatives gets ready to vote on a bill that threatens to leave millions of people without health insurance, AFSCME retiree Patricia Byrd went to Capitol Hill with a clear message: Hands off our Medicaid.

A former social worker from Panama City, Florida, Byrd worked for 27 years to help families in need afford the medical care they needed. She saw firsthand the way Medicaid can change lives for the better. And she knows Medicaid saves countless lives every day.

Medicaid is also very personal to Byrd, whose 92-year-old mother is wheelchair bound and has dementia. She is in a nursing home and needs around-the-clock care paid for by Medicaid that Byrd and her husband couldn’t possibly afford out of pocket.

Her story is the story of millions of Americans. She knows this not just because of her experience as a social worker, but also because the more she speaks out, the more she hears from families like hers.

“Our story is not unique,” Byrd said at a press conference on Capitol Hill on Wednesday. “There are millions of families in situations just like mine. I’ve seen them up close, I’ve lived this my whole life.”

Byrd sent a passionate plea to Congress and President Donald Trump on behalf the working families whose lives depend on Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. She was joined by New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker.

“Medicaid is a lifesaving program that lifts up countless families,” Byrd said. “These are our parents, our children, and our family members, and one day it may even be you. So please, hands off our Medicaid.”

An Era of Scorn for Our Government Workforce

by Lee Saunders  |  March 23, 2017

An Era of Scorn for Our Government Workforce

Back in 1932, a group of Wisconsin state employees banded together to defend their rights as civil servants, pushing back against a corrupt spoils system that would reward friends of politicians with important public-service jobs that demanded nonpartisan professionalism.

That was the beginning of the formation of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. I am proud to serve as president of AFSCME, where we represent 1.6 million men and women -- everyone from bus drivers to sanitation workers to emergency medical technicians -- who never quit working to serve and strengthen their communities.

Over the decades, even as our union has grown, we have had to contend with adversaries trying not just to hold down our members' pay and benefits but who fundamentally denigrate and disrespect their work. That reflexive scapegoating of public workers has now reached a fever pitch. Around the country, right-wing politicians, underwritten by corporate interests, are going after the rights and the economic security of those who work for the public good. They're not just trying to knock us down; they want to take us out.

Nowhere has that been more true in Wisconsin, which since 2011 has been in the vanguard of the effort to take away public employees' hard-won employment rights. But what Wisconsin's legislature and governor did was just the beginning. Last month in Iowa, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill gutting government employees' collective bargaining rights. The new law, which AFSCME's Iowa affiliate is challenging in court, means that most of Iowa's state and local public workers now have the right to negotiate only their base wages -- and a limited one at that. They no longer can bargain over other benefits or terms of employment such as health insurance, transfers and layoffs, or evaluation and grievance procedures.

Illinois' Republican governor, private-equity billionaire Bruce Rauner, also has made it a top priority to kick public employees to the curb. Aiming to dictate rather than negotiate, Rauner has tried to force-feed our state members an unacceptable contract that includes a four-year wage freeze and a 100 percent increase in health-care premiums.

Now the presidency of Donald Trump has ushered in a fresh wave of withering attacks on public employees at the federal level. Just days after taking the oath of office, Trump imposed a federal hiring freeze. And a new bill moving through Congress would eviscerate civil-service protections, making it easier to fire career government employees without due process. The president's proposed fiscal year 2018 budget is so austere that it would, according to the Washington Post, expedite "a historic contraction of the federal workforce."

Trump's proposed cuts to non-defense discretionary spending make sequestration look generous. Low-income housing, environmental protection, scientific research and international diplomacy all would take major hits, affecting the livelihoods of both federal employees and the people they serve. The Labor Department, for example, would be cut by more than one-fifth, with huge implications for job training, wages, occupational safety and more.

And then there is the issue of ill-advised privatization. The Obama administration, after careful study, announced last summer that the federal government would no longer contract with private prison companies. But the new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, reversed that decision last month, even though private corrections corporations are a cancer on the criminal-justice system, contributing to the mass-incarceration epidemic and operating prisons with deplorable safety measures, sanitary conditions and rehabilitation records.

Meanwhile, Trump and his team have taken every opportunity to smear those who have devoted their careers to the common good and the public interest. We have seen this in his tweets attacking the intelligence community and judges and in his disparagement of data generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We have seen it in his campaign promise to "remove bureaucrats who only know how to kill jobs"; in Newt Gingrich's call for "straight-out war" on the civil service; and in top White House adviser Stephen K. Bannon's talk of "deconstruction of the administrative state."

Public employees don't expect to get rich, but some basic respect for the important jobs they do isn't too much to ask. Instead, in too many states and localities from coast to coast -- and now more than ever at the federal level -- their hard work is rewarded with pettiness and scorn. Not from their neighbors, but from politicians with an agenda.

When you attack public workers, entire communities suffer -- their schools, hospitals, roads and more. To undermine law enforcement, social workers and 911 dispatchers, and their counterparts at every level of government, is to hurt the citizens who depend every day on the services they provide.

(This post originally appeared in Governing magazine). 

AFSCME Council 65 Expands by 156 Workers in South Dakota

by David Kreisman  |  March 23, 2017

AFSCME Council 65 Expands by 156 Workers in South Dakota

REDFIELD, S.D. – For the past year, workers at the South Dakota Developmental Center (SDDC) have been leading an organizing drive to address serious safety concerns and conditions at the facility – and in early March, their hard work paid off.

The direct support employees and medical assistants at SDDC voted overwhelmingly in favor of forming a local with AFSCME Council 65. As a result, 156 workers at that state-run facility are now covered by AFSCME.

As the organizing campaign got underway, former employee Paul Register resigned his position after nearly a decade at SDDC, amidst serious safety concerns that were not being addressed.

Residents of SDDC have intellectual and physical disabilities. Last year, former employees accused SDDC of “having a hostile administration, staff shortages and a dangerous work environment,” according to the Associated Press. The center’s director at the time resigned.

SDDC has 340 employees, but is short nearly 50 workers, Register told, a local news consortium. According to Register, as of January, 2016, the number of resident assaults had increased so much that employees were afraid to come to work. Five sustained concussions, while another endured a facial laceration that had to be glued shut.

Furthermore, Register said, many of the residents come from a state correctional facility, though the SSDC is not set up to accommodate residents with such complex needs.

“My peers at SDDC led an employee union campaign for over a year,” Register said, according to a press release from Council 65. “I’m a little awestruck at their determination. They stayed unified to have a voice for better safety measures for SDDC clients and staff.”

In 2015, Register attempted to get the safety issues addressed by the state but ran into multiple roadblocks.

“The only reason the state took steps to address safety problems was these issues were now in the public’s eye, but not enough has been done,” he said.

The new AFSCME-represented employees will nominate co-workers to establish their bargaining team to start negotiations with SDDC. Their goal is to negotiate a contract that addresses safety concerns, hours of work, overtime and other working conditions.

No on Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Court

March 23, 2017

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders issued the following statement today opposing Judge Neil Gorsuch for appointment to the United States Supreme Court.

“Before receiving a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch needed to answer fundamental questions, both about his past record and about how he would apply the law as a Justice on the highest court in the land. On both accounts, Judge Gorsuch has come up short.

“Judge Gorsuch has failed to demonstrate and give fundamental assurances that he would be an independent voice on the Court who will use the Constitution to protect the rights of everyone, not just the wealthy and powerful.

“He failed to adequately address a troubling record of ruling against everyday working people, instead siding with employers, corporations and Wall Street despite often blatant and draconian violations of basic worker rights, safety and consumer protections.

“It is clear that he believes corporations are people and his judicial philosophy would likely further tilt the scales of justice against working families.

“At a time when the country is facing deep divisions, the American people cannot afford to confirm a nominee to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court if that nominee’s commitment to the Constitution’s guarantee of equality under the law is shrouded in doubt.

“We urge the U.S. Senate to oppose the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court.”

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