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OCSEA Presses Case of Understaffed Prisons

by Clyde Weiss  |  February 10, 2016

OCSEA Presses Case of Understaffed Prisons Understaffing continues to put corrections officers in danger in the Mansfield, Ohio, prison facility. (Photo courtesy OCSEA)

Correctional officer Mollie Jansen and some of her colleagues at Ohio’s Mansfield Correctional Institution are helping to put a human face on the critical issue of understaffing that is threatening the health and safety of officers and inmates at the state facility.

Jansen, who has worked for almost  three years at the mixed-security prison for men, is a member of Ohio Civil Service Employees Association /AFSCME Local 11, which has been calling on state authorities to fill vacant positions at Mansfield and other correctional institutions in the state to relieve the understaffing. The issue has grown even more critical since last October, when an inmate in Mansfield took a female correction officer (not Jansen) hostage for nearly 11 hours.

This past weekend, the Mansfield News Journal and other Gannett newspapers focused on the issue, airing OCSEA’s concern that “programing and staffing issues” are root causes for the hostage-taking. OCSEA’s efforts to inform the public and elected officials about the issue have made it a subject of news media attention like never before.

The News Journal interviewed CO Jansen about her anxiety working at Mansfield, pointing out “she’s already undergone counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder” that began about six months ago “when an inmate grabbed her as she tried to escort him to his cell and he couldn’t be subdued with pepper spray. Now, she said, she’s had enough. “I won’t stay a correction officer,” the paper quoted her saying. “I can’t. It’s too dangerous.”

The News Journal story noted that of all the state correctional facilities, Mansfield has had the highest number of staff assaults between 2011 and 2013, with 55 injured. The facility, which opened in 1990, housed 2,589 inmates as of Jan. 4, 2016. It has a security staff of 436, according to the prison’s website.

“Statewide, there are 6,547 correction officers, about eight inmates for each correction officer compared to seven to one in November 2008 when the prison population was at its peak,” the paper said.

CO Shawn Gruber, an OCSEA board member, suggested three ways to reduce assaults against staff: lower the prison population, increase correctional staff and listen to staff on the frontlines.

OCSEA also says that state prison officials need to end the practice of allowing officers to work alone with inmates.

The Future for Black Workers

by Tiffanie Bright  |  February 10, 2016

The Future for Black Workers The Rev. Terry Melvin, president of CBTU, introduces the report, “A Future for Workers: A Contribution from Black Labor” (Photo by Cliff Dedrick, AFSCME Local 2743, Council 20)

The AFL-CIO on Feb. 4 launched the first in a series of nationwide symposiums to address the growing economic inequality among U.S. workers – particularly African Americans. Working in partnership with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), the AFL-CIO intends to identify the many ways systemic racism affects black workers, and provide real policy solutions to address the growing disparity.

The typical black household now has just 6 percent of the wealth of the typical white household, according to a Demos report, “The Racial Wealth Gap.” “We need to fix the rules of our economy to treat everyone the same,” said AFL-CIO Exec. Vice. Pres. Tefere Gebre in his welcome address. People of color need the biggest ladder to move up to the middle class, and that way is through public-sector employment, he added.

The steady loss of public-sector jobs after the Great Recession disproportionately affected African Americans. And with the looming threat of an adverse decision in the Supreme Court case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the black middle class might become obsolete.    

“We realize that black workers are the canary in the mines. Everything that happens to labor will happen to us harder,” cautioned the Rev. Terry Melvin, president of CBTU and co-author of “A Future for Workers: A Contribution from Black Labor.”

“Black workers comprise the segment of the working class that normally is subject to the forward thrusts of employer offensives. It is the segment of the working class that suffers the most from unemployment and underemployment,” the report concludes.

Now more than ever, African-American workers need good jobs with strong benefits and wages. And just as urgently, labor needs to organize black workers to grow the labor movement.

William Lucy on How We Win: Union

by Michael Byrne  |  February 08, 2016

William Lucy on How We Win: Union William Lucy, former secretary-treasurer of AFSCME, recounts important historical milestones as he celebrates Black History Month. (Photo by Kevin Contee)

Former AFSCME Sec.-Treas. William Lucy returned to the union’s headquarters Feb. 8 to celebrate Black History Month, declaring that low-wage jobs are the new slavery and that unions – particularly AFSCME – are powerful instruments that can bring people together and elevate dignity and respect for all working people.

“AFSCME started as just an idea, because we were not granted the same rights that unions in the public sector got under Franklin Roosevelt,” he said.  “We’ve had to fight for everything we’ve gotten, turning our good idea into a great organization. We’ve empowered African Americans, and all public service workers.”

Lucy was introduced by AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders, who noted not only his nearly five decades of leadership with AFSCME, but also Lucy’s work as the president of Public Service International, which represents millions of public service workers around the globe, and how he co-founded both the Free South Africa Movement and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU).

“Bill was also in Memphis in 1968, working with the 1,300 sanitation workers, standing shoulder to shoulder with them as they fought for representation with AFSCME,” President Saunders said. “This union is in his heart, and his soul, and his blood.”

Lucy traced historical milestones that benefited African Americans and AFSCME, such as President Kennedy’s executive order that opened union representation for federal public employees, and which AFSCME used in lobbying state governments to expand union rights for public service workers. While many African Americans were leery of President Johnson, he said, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act that came out of his administration are landmarks.

The formation of the CBTU came about because African-American trade unionists were disappointed that the AFL-CIO decided to remain “neutral” in the Presidential race between Richard Nixon and George McGovern, Lucy said. “We thought there was a big difference between the two, so we called a meeting in Chicago. We were not the only ones concerned, because 1,300 other black trade unionists showed up for that meeting.”

Lucy compared President Obama to FDR, noting that the two had pulled our nation out of great depressions and recessions. “And now the same crowd that caused our problems are asking for another chance.”

He said the coalition of labor, African Americans, women and Hispanics is key for progressives to win elections. “Our opponents want to divide and conquer, but if we stay united, we will win.”

Judge Rules Local ‘Right to Work’ Illegal

by Michael Byrne  |  February 05, 2016

Judge Rules Local ‘Right to Work’ Illegal

A federal judge has ruled that a Kentucky local government meddled illegally in efforts to undermine workers’ rights, passing a so-called right-to-work ordinance. These types of ordinances are pushed by anti-worker organizations like the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)

Twelve local jurisdictions in Kentucky have passed such ordinances since 2014, despite a ruling by former Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway they were illegal. The local ordinances were a top priority by ALEC, but AFSCME Indiana-Kentucky Council 962 fought back.

In his ruling, invalidating an ordinance passed in Hardin County, U.S. District Court Judge David Hale said that only state governments can opt out of the federal law that allows “agency shop” agreements that require employees to either pay union dues or “agency fees” to an organization elected to represent them by the majority of workers in a bargaining unit.

“ALEC thought it could push this through local councils – and it’s trying the same thing in Illinois and other states,” said Debra Garcia, executive director of Council 962. “But we had good reason to believe the law was on our side, and this ruling confirms it. Now we have to redouble our efforts in the state legislature to make sure this right-to-work scam isn’t revived.”

While Kentucky’s new governor, Matt Bevin, has taken aim at state employees, pro-worker legislators hold a slim lead in the state House of Representatives. Council 962 will be working hard to ensure that workers’ rights are not diminished further. The current session is expected to continue until mid-April.

California Home Care Providers Win Overtime Pay

by Kevin Brown  |  February 05, 2016

California Home Care Providers Win Overtime Pay UDW home care providers rally in Sacramento for overtime and other fair pay provisions. (Photo by Eli Magana)

After years of advocating to improve the standard of care for California home care clients, In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) providers began to receive overtime pay and pay for travel time and medical accompaniment time from the State of California – for the first time ever.

Until this week, caregivers did not receive basic labor protections under the Fair Labor Standards Act to ensure quality care for the state’s 400,000 IHSS clients. Now, thanks to the advocacy of AFSCME and its allies, home care providers will be fully paid for their work. The new rules went into effect Feb. 1.

“This is a historic win. After years of hard work, home care providers will finally gain the respect and equal treatment they deserve,” said Doug Moore, executive director of UDW/AFSCME Local 3930, the Homecare Providers Union  and an AFSCME International vice president. “This victory shows us what we can accomplish when we work together!”

But it didn’t come without a fight. An anti-worker group attempted to stop the new rules in court, and state lawmakers proposed a 40-hour cap that would disrupt continuity of care for many IHSS clients and dramatically reduce work hours for a fifth of the IHSS workforce. UDW/AFSCME members spent countless hours rallying, lobbying, knocking on doors, writing letters and making phone calls to stop anti-worker proposals and finally win the same labor protections other workers enjoy.

Their work gained IHSS providers $850 million in state and federal dollars to fund overtime, travel time and medical accompaniment time, which not only helps workers pay for housing, groceries, utilities and other improvements, but also ensures quality care for nearly half a million seniors and people with disabilities across California.

“I work overtime every week, providing care for my uncle,” explained Roy Pridemore, a home care worker in Orange County. “We live paycheck-to-paycheck, and sometimes I have to take payday loans just to keep up with the bills. Winning overtime pay is a huge stress reliever, and I’m so proud that caregivers and our union had a hand in making this happen.” 

At the same time, UDW and allies continue to advocate to ensure home care clients will not see hours of care reduced due to the new regulations, and have already secured several exemptions to hourly workweek limits to meet the needs of clients and family caregivers.

Iowa Among States Leading Way for Equal Pay

by David Patterson  |  February 03, 2016

Iowa Among States Leading Way for Equal Pay Iowa Senate President Pam Jochum speaks in support of a bill aimed at closing the gender pay gap.

DES MOINES, Iowa – State legislators here, joined by supporters from around the state, introduced a new bill aimed at closing the gender pay gap. Iowa was one of 21 states to introduce equal pay legislation during the week of the seventh anniversary of President Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Jan. 29. 

Bills also are being offered in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Washington, Vermont, Virginia, Utah, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Nebraska, Missouri, Maryland, Louisiana, Kansas, Hawaii, Colorado, Arizona and Alaska.

In Iowa, bill sponsors Rep. Marti Anderson and Senate Pres. Pam Jochum joined with Iowa women impacted by pay discrimination at an event organized by SIX, the State Innovation Exchange.

“We’ve had an equal pay law in Iowa and it has no teeth and no effective penalties,” said Rep. Anderson. Speaking of her legislation, she added, “It’s time to put those in place.”

Progress on closing the gender pay gap has long been stalled. Today, women in Iowa earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. For women of color, the gap is much greater, with African-American women making 61 cents and Latinas only 57 cents per dollar made by white men.

“You can imagine how disheartened I was when I learned the male cooks I oversaw earned two dollars more an hour than I did,” said Anne Taylor, an Iowa worker in the restaurant business. “And to know that men and women of color were making less. This is not just a women’s issue. It’s a family issue. It is an equality issue. And it is unacceptable for our local government to keep ignoring it.”

Wage fairness isn’t the only benefit that laws with real teeth can provide.

“Equal pay is more than dollars and cents; it’s about respect, dignity and equality in the workplace,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. “President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to address the pay gap between men and women. The ink has more than dried on this bill, and it is time for women across the country to stop being short-changed.

Read more about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act here.

Indiana-Kentucky Council 962 is Born

by Michael Byrne  |  February 02, 2016

Indiana-Kentucky Council 962 is Born Sandy Mayes, right, accepts the nomination to be vice president of the new AFSCME Council 962 as the new president, Michael Torres (in green), and executive board member Ben Burris applaud. (Photo by Ron Richmond, AFSCME 962 )

Recognizing the remarkable success AFSCME members have had in organizing and mobilizing workers in Indiana and Kentucky, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders told the founding convention of Council 962 in Indianapolis that the new council is “a prime example of working people fighting for a better life.”

“This renewed focus on internal organizing is causing a culture shift within AFSCME,” President Saunders said. “Councils and locals, no matter how big or how small, are empowering themselves to make change, rather than wait for someone from ‘the union’ to do it for them. Our members – and our activists – are making change.”

Over the past year, the union signed up 729 new members, converted 456 agency fee payers to full-fledged members and signed up more than 1,000 new PEOPLE MVPs – those who donate at least $100 annually to the union’s political action fund. More than 3,700 members were assessed through direct conversations, and 10 coaches and 518 activists received AFSCME Strong training.

This success occurred despite the fact that Indiana is now a so-called “right-to-work” state, and members in Kentucky had to fight off the spread of right-to-work county ordinances throughout last year.

Debra Garcia, a 36-year veteran whose career began with AFSCME Indiana-Kentucky, was elected to be the executive director of the new council, and she vowed to continue the fight to grow the union, build political power in the two states, “and to create the future we deserve.”

“When we know our calling deep in our hearts, our work becomes easier,” she told the delegates. “Organizing becomes our number one goal. It is our job to bring others into the fight so that they too can channel their outrage and energy into change.”

AFSCME Council 962 also can claim credit for several impressive external organizing victories – the St. Joseph County, Indiana, 911 operations voting overwhelmingly to join the union, and the AFSCME Local 4468 members working at the Lexington-Fayette County, Kentucky, Solid Waste Management fighting for a first contract through three years of stonewalling and efforts by management to decertify the union.

“Members have every right to be proud of the work you have done, and feel ready for the battles ahead,” President Saunders said. “You will never quit!”

 

AFSCME Volunteers Rally with Bill Clinton in Iowa

by David Patterson  |  February 01, 2016

AFSCME Volunteers Rally with Bill Clinton in Iowa Former President Bill Clinton tells union members in Iowa, “You’ve got to have someone in the Oval Office who will protect you against the continual all-out assault on the labor movement.”

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – After a full day knocking doors and making phone calls for Secretary Hillary Clinton on the eve of the Iowa Caucus, more than 400 volunteers from AFSCME and other unions joined former President Bill Clinton at the Machinists union hall for a Get Out The Caucus event.

“You’ve got to have someone in the Oval Office who will protect you against the continual all-out assault on the labor movement,” Clinton said. “We have a candidate committed to shared prosperity and I just want you to remember that you can get it. Take your wife and your kids to the caucus. Take your neighbor. Get any one you can to take part.”

Learn how you can get involved in primaries in your state by clicking here.

With chants of “Hillary, Hillary!” from the packed crowd, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders revved up the union members, reminding them that the next President could be responsible for nominating at least three U.S. Supreme Court justices, and the effect their decisions could have on all working people.

During AFSCME’s get-out-the-caucus program, AFSCME members knocked over 8,000 doors to ensure AFSCME members will be at their caucuses supporting Secretary Clinton on Monday night.

In Florida, Stepping Up the Drive for Respect

by Mark McCullough  |  February 01, 2016

In Florida, Stepping Up the Drive for Respect

The hardworking AFSCME Florida women and men who serve in state government, now in the midst of contract negotiations, have ramped up their internal organizing campaign while reaching out to elected officials, talking about what it means to invest in state services and those who provide them.

And leaders across the state, on both sides of the political aisle, are asking the question if Florida is investing enough in these dedicated employees, and if there are adequate staffing levels and proper compensation for taxpayers to get the level of services they deserve. 

Florida now has fewer than 100 full-time state employees per 10,000 residents – less than half the national average – a result of anti-worker Gov. Rick Scott’s relentless cuts. As positions have been cut, overtime and weekend work have become expected just to keep up.

“If you want good government then you have to pay for it,” said state Sen. Bill Montford.

“If you want government to run efficiently, like a business, then you have to have an adequate number of employees, but we don’t even know how many state employees we should have in Florida.”

At the same time, state employees have gone eight years without a change in their pay, not even cost of living adjustments. The year they did get a 3 percent increase was the same year they were required to pay 3 percent more into their retirement. Not surprisingly, even as there are fewer positions, the high turnover rate has led to a sharp increase in job vacancies as fewer people see a career in public service as rewarding.

Senate Pres. Andy Gardiner told reporters before the start of the legislative session that he wants to see consideration of a pay raise for state employees as part of the overall budget.

While there is a long way to go, the progress made so far proves that when members get AFSCME Strong, take a bipartisan approach to nonpartisan issues and provide quality public services, lawmakers will listen.

Why Hillary Clinton Matters to Iowans

by Danny Homan, President of AFSCME Iowa Council 61  |  February 01, 2016

Why Hillary Clinton Matters to Iowans AFSCME member Patty Erskine introduces Hillary Clinton at a rally in Davenport, Iowa.

I spend a lot of time driving across Iowa, talking with the 13,000 men and women of our union about the issues that matter most to them, on the job and at their homes. These are the things that keep them up at night — how they’re going to provide for their families, how they’re going to send their children to college without a mountain of debt, and how they’ll save enough to retire with financial peace of mind.

For some politicians these are abstractions, or at least they seem to be because the policies they push are utterly disconnected from the needs of regular folks. For the media that descends on our state every four years, these issues are fodder for soundbites and not much substantive exploration. But for those of us living and working in Iowa, they are with us daily.

It’s why so many AFSCME members in Iowa do what may be incomprehensible to the average citizen in the rest of the country: in below-freezing weather, we give up our early mornings, nights, and weekends to support the presidential candidate who we know really understands how important this fight for our families and our livelihoods is.

In 2016, our candidate for president is Hillary Clinton. Put simply, she gets it.

It doesn’t matter if it’s in Davenport or Des Moines, Cedar Rapids or Muscatine. The members of our union share common values in Iowa and we work together on common concerns. We’re supporting Hillary Clinton in the caucus on Monday because our state and our nation needs a fighter who will stand with us to create jobs, increase the minimum wage, safeguard worker rights, ensure equal pay for equal work, continue the effort to make health care more affordable, and protect pensions.

It’s a concrete need for Chris Weinard, one of the people I talk to on my travels across the state. She’s an AFSCME member in Iowa City whose husband is retired and whose children are eyeing an uncertain job market. “Our household isn’t unique,” Chris tells me. “We have young adult children who are facing a tougher working world than we did at that age. Hillary is the one who can get things done for families like mine.”

This past week, the Des Moines Register agreed, saying, “No other candidate can match the depth of breadth of her knowledge and experience.”

If you talk to Jerry Jones, a corrections officer from Newton, Iowa, he’ll explain what’s motivating him to knock on doors and make phone calls for Hillary Clinton. He first met her a few years back and was impressed by how approachable she was, taking the time to listen to him until she had a complete understanding of the issues he was concerned about.

For Jerry, those issues include concern about the rights of workers. As a corrections officer, his ability to come together with his fellow officers in our union and negotiate for safer staffing levels and proper training and equipment is quite literally a matter of life and death. The next president will likely appoint three if not four Supreme Court justices, and any further tilt toward a right-wing judicial agenda that favors corporations over people will be disastrous.

“Looking at the Supreme Court alone, it really hits me just how high the stakes are,” Jerry says. “Hillary is clearly the most experienced candidate who can win for working people both at the polls and as president.”

Hillary Clinton talks with residents at a forum in Iowa City Hillary Clinton talks with residents at a forum in Iowa City.

And for Patty Erskine of Muscatine, Hillary Clinton’s drive for equal pay for women hits close to home, as does the candidate’s tireless effort to ensure all Americans have access to affordable health care. Erskine’s son is disabled and it’s imperative to her family that his health care coverage isn’t jeopardized by the threats launched at the Affordable Care Act by right-wing presidential candidates.

Patty, Chris, and Jerry certainly aren’t alone in their concerns or their desire to make their voices heard in this presidential election. On Feb. 1, they’ll be caucusing with tens of thousands of other Iowans. After months of work, caucus night is just a final few hours (and for the uninitiated, it’s fun and easy) and it becomes the most important step to propel Hillary Clinton over the finish line in Iowa.

It’s not too late to get involved Monday night. Take a quick visit to our website, WeVoteWeWin.org, to find out where your nearby caucus location is and to see how simple it is to caucus. Then make a plan for the evening; you should be there by 6:30 p.m., regardless of your location.

If you take this step, and take this stand, you’ll wake up on Tuesday morning knowing you’ve made a difference not just for yourself, but for all working families across Iowa.

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