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AFSCME Mourns Loss of Wisconsin Leader Marty Beil

by Cynthia McCabe  |  October 03, 2015

AFSCME Mourns Loss of Wisconsin Leader Marty Beil AFSCME union leader Marty Beil speaks to workers in Wisconsin.

The live, on-air interview with AFSCME union leader Marty Beil wasn’t even over and MSNBC host Chris Matthews could barely contain his glee.

“You look like the real thing to me sir, I’d like to meet you some time,” Matthews said.

Beil deflected the personal attention, and without hesitating pointed to the tens of thousands of protesters amassed behind him on the Wisconsin statehouse grounds.

“Chris, this is where democracy is,” Beil said with pride. “Right here. The people walking and the people talking.”

A grinning, impressed Matthews ended the segment with more praise. “This guy was great. I mean this is the kind of evocative leader you want to get (in) the labor movement.”

For thousands of families across Wisconsin and countless more across the nation, Beil was indeed the real thing. A fierce and courageous advocate for working people, he died at his home in Mazomanie, Wisc., Thursday at the age of 68.

Beil recently retired after more than 40 years as an AFSCME leader, culminating in his position as the executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, AFSCME Council 24. He began his career in 1969 as a Wisconsin probation and parole officer. He quickly became active in the union, serving as president of his statewide local and a member of its bargaining team. In 1978, he was elected Council 24 president, a position he held until becoming the council’s executive director in 1985.

But it was during the 2011 protests ignited by Gov. Scott Walker’s vicious attacks on Wisconsin public workers that Beil was thrust into the national spotlight. From the steps of the statehouse, inside the rotunda, on television, and on radio airwaves, Beil rallied workers, students, retirees, and community allies to rise up in defense of workers’ rights. He helped light a spark that reignited the labor movement.

In turn, people across this nation joined together in defense of workers’ rights. Beil helped change the conversation about what it means to respect the dignity of working men and women.

Today, all public service workers in Wisconsin are unified in the newly formed Council 32. Public support for unions is at its highest levels since 2008, and Beil’s message of fairness for all working people is front and center in a national discussion of income inequality. Scott Walker was recently forced to abandon his campaign for president.

Pres. Lee Saunders honored Beil Friday and pointed to his influence not only on what happened in Wisconsin, but on the very infrastructure of labor activism in this country.

“A generation of labor activists learned from Beil and were inspired by his determination and unwavering courage,” Saunders said. “Their commitment and passion is his legacy. He backed up his words with actions. He never asked anybody to make sacrifices that he wasn’t willing to make himself. Today, our union is stronger than ever because of Marty Beil’s dedication and lifetime of service.”

Within his AFSCME family, Beil was regarded as a gentle giant: outspoken and pointed with foes of working men and women, but a soft-spoken mentor and friend to his union sisters and brothers, and colleagues. He is survived by his wife, Susan, his children, Natalie, Audra, and Nick, and his granddaughter, Trinity.

Even as he was retiring this summer, Beil remained committed to advancing the cause of working men and women in this country. It was his life’s passion, and that wasn’t going to end on his last day of work.

“I have a strong message,” Beil wrote in an email to his Wisconsin union family. “Workers will eventually prevail. Working families will once again set the agenda.”

Big Win: More Time with Family

by Mark McCullough   |  October 01, 2015

Big Win: More Time with Family The historic Seminole Inn anchors the town business and social communities of Indiantown, Florida.

Just a few minutes’ drive from the banks of Florida’s Lake Okeechobee, Indiantown was founded as a trading post by members of the Seminole tribe living in the surrounding Everglades following the Third Seminole War.

While the railroad and horse racing changed the community when it was incorporated into the new Martin County in the 1920s, Indiantown remains a small town. But it is a small town with a big AFSCME voice.

That strong voice at work was helpful to Lynn Eastwood, a paraprofessional child care attendant at an adult learning center and an AFSCME Local 597 member for almost her entire 25-year career.

“I get to help parents support their families and further themselves by providing care for their children while they are completing courses for their GED or learning English,” said Eastwood. “Our community values family, it values the power of education and I love children. So it is the perfect spot for me.”

Recently, Eastwood got a new manager and a new work schedule that had her working seven and a half hours.

“My previous boss said that because of breaks I had to work eight hours if I wanted to be paid for a full day, seven and a half hours,” said Eastwood. “I love my job, I love what I do, but it seemed that something was wrong at some point so I quickly got my union involved.”

Although the staff is small, every eligible employee is an AFSCME member. So once the local’s president made inquiries with the Martin County School District, the response was quick – seven and a half means seven and a half, and they are going to pay her for the extra time she had worked before.

While the money will certainly be helpful to Eastwood, whose husband only recently was able to return to work, the most important aspect is the extra time she will get to share with her granddaughter, eight-year-old Isabella.

“Now I can pick her up a half hour earlier, and being able to have more time with her and for my family is the biggest win of all,” said Eastwood. “So you can be sure that I’ve been telling everyone that my voice at work was heard loud and clear thanks to AFSCME.” 






Gov. Rauner Threatens to Stop Health Care Payments

by David Patterson  |  September 30, 2015

Gov. Rauner Threatens to Stop Health Care Payments Photo by David Kreisman

After nearly 12 weeks of false bravado and bluster over negotiating a workable state budget, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has stopped all payments to doctors, hospitals and others that provide health care to the more than 360,000 state and university employees, retirees and their families covered by the state’s insurance plan.

“The extent to which the situation prompts health-care providers to request or demand patients pay the entire cost of medical services up front remains to be seen,” the (Springfield) State Journal-Register  reported, “but it’s unprecedented for the state to stop paying claims, even temporarily, for large numbers of people.”

“The state has never said, 'We're not paying claims,' before,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME Council 31, which represents more than 40,000 state and university employees who participate in the health plan. 

Council 31 has filed suit seeking a court order to compel the Rauner administration to make the health care payments.

Social service groups are also sounding alarms that some services are at risk unless a budget deal is made soon. After-school programs for teens, early childhood intervention, autism assistance, domestic violence shelters and services, funeral and burial services for the poor, and programs to help parents prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome all may be suspended.

“It won’t be long before damage is longstanding,” said Emily Miller, policy and advocacy director for the nonprofit group Voices for Illinois Children.

The Rauner administration has denied that the threat of halting payments for health care was designed to put pressure on the General Assembly to adopt the governor's so-called "turnaround agenda," pro-business and anti-labor initiatives that he claims are needed for a budget to be finalized.

“It’s long past due for the governor to stop political posturing, drop his extraneous preconditions and get down to the work of developing a budget plan together with state lawmakers,” Lindall told the State Journal-Register.

Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Members Take a Stand Against Chicago Mayor’s Airport Plan

by David Kreisman  |  September 25, 2015

Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Members Take a Stand Against Chicago Mayor’s Airport Plan

Cab service at Chicago’s two major airports came to a halt for nearly two hours on Sept. 23 during a job action led by members of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500. Their work stoppage was in protest to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to allow Uber and Lyft access to the airports without having to follow rules governing taxi drivers.

“Uber provides the exact same service as licensed cab drivers, but nothing in the mayor’s proposal makes them play by the same rules we do,” said Cheryl Miller, a veteran Chicago cab driver and member of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500.

Miller, among the licensed cab drivers who refused to pick up passengers at Midway and O’Hare airports, said they are required to go to school to receive their chauffeur’s license, undergo extensive background checks and drug tests, and their cabs are inspected twice a year by a city-approved garage. Not only does this reassure the public that the person driving them and the car they’re riding in are safe, it ensures the high level of professionalism the public has come to expect. The mayor’s proposal doesn’t include any of these provisions.

Godwin Anetekhai, a taxi owner/operator and member of Cab Drivers United, said AFSCME Local 2500 recently released a plan “showing how the city could raise $65 million a year just by making Uber follow the rules. Our plan would also provide concrete protections for good jobs and public safety. Instead, the mayor would give a sweetheart deal to a $50 billion corporation while hurting Chicago cab drivers who live and work throughout our city.”

Anetekhai added that licensed drivers “pay thousands of dollars in fees to stay in compliance each and every year” but that Mayor Emanuel’s proposal “would allow Uber to provide the same service I do, but without following the rules. It unfairly penalizes small business owners like me who work hard to build a business and contribute to our city.”

“Last year, drivers formed our union with AFSCME because our voices weren’t being heard by the city,” Miller added. “We took action today to send a strong message to Mayor Emanuel that our importance cannot be overlooked. We keep Chicago running, and it’s high time we’re treated with the respect we deserve.”

Earn While You Learn in Sacramento, California

by Sookyung Oh  |  September 25, 2015

Earn While You Learn in Sacramento, California Seated: Steve Gutierrez, DAS; Roy Kim, SETA; Karmen Lee Ortloff, AFSCME Council 57. Standing: Bob Lanter, CWA; Stephen Wright, BCOE; Dianna Nash, SETA; Jessica Rainey, SETA

Apprenticeships are a win-win for workers and employers. They are a time-tested approach to training and developing skilled labor, and one solution for employers worried about finding and retaining quality workers.

And now, the state of California will reap the benefits as AFSCME Local 146 at the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA) launches a first of its kind apprenticeship this fall.

With no cost to participate, AFSCME members will earn while they learn at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS).  Successful completion of the program guarantees members step into the workforce development professional Level III position, which for many of the participants who are at the top of their current wage scale, would result in more than a 9 percent increase in pay.

“Apprenticeships are always more successful when there is an inter-agency effort in developing the program. In the case of this initiative, it was imperative that AFSCME, SETA, California Workforce Association (CWA), Department of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS), California Community College Chancellor’s Office, CSUS, and Butte County Office of Education (BCOE),  work together to create the best partnership possible,” said BCOE’s Stephen Wright.

For Local 146, the apprenticeship program is a big win.  Local 146 Pres. Belinda Malone states that AFSCME members are “stakeholders at the decision-making table.” AFSCME will have a voting seat on the oversight board for the program and apprentices going through the program will be part of the board as well.

In announcing the program, Local 146 SETA Chapter Pres. Jessica Rainey explains: “It has been so tough to have upward mobility. This is a pathway with guaranteed wage increases. Our union has fought and won this privilege for our members after two years of hard work and constant communication with management. The result is a wonderful opportunity for our members.”

Wright adds, “This apprenticeship program is going to be a model for other state agencies to follow. The directive from the governor’s office to implement apprenticeship in new settings has been answered and will be observed, very closely. It is a unique opportunity to help make organizations more efficient and more consistent, across the state, with their training programs.”


How Latinos Can Reinvigorate the Labor Movement

by Pablo Ros  |  September 24, 2015

How Latinos Can Reinvigorate the Labor Movement In Puerto Rico, public sector workers have joined the labor movement and found a voice on the job through AFSCME.

At a time when many labor unions are seeking new members, Latino workers in the United States, especially immigrants, often find themselves voiceless. Hence, a new report suggests, “Latinos are perfectly positioned to join unions in large numbers.”

The report, released this week by the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), declares that Latino workers “are currently the most vulnerable workers in the nation and need the protections and benefits that unions can provide.”

Latino men and women often labor in abusive work environments and have low-wage jobs. They are victims of the highest rates of minimum wage violations, a form of wage theft. They have the lowest levels of pension coverage and health insurance coverage. They too often are victims of sexual assault and child labor – some 600,000 children work in the fields today, according to the report.

“Unionization will provide this widely exploited population with a louder voice and protections to improve their working conditions and economic standing,” the report reads. “Widespread unionization of Latino workers can reinvigorate the labor movement while improving Latinos’ economic conditions through better jobs, higher wages and benefits.”

LCLAA is the foremost national organization for Latino workers. For more than four decades, it has worked to protect the rights of working Latinos and raise national awareness of the issues that affect Latino workers’ wellbeing.

The report, titled, “Latino Workers and Unions: A Strategic Partnership for America’s Progress,” notes that while unionization rates in the private sector have decreased for many years, the number of Latinos who joined the labor movement has increased.

LCLAA advises unions to reach out to Latino workers.

“If unions are to survive and rebuild in the near future, there is no doubt that Latinos and all minorities will have to join the labor movement,” the report states. “Latino engagement will be critical to recruiting more Latino workers into labor unions.”   

High Poverty Rate a Distress Call for More Worker Rights

by Pablo Ros  |  September 22, 2015

High Poverty Rate a Distress Call for More Worker Rights

Every year, the federal government publishes a report on the number of people in our country who live below the poverty line. Last year, it was 46.7 million people – a country the size of Spain.

The report released last week shows that despite the economic recovery, our nation’s poverty rate at 14.8 percent is unacceptably high and remains stuck above pre-recession levels. It’s a reminder that not enough is being done to create an economy that works for all.

The poverty stats are also a reminder that those who would do away with government programs have it all wrong. In fact, without government assistance, the situation would be even worse. In 2014:

  • Social Security kept 25.9 million people out of poverty
  • Food stamps (SNAP) kept 4.7 million people out of poverty
  • Unemployment insurance kept just under 1 million people out of poverty

Right-wing extremists who wish to eliminate the social safety net are many of the same politicians who criticize labor unions. This is not a coincidence. It’s a proven fact that labor unions help raise wages not just for their members but for all workers in general. They help make the economy work for everyone, not just special interests or the wealthiest 1 percent.

In this sense, labor unions help pull families out of poverty and strengthen America’s middle class. They serve to balance the economy by improving economic mobility and reducing income inequality.

Corporate CEOs and special interests have manipulated the rules to make it harder for working people to join together, speak up and get ahead. At a time when many American families are struggling to make ends meet, we need more organized labor power, not less.

Paramedic Activist Seeks to Lift Up EMS Profession

by Justin Lee  |  September 22, 2015

Paramedic Activist Seeks to Lift Up EMS Profession Photo: Left to right –Ohio paramedics James Forsythe and Jeff Bickford, and California paramedic Jared Kirby. Credit Justin Lee.

TOLEDO, Ohio — When California paramedic Jared Kirby heard about EMS professionals in Ohio organizing for better patient care and safety at LifeStar Ambulance, he was the first to volunteer his help. Kirby, an AFSCME Local 4911 member from Sonoma County, traveled all the way to Toledo to share his union experience with EMTs and paramedics uniting for a better future.

“I’m out here this week because they need a better work environment for themselves and their patients,” said Kirby. “Building our union is how we stop companies from taking advantage of our profession.”

Kirby began his EMS career eight years ago at a nonunion company and understands the importance of having a strong collective voice. Meeting with local paramedics and EMTs at informational meetings, in their homes, and over the phone, he spoke about the difference the union makes for their profession.

“At my first EMS job, we had no support system and little training,” he said. “Just by looking at our equipment, you could tell the company cared more about profit than patients.”

Kirby went on to work for American Medical Response and joined AFSCME in 2012. Earlier this year, he and his coworkers secured a union contract improving worker and patient safety by ensuring rest periods between work shifts.

“Our union is our voice,” said Kirby. “And that’s how we fight for the betterment of EMS as a whole and make it a respected public safety profession. We’re going to keep pushing until every EMS worker is well-rested, well-equipped and well-trained to provide the best patient care possible.”

A union election is underway for EMS professionals at LifeStar, and ballots will be counted on Sept. 30. If victorious, they’ll be joining more than 24,000 EMS professional across the country who have united with AFSCME.

Puerto Rico Members Visit DC to Seek Solutions to Fiscal Crisis

by Pablo Ros  |  September 21, 2015

Puerto Rico Members Visit DC to Seek Solutions to Fiscal Crisis After visiting Washington, DC, to ask for help during Puerto Rico’s fiscal crisis, public workers returned to the island and rallied to defend workers’ rights. Photo Credit: AFSCME Council 95

A delegation of public workers from Puerto Rico, members of Servidores Públicos Unidos de Puerto Rico (SPUPR), AFSCME Council 95, visited Washington, DC, to meet with members of Congress and U.S. Treasury officials to discuss the fiscal and budgetary challenges faced by working people on the island. The delegation also urged Congress to increase the Medicaid contribution to Puerto Rico and eliminate caps.

AFSCME representatives of the island’s public workers have taken the lead in searching for a solution to the current fiscal crisis that prioritizes the wellbeing of working people and preserves the government’s essential services.

“The public sector is one of the most affected by the crisis in our country, so it is important that Congress hear this message from public workers,” said Annette González, president of SPUPR. “To us it is necessary and inevitable for the federal government to adopt a more prominent and supportive role for Puerto Rico.”

The delegation’s visit had the following goals:

  • Presenting to Congress and the U.S. Treasury the fiscal and budgetary challenges that Puerto Rico faces and how they are affecting those who count on public services and the workers who provide them.
  • Expressing opposition to government proposals aimed at eliminating fundamental labor rights such as the 8-hour work day, and attempts to reduce or eliminate the minimum wage and other labor standards.
  • Requesting that the percentage contribution the federal government gives to Puerto Rico under Medicaid be raised and the cap eliminated. Federal health programs are vital for Puerto Rico because of the high level of poverty on the island. Yet, Medicaid payments to Puerto Rico are lower than funds paid to states.

Also, members of the delegation told the personal stories of those who have suffered enormously from the crisis. “Our goal was to show the faces of those who are affected every day by erroneous decisions or the absence of decision making in addressing the crisis,” González said.

Treasury Department officials also met with Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla, and on Sept. 17 urged Congress to provide Puerto Rico with legislation allowing the island to restructure its debts.

Meanwhile, upon their return, SPUPR members participated in a march defending labor rights.

For more information on the delegation’s visit and to see photos, please go to SPUPR’s Facebook page.

Right-to-Work Defeated Again in Missouri

by Michael Byrne  |  September 21, 2015

Right-to-Work Defeated Again in Missouri

The Missouri Legislature could not muster the votes necessary to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a “right-to-work” bill, preventing the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) from claiming a 26th state with the anti-worker law.

The 96-63 vote to override the veto fell 13 votes short, as legislators from both sides of the aisle sided with the labor movement against the attack from out-of-state special interests pushing the right-to-work scam.

Unions rallied in Jefferson City ahead of the vote, warning Republicans and Democrats alike that the right-to-work scam is nothing more than an attack on working families and that unions will stand up for the middle class.

The vote came the day after the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that a “right-to-work” ballot initiative specify in its title that workers who benefit from a union contract would avoid paying for the efforts to negotiate that contract – finally truth in advertising on so-called “right to work.”

While labor was successful in beating back the right-to-work scam in Missouri, the Legislature did manage to push through an anti-worker bill banning cities from raising the minimum wage above the state level of $7.65 an hour. Governor Nixon vetoed that measure but the Legislature overrode his action. Both the St. Louis and Kansas City councils had approved eventually raising their minimum wages above the state limit.

But unions could take comfort in how the right-to-work scam was being portrayed in Missouri newspapers. Just before the vote, the Kansas City Star editorial pointed out that ALEC lobbyists won support for the bill by wining and dining legislators. The editorial board urged lawmakers to uphold Nixon’s veto, saying:

“Missouri needs unions. At a time when hard-working people are demanding livable wages and a measure of security for their families, it should not become the 26th state to undermine collective bargaining.”

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