by Pablo Ros | May 01, 2015
LINTHICUM HEIGHTS, Md. – With the ultimate goal of improving public services and quality of life for middle-class families, 100 AFSCME activists and staff from the East Coast and Puerto Rico came together this week for AFSCME Strong training.
Despite attacks against public workers, our union has grown since January 2014 by 140,000 new members. Through our AFSCME Strong campaign, we’ll become even stronger. By training 5 percent of AFSCME members to connect one-on-one with their coworkers, our goal is to engage 80 percent of our 1.6 million members nationwide. training.
The AFSCME Strong training at the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies (MITAGS) brought together members from Council 67 and Council 3 (Maryland), Council 95 (Puerto Rico), Council 71, Council 52 and Council 1 (New Jersey), Council 20 and Council 26 (Washington, DC), and Local 2250 (Maryland).
“It’s been very helpful,” said Anissa Pierce-Sessoms of the training. The treasurer of Local 1081 (Council 3) added, “It’s given me the ability to help lead us in the next steps of what we need to do in Maryland.”
During the second day of training, participants went out into the community to speak to their fellow AFSCME public workers. Almost half of the people reached said they would strengthen their commitment to the union. And participants signed up 11 new PEOPLE contributors.
“I enjoyed going out and knocking on doors,” said Corey Upchurch, vice president of Local 1959 (Council 20). “I was engaged in conversation. I heard their stories.”
“The training was just wonderful,” said Dorothy Bryant, of Local 44 (Council 67). “At times like these we really need to be together.”
“We heard people’s concerns,” said Aaron Dixon, of Local 1772 (Council 3). “We explained how our union can help out if they get involved.”
Seth Couslar, the newly elected president of Council 26, said he was looking forward to taking back what he had learned and adapting it to the particular needs of his coworkers. “As president I have to be able to translate it to the executive board and adapt it to the local level,” he said.
by Clyde Weiss | April 30, 2015
Union members and allies raised their voices in loud protest Thursday to oppose so-called “fast track” authority to pass a multi-nation trade agreement that would ship good-paying American jobs to Asia, Central America and other low-wage regions, pushing down wages of U.S. workers.
“We’re going to stop fast track in its tracks and then we’re going to make sure that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and every other trade deal, is in the open, so our elected representatives can make them good trade deals,” said AFL-CIO Sec. Treas. Elizabeth Shuler, who officiated at the rally in the lobby of the AFL-CIO in Washington, DC.
“We say no to fast track, we say yes to fair trade,” declared Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America. “We’re tired of the race to the bottom, we’re tired of an $11 trillion trade deficit in the United States. That deficit is Baltimore, it’s St. Louis, it’s my old neighborhood in Philadelphia, it’s every city in America.
Cohen and other labor leaders invoked May Day, International Workers’ Day, and they were joined by allies from immigrant rights groups who said the trade deal is bad for workers in other countries as well. Previous fast-tracked trade deals have pushed Central American farmers off their land, forcing them to migrate north to find jobs.
The union officials, and members of Congress, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have complained about the secretive nature of the fast-track process, which allows trade negotiations to be conducted behind closed doors, preventing scrutiny by the public and meaningful input by Congress.
The bill authorizing the fast-track process was approved recently by the Senate Finance Committee. Lawmakers in both houses are expected to vote on it in May, and both Shuler and Cohen noted that we are making progress in convincing legislators on both sides of the aisle to vote against fast track.
The 12 countries that comprise the agreement make up 40 percent of the world’s economy. They are: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
by David Patterson | April 30, 2015
More than 500 residents and union members of Jefferson County in southern Illinois turned up at their county board meeting April 26 to slam the door on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s anti-worker “turnaround resolution,” aimed at reducing wages for working-class families by passing local “right-to-work” laws.
Made up of AFSCME members and families, and hundreds more union supporters, activists numbered so many the board was obliged to move its meeting out of its chambers and into the lobby. Rauner’s resolution failed to gain any traction when no board member even considered making a motion to support it.
In Adams County, the resolution was tabled after dozens of union members who wanted to speak against the law challenged the board’s one-week-early sign-up. The northern Illinois village of Dixon, Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home, did approve its own resolution on a 4-to-1 vote. However, it wasn’t the resolution Rauner was looking for. The resolution read that “the real agenda of the right-to-work concept is to undercut wages and benefits.”
In all, some 27 local governments across Illinois either defeated or tabled the resolution.
Rauner, who made $61 million last year, has a long list of ills he says are caused by working people joining unions. He claims in Illinois, where only 14 percent of workers are organized, unions are the cause of the state’s pension debt, municipal bankruptcies, Chicago’s public school debt, high property taxes and lack of business investment. But his anti-union rhetoric is wearing thin, according to recent polls.
The governor’s approval rating stood at 36.5 percent, according to a recent poll released by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. A new Public Policy Polling survey also shows that 55 percent of Illinois voters are at odds with Rauner on the right-to-work scam.
“Union members from all walks of life are coming together to ensure that working people continue to have a voice on the job and in the political arena,” said Roberta Lynch, executive director of AFSCME Council 31 and an AFSCME International vice president.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan already issued an opinion that local right-to-work zones are not allowed under current law. Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois-Springfield, said seeking to establish them is "not smart politics" on a number of levels.
“Legally there's probably a problem with federal law. With right-to-work, either a state is or a state isn't,” said Redfield.
by Pablo Ros | April 30, 2015
Thousands of home care providers in Pennsylvania voted in April to form a union to advocate for expanding and improving services for seniors and people with disabilities. With the support of an overwhelming 89 percent, they chose to join United Home Care Workers of Pennsylvania (UHWP) to represent them — standing up for each other, for their careers and for the clients they serve.
UHWP, an AFSCME-SEIU partnership, is now 20,000 Stronger.
“I am thrilled that home care workers from across the state are joining together to create a voice for ourselves and for the consumers in our care,” said Nancy Henry, a mom and full-time home care attendant from Philadelphia. “This is a tremendous step forward in improving the long-term care system for all Pennsylvanians.”
Dolores Heath, a senior citizen living in Pittsburgh who receives services from her grandson, said she’s glad decision makers will finally hear their concerns.
“I’m very thankful that my grandson has been my home care attendant for the last four years, but it hurts to see him struggling to pay for basics like his phone bill,” Heath said. “He works hard and should be paid enough to make ends meet. With a voice for me and my grandson in Harrisburg, we know the system will be improved for consumers and attendants alike.”
Today, state home care providers make $10 to $12 an hour and lack health care benefits. That’s $5 an hour less than what it takes to support a family of four in the state. Home care providers also want to be able to spend more time to properly care for their clients and get safety equipment like bed rails and sturdier wheelchairs.
As Pennsylvania home care providers voted to form their union, many also recognized the need to strengthen their political power. Of those who signed membership cards, 70 percent also became contributors to AFSCME’s political action committee, PEOPLE. Only AFSCME members and their families may contribute to AFSCME PEOPLE.
by Omar Tewfik | April 30, 2015
CLEVELAND – Standing up for retirement security for all Americans during a White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) regional meeting here Monday, AFSCME Ohio retirees amplified the call to preserve, protect and expand Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
Retirees continue to make the case that these earned benefit programs are absolutely essential to millions of Americans, enabling them to pay the bills and afford medical care once they leave the workplace. More than half of American workers do not have pensions, and millions of seniors are unable to save up enough money for retirement, let alone have the money to pay for costly long-term health care.
“We have to keep fighting to make sure future generations of working Americans can retire with security and dignity, said Marian Garth Saffold, from AFSCME Retiree Chapter 1184. “Social Security works, it’s necessary, and it’s popular. These are reasons to expand it, not attack it for political purposes.”
Nearly two out of every three seniors depend on Social Security for most of their income, and Social Security lifts 22.2 million Americans out of poverty. Without it, the poverty rate of our seniors would quadruple to a staggering 44 percent.
Meanwhile, Medicare and Medicaid provide reliable access to health care for older Americans and people with disabilities, preventing millions of aging Americans from falling into poverty because of medical expenses.
“We ought to be expanding Social Security. We ought to be financing long-term care and supports,” said Norman Wernet, also from Chapter 1184, who facilitated a retirement security rally across the street from the WHCoA event.
”We’re saying to people who don’t necessarily have the money to save for retirement that they should not have to bear the entire burden of their poverty as they age,” Wernet said. “It’s unconscionable for members of Congress to allege that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are unearned benefits, that they’re some kind of welfare program.”
Despite the obvious importance of these programs for real retirement security, right-wing politicians and their special interest allies continue to launch political attacks aimed at weakening and even destroying them altogether. But AFSCME retirees are fighting back, participating in WHCoA events in Tampa, Florida, Phoenix, Arizona, and Seattle. Another regional conference will be held in Boston in May.
by Dave Kreisman | April 30, 2015
CHICAGO – Following a two-week period in which two Chicago cab drivers were robbed at knifepoint by a passenger, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 is renewing the call for further reforms to protect Chicago’s 12,000 cab drivers.
“After the brutal murders of our fellow drivers Chinedu Madu and Seneca Richardson last winter, we called on the city to take our safety seriously and take the steps necessary to protect us,” said Cheryl Miller, a veteran Chicago cab driver.
“Before this outbreak of robberies, our union met earlier this month with the Chicago Police Department and talked at length about requiring the installation of a panic button that drivers could use to alert the authorities that there is an issue, providing our location via GPS to dispatch help quickly,” Miller said, “but we’re not seeing change fast enough.”
Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 also advocated for the following further reforms:
- Larger and more visible signage within the cab that alerts passengers to the criminal penalties for assaulting or robbing a cab driver.
- Using existing technology, show passengers they are being recorded by displaying footage from the security camera inside the cab onto the video screen many cabs have in the passenger compartment, providing a similar deterrent as the convenience store that prominently displays security camera footage.
“As cab drivers, we keep our great city moving, day in and day out,” Miller said. “It’s disgraceful that in the face of an epidemic of violence against cab drivers, the city isn’t taking our health and well-being seriously.”
by Tiffany Ricci | April 29, 2015
DAYTON, Ohio – Focusing on communicating and organizing, more than 75 activists gathered here last week to practice the skills needed to lead the AFSCME Strong campaign to protect jobs, ensure financial security, and preserve and improve wages and benefits for workers nationwide.
One-on-one conversations are the key to the AFSCME Strong campaign. As part of the training, activists went door to door to hear firsthand from AFSCME Local 101 members on the issues important to them and their families.
Many Local 101 members went years without real wage increases and had to accept numerous furlough days that cut into take-home pay. Recently Local 101's bargaining committee secured an exceptional contract that banished furlough days, and included wage increases and a uniform allowance.
Buoyed by the success at the bargaining table, AFSCME Strong activists visited more than 115 workers at their homes, and 84 members signed commitment cards. "People were really excited to see AFSCME in the streets and visiting their homes,” said Local 101 Pres. Ann Sulfridge. “The one-on-one conversations are the key to building our union."
The critical nature of the training was not lost on participants. As longtime union activist Eddie Lawson said, "This is one of the most important trainings that I have been involved in. It is crucial that we do the hard work and get this right in order to continue the great work of our union."
by Kevin Brown | April 28, 2015
LAS VEGAS, Nevada—Organizing new members to protect jobs, retirement security, and improve wages and benefits was the focus of AFSCME Strong training workshops in Las Vegas, where activists from southwestern states gathered.
During the first two days, AFSCME trainers engaged with more than three dozen activists from Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Colorado, focusing on techniques for effective one-on-one conversations with their coworkers about the union.
“The skills we learned during this week’s training are essential to building and strengthening our union from the core,” said Justin Miller, executive director of Local 1004 in Utah. "I’m excited to use the tactics we learned and prepare others to do so.”
Highlights of the training included an intense discussion about what is at stake for workers, a detailed overview of the five steps to activating coworkers and the increasing importance of the PEOPLE program – AFSCME’s political action fund.
In addition to the training, AFSCME members joined other Nevada unions and community groups in a We Are One rally to urge legislators to stop the attacks on the middle class. Hundreds gathered at legislative buildings in Las Vegas and Carson City to demand an end to the attacks on workers, students and retirees.
To conclude the transformative AFSCME Strong training, members knocked doors and visited worksites to engage workers about issues at work, to recruit activists and to sign up new members.
by Brian Jennings, Council 61 | April 27, 2015
All across America, there are countless public employees who work every day to help keep us safe. Among them is Elizabeth Cleveland, an emergency communications operator and a member of Local 2364 (AFSCME Iowa Council 61).
Cleveland was only a month past completion of her extensive training as an overnight 911 operator for Pottawattamie County, Iowa, when she received an emergency call in the early morning hours of Oct. 16, 2014. The caller said her father was not breathing. It was her first-ever CPR call, but Cleveland walked the victim’s daughter and wife through the steps of administering CPR.
“Emotion just went to the side,” Cleveland said. “I had to focus on the decisions I had to make to help the person.” Emergency services arrived nine minutes into the call and rushed the patient to the hospital. The patient lived and went home after a few days.
Cleveland recently was recognized with a Lifesaving Award for her work that night. While she said she was honored by the award, she noted, “it wasn’t just me; the victim’s daughter and mother were incredible. The whole communications team did a great job that night. Also, the deputy and fire department personnel who responded had an excellent response time, which made a huge difference in saving the person’s life.”
The job requires an ability to stay calm and multitask. An operator might have to collect information from a caller, give the person medical advice, and dispatch emergency medical, police, and/or fire services all at once. It also requires a strong grasp of local geography: “Give me a hundred block and I can tell you where that is,” remarked Cleveland.
She said the support from her sisters and brothers in AFSCME Local 2364 had been “overwhelming.” She added, “We always have each other’s back.”
by Carla Insinga and Kevin Zapf Hanes | April 24, 2015
HARRISBURG, Pa. – More than 100 AFSCME Council 13 activists and staff gathered here for AFSCME Strong coaches training, spending two and a half days learning the art of the one-on-one conversation and pledging to take the steps to make their locals and district councils AFSCME Strong.
At the outset, members and council staff walked through the AFSCME Strong coaches training to learn the components of a house call, how to engage members in one-on-one conversations, the importance of PEOPLE and how to reengage members.
“We need to stand together for the strength and future of the labor movement,” said Linda Wise, a 21-year clerk at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. “If we don’t do this, it will come down to the rich and the poor – the middle class is being torn apart.”
On the second day of training, participants took turns practicing the teaching techniques on one another, preparing themselves to go back to their locals and district councils with the AFSCME Strong message. Following the morning session, 58 teams broke out to hit the doors and put their training to practice, 184 one-on-one conversations. They signed up 94 new activists, got 19 to join the union and signed up 29 new PEOPLE members.
“AFSCME Strong eliminates the complacency that we have seen,” said Shaun Abel, an eight-year veteran diesel mechanic at Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. “This is a good opportunity to dive more into our union and share how important it is to get everyone involved.”
On the third day, members shared stories of conversations on the doors. Acknowledging that it was nerve wracking to knock on the door of a stranger, participants agreed that it got easier because people were excited to have someone from their union show up on their doors. “No one ever asked,” was the common theme. Before leaving, the new coaches developed their plans, mapped their worksites and recommitted themselves to take the campaign to their locals and district councils.
“We are talking to our members, reengaging them in what’s important,” said Dave Fillman, AFSCME Council 13 executive director and also an AFSCME International vice president. “The labor movement, the middle class and Pennsylvania will be stronger for the work that started this week. This is just the beginning.”
Joining Council 13 were 10 staff members from AFSCME DC 37, who were getting a head start on their AFSCME Strong training next week.