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Ruling Limits Fair Standards for Home Care Providers

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  December 24, 2014

In a setback for that nation’s fastest-growing profession, a federal judge has ruled that certain home care providers are not entitled to overtime pay. The last-minute decision reverses an effort by the U.S. Department of Labor that would have boosted providers’ pay starting January 1.

Affected homecare providers are those who work for a corporate home care agency and live in the home where they provide care – but only if they spend less than 20 percent of their time assisting with activities of daily and instrumental living.

Helping seniors and people with disabilities live independently in their own homes is a round-the-clock job, but most providers are still making less than a living wage.

The Fair Labor Standards Act guaranteed a minimum wage and overtime pay for most workers all the way back in 1938, but the law excluded domestic workers, including home care providers. Nearly 40 years later, in 1974, the law was amended to cover some types of domestic workers—but not home care providers. Now another 40 years have passed and almost 2 million workers are still waiting for the basic right to be paid for their long hours of work.

The Department of Labor this year announced that it would bring providers in line with other professions by guaranteeing time-and-a-half pay for extra time worked. But some corporate home care agencies, which rely on their workers’ low wages to boost profits, opposed the move in court.

The Department of Labor is considering its next legal move to reinstate this portion of the rule, including an appeal, but more legal battles are expected to be brought by the corporate home care industry.

AFSCME, which represents more than 100,000 home care providers, will continue to fight for fair wages for all workers.

Iowa Locals Step Up for Needy Kids

by David Patterson  |  December 23, 2014

For less fortunate children across Iowa who might otherwise have missed the joy of receiving a gift this holiday season, AFSCME Iowa Council 61 locals have donated more than $14,000 to Toys for Tots, eager to make a difference in the lives of Iowa’s kids. These donations are just a portion of the more than $27,000 donated to all charitable causes by locals in Iowa this holiday season.

“Every child should have an opportunity to experience the joy of a gift this holiday season,” said AFSCME Local 2985 Pres. Marty Hathaway, whose local donated $4,500. “Our members are proud to support Toys for Tots.”

AFSCME Local 2985’s relationship with Toys for Tots has grown each year since 2011, when Local 2985 union members returning from military deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq urged local leaders to donate funds to the charity.

“When they came back it was around Christmastime, and we wanted to do something special for their families,” Hathaway said. “They told us to donate to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.”

A partial list of AFSCME Iowa Council 61 locals donating to Toys for Toys and other charitable causes this year includes: Locals 12, 35, 183, 212, 451, 525, 1068, 1100, 1127, 1141, 1868, 2005, 2051, 2659, 2840, 2985, 2987, 2989, 2990, 2991, 2992, 2993, 2997, 2998, 3007, 3009, 3018, 3450, 3576, 3590, and 3861. The list is growing as AFSCME Iowa Council 61 continues to record donations by locals in Iowa.

In Des Moines, AFSCME Iowa Council 61 became a major sponsor for the Toys for Tots organization in the KCCI-TV viewing area. Members even filmed a public service announcement running on KCCI-TV, asking for public donations to Toys for Tots.

“A donation like this to our size community is a wonderful gift,” said Michele Matt, Linn County’s Toys for Tots representative. “We have over 2,000 kids registered to receive toys for Christmas, so this came in the nick of time.”

Louisville Council Raises Minimum Wage to $9 an Hour

by Carli Stevenson  |  December 23, 2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Louisville last week became the first city in the South to raise its minimum wage, settling on $9 an hour after much debate and compromise. The 16-9 vote by the Louisville Metro Council was along party lines, with all Democrats voting in favor of the increase and Republicans opposing.

The original ordinance, and the one advocated by the Louisville Minimum Wage Coalition, called for a $10.10 an hour minimum wage. But Mayor Greg Fischer threatened a veto, claiming such an increase would result in job loss, a claim not supported by the evidence.

Minimum wage workers in Jefferson County will see a raise to $9 an hour during a period of three years. After 2017, the minimum wage will be indexed to inflation.

Supporters of the ordinance packed the Metro Council chambers. Amid the supporters were many AFSCME members, including Joshua Wysor, a horticultural park worker for Jefferson County who said he had personal reasons for wanting to come to Metro Council and an increased minimum wage.

“When I was in college, I worked a lot of different jobs that paid minimum wage. I worked as a deli clerk, a waiter, among other jobs. I didn’t even get to $10 an hour until a family friend pulled some strings. I would make it up to a higher wage, but every time I had to switch jobs it seemed I would go back down to $8 an hour again. If that can happen to me as an educated, articulate person, what will happen to folks who are not as fortunate as I am?”

While Wysor thinks raising the wage is an important step in the right direction, he knows this ordinance is the just the first step. Louisville needs a comprehensive agenda for working families.

“This is really just a Hail Mary for the working poor,” Wysor said. “We won’t be a world-class city until we follow other cities like Portland, Oregon, which adopted truly living wages.”

‘Dreaming of a Fair Governor’ in Missouri

by Jeff Mazur  |  December 23, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Home care attendants, their clients and community members last week visited the home of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, singing him such Christmas carols as “Home Care Workers Are Coming to Town” and “I’m Dreaming of a Fair Governor.”

Home care attendants and consumers who receive Medicaid funding through the Missouri Consumer Directed Services program are asking that Gov. Nixon immediately implement a collective bargaining agreement that will lift hourly wages for some caregivers by more than $2 an hour. As the holiday season approaches, many home care attendants, who earn as little as $8 an hour, view the increase as vital for their families.

“We need Gov. Nixon to act now so the gains negotiated by home care attendants with the state can finally be realized,” said Pamela Jacobs, an attendant from Charleston. “Like many families, ours are stretched financially during the holiday season. Lifting hourly wages for some people from $8 up to $10.15 an hour would be a huge boost toward improved lives.”

Earlier this month, the Missouri Home Care Union and the Missouri Quality Home Care Council each ratified the first contract for home care attendants. In October, those parties had reached agreement on terms that would allow consumers in the Consumer Directed Services home care to set the hourly wage for their attendants at between $8.50 and $10.15 an hour. Gov. Nixon says he plans to support the agreement but has yet to issue an administrative rule that will ensure compliance by vendors in the program.

“There is very little disagreement that home care attendants, like the one I rely on, deserve to make a higher wage,” said Roosevelt Mitchell, a home care consumer from Charleston. “Now that there’s agreement on what a wage increase should look like, Gov. Nixon needs to take action so that wage increase is honored. I hope he’ll remember that this holiday season there are an awful lot of hard working people who are hurting. I also want him to know he can help those people by doing the right thing and making sure they get their hard-won pay raise.”

Jeff Mazur is executive director of Council 72.

Big Organizing Win in Louisiana

by Helen Cox  |  December 22, 2014

SHREVEPORT, La. – By an overwhelming margin, Sodexo dietary and environmental services staff at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-Shreveport voted Dec. 18 for AFSCME representation.

The 132-22 vote thrilled union supporters in the unit of 246 employees. “I’m excited to be a part of negotiating our first contract at the start of the year,” said Deerica Morris, a Sodexo housekeeper.

"Some of my coworkers were used to being disrespected on the job,” Morris said. “They had the attitude, ‘It is what it is.’ But once we started talking about the power of coming together with AFSCME, I saw them light up and it clicked that our jobs could be different. They saw that we could improve our livelihoods and make our future with Sodexo more secure.”

Janice Chalmers-Priest, a lab technician at the Health Sciences Center and president of Local 2649, helped organize the Sodexo workers in Shreveport. She said, “I’m seeing things change for the better in Louisiana and AFSCME is a big part of that. If we stay resolute and build our collective power, we’re going to be unstoppable.” 

The Sodexo win is the latest in a series of victories for labor in Louisiana. New Orleans cab drivers organized with AFSCME to fight back against unfair city regulations. The organized drivers were able to help elect a friendlier city council and remove an unjust Taxicab Bureau director from his position. 

Hospitality workers at New Orleans' Harrah's Casino and Hotel also organized to improve working conditions and pay last month. Earlier in December, members of AFSCME Local 1325, who provide city services to Shreveport residents, won a $1,000 lump-sum payment just in time for the holidays.

Florida Workforce Cuts Hurt Critical Services

by Omar Tewfik  |  December 18, 2014

Under Florida Gov. Rick Scott, the state workforce is shrinking dramatically, and that is having a drastic impact on government agencies that are charged with protecting at-risk children, monitoring water quality, and providing assistance to out-of-work Floridians, among other critical services, according to a recent report released by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR).

These cuts significantly curtailed the ability of important state agencies to provide vital services to Floridians, the report concluded. These staff cuts are disproportionately affecting vulnerable populations, including children. One such agency is Florida's Department of Children and Families, the state's Child Protective Services.

Earlier this year, the Miami Herald published an eye-opening series of reports that show how staffing cuts within the department in recent years inhibited the agency's ability to prevent hundreds of deaths among children living in abusive environments.

"After Florida cut down on protections for children in troubled homes, deaths soared. The children died in ways cruel, outlandish, predictable and preventable," the report found.

Those who rely on the services of the Department of Children and Families are not the only victims of the relentless cuts to essential personnel and the vital services they provide to Florida. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection now lacks the ability to adequately monitor water quality throughout the state in order to determine safety for public use. Until the state hired back 250 employees, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity was unable to implement its new unemployment benefits system. For several weeks, tens of thousands of Floridians had to scrape by without any checks coming in.

Since Scott took office in 2011, he slashed the state work force by a staggering 9.6 percent.

“There is no question we face more of these harmful cuts when the Florida legislative session begins on March 3rd,” said AFSCME Council 79 Pres. Jeanette Wynn, also an AFSCME International vice president. “That is why we must strengthen our PEOPLE program and hold politicians in the state Legislature accountable when they hurt working families and retirees. If we do not stand up to the systematic attacks by right-wing politicians on our state workforce, Floridians from all walks of life will continue to see the quality of life in our state diminish.”

Stand up now. If you're an AFSCME member, you can contribute to PEOPLE, or pitch in a little more and become an MVP today!  

Wal-Mart Gets Called Out for Wage Theft

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  December 18, 2014

Wal-Mart will have to pay back $151 million in stolen wages to approximately 187,000 employees after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of workers who were forced to skip breaks and work off the clock.

That’s a lot of money, but it’s a drop in the bucket for Wal-Mart, which rakes in profits in the hundreds of billions.  The world’s largest corporation has for years been boosting its profits by shortchanging its already low-paid workers, even closing stores in Canada to prevent unionization. 

Wage theft is a common crime that doesn’t get enough attention.  Most states do little to protect workers from greedy, overreaching employers.  As a result, 60 percent of low-wage workers report that they aren’t always paid for their work.  The 187,000 Wal-Mart employees who were forced to work through their breaks represent only a fraction of the problem.

Corporations like Wal-Mart need to be held accountable to the law. That’s why AFSCME joined with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in filing a brief in support of the workers. We are proud to stand with Wal-Mart workers and others who are struggling to earn a living wage.

New Jersey Pension Boards Join Unions in Fight Over Pension Cuts

by Clyde Weiss  |  December 17, 2014

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s decision to shortchange the state’s pension plans by $2.4 billion is wrong and should be overturned, trustees of the state’s largest pension funds said in a lawsuit filed last week.

The pension trustees’ decision to take Governor Christie to court follows lawsuits filed in June by 14 unions, including AFSCME, over the governor’s plan to undermine the retirement system in order to fund other priorities.

The Board of Trustees said in a statement that they “have been abandoned by their counsel, the Attorney General, who has chosen to side with the Governor by claiming the [existing] funding law is invalid.” As a result, the trustees hired their own counsel “to collect the money owed to the pension funds and which have been diverted to more politically popular causes.”

“We are saying that money is due to the fund,” said Tom Bruno, board chairman of the Public Employees Retirement System.  “We have a fiduciary responsibility, and that is to protect the fund, as well as to collect the monies that are due to the fund.”

Trustees of the Public Employees’ Retirement System, the Police and Fire Retirement System and the Teachers’ Pension and Annuity Fund charged in a statement that Governor Christie “has shamelessly broken his word by derailing the proper funding of the pension funds, while at the same time demanding participants endure benefit reductions and higher employee contributions.”

Christie’s efforts to balance the state’s budget on the backs of public service workers, while handing out massive tax subsidies to well-heeled corporations, are indeed shameless. We expect a judge will soon come to the same conclusion.

Chicago Council OKs Major Taxi Reforms

by Meg Lewis  |  December 17, 2014

Cab Drivers United - AFSCMELess than six months after Chicago taxi drivers first came together with AFSCME to form their own organization, the City Council of Chicago passed a far-reaching reform package that will provide immediate economic relief to every Chicago cab driver. 

The Taxi Fairness Ordinance of 2014 will boost drivers’ income by reducing lease rates, reducing fines and providing drivers with a share of taxi advertising revenue.  In addition, the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection committed to reducing credit card fees and to revising rules and fines that have long denied drivers’ due process.  The average driver will see an annual savings of $5,000-$8,000 as a direct result.

“These reforms won’t hurt the city or consumers,” said cab driver Nnamdi Uwazi, “but they will help the 12,000 drivers in the City of Chicago to provide a better life for our families.”

The measures enacted by the Taxi Fairness Ordinance resulted from demands that drivers identified and proposed to the city in a letter signed by nearly 100 drivers who attended the first meeting of Cab Drivers United (CDU), AFSCME Council 31 last June. 

The drivers presented their demands at a series of meetings with the taxi commissioner, spoke out at a town hall meeting, met with dozens of aldermen and organized an action that brought hundreds of CDU activists out on the streets to protest treatment at the hands of city authorities.  Their efforts were supported by thousands of AFSCME sisters and brothers who came out to support the call for justice and dignity at a rally during the July national convention.

“This ordinance is a testament to what drivers can achieve when they come together,” said Council 31 Assoc. Dir. Tracey Abman.  “Cab Drivers United kicked off in June, signed up more than 3,500 drivers in just a few months, and today we’ve taken this important step forward. We’re excited to keep building our union to help drivers solve problems, win respect and better provide their vital public service to all of Chicago.”

New Contract Good Tidings for Holiday

by Carli Stevenson  |  December 16, 2014

NEW ALBANY, Ind. – After 12 years of a city administration that wouldn’t give them a raise, workers for the City of New Albany have reason to celebrate this holiday season. The rank-and-file members of AFSCME Local 1861 ratified a new contract by a near unanimous vote of 24-1.

“There’s hope now, I think,” said Donny Blevins, president of Local 1861. “This is just the beginning.”

The new agreement between the city and the drivers, laborers and other workers who keep New Albany’s streets, traffic signs, parks and other public areas safely maintained is a huge boost for the southern Indiana local. Workers won a 3 percent raise for 2014, retroactive to the first of the year, with a lump sum payment of back pay.

The contract included a reclassification of current positions effective Jan. 1, 2015, for efficiency and to facilitate the much-needed raises. Workers of all classifications will receive a 2-percent raise for 2015.

Local 1861 members spend their own money on the tools, safe boots and clothing necessary to do their jobs safely and effectively. The new contract increases their reimbursement for tools from $200 to $300 annually, and their clothing reimbursement from $200 to $300 annually. Workers also will get a $150 reimbursement for their work boots.

Other important victories in the contract are expanded funeral leave to include additional extended family members and prorated longevity to date of retirement.

President Blevins says morale improved since the contract ratification.

“This definitely gave the members a booster shot,” he says. “We’re still behind, thanks to inflation. The price of gas went up; the price of milk went up. But there is no comparison to what we had before.” 

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