Blog » Archive

AFSCME Retiree Wins City Council Seat

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  November 21, 2014

BAXTER, Minn. – As public service workers and union members, we take our civic duties seriously. We vote, we call our elected representatives, and we talk to our neighbors about the issues that affect us. Steve Barrows took that commitment to public service even further this year when he decided to run for office in his hometown of Baxter, Minn. And he won!

Barrows retired three years ago after decades in state social services. But he wasn’t done working to make Baxter a better place. The town of about 7,600 people is growing and evolving.

“There’s an opportunity for forward-thinking and planning to make sure we are a healthy, viable, attractive community,” he says.

The new city council member says his experiences with Local 1574 gave him the skills needed to run for office.

“My background as a union member gave me confidence over the years as I attended conventions and took on leadership roles in the local,” Barrows says. “I got to see how things get organized and look at the bigger picture when considering issues. The relationships you build with your brothers and sisters are the same kinds of relationships you want to build with constituents.”

Barrows is looking forward to bringing his union values to the city council. He believes that positive labor relations will pay off for everyone in the community.

“We know that our city employees work hard and they’re quality people,” he says. “I want to continue that relationship so that the city gets the most bang for its buck.”

He believes the labor movement succeeds when union members are willing to serve in government.

“The first thing is to vote, but it’s also important for people who are so inclined to get out there and run for office,” he says.

Add Walmart Black Friday Protests to Thanksgiving Menu

by Omar Tewfik  |  November 21, 2014

Martha Sellers probably won’t be able to afford a turkey on Thanksgiving because, as on most days, she is forced to choose between paying the bills and putting food on the table.

On Black Friday, the traditional first shopping day of the holiday season the day after Thanksgiving, John Paul Ashton likely won’t be able to buy discounted clothes for his two young children. That’s because he can barely make rent.

Martha Sellers and John Paul Ashton aren’t unemployed – they both work at Walmart. Their stories aren’t unique.

Hundreds of thousands of Walmart workers struggle to afford basic necessities, even though they have a job. And, like John Paul, far too many Walmart employees are forced to go on government assistance programs like welfare, Medicaid and public housing – not because they are lazy, but because they are denied full-time hours and the opportunity to make enough to support their families.

That’s why, on Black Friday, AFSCME members and thousands of others across the country will join Walmart workers like Martha and John Paul to protest Walmart’s treatment of its employees.

The Waltons – America’s richest family and Walmart heirs – can easily afford to give their 2.2 million employees a substantial raise, but they refuse to pay their employees even a living wage. The Walton family’s greed is driving down retail wages across the nation and costing you billions. American taxpayers are quite literally subsidizing Walmart’s profits.

We have demanded change from Walmart before and have won improvements for employees. This Black Friday, we are stepping up our game. Here’s how you can make a difference:

  1. Attend a Black Friday protest in your neighborhood. There are protests at 2,100 stores nationwide.
  2. When you’re there, post a photo to Facebook or Twitter of yourself like the one President Saunders took. Please use the hashtag #WalmartStrikers so we can build momentum on social media behind these brave workers.
  3. And help spread us the word. Share this graphic on Facebook to let everyone know you stand with Walmart workers.

Your Union Can Help You Pay for College

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  November 21, 2014

We know that money can be a big obstacle when it comes to higher education. That’s why AFSCME provides scholarships to help members and their families reach their educational goals. If you or someone in your family is thinking about college, check out our scholarships page to see if you qualify. 

  • The AFSCME Family Scholarship is awarded to 10 graduating high school seniors each year. The $2,000 scholarship may be renewed for up to four years. Students must have a parent or guardian who is an AFSCME member. Apply online by Dec. 31.
  • Current and retired union members, their spouses and dependent children are eligible for the Union Plus Scholarship. These awards range from $500 to $4,000. Apply online by Jan. 31, 2015.
  • The Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship is a one-time award of $5,000 available to AFSCME members. You will need to write a 500-word essay about your commitment to the union’s mission.  Apply online by Jan. 31, 2015.

AFSCME is committed to affordable education options for all families. If you have student debt, please take our brief survey. Your responses can help us to better understand how the cost of college is affecting union households, and how we may be able to help.

AFSCME Applauds Executive Action on Immigration

by David Card  |  November 21, 2014

Noting that that action was necessary “because extremists in Congress have failed to do their jobs,” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders issued a statement in support of President Obama’s executive order on immigration.

“They have done nothing to fix our country’s broken immigration system, a system that keeps millions of men and women trapped in a shadow economy that hurts all working families,” Saunders said. 

“President Obama’s executive action curtails abusive employers who exploit undocumented immigrants and in doing so, drives down wages and benefits of all of our country’s workers…. It’s time to put an end to the shameful, pointless suffering caused by [Congress’] inability to devise a comprehensive, legislative solution.”

For more than 75 years, AFSCME has been at the forefront of the fight for social justice. AFSCME members fought for and won dignity and respect in the workplace for public workers and marched with Dr. King in support of Civil Rights, and AFSCME was the first union in the country to strike over equal pay for women.

AFSCME continues that tradition as part of a broad coalition of partner unions, immigrant rights organizations and progressive allies who are coming together to assist immigrant families affected by President Obama’s order.

The coalition has developed a website,, a centralized platform with accessible and credible services and information for immigrant families.

Stay Home, Buffalo – We Got This!

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  November 21, 2014

Buffalo, N.Y. – In the freak snap of nature, AFSCME members here found themselves at the epicenter of a weird but real emergency. The city is shut down as some sections are buried under at least five feet of snow, while in other places only two inches cover the ground. Residents were encouraged to stay home, but snowplow drivers and dispatchers who are members of AFSCME Council 35 raced into action.

AFSCME Council 35 Exec. Dir. Bill Travis, who works as a dispatcher, was in the middle of the action, helping residents dig out. His own home is covered in five feet of snow. But the message from him and his fellow public service workers on the job around the clock was clear: Stay home, Buffalo – we got this!

Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency on Wednesday. “This storm may persist until Friday morning with the potential for another two feet of snow,” Cuomo said in the statement. “New Yorkers in these areas should exercise extreme caution, and stay off the roads until conditions are clearer and safer.”

Meteorologist Steve MacLaughlin of WTAE in Pittsburgh explained, “Lake-effect snow is most common in November and December because the lakes are not frozen and when cold air moves over the lakes, it dumps snow. The combination of unseasonably cold air and the wind moving exactly, perfectly, precisely the entire length of Lake Erie meant the perfect storm.”

Thank you, Sarah

by Yanik Ruiz-Ramón  |  November 20, 2014

Caregivers work selflessly every day for their loved ones. To show our appreciation during National Family Caregiver and Homecare Provider Appreciation Month, AFSCME members from the United Domestic Workers of America decided to treat them to a surprise!

See what happens!

Watch another video where members surprised Camilla Bradford.

Baltimore City Residents Rally to Protect Water Services

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  November 14, 2014

BALTIMORE – Hundreds of city residents joined at City Hall last month to protest a potential city deal to outsource the city’s water to a foreign-owned company, Veolia, with a track record of rate hikes, labor abuses and contract failures.

"Veolia is known globally for two things: rate hikes and labor abuses," said Dr. Lester Spence, associate professor of Political Science and Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University. "Given Veolia's track record, Baltimore residents should be wary of any potential contract. Such a contract could lead to higher water bills, lower wages and deteriorating service."

Jonathon Epps, a 15-year employee with the Department of Public Works expressed his pride for the work he does to keep the city safe and clean.

“The work I do keeps our community safe, prevents disease and limits the rodent population,” he said. “By coming to work every day, I know I am making a difference in my city. I call on City Council and the mayor to keep our public water public – we do a good job and we are committed to our neighborhoods and our city.”

“Today’s gathering is intended to bring to light the hurt that residents feel all across the city due to policies by this administration and the City Council,” said the Rev. Dr. Al Hathaway, senior pastor at Union Baptist Church.

“We need our elected officials to put the needs of the people first, creating good jobs, permanent affordable housing, quality education, safer neighborhoods and strong public services.”

AFSCME Urges Congress to Restore Needed Funding to Fight the Ebola Crisis

by Cheryl Kelly  |  November 14, 2014

As a U.S. Senate Committee hearing on Ebola began Thursday, AFSCME urged Congress to support President Obama’s emergency request for funding to support the fight against the spread of Ebola in the United States and abroad. 

AFSCME represents workers who are on the front lines of America’s domestic response to Ebola, from the New York City EMT crew that transported an infected physician to Bellevue Hospital, to laboratory technicians at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, to state and county public health staff monitoring travelers from West Africa to hospital staff across the nation.

The President’s emergency request would shore up funding to hospitals, which dropped from $515 million to $225 million in the past decade. Restoring this vital funding will ensure that hospitals meet their obligations to patients, providers, other workers and the community, and to help prepare for a future health care crises.

“The budget sequesters and other funding cuts to state and local governments harmed our public health infrastructure and years of cuts meant losses in experienced and trained public health staff,” noted AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders.

Workers across the nation who are at high risk deserve training and practice on necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).  Americans will be less alarmed when they know workers are being protected from exposure and less likely to become transmitters of disease.

In partnership with AFSCME Local 2507 of District Council 37, the Bureau of Emergency Medical Service of New York City’s Fire Department developed protocols for transporting potential Ebola patients to the hospital. Only specially protected and trained EMS workers will treat and transport suspected Ebola virus patients.

AFSCME also urged Congress and the administration to hold accountable those entities that receive federal taxpayer dollars to address Ebola. Uniform compliance with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and existing required worker health and safety procedures are needed to prevent the spread of Ebola and to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used properly.

Historic $15 Minimum Wage Agreement Reached in Oregon

by Kevin Brown  |  November 14, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. – After months of negotiating, AFSCME Local 88 and Multnomah County reached a tentative agreement to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour in the 2014-2017 contract for county employees.  

The agreement is a major improvement for the county’s lowest-paid public service workers, a number of whom qualify for public assistance. The increase is scheduled to be phased in during three years, with the minimum salary being raised this year to $13 an hour (retroactive to July 1), $14 on July 1, 2015, and $15 on July 1, 2016. 

“Increasing the minimum wage to $15 is a step toward continuing the work of bringing economic security to hardworking families in Oregon,” said Deirdre Mahoney-Clark, the president of Multnomah County Employee’s Union-AFSCME Local 88. “When workers make a decent, living wage they don’t need to rely on government assistance programs to help them and their families survive.”

Despite nationwide support for a higher minimum wage for all workers, the federal government has thus far failed to act on it. Yet local and state governments are taking matters into their own hands. In June of this year, Seattle City Council members voted to increase the minimum wage and this past Election Day, voters in four states and voters in San Francisco did so as well. Supporters of an Oregon statewide minimum wage increase are signing this petition.

In addition to the minimum wage increase, Local 88 members will receive a 2.7 percent cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) increase, retroactive to July 1 of this year. Their health care plans and cost sharing remain the same for the time being, but there will be a re-opener available starting Jan. 1, 2016, allowing employees to maintain the best level of benefits possible as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.

The tentative agreement is under review by Local 88 members and will be in effect if ratified by members.

Please Take Our Student Loan Debt Survey

by Tracey Conaty  |  November 13, 2014

A college education is one of the most important investments we can make. Unfortunately, for many it comes with massive student loan debt. And as more students than ever rely on loans to pay for college, they need help.

Do you have student loan debt (either yours or a family member's)? Please take our AFSCME student loan survey now.

It’s not only the students who face these enormous bills. In many cases, parents and even grandparents have to make huge sacrifices—including taking out a second mortgage or selling their homes—to help their children get out from under student loan debt.

Please tell us more about your experiences with student loan debt. We want to hear from you. 

Get news & updates from AFSCME