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Phoenix Voters Defeat Pension Cut Initiative

by David Card  |  November 10, 2014

Phoenix voters last week emphatically rejected a billionaire-backed ballot initiative that would have replaced city workers’ pensions with risky 401(k) style plans.

Supporters of the measure called Proposition 487 sought to close the existing defined-benefit plan to newly hired workers and force them to shoulder a greater share of the cost of a private investment plan. Voters defeated the measure 56.5 percent to 43.5 percent.

 “Residents, community groups and front-line employees voted no on Prop 487 and sent a clear message to outside interest groups that it is the wrong pension reform, wrong for public safety and wrong for taxpayers,” said Luis Schmidt, president of Local 2384. “Despite efforts from dark money organizations to confuse Phoenix taxpayers and deprive workers of their hard-earned retirement security, voters protected the promise for employees to retiree with dignity.”

“We are thrilled that voters stood with city workers and recognized the harm Prop 487 would do to Phoenix,” said Frank Piccioli, president of Local 2960. “This victory should serve as a warning to those selfish interests who are seeking to undermine the retirement security of public workers across the country.”

Texas hedge fund billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold played the role of Rich Uncle Pennybags, donating more than $1 million to fund the anti-worker campaign. Arnold is a major contributor to the so-called Liberty Initiative Fund, which poured millions of dollars of dark money into similar measures in Tucson and Cincinnati last year. Both failed to pass.

A broad coalition of pension advocates that included Phoenix firefighters, police officers, AFSCME Locals 2384 and 2960 and their allies came together to fight the measure. They went door to door in the months leading up to Election Day and planned an extensive get-out-the vote effort for Tuesday, Nov. 4.

AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes was in Phoenix on Saturday before Election Day to lead a neighborhood canvass and talk to voters about why Prop 487 was bad for the community.

“The extremists don’t share our belief that after a lifetime of working hard and playing by the rules, we all deserve to live out our years with the dignity and respect that comes from a secure retirement,” Secretary-Treasurer Reyes told a group of volunteer canvassers. “This election is an opportunity for all of us to stand up and say, ‘Today I’m voting for what matters to me and my family.’”

VIDEO: AFSCME home care workers recognized during National Family Caregiver Month

by Kim Moore  |  November 10, 2014

As baby boomers age and the need for long-term care rises, caregiving has become one of the fastest growing occupations in America. And most people – 90 percent of us – indicate that we would rather be cared for at home than a nursing home or facility.

Home care allows seniors and people with disabilities to stay healthy at home and it keeps people out of more costly institutions. And even though in-home caregivers across America save the government billions of dollars every year, they continue to be undervalued and underpaid.

United Domestic Workers of America (UDW/AFSCME Local 3930), made up of 66,000 home care providers across California, is celebrating National Family Caregiver Month this November by launching a new video series called Thank You Caregivers to honor caregivers and share the stories of some of the people who work tirelessly throughout the year to care for seniors and people with disabilities.

People like Camilla Bradford, a Moreno Valley woman who cares for her brother Reggie round-the-clock. Reggie has schizophrenia and developmental disabilities, but since being in Camilla’s care over the past six years, he’s progressed by leaps and bounds. Watch their story here.

“While we acknowledge and give thanks in November, we must support caregivers year-round,” says Doug Moore, UDW executive director and an AFSCME International vice president. “Most caregivers earn poverty-level wages with no sick days, vacation days, or a retirement plan. Some don’t even get Social Security. This has to change.”

In California, UDW is taking action to win improvements for caregivers and clients in the state’s home care program, In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS). This year, UDW successfully won paid overtime for IHSS providers for the first time in history.

We can continue to show our appreciation for caregivers across the nation by raising wages, ending cuts to hours of care for seniors and people with disabilities, and working to ensure paid sick leave for all.

THANK YOU CAREGIVERS! for providing compassionate care to loved ones and neighbors. We can treat every month like home care provider appreciation month by coming together to stand up for caregivers.

Interfaith Group Salutes New York City Municipal Workers for Ebola Case Response

by the Greater New York Labor Religion Coalition  |  November 06, 2014

The GNYLRC is an interfaith worker rights and economic justice advocacy organization based in NYC. It seeks to build a working partnership between the faith community and the local labor movement to address issues affecting low-waged and immigrant communities.

It was only a matter of time before New York City, a gateway city for international travelers, would experience a case of Ebola. When Dr. Craig Spencer had to be transported to Bellevue Hospital because of Ebola symptoms, it was a New York City EMT crew that swiftly swung into action and, employing the training that they had received, safely transported Dr. Spencer to the hospital. Once at the hospital, Dr. Spencer was entrusted to the care of the staff of one of the finest public hospitals in the United States. There he remains under treatment as the municipal employees of Bellevue Hospital provide for his care and contain any potential risk of infection. The case of Dr. Spencer is a reminder to all New Yorkers, and citizens across our nation, of the dedication of our municipal workers and what they are able to accomplish when given the professional training they deserve.

At this time when it remains fashionable to denigrate public-sector employees and praise the private sector, all of us need to remember how much we depend on public-sector employees to respond to medical and other emergencies, provide health care for all who need it, provide environmental services, and sustain the work of public agencies that make possible the efficient functioning of our government at every level. Every day we depend on public-sector employees to do the work that makes it possible for our society to function. The private sector could not do what it does were it not for the dedicated men and women of the public-sector work force.

The Greater New York Labor Religion Coalition offers our thanks to the dedicated municipal workers who have handled the first case of Ebola with such skill and care. We ask all of our fellow New Yorkers to acknowledge the work done by municipal-sector employees and to support them as they seek the training, wages and benefits that will allow them to continue to provide the services upon which all of us depend.

The Greater New York Labor Religion Coalition also urges our public officials to speak out more strongly against all forms of discrimination and harassment directed toward those who are responding to the Ebola crisis and to persons from West African nations. We are hearing too many disturbing reports of harassment in schools, boycotts of businesses, community opprobrium directed against health care workers responding to the Ebola case, and general hostility directed toward members of the West African community. Government leaders should join with community and faith leaders to speak out with one voice against all such forms of harassment and discrimination. Government, faith and community leaders should work together to better educate the public about the realities of Ebola and the limited means of its transmission. Together government, community and faith leaders should help dispel fear and build public trust.

Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Director
Barbara Edmonds, Labor Co-Chair
Rev. Mark Hallinan, S.J., Faith Co-Chair

Court Ruling Backs City on Promise to Retirees

by David Card  |  November 06, 2014

Public workers and retirees in Stockton, California, scored a major victory last week when a judge approved the city’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy without making cuts to workers’ pensions. The city’s plan instead focused on a mixture of budget cuts, a sales tax increase and a reduction in payments to its creditors.

The city opposed cuts to its employees’ pensions based on evidence from other municipalities that to do so would encourage public workers to seek jobs elsewhere, depriving Stockton of one of its most important assets – a highly qualified and trained workforce. For example, in nearby San Jose, crime rates jumped after voters cut police officers’ pensions, forcing many to look for better paying jobs in other cities.

Judge Christopher Klein agreed, noting that struggling city workers had already made significant concessions in earlier negotiations, including pay cuts and ending a retiree health care plan that saved the city more than $500 million.

The city’s creditors argued in court that any bankruptcy deal should include cuts to employee pensions in order to free up more cash to pay back their loans. But Judge Klein’s ruling clearly fell on the side of retirees in the debate over where pension benefits should rank when financially strapped cities are forced to choose between people and banks.

It was a victory for all those who believe that after a lifetime of serving their communities, public workers should be able to retire with dignity and economic security.


Insourcing Proves Better, Faster – And Less Expensive

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  November 06, 2014

Jersey City, N.J.– After a yearlong campaign, AFSCME Local 2262 was able to convince the Jersey City School District that insourcing services is not just cheaper but that AFSCME members do the work better.

This past summer, the school district gave Local 2262 members the opportunity to do major renovation projects. The school district’s superintendent and business administrator were so pleased with the work that they featured AFSCME members during the superintendent's "Tour of the Town" earlier this month, highlighting improvements to the district's facilities, including school libraries, cafeterias, science labs, classrooms and recreational facilities. The superintendent proudly told tour participants – who included school board members, union leaders and parent groups – that many improvements were done in-house by members of Local 2262.

"Outsourcing our members’ work has been a problem for a long time," said Local 2262 Pres. Bill Murawski. "Last year the district hired a new superintendent who was a business administrator with a reputation for privatizing work. We felt that we could not take a wait-and-see approach. We decided to take the issue head-on and go on the offensive."

Local 2262 partnered with Council 52 and the national union to put together an aggressive anti-privatization campaign to bring work back in-house. Local leaders went public with their message and spoke out at school board meetings to talk about the value of the work AFSCME members do, including challenging board members to spend a day with workers on the job.

At every monthly labor-management meeting with the administration for the past year, Local 2262 leaders cited specific examples of how the district would save money by letting our members do work in-house. They also partnered with parent groups and other unions to get the message out about outsourcing.

"We'll do the work and we'll do it well," said Ted Jasiczek, one of the Local 2262 members who worked on the renovation projects during the summer. "We want to do these jobs and we know we can do them better, faster and at a lower cost than an outside contractor."

Plans are currently in the works to have Local 2262 members perform other major renovation projects for the school district this year, projects that were previously done by outside contractors.

"The real credit goes to our members,” Murawski said. “They understood the importance of this fight and when it came time to step up to the plate and do the work, they hit it out of the park.”

AFSCME Members Have Already Made a Difference on Election Day

by Pablo Ros and Yanik Ruiz-Ramón  |  November 04, 2014

In the weeks and months leading up to today’s midterm elections, thousands of AFSCME members across the nation volunteered time and effort to make the wheels of our democracy turn once again. We worked the phones, knocked on doors tirelessly and registered new voters. We are making a positive difference in our communities.

Thank you to everyone who participated in get-out-the-vote efforts, but don’t stop now! With just hours to go before the polls close, let’s make sure every progressive vote counts. Tell your friends and family: Vote as if your future depends on it, because it does!

AK GOTV 2014Renee Aguilar, a member of AFSCME Local 16 in Anchorage, Alaska, holding a yard sign about a ballot initiative that would eliminate collective bargaining for city employees. Photo credit: Steve Johnson

AZ GOTV 2014Debbie Osekowsky (left), a member of AFSCME Local 2960 in Phoenix, Arizona, went door knocking to raise awareness about ballot proposition 487. If passed, it would make Phoenix fire fighters and police officers the only public safety personnel in Arizona not to earn a pension or receive death benefits. Photo credit: Kevin Brown

CT GOTV 2014AFSCME Council 4 members rally in New London, Connecticut prior to the gubernatorial debate on October 16, 2014  Photo credit: Michael Bookman

FL GOTV 2014Ricci Yuhico of AFSCME Local 199 in Miami, Florida knocks on doors to get out the vote. Photo credit: Joshua Marburger

MA GOTV 2014Tiger Stockbridge from AFSCME Local 1631 in Boston, MA hits the doors. Photo credit: Kevin Hanes

MN GOTV 2014Melinda Pearson and Mary Falk, of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Local 4001, door knock union households. Photo credit: Michael Kuchta

PA GOTV 2014AFSCME Retiree Marlene Bryant phone banks in AFSCME Disctrict Council 33 union hall in Philadelphia, PA. Photo credit: Ebony Meeks

We Demand A Shot at the American Dream

by AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders  |  November 04, 2014

The following is an excerpt from AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders' blog on the Huffington Post. Read the full article here.

It's been a rough four years for the women, men and children living on the margins in this country. Those margins have gotten a lot more pronounced and swallowed up a lot more folks in states run by extremist, right-wing governors.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than here in Florida, where Wall Street's heinous financial schemes devastated families from the Panhandle to the Keys, and the housing market that had pumped money through the state like a fire hose collapsed suddenly.

Read more »

Retirees Turn Out for Election Bus Tour

by Karen Gilgoff  |  November 03, 2014

Every bus trip has a schedule to keep and it was no different for the recent “Put the Middle Class First” bus tour sponsored by Americans United for Change (AU). Traveling through 18 states in 18 days, AU’s colorfully wrapped bus told the story of the clear choices voters face in Tuesday’s elections, while serving as a dramatic backdrop for news conferences at every stop.

The issues taking center stage include raising the minimum wage, ensuring equal pay for equal work, making college affordable, investing in infrastructure, and protecting Social Security and Medicare. At many of the stops, AFSCME retirees were among those who came to cheer for the middle-class agenda and share their views at the microphone.

In Hartford, Connecticut, Marilyn and Bill Tyszka came out to urge fellow citizens to elect candidates who support the middle-class agenda.  In Greensboro, North Carolina, Alliance for Retired Americans state president and AFSCME retiree leader Bill Dworkin rallied on behalf of pro-worker candidates.   In Philadelphia, Retiree Chapter 2 Pres. Ed Williams said he supports candidates who will fight to improve Social Security benefits and ensure retirement security for all.

In Orlando, Florida, AFSCME retirees Dolores Gabay and Sarah Jones pointed out how the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives voted four times for a budget that converts Medicare to vouchers, increases out-of-pocket costs and raises Medicare’s eligibility age, threatening the affordability of health care for seniors.

“Here in Florida, the leaders of our state government have been just as mean-spirited,” Gabay said. “They refused to accept federal funds that would allow more Floridians to qualify for Medicaid. As a result, thousands of early retirees are being denied health care coverage, while people in other states are obtaining affordable care. This could not be more unfair.”

Sarah Jones emphasized the importance of voting.

“Elections matter,” she said. That’s why every American should be paying attention to this one. It’s in our interest to know the candidates who want to represent us and where they stand on the critical issues that affect us all.”

Closing the Deal in the Home Stretch

by Michael Byrne  |  November 03, 2014

EAGAN, Minn. – Katie Farber, a retired social worker and AFSCME Retiree Chapter 5 member, has been on a mission since May – to knock on 90 doors a week until Election Day. Like many AFSCME activists across the country, she’s in the home stretch, “ballot chasing,” as she says, to make sure progressive voters who requested ballots return them in time.

That’s what brought her to this neighborhood on a cold, windy and rainy October day, knocking on doors of voters listed as “persuadable” or “drop-offs,” those who traditionally voted in Presidential election years but not in the midterm elections.  She got good news at the first door when she was met by Harold Wachtier, a retiree who nodded and said, “Yes. I sent in my ballot last week.” She thanked him and then was on to the next door.

“The political climate wasn’t very good when I moved in here (neighboring Burnsville, Minnesota), so I got involved to try to change things. I’m working harder now than before I retired,” she laughed. Accompanying her this day was her local state representative, Sandra Masin, and they split up to cover the three blocks. “In a midterm election like this it comes down to who votes and who doesn’t. So we can’t let up.”

That’s the way Lisa Poppe looks at it. She’s a child support officer with AFSCME Local 2438, Council 65, in Waseca, Minnesota. She said she got involved because “you cannot take the freedom to choose your leaders for granted. Your vote may be the one that makes the difference.”

Council 5 is in the third phase of its three-pronged election campaign – first communicating with members, member to member, then contacting members of other unions through the AFL-CIO and, finally, with volunteers reaching out to progressive voters from DFL party lists. If labor can get the progressive base out to vote, we will win.

When every vote counts, you just keep calling, explains Mike Lindholt, a snowplow driver who is president of AFSCME Local 221 and vice president of Council 5. He was at the St. Paul Area AFL-CIO Labor Council phone bank, calling from a list of union members supplied by the central labor council, getting a lot of voice mail messages but not giving up.

“I’ve been at this phone bank six days a week, calling everybody I can,” said Jen Guertin, an employee of the St. Paul water department and member of Local 2508, a mother of eight children who sits on the labor council’s board of directors. “This is so important to me. I want to make sure that I leave a Minnesota that is better for my children,” she said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Elizabeth Mahle, a patient access specialist with Local 1851, Council 65, in Bemidji, Minnesota, also is looking toward the future. "I didn't become a citizen until I was 29,” she said. “The first time I voted was so exciting and still is now. I see voting as a privilege – we have a voice in our government. One vote can make a difference and I want mine to count.”

In Iowa, Doing the Right Thing

by Michael Byrne  |  November 03, 2014

Political activism comes natural for AFSCME members in Iowa, where the first-in-the-nation primary often makes or breaks Presidential candidates dealing with retail politics at the caucus level. In midterm elections union activism is even more critical, and Iowa members are rising to the challenge.

Council 61 volunteers are scattered across the state this year, trying to defeat anti-worker candidates and protect vulnerable supporters. Jean McMaken, one of Council 61’s first “Volunteers of the Week,” has been all over the state door-knocking for different candidates, and making phone calls to members and non-members alike.

“The reception has been good but it takes an extra effort to get people out to vote when there’s no Presidential election,” said McMaken, the vice president of AFSCME Local 96, which represents clerical workers at Iowa State University in Ames. “We have so much at stake, though, trying to elect a senator to replace Tom Harkin, who has done so much for working families here, and also to stop Governor Branstadt from trampling our rights.”

Among the candidates McMaken is stumping for this year is an AFSCME member, Ben Westphal, a longshot for a seat in the Statehouse. “He’s underfunded and doesn’t have name recognition but he’s the best candidate.”

Westphal, who works at the Iowa Veterans Home in rural Marshalltown, admits he has a tough road against an established state representative but says he couldn’t resist. “I just got angry about what is happening in this state, particularly with Governor Branstadt breaking the law.”

What set Westphal off was Branstadt’s sudden shutdown of the Iowa Juvenile Home, which housed and rehabilitated at-risk girls. Branstadt shut the home without the necessary legislative hearings and approvals, prompting Council 61 to sue the governor.

“We’ve won one case before the state Supreme Court that will result in an average of $3,500 in back pay for our members, and we’ll keep calling Branstadt out,” said Council 61 Pres. Danny Homan, also an AFSCME International vice president. “This election is so important to our members, with Branstadt promising to do to Iowa what Scott Walker did to Wisconsin. Right now we’ve got a slim margin in the state Senate stopping him.”

Westphal, whose wife Jennifer also is an AFSCME member working at the Veterans Home, focused his campaign on creating jobs and improving education. “I’ll also be a strong advocate for reopening the Iowa Juvenile Home,” he said.

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