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Q&A With Johanna Puno Hester

by Pablo Ros  |  May 17, 2016

Q&A With Johanna Puno Hester Johanna Puno Hester

May is a time to celebrate the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to our country’s economy, diverse culture and richness. During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), we pay tribute to the fastest-growing minority group in the nation, as well as the accomplishments of its many individuals, including labor leaders.

Labor leaders like  Ah Quon McElrath, Philip Vera Cruz and Larry Itliong inspired many of their contemporaries and followers, and they carved out the road ahead for the rest of us.

One of AFSCME’s very own, Johanna Puno Hester, is a champion for the homecare cause in California and leader of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), where she serves as national president. She began her career with AFSCME in 1999 as lead organizer for the Organizing and Field Services Department, organizing 2,000 recreation and park assistants in Los Angeles. She also worked in several other organizing campaigns, including at the University of Maryland and New Mexico University. Today she serves as special assistant to the executive director of United Domestic Workers (UDW), The Homecare Providers Union/AFSCME Local 3930. She is also an AFSCME International vice president.

How did you first become interested in the labor movement?

I was exposed to it through my father, who was a hotel worker and active in his union. He was a shop steward. I was born in the Philippines and by the time I joined him in the U.S. when I was 15, he was a business agent for HERE (as it was known then), Local 2 in San Francisco. I got started in the labor movement because every weekend I had to go to a picket line with him in San Francisco. There was a restaurant that they were viciously fighting with at the time, and a few other hotels. So I was introduced to it in an action-oriented way.

Who inspires you?

Right now who inspires me are mothers who are hard-working and who give their all for their families and to uplift other women. (Johanna is a mother herself; her daughter, Isabel Malaya, is 5 years old.)

What motivates you to keep going every day?

I think what motivates me is my own family and its history in this country. I am lucky to have a job and be documented and working and able to vote in this country. So many immigrants, especially the undocumented, suffer abuse at the hands of employers. That really angers me. But the anger gets turned into motivation to fight back. We have a responsibility to fight back because other people can’t.

What are some of the issues or campaigns you’re currently working on?

I am privileged to work on a campaign called Interpreting for California to build medical interpreting services into the Medi-Cal program. About 50 percent of Medi-Cal patients of California speak English less than well and the interpretation needs are mostly being filled by children or strangers in the hospital halls. We need to change that. Another campaign I am privileged to work on is the child care campaign in California: We’re trying to get more families to have access to quality child care services. We want to win collective bargaining rights for Family Child Care Providers because everyone deserves a voice on the job!  

What personal contribution are you most proud of?

I am personally proud of the work I have done to build a San Diego Chapter of APALA, where we are creating space and uplifting progressive API voices where there has been little or none, as well as the work I have put in to bring the labor-faith, community with border patrol workers in San Diego.  I am truly in a privileged position to be the national president of APALA, which gives a voice to often-unheard Asian American Pacific Islander union members. It’s a national platform to give a progressive voice to union workers. I will continue to use that platform to build power and a better understanding of our community so unions can organize our Asian American Pacific Islander workers, but also to build power for APIs and other workers of color, to form and or join a union.

How to Enjoy a Zika-Free Summer

by Pablo Ros  |  May 16, 2016

How to Enjoy a Zika-Free Summer (Courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

It’s almost here, the season when it becomes so hard to stay indoors! One weekend you’re off to the beach, another weekend you’re going camping. Almost every night, it seems, somebody in your neighborhood is grilling in their backyard.

Many public service workers also spend their days outdoors. For highway, public works and parks workers, environmental and conservation officers, fresh air is part of the job.

That’s why it’s important to know that this spring and summer, mosquito season could be more than just a nuisance. To ensure your nature outings are memorable for all the right reasons, and that the public service you perform so proudly doesn’t endanger your health, take a few preventive measures to keep the Zika virus away.

The Zika virus is spread through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. An outbreak began in Brazil in May 2015 and has spread to several Latin American countries and U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

The symptoms of the virus are fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis (red eyes). But a Zika infection during pregnancy can cause a serious birth defects including microcephaly brain defects and death.

Unlike other mosquito-borne illnesses, Zika can be sexually transmitted by men to their partners. And there is currently no vaccine for it.

Although there have only been few cases of the virus in the continental U.S., it is almost certain to spread during the warmer months ahead. That’s why it’s important to take a few preventive steps:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents.
  • Treat clothing and gear with permethrin or buy permethrin-treated items.
  • Install or repair window and door screens. Do not leave doors propped open.
  • Mosquitoes lay eggs near water. So, once a week, empty and scrub, turn over, cover or throw out any items that hold water like tires, buckets, planters, toys, pools, birdbaths, flowerpot saucers or trash containers.
  • Tightly cover water storage containers (buckets, cisterns, rain barrels) so that mosquitoes cannot get inside.
  • Mosquitoes rest in dark, humid areas such as under patio furniture. Use an outdoor flying insect spray in such areas.
  • If you have a septic tank, repair cracks or gaps. Cover open vents or plumbing pipes. Use wire mesh with holes smaller than an adult mosquito.
  • Kill mosquitoes inside your home. Use an indoor flying insect fogger or indoor insect spray to kill mosquitoes and treat areas where they rest. Always follow label directions.

For more preventive measures, visit the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Does Your Pet Have Union Pride?

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  May 16, 2016

Does Your Pet Have Union Pride?

We work hard to support our families – that means our pets, too! Just like your union, your pet is always there for you when you need a friend. It's a species-to-species spirit of solidarity that we think deserves recognition.

We want to see how your four-legged friends wear their union pride. Whether it's a cat that looks great in an AFSCME scarf or a lizard that's proud to be green, all pets are welcome to join our new Arf-SCME Strong nation! Just email a photo of your pet to, text us your photo at 237-263, or submit it to Don’t forget to include your contact info and local number!

Your pet might be featured on AFSCME’s website or in AFSCME WORKS magazine.

AFSCME also has resources to help your pet live a long and healthy life. With Union Plus, you can get affordable pet insurance so that you don't have to worry about vet bills. For as little as $11.99 per month, the Union Plus plan allows you to use any veterinarian with no coverage limit – no matter what Fido decides to eat next.

Pets are such an important part of our lives. They brighten our days and bring us joy. Share some of that happiness! We can't wait to see your pictures.

AFSCME Members Help Defeat Paycheck Deception in Missouri

by Alexandra Townsend, Missouri Council 72  |  May 13, 2016

AFSCME Members Help Defeat Paycheck Deception in Missouri Michelle Fullard (right), a Developmental Aide at Bellefontaine Habilitation Center, Eleanor Taylor (center), a home care worker in St. Louis, and a friend at the Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo. (Photo by Alexandra Townsend)

Just after midnight on Friday the 13th, an attempt to override Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of anti-worker legislation known as “paycheck deception” failed, with a bipartisan group of senators voting to support workers’ rights.

The measure, HB 1891, would have required cumbersome annual reauthorizations of union membership, as well a slew of other anti-worker provisions.  It was all designed to undermine the ability of public service workers to stand together in union to improve their jobs, serve their communities and earn a better living for their families.  

The bill originally passed earlier this year, with 109 votes in the House and 23 votes in the Senate – the minimum number of votes needed to override the veto.

After Gov. Jay Nixon issued the veto, AFSCME members sprang into action, calling and emailing their elected officials to encourage them to sustain the veto and support workers’ rights. 

AFSCME members like Travis Case, a shopkeeper employed in the Missouri Department of Corrections, and Malissa Parker, a certified nursing assistant at the Missouri Veterans Nursing Center, regularly called their legislators, wrote letters, sent emails and signed petitions opposing the legislation. In March, hundreds of members of AFSCME and other unions and allies rallied at the Capitol against paycheck deception.

AFSCME members and members of other unions canvassed their neighborhoods urging their neighbors to write letters to their elected officials to sustain the veto. They also met daily with senators at the Capitol in Jefferson City to deliver letters and messages from constituents about the concerns they had with the bill and to urge the lawmakers to support workers’ rights. Their efforts were successful, as two Republicans joined every Democrat in standing up for Missouri workers, rejecting the paycheck deception bill inspired by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

“We are appreciative of Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who continues to support collective bargaining and workers’ rights,” said Rachelle Leonard, a Psych Tech II at Metropolitan St. Louis Psychiatric Center. “Workers have been meeting with her to address community concerns, and we look forward to continuing our dialogue and finding ways we can continue to work together.”

Marcus Jones, a bus driver with North Kansas City Schools, said, “I know my co-workers and I are also looking forward to working with legislators from both parties in the future on finding solutions to the real problems facing public employees across Missouri, like low pay and the increasing turn-over rate in public jobs.”

Help Collect Food for the Hungry on May 14

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  May 12, 2016

Help Collect Food for the Hungry on May 14

There are about 46 million people in the United States who worry about where their next meal will come from. One in seven American families will rely on a food pantry at some point in any given year. Those food pantries are a critical lifeline, but they rely on volunteers and donations, and many pantries struggle to meet the needs of their communities.

Our sisters and brothers with the National Association of Letter Carriers (AFL-CIO) are trying to help. Every year, they organize an event called Stamp Out Hunger to collect food for local pantries across the United States. Last year, postal workers collected more than 70 million pounds of food. This year’s drive will occur Saturday, May 14.

“Letter carriers touch every residential and business address in this country at least six days a week,” NALC Pres. Fredric Rolando said, “and our continued effort in the fight against hunger—often in our own neighborhoods—has made us all too familiar with the staggering numbers of people in need.”

It’s easy to participate. Before your letter carrier arrives on Saturday, gather non-perishable items that you wish to donate and put them in a bag near your mailbox. Some AFSCME locals are distributing bags specifically for the drive, but any kind of bag is fine. When your letter carrier arrives to deliver your mail, they will also pick up your donation.

If you aren’t sure what to donate, you can find some ideas here. The food drive accepts pet food and toiletries, but please note that they cannot accept individual containers of baby food. Read more about the dos and don’ts on the NALC website.

Nurses Help Us Every Day – Now it’s Our Turn to Help Them

by Clyde Weiss  |  May 11, 2016

Nurses Help Us Every Day – Now it’s Our Turn to Help Them UNAC/UHCP’s South Bay affiliate celebrating Nurses Week by providing medical and educational assistance to the high risk and recently homeless mothers and children participating in Compton’s Shields for Families program.

Nurses never ask if you’re dangerous before they treat you. As professionals, your health is upper-most on their minds, not their own health and safety. Yet it’s their safety we should be thinking about this week – National Nurses Week (May 6-12). That’s because theirs is a potentially dangerous occupation, and more can be done to prevent the kind of violence they face every day.

More than 60,000 nurses are members of AFSCME United Nurses of America. They include members of United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP), representing 25,000 registered nurses and other health care professionals. Their efforts to fight for safe staffing levels for nurses and patients have already led to progress, and they continue to urge the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health to take additional steps to reduce violence initiated by patients.

Violence against nursing professionals is not a minor problem. A March 2016 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) describes the problem in detail. For instance, it reported that California found 1,169 of 4,449 workplace injuries analyzed from 2003 to 2013 “were due to patient assaults and amounted to $16.6 million in worker’s compensation costs over this time period.”

A workplace violence survey of 763 nurses from one hospital system, reviewed by the GAO, found that in just one 12-month period, 30 percent of those completing the survey “reported experiencing physical abuse perpetrated by patients, and 54 percent reported experiencing verbal abuse perpetrated by patients.”

Any percent of violence in the workplace is too high, but violence in a hospital setting should be – and can be – reduced or avoided entirely. The GAO recommended that, at the federal level, the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) “provide additional information to assist inspectors in developing citations, develop a policy for following up on hazard alert letters concerning workplace violence hazards in health care facilities, and assess its current efforts.”

The GAO said “OSHA agreed with GAO’s recommendations and stated that it would take action to address them.”

More should be done at the local level, as well. In April, a delegation of UNAC/UHCP members delivered more than 500 safe staffing petition signatures to Kaiser Permanente in San Diego. They also packed the office of Kaiser’s senior vice president to demand a meeting over unsafe staffing and other patient care issues. She refused and walked away.

Nurses Help Us Every Day – Now it’s Our Turn to Help Them UNAC/UHCP’s Woodland Hills affiliate celebrating Nurses Week by hosting a lunch for, and by making a substantial donation of household items to victims of domestic violence.

This is unfortunate, because the nursing professionals at UNAC/UHCP deserve respect. They never quit serving their communities and demonstrated that never-quit spirit for National Nurses Week by following in the tradition of Florence Nightingale. On May 5, members of UNAC/UHCP’s South Bay affiliate provided medical and educational assistance to hundreds of high-risk and recently homeless mothers and children participating in Compton’s Shields for Families program, providing general medical assessments and giving a variety of tests and screenings. They also made a $3,000 contribution to the Shields program.  

In addition, UNAC/UHCP’s Woodland Hills affiliate celebrated Nurses Week by hosting a lunch for, and by donating household items to, victims of domestic violence living at Haven Hills, a women’s shelter in the hospital’s service area.  They also donated $500 to the Haven Hills clients.

AFSCME salutes these hard-working nursing professionals who never quit serving their communities, and we will never quit supporting them, including efforts to increase safe staffing levels. Learn more about the history of National Nurses Week here.

President Obama Meets with AFSCME Member in Flint

by Dave Patterson  |  May 10, 2016

President Obama Meets with AFSCME Member in Flint Tyrone Wooten of Flint, Mich., a member of AFSCME Local 1603 (Council 25), got to meet President Obama to talk about his city’s water crisis. (Photo by Dave Patterson)

FLINT, Mich. – For Tyrone Wooten, a member of AFSCME Local 1603 (Council 25), May 4 was a big day for him and his hometown. He personally met with President Obama to discuss the water crisis.

President Obama then addressed the city’s residents, reassuring them that “I’ve got your back” and “you’ve got power.”

Wooten took part, with six other Flint residents, in a roundtable with the President. They talked about their personal struggles living day to day without usable water, what it will take for residents to regain trust in government and what Flint needs to move forward.

“It was a very face-to-face meeting,” said Wooten. “It was just us and him (and the Secret Service) telling it like it is. I told the President, ‘My union serves the people of Flint, and we want to get busy fixing this problem, but we need the resources to get to work and get this fixed.’”

The whirlwind day wasn’t over for Wooten after his meeting with the President. He was also interviewed by statewide news media and was quoted in the Detroit Free Press. The AFSCME member, who works at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, produced a video, posted on YouTube, called Bottled Water, about his family’s challenges during the crisis.

“All of our pipes in Flint need to be replaced,” said Wooten. “Our city has been leading the way the best they can, but the state has yet to replace a single pipe in Flint. We need those resources and we need the federal help that President Obama has pledged to make sure our families are safe.”

For now, AFSCME members and residents of Flint keep waiting for real dollars and decisive actions to flow from the Snyder administration to fix this health crisis. 

New York City Scraps Veolia Contract

by Diane Williams, DC 37  |  May 06, 2016

New York City Scraps Veolia Contract Members of Local 1320 Sewage Treatment Workers are pleased the contract with Veolia, a water management company, will not be renewed. (Photo by Clarence Elie-Rivera)

In a victory for consumers and providers of public services, New York City officials say a multi-million dollar contract with a private French conglomerate to manage the city’s 14 waste­water treatment plants will not be renewed.

The contract with Veolia, a $27 billion company based in Paris, is set to expire in June. The contract came with a few one-year extension options that will not be exercised, city officials told DC 37.

Privatization oppo­nents and public service workers hailed the decision.

“We are pleased that the city has decided to bring this contract to an end,” said Jim Tucciarelli, president of Sewage Treatment and Senior Sewage Treatment Workers Local 1320, whose members operate the Department of Environmental Protection’s wastewater treatment plants and collections facilities.

DC 37 locals worked with advocacy groups, such as Food and Water Watch and Corporate Accountability Inter­national, to make the case against privatization.

“This was a coalition effort,” DC 37 Exec. Dir. Henry Garrido said.

DC 37 first brought attention to the Veolia contract in New York City after the Flint, Michigan, water crisis became widely known earlier this year. Other press reports on the tragedy in Flint – where residents’ complaints of contami­nated water fell on deaf ears for two years – revealed the state of Michigan paid Veolia $50,000 in March 2015 to test the water. The company recommended water softeners for iron corrosion but didn’t expose the deadly lead contamination because such tests were not in the scope of the contract.

DC 37 pointed to Veolia’s murky record of chemical explosions, sewage spills and soaring water rate hikes that were documented by global activists.

Some of Veolia’s critics expressed concern that the wastewater management contract was a “foot in the door” that could open opportuni­ties to further privatize the city’s water system.

“I am glad our message reached officials who listened and agreed to do what’s best for New Yorkers,” Garrido said.

“And we want to thank the environmental advo­cates who stood ready to keep the pressure on and speak out against privatization.”

Correctional Sgt. Rick Neyssen: Professionalism Key to a Dangerous Job

by John Noonan  |  May 06, 2016

Correctional Sgt. Rick Neyssen: Professionalism Key to a Dangerous Job Correctional Sgt. Rick Neyssen (Photo courtesy AFSCME Council 5)

ST CLOUD, Minn. – Every day, Correctional Sgt. Rick Neyssen makes a five-minute commute to the Minnesota Correctional Facility – St. Cloud, one of the state’s largest prison facilities, and joins his co-workers to provide dedicated, professional security in one of the hardest work environments you can imagine.

To understand the dangerous work that Sgt. Neyssen, a member of AFSCME Local 599 (Council 5), and his co-workers do is to appreciate the critical public service they perform. They face these conditions day in and day out, sometimes without adequate staff support.

Corrections officers and other personnel who work in jails, prisons, and community corrections facilities across the country put their lives on the line each time they check in. That’s why, during National Correctional Officers and Employees Week (the first week in May), we salute these brave women and men who serve us with distinction.

National Correctional Officers’ Week was established in 1984 and later modified by Congress to include other public service workers in correctional facilities like the institution in St. Cloud, which is operated by the Minnesota Department of Corrections. It is the state’s main intake facility for inmates, many of whom come with mental health and addiction issues.

Sgt. Neyssen and his co-workers have many responsibilities. In addition to his job as a Corrections Sergeant, for instance, he also serves as a Yard Sergeant and a Tool Control Sergeant, in charge of overseeing the tools in use throughout the prison.

At any one time there are roughly 120-150 inmates for every two to four officers. Sgt. Neyssen operates on the conviction that the highest standard of professionalism is critical, ensuring the best outcomes for everyone – the public, his co-workers and the inmates themselves.

“Every time you deal with an offender you’re selling your ability and authority,” he said. “It’s important that you show up to work clean-cut, in a clean uniform, and sharp. … It’s imperative that we’re all business to keep control of the situation. 

“Security is job number one,” he added. “Whether it’s maintenance or plant ops [operations], it’s still security first.”

Sgt. Neyssen noted that many offenders are eventually released back into society. That’s why “it’s incumbent on us to be professional at all times,” he said. “It’s best for the community when they get out, for the offender, and for you.”

Despite the hazards of his job, Sgt. Neyssen said one of the hardest parts is leaving it at the door. They see inmates at their best as well as their worst, all while struggling with mental health and addiction. Sgt. Neyssen and his co-workers are not uncaring. “There is this preconceived notion that we’re all large, knuckle dragging Neanderthals,” he said. “It’s not true. We’re a very intellectual, well spoken, and thoughtful group. We have to be. People need to know we’re like anyone else. We’re doing a serious job and take it very seriously. We’re not just a bunch of thugs and lugs.”

Some 62,000 corrections officers and 23,000 corrections employees are proud members of AFSCME Corrections United (ACU). To each and every one of you, we salute you during National Correctional Officers and Employees Week – and every week – for working hard to make our communities safe. You never quit on us and AFSCME won’t quit working to make sure you have the staffing you need to keep you safe.

Verizon Workers on Strike Need Our Support

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  May 05, 2016

Verizon Workers on Strike Need Our Support Workers and their allies picket outside the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jenny Ho)

As Verizon workers enter the fourth week of a historic strike, they’ve got a message for management: Can you hear us now?

The wireless giant is doing everything in its power to break the strike, but members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) won’t be silenced. This is the largest strike in the United States since 2011, and it’s still going strong.

Verizon is raking in profits of more than a billion dollars each month, but the workers who make it possible are getting low wages and substandard benefits. The people on the picket lines do the work that allows us to video-chat with grandma from our smartphones or stream HD movies on a laptop. It’s the kind of work that the 21st century will be built on. But Verizon doesn’t want these to be the kind of jobs that can support a middle-class American family. Instead, it’s sending jobs overseas or outsourcing to part-time, low-wage contractors.

AFSCME is standing in solidarity with members of CWA and IBEW as they stick up for the idea that hard work should be rewarded with a living wage, security and benefits. In keeping with their high-tech job titles, Verizon workers are making it easier than ever for us to support working people. The unions are asking members of the community to tweet, share, and Instagram as part of the “virtual picket line.”

You can learn more about how to support the strike on this CWA web page, where you can add your name to a petition and find a picket line near you. You can also tweet with the hashtag #StandUp2VZ. As technology becomes a central focus of our economy, we must make sure that good jobs remain a top priority.

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