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Thousands of Protesters Greet ALEC

by Kevin Brown and Eli Magana  |  July 23, 2015

Thousands of Protesters Greet ALEC Pictured: Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes, Delores Huerta, Bao Nguyen (Mayor of Garden Grove, California), Tefere Gebre (Executive VP, AFL-CIO), Doug Moore (Exec. Dir.) and Johanna Hester (Special Asst. to the ED) of UDW - and thousands of others.

SAN DIEGO – Thousands marched against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) during the opening day of its annual meeting. It was one of the largest protests ever against the right-wing organization, featuring elected officials, workers, community activists, faith-based leaders and other progressives.

“Today we refused to allow the actions of a group of anti-worker billionaires that push laws to make the rich richer on the backs of hardworking families go unnoticed,” said Jesse Torres, a home care provider with AFSCME’s United Domestic Workers (UDW).

ALEC is a corporate-funded group of nearly 2,000 extremist state lawmakers who use ALEC’s cookie-cutter approach to draft legislation that weakens unions, throws up roadblocks to voting and promotes “Stand Your Ground” gun laws.

The annual ALEC conference brings together hundreds of corporate lobbyists and wealthy funders from around the country to wine and dine the lawmakers. Legislators are promised hefty contributions in exchange for support of state laws that weaken worker and environmental protections, eviscerate public education and punish immigrant families.

“All of us here today are committed to building the middle class and lifting families out of poverty, and ALEC is here to do the exact opposite!” added Torres.

Other speakers included Yessika Magdaleno, a child care provider from Orange County who is part of a statewide coalition campaigning to pass legislation aimed at improving California’s child care system by giving working women and providers a greater voice and collective bargaining rights.

"ALEC's anti-worker agenda harms our workforce, which is mostly women, as well as the hardworking families who depend on us to care for their children,” Magdaleno said. “Let’s continue to work together toward a quality child care program in California – because unlike ALEC, we support hardworking families, and women!"

After listening to community and labor activists decry ALEC’s negative impact on middle-class families, the massive crowd marched to the doorstep of the conference to ensure their message was heard.

Challenging ‘Political’ Supreme Court

July 23, 2015

Challenging ‘Political’ Supreme Court If the Supreme Court makes a partisan ruling in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, it would further manipulate the political system against working families, Harold Meyerson writes.

If the Supreme Court makes a partisan ruling in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, undermining the ability of public sector workers to band together on the job, it would further manipulate the political system against working families, Harold Meyerson writes in his Washington Post column July 22.

In June, the Supreme Court decided to hear the Friedrichs case, which seeks to overturn a unanimous 1977 decision that strengthened the ability of nurses, librarians, corrections officers and other public service workers to have a say at work.

Meyerson, also the editor-at-large of The American Prospect, said a ruling to overturn the long standing precedent could “create a long-term advantage for their party over the Democrats. Such a ruling would be worse than the court’s decision in Bush v. Gore, which essentially decided only the one election, and “could decide elections for years to come.”

For public service workers though, the case is about much more than politics. “If my coworkers and I come together and have a collective voice on the job, we can advocate for better patient care, better training and equipment, and safe staffing levels,” said AFSCME member Kelly Druskis-Abreu, a mental health worker from Worcester, Massachusetts. “This is about all of us.”

 

VIDEO: Bad Bosses Working Overtime

by Michael Byrne  |  July 23, 2015

Jeb Bush says we need to work longer hours. Scott Walker says the minimum wage is “lame” and signed a budget that eliminates the weekend. Marco Rubio says we need to run the country according to what business says it needs. Donald Trump says … well, “you’re fired!”

AFSCME’s new video puts these bad-boss ideas promoted by candidates for President into the context of bad bosses we know and hate in modern culture. Why are these rich politicians picking on American workers anyway?

The reality is that Americans work more hours than any other workers on earth. According to the International Labor Organization, Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.

In fact, the Gallop Poll last year found that the average workweek for salaried and wage-earners is now 47 hours, well beyond the 40-hour workweek proscribed in the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires that employers pay overtime for work beyond 40 hours.

Employers have managed to get around the overtime provisions by paying set weekly salaries, instead of hourly wages, since only salaried workers earning less than $23,660 a year qualify for overtime under the current FLSA rule. That standard is so low that only 8 percent of salaried workers qualify for overtime, compared with 65 percent of salaried workers who qualified in 1975.

President Obama proposed a rule change that would raise the limit on overtime pay to $50,440, which would cover 11 million more salaried workers now being forced to work beyond 40 hours without overtime pay. It’s a long overdue change that will put more money into the hands of working families and, thus, improve the U.S. economy.

Naturally, we can expect a fight from all the bad bosses out there doubling as Presidential candidates. But you can weigh in on the side of workplace justice. Let the Department of Labor know that you support the rule change by clicking this link to send a message.

Send a message to the bad bosses: We work hard for the money. Pay up!

Texas Legislative Success Draws New Members

by Namita Waghray  |  July 21, 2015

Texas Legislative Success Draws New Members New member Amimbda Ajayi: “Winning our raise was one thing we did together, but there is so much more we can accomplish!”

PALESTINE, Texas - With two major legislative wins under its belt, AFSCME Texas Corrections Employees launched a full-scale organizing campaign across the state.  Ten different locals are involved in the campaign, along with AFSCME International organizers. 

Recently, corrections officers and employees received one of the largest pay increases in Texas Corrections history.  This victory, combined with members’ ability to push back a payroll deductions bill during the legislative session, has many nonunion workers sitting up and taking notice. AFSCME’s Texas Corrections Employees gained more than 1,000 new dues-paying members between January and May of this year. The legislative session ended June 1. 

The organizing blitz to build membership started on July 10 and will run through July 27.  Targeted areas include Gatesville, Palestine, Angleton, Abilene and Lubbock.  In just three days, activists have signed up nearly 50 new members and had more than 120 one-on-one conversations, identifying the concerns of corrections employees.

Corrections Officer Amimbda Ajayi joined the union and signed up as an AFSCME PEOPLE MVP because “the union is about people coming together,” she said.  “It’s a group thing.  We can do it together. Winning our raise was one thing we did together, but there is so much more we can accomplish!”

Richard Salazar, president of Local 3806, said the organizing success shows what can be accomplished with one-on-one conversations. “I know that people want to get involved,” he said. “They just need that extra push. Having someone stop by and have a personal conversation may be all someone needs to commit to being a union member.”

Contract Win at Vermont’s HowardCenter

by AFSCME Council 93  |  July 21, 2015

Contract Win at Vermont’s HowardCenter HowardCenter workers - members of AFSCME Local 1674 - walked picket lines for a better contract in April.

More than 13 months of intensive contract negotiations has yielded a lucrative new contract for AFSCME members working at Vermont's HowardCenter, a nonprofit social services organization. Members of Local 1674 voted overwhelmingly June 30 to ratify the contract, paving the way for long overdue pay increases for the workers.

"It's heartening to know that the wages of our members at the HowardCenter are finally beginning to match the quality of the critical services they provide," said AFSCME Council 93 Exec. Dir. Frank Moroney, also an AFSCME International vice president. "These skilled and dedicated workers work hard every day to provide quality care to some of the most vulnerable members of society. We're pleased we were able to bring them this long-overdue recognition and we look forward to continuing to build the strength and power of Local 1674." 

Under the new agreement, current employees who were employed at the HowardCenter on or after Nov. 1, 2013, will receive a 2 percent increase to their base salary. In addition, workers will receive a 2.6 percent retroactive increase for the period Aug 1, 2014, through June 30, 2015. They also received an additional 2 percent increase, effective July 1.

Some staff will receive additional pay increases or bonuses, depending on licenses they hold, the shifts they work, the length of time they've worked at the center, and other factors. In addition, workers who use their automobiles for their jobs will now also receive reimbursement at the non-taxable per mile rate set annually by the IRS.

The road to the contract agreement was long and difficult and included several demonstrations aimed at calling attention to the extremely low wages paid to the workers. The union also organized a public informational forum at Burlington City Hall that drew more than 150 supporters and was attended by Moroney and AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders.

After months of pressure, the union also received the backing of Burlington City Councilors who passed a nonbinding resolution in May urging the Howard Center to pay workers a living wage. These and other efforts were bolstered by a Council 93 paid radio advertising campaign and other media relations strategies.

Netroots Nation, Meet AFSCME Strong

by Kevin Brown  |  July 21, 2015

Netroots Nation, Meet AFSCME Strong AFSCME Local 2384 Pres. Luis Schmidt (left) and Local 2960 Pres. Frank Piccioli at the AFSCME-sponsored panel at Netroots Nation.

PHOENIX, Ariz. – When Netroots Nation, the annual political conference for progressive bloggers, newsmakers and activists from across the country, assembled here July 16-19, AFSCME used the opportunity to share strategies and introduce AFSCME Strong

An AFSCME-sponsored panel on unions as the answer to the problem of income inequality attracted a passionate crowd eager to hear how labor will organize a winning movement in the face of corporate-funded attacks. Seema Nanda, an assistant to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, opened the discussion by declaring, “The labor movement is one of the last counter-balances to a system that corporate interests have rigged against working families, in favor of the rich.”

The panel also included: Neera Tanden, president of Center for American Progress; U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.); Naomi Walker, assistant to the president of AFSCME; and Frank Piccioli, president of AFSCME Local 2960.

Piccioli reflected on the impact unions played on his family. “When my father suffered second- and third-degree burns, it was our union that had our backs,” he said. “I don’t know where I would be without the continued support and benefits unions bargain for — for all workers.”

Walker told conference participants about AFSCME Strong, the intensive campaign to strengthen our union by engaging members in one-on-one conversations about our future.  

“AFSCME members are going on the offensive,” Walker said. “We’re facing down attacks from corporate-funded politicians with renewed grassroots energy from our membership. The renewed activism in our union is already creating results. AFSCME has organized over 140,000 new members since last year — even in right-to-work states.” 

Among the speakers were Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and two candidates running in the Democratic presidential primary: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. The presidential town hall featuring O’Malley and Sanders was interrupted by civil rights activists intent on bringing national attention to the issues of racial inequality and law enforcement treatment of the black population.

VIDEO: Cab Driver Advocates Successfully Defend Fellow Drivers

by David Kreisman  |  July 20, 2015

VIDEO: Cab Driver Advocates Successfully Defend Fellow Drivers Chicago cab driver Taiwo Iyiola (middle) proudly displays his dismissed ticket, flanked by the Driver Advocates Ezz Abdelmagid (left) and Michael Agunloye (right) who assisted him.

CHICAGO – Piloting a new program based on AFSCME Council 31’s steward training last spring, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME’s “Driver Advocate” program has produced results for Chicago cab drivers. More than half of the tickets have been dismissed outright because of the union’s efforts.

“When I first got the ticket, I felt so bad,” said Taiwo Iyiola, a new member of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME. “I immediately called Cab Drivers United, and I showed them the ticket, and they told me not to worry, they are going to go with me to 400 West Superior,” where the drivers must navigate a cumbersome court system after receiving a ticket.  

Many cab drivers call 400 West Superior a “kangaroo court” because of confusing rules and regulations, on top of coercive prosecutors that pressure drivers to settle without a hearing, regardless of guilt or wrongdoing.

Iyiola said that Cab Drivers United/AFSCME “came inside with me, and at the end of the day, the judge told me he is going to dismiss the case, which he did. I was so impressed that the Cab Drivers United/AFSCME were able to fight for me.”

Besides tickets dismissed outright, others were amended so that fines were reduced, thanks to AFSCME’s Driver Advocate program.

“When the police give you the ticket, you just pay what you are supposed to pay,” added Iyiola.  “But when you are in the union, when you have any problem, go straight to the union. The union will tell you, ‘This is what you are supposed to do, this is not what you are supposed to do.’”

California = No-ALEC Zone

by Kevin Brown  |  July 20, 2015

California = No-ALEC Zone As the right-wing ALEC and its corporate allies assemble in San Diego this week, they will be met by thousands of demonstrators sending a message that “California is a no-ALEC zone.”

SAN DIEGO – As the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its corporate allies assemble here this month, they will be met by thousands of demonstrators sending a message that “California is a no-ALEC zone.”

“ALEC works to pass laws that make the lives of Americans harder,” said Doug Moore, executive director of AFSCME’s United Domestic Workers and also an AFSCME International vice president. “We do things differently here in California; we are raising the minimum wage, protecting our families, educating our children and respecting the rights of all Californians.”

ALEC for decades has created anti-worker “model” legislation, including the “right to work” scam, and building a network of right-wing state legislators who want to slash wages, cut retirement, weaken health and safety, harm the environment, and destroy the middle class.

Thousands of workers, community groups, faith-based leaders, and progressives will gather together at the site of ALEC’s conference to make it clear they are not welcome in California.

 “We are coming together to let ALEC know that their harmful agenda isn’t wanted here, and so that we can let other American families know we stand with them,” Moore said. “Together we can ensure ALEC and their allies do not have power here.”

NBC’s Atlanta affiliate recently exposed ALEC for its secret dealing with Georgia legislators. A panel will be held the day following the rally to discuss how such deals can hurt working families and our communities. 

Here's a funny edited look as well at ALEC's newest promotional video. 

Oregon AFSCME Pushes Reform for All Workers

by John Noonan  |  July 20, 2015

Oregon AFSCME Pushes Reform for All Workers Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed into law a groundbreaking package of workplace and retirement legislation that could serve as a model for other states.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on July 14 signed into law a groundbreaking package of workplace and retirement legislation that could serve as a model for other states. The new laws, strongly supported by AFSCME Council 75 and a broad community coalition, provides:

  • Mandatory paid sick days for employees.
  • A state-managed retirement system open to all residents.
  • A prohibition against employers considering a job applicant’s conviction history during the initial hiring stages.
  • A requirement for reporting profiling complaints to the Law Enforcement Contacts and Data Review Committee.

“I’m very proud that our union had a role in fighting to bring statewide benefits that most of our members already enjoy,” said Karen Williams, AFSCME Council 75 political action chair. “It was really clear that we were in this fight for everyone in the community, and that’s how it should be. I couldn’t be more proud of our fight to expand these benefits and to help improve everyone’s work life.”

AFSCME Council 75 and other labor organizations joined with a coalition of faith and community groups to form the Fair Shot for All Coalition, lobbying collectively to pass the historic legislative package.

The work of AFSCME Council 75 and its allies perfectly illustrates the important role the labor movement plays in improving working conditions for everyone, regardless of their union status. Where unions are strong, wages are higher, more people have health insurance, and fewer people live in poverty

 

Iowa Corrections Managers Cost Taxpayers

by David Patterson  |  July 16, 2015

Iowa Corrections Managers Cost Taxpayers The 1st District Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has refused to make changes even though the district is set to lay off two community program monitor workers and eliminate a third parole/probation officer position.

Dozens of Iowa community-based corrections managers are taking advantage of an improper loophole to gain up to an extra week of vacation – and what amounts to an additional two weeks of additional sick time – a violation of state rules that has cost taxpayers more than $1 million in the past five years, according to a recent report by the Iowa Auditor’s office.

The state’s 1st, 5th and 6th judicial district departments of correctional services have been awarding as much as 40 percent more vacation to managers than allowed, and the 1st and 6th districts have been awarding as much as 67 percent more sick leave to managers than other districts that abided by maximum state limits, the report said. Two other districts, the 7th and 8th, were found to have improperly classified some managers as field staff, which boosted their vacation accrual.

Officials in those districts thought state maximum limits for vacation and sick leave did not apply to them because they did not consider themselves to be state employees, the audit said. However, the limits do apply because the officials participate in the state’s sick leave insurance program, according to the auditor’s report.

“At a time when Iowa’s entire correctional system, including our prisons and community-based corrections, is severely understaffed, it is highly disturbing to find out about these excessive vacation and sick leave benefits for management employees,” said Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61, the union representing these district’s employees. Homan is also an AFSCME International vice president.

The rank-and-file workers covered by the AFSCME contract who work to help offenders successfully return to society do not receive this perk; it’s exclusive to management.

The 1st District Department of Correctional Services (DCS), covering 11 counties in the northeast section of the state, has refused to make changes even though the district is set to lay off two community program monitor workers and eliminate a third parole/probation officer position.

The district’s director, Karen Herkelman, contends that any changes in leave accruals would have minimal impact on payout in the current fiscal year and would not prevent layoffs. However, Herkelman has a conflict of interest: she is set to retire July 31 and will likely receive excessive vacation and sick leave payout if no changes are made before then.

“The only reasonable reaction to the auditor’s report is to stop awarding these excessive benefits and remove excessively awarded leave from manager’s sick and vacation leave accounts,” Homan said. “The state auditor has said these management perks are improper. Not one penny should be spent on these improper perks, especially when layoffs are occurring.”

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