Blog » Archive

Court Backs Voting Rights in Wisconsin

by Clyde Weiss  |  October 16, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a case involving Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 voter suppression law, slapped down efforts by lawmakers to limit who can vote. 

Governor Walker’s 2011 law was designed to ensure his own re-election, and the election of other anti-worker candidates by restricting the turnout of groups of voters less likely to vote for them, especially minorities and young people, who cannot provide certain types of identification.

A congressional study of voter ID laws, issued last week, compared voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee to four states that lacked those restrictions and concluded that such laws reduced voter turnout by as much as 3 percent. 

“GAO’s analysis suggests that the turnout decreases in Kansas and Tennessee beyond decreases in the comparison states were attributable to changes in those two states’ voter ID requirements,” the report said.

Extremist lawmakers like Governor Walker argue that such laws are aimed at preventing voter fraud, but there is little evidence of voter fraud in Wisconsin or nationwide. U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman concluded this April that “virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin. The defendants could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past,” or was likely to “become a problem at any time in the foreseeable future.”

Judge Adelman ruled at that time that Governor Walker’s voting restrictions violated both the equal-protection clause of the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. The 6-3 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Adelman’s ruling, effectively blocking the law.

The Wisconsin ruling came on the same day that a federal judge in Texas struck down that state’s restrictive voter ID law as unconstitutional. U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales-Ramos wrote that those legislators who pushed the law “were motivated, at the very least in part, because of and not merely in spite of the voter ID law’s detrimental effects on the African-American and Hispanic electorate.”

Unfortunately, a federal appeals court reinstated the Texas voter-ID law for the November election. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit did not rule on the law’s merits, so there is still hope that, eventually, it will be overturned as the case moves up the legal ladder.

Unions Make Sense for New Orleans Tourism Industry

by Helen Cox  |  October 16, 2014

NEW ORLEANS – In a historic win for New Orleans hospitality workers, 900 Harrah’s Hotel and Casino employees are now in contract negotiations after winning the right to organize with UNITE HERE and the Teamsters through successful card-check campaigns.

It was also a win for union conventioneers, since previously the only other unionized hotel in New Orleans was the Loews Hotel. The addition of Harrah’s workers doubled the city’s hospitality industry union membership. Still, there are more than 70,000 New Orleanians employed in the industry.  

In 2013, more than 9 million visitors came to New Orleans, spending $6 billion in the process. With the addition of a new unionized hotel, revenues are likely to increase with additional union functions, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders pointed out in a letter this summer to the president of Hilton International, whose Riverside property in New Orleans is being organized by UNITE HERE.

Much like New Orleans Cab Drivers for Justice AFSCME Local 234, these newly unionized hospitality workers hope to create a stronger tourism industry and also better their working conditions.

“Just like us cab drivers, hotel and food service workers help keep New Orleans’ tourism industry up and running,” said Delores Montgomery, president of AFSCME Local 234. “Having a union will enable them to fight back against mistreatment and abuse. More and more workers in the tourism industry are joining unions and when we stand together, we’re going to be unstoppable!”

Unlike other U.S. cities with large tourism revenues – such as Chicago, New York and Las Vegas – New Orleans’ union membership in the hospitality industry remains low. The industry stands to benefit if hotel owners respect their employees’ efforts to unionize. 

Lillian Roberts to Retire as DC 37 Executive Director

by Clyde Weiss  |  October 13, 2014

District Council 37 Executive Director Lillian Roberts announced last week she will retire at the end of the year as leader of New York City’s largest public employee union, but plans to continue her storied 60-year-career fighting for workers’ rights as an AFSCME International Vice President.

Roberts, who has served as executive director of DC 37 for 13 years, said in a letter to AFSCME’s Executive Board that she will step down on Dec. 31. The board accepted her recommendation to appoint DC 37 Assoc. Dir. Henry Garrido as executive director of DC 37, also effective December 31.

The board also offered its congratulations for Roberts’ proud history of leadership and dedication to the union and its members.

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders praised Roberts’ career at AFSCME’s International Convention in Chicago this summer, where he presented the legendary labor leader with the AFSCME Lifetime Achievement Award. In a statement last week, he said:

“I’ve seen firsthand her dedication to members and determination to make sure DC 37 unapologetically represents their interests and perspectives. Sometimes, this meant going up against mayors or other politicians who didn’t respect workers. Other times, it meant creating education programs to assist members in advancing on their jobs. And always, she’s done everything she could to help the women and men of AFSCME find and confidently use – their voices.”

In her letter to the board, Roberts wrote, “It has been a great pleasure to serve the members of DC 37 and to have had the opportunity to lead this Council through some of our most turbulent times in history. Although I am leaving the office of Executive Director, I will hold all of you and the members in my heart. I will always treasure those moments I spent working directly with members. I will always be passionate about this Council, the Executive Board, our members, and, of course, our International Union, AFSCME.”

Roberts also serves as vice president of the New York State AFL-CIO, vice president of the New York City Central Labor Council, and as co-chair of the Municipal Labor Committee. In 2010 she was named one of the 25 most influential black women in business by the Network Journal in 2010.

Growing up in Chicago’s South Side, Roberts became a nurse’s aide. In 1959, she became a shop steward and officer of AFSCME’s District Council 34, and later served as a staff rep for Chicago’s Council 19, where she spearheaded the creation of five locals and led an organizing drive for workers in the city’s four mental hospitals. Moving to New York in 1965, Roberts led the union’s campaign to organize thousands of city hospital workers in 1966.

In her comments to AFSCME Convention delegates upon receiving the AFSCME Lifetime Achievement Award, Roberts observed that, after joining DC 37, “all I cared about was the dignity of work, and I knew that I needed a union so I wouldn’t have to kiss somebody’s behind.” That, she added, “is why we have a union. It’s the only force that you have that gives you the dignity. This union is the greatest in the world. It’s your mouthpiece for justice.”

Click here to hear her convention remarks. Roberts recounted her experiences in the labor movement to National Public Radio’s News & Notes program in 2007. Listen to it here. Read more about Roberts here.

Saunders to CUPE: ‘Your Fights Are Our Fights’

by Clyde Weiss  |  October 10, 2014

Donning the T-shirt of our sister union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders this week declared that solidarity between our two unions is critical to win victories against the “anti-worker, anti-union forces” aligned against workers in both nations.

“Your fights are our fights, and our fights are your fights,” President Saunders said in a rousing address at CUPE’s National Sector Council Conference in Toronto on Oct. 7. “Together in solidarity, we will win!”

At AFSCME’s 41st International Convention this summer in Chicago, CUPE Pres. Paul Moist addressed our delegates, declaring his union’s support for AFSCME Michigan Council 25 in its fight against the privatization of water services.  “I’m going to Detroit!” he said, donning an AFSCME T-shirt. “I’m an AFSCME member! We’re going to stand with the workers of Detroit!”

Later, the two union leaders marched with their members over the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit and Canada in a demonstration of solidarity. At CUPE’s conference this week, President Saunders noted that it will take that kind of solidarity to defeat corporate-backed interests that want to undermine workers’ rights in both countries.

“Sisters and brothers,” he said, “this is the time we stand up together and say, ‘No more!’ This is the time we say, ‘Things must change!’ This is the time we come together as the labor movement, join hands across our borders and force that change to come.”

Raise a Storm for 10.10 Minimum Wage

by Joye Barksdale  |  October 09, 2014

Question: Besides Friday’s date, what does “10/10” refer to?

Answer: One day soon, if we keep up the fight and take action, it will refer to the new and improved federal minimum wage.

The Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives designated Oct. 10 as National Minimum Wage Day. Advocates of raising the wage, including AFSCME, are calling on Congress to pass the Minimum Wage Fairness Act this year to give 3.5 million workers a raise.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and was last raised in 2009. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage had more purchasing power in 1968 than at any other time.

Earlier this week, the Leadership Conference on Education Fund and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality issued a report declaring that increasing the wage is a civil rights issue. They made the connection because ending economic equality has always been “a fundamental goal” of the civil rights movement.

Think it’s past time to raise the wage? Take action! You can also join Friday’s Twitter Storm from 10:10 a.m. until 11:10 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time, hashtag #RaiseTheWage.

Ohio Pickets Target Prison Staffing, Safety

by Clyde Weiss  |  October 08, 2014

Chanting "safe prisons now" and "no more cuts," members of Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA)/AFSCME Local 11 took to the streets Oct. 6 to shed light on the dangers of understaffing and outsourcing, including security breaches, maggots found in food preparation areas operated by a contractor, and even prison escapes.

The employees of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (DR&C), represented by OCSEA, picketed outside the department’s Columbus office to deliver a message: Inadequate staffing and outsourcing to a for-profit food vendor, Aramark, placed workers and the community at risk. Despite having a record number of inmates – more than 50,600 in a system built for 38,579 – the DR&C in recent years shed 400 corrections officer posts, ordered the closure of housing units, and contracted with food service vendor Aramark, whose practices led to maggot infestations, OCSEA officials said.

In April, the state fined Aramark $272,000 for failing to meet staffing requirements, among other violations.

 “We know budgets are about choices, and the choices DR&C made and continues to make despite our warnings, put our security at risk and made our prisons more violent and dangerous places to work," said OCSEA Pres. Christopher Mabe, also an AFSCME International vice president. “We need more security staff, an end to the food service contract and an opportunity to be real partners with DR&C in keeping our prisons safe."

“Taxpayers want to know where their money's going,” added OCSEA Corrections Assembly Pres. Jim Adkins. “Well, here's where it's going: Instead of investing in front line security staff, they've given wardens an average 20 percent raise, added unit managers and lieutenants and created an entire new structure of ‘regional managers’ we've never had before.”

DR&C officials “turned their backs on Ohioans by ignoring the problems of security and making out multiple security breaches to be no big deal,” said Mabe. “But it is a big deal when you find multiple maggot infestations or when 100 Aramark employees are walked out of the prisons in less than a year's time. And it's a big deal when a murderer is housed in a minimum security prison and escapes.”

#TurnOutForWhat? Our Values For A Start.

by Laura Reyes  |  October 07, 2014

We believe that hard work should bring a fair day's pay and some measure of security when we retire. We believe that women and men trying to make ends meet shouldn't have to shoulder a higher tax burden than corporations. We're not heading to the polls to vote specific candidates or a party out of office, but to vote in the fundamental values that make day-to-day living a little easier for most American families.

When we turn out on Nov. 4, we win.

And here at AFSCME, we've recently launched the #TurnOutForWhat campaign on Twitter and Tumblr. People across the country are sharing why they're turning out to the polls on Nov. 4 and they're recruiting others to do the same. It's not just a hashtag; it's a call to action that we will heed on Election Day.

Please read my full entry on The Huffington Post here.

Laura Reyes is Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME

Voter Rights Activists Fight Off Attacks Nationwide

by Helen Cox   |  October 07, 2014

This midterm election will mark the first major vote since the Supreme Court struck down a critical portion of the Civil Rights Voting Act. Emboldened by that decision, those who seek to narrow the electorate are attacking voter rights across the country, but AFSCME and other progressive organizations are fighting back.

We’ve come a long way since the first U.S. Presidential election, when only 6 percent of the population was eligible to vote. Over the years, great strides were made and voter eligibility significantly expanded due to the determination of brave women and men who stood up for justice even when it meant putting their lives on the line. 

Today’s tactics to keep people from the polls may not be as violent as it was in our early history, but they are no less oppressive. While there’s very little evidence to support the existence of voter fraud, politicians continually use it as a tool to stifle potential voters who would likely stand with working families.

In Georgia, a progressive organization called The New Georgia Project that helped register 85,000 voters recently received a subpoena from the Georgia secretary of state, who claims that 25 of those forms are invalid and that another 26 forms are potentially invalid. The timing of this investigation is suspicious, especially considering that Georgia is gearing up for one of the “most competitive (elections) in more than a decade.”  

Prohibitive voter ID laws aimed at keeping people of color, the elderly and young people from participating in the democratic process are also popping up around the country and not just in the South, thanks in part to ALEC’s so-called “model legislation.” In Wisconsin, even Fox News “acknowledged that a voter ID law may prevent people from casting votes.”

Texas currently has one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country, prompting the Justice Department to file suit in federal court to overturn the law.  In Ohio last year, the Legislature took a week off of early voting and eliminated times convenient for working people, such as evenings and weekends. That law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 29 by a narrow 5-4 vote. Voting rights activists are not backing down, however.

"We're still very much in the fight for a better tomorrow and now is not the time to give up. I want to be able to tell future generations that I did my best to protect their basic right to vote," said Melissa Garecht, a social worker who is a member of AFSCME Local 2634 in Wisconsin. "I'll always be proud to say that AFSCME stood on the right side of history."



Cab Drivers Stand Together and Win!

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  October 03, 2014

CHICAGO – In a big win for a new AFSCME local, Chicago Cab Drivers United has reached an agreement with Mayor Rahm Emanuel that would put thousands of dollars back into their pockets and signals a new era in relations with the city.

When the drivers began organizing for change earlier this year, they knew they were facing an uphill battle. Because they are not in a traditional workplace, isolated in their cabs around the city, the city would not recognize them for negotiations. But the drivers wouldn’t give in, taking their case to the people by speaking out at meetings and rallying in the streets. And now the city is starting to listen.

On Sept. 30, Cab Drivers United and Mayor Emanuel announced the “Taxi Drivers Fairness Reforms of 2014,” which include an ordinance that will be introduced to the Chicago City Council on Oct. 8 and a series of regulatory adjustments that will be implemented by the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection. 

“We’re pleased that Mayor Emanuel has heard the voices of cab drivers and our union,” says AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch. “These reforms will put more money in the pockets of taxi drivers who work hard, support families and serve as the city’s ambassadors to travelers and tourists.”

The reforms will correct some injustices that have made life difficult for the city’s drivers.  The average Chicago cab driver earns only about $20,000 per year, in large part because of excessive fees, fines, and high lease rates. Under the new system, the lease rate that drivers pay to use alternative fuel vehicles will be lowered. The fees that credit card companies take out of cabbies’ profits will be reduced, and exorbitant ticketing will be reined in.

Cab drivers aren’t done fighting.  Fares have been frozen since 2005, meaning that drivers’ income lags far behind inflation. But this week’s victory proves that, even outside the traditional union workplace, AFSCME members can make big gains with new tactics.  

“By building power and standing together as CDU/AFSCME Council 31, our voices are being heard, and we are making a real difference,” says cab driver Dave Mangum. “We are making significant progress, but must continue our organizing to ensure that the City Council does right by cab drivers by passing these measures. And we have much more work to do so drivers will win the respect, justice and voice in our profession that we deserve.”


Going Door to Door in Fight for Right to Retire with Dignity

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  October 03, 2014

PHOENIX – Members of AFSCME Locals 2384 and 2960 are going door to door this week to talk to their neighbors about the future of retirement in the city. City workers’ pensions hang in the balance this November as a right-wing group pushes a ballot measure called Proposition 487, which would replace secure retirement plans with 401(k)s. The locals, which represent city workers, are urging the public to vote “NO” to the anti-worker measure.

The measure was written and promoted by a group called the Arizona Free Enterprise Club, an anti-union lobbying group. The organization has been described as a “dark money” donor because it refuses to say where it gets the millions of dollars it spends on elections. Pensions cuts were already made in 2013, but corporate interest groups like the Free Enterprise Club won’t be happy until the pension system has been entirely dismantled.

Phoenix workers already retire to less than $30,000 per year after a career of public service. Switching to a defined contribution plan would leave retirees with less, and they’re not the only ones getting cheated. The city would face hundreds of millions of dollars in administrative costs to make the switch, and the unclear wording of the ballot measure is likely to lead to protracted court disputes.   

Even worse, dismantling the pension system would mean that workers in high-risk professions like firefighters and police officers would be left out in the cold if they were injured on the job. The city’s pension system is an important safety net for disabled workers.

“Prop. 487 will take away retirees’ Medical Expense Reimbursement Plan. My expenses are already tight. If 487 passes, I’ll be forced to choose between very essential necessities that my family and I rely on,” says retired city worker Georgana Meiner.

Get news & updates from AFSCME