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We're Turning a Corner Because We Never Quit

June 14, 2016

We're Turning a Corner Because We Never Quit

For years, they’ve worked to destroy us. Funded by massively wealthy special interests, supported by politicians who think public service is something to be ashamed of, the anti-union movement has targeted AFSCME members.

They’ve passed so-called right-to-work to gut our wages, benefits and pensions, and to undermine public services. In their rhetoric, they’ve treated those of us who proudly serve our communities — nurses, librarians, bus drivers, the people who keep our streets safe and clean — as public enemies.

They’re trying to use the courts to declare our unions illegitimate, to take away the power we fought so hard to win so we could stand together and bargain collectively, winning better lives and a secure retirement for our families.

Standing Together

DC37 Exec. Dir. Henry Garrido

ABOVE: DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido (pictured right) spoke at a news conference at union headquarters in January.

We know better. We know what our cities and towns would look like without the dedicated people who work tirelessly to serve the public interest. We know that the work we do is largely unsung, but we do it because it must be done. We work hard and deserve respect for the work we do, not relentless attacks from special interests.

That’s why we fight back. And that’s why we’re turning the corner.

We’re turning the corner in New York, where tens of thousands of city workers will now make a $15-an-hour living wage. DC 37 Exec. Dir. Henry Garrido called it “a moment in history where working people won a major victory in our city.”

We’re turning the corner in Oregon, where corrections officers won a fight to correct inequities stemming from the Great Recession eight years ago.

We’re turning the corner in Florida, where Local 199, working with other unions and community allies, helped pass a paid parental leave ordinance.

We’re turning the corner in Ohio, where a group of AFSCME firefighters convinced fee payers, trainers who also work for the state, to become full union members. “We protect our jobs and negotiate for better pay and benefits,” said Greg Wells, a state employed firefighter trainer through OCSEA Local 11, “so once that was clear, everybody understood the value of signing up as members.”

By standing together, AFSCME members are turning the tables on anti-union forces everywhere they’ve attacked us: in the courts, in the voting booth, and at the bargaining table. Our recent victory at the Supreme Court in the Friedrichs vs. California Teacher’s Association, where the court ruled against anti-union organizations who wanted to destroy our union by banning fair-share fees, will ensure working people can continue to join together and have a voice on the job.

Having Our Voice Heard

In the early primary states, union members have determined the outcomes. AFSCME members have come out in force for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, knocking on thousands of doors to make sure union members' vote drives her victories. In close primaries like Massachusetts, AFSCME member engagement meant the difference between winning and losing. And every candidate in both parties can hear how powerfully organized workers voices are speaking at the ballot box.

Every day, we hear more stories of success at the bargaining table. Negotiations stalled for months or years are finally breaking through. New contracts are bringing higher wages or long-sought benefits that workers had been fighting for years.

A two-year campaign by Local 3299, to make custodians and parking attendants at the University of California permanent university employees, succeeded, meaning nearly 100 people will now receive the wages and benefits they deserve for their hard work. “I’m not asking for special treatment — just for the dignity and respect that my 20-plus years of service demands,” said Antonio Ruiz, a parking attendant.

In July, AFSCME’s elected delegates and leaders will gather in Las Vegas for our 42nd International Convention. Delegates will strategize and plan for more victories in the year ahead.

When we win, we win because we stick together, and because we never quit. Our commitment to public service, to our communities and to each other ensure our co-workers, our families and our union will only continue to grow stronger.

In Debt? AFSCME and Union Plus Can Help!

June 13, 2016

In Debt? AFSCME and Union Plus Can Help! Danielle Jediny-Racies

For AFSCME Local 88 member Danielle Jediny-Racies, getting a master’s degree wasn’t just about advancing her career. It was about better serving the children and families that she helps as a mental health counselor. But those qualifications came at a big price.

“Student debt has profoundly affected me,” Danielle says. “I am overwhelmed with how my debt has increased with interest rates.”

Luckily, Danielle applied for a Union Plus Debt Reducer Grant. The money she received helped her catch up on her debt payments so that she could spend her time focused on her work, not her bills.

Check out these resources to help with the costs of education and student debt:

For a list of scholarships available to AFSCME members and their children, visit AFSCME.org/scholarships

AFSCME can help you lower your student loan payments through programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness or Income-Based Repayment Plans. To learn about options to help reduce student debt, check out: AFSCME.org/student-debt

Through a partnership with Union Plus, AFSCME members have access to additional scholarships, discounts on college prep courses and financial aid advice. Visit: unionplus.org/education

For AFSCME members in Ohio, visit: ocseaeducation.org or AFSCMEcouncil8.org/scholarship-opportunities

And for New York DC 37 members, learn more at: dc37.net/studentdebt

Cincinnati Unions Key to Successful Book Drive

by Joe Weidner, AFSCME Council 8  |  June 10, 2016

Cincinnati Unions Key to Successful Book Drive Members of Ohio AFSCME Council 8 gave back to their community by way of donating more than 1,000 books to a Cincinnati elementary school. Front row (left to right): Local 1543 Pres. Tom West, Cincinnati Regional Dir. Renita Jones-Street, Local 3119 Pres. Gina Pratt, Local 3119 Vice Pres. Jacqueline Silas, Local 240 Vice Pres. Christopher McDonald and Local 250 Vice Pres. Kelly Malone. Back row (left to right): Local 217 Pres. Mike Walker, Local 240 Pres. Kevin Sluder, Local 223 Pres. John Lloyd, Local 190 Pres. Don Klapper and Local 223 Vice Pres. Skip Zimmer.

CINCINNATI – AFSCME Council 8 members helped a community book drive surpass its goal of donating 3,000 books to the city’s elementary schools. In fact, AFSCME unions were responsible for nearly half of the 3,400 books collected during the two-week effort.

“Our goal was to place one new book in the hands of each student in kindergarten through third grade before the start of summer vacation, and we succeeded,” said Gina Pratt, president of AFSCME Local 3119, representing the city’s public health nurses.

Summer reading is critical for every student, and especially important in helping to meet Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee Program, which identifies students from kindergarten through grade 3 who are behind in reading. Schools provide help and support to make sure all students are on track for reading success by the end of third grade.

Each book given to a student will come with corresponding activities and will encourage summer reading through incentives tied to a student’s school.

“This is our way of giving back to the community,” said Renita Jones-Street, Council 8’s Cincinnati Regional Director.  “And in the front of each book there was a label naming the union that provided the book.”

The Lingering Cost of Education

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  June 09, 2016

New York DC37 members attend a workshop on debt management and relief programs.

New York DC37 members attend a workshop on debt management and relief programs.

The evidence of a student loan crisis is in the numbers. Americans owe a whopping $1.3 trillion in student loans. For comparison, that’s equal to the total value of all currency circulating in the United States right now.

With many AFSCME members among those facing this massive debt, our union is seeking to help people by spreading the word about programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness and by advocating for more sensible education policies. The fact is it’s not just young people facing this deficit as they begin their careers, mid-career and even retirees are increasingly feeling its effects.

Taking Debt into Retirement

There are 2.2 million people in the United States over the age of 60 who hold student loan debt. According to the Government Accountability Office, the average borrower in this demographic owes $19,521.

That money has to be paid back one way or another, and for a rising number of seniors that means painful costs. In 2013, about 160,000 seniors had their Social Security checks garnished because of student loan defaults. That number has tripled since the start of the recession.

Some of these retirees have taken out loans for their children’s education, but 80 percent borrowed to cover their own educational expenses.

The situation is a glimpse into the squeeze that middle-class Americans are facing from all sides. Today, workers are trying to pay down debts during the years that they otherwise might spend building their retirement nest eggs.

Yvette Silas

Yvette Silas

“I will be paying for this till I’m old and gray,” says Yvette Silas, a school health aide with Local 44 (Council 67) in Maryland. She has been working in the health field for 15 years, but recently decided to return to school for a masters in administration so that she can move forward in her career. “Public workers are working so hard just to cover the basics. After those day-to-day costs, what’s left over for the big expenses?”

Jobs that offer strong retirement benefits and pensions are hard to come by these days. As a result, many Americans must count on their individual savings and Social Security benefits to last through retirement. But when you’re already struggling to make your loan payments and your $1,200 monthly Social Security check can be garnished by hundreds of dollars a month, how do we get to real retirement security?

Planning for the Future in a World of Debt

People under the age of 30 are less likely to be saving for retirement, and are less likely to be saving at recommended rates, than young people in earlier generations. In fact, the median millennial worker has no retirement savings at all. It’s tough to set aside money for savings while the interest on your loan ticks higher and higher every month.

That’s certainly the case for Kristen Corey, a member of Local 3450 (Council 61) in Iowa. Since she and her husband are already struggling to balance the day-to-day costs of child care with their student debt, saving for the future is tough. “We recently had a second child, and honestly, we have no idea what we're going to do to save up for retirement and save up for college for them,” she says.  “They will potentially be in the same situation that we're finding ourselves in now.”

How Our Union Is Helping

Kristen Corey

Kristen Corey

If we want to protect retirement, we can’t forget about student debt. We need more affordable education, more sensible lending practices, and more robust retirement options for all Americans.

District Council 37 in New York City is hard at work to make sure every AFSCME member is up-to-date when it comes to the student debt issue. Partnered with the nonprofit group Jobs with Justice and AFSCME Next Wave, DC 37 is hosting workshops where members can learn how to enroll in debt management and relief programs.

They’re also making student debt activism a part of the larger AFSCME Strong program that’s strengthening our union. When members talk to their co-workers about union power, they’re also talking about the debt forgiveness options that are available for public service workers.

In Ohio, union members are making dramatic strides toward a more accessible educational system. The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA) and Council 8 partnered with the Eastern Gateway Community College system to provide free education to members and their families. All OCSEA and Council 8 members, and their spouses, children and grandchildren, can get their two-year associate’s degree for free simply by completing a financial aid application. The program is just starting now, but hundreds of working families have already applied. You can find more information at ocseaeducation.org. You can also visit afscmecouncil8.org/scholarship-opportunities.

Nationwide, AFSCME is advocating for policy solutions and working to ensure that all public service workers have the resources and information they need in order to manage their student debt. You may be eligible for federal debt forgiveness or refinancing. Learn how your union can help by going to AFSCME.org/student-debt.

From an AFSCME Family to a Nashville Star

by Anders Lindall  |  June 07, 2016

From an AFSCME Family to a Nashville Star

This is a sneak peek from the May-June 2016 issue of On The Move, the member newspaper of AFSCME Council 31.

One of the brightest new country music stars in Nashville comes from an AFSCME union family in Illinois.

With her debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, Margo Price has landed a guest spot on “Saturday Night Live,” a video on CMT, and a rave review in Rolling Stone, which called her “undeniable” and compared her to Loretta Lynn.

But what looks like a rocket ride to stardom is really the latest twist in a long road that started in Aledo, Ill., southwest of the Quad Cities, where Margo and her sisters were raised by mom Candace and dad Duane. He worked for 25 years in Illinois prisons, first as a correctional officer at East Moline, where he was a member of AFSCME Local 46, and then as a lieutenant at Hill Correctional Center (Local 1274). Duane was a PEOPLE contributor and after his retirement in 2010 joined AFSCME Retirees.

“From her adolescent years on up, Margo was just very interested in music,” her dad says. “She always had the radio on, went to voice lessons, piano lessons. Then she picked up a guitar. In high school she was a cheerleader and she would sing the national anthem at football and basketball games, a cappella.

“At age 20 she decided she wanted to move to Nashville and try to pursue a music career,” Duane goes on. “Of course, as we all know, that can be a pipedream for a lot of people. She went through some real tough times.”

Those struggles—13 years’ worth from the time she dropped out of Northern Illinois University—are a frequent source of subject matter in Margo’s songs. Besides bad breakups, money troubles and hard drinking, there’s the heart-wrenching death of an infant son that touched off a tailspin and ended with a weekend in jail.

“She’s writing from the heart,” Duane says. “I think she felt she’d come to a point where she was just going to sing what she feels, and with songs like ‘Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)’, I think a lot of people can relate.”

It’s working.

Midwest Farmer’s Daughter got a high-profile release on Third Man Records, the label owned by Jack White of the White Stripes.

In February, Margo performed for the first time at the Grand Ole Opry. Her parents were in the crowd.

Duane had seen the legendary show once before, as a child tagging along with his own parents. To return decades later with his daughter on stage “was euphoric,” he says. “It was just amazing to see her in that center circle where so many great performers have stood.”

The coming months will find Margo making more memories at Willie Nelson’s annual picnic outside Austin, Tex., on July 4, on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon on July 14, and at the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park on September 7.

“I’m just so happy for her that things have come around in her direction,” Duane says. “She’s still very humble. Other than her spirits being lifted by a little bit of success, she’s still the same girl she was when I dropped her off in Nashville years ago.”

Duane remains a fan of his union, too.

“AFSCME got me a good wage, good benefits and good representation,” he says. “The union is a necessity, let’s put it that way. Without it, where would the average Joe be?”

Visit Margo Price on the web or watch her play “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)” live at the Grand Ole Opry below:

Becoming AFSCME Strong One Door at a Time

by Mark McCullough  |  June 07, 2016

Becoming AFSCME Strong One Door at a Time

After an intensive AFSCME Strong training session, AFSCME Florida leaders across North Florida are taking lessons they learned back to their fellow members.

One of those leaders is Tad Lewek, a plan examiner with the City of Jacksonville’s Building Inspection Division and a member of AFSCME Local 1279. He says he often hears the same problems other leaders report across the county: that the union hasn’t reached out to members individually, that members don’t know how to find information about what’s going on, and that when AFSCME does reach out it may not always be when they are able to participate.

“The problems we face in terms of being spread thin are not unique, so we hoped that an old-fashioned blitz would change things up,” he says. “This way we can have more conversations and jump-start growth at some sites.”

The blitz, held in early May, was a success. Dozens of members and staff spent the week knocking on doors, visiting worksites and having as many face-to-face conversations as possible. AFSCME has a long history in the city and the potential to represent a large number of workers.

“We worked tirelessly every day, from early morning to late in the evening, to get those conversations going and educate the workers,” says Lewek, who serves as a steward and on the Executive Board of his local. “Almost everyone knew about the union but didn’t know how it could help where they worked or were nervous to join because of misinformation and misunderstandings that have built up over time.”

By identifying the issues that mattered to the workers, having quality conversations and beginning the process of working together on shared issues, 71 workers signed up as new members.

“This is really just the start because we had so many more quality conversations,” Lewek says. “And we started the ball rolling in so many places that we are going to be seeing dividends from this for weeks to come. The blitz may be done but the real growth is really just beginning.”

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For Scholarship Winner, AFSCME Has Always Been Part of the Family

by Mark McCullough  |  June 07, 2016

For Scholarship Winner, AFSCME Has Always Been Part of the Family Manuel Rojas-Romero (Family photo)

For as long as Manuel Rojas-Romero can remember, AFSCME and higher education have always been central parts of his life. But now, these two elements have joined forces for him.

As the son of two Florida International University employees, Luis Rojas and Maria Belen Romero, he was always hearing about the amazing opportunities a college education presents. And his parent’s union, AFSCME Local 3346, was there to help his father when he had an accident at work and what made sure his parents could afford the medical treatments he needed as a kid.

“Both of my parents are huge advocates for AFSCME,” wrote Rojas-Romero in an essay as part of his AFSCME Family Scholarship application. “They continuously try to teach others that the union is there to fight for equal rights for everyone. To make sure that they all have the same opportunities and a safe working environment.”

Now Rojas-Romero has been accepted into Georgia Tech, where he plans to study computer science and engineering – and he will be paying for it with the help of a renewable $2,000 scholarship from AFSCME.

“Looking back, I can see how AFSCME has been there to support our family, protect my parents’ careers and how union members support each other,” said Rojas-Romero. Like many second-generation immigrants, he has found inspiration in his family’s American journey. 

Romero wrote in his essay that his maternal grandmother “had to escape persecution in her home country and fled for the safety of her family.” His father “was raised in the U.S. in a modest Puerto Rican family and became an unskilled laborer with a high school diploma. They both found jobs at a public university in the city we live in. My mother worked as a secretary for more than 14 years and my father is going on his 17th year as a plumber. They have been fortunate to have had AFSCME backing them up when needed.”

Learning about his family’s ties to labor has helped Rojas-Romero understand how important unions are for America overall, especially in our modern economy.

“Unions impact so many issues and aspects of life but underlying them all is the basic belief that the wellbeing of people matter just as much as the profits they produce, and that is something I hope to keep with me for the rest of my life.”

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