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In Farewell Address, Obama Speaks to Working Families’ Struggles

January 11, 2017

In Farewell Address, Obama Speaks to Working Families’ Struggles President Barack Obama delivers his farewell address in Chicago.

In his farewell address to the nation Tuesday night, President Barack Obama wove through his speech the idea that working families are the core of what makes America special. Obama showed not just his fundamental decency, but a deep understanding of the real challenges American workers face – and what we need to do to overcome those struggles.

He said:

“But the next wave of economic dislocation won’t come from overseas.  It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes many good, middle-class jobs obsolete.

And so we must forge a new social compact – to guarantee all our kids the education they need; to give workers the power to unionize for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from the new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their success possible.”

President Obama understands union membership is key to the growth of the middle class. As union membership drops, so do the living standards of all but the wealthiest Americans. We stand together or fall together.

Perhaps most importantly, Obama understands the key roles that the labor movement and the fight for workers’ rights have played in American history. He placed that battle in the proper context in his speech Tuesday:

“For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom. It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande, pushed women to reach for the ballot, powered workers to organize. It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima; Iraq and Afghanistan – and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs as well.” 

For eight years we’ve had a president who gets it, who understands what unions have meant to this country. In just a handful of days, he’ll hand over power to a man who has promised to stand up for the middle class, but whose record is – to say the least – very troubling. We don’t know what to expect from President Donald Trump, but we know we’ll miss President Obama.

You can watch the entire speech and read the transcript here.

Seriously? $1 Federal Pay?

by Raju Chebium  |  January 11, 2017

Seriously? $1 Federal Pay?

One of the first things right-wing lawmakers did after the new Congress convened this month was to revive an obscure rule that allows them to slash individual federal salaries to as low as $1.

Yes. Seriously. Congress has this power under the Holman rule.

Check out this video clip from NBC’s Meet the Press program about this rule and the effect it could have on federal employees, including those represented by AFSCME.

Supporters tout this dangerous move as a way to make government accountable to the people. In truth, this is an attempt by the new Congress to intimidate the more than 2 million civilians who work for executive-branch agencies (excluding military personnel) and blow up the 130-year-old federal civil service.

Right-wing lawmakers have long sought to bring the federal workforce to its knees and strip employees of their collective-bargaining rights. They figure they have the chance now because they control Congress and the White House. We won’t let that happen. Congress can do this because it can. Every aspect of a federal employee’s working life is controlled by Congress — from pay to working conditions to agency budgets.

To be sure, members of Congress can’t unilaterally invoke the Holman rule to punish federal employees they don’t like. They still need the backing of a majority of the House and the Senate. But this is part of a larger pattern where right-wing lawmakers in Congress escalate their hostility toward the federal workforce.

Though nearly all of AFSCME’s 1.6 million members are state- and local-government workers, we also represent more than 3,000 federal employees in 17 federal agencies. To them, this is a very real threat — one AFSCME will fight.

This underscores why it’s important for public service employees at all levels to exercise their collective-bargaining rights and join unions now. Yes, you can act to protect your careers and your futures.

Learn about AFSCME here.

Find your local from this directory and sign up for membership today.

Add your voice to the AFSCME chorus and we pledge to fight strong — AFSCME Strong — for you every day and in every venue, from city hall to the state legislature to Congress.

Council 61 Members Stand Up for Their Collective Bargaining Rights

by John Noonan and David Patterson  |  January 10, 2017

Council 61 Members Stand Up for Their Collective Bargaining Rights Julie Schultz, president of AFSCME Local 3289, lobbies to protect collective bargaining rights in Iowa. (Photo by David Patterson)

DES MOINES, Iowa – On the first day of Iowa’s legislative session, January 9, more than 100 members of AFSCME Iowa Council 61 gathered at the Capitol to meet with their legislators and demand that they oppose any changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining system.

Leaders of the Republican-held Senate and House, along with GOP Gov. Terry Branstad, have indicated that Wisconsin-style changes to public employee collective bargaining could be on the horizon.

Wisconsinites have suffered since their legislature decimated public sector collective bargaining in 2011. Wisconsin’s economy now lags its neighbors, prisons are short staffed and teachers have fled the state.

“Studies suggest that Iowans are even getting a bargain from those who provide the vital services that protect and ensure the safety of our communities,” said Danny Homan, president of Council 61 and AFSCME International vice president.

Julie Schultz, president of AFSCME Local 3289, said collective bargaining is crucial to retaining experienced public service workers who provide superior services to their communities.

“I’ve spent 20 years as a probation officer learning how criminals think, always continuing my education and certifications to stay on top of my profession,” she said. “If collective bargaining is restricted and we lose wages, benefits and rules that protect us, professionals like me with experience will retire or be replaced. And we’ll be left with unqualified people to provide vital service that protect the public.”

Public employees, Schultz said, “are the threads that hold our communities together.”

“We’re the teachers who teach our kids, we’re the correctional officers who keep criminals off the streets and we’re the nurses who care for the sick,” she said. “When we suffer our communities suffer.”

AFSCME Helps Block Postal Privatization

by Raju Chebium  |  January 10, 2017

AFSCME Helps Block Postal Privatization APWU members rally at a Staples location in El Cerrito, Calif. (Photo courtesy APWU)

The U.S. Postal Service will stop offering services at Staples store locations after AFSCME and other labor groups applied intense pressure.

The Postal Service said it will mothball the four-year arrangement with Staples by the first week in March. That decision came after the National Labor Relations Board and an administrative court ordered an end to the program. The American Postal Workers Union filed the NLRB complaint, arguing postal employees could do the work being outsourced to Staples.

“The Staples pilot was an acceleration in the privatization of retail services and a direct assault on our jobs,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “It was time to draw a line in the sand.”

AFSCME has a long history of opposing the privatization of public services. Go here to learn why we believe it’s unwise to privatize public services. AFSCME is also tracking the proponents of privatization in Trump’s cabinet and transition team.

Advocates for privatization spin a great yarn about how great it is. They’ll say private companies can do the job better and cheaper than government. Truth is privatization often leads to increased costs for the public and reduced accountability to the taxpayers footing the bill. So don’t believe the hype. 

#YesWeCan: Obama Came Through for Working People

January 09, 2017

#YesWeCan: Obama Came Through for Working People President Barack Obama signs executive actions to strengthen enforcement of equal pay laws for women in the East Room of the White House, April 8, 2014. Lilly Ledbetter stands to the left of the signing table. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

It was the first bill President Obama ever signed into law.

The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed January 29, 2009, was one of those small fixes that had huge implications for women who faced discrimination in the workplace.

Lilly Ledbetter faced sexual harassment and discrimination as a supervisor in a Goodyear Tire plant in Alabama. When she learned men doing the same job as she was made a lot more money, she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Her case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled against Ledbetter, determining that she had filed her complaint too long after the original decision to set her salary lower than the men in the same position.

The bill President Obama signed made it clear that every single paycheck with discriminatory pay is a new violation, meaning people like Ledbetter could no longer be denied relief just because they hadn’t known the discrimination was occurring.

It was a huge boost for workers’ rights, and it set the tone for a president who would continue to make working men and women the priority of his administration. He didn’t stop there. He vetoed a law that would make it harder for workers to unionize. He made it easier to afford child care and helped push new rules to give overtime pay to more workers. And his Justice Department ended its use of private prisons.

Facing a hostile Congress for much of his presidency, Obama did what he could to protect working families, according to AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. “He can always do more, but if you look at his record, he was really supportive of working families,” Saunders said. “Through executive action, he walked the walk.”

For eight years, we’ve had a president who cares deeply about working people, and it showed in the policies he’s pursued. #YesWeCan was the promise Barack Obama made when he ran for president, and he proved it true. As we reflect on Obama’s legacy, the Lilly Ledbetter law springs to mind first.

Do you like a particular policy Obama pursued? Do you have a story about how Obama’s policies helped you and your family? As Obama gets ready to leave office on January 20th, say your piece on your Facebook or Twitter account or your favorite social media site. Don’t forget to include #YesWeCan to show your support for the departing president.

Working Families Lose Ground in Kentucky. So Sad.

by Clyde Weiss  |  January 09, 2017

Working Families Lose Ground in Kentucky. So Sad.

In the rush to do the bidding of right-wing groups and corporate billionaires, Kentucky lawmakers passed legislation over the weekend that will make it harder for working families to get ahead – or even to stay where they are – whether or not they are union members.

Despite the focus during the presidential election campaign on helping average Americans get a better deal, Kentucky GOP lawmakers passed (and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin signed into law) a so-called right-to-work (RTW) bill whose very name distorts the truth of how it actually harms working people.

“Let's just call it what it is. This week has been a massacre of the middle class,” said Democratic state Rep. Will Coursey.

The Kentucky Senate also voted over the weekend to repeal the state’s prevailing-wage law. Contractors in Kentucky can now reap more profits on public construction by paying lower wages to their construction workers

Such actions “will only lower the wages and benefits of workers, both union and nonunion, and further tilt our economy and political life toward dominance by big business and the wealthy,” Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, said before Kentucky’s right-to-work vote. “Moreover,” he added, “right-to-work will weaken the ability of unions to provide a voice for workers in the political and legislative realms – likely the major reason the newly empowered Republicans want to pass it.” 

So what is the driving force behind RTW laws? Right-wing politics, plain and simple. Just two months after taking control of the General Assembly for the first time since 1921, Kentucky’s GOP lawmakers took aim at workers’ unions to weaken them, a long-sought goal of right-wing groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council.

In aiming at unions, however, they hit a different target: workers themselves.

RTW laws “seek to hamstring unions’ ability to help employees bargain with their employers for better wages, benefits, and working conditions,” says EPI’s report.  Union and nonunion workers  in RTW states have “lower wages and fewer benefits, on average, than comparable workers in other states,” the report says.

RTW is a scam that hurts all workers. Learn more here.

Here’s How to Cut College Costs

by Raju Chebium  |  January 06, 2017

Here’s How to Cut College Costs

You might have heard that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing to make college free for low- and middle-income New Yorkers. At a time when higher education is getting out of reach for working Americans, this is excellent news. However, it’s not law. The New York State Legislature could put the kibosh on Cuomo’s ambitious idea.

We think this is a great time to remind AFSCME members that your union has made it possible for you to go to college for free. This is a live, operating program, one that’s signed, sealed and delivered.

AFSCME partnered with Eastern Gateway Community College in Ohio, and you can attend classes in person or online from anywhere in the country. So, you see, our program is broader than New York’s.

Update your skills. Earn a two-year degree. Use the program as a stepping stone to a four-year institution — with half your studies paid for. This is an invaluable benefit that allows you to pursue higher education without breaking the bank. Student-loan debt tops $1 trillion nationally. Want to see student-debt statistics in your state? Go here.

What are you waiting for? All you have to do is apply, register for classes and start learning. The next semester begins January 17, so don’t delay. Sign up now here.

Public Services or Private Services? Trump’s Picks Favor Privatization All Around

by Clyde Weiss  |  January 05, 2017

The incoming Trump administration is primed to privatize America, putting at risk our retirement security, the health of our seniors, the safety of publicly-run prisons, the quality of public education and the integrity of other public services Americans depend on every day.

The nonprofit group In the Public Interest has identified 32 members of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet and transition team who either have close ties to for-profit companies and groups that support privatizing (outsourcing) public services, or have expressed support for privatization.

As the Nation reports, if these officials get their way “America’s schools, roads, air-traffic-control systems, prisons, immigrant-detention centers, and critical social-insurance programs will soon fall into private hands.”

“What privatization is all about, fundamentally, is a grab for the gold,” Donald Cohen, executive director of In the Public Interest, told AFSCME. “Government in America spends $6 to $7 trillion a year and they (privateers) want a piece of it. They want the gold and they want the power. The power gives them the ability to get the cash.”

The privatization advocates are supported by right-wing politicians “who … see the value of breaking unions, who are (labor’s) major opponents politically, and in terms of making government smaller,” Cohen said.

AFSCME is a staunch opponent of privatizing public services. Learn how it hurts wages, benefits, the economy and the stability of middle- and working-class families.

Here are a few of Trump’s picks who are big privatization advocates:

  • Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for education secretary, is an advocate of private charter schools. She wanted to divert public money from public schools to fund vouchers to attend for-profit charter schools, “and tried to strip teacher unions of their influence,” The New York Times reported. AFSCME opposes vouchers.

In addition, a for-profit prison company, the GEO Group, hired two aides to U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama – Trump’s pick for attorney general – as lobbyists after the Justice Department announced last year it would phase out the use of private contractors in federal prisons. A recent report by the Inspector General found that privately-run federal prisons have more safety and security problems compared to facilities run by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Congress Poised to Act Against Working Families

January 04, 2017

Congress Poised to Act Against Working Families (Photo by Architect of the Capitol)

The new year brings a new Congress, which was sworn in Tuesday and is already putting the interests of big corporations and special interests ahead of working families.

Worried? You have reason to be. This Congress has the potential to be the most anti-worker Congress in history, and it’s going to take all of us standing together to stop it.

First on the agenda: Repealing the Affordable Care Act. Congressional leaders are working on a plan to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, which granted insurance to more than 20 million people. Repealing the law in its entirety would also mean no more protections for people with pre-existing conditions, no free preventative care, and no keeping children on their parents’ health plans until they turn 26, among many other benefits.

What’s worse is that those same leaders don’t have a plan to replace the ACA, meaning people dropped from health insurance would be left with no coverage at all.

The Washington Post had a piece about how it may be difficult for congressional leaders to axe the ACA as swiftly as they and President-Elect Donald Trump have promised, but make no mistake – they are eager to do so.

An ACA repeal would be especially devastating in the states that accepted federal funds to expand Medicaid rolls, saving millions in health care costs in their own budgets. Now governors in those states, both Democrats and Republicans, are lining up to oppose an Obamacare repeal.

But it’s not just the Affordable Care Act this Congress has its eye on. The entire social safety net, including the retirement security of most Americans, could be at risk. Everything from Medicaid and Medicare to food stamps, housing subsidies, and Social Security itself are at risk under Trump and this new Congress.

The only hope? Collective action. Only by standing together and taking action can we pressure Congress into stopping an agenda that puts special interests first and working families last.

The Days Ahead Hold Dangers for Public Employees

by Clyde Weiss  |  January 04, 2017

This year will be tough for public service workers at the state and local levels – people who make our communities safe, maintain our roads and bridges, care for the vulnerable, and do so much more.

Right-wing lawmakers gained power in the November elections at local, state and federal levels. State budget shortfalls are causing lawmakers to cut back public services.

Here’s what’s at stake for state and local government workers, according to Governing: Employee benefits, such as retiree health care, may face cuts. Even pensions could come under pressure from employers, pushing workers into riskier 401(k)-style accounts. And so-called right-to-work bills that threaten to weaken workers’ unions are on the table in Kentucky, Missouri and New Hampshire.

“We’re going to see a number of anti-labor bills,” Steven Kreisberg, director of research and collective bargaining for AFSCME, told Governing. That might include efforts to stop unions from negotiating health benefits, according to the article.

But there is some good news for state and local workers. At least 40 cities and states “will be raising the local wage floor” above the federal threshold, notes The Huffington Post. Among 19 states hiking rates, the biggest will be in Arizona, where the wage will jump from $8.05 to $10 an hour. Maine is raising its wage from $7.50 to $9 and Washington state from $9.47 to $11.

Congress still needs to increase the federal minimum wage, which has remained stuck since 2009 at $7.25 an hour. AFSCME is urging Congress to increase to more than $10 an hour. We also support raising the minimum wage locally and support the “Fight for $15” movement.

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