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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.

Council 31 Wins $60 Million in Back Pay for State Employees

by David Patterson  |  October 03, 2014

After waiting more than three years for back pay explicitly spelled out in their contract, Illinois state employees finally got a measure of justice after an appellate court ruled they were owed the wages, and that the legislature's failure to appropriate sufficient funds cannot erase the state’s obligation to pay.

The decision in favor of AFSCME Council 31 followed a ruling by an independent arbitrator that the state's failure to pay the wages was a violation of the union contract, and an opinion by a circuit court judge that the wages were owed. The appellate court rejected an appeal by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who sought to vacate the arbitrator's award.

The case involved wages earned from July 2011 to July 2013 that have not been not fully paid to thousands of AFSCME members who are employees in the state departments of Corrections, Human Services, Juvenile Justice, Natural Resources and Public Health.

"Today's decision is a win for working men and women who serve all the people of Illinois, caring for the disabled, keeping prisons safe, maintaining our state parks and much more," said Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch.

"It’s a victory for a principle of simple fairness for all workers,” she said. “A contract is a contract, it means what it says, and no employer — not state government or anyone else — can unilaterally withhold wages owed."

Council 31 worked with the administration of Gov. Pat Quinn to pass a supplemental appropriation that the governor signed in May, paying about 45 percent of what was owed.

"Our union will continue to work to ensure that the state fulfills its obligation, honors the union contract and pays every employee what each is owed as quickly as possible," Lynch said.

Raising the Minimum Wage: A Civil Rights Issue

October 03, 2014

A new study released this week by the Leadership Conference Education Fund and the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality examines the connection between raising the minimum wage and advancing civil and human rights.

African Americans, Latinos, women and LGBT individuals, among other minority groups, make up a disproportionate number of the nation’s 3.5 million minimum wage earners. An increase to the minimum wage would therefore disproportionately benefit those groups, the authors of the report argue, and create more opportunities for them to advance.

“Raising the minimum wage is an effective policy tool for reducing various forms of economic inequality, which has been a fundamental goal of the civil rights movement of the 20th century and continues to be one today,” said Indivar Dutta-Gupta, senior fellow at Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality.

The report, “Improving Wages, Improving Lives: Why raising the minimum wage is a civil and human rights issue,” puts the current buying power of the minimum wage in a historical context, reviews progress made at the state level and urges Congress to pass the Minimum Wage Fairness Act.

“By failing to pass the Minimum Wage Fairness Act, Congress has also failed the millions of American families struggling in low-paying jobs,” said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of The Leadership Conference. “Today’s minimum wage can’t even support a family’s basic needs, let alone our nation’s economic recovery.”

AFSCME members are involved in campaigns across the nation to increase the minimum wage at the state and federal level which polls show an overwhelming majority of Americans support.

Support for ALEC Agenda Continues to Crumble

by Jane Carter   |  October 02, 2014

Google and several other high profile companies recently dropped their membership or support from the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This is evidence that ALEC’s power to set the agenda in statehouses across the country is waning. That’s great news for working families.

We raised objections to ALEC’s extremist policies and model legislation before: its efforts to undermine health care reform; its advocacy of right-to-work-for-less laws that undermine the working class; its support for voter-suppression laws that disenfranchise potential voters; and even its backing of so-called “stand-your-ground” laws that became controversial after the tragic killing of 17-year-old Travon Martin.

The public’s support of ALEC’s agenda is crumbling. Most recently, AFSCME joined 62 other organizations in asking eBay to join the exodus. And it’s no wonder its financial backers are walking away.

There are more fundamental, economic reasons why ALEC’s corporate-backed agenda should be abandoned. Its proposals to cut taxes deeply for corporations and the highest income earners make it much harder for states to invest in public services, education, infrastructure and other priorities. State economic growth is impaired as a result. 

Kansas and Wisconsin governors implemented ALEC-modeled economic proposals with promises of thousands of jobs and economic revitalization. But now Govs. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Scott Walker of Wisconsin have to defend weak job growth, large budget deficits and stalled or declining median income.

In Wisconsin, Walker promised his economic initiatives would create 250,000 new jobs. It hasn’t happened. Also, since enactment of his economic policies, Wisconsin now faces a $396 million budget shortfall next year.

Brownback’s ALEC-inspired tax-slashing to benefit the wealthy and corporations created massive holes in nearly every local community and state service. Kansas now faces a looming $1.3 billion deficit in the coming five years and the state's growth rate, 3.7 percent, lags the rest of the county by nearly 3 percent.

Tax cuts and outsourcing public services, ALEC’s magic pills for all government’s ills, are just bad business models. More and more companies now realize they are also bad for their businesses as well.

Learn more about ALEC here.

Too Many Workplace Injuries Go Unreported. You Can Help Us Fix That

October 01, 2014

Workers who suffer injuries on the job too often fail to report it because they worry their employer will retaliate. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is proposing to make it a violation for an employer to discourage employee reporting of workplace injuries. You can help us make that happen, but we need to know ASAP!

The fear of employer retaliation for reporting workplace injuries is well-founded. Also, some employers have policies that discourage reporting of injuries. OSHA recognizes the problem and wants to make it easier for workers to report such injuries, free of worry that it may lead to bad consequences. As part of its rulemaking process, the agency is seeking public comments.

AFSCME wants to help OSHA accomplish its rulemaking goal, so we are asking for your help. If any AFSCME member has experienced a threat of retaliation for reporting a workplace injury, or has actually experienced employer disciplining, threatening, demoting or taking other retaliatory action for reporting an injury on the job, we want to hear from you as soon as possible.

Please send us an email detailing your experience so we may offer it into evidence. No names will be used to protect your privacy. If your employer has a written policy that punishes workers for reporting injuries, please send that to us as well. Please email the information to no later than Oct. 10.

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