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Maryland Members in Tough Budget Fight

by Michael Byrne  |  January 28, 2016

Maryland Members in Tough Budget Fight AFSCME members who work for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene meet with state Sen. Roger Manno seeking his support for their fight against outsourcing their jobs. (Photo courtesy AFSCME Maryland Council 3)

Political action by AFSCME Maryland Council 3 convinced Gov. Larry Hogan to restore the 2 percent to 4 percent step increases for state and higher education workers in his budget proposal from earlier negotiations, but members still face fights over proposed job cuts and privatization of state services.

Besides restoring the step increases, Hogan’s budget released Jan. 20 does not resort to cuts in overtime pay and sick leave rights, which were in his original proposal. Council 3 also won improvements to the state’s new wellness plan, saving state and higher education workers money.

However, the governor has made clear he wants to cut state jobs and outsource some state services.

The battle lines on privatization have been drawn around employee positions at the SpringField Hospital Center in the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH). Fifty-seven food-service worker at the Sykesville facility were notified they will be laid off at the end of June. More than 500 state employee positions have been targeted for cuts, with 100 of them to be outsourced to private companies, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Hogan has yet to fully account for the state positions he wants to cut, the Sun reported, and AFSCME members have been reaching out to Maryland legislators for support. Senate Pres. Thomas V. Miller on Feb. 26 questioned whether the job cuts are necessary when the state is projecting a surplus of more than $400 million this year. “I’m shocked, quite frankly,” Miller told the Sun, saying he’d heard from some state employees with more than 20 years’ experience who had told they are being terminated.

Nearly 20 workers at DHMH braved the weather at their Lobby Night on Monday, January 25.

Oregon AFSCME Alerts Members to Friedrichs Threat

by Kevin Brown  |  January 27, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. – The holiday weekend celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. offered AFSCME Oregon a chance to echo his call for justice, spreading the word among Portland members about the dangers posed by the Supreme Court case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

The Friedrichs case threatens to make it even harder for working people to negotiate for wages, benefits and public services. Members who learned about the devastating effect the case could have on their workplace and family lives, stepped up their commitment to never quit in fighting for workers’ rights.

“My husband and I are both county workers and, if this case were to pass, our lives would be devastated,” said Ramona Junta, a juvenile custody service specialist. “This is a big deal, I have to do something about this...I need to tell other people this is happening and we need to unite.”

In the week following the holiday, AFSCME Council 75 members visited homes and worksites across Multnomah County to educate and answer questions about the Friedrichs case and other issues affecting workers. They participated in a town hall with Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D- OR) and an ice cream social at an Oregon Health and Science University building.

The results proved that working together and talking with members one-on-one connects and strengthens the union. At the end of the Council 75 blitz, the activists were able to assess 1,178 members, convert 306 workers from fee payers to full members, and add 110 new PEOPLE contributors, including 43 to signed up to give at the MVP level of at least $100 a year.

Change the Rules, Be the Power: Dr. King Honored with Recommitment to His Ideals

by Tiffanie Bright  |  January 20, 2016

Change the Rules, Be the Power: Dr. King Honored with Recommitment to His Ideals Delegates participate in the 10th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parade. (Photo by Jay Mallin/AFL-CIO)

The partnership between minorities and labor has never been more vital than it is today. More than 1,000 labor and community activists explored the power of this solidarity during the 2016 Martin Luther King Jr. Civil and Human Rights Conference, Jan. 15-18, sharing tactics to build a collective civil, human and women’s rights agenda for 2016.

Sponsored by the AFL-CIO, the conference honored the legacy of Dr. King with workshops and panels on a variety of topics ranging from political activism, gender equality, racial justice, and organizing communities and workers of color.

Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968 while helping striking sanitation workers – members of AFSCME Local 1733 – gain a voice on the job. He strongly supported unions. “[Labor] was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress,” said Dr. King.

The opening panel, Change the Rules, described how labor and Planned Parenthood joined together to fight for all working families. Speaking of the super wealthy, AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka warned, “When they divide us up, they can beat us. When we stick together, they can't.” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, agreed, recounting how labor supported the organization during attacks on several clinics, threatening women patients and staff.

“Planned Parenthood stood with labor in Wisconsin during the attacks from Scott Walker, and labor had our back,” Richards said. She pointed to the importance of labor-community alliances to ensure that women have access to health care and can make their own decisions about reproduction, as women are increasingly becoming the heads of households.

The importance of organizing working women was later echoed by Johanna Puno Hester, an AFSCME International vice president, during a panel discussion. As more women become their household’s primary breadwinners, union membership can make a difference because women of color on average earn better salaries than non-union women of color earn.

“The value this union brought to an immigrant person is deep,” said Puno Hester referring to when she joined United Domestic Workers of America, AFSCME Local 3930. “Labor needs women of color and women of color need labor.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Terry Melvin, president of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and member of AFSCME CSEA Local 427. Labor’s growth depends upon organizing women of color, bringing them closer to economic security, Melvin said. “It’s easier to organize black and brown women. If we start doing that organizing then our collective voice as the minority community can be the labor movement.”

The conference weekend included a day of community service, with delegates honoring Dr. King in projects ranging from packing lunches for seniors to cleaning and painting elementary schools, and to serving meals and toiletries for homeless and others in need.

Middle Class Fall Tied Directly to Union Decline

by Michael Byrne  |  January 20, 2016

Middle Class Fall Tied Directly to Union Decline

How important are unions to the health of the middle class in the United States? They are vital, according to a new study by the Center for American Progress. In fact, more than one-third of the decline in the middle class during the past 30 years is explained by the decline in union coverage.

“Our main findings are that the decline in union coverage accounts for 35 percent of the falling share of middle-class workers and that the combination of the shrinking share of union workers and the reduction in the union equality effect explains almost half of the decline in middle-class workers,” the authors conclude.

The “union equality effect” refers to the extent that union-induced wage increases spill over from union to nonunion workers and how union advocacy produces economic and social policies that benefit all workers, the authors explain. The study is written by Richard Freeman and Eunice Han of Harvard University, and by Brendan Duke and David Madland of CAP.

The shrinking of the American middle class has been well documented. In its study released in December, the Pew Research Center pointed to a four-decade trend in which the middle class has fallen from 61 percent to 50 percent of the population. With the U.S. economy swinging out of balance, it’s getting hard to get by, let alone get ahead.

The CAP study notes that, despite a 79 percent increase in U.S. labor productivity between 1984 and 2014, “the share of full-time workers who make between 67 percent and 200 percent of median U.S. earnings fell from 68 percent in 1984 to 60 percent in 2014.”

In a companion study back in September 2015, Freeman, Han and the CAP researchers said that unions improve economic mobility not only for workers, but also for children who grow up in areas where union coverage is high.

Despite the positive impact of unions in helping working families gain economic security, we are under a withering attack from rich corporate interests – including in a case argued last week in the Supreme Court, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. If the court rules against unions in that case, it will be even more difficult for workers to join together to improve their conditions.

“Making America a middle-class country once again will require policies that raise median earnings and incomes and that bring more workers and households into the middle class,” the study concludes. “Increasing union coverage is important for both, as well as for possibly increasing economic mobility.”

Choosing to Grow in Florida’s ‘City of Choice’

by Mark McCullough  |  January 20, 2016

Choosing to Grow in Florida’s ‘City of Choice’

Bordered on one side by the Atlantic Ocean and on the other three by suburban sprawl, Florida’s Hallandale Beach has marketed itself as Broward County’s “City of Choice.” For the hardworking women and men of AFSCME Local 2009 who have turned that marketing phrase into a strong sense of community, the choice they faced when negotiating a new contract was to either accept the status quo or to win recognition for the hard work they do.

“Some people just want to accept whatever they get in a contract because they think the city knows how hard we work and whatever they offer is obviously what is fair,” said Local 2009 Pres. Paulemond Mompremier, a park maintenance technician for almost 18 years.

Since almost two-thirds of eligible workers are already members, and Local 2009 has been at the forefront of fighting to protect community services and their jobs, the focus was on getting a large turnout for the ratification vote.

The three-year contract, overwhelmingly approved by the membership, is retroactive to Oct. 1, 2015. It allows members to keep up economically while fully maintaining city-paid, quality health coverage. It also continues the popular education reimbursements for both undergraduate and post-graduate studies so members can continue to expand their professional opportunities.

Some of the key contract wins include annual wage increases of 2.5 percent, a new safe driver recognition program that rewards incident-free driving with administrative safety leave, a health retirement account worth almost $1,000 annually, the opportunity for evaluation bonuses, and 20 to 25 percent increases for uniform and tool allowances.

The bargaining team wasn’t able to win everything, such as increasing the city’s 401(k) match or reclassifying certain jobs into bargaining unit positions. But members are committed to achieving these goals. Building power through organizing is one way they will do that.

“People need to remember that if you don’t unite and stand up for your own job and your own career, your efforts may not be justly recognized when there are always more needs than resources to match them,” said Mompremier.

AFL-CIO Sees Positive Movement on Wages

by Clyde Weiss  |  January 19, 2016

AFL-CIO Sees Positive Movement on Wages

Working people last year won significant victories in efforts to improve wages and working conditions, reports the AFL-CIO in a new study that also points the way forward to create an economy that “serves all of us,” including organizing new members as AFSCME has been doing.

“From collective bargaining victories to organizing in new sectors of the economy and new regions to local legislative victories and executive action at the national level, 2015 was a year of working people rising,” says the report, titled “Fighting for a Better Life: How Working People Across America are Organizing to Raise Wages and Improve Work.”

The report details successes by working people nationwide since the AFL-CIO’s first-ever Raising Wages Summit in January 2015, including efforts to place the debate over income inequality squarely before the public and lawmakers. Since the summit, it reads, “income inequality has shifted from a problem we discuss to a problem we can solve.”

“One year ago, we made clear that raising wages for all working people was our number one priority,” said AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka. “In 2015 we came together in collective voice and action, and made significant progress.”

Despite a number of victories at the local, state and national levels, “we are still far behind where we need to be and where we can be,” Trumka said. “In the year ahead, we will continue to push for a comprehensive economic agenda that puts working people first. Raising Wages is not a hobby, it is our mission.”

Achievements at the national level include the introduction of legislative initiatives to raise the minimum wage, new rules proposed by the Obama administration to help raise wages by making more workers eligible for overtime and requiring federal contractors to provide paid sick leave.

The National Labor Relations Board also took steps last year to make it easier for workers to organize a union by eliminating delays in the union recognition process, and other actions that help fast food workers organize a union if they want one.

At the city and state levels, the report notes initiatives last year that increased the minimum wage, required employers to provide paid sick days and other workplace changes helping working people, including new penalties and protections against wage theft and discriminatory pay practices.

The AFL-CIO report points the way ahead, including campaigns by AFSCME and other unions to sign up hundreds of thousands of teachers, nurses, social workers, service workers and other public employees already covered by union contracts.

Read the full report here.

Paramedic Rushes In, Saves Elderly Woman from Fire

by Alfredo Alvarado, DC 37  |  January 19, 2016

Paramedic Rushes In, Saves Elderly Woman from Fire New York City fire department paramedic Michael Daddona made a split-second decision to not wait for firefighters to save an elderly woman. (Photo by Clarence Elie-Rivera)

NEW YORK – Lt. Michael Daddona, a paramedic for the city fire department, had to think quickly and make a critical decision. He could wait a couple of minutes for firefighters to arrive at the home of 91-year-old Winifred Miccio to rescue her from a burning bedroom, or he could take matters into his own hands.                                                 

Daddona decided he couldn’t wait another second and rushed into the two-story house on Cross Bay Boulevard with only one thought in mind: saving Miccio from the smoke and flames.

“I did have some trouble breathing because of the smoke,” said Daddona. But the big challenge was getting Miccio, who uses a walker, safely out of the house.

Daddona decided there was no time to waste looking for her walker and managed to carefully guide her out of the house and onto the street. The fire was limited to the bedroom and no further damage was done to the Beach Channel home.

“He went beyond and above the call of duty and we’re proud of him,” said Vincent Variale, president of Uniformed EMS Officers Local 3621.

Daddona, a member of the local union, is assigned to Station 50 at Queens General Hospital. But on Tuesday morning, Oct. 20, he was filling in at Station 47 in Rockaway when he got the call.

A veteran of the department since 1996, Daddona is also an active member of the Franklin Square Volunteer Fire Department in Long Island.

“It’s always a great feeling when you can help someone,” Daddona said. 

Park Worker Comes to Rescue of Slashed Officer

by Diane Williams, DC 37  |  January 15, 2016

Park Worker Comes to Rescue of Slashed Officer Joanna Zeno, a New York City parks worker, helped police capture a suspect in an attack on an off-duty police officer in Cunningham Park. (Photo by Clarence Elie-Rivera)

NEW YORK – Parks worker Joanna Zeno had just finished blowing leaves in Cunningham Park on Oct. 16 when she heard screams for help coming from the bathroom.                      

"I saw a woman bleeding. She said, 'That lady stabbed me,'" said Zeno, a member of AFSCME Local 1505 (DC 37).

Without hesitating, Zeno followed the slight-built woman in red, who had slashed her victim across the face and neck, as she headed deeper into verdant Fresh Meadows Park.

"I wasn't afraid. I knew I could take her. I wanted to help," said Zeno, who has worked for the Department of Parks and Recreation since 2007. "I recognized her as one of the homeless people who hang around Cunningham Park."

Zeno also knows the victim, who is an off-duty police officer. "She comes here to walk her dog and exercise. I say hello to her all the time," she said.

Driving a Parks Department cart, Zeno led police to the attacker and they made an arrest.

"I'm happy they caught her; she could have hurt the children in the park," said Zeno, who once helped another victim who was attacked in Flushing Park in 2012. "It's a tough job, but I really like my work," she added. "Parks need to be safe for everyone, especially for the kids."

"The presence of our members is a deterrent to crimes like rapes, murders, and robberies – and they should be commended for it,” said Local 1505 Pres. Dilcy Benn.  ”She probably saved the officer's life."

Tea-Party Frontrunner Cruz Called Out for Pro-Millionaire Economic Policies

by David Patterson  |  January 15, 2016

Tea-Party Frontrunner Cruz Called Out for Pro-Millionaire Economic Policies Members of AFSCME Iowa Council 61 dogged GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, shining a light on plans to eliminate corporate and estate taxes and slash the capital gains tax.

CHARLES CITY, Iowa – While Ted Cruz toured small Iowa towns last week, telling Iowans he understands their values and concerns, protesters followed the tea-party candidate’s bus to spotlight his dirty little secret: His economic policies are aimed at helping millionaires and corporations get more tax breaks.

AFSCME volunteers greeted Cruz in Webster City and Charles City last week to criticize his plans to eliminate corporate and estate taxes and slash the capital gains tax – none of which help middle-class Americans.

“Not one part of his economic plans addresses issues facing middle-class Iowans,” said Paula Martinez, a member of AFSCME Iowa Council 61 who attended the protests. “He has no plans to address income inequality or close the growing wage gap facing working families.”

In fact, Cruz’s tax policies would cost America nearly $800 billion in lost revenue if it were adopted.

The State of Our Union: AFSCME Strong!

by Clyde Weiss  |  January 13, 2016

The State of Our Union: AFSCME Strong! President Obama delivers his final State of the Union address.

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama emphasized the importance of unions in building a strong economy. “Middle-class families,” he declared, “are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.” 

Those words, though brief, tell volumes about the importance of strong unions in building the middle class and why we need to stand strong in the face of such attacks coming from Wall Street and corporate interests that are more concerned, as President Obama noted, about their quarterly earnings than improving the wages of hard-working people who help them make those profits. 

The most recent of these attacks on workers’ rights was brought before the U.S. Supreme Court this week by a corporate-backed group determined to stack the decks on behalf of the wealthy.

This case, called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, is aimed specifically at public employees nationwide who work every day to improve their communities. They are teachers, fire fighters, police officers, emergency personnel and people who ensure that our neighborhoods are clean and safe. Many of them are members of AFSCME, and they will not let these attacks against their collective bargaining rights go unchallenged.

President Obama ended his speech by stating, “I stand here, as confident as I have ever been, that the state of our Union is strong.” We agree, and also add that the state of our union is strong as well – AFSCME Strong.

AFSCME Strong is more than a slogan. It’s who we are, and reflects the state of our union. We are proving it every day as AFSCME members throughout the nation meet one-on-one with their co-workers, building strength in the workplace. Cab drivers in Illinois are showing that they are AFSCME Strong. Ohio child care attendant Stephanie Wiley is demonstrating she is too. So are many others, nationwide.

More than 200,000 workers joined AFSCME last year, alone, and more continue to join every day, challenging efforts by the anti-union Koch brothers and other groups supported by their money to weaken workers’ rights, including the right to collective bargaining, which has helped keep workers in the middle class, helping our nation grow.

Workers are joining AFSCME because they understand that together, we all stand AFSCME Strong. The state of our nation is strong when the middle class is strong, and the state of our union is strong because our members are strong. Learn more here.

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