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Trump Names New Labor Secretary Nominee

by Pablo Ros  |  February 16, 2017

Trump Names New Labor Secretary Nominee Alexander Acosta

A day after we said good riddance to Andrew Puzder, President Trump named a new nominee to head the U.S. Labor Department: Alexander Acosta.

Acosta is the dean of the law school at Florida International University in Miami. He was assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil rights division and served on the National Labor Relations Board, both under President George W. Bush. He was also U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

“During a time of unprecedented attacks against labor unions and the middle class, we need a labor secretary who will truly be an advocate for working families,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. “We need someone with a demonstrated commitment to lifting wages, to enhancing retirement security, to ensuring workplace safety, to aggressive enforcement of anti-discrimination and wage and hour laws. I look forward to hearing Mr. Acosta answer tough questions on these issues.”

Puzder, a fast food CEO, backed out of his nomination after working families across the country voiced their opposition. His track record of putting profits over workers and violating labor laws made it clear that he wouldn’t have working families’ best interests in mind. Controversies from his past also called into question his personal integrity.

Working Families Win Big in New Hampshire

by Pablo Ros  |  February 16, 2017

Working Families Win Big in New Hampshire

Working families won big in New Hampshire today as state lawmakers voted to kill a so-called “right-to-work” bill.

Right-to-work scams threaten to silence workers’ voices by making it harder for them to negotiate together for better wages, benefits and working conditions. Although many states have adopted such laws – always to the detriment of working people – Granite State lawmakers have voted 36 times since the early 1980s to defeat right-to-work proposals.

State lawmakers not only did it again this year but also approved a motion to indefinitely postpone any action on right to work for at least the next two years. Even with a Republican-controlled House, Senate and Governor’s Office, elected officials did the right thing for the working people of the state, voting against this latest threat to workers’ rights 200-177.

AFSCME represents public service workers in New Hampshire, members of AFSCME Council 93, who fought hard to make today’s victory a reality. As part of a vigorous grassroots campaign, AFSCME made 30,000 calls to union members in the state, knocked on thousands of doors and sent thousands of postcards to more than 40 legislators to get them to vote no.

“Today’s vote is a victory for working families in New Hampshire and a defeat for the corporate special interests attacking working people across the country,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. "The people of New Hampshire sent a clear message today: in an unbalanced economy manipulated to benefit the wealthy few, lawmakers should make it easier, not harder, for hardworking people to come together in a union to get ahead.”

Today’s victory came one day after working people received the welcome news that thoroughly unqualified Labor Secretary nominee Andrew Puzder withdrew his name from consideration just one day before his confirmation hearing was set to begin before the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee.

Good Riddance. Puzder Out as Labor Secretary Nominee

by Jesse Berney  |  February 15, 2017

Good Riddance. Puzder Out as Labor Secretary Nominee Former labor secretary nominee Andrew Puzder

CEO Andrew Puzder on Wednesday withdrew his name as President Donald Trump's labor secretary nominee.

America’s public service workers, and all working families, deserve a labor secretary who respects them. Puzder – who has demonstrated nothing but contempt for everything the Labor Department stands for and everyone it exists to serve – was unfit for the job.

“President Trump said throughout his campaign that he would be a great champion for working people. The Puzder nomination called the sincerity of that promise into question. AFSCME members hope that the president will get it right the second time and choose a labor secretary who shares the basic values of working families,” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders said.

All over the country, working families voiced opposition to Puzder's nomination, and we must keep working to ensure the next labor secretary meets the standards we expect.

One of those working Americans, Alaska public health worker Robert Sewell, told reporters Tuesday that it became increasingly clear that Puzder was unqualified.

In remarks prepared for a media call arranged by the National Employment Law Project, the member of AFSCME Local 52 (Anchorage) said the fast-food magnate hadn’t shown he can “advocate for working men and women in Alaska or in any state.”

“He has shown almost no interest in creating jobs that people can sustain a family on. Because he keeps wages so low and does not provide health care coverage, the people who work in his restaurants have no choice but to rely on public assistance to get healthcare,” according to Sewell’s remarks. “In a Puzder economy, taxpayers pick up the check for the healthcare that corporations refuse to provide. They profit and we pay.”

Go here to read Puzder’s withdrawal statement.

You can find more about Puzder’s background and record here and here

We Must Be Vigilant on Health Care

by Jesse Berney  |  February 15, 2017

We Must Be Vigilant on Health Care Kristie Kennett, nurse and member of AFSCME District Council 89

AFSCME members see the health care system from both sides. Nurses, nursing aides, hospital administrators, home care workers – these are our sisters and brothers on the front lines caring for all of us. Public service workers know how important our public health care system is to keeping our communities healthy and strong.

AFSCME members have a special interest in ensuring that the programs that help millions of Americans afford health care coverage are kept strong and intact. Programs like the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid and Medicare are critical to keeping the people we serve healthy. Many AFSCME members also rely on these programs for their own health care, especially Medicare.

But these programs are in real danger and big cuts are possible in the coming years, months, and even weeks. 

Last Friday, Tom Price was sworn in as the new secretary of Health and Human Services. AFSCME members should keep a close eye on the actions of his department, the Trump White House and congressional leaders to ensure that they protect the health care programs that we and the people we serve rely on.

Cuts to these programs would have a direct impact on AFSCME members. For example, while most AFSCME members enjoy employer-provided health care coverage, the Affordable Care Act raises standards of care for everyone. It allows children to stay on their parents’ plans until they are 26 and ensures that all preventive care and checkups are available with no copays. And it prevents insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions.

A repeal of ACA, especially without a serious replacement plan, would throw our health care system into chaos, raising rates across the board and forcing 30 million people to give up coverage they received because of the law.

If the federal government cuts Medicaid spending, that will force budget cuts on states across the board – and that can have a direct impact on the services AFSCME members provide. Medicaid cuts can lead to reduced hours, hiring freezes and even layoffs among state and local employees.

AFSCME members who work with the most vulnerable members of society know how important Medicaid is. It’s a lifeline for seniors, the poor and people with disabilities. It pays for critical services like home care.

Most of us either depend on Medicare or plan to someday. It’s a lifeline for retirees, helping keep millions of seniors out of poverty. Privatizing or otherwise cutting Medicare would be a disaster for AFSCME members, retirees and the people we work so hard to serve. We cannot allow that to happen.

As a Georgia congressman, Price supported raising Medicare’s eligibility age and other changes that would make the program less effective. He supported cuts to Medicaid and is a proponent of repealing the Affordable Care Act.

This agenda could put millions of jobs – and lives – at risk. Our economy, our communities, and our values are at stake, and it’s up to us to protect them all.

EXTRA! for February 14, 2017

by AFSCME Staff  |  February 14, 2017

Here are some stories of interest to working people: 

Union Growth

Union Vote at Boeing Plant Tests Labor’s Sway Under Trump
By Noam Scheiber and Christopher Drew, New York Times, February 13, 217

Boeing came to South Carolina more than seven years ago to establish a second assembly line for its 787 Dreamliner aircraft. At least part of the attraction, analysts said, was the area’s lightly unionized labor force — giving the company more leverage over the union at its main operations outside Seattle.  Now that equation is being put to the test. Workers here will vote Wednesday on whether to unionize, an early test of organized labor’s strength in the Trump era. 

AFSCME is growing, though most other unions are struggling with membership declines.

Labor History

Unions owe debt to black women
By Steph Solis, USA Today, February 13, 2017

In the depths of the Great Depression, thousands of minority women across the country joined the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. Among the most active — and today largely forgotten — members were the women of Local 22 in New York City. … Historians say their efforts attracted tens of thousands of African Americans and Hispanics to unions and laid the groundwork for the peak of the civil rights movement.

“Right to Work”                   

'Right-to-work' bill introduced in Ohio House
By Jackie Borchardt, Cleveland Plain-Dealer, February 13, 2017 

Legislation that would make Ohio a "right-to-work" state is back, but it's unclear how far the controversial measure will go after voters rejected a prior effort to scale back public union bargaining rights. 

AFSCME’s take on the “right-to-work” philosophy? It’s a scam.

Hypocrisy Alert

Donald Trump Requested 64 Foreign Guest Workers For His 'Winter White House'
By Tim Fernholz, Government Executive, February 13, 2017

One way Trump is maximizing profits? He got permission from the U.S. Department of Labor to hire 64 foreign guest workers to wait on his guests, cook their food and clean their rooms during the winter high season in Florida. Trump had applied to bring in these workers while promising during his presidential campaign to kick undocumented immigrants out of the United States and block imports. 

Paying the “Price” for New HHS Secretary

by Lee Saunders  |  February 14, 2017

Throughout his campaign, President Trump insisted that he would keep America’s promise to its retirees by not cutting Medicare or Social Security. But when it came to choosing a Secretary of Health and Human Services, he looked to Rep. Tom Price, who has shown an enthusiasm for shredding the health care safety net, with little regard for the economic security of older Americans.

Price, whom the Senate confirmed late last week, embraces tax cuts for the wealthy, while advocating Social Security cuts that could drive seniors into poverty. He supports increasing the Medicare eligibility age. Even worse, he wants to convert Medicare from a guaranteed benefit into a voucher that would have declining purchasing power each year, leading to escalating out-of-pocket health costs for seniors.

Medicaid is also in jeopardy under Secretary Price. The drastic cuts he supports would hurt our most vulnerable populations: the poor, people with disabilities, people in nursing homes and those receiving care in their homes. Medicaid cuts also threaten the jobs of tens of thousands of AFSCME members and others working in health care occupations. And less money for Medicaid would force states to cut back on other essential public services – education, transportation, law enforcement and more – that sustain communities and support good jobs.

If that’s not bad enough, Price was one of the most ferocious congressional opponents of the Affordable Care Act. Repeal of the ACA, something President Trump did endorse in his campaign, would eventually leave 30 million people out in the cold, without the health coverage they need, one accident or illness away from financial ruin.

People who work hard and sacrifice their whole lives have every right to expect a dignified retirement and the ability to afford a doctor’s visit. Secretary Price apparently disagrees. He believes medical coverage should be for the healthy and wealthy, beyond the reach of ordinary working people and retirees.

These are extreme views, which violate the basic social contract. And they are largely inconsistent with the rhetoric of the Trump campaign, which pledged to lift up working families and protect the programs they depend on. The evidence is mounting that Donald Trump, although he ran for president as a populist, is prepared to be a president for the privileged and powerful.

Lee Saunders is the President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO. This entry is cross-posted from The Huffington Post.

Playing Politics with a Child’s Life

by Anders Lindall, AFSCME Council 31  |  February 13, 2017

Meet Kenea Williams, an Illinois state employee whose infant son requires oxygen due to complications stemming from his premature birth. Her baby’s life could be in jeopardy as her state’s governor plays politics.

On Feb. 9, KMOV-TV, the CBS affiliate in St. Louis, aired “Fighting for Air,” a story that profiled Williams, a caregiver for people with disabilities at Murray Developmental Center in Centralia.

Because of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s refusal to enact a budget, the state government in September 2015 stopped paying health care providers for claims submitted by state employees. As a result, providers have increasingly forced state workers to pay up front for needed care.

In the case of Williams and her baby boy, the provider of the infant’s oxygen tank tried to repossess it because the state failed to pay its health claims.

Williams is one of about 30,000 AFSCME-represented state workers who would be forced to pay substantially more for their health care if Rauner has his way.  At the same time, Rauner proposes to freeze state worker pay under terms he’s tried to impose on AFSCME since he broke off negotiations more than a year ago.

“By refusing to develop a state budget or settle a fair contract with state workers like Kenea, Bruce Rauner is doing real harm to the people of Illinois,” Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch said. “Every lawmaker must stand up and tell the governor to drop his hostage-taking tactics, sign a budget and settle a fair contract with state workers now.”

Kenea is a member of AFSCME Local 401 (Murray Center). AFSCME members throughout Illinois are voting on whether to authorize their bargaining committee to call a strike to resist Rauner’s extreme demands.

To learn about the issues roiling Illinois go here. To read Council 31’s press release on this issue, go here.

Note to Labor Nominee: It’s OK If You’re Having Second Thoughts

by Pablo Ros  |  February 13, 2017

Note to Labor Nominee: It’s OK If You’re Having Second Thoughts Fast food CEO Andrew Puzder

The confirmation hearing for Andrew Puzder, which a Senate committee has scheduled for this week, has been delayed four or five times. Hopefully the delays have given the labor secretary nominee time to think about whether he really wants the job, a position he’s incredibly unfit for.

Puzder should think twice about taking on the role of U.S. secretary of labor because the entire trajectory of his career as fast food CEO is at odds with the mission of the Labor Department.

As AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders wrote in a recent letter to senators, Puzder “has been consistently hostile to the rights and interests of working people … opposes reasonable minimum wage increases … refuses to fairly compensate his own workers for overtime … dislikes safety net programs … but refuses to pay his employees enough that they can survive without those benefits.”

Many other reasons why Puzder is the wrong choice are clear from state and federal complaints filed by his own employees – accusations of wage theft, manipulated overtime, sexual harassment and unfair labor practices.

The Fight for $15 movement, which AFSCME supports, is one of many worker-led movements that strongly opposes Puzder’s nomination.

Last month, CNN reported that Puzder was having second thoughts about his prospective new job because of criticism from labor unions and others who see him as the ultimate wrong choice. Puzder denied this, tweeting that he was in fact “looking forward” to his confirmation hearing.

It’s hard to imagine what he might be looking forward to. He is guaranteed to receive a grilling from some members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), which will hold confirmation hearings for Puzder. Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, to name just two, serve on the HELP committee. Warren sent Puzder a 28-page letter today in which she was highly critical of his company’s record.

AFSCME urges members of the 23-member HELP committee who respect the mission of the Labor Department to reject Puzder’s nomination.

Puzder appears to be in real trouble. At least four Republican senators are telling their leaders they can’t support him, according to CNN.

Alternatively, Puzder could simply drop out. We won’t mind.

CT Member Wins National Award for Organizing Work

by Clyde Weiss  |  February 10, 2017

CT Member Wins National Award for Organizing Work Jessica Ellul, 2017 Kate Mullany Courageous Young Worker Award Winner (Photo by Tom LaBarbera)

Jessica Ellul, a member of Connecticut Health Care Associates (CHCA/NUHHCE/AFSCME), was honored last night by the Berger-Marks Foundation for her efforts to build a union for 900 employees of two hospitals.

Ellul, who works with cancer patients as a unit coordinator on the oncology ward at Danbury Hospital, is one three winners of the Kate Mullany Courageous Young Worker Award, which honors women, age 35 or younger, “who have stood up for workers’ rights and organized their own workplaces in the face of overwhelming opposition.”

AFSCME nominated her for the award, which acknowledges Ellul’s “three years tirelessly fighting for – and ultimately winning – a union for the service and maintenance staff at the hospital.”

Ellul, in an interview, explained how she actually “grew up” at Danbury Hospital. Her parents met there four decades ago and her mother retired from the hospital after a 38-year-career. Her grandmother, aunts and uncles worked there. When she was old enough, Ellul applied for a job at the hospital, and has worked there ever since. 

“For anyone who needs assistance, I’m the hub of the floor,” she said.

She was also the hub of a three-year-long effort to organize a union for the 900 custodians, maintenance workers, lab techs, nursing assistants and others employed at both Danbury and New Milford hospitals.

Ellul said after the hospital’s hired union busters tried to intimidate her, she confronted Danbury’s administrator last year. “I said, ‘This is my home, and you’re allowing them to treat me this way? I literally grew up in this place!’”

On September 1, 2016, her years of effort to bring a union to Danbury paid off when a majority of the employees voted to join CHCA/NUHHCE/AFSCME.

“When I knew we won the election, I literally just sobbed. I couldn’t speak,” she said.

Ellul said she is honored to receive the award from the Berger-Marks Foundation. “I’m just so thankful and so grateful, and so appreciative that someone acknowledged the amount of work I had put in” to organize her fellow workers, she said.

“Jessica’s dedication to her fellow workers through her efforts to organize a union was tireless,” said Mary Florio, president of CHCA. “She poured her heart and soul into helping them gain respect on the job through a union. Now they’re working for their first contract. With Jessica at the center of this effort, too, we know we’ll win a contract we can be proud of.”

Iowa Pols Should Support Workers’ Rights, Not Squash Them

by Clyde Weiss and John Noonan  |  February 10, 2017

Iowa Pols Should Support Workers’ Rights, Not Squash Them Danny Homan, president of Iowa Council 61, speaks out against the Iowa Legislature’s efforts to undermine workers’ rights. (Photo by Mazie Stilwell)

Todd Copley, a public service worker in Polk County, Iowa, wants the politicians who are prepared to take away his union-negotiated workplace rights to understand why this would be a tragic mistake – not just for him and 180,000 other Iowa teachers, mental health workers, corrections officers, nurses and other public service workers, but for all Iowans.

Copley is a carpenter and furniture maker who also works as a Polk County snow plow driver, a job the residents of his community depend on for their safety. He has a voice on the job through his union, Local 1868 (AFSCME Council 61).

The Iowa Legislature is poised to put all public service workers in danger of losing the collective bargaining rights that Copely and his co-workers depend on. Right-wing lawmakers took control of the House, the Senate and the governor’s office in Iowa for the first time in nearly two decades.

Copley was among the AFSCME members fighting back.

“We care deeply about our community,” he testified Wednesday at the Iowa House Labor subcommittee. “Public employees never quit on our communities. We’re not in it to get rich and it’s not glamorous, but we get up every day and make Iowa a better place to live. That means something and we deserve a voice in our state.”

Thousands firefighters and other public and private-sector union members rallied at the Capitol this week to oppose proposals aimed at revoking collective bargaining for public service workers and making other changes aimed at undermining public service unions.

Once these changes become law (Gov. Terry Branstad is expected to sign the legislation when it reaches his desk in the coming week), base wages will be the only thing that public service workers like Copley can bargain over with the state, said Danny Homan, president of Council 61, which represents 40,000 public employees throughout Iowa. 

“Wages are not the most important thing that we want to bargain over. It is health insurance, layoffs, transfers, said Homan, who’s also an AFSCME International vice president. “It’s all those other elements in the contract.”

Negotiating for better safety provisions for workers, health insurance, evaluation procedures, benefits and other issues that have been permitted through collective bargaining would be eliminated for most public service workers under the proposed changes. 

Since Iowa is a right-to-work state, the changes would not only affect union members, but also those public service workers who are not members of a union but who receive the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement.

Exempted from most of the proposed changes are public safety officers, including firefighters and police officers, because they work in dangerous jobs. Yet corrections officers, who also face danger every day at work, are not exempted from the changes. This makes no sense, unless their real motivation is to drive a wedge between unions.

Current Iowa law, which allows collective bargaining over working conditions, benefits and so much more, is fair to workers and to the employers and taxpayers who depend on people like Copley to serve their communities.

These attacks on public service workers are not new, and they keep on coming. But AFSCME will never quit fighting to protect workers’ rights because AFSCME members never quit on their communities. Read more how we are building a stronger union every day.

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