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‘Selma’ Revives Important Story of Voting Rights

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  February 24, 2015

The 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery, Alabama, marches that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act are an important part of this year’s celebration of Black History Month. As part of the observance at AFSCME, Dr. Clarence Lusane of American University spoke about the march, the recent movie it inspired, and why voting rights activism is as important now as ever.

“I like to call it not just Black History Month but also ‘black present and future month,’” says Dr. Lusane. “We need to connect the past to what is going on now and where we go next.”

Lusane, whose grandmother marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, says we must remember that the civil rights movement was driven by ordinary people, many of them women. While the history books focus on a few big names, it was the work of thousands of average citizens that brought about some of the most important legislation in American history.

But now that crucial legislation is being dismantled by the courts and our elected officials. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited local governments from placing restrictions on voting. Within hours of the ruling, state governments were redrawing district maps, eliminating early voting and same-day registration, and proposing “Voter ID” laws that would disenfranchise millions of Americans, many of them seniors who have been voting for decades.

With the movie ‘Selma’ in theaters, there is hope that a new generation will take up the cause for free and fair voting rights. AFSCME members continue to fight in the spirit of Selma. We can’t let the rights that so many black heroes fought for, even died for, slip away 50 years later.

White House Conference on Aging Event Shines Spotlight on Challenges Faced by Seniors

by Clyde Weiss  |  February 23, 2015

TAMPA – Participating in the first White House Conference on Aging in a decade, Carol Ann Loehndorf, president of AFSCME Retirees Chapter 79 in Florida, said afterward that the nation’s policy leaders need to work hard to ensure that current and future retirees can rely on a secure “safety net” of Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid and pensions.

“Aging is naturally going to happen to all of us, and being prepared for it, and trying to achieve the most satisfaction is important for all of us,” said the 73-year-old retired state social worker, who was raised on Social Security survivor benefits along with her brother.

Focusing public attention on retirement security is especially important as the nation this year marks the 50th anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid, and the 80th anniversary of Social Security. Social Security privatization is once again on the political agenda of right-wing lawmakers, while efforts to preserve Social Security and Medicare, and to expand access to Medicaid coverage, are in the daily headlines. Nationwide, pensions are also under attack.

The White House Conference on Aging event in Tampa, on Feb. 19, was the first in a series of regional meetings designed to put a spotlight on the challenges retirees face today.

Loehndorf said she was “quite thrilled” to be invited to the Tampa event. In addition to listening to experts discuss healthy aging, long-term services and supports, and retirement security, she also participated in a break-out session on retirement security. With private sector pensions declining, conservatives and businesses claim that 401(k)-style savings plans can replace defined-benefit employer pensions, Loehndorf responds that you can’t save what you don’t earn.

“So many Americans are not able to save money and plan for the future now” because wages have been stagnant for the last 30 years, she explained.

In addition, those who have pensions, including police, firefighters, teachers and other public service workers, face the loss of promised benefits as state lawmakers hand out tax breaks for corporations, diverting revenue that could have been used to fully fund their employees’ pensions.

“To improve on pension security, you’ve got to make sure that when people have pensions, those pensions stay fully funded,” Loehndorf said. “People need to be able to count on what they’ve been promised.”

Learn more about the White House Conference on Aging here, including places and dates for future regional forums.

Cab Drivers Decry Rideshare Abuses

by Dave Kreisman  |  February 20, 2015


Cab drivers protest in front of Chicago's city hall

CHICAGO – Frustrated by the city’s failure to properly address serious issues surrounding the so-called “rideshare” industry, more than 300 members of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 braved sub-zero wind chills to protest outside City Hall.

“After two years of operating illegally in Chicago, the city’s response has been to allow Uber, a politically connected, billion-dollar corporation, to operate based on a ‘promise.’ This is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said Cheryl Miller, a Chicago cab driver and Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 member.

Cab drivers protest in front of Chicago's city hall

“Every mom and pop restaurant in Chicago is licensed and inspected by the city, their employees are protected with workers’ compensation and the public is protected by requirements to maintain commercial liability insurance. Yet Uber is allowed to evade most forms of oversight that every other business in the city is subject to,” Miller added.

“Driving a cab used to be a pathway to the middle class.  I support my family, my children and my community,” said Ismail Onay, Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Council 31 member and longtime Chicago cab driver.  “Yet while we pay an incredibly high price to meet the standards the city sets, the city is allowing tens of thousands of nonprofessional drivers to operate the same as a cab with none of the costs and none of the accountability.”

Miller vowed that the union would not rest until the public and drivers are protected. “It’s unbelievable that the city has failed so miserably to act to stand up for its own residents, workers and visitors,” she said.

'Union Scholars' Can Open New Doors for Themselves, Workers

by AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders  |  February 20, 2015

There was a time when organizing meant knocking on doors, holding meetings at the local house of worship, passing out handbills and posting them on streetlights, and resorting to the old-fashioned telephone tree.

Social media has changed all that, especially for the millennials -- those born between 1982 and 2004. "Promoting, discussing and taking action around issues is part of Millennials' social personality and personal brand," according to a recent study on digital activism. "They seamlessly use social media to tell the world what they stand for."

Organizing -- the process of one-on-one engagement and relationship-building -- is the best strategy for building on that brand of activism. AFSCME sponsors a program that puts college students on the front lines of union-organizing campaigns across the nation.

The AFSCME Union Scholars Program, offered in partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, is a 10-week summer field placement for rising college juniors and seniors. Participants are placed on a union-organizing campaign, provided with on-site housing and paid a stipend. They also qualify for academic scholarships of up to $6,300 for the 2015-'16 academic year. The program targets students of color, because AFSCME believes it's crucial to cultivate more diversity in the ranks of organizers in the labor movement.

Click here to read the full article.

Guess Who’s Turning 40 – Our Weingarten Rights

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  February 19, 2015

Did you know that the boss cannot question you without your union representative present? It’s your right as a union member! But, you have to ask for one, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Forty years ago, on Feb. 19, 1975, in a case called National Labor Relations Board vs. J. Weingarten, the high court ruled that an employee has the right to request union representation in any meeting that she or he feels could result in discipline or termination. The employer must suspend the meeting until a representative arrives or end the meeting all together.

This was a huge victory for workers. The employer is not permitted to reprimand the employee for asking for a representative, and if the employer continues the interview, the employee may refuse to answer any questions until she or he has time to consult privately with their staff representative.

J. Weingarten, Inc. operated a huge chain of convenient store chains, one of which was located in Houston, where Leura Collins worked. In June 1972, Collins, a lunch-counter clerk, was interrogated by her manager for allegedly placing a dollar in the cash register for a box of chicken that cost $2.98. During the interview, Collins, a member of the Retail Clerks Local 455, requested her shop steward or other union representative be present, but was denied.

Although Collins was later cleared of any wrongdoing, her union filed an unfair labor practice to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). And a new right for workers was born – Our Weingarten Right!

In 2000, the NLRB under Pres. Bill Clinton extended Weingarten Rights to all workers, unionized and non-union; however, this was reversed in 2004 by the NLRB under ex-Pres.George Bush.

Our rights are born out of the brave acts of individuals and the resolve of the collective.

Happy Birthday, Weingarten Rights and thank you Leura Collins – your bravery changed the labor movement forever.

AFSCME Wisconsin Councils Unanimous for Unification

by Dave Patterson  |  February 19, 2015

In three historic votes aimed at strengthening and focusing AFSCME’s fight for public workers’ rights in Wisconsin, delegates from Councils 24, 40 and 48 voted unanimously to form one united council representing workers across the state.

Staff and rank-and-file leaders from each of the councils traveled the state in January, holding town hall-style meetings to present a unification plan to the union’s membership. Members raised questions, proposed changes to the plan, and ultimately determined to unify their resources. The new council will hold its founding convention in April.

The unification allows the union to refocus its mission, strategy and goals on rebuilding a powerful voice for public employees in Wisconsin. In the wake of the passage of Act 10, which stripped collective bargaining rights from public workers, AFSCME saw its membership decline.

“AFSCME Wisconsin will emerge from this unification a bold, determined and united organization that will continue to advocate for our members and build power for all workers,” said Rick Badger, executive director of AFSCME Council 40. “The tools in our toolbox have changed. Now, we will use collective actions to improve the lives of our members, coalition building with like-minded organizations to make a difference in communities, and political action to change the legislative priorities in Wisconsin.”

AFSCME was established in Wisconsin in 1932, and the state is ground zero for the union. The new united council will be AFSCME Council 32, named after the founding year.

“We will come out of this convention an organization that is leaner and meaner,” said Marty Beil, executive director of AFSCME Council 24. “We will be built for growth, more nimble to fight back effectively when challenges arise, and we will arm our leadership and staff with the skills and tools they’ll need to help our members succeed in the state’s current atmosphere.”

Bus Drivers and Head Start Workers: Fix Broken Unemployment System

by Carli Stevenson  |  February 18, 2015

Workers forced to repay UI benefits because of mistake

Terri Wells has been driving a school bus since 1998, and she loves her job. The kids are great, plus it’s been a great job for her as a single mom of five children. She beams proudly when talking about her son, a drum major in high school and currently a student at Morehouse College in Atlanta. She still has three kids at home, including twin girls.

“I love the flexibility,” she says. “I don’t have to work holidays or vacations, so for having a family it’s really good.”

But what has always been an ideal job for Terri and her family is turning into a nightmare. That’s because Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development is demanding that she and others repay thousands of dollars in unemployment insurance benefits they received during school breaks dating back to 2011. For Terri, that’s $2,700.

For many years, school bus drivers and head start workers employed by private vendors and companies, and other similarly situated workers were able to apply for unemployment during seasonal layoffs. In 2011, the Indiana Legislature changed the law in effort to close unemployment to these types of workers.

Despite the change in the law, the department continued to pay unemployment benefits to hundreds of bus drivers and Head Start workers. These workers were honest and applied for unemployment insurance in good faith, stating exactly what they did, who they worked for and why they were out of work.

“The Department of Workforce Development knew I was a bus driver for Durham Bus Services. I answered everything on the form honestly. If I wasn’t eligible for unemployment, why did they pay me benefits week after week?” Terri asks.

Terri and her coworkers were joined Feb. 9 by State Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane (Anderson), State Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Portage), and State Rep. Gail Riecken (D-Evansville) in calling on the commissioner of the Department of Workforce Development to grant repayment waivers to workers who were paid unemployment due to the department’s error. Lanane and Tallian also have bills that require the department to grant waivers in instances in which it would cause a financial hardship and the department made a mistake.

“I get people’s children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to school safely every day. I was honest and applied for unemployment in good faith, along with my coworkers. Our only mistake was trusting that the Department of Workforce Development would get things right.”

Rally in New Mexico Targets Education, Anti-Union Bills

by Kevin Brown  |  February 18, 2015

Hundreds of community activists including educators, parents and union members marched on the New Mexico Capitol in Santa Fe for the "Voices United For Our Students" day of activities. Participants gathered at the Santa Fe Railyard and then marched to the Roundhouse to send a clear message to anti-worker lawmakers. 

“How is it, when a state is 49th in children’s wellbeing, that instead of talking about wrap-around services in schools, we’re talking about sanctions and testing?” Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers asked the crowd. “How is it that in a state that is known for music and art, we don’t have music or art in schools?

“This is why I’m here, this is a moral fight, a ground up fight to reclaim the promise of our schools,” she said. “We are at a fork in the road. New Mexico, unlike anywhere else in the nation, is actually pushing the so-called corporate reforms that haven’t worked anywhere they’ve been tried.”

Several bills, including a mandatory flunking bill, funding for increased testing of public school children, and so-called right-to-work legislation, are under consideration by New Mexico legislators and have caused a groundswell of opposition during this legislative session. 

“AFSCME is proud to stand alongside our sisters and brothers in the AFT and the NEA, and Equality New Mexico” Connie Derr, executive director of AFSCME Council 18, told the crowd. “Your struggles are our struggles. Our struggles are your struggles.

“We will fight together for better jobs, with fair evaluation systems,” Derr said. “We will fight for workers’ rights, for stronger communities and for a return to respect for those who make the state of New Mexico work.”

Following the rally, activists entered the state Capitol building to lobby legislators and urge them to oppose anti-worker legislation, the failed student testing model being pushed by out-of-state corporations, and a punitive teacher evaluation system that is forcing good teachers out of the profession.

Tentative EMS Deal in California Shows AMR the Way Forward

by Justin Lee  |  February 17, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – More than 1,000 California EMS professionals across 13 counties would see a pay increase and continued health care coverage if a new tentative labor agreement is approved by members of AFSCME Local 4911.  The agreement was reached after a two-year stretch where workers rejected attempts by American Medical Response to divide the workforce and cut health care.

"Solidarity opens your eyes and it opens the company's eyes," said Jamie Field, a 23-year EMT from Stanislaus County. "It's about a fair process, protection and safety. It's about coming together."

Field and his wife, who works as a Registered Nurse, devote their lives to providing health care. Together they have three children — one who has autism and special needs. Once ratified, the new agreement would allow employees like Field to continue providing health care for their families.

"As health care professionals, we shouldn't have to fight to keep our health insurance. We should be leading the way," said Field.

Thanks to the solidarity of their union, workers were able to win that fight. 

Members of Local 4911 will vote on the agreement in March. Meanwhile, AMR employees in Southern California, New England, Missouri and Arizona are continuing to demand a fair contract from AMR.

Field has a message for EMS professionals struggling to make ends meet: "If you're not in a union you should be. Union means better pay, better health care and more security for the future."

North California Local 4911 bargaining team

Members of AFSCME Local 4911's bargaining team.

Bad-Faith Bargaining Doesn’t Deter City Workers

by David Patterson and Carli Stevenson  |  February 13, 2015

LEXINGTON, Ky. – More than two years after the 120 workers at Lexington Waste Management voted to form a union with AFSCME, they’ve won another battle to maintain their union and settle their first union agreement – no thanks to the management that sought to break up the united group of city employees.

Not content to string along workers and refuse to negotiate in good faith, management pushed hard for another vote from its employees – hoping to decertify the union and avoid a union agreement. But thanks to a strong organizing committee and local union officers, AFSCME Local 4468 members overwhelmingly beat back those efforts, choosing to stay with AFSCME by a 3-to-1 margin.

"When we come together as one, we can accomplish anything,” said Local 4468 Pres. Dion Henry after the successful vote.

The recent victory has now paved the way for a new – and first – negotiated union agreement. The union is putting the final touches on the contract, which includes improved workplace policies, uniform and supply allowances and a new grievance procedure. The membership will then vote to ratify the agreement.

“We have worked long and hard to maintain our strength and unity over the last couple years,” said Henry. “We are fighting to get this agreement done with management and we are proud to be a part of AFSCME.”

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