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Minnesota to End Outsourcing of Prison Food Service

by Clyde Weiss  |  August 26, 2014

Food services at Minnesota’s state prisons will be handled by public service employees starting next June, a victory for members of AFSCME Council 5 who documented a number of problems with the current for-profit provider.

Minnesota-based A'viands Food and Service Management will cease doing business with the state once its contract ends, reports AFSCME Council 5, citing an announcement by Department of Corrections Commissioner Tom Roy. The work then will be handled by 64 public employees.

For months, Council 5 corrections locals documented problems with A'viands, including:

• Employees who lack specialized training to properly supervise offenders who work in prison kitchens.

• Running out of food too frequently.

• Serving food that is spoiled or otherwise inedible.

Minnesota AFSCME locals made a persuasive case. Ending outsourcing will improve both food services and prison security.

“When problems in a prison kitchen rile up the inmates, everyone is in harm’s way,” says Eliot Seide, executive director of Council 5 and an AFSCME International vice president. “That’s why we mobilized to end the risky outsourcing of food services. AFSCME correctional officers walk the toughest beats and they deserve to return home safely after every shift.”  

Similar danger is brewing in two other states where food services are outsourced. Privateer Aramark, for instance, was cited in Michigan and Ohio for allowing maggots to infest the prison kitchens. Both states recently slapped the company with hefty fines for violations, and in both states AFSCME demands that outsourcing of food services end.


New Jersey Bids Farewell to Labor Hero

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  August 22, 2014

AFSCME is mourning the passing of former Council 71 executive director and former International Vice Pres. Carolyn J. Holmes, who died Aug. 11 after battling several illnesses.

Sister Holmes retired from AFSCME Council 71 in 2006 after decades of leadership in the fight for human, civil and workers’ rights. Her passion for the labor movement did not end with her retirement. As recently as this past May she signed a new membership card to join AFSCME Retirees. During her tenure as president of Local 2215, the local union’s membership more than tripled.

“Carolyn was an excellent trade unionist who was dedicated to her members,” said Gerard Meara, executive director of Council 73. “She was my friend, but also a friend to all of her members and she served them well.”

Under her leadership, AFSCME in New Jersey became a powerhouse for employee's rights. Her activism and leadership were not limited to Southern New Jersey, as she traveled the nation standing for equality in the workplace for all workers. Sister Holmes also traveled to South Africa, standing with former AFSCME Pres. Gerald McEntee and former Sec.-Treas. Bill Lucy to demand the release of Nelson Mandela and the end of apartheid.

“For Sister Holmes, it was not about a fight for just her members, but a fight for all of our members in New Jersey,” said Richard Gollin, executive director of Council 52. “Her dedication and commitment to the cause helped build a strong labor movement in New Jersey.”

“Carolyn was an inspiration and mentor to me as a member of Local 2215 at Vineland,” said Mattie Harrell, Council 71 executive director and an International vice president. “With her as our leader, we knew we were safe and we had rights. When she called us to action, we stood at the ready to fight for our rights and the rights of others.”

In recognition of Carolyn’s commitment to the movement, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists established the Carolyn J. Holmes Humanitarian Award.

"Carolyn Holmes was one of the early AFSCME New Jersey pioneers who helped to remove barriers in the workplace,” said Sherryl Gordon, Council 1 executive director. “She was outspoken, committed and saw the need to building a strong New Jersey labor movement. Sister Holmes was a leader who challenged all of us to do more and be involved in our union. Her legacy is rich with examples of strong leadership, compassionate activism and a commitment to building a better world for everyone." 


Holmes was born June 3, 1938, in Pahokee, Florida, to the late Joseph (Big Joe) Walker and Roberta Solomon Walker. She is predeceased by her husband W.H. (Sidney) Holmes. She was a loving mother to seven children – Sharon Fuller Bowman (Tom), Tanya Price (Carlton), Rhonda Walker, Tracy Lewis, Glenwood Walker, Sidney Holmes (Chantel), and Nettie Holmes – and 12 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren.

NYC District Council 1707 Mourns Loss of Organizing Pioneer

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  August 20, 2014

AFSCME District Council 1707 in New York City is mourning the passing of Betty Powell, one of the original organizers and members of the first Head Start local in the nation. 

Powell was respected throughout the union movement and by child care advocates as a pioneer for child care workers’ rights.  Her passion for the labor movement and workers’ rights went far beyond her local and New York City, as she traveled the nation to participate in AFSCME International conventions, New York State AFL-CIO COPE conventions, and meetings of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women and other national organizations. 

DC 1707 Exec. Dir. Victoria Mitchell said that Betty Powell was an inspiration to her and so many others. 

“Betty never stopped championing for the rights of child care workers and all workers to have basic dignity and respect,” Mitchell said. “She will be missed and she can never be replaced.  She was regal in her stature and she was always a lady, but she was always a fighter for just causes.” 

As the president of AFSCME Local 95, Powell’s efforts helped secure fair wages for Head Start workers. She was also treasurer of District Council 1707. After Local 95 became chartered by AFSCME in 1976, it became a leader in striving for higher wages and expanded benefits. Today, Local 95 still has the highest wages of Head Start workers in the nation.

Powell started her Head Start career in 1966 when she became a Head Start family worker.  Her last position was as an adult education coordinator. She attended elementary and high school in New York City and later attended the School of Continuing Education at New York University.  She obtained an associate’s degree in Social Work at City College and furthered her education at Empire State College. 

She is survived by two daughters, six grandchildren, a brother and a sister.

Powell will be missed, but the benefits of her successful leadership and activism will live on.

LA Unions Try Innovative Community Approach

by Kevin Brown  |  August 20, 2014

Los Angeles labor and community organizations joined forces in an innovative program of coordinated bargaining that seeks to “Fix LA” services and economy at the same time.

The goal of the coalition is to negotiate labor issues such as wages, benefits and workplace safety along with community issues like improving public safety, increasing city efficiency and creating more affordable housing. The hand of public service workers will be strengthened with the involvement of individuals who benefit from city services the most.

The coalition is comprised of six city labor unions: SEIU Local 721, AFSCME District Council 36, The LA/OC Building and Construction Trades Council, LIUNA Local 777, Operating Engineers Local 501, and Teamsters Local 911. They are joined by several community partners, including the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), National Action Network, Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE) and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).

The group believes that changes in the economy require that they modify the traditional approach to bargaining. This new platform allows community and labor groups to bargain and work side-by-side.

“Every decision the city makes about our city services and operations affects our lives, our neighborhoods and our families,” said the Rev. William Smart, a Fix LA clergy member with the SCLC – Southern California. “We’re excited to be a part of this historic approach to the bargaining process and to have a seat, literally at the table. Our joint demands are designed to lift up the voices and needs of all Angelenos.”

Fix LA’s campaign to address pressing community concerns officially launched in March with its groundbreaking “No Small Fees” research report. It disclosed the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars spent by the city each year on toxic “swap” deals with Wall Street banks and unnecessary banking fees.


BBQ & Politics Potent Mix in Kentucky

by Carli Stevenson  |  August 14, 2014

The green machine was in the house earlier this month at the 134th annual St. Jerome Parish Picnic in Fancy Farm, KY.

Known as the world’s largest picnic, the event is equally famous for its political speeches as it is for its barbeque, and AFSCME members came from all over the state to hear from the candidates.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, were the star attractions at this year’s picnic. Lundergan Grimes lambasted McConnell for turning his back on the concerns of Kentuckians.

“Thanks to you, D.C. stands for ‘doesn’t care,’” she said.

Lundergan Grimes said she is the candidate who cares about Kentucky, explaining how she would focus on helping women, students and coal miners.

“It was obvious to me that the energy and attendance favored Alison Lundergan Grimes,” said Gary Watson, a computer science instructor at Jefferson County Public Schools and the political chair of AFSCME Local 4011. “When her supporters paraded into the picnic, you could really see the grassroots energy.”

AFSCME members are not just concerned about the Senate race. Just as important are the down-ballot races for Kentucky’s state legislature – especially making sure that lawmakers continue to fend off efforts to pass a regressive “right-to-work” law.

Kentucky is one of only two southern states that have resisted “right to work,” which undercuts wages and weakens the voice of workers. The Kentucky House has a majority of members who are pro-worker, but only by five seats.

Only by casting our votes for pro-worker candidates in November may we continue to protect our bargaining rights, wages and benefits, as well as our voice on the job.

A Higher Earning Principle at Kentucky State

by David Patterson  |  August 13, 2014

Maybe the Koch brothers can learn something from Raymond Burse, interim president of Kentucky State University (KSU). Burse, after learning that some two dozen university workers were earning as low as $7.25 an hour, decided to give up more than $90,000 of his salary so each would make at least $10.25.

Burse has high expectations and demands for his staff.

"I thought that if I'm going to ask them to really be committed and give this institution their all, I should be doing something in return," he told The Washington Post. "I thought it was important."

Burse's salary was set at $349,869. But before accepting that salary, Burse asked how many university employees earned less than $10.25 an hour, an amount some say is a living wage. Burse then started talking with members of the KSU Board of Regents about the gesture more than two weeks before the board met to approve his contract.

"This is not a publicity stunt," he said. "You don't give up $90,000 for publicity. I did this for the people. This is something I've been thinking about from the very beginning."

Burse's salary is now set at $259,745. The raise in pay for those employees will stay in place after a new president is selected and it will be the rate for all new hires as well.

Renewing Voting Rights

by Clyde Weiss  |  August 13, 2014

This month marks the 49th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law signed by Pres. Lyndon Johnson that was intended to enforce the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees all citizens the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

But that law has been undermined during the last several years by extremist governors, right-wing legislatures and the U.S. Supreme Court, making the promise of the Voting Rights Act just that – a promise without sufficient legal guarantees.

There are many reasons AFSCME is calling on Congress to swiftly pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. Here are a few:

  • Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, gutted a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act. AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders said in response to the court’s ruling that it “pushed our nation in reverse after decades of hard work to make voting accessible for every American.”
  • In Wisconsin, anti-worker Gov. Scott Walker recently signed a bill that restricts early voting, making it harder for young persons, persons with disabilities, and low-income voters who sometimes have to work two shifts to make ends meet, to get to the polls. 
  • In Ohio this year, Gov. John Kasich scrapped rules that allowed people to register to vote and, at the same time, cast early in-person absentee ballots.
  • A report just issued by the National Commission on the Voting Rights, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, reveals that one year after the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, minorities continue to experience discrimination in their efforts to cast votes in several Southern states affected by the court’s decision.

What can you do? Click here to sign a petition to your Senate and House members urging them to move forward with the Voting Rights Amendment Act.

Senate Faction Rejects More Jobs

by Clyde Weiss  |  August 13, 2014

Members of Congress had a real opportunity to prove to the American people that they truly care about creating jobs. Not just by their words – they could have proved it with their deeds.

But extremist right-wing senators led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) showed their true colors by voting to block a bill that would have meant more jobs for American workers.

The measure they scuttled on July 30, the Bring Jobs Home Act, was introduced by Sens. John Walsh (D-MT) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). The legislation would have eliminated some tax incentives that corporate CEOs use to increase their profits by sending our jobs overseas.

“Millions of American jobs have been sent overseas in recent decades,” Representative Walsh said on the floor of the Senate. “Too many large corporations have opened factories in countries like China or Mexico, while closing factories in the United States. We need to do what we can to stem the tide and reward companies that bring jobs back.”

The bill would close the loophole that some multinational corporations use to claim a tax deduction for the costs of moving jobs overseas. It also creates a new 20 percent tax credit for companies that bring jobs back to the United States.

AFSCME has long opposed outsourcing jobs overseas and strongly supports this legislation.

Next time this comes up – and it will – members of Congress must side with American workers. Profits will rise when people have money to spend, and that money will come from good American jobs.

AFSCME’s Got Talent!

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  August 12, 2014

We asked AFSCME members to share their talent on stage at the 41st International Convention and the results were amazing.

The grand prize winner (the contestant who raised the most money overall, throughout the contest) was Jack Campbell, Local 1771 (Pennsylvania Council 13), who sang a song he composed called “Lifeline,” about “becoming united and being together as one.” Campbell, a member of the Local 1771 Executive Board, won two airline tickets anywhere in the contiguous United States. 

The contest’s “PEOPLE’S Choice” winner (the contestant who raised the most PEOPLE contributions on the day of the finale) was Reuben Simmons, president of New York Local 814, Unit 6662, Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000. He won a two-night stay at a Hyatt or Hilton hotel anywhere in the contiguous United States.

The competition raised more than $14,000 for the PEOPLE fund.

When Simmons isn’t busy in his maintenance job with the City of Beacon, New York, he uses his musical talents to bring the union message to young people. He began rapping in 2010, when he was newly elected in his local and was becoming active in the Next Wave program.

“When I first got involved with CSEA, they sent me to the AFL-CIO Young Workers Summit in Washington, DC,” he says. “I started hearing about the challenges that young workers have and the importance of getting young people involved so that the union lasts.”

He continues, “I always felt that music motivates people, and especially the younger generation.  Right now people aren’t hearing about the union.  We built this country, but people, and especially young people, think that we’re dinosaurs or that we aren’t around anymore.”

Simmons says he worried at first that his union-flavored hip-hop was too corny, but after performing at conferences and conventions, he’s seen the positive influence it can have on people – even those who aren't in his target audience.

“I started doing it as a way to inspire younger workers and Next Wave members, but it touches the older generation too,” he says.

You can see highlights of more performances here

San Jose Cuts Endanger Public Safety

by Kevin Brown  |  August 12, 2014

Cutting the pay and pensions of city employees has become a public safety issue for one of California’s largest cities.

After San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed implemented the cuts, an alarming number of city employees left to pursue better wages and benefits elsewhere.  As a result, the San Jose Police Department’s 911 Emergency Dispatch Center is operating at critical staffing levels.

Every 911 dispatcher is now required to work at least 30-plus hours of mandatory overtime a month so emergency calls can be answered. Also, many are required to work four hours beyond their normal 10-hour shift and given just a few hours advance notice. 

“People are leaving because of the attack on our pensions,” says Kellie Carroll, a 24- year veteran of the Police Department and former dispatcher who since transferred to a lower paying job in the Police Department to escape working 14-hour days.

“It’s not just our pensions,” Carroll adds. “The mandatory overtime and inability to hire qualified people has slashed our morale – people don’t feel valued anymore. We have fewer and fewer qualified job applicants because potential dispatchers would rather work at a smaller agency that pays more and has better benefits. We’re no longer competitive.”

Radio dispatchers and 911 call receivers are faced with making critical life and death decisions everyday. It takes unique skills to accomplish these tasks successfully, which results in increased difficulty attracting capable people willing and able to assume these tremendous responsibilities.

“Longer work hours create a difficult work environment,” says Jennifer Hern, police radio dispatcher and AFSCME Local 101 shop steward. “It hurts morale. This is not only unfair to employees, but it’s also unfair to the residents we serve. They count on us to be prompt and efficient to ensure their safety and comfort in an emergency, but if we are overworked and understaffed we can’t guarantee them that satisfaction.”

Newly hired dispatchers (following months of pre-employment testing and background checks) require 18 months of combined classroom and one-on-one training before they can function as solo dispatchers, so it is impossible to increase staffing in a hurry. San Jose cannot compete with career opportunities in neighboring cities, and staffing levels continue to decline. Communications staffing in its police department is down more than 30 percent of authorized positions.

“Everyone who lives in San Jose should expect public safety to be the mayor’s top concern, yet our staffing levels continue to drop, causing 911 calls to wait longer and longer before being answered,” says Karen Schlussel, a 911 call taker. “Letting any 911 call wait longer than it has to is not acceptable to me as a professional or to the public when minutes could mean the difference between life and death.”


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