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Baltimore City Residents Rally to Protect Water Services

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  November 14, 2014

BALTIMORE – Hundreds of city residents joined at City Hall last month to protest a potential city deal to outsource the city’s water to a foreign-owned company, Veolia, with a track record of rate hikes, labor abuses and contract failures.

"Veolia is known globally for two things: rate hikes and labor abuses," said Dr. Lester Spence, associate professor of Political Science and Africana Studies at Johns Hopkins University. "Given Veolia's track record, Baltimore residents should be wary of any potential contract. Such a contract could lead to higher water bills, lower wages and deteriorating service."

Jonathon Epps, a 15-year employee with the Department of Public Works expressed his pride for the work he does to keep the city safe and clean.

“The work I do keeps our community safe, prevents disease and limits the rodent population,” he said. “By coming to work every day, I know I am making a difference in my city. I call on City Council and the mayor to keep our public water public – we do a good job and we are committed to our neighborhoods and our city.”

“Today’s gathering is intended to bring to light the hurt that residents feel all across the city due to policies by this administration and the City Council,” said the Rev. Dr. Al Hathaway, senior pastor at Union Baptist Church.

“We need our elected officials to put the needs of the people first, creating good jobs, permanent affordable housing, quality education, safer neighborhoods and strong public services.”

AFSCME Urges Congress to Restore Needed Funding to Fight the Ebola Crisis

by Cheryl Kelly  |  November 14, 2014

As a U.S. Senate Committee hearing on Ebola began Thursday, AFSCME urged Congress to support President Obama’s emergency request for funding to support the fight against the spread of Ebola in the United States and abroad. 

AFSCME represents workers who are on the front lines of America’s domestic response to Ebola, from the New York City EMT crew that transported an infected physician to Bellevue Hospital, to laboratory technicians at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, to state and county public health staff monitoring travelers from West Africa to hospital staff across the nation.

The President’s emergency request would shore up funding to hospitals, which dropped from $515 million to $225 million in the past decade. Restoring this vital funding will ensure that hospitals meet their obligations to patients, providers, other workers and the community, and to help prepare for a future health care crises.

“The budget sequesters and other funding cuts to state and local governments harmed our public health infrastructure and years of cuts meant losses in experienced and trained public health staff,” noted AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders.

Workers across the nation who are at high risk deserve training and practice on necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).  Americans will be less alarmed when they know workers are being protected from exposure and less likely to become transmitters of disease.

In partnership with AFSCME Local 2507 of District Council 37, the Bureau of Emergency Medical Service of New York City’s Fire Department developed protocols for transporting potential Ebola patients to the hospital. Only specially protected and trained EMS workers will treat and transport suspected Ebola virus patients.

AFSCME also urged Congress and the administration to hold accountable those entities that receive federal taxpayer dollars to address Ebola. Uniform compliance with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and existing required worker health and safety procedures are needed to prevent the spread of Ebola and to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used properly.

Historic $15 Minimum Wage Agreement Reached in Oregon

by Kevin Brown  |  November 14, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. – After months of negotiating, AFSCME Local 88 and Multnomah County reached a tentative agreement to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour in the 2014-2017 contract for county employees.  

The agreement is a major improvement for the county’s lowest-paid public service workers, a number of whom qualify for public assistance. The increase is scheduled to be phased in during three years, with the minimum salary being raised this year to $13 an hour (retroactive to July 1), $14 on July 1, 2015, and $15 on July 1, 2016. 

“Increasing the minimum wage to $15 is a step toward continuing the work of bringing economic security to hardworking families in Oregon,” said Deirdre Mahoney-Clark, the president of Multnomah County Employee’s Union-AFSCME Local 88. “When workers make a decent, living wage they don’t need to rely on government assistance programs to help them and their families survive.”

Despite nationwide support for a higher minimum wage for all workers, the federal government has thus far failed to act on it. Yet local and state governments are taking matters into their own hands. In June of this year, Seattle City Council members voted to increase the minimum wage and this past Election Day, voters in four states and voters in San Francisco did so as well. Supporters of an Oregon statewide minimum wage increase are signing this petition.

In addition to the minimum wage increase, Local 88 members will receive a 2.7 percent cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) increase, retroactive to July 1 of this year. Their health care plans and cost sharing remain the same for the time being, but there will be a re-opener available starting Jan. 1, 2016, allowing employees to maintain the best level of benefits possible as the Affordable Care Act is implemented.

The tentative agreement is under review by Local 88 members and will be in effect if ratified by members.

Please Take Our Student Loan Debt Survey

by Tracey Conaty  |  November 13, 2014

A college education is one of the most important investments we can make. Unfortunately, for many it comes with massive student loan debt. And as more students than ever rely on loans to pay for college, they need help.

Do you have student loan debt (either yours or a family member's)? Please take our AFSCME student loan survey now.

It’s not only the students who face these enormous bills. In many cases, parents and even grandparents have to make huge sacrifices—including taking out a second mortgage or selling their homes—to help their children get out from under student loan debt.

Please tell us more about your experiences with student loan debt. We want to hear from you. 

Phoenix Voters Defeat Pension Cut Initiative

by David Card  |  November 10, 2014

Phoenix voters last week emphatically rejected a billionaire-backed ballot initiative that would have replaced city workers’ pensions with risky 401(k) style plans.

Supporters of the measure called Proposition 487 sought to close the existing defined-benefit plan to newly hired workers and force them to shoulder a greater share of the cost of a private investment plan. Voters defeated the measure 56.5 percent to 43.5 percent.

 “Residents, community groups and front-line employees voted no on Prop 487 and sent a clear message to outside interest groups that it is the wrong pension reform, wrong for public safety and wrong for taxpayers,” said Luis Schmidt, president of Local 2384. “Despite efforts from dark money organizations to confuse Phoenix taxpayers and deprive workers of their hard-earned retirement security, voters protected the promise for employees to retiree with dignity.”

“We are thrilled that voters stood with city workers and recognized the harm Prop 487 would do to Phoenix,” said Frank Piccioli, president of Local 2960. “This victory should serve as a warning to those selfish interests who are seeking to undermine the retirement security of public workers across the country.”

Texas hedge fund billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold played the role of Rich Uncle Pennybags, donating more than $1 million to fund the anti-worker campaign. Arnold is a major contributor to the so-called Liberty Initiative Fund, which poured millions of dollars of dark money into similar measures in Tucson and Cincinnati last year. Both failed to pass.

A broad coalition of pension advocates that included Phoenix firefighters, police officers, AFSCME Locals 2384 and 2960 and their allies came together to fight the measure. They went door to door in the months leading up to Election Day and planned an extensive get-out-the vote effort for Tuesday, Nov. 4.

AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes was in Phoenix on Saturday before Election Day to lead a neighborhood canvass and talk to voters about why Prop 487 was bad for the community.

“The extremists don’t share our belief that after a lifetime of working hard and playing by the rules, we all deserve to live out our years with the dignity and respect that comes from a secure retirement,” Secretary-Treasurer Reyes told a group of volunteer canvassers. “This election is an opportunity for all of us to stand up and say, ‘Today I’m voting for what matters to me and my family.’”

VIDEO: AFSCME home care workers recognized during National Family Caregiver Month

by Kim Moore  |  November 10, 2014

As baby boomers age and the need for long-term care rises, caregiving has become one of the fastest growing occupations in America. And most people – 90 percent of us – indicate that we would rather be cared for at home than a nursing home or facility.

Home care allows seniors and people with disabilities to stay healthy at home and it keeps people out of more costly institutions. And even though in-home caregivers across America save the government billions of dollars every year, they continue to be undervalued and underpaid.

United Domestic Workers of America (UDW/AFSCME Local 3930), made up of 66,000 home care providers across California, is celebrating National Family Caregiver Month this November by launching a new video series called Thank You Caregivers to honor caregivers and share the stories of some of the people who work tirelessly throughout the year to care for seniors and people with disabilities.

People like Camilla Bradford, a Moreno Valley woman who cares for her brother Reggie round-the-clock. Reggie has schizophrenia and developmental disabilities, but since being in Camilla’s care over the past six years, he’s progressed by leaps and bounds. Watch their story here.

“While we acknowledge and give thanks in November, we must support caregivers year-round,” says Doug Moore, UDW executive director and an AFSCME International vice president. “Most caregivers earn poverty-level wages with no sick days, vacation days, or a retirement plan. Some don’t even get Social Security. This has to change.”

In California, UDW is taking action to win improvements for caregivers and clients in the state’s home care program, In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS). This year, UDW successfully won paid overtime for IHSS providers for the first time in history.

We can continue to show our appreciation for caregivers across the nation by raising wages, ending cuts to hours of care for seniors and people with disabilities, and working to ensure paid sick leave for all.

THANK YOU CAREGIVERS! for providing compassionate care to loved ones and neighbors. We can treat every month like home care provider appreciation month by coming together to stand up for caregivers.

Interfaith Group Salutes New York City Municipal Workers for Ebola Case Response

by the Greater New York Labor Religion Coalition  |  November 06, 2014

The GNYLRC is an interfaith worker rights and economic justice advocacy organization based in NYC. It seeks to build a working partnership between the faith community and the local labor movement to address issues affecting low-waged and immigrant communities.

It was only a matter of time before New York City, a gateway city for international travelers, would experience a case of Ebola. When Dr. Craig Spencer had to be transported to Bellevue Hospital because of Ebola symptoms, it was a New York City EMT crew that swiftly swung into action and, employing the training that they had received, safely transported Dr. Spencer to the hospital. Once at the hospital, Dr. Spencer was entrusted to the care of the staff of one of the finest public hospitals in the United States. There he remains under treatment as the municipal employees of Bellevue Hospital provide for his care and contain any potential risk of infection. The case of Dr. Spencer is a reminder to all New Yorkers, and citizens across our nation, of the dedication of our municipal workers and what they are able to accomplish when given the professional training they deserve.

At this time when it remains fashionable to denigrate public-sector employees and praise the private sector, all of us need to remember how much we depend on public-sector employees to respond to medical and other emergencies, provide health care for all who need it, provide environmental services, and sustain the work of public agencies that make possible the efficient functioning of our government at every level. Every day we depend on public-sector employees to do the work that makes it possible for our society to function. The private sector could not do what it does were it not for the dedicated men and women of the public-sector work force.

The Greater New York Labor Religion Coalition offers our thanks to the dedicated municipal workers who have handled the first case of Ebola with such skill and care. We ask all of our fellow New Yorkers to acknowledge the work done by municipal-sector employees and to support them as they seek the training, wages and benefits that will allow them to continue to provide the services upon which all of us depend.

The Greater New York Labor Religion Coalition also urges our public officials to speak out more strongly against all forms of discrimination and harassment directed toward those who are responding to the Ebola crisis and to persons from West African nations. We are hearing too many disturbing reports of harassment in schools, boycotts of businesses, community opprobrium directed against health care workers responding to the Ebola case, and general hostility directed toward members of the West African community. Government leaders should join with community and faith leaders to speak out with one voice against all such forms of harassment and discrimination. Government, faith and community leaders should work together to better educate the public about the realities of Ebola and the limited means of its transmission. Together government, community and faith leaders should help dispel fear and build public trust.

Rabbi Michael Feinberg, Executive Director
Barbara Edmonds, Labor Co-Chair
Rev. Mark Hallinan, S.J., Faith Co-Chair

Court Ruling Backs City on Promise to Retirees

by David Card  |  November 06, 2014

Public workers and retirees in Stockton, California, scored a major victory last week when a judge approved the city’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy without making cuts to workers’ pensions. The city’s plan instead focused on a mixture of budget cuts, a sales tax increase and a reduction in payments to its creditors.

The city opposed cuts to its employees’ pensions based on evidence from other municipalities that to do so would encourage public workers to seek jobs elsewhere, depriving Stockton of one of its most important assets – a highly qualified and trained workforce. For example, in nearby San Jose, crime rates jumped after voters cut police officers’ pensions, forcing many to look for better paying jobs in other cities.

Judge Christopher Klein agreed, noting that struggling city workers had already made significant concessions in earlier negotiations, including pay cuts and ending a retiree health care plan that saved the city more than $500 million.

The city’s creditors argued in court that any bankruptcy deal should include cuts to employee pensions in order to free up more cash to pay back their loans. But Judge Klein’s ruling clearly fell on the side of retirees in the debate over where pension benefits should rank when financially strapped cities are forced to choose between people and banks.

It was a victory for all those who believe that after a lifetime of serving their communities, public workers should be able to retire with dignity and economic security.

 

Insourcing Proves Better, Faster – And Less Expensive

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  November 06, 2014

Jersey City, N.J.– After a yearlong campaign, AFSCME Local 2262 was able to convince the Jersey City School District that insourcing services is not just cheaper but that AFSCME members do the work better.

This past summer, the school district gave Local 2262 members the opportunity to do major renovation projects. The school district’s superintendent and business administrator were so pleased with the work that they featured AFSCME members during the superintendent's "Tour of the Town" earlier this month, highlighting improvements to the district's facilities, including school libraries, cafeterias, science labs, classrooms and recreational facilities. The superintendent proudly told tour participants – who included school board members, union leaders and parent groups – that many improvements were done in-house by members of Local 2262.

"Outsourcing our members’ work has been a problem for a long time," said Local 2262 Pres. Bill Murawski. "Last year the district hired a new superintendent who was a business administrator with a reputation for privatizing work. We felt that we could not take a wait-and-see approach. We decided to take the issue head-on and go on the offensive."

Local 2262 partnered with Council 52 and the national union to put together an aggressive anti-privatization campaign to bring work back in-house. Local leaders went public with their message and spoke out at school board meetings to talk about the value of the work AFSCME members do, including challenging board members to spend a day with workers on the job.

At every monthly labor-management meeting with the administration for the past year, Local 2262 leaders cited specific examples of how the district would save money by letting our members do work in-house. They also partnered with parent groups and other unions to get the message out about outsourcing.

"We'll do the work and we'll do it well," said Ted Jasiczek, one of the Local 2262 members who worked on the renovation projects during the summer. "We want to do these jobs and we know we can do them better, faster and at a lower cost than an outside contractor."

Plans are currently in the works to have Local 2262 members perform other major renovation projects for the school district this year, projects that were previously done by outside contractors.

"The real credit goes to our members,” Murawski said. “They understood the importance of this fight and when it came time to step up to the plate and do the work, they hit it out of the park.”

AFSCME Members Have Already Made a Difference on Election Day

by Pablo Ros and Yanik Ruiz-Ramón  |  November 04, 2014

In the weeks and months leading up to today’s midterm elections, thousands of AFSCME members across the nation volunteered time and effort to make the wheels of our democracy turn once again. We worked the phones, knocked on doors tirelessly and registered new voters. We are making a positive difference in our communities.

Thank you to everyone who participated in get-out-the-vote efforts, but don’t stop now! With just hours to go before the polls close, let’s make sure every progressive vote counts. Tell your friends and family: Vote as if your future depends on it, because it does!

AK GOTV 2014Renee Aguilar, a member of AFSCME Local 16 in Anchorage, Alaska, holding a yard sign about a ballot initiative that would eliminate collective bargaining for city employees. Photo credit: Steve Johnson

AZ GOTV 2014Debbie Osekowsky (left), a member of AFSCME Local 2960 in Phoenix, Arizona, went door knocking to raise awareness about ballot proposition 487. If passed, it would make Phoenix fire fighters and police officers the only public safety personnel in Arizona not to earn a pension or receive death benefits. Photo credit: Kevin Brown

CT GOTV 2014AFSCME Council 4 members rally in New London, Connecticut prior to the gubernatorial debate on October 16, 2014  Photo credit: Michael Bookman

FL GOTV 2014Ricci Yuhico of AFSCME Local 199 in Miami, Florida knocks on doors to get out the vote. Photo credit: Joshua Marburger

MA GOTV 2014Tiger Stockbridge from AFSCME Local 1631 in Boston, MA hits the doors. Photo credit: Kevin Hanes

MN GOTV 2014Melinda Pearson and Mary Falk, of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities Local 4001, door knock union households. Photo credit: Michael Kuchta

PA GOTV 2014AFSCME Retiree Marlene Bryant phone banks in AFSCME Disctrict Council 33 union hall in Philadelphia, PA. Photo credit: Ebony Meeks

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