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Right-to-Work Defeated Again in Missouri

by Michael Byrne  |  September 21, 2015

Right-to-Work Defeated Again in Missouri

The Missouri Legislature could not muster the votes necessary to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a “right-to-work” bill, preventing the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) from claiming a 26th state with the anti-worker law.

The 96-63 vote to override the veto fell 13 votes short, as legislators from both sides of the aisle sided with the labor movement against the attack from out-of-state special interests pushing the right-to-work scam.

Unions rallied in Jefferson City ahead of the vote, warning Republicans and Democrats alike that the right-to-work scam is nothing more than an attack on working families and that unions will stand up for the middle class.

The vote came the day after the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that a “right-to-work” ballot initiative specify in its title that workers who benefit from a union contract would avoid paying for the efforts to negotiate that contract – finally truth in advertising on so-called “right to work.”

While labor was successful in beating back the right-to-work scam in Missouri, the Legislature did manage to push through an anti-worker bill banning cities from raising the minimum wage above the state level of $7.65 an hour. Governor Nixon vetoed that measure but the Legislature overrode his action. Both the St. Louis and Kansas City councils had approved eventually raising their minimum wages above the state limit.

But unions could take comfort in how the right-to-work scam was being portrayed in Missouri newspapers. Just before the vote, the Kansas City Star editorial pointed out that ALEC lobbyists won support for the bill by wining and dining legislators. The editorial board urged lawmakers to uphold Nixon’s veto, saying:

“Missouri needs unions. At a time when hard-working people are demanding livable wages and a measure of security for their families, it should not become the 26th state to undermine collective bargaining.”

Pope Francis: Standing Up for Worker Justice

by John Noonan  |  September 21, 2015

Pope Francis: Standing Up for Worker Justice

I address a strong appeal from my heart that the dignity and safety of the worker always be protected.(4/28/13, Regina CÆLI Address)

Since he arrived at the Vatican in 2013, Pope Francis has established himself as a voice for the common man.  He devoted his first Easter Sunday address to the cause of dignity, safety and respect for working people. Now, one of the world’s most prominent advocates for worker justice is arriving in the United States to share his message with the American people.

Here’s what Francis has said about income inequality:

  • “While the income of a minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority is crumbling. This imbalance results from ideologies which uphold the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation, and thus deny the right of control to States, which are themselves charged with providing for the common good.” (5/16/13)

Pope Francis knows that an economy that works only for a chosen few is unjust and indefensible. That’s why he has called for an economic system that values the dignity and work of all people:

  • “We must say ‘we want a just system! A system that enables everyone to get on.’ We must say: ‘we don’t want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm!’ Men and women must be at the center as God desires, and not money!” (9/22/13, Meeting With Workers in Cagliari, Sardinia)
  • “We can no longer trust in the unseen forces and the invisible hand of the market. Growth in justice requires more than economic growth, while presupposing such growth: it requires decisions, programs, mechanisms and processes specifically geared to a better distribution of income, the creation of sources of employment and an integral promotion of the poor which goes beyond a simple welfare mentality. (11/24/13, no. 204 APOSTOLIC EXHORTATION EVANGELII GAUDIUM)

Most importantly, the Pope knows that we need action. He has said that “a prophetic voice must be raised” and that working people everywhere must stand in solidarity to create a just system that works for everyone. This week, let’s take his message to heart.

Big Win for Largest U.S. Probation Department

by Kevin Brown  |  September 17, 2015

Big Win for Largest U.S. Probation Department The AFSCME Local 685 Bargaining Committee celebrates the contract victory. (Photo credit: Courtesy of Local 685)

Los Angeles County Deputy Probation Officers Union (AFSCME Local 685) overwhelmingly voted in favor of a bargaining agreement Aug. 30 that will improve public and personal safety. For the nation’s largest probation department, it was a remarkable victory that strengthens the lives of working families in Los Angeles County.

“The deep and meaningful dialogue that took place over four months between Local 685 members and the [county] CEO and department representatives represents a significant improvement over the prior negotiating stalemates,” said Ralph Miller, president of Local 685 and also an International vice president. “We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished, but we recognize that this is a process and we do have further to go.”

The four-year agreement, which covers 3,800 employees in the Los Angeles County Probation Department and the Department of Children and Family Services, includes fair wage increases over the next three years, a special advanced educational degree bonus, increased number of sick days, increased uniform allowance and more – the result of four months of bargaining between Local 685 and county officials.

“I truly believe that the progress we have made is in no small part due to our members’ efforts to elect two new members (Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and Supervisor Hilda Solis) to the Board of Supervisors,” added Miller. “We have found an open ear to our goal of improving public and personal safety.”

Local leaders are confident the new agreement will significantly enhance public safety and bring 21st century methodologies into the department. The relentless pursuit to equip dedicated and professional employees to perform law enforcement duties in an outstanding manner, remain a top priority.

In a tribute to Local 685’s rich history, the tentative agreement was reached on July 16, Local 685’s 70th anniversary. The contract now goes to the Board of Supervisors for final approval.

Chicago, New Orleans Cabbies Join Global Uber Protest

by David Kreisman and Namita Waghray  |  September 17, 2015

Chicago, New Orleans Cabbies Join Global Uber Protest NOLA Cab Drivers for Justice/AFSCME Local 234 protest at New Orleans City Hall over unregulated rideshare services like Uber. Photo credit: Niran Gunasekara

Hundreds of AFSCME-represented cab drivers in Chicago and New Orleans joined cab drivers from around the world Sept. 16 in a “Global Day of Action Against Uber” and other unlicensed rideshare taxi operations.

From Australia to Brussels to the United States, cab drivers are standing up and demanding fairness and pointing out how cities like Chicago are losing revenue by not regulating ridesharing services like UberX and Lyft the same way that licensed cab drivers are regulated.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel “is talking about cutting services and raising taxes and fees, but he’s missing a major opportunity to generate upwards of $65 million in new revenue” by not treating the rideshare services “like the taxi services they are,” said Cheryl Miller, a veteran Chicago cab driver and member of Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500.

Miller, like all other licensed cab drivers, must pay a fee annually to renew her license. She paid to take a chauffeur license, and would pay fines for violating rules governing her profession. “We would like to know why the city is allowing Uber and Lyft to do the same work and provide the same exact services without paying any of the same fees to the city, or following any of the same rules,” she said.

It’s the same for members of NOLA Cab Drivers for Justice/AFSCME Local 234 in New Orleans. “NOLA cab drivers are trying to protect the people we service,” said Niran Gunasekara, vice president of Local 234. “A lack of regulation and enforcement for rideshare organizations like Uber are unfair to the professional taxi drivers that serve New Orleans.”

Unlike New Orleans’ cab drivers, Uber and Lyft drivers do not pay licensing fees, undergo background checks or operate under the same high standards for their vehicles. As professionals, licensed taxi drivers are not only fighting for a level playing field, they are advocating for their passengers to ensure their safety, Gunasekara said.

Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500 member Macarl Johnson joins protest outside Chicago City Hall as part of a global day of action against Uber. Photo credit: David KreismanThat’s why the AFSCME-represented cab drivers were speaking out on the global day of action against Uber. They were supported in Chicago by people like Edelia Correa, a Communities United leader, as well as the “Fight for $15.” Correa delivered a letter to the mayor signed by more than 100 local businesses and community organizations, asking him to recognize the vital work that the city’s cab drivers perform.

“Politicians talk about ‘shared sacrifice’ but Uber isn’t sharing, they’re getting a free ride instead of paying their fair share,” said Correa.

Learn more about Cab Drivers United/AFSCME Local 2500 here, and check out this story about how they are working through their union to solve such issues as police harassment.

Read more about New Orleans Cab Drivers for Justice/AFSCME Local 234 here.

Journey for Justice Culminates with Capitol Hill Rally

by Michael Byrne  |  September 15, 2015

Journey for Justice Culminates with Capitol Hill Rally Journey for Justice marchers rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, in Washington, DC. Photo credit: NAACP’s official Instagram

AFSCME is joining other unions and progressive organizations on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning for a rally and press conference calling for the restoration of the Voting Rights Act. The “Advocacy Day” in Washington, DC, is the culmination of a 1,000-mile Journey for Justice from Selma, Alabama, organized by the NAACP.

The goals of the Journey for Justice, besides ensuring unfettered voting rights, are a call for the right of everyone to a fair criminal justice system, sustainable jobs with a living wage and an equitable education system – with a unifying theme of “Our Lives, Our Votes, Our Jobs, Our Schools Matter.”

Marchers are converging Tuesday evening, Sept. 15, for an interfaith service and legislative teach-in at 7 p.m. at the Washington Hebrew Congregation, 3935 Macomb St. NW, in Washington. Rabbi Bruce Lustig, who serves this congregation, marched in several stages of America’s Journey for Justice, along with nearly 150 rabbis from around the country who carried the Torah from Selma.

The rally Wednesday morning, Sept. 16, begins at 9 a.m. at Upper Senate Park, 200 New Jersey Ave. NW in Washington. AFSCME members will be out in force in their green T-shirts.

AFSCME has urged passage of the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015 to undo the harm caused by a Supreme Court decision two years ago that gutted key provisions of the original Voting Rights Act.

“Fifty years ago, proud men and women in this country marched arm-in-arm, enduring vicious attacks, to ensure every citizen could vote,” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders said. “From their unwavering determination and sacrifice came the Voting Rights Act. AFSCME is committed to ensuring that our leaders in Congress today honor that sacrifice and protect the rights they secured for future generations.”

First Responders Urge Supreme Court to Play it Safe

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  September 15, 2015

First Responders Urge Supreme Court to Play it Safe Speaking at a press conference on the Friedrichs case are, from left: Mark Frymoyer, Iowa sheriff’s tactical paramedic, Sgt. John C. Hillyard, Minnesota corrections officer, and Daniel Dore, New Mexico corrections officer. Photo Credit: Tiffany Ricci

When our nation faces a tragedy, we depend on first responders and other public service workers to stand strong and help us through. We saw it 14 years ago, when our nation was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. And we count on these same workers to be there for us and our communities as we face the future.

But some extremist politicians and corporate special interests are backing a Supreme Court case that would make it more challenging for public safety workers to speak up for one another and fight for the quality public services their communities rely on. Later this year, the Supreme Court is set to hear a case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. This corporate-backed lawsuit aims to make it more difficult for all public service workers to stand together through strong unions.

On the anniversary of 9/11, AFSCME first responders around the country spoke up about how Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association could threaten the ability of firefighters, EMTs, paramedics and sworn law enforcement and corrections officers to band together to negotiate for better safety equipment, training and other tools that promote public safety and shorten emergency response times.

“If the Court rules against unions, public safety standards across America will be weakened,” Vincent Variale, FDNY medic and president of AFSCME Local 3621, wrote in an editorial last week. “Police, firefighters, EMS, and first responders won’t be able to push for life-saving equipment and shorter response times, and social workers won’t be able to push for better nurse-to-patient ratios.”

In New Mexico, several hundred workers gathered for AFSCME’s Public Safety Congress and urged the Supreme Court to decide in favor of strong unions when it hears the Friedrichs case. “Many of the safety measures, training mechanisms and equipment employed by corrections officers every day are a direct result of COs asking for it at the bargaining table,” said Sgt. John C. Hillyard, a corrections officer from Stillwater, Minnesota.

Public Safety Congress Gets AFSCME Strong

by Omar Tewfik  |  September 14, 2015

Public Safety Congress Gets AFSCME Strong President Saunders addresses the Public Safety Congress in Albuquerque, N.M.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Hundreds of AFSCME first responders gathered here over the weekend for the 2015 Public Safety Congress to discuss important issues regarding public safety, service and building power through AFSCME Strong

This was the first public safety conference that included AFSCME Emergency Medical Service employees and firefighters, and the three-day event kicked off Sept. 11 with a commemoration of the 14th anniversary of 9/11, with attendants paying tribute to the courage of first responders in the wake of the terrorist attack.

It was also the 35th anniversary of the deadly prison riot of the State Penitentiary in Santa Fe, where inmates went on a rampage, killing 33 prisoners and taking hostage and brutalizing more than a dozen corrections officers.

“Before the riot, COs repeatedly warned that conditions were dangerous,” Pres. Lee Saunders pointed out in his address to the Congress. “Nearly 1,200 inmates were housed in a facility designed for 900. Low pay and long hours meant high turnover. Procedures were constantly changed, but officers didn’t always get updated post orders. A riot control plan existed, but not all staff had it.

“Does any of this sound familiar?” President Saunders asked. “What happened in New Mexico in 1980 should serve as a warning.”

Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes talked about the AFSCME public safety officers who had made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty last year – Alaska State Troopers Gabe Rich and Sgt. Scott Johnson, and Police Detective Douglas Mayville of Albany, New York – and the ceremony honoring them this year at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, DC. The names of corrections officers as well as police officers are etched on the wall.

“We will keep working to bridge the community divide – whether it’s here in New Mexico, in Baltimore, New York, everywhere that you protect lives,” she said. “Our towns and cities cannot survive without your steady hand, without your voice.”

Public Safety Congress participants were enthusiastic about the AFSCME Strong trainings in this year’s conference.  

“[AFSCME Strong] Is essential,” said Norma Traffie, a member of Local 3657 (Council 93) and civil clerk at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department in New Hampshire. “We need to understand the attacks we’re facing, unify rather than divide ourselves, and remain committed as a union to protect our rights and fight for our families.”

Christopher Duffy, a corrections officer from Local 1772 (Council 3) in Maryland, said that AFSCME Strong was also about protecting the middle class. “We’re the biggest, baddest public-sector union in the country,” he said. “If we don’t fight for the middle class, there will be no middle class.”

First Responders Remember 9/11

by David Kreisman  |  September 14, 2015

First Responders Remember 9/11 Ray Ouellet, a Connecticut police officer, describes how he and fellow officers spent six days digging in the rubble at the World Trade Center. Credit: Photo by David Kreisman

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Ray Ouellet, a Meriden, Connecticut, police officer and AFSCME Local 1016 (Council 4) member, recalls the horror of September 11, 2001 – first with TV images of the World Trade Center towers collapsing.

Officer Ouellet and three of his colleagues immediately drove through traffic and chaos into New York City, leaving their car, and hiking two and a half miles with their gear to Ground Zero. Sleeping on church steps after working through the night, Officer Ouellet spent six days digging through the rubble.

“I could not speak for three days, my lungs were so full of debris,” Officer Ouellet recalled, speaking to the AFSCME Public Safety Congress in Albuquerque on Sept. 11. “But we did it because we were called to – the same reason you do the work you do as police, fire, corrections or EMS. We did it because deep inside we have the desire to serve our communities, to be helpers, to make things better.”

At a ceremony here commemorating the tragedy, Pres. Lee Saunders recalled how AFSCME members in New York City came together that day.

“The toll was especially steep for members of DC 37 Locals 2507 and 3621,” said President Saunders, who was working out of the DC 37 office that day. “We were the 911 operators. We were the EMS officers, the EMTs and paramedics. We were the chaplains. The construction design managers, engineers, forensics teams and fire inspectors. We stood side by side with police officers and firefighters.

“We combed the rubble for survivors, delivered lunches and supplies. We came from all corners of the nation to help. And when it was clear there were no more survivors, we did recovery work, all the while exposed to a dangerous mix of toxins that are sickening and killing people to this day,” said President Saunders.

He urged the hundreds of Public Safety Congress convention attendees to contact their U.S. Senators and urge them to reauthorize the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which is set to expire in October unless Congress acts. Delegates immediately turned to their phones and sent the messages.

“AFSCME members have always understood the responsibilities we have to our communities,” Saunders said. “We fulfill them with pride and care. But on 9/11, we truly rose to the occasion – just as we do each time disaster strikes.”

Risks Come with Job, but She Loves Her Work

by Joye Barksdale  |  September 11, 2015

Image from KIMA-TV report show SWAT team on police line during standoff.

Image from KIMA-TV report shows SWAT team on police line during standoff.

Lisa Tavarez, a community corrections specialist and member of Washington Council 28 Local 308, never knows what she’ll face when she’s on the hunt for suspects, and she’s had many close calls over the years. But on Sept. 3, she had the closest call of her 14-year career.

Her experience is a reminder of the risks AFSCME members in public safety take daily. Many are in Albuquerque, N.M. attending the AFSCME Public Safety Congress.

According to news reports, Tavarez was part of the Pacific Northwest Violent Offender Task Force that went to a Yakima, Washington, house looking for a drive-by shooting suspect. They were at the door when the suspect, Erick Romero, opened fire. Tavarez, a community corrections specialist, was grazed on the hip, according to The Yakima Herald-Republic.

The shooting provoked a 90-minute standoff that eventually involved the Yakima SWAT team. Romero surrendered and is in jail with bail set at $5 million.

“I have had close calls before,” says Tavarez, who can’t give specifics about the incident because it remains under investigation. “I’ve had to wrestle a gun away from someone, and I’ve taken guns on pat-downs. But I’ve never been shot at. Thank goodness, the bullet didn’t go through. It just left a massive bruise.”

Tavarez credits the police officers, sheriff’s deputies and U.S. Marshals who serve on the task force with her for bringing what could have been a tragedy to a successful end.

“The team I was with, their bravery outweighs anything I could have imagined. When people hear ‘Officer down,’ regardless of what has happened, they have to stay in the fight, they can’t leave their positions. My team did just that, and they are heroes to me,” she says. “Of course I’ve had a few tears, but at the end of the day, we’re all safe and the guy’s behind bars.”

Despite the hazards, Tavarez, a military veteran who spent 13 years in the U.S. Navy, says she’d never consider anything else.

 Community Corrections Officers of Council 28 badge“I absolutely love what I do, and I love my colleagues. I’m very proud of our work.”

She began working for the Washington Department of Corrections as a community corrections officer, working mostly with parole violators. Sometimes she was able to get through to them and they turned their lives around. But the “clients” she comes into contact with now “are not so ready to change,” she jokes.

Tavarez, 46, went through the police academy and worked with the Seattle Police Department before going to Yakima. She pursued a career in public safety because so many of her relatives back home in Jersey City, New Jersey, had run-ins with the law.

“I just wanted a career where I could help people,” she says.

Off the job, Tavarez helps her union sisters and brothers by getting them up to speed on the contract. She likes mentoring new employees and telling them about how Council 28 fights for fairness.

“As a union we let management know that we do have rights,” she says. “That we are people, not machines, and we deserve to be treated with respect. Without the union, our world would be very, very different.”

Council 28 staff this week kicked off a plan to  mobilize members through AFSCME Strong to become an even more effective voice for members like Tavarez, and for working families throughout Washington.

Campaign Helps Reduce Violence in Minnesota Hospitals

by Jennifer Munt and Clyde Weiss   |  September 11, 2015

Campaign Helps Reduce Violence in Minnesota Hospitals Anne Menard, an LPN, was among the members of AFSCME Local 1307 (MN Council 5), who rallied for safe staffing at Anoka Regional Treatment Center on Workers Memorial Day (April 28). Photo credit: Michael Kuchta

Clocking in should never mean putting your life on the line.  Getting hurt should never be part of anyone’s job description.  That’s the bottom line for AFSCME Council 5 members who work in state-run mental health facilities in Minnesota.

Fed up with management’s lip service, workers escalated their campaign for workplace safety. 

“We’ve been taking a beating,” says Jackie Spanjers, an LPN and president of Local 1307 at Anoka Regional Treatment Center. “Patients spit on us and chase us with weapons.  They kick us, punch us, choke us and bite us.  They throw dangerous fluids on us – urine, feces, hot coffee and boiling bacon grease.”

Those injuries – and hundreds more – are documented on Safe Staffing MN, a Facebook community where workers share their stories and unite efforts to improve safety. Their high-profile media campaign exposed problems that supervisors wanted to keep secret. They got the attention of Gov. Mark Dayton and, with his support, claimed several early victories.

AFSCME Council 5 also increased public awareness with informational rallies. Here is what they’ve achieved since the Facebook postings began:

  • Jaime Tincher, chief of staff to Governor Dayton, joined AFSCME Council 5 representatives in a July 21 tour of the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter. In a statement afterward, she said, “We owe it to these staff members to do everything we can to ensure their safety. …We will work even more intensively with everyone at this facility, local law enforcement, and legislators, to ensure the successful management of this important program.”
  • Local 404 leaders at St. Peter Security Hospital won a new law making it a felony for a patient to assault workers in a state hospital, a law that has already been applied. They filed an OSHA complaint and forced the state to negotiate an injury reduction plan. They also secured $10.4 million to hire 20 new security counselors and construct safety improvements at their facility.
  • AFSCME Local 1307 leaders went straight to the top of the Department of Human Services.  Four days later, Commissioner Lucinda Jesson capped admissions at Anoka Regional Treatment Center, giving understaffed workers relief from mandated overtime.
  • Local 607 leaders are now invited to do a safety inspection before a new group home opens. They flag hazards, like glass shower doors that violent clients could break to injure themselves and staff.

Spanjers, and Tim Headlee, president of AFSCME Local 404 and a security counselor at the Security Hospital, are two key union leaders who pressed for more staffing and safety improvements.

Headlee said attacks on hospital security personnel increased significantly after the settlement of a lawsuit in 2011, limiting the use of patient restraints. As a result, attacks on Security Hospital staff, alone, more than doubled since 2011. “It’s kind of frightening because we’re the last stop in the chain of mental health facilities,” he said. “There’s nowhere else to go” for these violent patients.

Frontline workers are demanding better training for physical encounters, permission to use mobile restraints that prevent patients from kicking and swinging, and an admissions unit where new patients are assessed before being placed with other patients and staff.

“We’ve raised our voices,” says Spanjers. “Our solutions aren’t falling on deaf ears anymore."

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