by Clyde Weiss | February 26, 2014
The city of Minneapolis saw the writing on the wall – or, more precisely, the graffiti.
After receiving too many “complaints about the upkeep from lingering graffiti, loose glass and a ‘nightmare’ shelter with missing panels, rust and faded scribblings,” as reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, city officials are ending their long-term relationship with private contractor CBS Outdoor.
The for-profit company managed nearly 180 privately owned bus shelters for the city. They made money off the deal, and even more through advertising they pasted on the shelters for beer, luxury apartments and smart phones. But now officials decided that city employees can maintain their bus shelters better than CBS Outdoor.
Starting next month, the shelters will be managed by Metro Transit, a public agency funded mostly with state and federal resources. Metro Transit already owns about two-thirds of the Twin Cities’ bus shelters.
More and more cities and counties are discovering that when it comes to doing the public’s business – whether it’s corrections, Medicaid eligibility or just about anything else, there is no substitute for public employees.
by David Kresiman | February 25, 2014
DETROIT – This month in Southeastern Michigan, ballots were mailed to more than 400 EMS professionals at Huron Valley Ambulance (HVA) who will finally get their chance to vote for AFSCME and gain a real voice at work.
Corey Winters, a veteran paramedic, looks forward to their seat at the table as a union. Some months back, he voiced some work concerns to his supervisor, who suggested he attend one of the company’s open forum meetings to be heard by management.
Winters attended the forum, but his legitimate concerns fell on deaf ears. The following day, the meeting minutes neglected to make any mention of his concerns regarding staff and patient safety or worker morale.
“Everything we said just went away, and we realized what we had to say wasn’t really important to them,” Winters said. “They wanted to run the company the way they wanted, and they didn’t want to listen to us. We have ideas that can help the company and if they would work with us, I think together we could make HVA a better place.”
Ballots for this historic election are being counted today.
by Clyde Weiss | February 24, 2014
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s scheme to deny free speech rights – to demonstrators who expressed their opposition to his anti-worker policies through song – was deemed “unconstitutional on its face” by a judge.
The governor’s heavy handed policy involved issuing tickets to hundreds of demonstrators who staged peaceful sing-alongs at the Capitol each weekday. His crackdown began in September 2012 when police issued hundreds of tickets. Many were later dismissed, but ticketing resumed last July and even caught up Jana Weaver, assistant director of Wisconsin State Employees Union (WSEU)/AFSCME Council 24.
The singers sang traditional protest and civil rights songs, occasionally changing the words to make them relevant to their opposition to Governor Walker’s anti-worker campaign. That campaign led to the revocation in 2011 of collective bargaining rights for nearly 200,000 Wisconsin public service employees, including more than 60,000 AFSCME members.
Among those who participated in the Capitol sing-along last July was Michael Crute. It is his ticket that Dane County Circuit Court Judge John Markson recently dismissed. Judge Markson wrote that the assembly rule Crute was charged with violating “is unconstitutional on its face.” Read the full text of the ruling here.
We sing the praises of Judge Markson’s ruling and hope it will lead to the dismissal of charges against all the sing-along demonstrators. Governor Walker’s administration already agreed to pay more than $88,000 in attorney’s fees – and to drop its restrictive Capitol assembly rule – to settle a free speech lawsuit by a protester, filed with help from the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin.
by Michael Bookman | February 24, 2014
The Goldwater Institute, a conservative public policy advocacy organization, cares about public tax dollars so much they want public tax dollars to fund their lawsuits against the public. What does that mean for Joe Citizen? It means the public gets to pay for the lawyers for the plaintiff and the defendant. (Cue Law & Order dun dun music.)
After successfully suing the City of Phoenix over its contract with the local police union – Phoenix Law Enforcement Association (PLEA) – the allegedly non-profit Goldwater Institute demands the public fund its lawsuits.
Reimbursement of legal fees for successful lawsuits is not uncommon – in fact, it’s standard practice. What isn’t standard practice is the artificial inflation of legal fees – in this case, to the tune of $375,000. Why, if their mission statement says they do not accept government funding, does the Goldwater Institute demand public funding of their lawsuits?
Allegedly a non-partisan organization, the Goldwater Institute sure has a funny way of staying out of politics. Just last month, they held a fundraiser headlined by 2016 GOP Presidential contender Rand Paul with ticket prices up to $10,000. To make matters worse, those ticket prices are tax deductible.
If the Goldwater Institute wants to attack progressive policies aimed at improving government functionality, trample on the rights of workers, and undermine efforts to improve public safety, they are free to do so. But they can’t ask us taxpayers to cover the bill. If the Goldwater Institute wants to ensure the election of the new radical Republicans, they are free to do so. But they can’t call themselves non-partisan. If the Goldwater Institute wants to collect $10,000 for a VIP fundraiser, they are free to do so. But they can’t pretend to be a non-profit. When it comes to the Goldwater Institute, it’s lose-lose for the taxpayer.
by Pablo Ros | February 24, 2014
Detroit retirees will see their pensions – the money they earned during their careers and that they need now to survive -- cut by 34 percent if Gov. Rick Snyder gets his way, according to a disastrous plan filed today in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
At a time when working families are struggling to make ends meet, particularly in Detroit, the plan eliminates meaningful health care benefits and drastically reduces earned pension benefits.
The proposed plan “is a gut punch to Detroit city workers and retirees,” said AFSCME Council 25 Pres. Al Garrett. “Retirees cannot survive these huge cuts to the pensions they earned. The plan is unfair and unacceptable.”
AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders has been speaking out for Detroit retirees – who average just $19,000 a year in benefits – ever since politically appointed “emergency manager” Kevyn Orr filed for bankruptcy on behalf of the city back in July. Today, Saunders blasted Snyder’s skewed priorities.
“The plan of adjustment is not a solution – it’s an abomination,” he said. “The proposal effectively devastates retirement security for the hardworking city employees and retirees of Detroit. This is yet another example of the disdain in which Governor Snyder holds workers.”
AFSCME plans to challenge the proposal and continue to defend the constitutionally protected retirement security of those who gave so much to their communities.
“You do not need a degree in economics to know this is well below the amount of a livable level of income, yet this plan cuts future benefits to 30 cents on the dollar,” Saunders said. “We need better solutions that hold accountable those who created this troubling economic climate in Detroit and support those who devoted their lives to public service.”
by Laura Reyes | February 21, 2014
This is an excerpt from an article published on the Huffington Post. You can read the full version here.
On its surface, the case known as Harris v. Quinn now before the Supreme Court is yet another attempt to kill off public employee unions. It centers on a small group of home health care aides in Illinois who sued to avoid paying fees to the very union that negotiated their wages and benefits. Their lawyers are asking the high court to go even further and rule against the right of all public workers -- in every state and every sector -- to choose a union.
And while that's certainly troubling enough, this case is about more than workers' rights. It potentially opens up yet another front in the war on women now raging from the statehouse to our doctor's office to our bank accounts. Here's why: (Read More)
by Mark Gruenberg, Press Associates, Inc. Staff Writer | February 20, 2014
Business and right-wing backers of so-called “right-to-work” laws really want “the right for them to eliminate your right to have a say in your work,” Vice Pres. Joseph Biden says. And unions are “the only ones keeping those barbarians at the gate,” he adds of the right and its business backers.
“We have to organize to fight back against these unrelenting efforts to diminish collective bargaining,” Biden declared. “We have to adapt, but the moment workers lose the ability to be represented” by unions “that’s the moment we all lose out.”
Biden’s forceful comments earlier this month, against one of the right’s pet tactics to try to crush unions, brought an ovation from the 1,500 delegates to the Auto Workers’ legislative conference in DC.
Delegates applauded Biden when he pointed out that if the government and the Auto Workers had not stepped in to restructure GM and Chrysler, the car companies and their suppliers would have folded, the nation would have lost at least 1 million jobs, and the U.S. would still be in a depression.
“It would have been hard to imagine how the country could recover if we lost those 1 million jobs,” Biden said.
And Biden saluted auto workers’ sacrifices to keep the car companies going, including cuts in wages and retiree health care. The UAW, he said, cooperated with management on that goal, because union members understand their economic health depends on their companies’ economic health. Other industry should follow that model, he said.
Left unsaid: Right-wing leaders, led by southern senators, wanted to let the Detroit car companies – and the UAW in the process – die, in favor of foreign “transplants.”
Delegates also welcomed Biden’s prediction the U.S. economy is recovering from the Great Recession and would again lead the world, thanks to worker productivity, more technically oriented education and, by 2032, energy independence.
Nevertheless, “the middle class is shrinking,” Biden warned during his wide-ranging speech. At one point, he held up a chart showing the simultaneous declines since 1968 in union density and share of income to the middle class. Unions are trying to rebuild it, he added, but corporations and their political allies don’t care. “These corporate types talk about rights of business,” Biden exclaimed.
“In 1972,” when Biden was elected to the Senate, “the wage disparity between a CEO and his lowest person on his payroll was 22.2-1. Now it’s 273-1. We’re breaking a basic bargain, and we’re stronger when we grow from the middle out,” he added.
Corporate refusal to compensate workers wasn’t always the case, Biden noted.
He cited Ford Motor Co. founder Henry Ford, who raised workers’ wages to $5 a day in 1917, before the UAW was born. That benefited both workers and the economy, he said. Similar raises, including raising the minimum wage, would help both, he declared.
“Why did he do that? He understood economics. Turnover declined sharply, his profits rose from $30 million to $160 million in two years, and it put money into people’s pockets and they bought his vehicles,” Biden said of Ford. A minimum wage hike and restoration of federal benefits for the long-term jobless, as labor and the Obama administration push, would accomplish that same goal of aiding workers and families, he said.
Biden also touted what he called a gathering economic recovery, built on high and increased productivity by workers, growing U.S. energy independence, new hires in U.S. factories – including 380,000 more auto workers industry-wide since 2008 – and what he predicted would be a surge of “insourcing,” returning exported jobs to the U.S.
by Michael Bookman | February 20, 2014
Imagine a building with hundreds upon thousands of books, row after row of desks for work and study, and computers linked to dependable, high-speed internet connecting rural and urban communities across the world. Imagine if this building was funded by local communities, committed to the betterment of the common good, open to anyone and everyone who wants to learn. Sounds wonderful. Sounds important. Sounds like a library.
Across America, there are senior citizens and others going to their local library to learn how to use computers. There are young children and teenagers using the library as a place to study without distraction. In some rural communities, the local library is the only place with reliable internet access, bringing a world of knowledge to remote places.
Yet for all the benefits of public libraries, there are still local communities that vote down the budgets of local libraries, shared and accessible knowledge an unaffordable luxury in lean economic times. Every year, local library bond votes fail because of depressingly-low turnout and voters unwilling to support even the smallest of tax increases, often demonizing the hardworking employees of the local library.
Populated amongst the books, computers and card catalogs, are dedicated public servants. From protecting the books and computers entrusted to their care, to stocking the shelves in precise order to the decimal and ensuring the integrity of Melvil Dewey’s organization system, to maintaining the building and keeping the halls of knowledge clean, your local library staff are dedicated public servants.
So to celebrate National Library Week – April 13 through April 19 – head to your local library, take out a book, read about world news, and thank your library staff for their hard work. And don't forget to vote YES for the library budget.
by David Patterson | February 14, 2014
Two snowplow drivers were repairing mailboxes in St. Marys, Ohio, when they saw smoke rolling from the eaves of a nearby farmhouse.
Steve Kinstle and Javier Gallegos are members of Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA)/AFSCME Local 11. As snowplow drivers for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), they faced an unusually tough and busy winter season. But in the course of making roads safer for their community, they found time to help two teenagers flee a house fire.
"We stopped ... we didn't know if anyone was in there," Kinstle told the local newspaper, The Daily Standard. “Javier called 911 and I went around to the front and started pounding on the door.”
Kinstle said he thought he heard noises upstairs and continued knocking until one of two teenagers opened the door. Kinstle instructed the young men to quickly grab warm clothes and get out. The boys exited safely before fire crews arrived.
St. Marys City Fire Department Capt. Wayne Sweigart said the outcome could have been much different, and Ted Hemleben, manager of the Auglaize County ODOT post, said he couldn't be more proud of his employees.
“I'm feeling pretty good about this,” he said. “It's the ultimate thing they can do when they're out and about in the county.”
More than 35 firefighters braved subzero temperatures for five hours to extinguish the fire. The children are receiving assistance from the American Red Cross.
by Olivia Sandbothe | February 14, 2014
Many AFSCME members participate in an annual Lobby Day in their state capitol, but members of the Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE)/AFSCME Council 28 are taking the concept to a whole new level.
To WFSE, every day is Lobby Day. Council 28 designated each day of the legislative session as a day of action for a particular issue or local. And they’re having fun with it.
Watch this video where AFSCME member April Sims channels the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to explain how union members can flex their political muscle in state politics. She sings:
Now this is a story all about how
We flip the power structure upside down
I’d like to take a minute just sit right there
I’ll tell you how to talk to legislators and why you should care
Olympia, Washington where the budget is made
Passing bills is how they spend most of their days
Deciding on pensions, contracts, and our health care
Education, transportation, and even child welfare
But some of those guys they are up to no good
They’re hurting public safety in our neighborhoods
It’s about worker rights there’s no need to be scared
It’s easy to talk to legislators and get them to care
“The mission is to have a sustained presence,” said Sims, who serves as WFSE’s legislative and political action field coordinator when she isn’t busy freestyling.
Union members face three major challenges in the Legislature this session: defending the state’s general revenue fund, protecting retirement security, and defending against outsourcing.
But the strategy is already paying off.
“Last session, we had more than 850 members participate in Lobby Days, and that was the first year we made it through a session without any of these really bad bills passing,” Sims said. “We were able to fight back despite the makeup of the Legislature because our people were there every day in the Capitol.