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“Bottled Water” in Flint Goes Viral

by David Patterson  |  April 20, 2016

“Bottled Water” in Flint Goes Viral “This is a catastrophe that has decimated our city and hurt families,” said Flint resident Tyrone Wooten, AFSCME Local 1603 (Council 25) member. (Credit: Luis Gomez)

Flint, Mich. – For Tyrone Wooten, putting in a 16-hour shift at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center is just another day on the job for this a member of AFSCME Local 1603 (Council 25). But when the water crisis forced city residents to stop using their own tap water, he decided to create a YouTube video called “Bottled Water,” a moving portrait of his family’s struggles to deal with the crisis.

“Me, my wife and two children use between 900 and 1,000 bottles of water a week,” said Wooten. “To drink, cook, bathe and wash, it takes a lot of water.”

Just like tens of thousands of other Flint residents, Wooten has his now-daily ritual of loading water into his house, and unloading all the empty bottles to discard. But he counts himself as one of the fortunate ones. “Luckily, my kids and my wife and myself have all tested negative for lead,” said Wooten.

See how Flint AFSCME Locals Help Neighbors in Need

Wooten says he made the video to show the day-to-day toll the crisis brings to everyone for something most Americans take for granted – clean water.

“We have some of the most expensive water bills in the country in Flint,” said Wooten. “And then we find out we’ve been paying our bills to someone who is poisoning us. That really takes you back a minute.”

Wooten’s family is trying to stay positive through this crisis by focusing on staying healthy. Eating right, exercising, being active and trying to get on with their daily lives are priorities.

“We’re focused on hope, and we try to find something positive coming from a bad thing like this happening,” said Wooten. But he admits sometimes it’s hard to stay optimistic.

“It’s hard when you have a family and you’re looking right at them and trying to give them some inspiration that change is coming when you’re not sure yourself. It makes me feel bad and I wonder if I’m telling them the truth or not. But I want to believe it as much as I’m saying it.

“We don’t want to be known as just a place that was poisoned,” he added. “A lot of good people have come from the city of Flint. And there are still a lot of good people here. We don’t want that to die.”

Wooten said the crisis “has united our city. Lead doesn’t know if you’re black or white, rich or poor. We’re all in this together. Remember, Flint was built off the backs of union workers. We’re tough. This city is tough, and we will get through this.”

Member Takes Workplace Violence Fight to DC

by Omar Tewfik  |  April 19, 2016

Eric Hesse, an AFSCME Council 5 member and a lead security counselor at Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, came to Washington, DC, last week to raise awareness about intensifying workplace violence against health care workers in his state and throughout the country.

Hesse, a victim of a brutal attack in which he nearly lost his eye, spoke at a Congressional press conference announcing the findings of a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that underscores the need for a clear standard for employers to ensure a safer workplace environment for health care workers.

Violence against health care workers is intensifying nationwide. According to the GAO, violence in the workplace is a serious concern for 15 million health care workers across the country. But the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency charged with the enforcement of federal safety and health laws, has failed to implement and enforce a specific standard to protect health care workers from the known hazard of workplace violence.

Without a clear standard it is difficult to compel employers to comply with their responsibilities to keep employees safe. In many states, including Minnesota, this has allowed an epidemic of workplace violence to go unaddressed.  

The Minnesota Security Hospital houses patients who are committed as mentally ill, and sex offenders. One patient with a recent history of violence assaulted Hesse, who suffered a fracture of his orbital bone and sinus damage. He received 17 stitches and his orbital bone is now replaced by fatty tissue.

But Hesse isn’t the only one who has been hurt at his facility. “I would like to say that my attack prompted changes that make the workplace safer, but that is not the case,” he said at the Capitol Hill press conference. “In 2015 alone, our facility had 183 cases of staff being assaulted by patients, a 40 percent increase from 2014.”

Violence in other facilities across the state have moved AFSCME members to action, calling on the governor to address funding and staff shortfalls.

According to the GAO report and health care workers like Hesse, these terrible incidents are both predictable and preventable. “There are common-sense measures that could prevent injuries,” said Hesse. “We need access to tools and training that are proven to prevent violent attacks against health care workers and the clients we serve.”

AFSCME President Lee Saunders said the new GAO report is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to protect health care workers. “Showing up to work should not mean putting your life on the line, and violence is not ‘part of the job,’” he said. “We have a duty to make all healthcare facilities safe for patients and staff by mandating and implementing a clear standard for employers to ensure a safer workplace environment.”

Public Safety at Risk from Malloy ‘Austerity’

by Larry Dorman/AFSCME Council 4  |  April 18, 2016

Public Safety at Risk from Malloy ‘Austerity’ Hundreds of AFSCME Council 4 members rally against plans for mass layoffs and public service cuts in Connecticut. (Photo courtesy of Council 4)

HARTFORD, Conn. – Chants of “tax the rich, not the workers” and “respect those who protect” reverberated outside the state Capitol here March 29 as more than 700 state public safety workers marched to protest Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “austerity budget,” which includes substantial state employee layoffs and deep cuts to vital services. 

Members of AFSCME Council 4’s Corrections and Judicial bargaining units were a big part of the rally, sponsored by the newly formed Connecticut Public Safety Employee Coalition, an alliance of unions representing nearly 10,000 state workers on the front lines of public safety and criminal justice.

“We are the individuals who protect Connecticut citizens,” said coalition spokesman Charles DellaRocco, a state Supreme Court police officer and president of AFSCME Local 749, representing 1,600 state workers. “We’re here to say that mass layoffs and cuts to our services will make Connecticut a more dangerous and less law-abiding place.”

The Connecticut legislature recently approved a stop-gap budget to close a nearly $200 million hole for the current fiscal year, but a deficit of more than $900 million looms for the next fiscal year. The governor and legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have adamantly ruled out any revenue solutions, and instead have pushed for state employee unions to reopen their 2011 health and pension agreement for concessionary bargaining.

Absent economic concessions, Malloy is proceeding with plans for “very, very substantial” layoffs that could number in the thousands. The layoffs began in early April. He also ordered state agencies like the Department of Correction to cut their budgets by millions.

Last week, Council 4 joined with AFT Connecticut to release a multi-media advertising campaign featuring educators and first responders (including DellaRocco) asking citizens to urge the governor and legislative leaders to make better choices than layoffs and service cuts.

Sara Johannesen, a correctional officer and member of AFSCME Local 1565 who works at Bridgeport Correctional Center, said short staffing is already causing her fellow officers to work 16 hour shifts, four to five days a week. 

“How aware can you constantly be when you’re carrying that kind of work load?” Johannesen asked. “If there’s a code, it doesn’t just jeopardize the person working in a unit, it jeopardizes everyone who runs to a code and what happens after it.”

Connecticut’s new public safety coalition plans to keep the street heat going. Immediately after their rally, which attracted statewide press coverage, more than 100 union members went inside the Capitol to lobby their legislators and urge them to make better choices – such as raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires, and ending reckless outsourcing – rather than pursue layoffs and service cuts. 

“You’re putting your lives on the line to keep the citizens of Connecticut safe,” said Rudy Demiraj, a correctional officer and president of AFSCME Local 387. “Yet [the governor and legislators] want to play politics with our lives and our futures. We’re not going to let them. We’re going to keep fighting.”

Super-Rich Hiding Trillions from Taxman

by Pablo Ros  |  April 18, 2016

Super-Rich Hiding Trillions from Taxman

The Panama Papers leak proves what middle-class Americans have been saying for decades: ultra-wealthy individuals and corporations are doing everything they can to avoid paying their fair share in taxes, even as they take advantage of the public services and infrastructure that benefit us all.

The Panama Papers, leaked to the media and published April 3, are about 11.5 million documents with confidential information about more than 214,000 offshore companies.  They include the names of shareholders and directors of companies and show how wealthy individuals hide their assets from public view, not always for illegal purposes but often to avoid paying taxes.

Many of those implicated are foreign leaders, but the fact is that U.S. citizens trying to hide their assets don’t have to go to Panama – they can establish a shell corporation here at home. In some places in the United States, it is easier -- and nearly as cheap – to get a fishing license than to register a shell company.

What the Panama Papers show is that money to support our schools, hospitals, prisons and other public services is available, just hidden. There’s no justification for politicians who balance state budgets on the backs of public workers and outsource public services, while doing nothing to prevent the ultra-wealthy and corporations from squirreling away their taxable income.

President Obama introduced new rules to narrow the loopholes that permit “inversion,” when a U.S.-based multinational corporation merges with a foreign one in a low-tax nation to pass itself off as foreign and cut its American taxes.

Just two days after the Obama administration announced the new rules, Pfizer’s merger with Allergan (a drug company based in Ireland) was dropped. It would have been the biggest tax-avoidance deal in the history of corporate America.

But Obama can only do so much. It will take action by Congress to effectively prevent these tax avoidance schemes to continue.

We all benefit from the public services and infrastructure that make our country great, but not all of us pay our fair share. As tax deadline approaches this April 18, the Panama Papers serve as an important reminder that the wealthiest 1 percent are still not paying their fair share.

Calling All Kitten Cuddlers!

by Mark McCullough  |  April 14, 2016

Calling All Kitten Cuddlers! Anthony Casas, a veterinary technician and AFSCME Local 199 member, is helping the Miami-Dade County solve an annual spring crisis: too many abandoned kittens that need care until they are old enough for adoption. (Photo credit: member provided)

“Miami overrun with kittens, cuddlers wanted,” “Dream Come True: Miami in Need of Kitten Cuddlers” screamed the headlines. Facebook, Twitter and other social media recently lit up after the Miami-Dade County Animal Services Department announced that it is looking for help to care for very young orphaned kittens.

This unique foster care program for newborns without a nursing mother has operated on a limited scale before but, thanks to the input of AFSCME Local 199 members within the department, this year it is operating at full speed.

“We are AFSCME Strong in this department and that strength helps every employee knows that if they have an idea on how to do something better, or if something is needed to serve the animals better, they can speak up,” said Anthony Casas, a veterinary technician and AFSCME member. “People know that if you have an idea, the worst thing you can do is to keep it to yourself. Your union will always stand by your side if there are misunderstandings along the way.”

Casas, a Miami-Dade native who has been a member for all of the four years at the department, says that during this time of year they received at least one litter of kittens every day from clinics, animal control officers or even from people just walking in. “And when you think there can easily be six kittens in each litter, the numbers quickly add up,” Casas said.

People who want to participate in the program can begin the process with a simple email containing the subject line “Kitten Cuddler.” After an initial screening, Kitten Cuddlers complete a training session on the general care of newborn kittens that, most of the time, are still too young to be put up for adoption. They also receive supplies including heating pads, feeding bottles and kitten milk replacer.

“The most important thing we give people is a direct line of communication for anything that comes up between their regular visits,” says Casas. “Like with every animal we see, each kitten gets a specific treatment plan that the whole team then has a role in seeing through.”

Casas gives every animal a thorough physical exam, administers vaccines and executes the treatment plan, as well as assists in any surgeries or with other issues that may arise.

Casas has no doubt the plan has already been a success.

“We are not turning animals away, even during this busy season,” said Casas. “Because we developed such a strong program, we are even transporting animals old enough for traditional adoption to other qualified shelters and agencies all over the country. So maybe the next pet adopted in your neighborhood will be a Miami original!”

AFSCME Supports Verizon Workers Out on Strike

by Clyde Weiss  |  April 14, 2016

AFSCME Supports Verizon Workers Out on Strike

A fair contract is all that Verizon workers are asking for, and having to go out on strike to achieve it should not have happened. It did because of management’s lack of respect for its workforce, and AFSCME stands in solidarity with these proud members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

The contract dispute, stretching 10 months, reached the strike stage yesterday as nearly 40,000 East Coast workers walked off the job. Explaining what is holding up a settlement, Dennis Trainor, CWA’s District 1 vice president, and Edward Mooney, vice president of CWA District 2-13, issued the following statement, which we quote in part:

“CWA and IBEW were told by the company that health care cost savings was their top priority in negotiations. We have addressed this in bargaining, yet they still demand the destruction of good jobs while they book spectacular profits of $1.8 billion per month. Additionally, company executives refuse to offer any raises or other improvements to Verizon Wireless retail workers.”

"No one ever wants to go on strike – it's always the last resort," said IBEW Pres. Lonnie R. Stephenson in a statement. “But Verizon's refusal to bargain in good faith with employees and its insistence on gutting job security, retirement security and outsourcing good American jobs overseas gives us no choice.”

Show your support for our sisters and brothers at Verizon who went on strike. Watch and share this video, then click here to sign the petition to support striking workers. Visit StandUpToVerizon.com to find a picket line or rally near you.

Never Quit: In Oregon, a Fight for Fairness

by Kevin Brown  |  April 13, 2016

Never Quit: In Oregon, a Fight for Fairness Oregon AFSCME Corrections Coordinator Tim Woolery (left) and state chief negotiator Craig Cowan sign off on final details of the security contract in AFSCME’s Salem office. (Photo by Oregon AFSCME Council 75)

If you make sacrifices during hard times, you deserve to be paid back during the good times. That’s the case Oregon’s public service workers made for years, and they never quit fighting to make it a reality.

In the case of the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC), AFSCME Council 75 had to resort to a grievance and an arbitration to make things right. This month Oregon AFSCME won a grievance arbitration affecting about 100 employees and worth approximately $500,000. 

Between 2007 and 2009, during the Great Recession, Oregon state employees took financial hits, including furloughs, pay freezes, delayed step increases and even rollbacks of pay increases that had already been awarded. During negotiations for the 2013-2015 collective bargaining agreements, Oregon Council 75 made it clear that fixing the inequities was one of its top priorities.

The DOC resisted making things right for employees who had fallen behind, but eventually agreed to correct an inequity in which new employees were getting paid more money than employees hired before them. After an agreement was reached in 2013, the DOC refused to correct the issue for approximately 100 employees that it claimed did not meet criteria outlined in a Letter of Agreement that settled those negotiations. Council 75 disagreed and took it to arbitration.

In a March 26 ruling, arbitrator Gary Axon agreed with AFSCME and concluded that DOC could not deny the correction to employees using criteria that was not in the agreement, and that had not been negotiated with AFSCME. He ordered the DOC to make the affected employees whole, which will include advancing those employees one step in the salary scale and large back-pay awards for most of them. 

“This is a huge weight off of my shoulders and will mean a lot to my family,” said Cpl. Chad Duncan of the Santiam Correctional Institution and also a Council 75 member. “This was a long process, but the union came through for us and had our backs. I am so pleased and I know my family will be, too.”

Under the arbitration ruling, each affected employee will be awarded a full step increase this year, dating back to July 1, 2013, plus all the increased wages, differentials and overtime pay they should have gotten had they had this negotiated step increase. 

After the state of Oregon agreed to a limited fix with other bargaining units, DOC proposed a similar agreement allowing some AFSCME-represented employees to reclaim the rights they deserve. When AFSCME found examples of employees who fit the criteria but were not paid, corrections coordinator Tim Woolery filed the grievance that led to this $500,000 win.

“We worked hard for this victory,” said Jennifer Chapman, Council 75’s general counsel.  “Correcting this inequity for our members was very important. The decision proves that words, negotiations and fairness all matter. Just because an employer says something should be handled a certain way doesn’t make it so.”

Governor Dayton Seeks $177 Million for Safe Staffing

by Michael Byrne  |  April 13, 2016

Governor Dayton Seeks $177 Million for Safe Staffing "We’re walking around wounded and feel like punching bags," said LPN Jackie Spanjers, president of Local 1307, as Governor Dayton listens. (Photo by Lynette Kalsnes, AFSCME Council 5)

Heeding the cries for help from understaffed and battered nurses and workers at state psychiatric facilities, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called on the Legislature to earmark $177 million to improve patient care and safety.

Flanked by three health care workers represented by AFSCME Council 5, Dayton told a news conference in St. Paul on April 6 that the funding would correct “decades of neglect” in the state’s mental health facilities. “It is imperative that the Legislature correct some of these deficiencies this year,” he said.

“Violent patients are assaulting staff in record numbers,” said Jackie Spanjers, a nurse at the Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center and president of AFSCME Local 1307 (Council 5). “We’re walking around wounded and feel like punching bags.”

Kaija McMillen, a 25-year-old security counselor who volunteered to serve and work with the most dangerous of the mentally ill, now is facing rehabilitation with a career-ending brain injury after being attacked by a patient. “I’ve lost everything that made me feel independent, like being a good mom,” she said through tears in a TV interview. “It’s changed my life probably forever.”

Council 5 escalated a campaign last year to dramatize the dangers of understaffing in the psychiatric centers. AFSCME has documented hundreds of injuries to workers on Safe Staffing MN, a Facebook community where workers share their stories and unite efforts to improve safety.

As part of the Dayton proposal, approximately 335 full-time staff would be added over the next three years at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter and 33 new staff at Anoka-Metro Regional Treatment Center. Seven smaller psychiatric hospitals would be funded to operate at full capacity. A legislative auditor concluded last month that many of the state’s smaller psychiatric hospitals are operating far below capacity.

Tim Headlee, a security counselor at the St. Peter hospital and president of AFSCME Local 404, says Minnesota is falling behind other states in its treatment of mental health, urging that facilities like Minnesota Security Hospital move away from a “correctional model” to a more therapeutic one.

But Minnesota is not the only state grappling with the issue, and the General Accounting Office (GAO) is expected to release a report this Thursday, April 14, on workplace violence in health care settings. AFSCME-represented hospital and health care workers are calling for a national commitment to legislation and policies that foster safer workplace environments for those who serve critical health care needs in our communities.

Make Your Voices Heard on Equal Pay Day

by Clyde Weiss  |  April 12, 2016

Make Your Voices Heard on Equal Pay Day

Equal pay for equal work is simple fairness for the millions of women who do work equivalent to their male counterparts. Yet today, Equal Pay Day, this fairness is still out of reach. That’s why we need to urge Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

The Paycheck Fairness Act, reintroduced last year by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, would give muscle to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, signed into law by President Obama seven years ago this January. He considered it so important that it was the first piece of legislation he signed upon becoming President.

Yet employers continued to find ways to avoid the law’s clear intent to end wage discrimination. The Paycheck Fairness Act will plug the gaps in the law by – among other things – requiring employers to demonstrate that wage differentials are based on facts other than sex. Also, it would prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about their employers’ wage practices, or disclose their own wages.

The Fairness Act also would strengthen penalties for equal pay violations.

The facts of pay equity have been proven repeatedly. The National Women’s Law Center notes that:

  • Women currently make 79 cents to the dollar a man earns.
  • African-American women make 60 cents and Latino women make 55 cents for every dollar a white, non-Hispanic male makes. Asian-American women make 90 cents to the dollar.
  • The size of the wage gap differs by state. Learn how your state measures up here.

“The 79-cent figure reflects the many discriminatory barriers to equal pay – including lower pay for women in the same job; the segregation of women into lower-paying jobs and exclusion of women from higher-paying, nontraditional jobs; bias against women with caregiving responsibilities; and lack of workplace policies to allow workers to care for families without paying a stiff economic penalty,” the National Women’s Law Center states.

Among the Law Center’s recommendations is to “strengthen our equal pay laws so that women have the tools they need to fight back against pay discrimination.”

“We need to pass other laws at the federal, state and local levels to make sure that the protections of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act exist in every workplace,” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders wrote in the Huffington Post.

That’s why AFSCME supports the Paycheck Fairness Act. Simply, equal pay can’t wait.

Tell Senate Majority Leader McConnell and House Speaker Ryan to schedule a vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act. Because equal work deserves equal pay.

Library Workers: Community Treasure

by Clyde Weiss  |  April 12, 2016

Library Workers: Community Treasure AFSCME DC 37 Associate Dir. Oliver Gray calls for additional library funding at a news conference on March 23 in front of New York City Hall. (Photo by Clarence Elie-Rivera)

In an era when many people access books through electronic devices, search the Internet for information, or turn to online social media to seek answers to their questions, it’s good to know that librarians and library support staff are there to help ease our way through the information jungle.

Today, April 12, is National Library Workers Day, celebrated during National Library Week. AFSCME is proud to represent more than 25,000 library workers nationwide – more than any other union. They work in public libraries across the country as well as in schools and universities, and even the Library of Congress.

Today is also Equal Pay Day, a meaningful coincidence as library jobs are predominately held by women who are often not paid the same as men for doing the same work. AFSCME, along with the American Library Association, is a leading advocate for equitable pay for library workers.

AFSCME works throughout the country to support full funding for libraries and their workers – a real challenge in cities and smaller communities where short-sighted lawmakers have sought to reduce public services to save a few dollars. When confronted with reduced services, AFSCME members fought to preserve jobs and services.

That’s what happened last year in New York City, where AFSCME’s DC 37 campaigned with community groups and other library systems and successfully advocated for funding that allowed the public libraries to return to six-day-a-week operations, plus increased staffing and added service hours.

This year, DC 37 is making the case to the mayor and City Council members to restore $65 million to maintain and improve services at the city’s three public library systems. At a March 23 press conference in front of City Hall, DC 37 Assoc. Dir. Oliver Gray said, “We are concerned about a process where year after year, there is this budget dance where people have to come begging for money.” Restoring funds on a recurring basis would give the library systems crucial financial stability, he suggested.

Barbara Paquette Barbara Paquette: “Librarians are the key to navigating this entire adventure.” (Photo by Helen Azar)

Working with allies and the public, AFSCME-represented library workers have won numerous battles to increase or restore funding. Barbara Paquette, library supervisor at the Free Library of Philadelphia, recalls one such battle in 2005 when members of AFSCME Local 2186 (District Council 47) successfully fought a plan to turn as many as 20 city libraries into so-called “McBranches,” the name given to libraries run without librarians to save money. They won. By the fall of 2005 all branches had full-day service, Saturday hours and a head librarian.

“Librarians,” she said, “are the key to navigating this entire adventure,” which encompasses books, services to children under five, jobseekers, English language classes, computer assistance for seniors and even tools to start a small business. “Without librarians,” she added, “you’re missing the key to opening the door to all the resources of the library. We’re the key to opening that door.”

Roy StoneRoy Stone: “I love what I do, and it’s important.” (Photo by Jennifer Hamm)

Residents of Los Angeles also experienced severe cutbacks in library services during the economic downturn of 2010. “There were cutbacks in all departments,” recalled Roy Stone, Senior Librarian at the Fairfax Branch Library in Los Angeles and president of The Librarians Guild/AFSCME Local 2626 (Council 36). The city that year slashed the library system’s budget by $22 million, forcing Monday closures and the loss of 328 full-time positions.

Local 2626 members and allies fought back, informing the public of the issue and even working to get out the vote to support library-friendly city council candidates. “We prevented as many layoffs as possible,” Stone said. “But inadequate staffing levels remains a problem because we can’t provide the full gamut of services that taxpayers deserve.”

“I love what I do, and it’s important,” Stone added. “We make every community a better place and we improve the lives of people every day.”

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