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All They Want is Respect – and a Fair Contract

by Clyde Weiss  |  September 06, 2016

All They Want is Respect – and a Fair Contract Washington state employees join with community allies to rally at the State Capitol for a fair contract. (Photo courtesy WFSE/AFSCME Council 28)

Just days before the nation celebrated Labor Day – a time that Americans honor working people – more than 1,000 public service workers in Washington State rallied at the Capitol in Olympia to make a bold statement about respect. They’re still waiting for the governor to show them some respect, too.

Respect – or the lack of it, in this case – stems from the governor’s refusal to offer the state’s workers a two-year contract that reflects the work they do. That would be a contract like the one proposed by Washington Federation of State Employees, (WFSE)/AFSCME Council 28.

Council 28’s bargaining team presented the state with a fair compensation proposal that would bring competitive pay to the 30,000 state agency workers covered by the contract. The proposal was backed by a recent state salary study that showed nearly all employees - 99 percent - made less than people doing the same jobs elsewhere. Specifically, it revealed:

  • Two-thirds of state employees’ salary range midpoints were more than 25 percent below the market-level pay.
  • Another 23 percent of state employees’ salary range midpoints were between 12.5 percent and 25 percent below the market.
  • Only 1 percent of state employees were paid at or above the market.

“The package aims to restore state employees’ buying power they in turn can put back into the state economy as we still dig out from the Great Recession,” Council 28’s bargaining team explained. “If this eight-year trend of managing the state’s workforce by eroding benefits, under-compensating, and incentivizing the turnover of skilled and experienced workers continues, we will only see the number of crises and those fleeing public service grow.”

At the union’s state Capitol rally on Aug. 31, Greg Devereux, WFSE’s executive director and an AFSCME International vice president, said the state’s contract proposal offered the night before “showed a lack of respect for the state’s own workers.”

Respect is what this is all about. A contract that includes fair wages and benefits is a contract that respects the workers who perform the tasks that most people never think about until they stop running, or run less-efficiently than the public has come to expect of their government.

This contract, covering the period 2017 to 2019, must be submitted to the governor’s budget office by Oct. 1. So far, however, state negotiators have shown little respect for the workers who never quit providing the critical public services that make Washington state a great place to live.

It’s time the state offer a contract that shows the respect these workers deserve. 

Make America Great Again

by Tiffanie Bright  |  September 02, 2016

Make America Great Again

We’ve said it time and again: Union jobs make our country great. And while you enjoy BBQ during your long weekend — extended by Labor Day — you can thank unions for both!

Good union jobs allow workers to earn better wages and benefits like health care and retirement security. Good union jobs help women earn equal pay. And in areas and industries where unions are strong, all workers’ wages are higher because union jobs raise the standard, as we recently learned in a report by the Economic Policy Institute.

The report, “Union Decline Lowers Wages of Nonunion Workers,” confirms what we’ve always said. And unfortunately, the opposite is true too: When union membership declines, so do the wages of all workers. Those particularly hard hit are nonunion men with a high school diploma or less. Their “weekly wages would be an estimated 9 percent ($61) higher if union density remained at its 1979 levels,” according to EPI. “For a year-round worker, this translates to an annual wage loss of about $3,172.” That’s real money — enough to pay more than three month’s average rent.

Union jobs provide other benefits that allow working families to reach the middle class — retirement plans, paid family and sick leave, and high-quality health insurance. Unions also close the inequality gap and increase the middle-class share of the nation’s total income. That’s why it’s important to strengthen laws that make it easier for workers to join unions.

We need leaders who understand all this. Hillary Clinton, AFSCME’s endorsed candidate for President, has proudly declared that “when unions are strong, America is strong!” As a senator from New York, Clinton was an original co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for working people to organize together in unions. Clinton supports raising the minimum wage, protecting workers from exploitation and wage theft, and strengthening bargaining rights. Clinton knows that unions helped build the middle class before and are key to making America great again.

When There’s a Drop in Union Jobs, All Workers Earn Less

August 30, 2016

Today, the Economic Policy Institute released a paper called “Union Decline Lowers Wages of Nonunion Workers: The Overlooked Reason Why Wages Are Stuck and Inequality Is Growing.”

Washington University sociologist Jake Rosenfeld and co-authors find that the dramatic decline in union density since 1979 has resulted in far lower wages for nonunion workers, an impact larger than the 5 percent effect of globalization on their wages found in recent research.

Specifically, nonunion men lacking a college degree would have earned 8 percent, or $3,016 annually, more in 2013 if unions had remained as strong as they were in 1979.

Between 1979 and 2013, the share of private sector workers in a union has fallen from about 34 percent to 11 percent among men, and from 16 percent to 6 percent among women. The authors note that unions keep wages high for nonunion workers for several reasons: Union agreements set wage standards and a strong union presence prompts managers to keep wages high in order to prevent workers from organizing or their employees from leaving. Moreover, unions set industry-wide norms, influencing what is seen as a “moral economy.”

Rosenfeld makes the point that working class men have felt the decline in unionization the hardest and that their paychecks are noticeably smaller than if unions had remained as strong as they were almost 40 years ago. And that rebuilding collective bargaining is one of the tools we have to reinvigorate wage growth, for low and middle-wage workers.

Rosenfeld, along with his co-authors find that the effects of union decline on the wages of nonunion women are not as substantial because women were not as heavily represented in unionized private sector jobs. The authors note, however, that any substantial growth in collective bargaining would be expected to have as much or more impact on women as men. Specifically, the authors find that women’s wages would be 2 to 3 percent higher if unions had stayed at their 1979 levels. Their study also reveals that private sector nonunion men of all education levels would earn 5 percent ($52) higher weekly wages in 2013 if private-sector union density (the share of workers in similar industries and regions who are union members) remained at its 1979 level, an increase of $2,704 in annual paychecks for full-time employees.

This is the first study providing a broad estimate of the wage decline for nonunion workers as the result of the erosion of unions.

This decline in unions has eroded wages for nonunion workers at every level of education and experience, costing billions in lost wages. For the 32.9 million full-time nonunion private sector women and 40.2 million full-time private sector men, there is a $133 billion loss in annual wages because of weakened unions.

Given dramatically weakened unions, their effect on nonunion wages has declined over time: These effects have fallen to between one-half and two-thirds of their late-1970s levels.

Union decline has exacerbated wage inequality in the U.S. by dampening the pay of nonunion workers as well as by eroding the share of workers directly benefitting from unionization: Union erosion can explain a third of the growth of wage inequality among men and one-fifth of the rise of wage inequality among women. At least for middle-wage men, the impact of the erosion of unions on the wages of both union and nonunion workers is likely the largest single factor underlying wage stagnation and wage inequality.

AFSCME Workers Protests Lead to New Jobs, Lighter Caseloads

by Lynette Kalsnes and David Patterson  |  August 24, 2016

AFSCME Workers Protests Lead to New Jobs, Lighter Caseloads St. Louis County workers in Hibbing (above) and Virginia protested understaffing in Public Health and Human Services. Their actions led to the county hiring 30 more workers. (Photo by Zach Sias)

St. Louis County, Minnesota will hire 30 additional workers in its Public Health and Human Services Department and Initial Intervention Unit, to help deal with staffing shortages and heavy caseloads, following protests by AFSCME Local 66 (Council 5) members.

“We’re very happy that we’re getting new workers,” said Kelly Crow, a child protection social worker in Hibbing. “There’s a huge need, not only in our department but in other departments. This is a good start.”

“It’s not the solution, it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” added Local 66 Pres. Dennis Frazier. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

Commissioners acted after more than 60 AFSCME members and county workers marched in Virginia and Hibbing, carrying signs saying, “Understaffed, underserved.” They drew attention to how staffing shortages and heavy caseloads are hurting workers and the children and families they serve. AFSCME members also met directly with some county commissioners, attended board meetings and screened board candidates for worker-friendly values.

“A lot of people have gotten involved in making change and realizing it’s up to us to do that,” Crow said.

As reported by the Duluth News Tribune, staffing shortages have gotten so serious the county’s new head of Public Health and Human Services quit after just two months, citing in part a lack of resources. In northwest Minnesota, Children and Family Services workers must deal with a shortage of affordable housing, layoffs and factory shutdowns.

“We’re fifth in population but first in many categories you don’t want to finish first in, like opioid addiction,” Frazier said. “We’ve got 800 kids in foster care. Referrals are up 45 percent. We’ve been understaffed and overwhelmed for years.”

When workers learned the county was hiring more people, there was a sense of relief, said financial worker Jessica Anderson, a member of the Local 66 Executive Board and part of the Next Wave Minnesota group of young AFSCME members.

“It was such a load off. I just hope it helps relieve some of that ‘Oh my God’ crisis mode. I hope we can help the community in a more timely and accurate manner,” Anderson said.

Financial worker Kathy Vake believes every area of Public Health and Human Services lacks enough staff. When she started working here, she and her desk partner shared a caseload of 600. Now they’re at 1,100.

Local 66 plans to keep pushing for more hiring and less outsourcing to better serve children and their families. “I’m grateful for the help the county has given us, but they just need to keep doing it,” said Vake.

St. Louis County workers in Virginia protest understaffing in Public Health and Human Services (Photo by Kathy Vake)

Coups de Main to Lift up Louisianans in Their Time of Need

by Erica Nash-Thomas  |  August 23, 2016

Coups de Main to Lift up Louisianans in Their Time of Need AFSCME VMOs and volunteers loading sorted items for delivery to shelters and neighborhoods in Baton Rouge. (Photo by Mark Cavanah)

“Coups de main” is a Cajun phrase that means lending a helping hand to community members in their time of need. AFSCME Volunteer Member Organizers (VMOs) recently had an opportunity to show their “coups de main,” by helping lift Louisianans in need in flood-ravaged Baton Rouge.

Ina LaBorde, AFSCME Council 17 Council representative and her daughter, Lyn Ray, Catholic Student Organization director at Louisiana State University at Alexandria (LSUA) wanted to find a way to make a concrete and meaningful impact for their fellow Louisianans who are now piecing together their lives. More than 40,000 people across 20 parishes in the Baton Rouge area were affected, days after heavy rainfall led to the historic flooding.

Ray believed she could contribute to relief efforts in Baton Rouge by delivering items that people depend on from day to day: goods like toiletries, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer, and comfort items like new bedding, clean socks — even some sweet tea.

But Ray knew should couldn’t do it alone. She would need a dedicated crew of people to power her vision. That’s when LaBorde sprang to action and tapped a source that she knew could depend on: VMOs. And they eagerly lent a hand.

Approximately 40 VMOs, members and other volunteers assembled at the LSUA Catholic Student Center to unload trucks and sort donated items to deliver to the St. Vincent de Paul shelter in Denham Springs in Livingstone Parish, an area hard-hit by the floods.

Cleaning items and supplies will be delivered to the Greenwell Springs neighborhood in East Baton Rouge Parish to help clean up flooded homes that still maintained their structural integrity. Residents there still face a big clean-up effort, including disposing destroyed furniture and other items. 

“I was very excited to be involved with something so important to the members and the community,” said Sheila Conroy, an AFSCME VMO from New York.

Sheryl Lilya, an AFSCME VMO from Minnesota, was also excited about her involvement in the action.

“Seeing the amount of giving and being able to help in any way was wonderful,” Lilya said.

Ray expressed deep appreciation for the hard work of the VMOs throughout the afternoon to help Louisianans emerge stronger after the flood’s devastation.

“I can’t thank you enough,” Ray said. “We couldn’t handle this ourselves.”

To donate to victims of the Louisiana flooding, you can contribute to the AFSCME Fallen Heroes Fund.

African American Women’s Equal Pay Day Is August 23

by Jasmine Tucker, National Women’s Law Center  |  August 23, 2016

This year, we recognize African-American women’s Equal Pay Day today, August 23. This marks the symbolic day that the earnings of African-American women will catch up to their white, non-Hispanic male counterparts’ earnings from last year.

We use the latest Census Bureau figures on earnings to calculate the wage gaps for women, including Latinas, mothers, and African-American women. And in 2014 (the latest available data), African-American women earned 60.5 cents for every $1 her white, non-Hispanic male counterpart earned.

Translation? African-American women have to work nearly eight months, or 238 days into the next year, to earn as much as white, non-Hispanic men did in the previous year alone. And based on today’s wage gap, that means African-American women would lose a staggering $877,480 over the course of a 40-year career compared to white, non-Hispanic men.

So, yes, when we compare all women to all men, Equal Pay Day is in April. But we must acknowledge that African-American women face particularly steep and difficult obstacles when it comes to achieving equal pay. That’s why today we’ll be joining with our allies around the country to call for an end to the wage gap, particularly for African-American women. Want to join in? Make sure to use the hashtag #BlackWomensEqualPay on your social channels and join us for a Twitter storm on August 23rd, from 2-3 PM EST.

Union Plus Offers Help for Victims of Louisiana Floods

August 19, 2016

Help is available to union members affected by the recent flooding in Louisiana that has claimed at least 13 lives, damaged an estimated 40,000 houses, and forced approximately 86,000 people to apply for federal disaster aid.

If you are a union member in the affected area who also participates in certain Union Plus programs, you may be eligible for financial assistance. Union Plus Disaster Relief Grants of $500 are available to eligible members who have a Union Plus Credit Card1, Union Plus Life or Accidental Death Insurance, Union Plus Auto Insurance, or Union Plus Mortgage.

AFSCME members who participate in any of those programs can also call:

  • Union Plus credit card: 1-800-622-2580 (have your credit card number available)
  • Union Plus Insurance: 1-800-472-2005
  • Union Plus Mortgage: 1-800-472-2005

The Union Plus Disaster Relief Fund has provided nearly $1 million in assistance to union members facing hardships following Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, floods, wild fires and other natural disasters.

Click here to visit Union Plus Disaster Relief and learn more about the eligibility requirements and how to apply. 

If you are not involved in the Union Plus program, there are federal disaster aid programs through FEMA that can assist those affected by the floods. To learn about the types of assistance available, click here. The Small Business Administration also provides loans to affected homeowners, whether or not they own a small business. Learn more here. You can also call the disaster assistance center at (800) 659-2955, or email

Please direct questions to your council or local if you need more information.

1Union Plus Credit Cards are issued by Capital One, N.A. pursuant to a license by MasterCard International Incorporated.

Child Care Workers Should Not Have to Live in Poverty

by Clyde Weiss  |  August 19, 2016

Child Care Workers Should Not Have to Live in Poverty State map of percent change in child care worker median wage, 2010-2015 (Early Childhood Workforce Index 2016)

The need to make child care more affordable for families has been an issue in the Presidential race. But not enough attention has been given to the people – mostly women – who provide that care. That’s too bad, because nearly half of the nation’s child care workers are in families that receive food stamps, welfare or other federal support, according to a new report.

Researchers at the University of California-Berkeley found that, last year, 46 percent of child care providers lived in families enrolled in at least one of the social safety net programs: SNAP (food stamps), TANF (welfare), Medicaid or the Federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). That compares with slightly over a quarter of the total U.S. workforce that is enrolled in such programs.

These providers – an “almost exclusively female workforce,” according to the researchers – earn a median hourly wage of just $9.77. That’s less than a janitor is paid, on average. “Nationally, child care workers are nearly in the bottom percentile (second) when all oc­cupations are ranked by annual earnings,” the report said.

“Our nation relies on their knowledge and skills to provide high-quality early care and education to our increasingly diverse popu­lation of children and families,” the authors wrote. “Yet our system of preparing, supporting, and rewarding early educators in the United States remains largely ineffective, inefficient, and inequita­ble.”

Without a change in state and federal policies that address this issue, they added, “our nation will remain unable to deliver on the promise of develop­mental and learning opportunities for all children.”

The authors – led by Marcy Whitebook, director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment at the University of California-Berkeley – recommended several strategies to improve child care worker compensation, including identifying ongoing sources of funding “to ensure sustainable raises in base pay, in order to substantially improve the economic circumstances of early educators and to ensure the ability to attract and retain a skilled workforce.”

It will take political willpower to increase the wages of child care providers, but the consequences of not doing so may be felt by the next generation.

“We’re entrusting children to people who are really struggling to feed their own families,” said Whitebook in an interview about the report in the Washington Post. “They’re managing all this stress, which is distracting to all the important work they have to do.”

It’s at the state level where the changes must be made. “State policies play a powerful role in shaping early childhood jobs and, in turn, the qual­ity of early learning experiences available to young children,” the report notes.

AFSCME, which represents thousands of child care workers nationwide, supports state initiatives to raise child care compensation. In California, UDW Homecare Providers Union/AFSCME Local 3930 is working with state lawmakers to raise subsidy rates for family child care providers who earn, on average, just $4.98 per hour after accounting for expenses, according to the coalition, “Raising California Together,” of which UDW is a member. Higher rates will make it “easier for them to afford their work-related expenses and keep their day cares open for business,” wrote UDW Exec. Dir. Doug Moore in a recent column on our blog.

“These problems add up to decreased access to quality, affordable child care and early learning opportunities for our children,” wrote Moore, also an AFSCME International vice president. “But there is a solution: Make an investment in family child care providers to increase families’ access to child care.”

Hillary Clinton, AFSCME’s endorsed candidate for President, is committed to raising wages for America’s child care workforce. “Hillary will create the Respect and Increased Salaries for Early Childhood Educators (RAISE) initiative,” her campaign website says. “In line with Clinton’s Care Workers Initiative, RAISE will fund and support states and local communities that work to increase the compensation of child care providers and early educators and provide equity with kindergarten teachers by investing in educational opportunities, career ladders, and professional salaries.”

AFSCME will work to elect Secretary Clinton so she can carry out her pledge to the nation’s child care workers. They – and the next generation – depend on her.

It’s About Time – Federal Government to End Use of For-Profit Prison Operators

by Clyde Weiss  |  August 18, 2016

It’s About Time – Federal Government to End Use of For-Profit Prison Operators

AFSCME applauds the Justice Department’s decision to end the use of private, for-profit firms to run America’s federal prisons. It’s a judgment that rests on principles we have long asserted – not only that the cost-savings promised by these firms are illusory but that they jeopardize the safety of prisoners and the corrections employees who work in these facilities.

The announcement, by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, was made in a memo reported this morning by the Washington Post. Yates wrote that – compared to facilities operated by the federal Bureau of Prisons – privately run prisons “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”

The Inspector General’s report, released last week, states that, “in most key areas, contract prisons incurred more safety and security incidents per capita than comparable BOP [Bureau of Prison] institutions,” and that, “in recent years, disturbances in several federal contract prisons resulted in extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a correctional officer.”

For-profit prisons “had more frequent incidents of contraband finds, assaults, uses of force, lockdowns, guilty findings on inmate discipline charges, and selected categories of grievances,” the report added.

Privately run federal prisons housed approximately 22,660 federal inmates (12 percent of the total inmate population), the report stated. Three for-profit firms operate these facilities: Corrections Corporation of America (CCA); the GEO Group, Inc.; and Management and Training Corporation (MTC).

“Whether at the federal or state and local level, private prison operations have long been a stain on our nation’s criminal justice system,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. “They have not kept us secure, nor have they delivered savings to the taxpayers – instead, corporate prisons have profited off of the suffering of our communities and have led the way to mass incarceration and the immoral detention of immigrant families in privately operated facilities that just this week were revealed in reports to be wasting taxpayer money.”

AFSCME Corrections United, which represents approximately 62,000 corrections officers and 23,000 corrections employees, has long advocated ending the use of private prison operators in federal, state and local facilities. We have written extensively on the history and shortcomings of outsourcing, issued a report on how private prison operators profit from campaign contributions, and revealed how backroom deals enrich private prison operators at taxpayers’ expense. We’ve also debunked the empty promises of private prison operators.

Now that the federal government has come to the same conclusions that we have, it is our hope that state lawmakers will follow suit and end their contracts with private prison operators. Private prison companies put profits over the best interests of the citizens whose taxes pay for these critical public services.

Getting a Free College Degree Is Easier than Ever

by Clyde Weiss and Olivia Sandbothe  |  August 09, 2016

Watch this video to hear Beverly Payne, Richard Anderson and other AFSCME members talk about the value of the AFSCME Free College benefit. Learn more about the AFSCME Free College benefit and how to enroll at

Getting a college degree was not in the cards for Beverly Payne, who worked at an Ohio preschool for 30 years while raising four children. She never had time to further her education, she said. Now, the deck is stacked in her favor – at the age of 71 – thanks to the AFSCME Free College benefit.

“When this opportunity came up, I’m thinking – know what? I don’t care how old I am. I’m going to try this,” said Payne, a member of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE)/AFSCME Local 4.

As a secretary and transportation coordinator for a pre-school in Crestline, Payne knows the value of giving a child every opportunity to learn and grow. It’s no surprise, therefore, that she was eager to take advantage of this benefit, which was offered in Ohio for a year and which is now expanded to AFSCME members and their families throughout the country.

Hundreds have already taken advantage of the program, including Payne. In fact, it’s a family affair. Payne said one daughter is already enrolled, and a second daughter and son-in-law are looking into it, and a third daughter – who already has a bachelor’s degree – is also thinking of enrolling in additional courses to further her career.

Last month, at our 42nd International Convention, Pres. Lee Saunders announced the national rollout this summer of the AFSCME Free College benefit. “That’s how we empower public service workers,” he told Convention delegates. “That’s how AFSCME never quits helping its members.”

Here’s how it works. AFSCME, in partnership with Eastern Gateway Community College – an accredited, non-profit institution and a member of the University System of Ohio – is offering retirees, members and their families (spouses, domestic partners, children and grandchildren) an opportunity to enroll in a program to earn an associate degree online from anywhere in the country. Credits can also be transferred to most four-year public universities.

There are no out-of-pocket costs. That’s right – no burdensome student loans are needed. The Free College benefit combines Pell grants and employer reimbursements with AFSCME's “last dollar scholarship,” which covers all remaining costs after federal or state grants and employer reimbursements are applied. Together, these funds cover the full tuition amount for participating degree programs.

Even if an applicant is not eligible for federal, state, or employer financial aid, AFSCME's last dollar scholarship will still be applied to the remaining balance for tuition and fees.

“It’s very difficult juggling a full-time job and a family, but quitting’s not an option for me,” said Richard Anderson, a corrections officer at Ohio State Penitentiary and a steward in his union, Ohio Civil Service Employees Association /AFSCME Local 11.

“This is a life achievement to go to college and graduate with a degree,” he said. “And it just makes life a lot easier, especially if you have children. It’s definitely setting the right goals and the right way of doing things, by showing them it’s never too late to continue your education to help you to better your life.”

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