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Sharp Hearts, Sharp Cares, Sharp Nurses

by Tiffanie Bright and Jeff Rogers  |  October 11, 2016

Sharp Hearts, Sharp Cares, Sharp Nurses Sharp Healthcare nurses (members of UNAC/UHCP/AFSCME) rally for fair pay in front of the San Diego Convention Center. (Photo by Max Carbuccia, UNAC/UHCP)

SAN DIEGO — More than 300 nurses, health care professionals, clergy, students, union members and a lawmaker gathered last Thursday morning in solidarity with Sharp Healthcare nurses. Rallying in front of the San Diego Convention Center, the nurses drummed up community support for their attempts to improve worker retention in their workplace.

The nurses of UNAC/UHCP (affiliated with the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees [NUHHCE]/AFSCME) are currently in negotiations with Sharp; however, those conversations are breaking down. Sharp nurses say worker turnover is high because their pay is significantly lower — by $8/hr to $15/hr — than what their peers at other area hospitals make. In just the first nine months of this year Sharp lost 509 nurses, reported ABC 10 News. Nurses don’t stay too long at Sharp, leaving behind demoralized and overextended co-workers.

Lorena GonzalezAssemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez proudly displays her support of Sharp Healthcare nurses.(Photo by Max Carbuccia, UNAC/UHCP)

“A 19-year Sharp nurse only makes what a two-year Kaiser nurse gets across town,” said Jackie Young, RN with 16 years at Sharp Memorial. “New grads come here just long enough to get the experience to move on. A lot of experienced nurses are pinning all our hopes on this contract. We love our patients and we love our co-workers, but at a certain point you have to make some tough decisions and think about you and your family’s future.”

Even Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (District 80) was on deck to lend her support. “I have been through this fight three times now with UNAC. There is nothing more important in this campaign than to ensure long-term union security,” said Gonzalez. “Because if not, I’m going to be back out here in three years fighting the same fight.”       

Sharp nurses aren’t rallying because their workplace is a bad environment — but because it is a good environment that could be great.

Says Jay O’Brien, RN, a seven-year employee of Sharp Memorial: “Sharp is a good place to work. We want it to stay a good place to work. All of us are really truly dedicated to Sharp.”

With profit margins at least double those of their largest local competitors, it makes sense for Sharp to invest in a plan to retain experienced, loyal employees.

“Everyone in San Diego sees the ads and infomercials for ‘The Sharp Experience,’” said Michelle Byers, RN, for Sharp Grossmont in the Cardiac Cath Lab. “We believe in Sharp’s ideals — but we wonder if Sharp’s executives do. Nurses know the reality at Sharp. We challenge Sharp executives to live up to Sharp’s own ideals.”

Sharp Nurses After rallying in front of the San Diego Convention Center, Sharp Healthcare nurses spread their message across the city skyline. (Photo by Russell Miller, UNAC/UHCP)

How Stronger Unions Could Fix Our Economy — And Our Politics

by Rana Foroohar, Time Magazine  |  October 11, 2016

Of the little we’ve heard, much of this election’s economic policy discussion has focused on what can be done about our historically slow growth, rising inequality, and decreasing social mobility. But neither candidate has focused on one no-brainer solution: strengthening unions.

That might seem a contentious statement in a country with decades of fraught relations between corporations and labor. But as a new report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress outlines, a stronger labor movement may be the quickest way to spur the sort of broad-based growth (via wage hikes) that we need to create a more sustainable, robust recovery.

“It’s become pretty clear that in order to raise wages and reduce inequality, the number one thing that we could do would be to increase worker power within our economy,” says David Madland, a senior fellow at CAP and the author of the study.

Strengthening unions might also have the knock-on effect of decreasing populism. At least some of the ugliness we’ve seen this election cycle has been rooted in rising inequality. Meanwhile, about one-third of the recent increase in wage inequality for American males can be attributed to weakening unions, according to research by Harvard and Washington University academics. A separate IMF study found that countries without unions see a 10 percent increase in the share of income that goes to the highest earners.

By contrast, the social benefits of unions stretch across generations. American children of fathers without a college education earn 28 percent more if their dad was in a labor union, compared to those whose fathers were non-union. In other words, the demise of American unions — only about 7 percent of private sector workers currently belong to one — has been a key factor in the rising wealth gap, but also in the sort of horrific, Hobbesian presidential politics we’ve seen over the past year. (Many economists see the wealth gap as a big reason why we aren’t enjoying a more sustainable recovery.)

The big challenge to revitalizing unions is moving beyond today’s system of labor law, which hasn’t been updated since 1935. Unions get a bad rap in the U.S. in part because most collective bargaining can be done only at a firm-by-firm level. That creates a race to the bottom away from higher-wage unionized firms. Yet there is a wealth of research that shows that when bargaining can be done at an industry level — the way it is in most other countries, including Germany, Sweden, Australia, and Canada, among others — you get higher national wages without sacrificing economic competitiveness. That’s because factors like labor representation on corporate boards and the ability to bargain collectively is associated with greater productivity levels, as management and labor are better able to work together to solve problems. (See here for an example of how this helped German companies gain market share against U.S. firms in the wake of the financial crisis.)

Such a drastic change won’t be easy. Reforming the National Labor Relations Board will require policy action. “Legal changes [to collective bargaining structures] have to come first – unions simply aren’t powerful enough right now to drive this change on their own,” says Madland. Yet there are already examples at the state and local level that show the potential of a new kind of labor movement. Think about the Fight for $15 movement in various cities, which has helped bolster low-end service pay across industries. It’s something that Hillary (fingers crossed) should make a top priority if she’s elected. It would help stabilize our economy — and our democracy, too.

(Originally posted on TIME Magazine’s website.)

California Public Workers Find Strength with AFSCME

by Justin Lee and Olivia Sandbothe  |  October 05, 2016

California Public Workers Find Strength with AFSCME

Six thousand public service workers represented by Public Employees Union (PEU), Local 1 voted last week to unite with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) — one of the nation’s largest public service worker unions. The affiliation will give public workers across eight Northern California counties a stronger voice to improve the vital services they provide their communities every day.

Local 1 Pres. Mike West, a printing services coordinator at Los Medanos Community College, said that he and his co-workers are excited to become part of a larger movement that is fighting to defend families and neighborhoods across the country.

"We don’t do this work for fame and glory. We do it to keep our communities strong,” said West. “Joining AFSCME helps make sure we have the tools we need to advocate quality public services for all.”

PEU Local 1 represents more than 6,000 public service workers in the region, including workers for cities, counties, community colleges, school districts, libraries, courts, Head Start and special districts that provide clean water and other services.   

Lynda Middleton has worked as a Head Start teacher in Contra Costa County for 21 years and serves on the Local 1 board of directors. She believes the affiliation with AFSCME will make her union stronger.

“We do the same work; we share the same issues. It makes sense that we stand together in the same union,” said Middleton.

Play “Feeding the Dragon” Recalls Life with Dad, a DC 37 Member

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  October 03, 2016

Play “Feeding the Dragon” Recalls Life with Dad, a DC 37 Member Photos courtesy of the Washington family

Deep in the annals of the jobs we once did lies the New York City Public Library live-in custodian. Occupying a small apartment in the library with his wife, child and mother-in-law, George King Washington’s task was to keep the furnaces going.

The family motto was, “Don’t let that furnace go out.” It was grueling work requiring great strength as Washington shoveled coal into the large furnace in the basement of the St. Agnes Branch of the New York City Library. He kept it going 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In the mid-1960s, Washington and his wife Connie lived at the St. Agnes Branch Library on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with their daughter Sharon, mother-in-law Cassandra and their dog Brownie. He retired, moved to South Carolina, collected his pension and passed away in 2006.

End of story, right? Not so fast.

Daughter Sharon Washington – story teller and actor, best known for her stage, film and television work with reoccurring roles on Fox TV’s Gotham (2014) and Law & Order: SVU – has chronicled her experience from inside the library and what it meant for her family in her play, “Feeding the Dragon.” In it, Sharon recalls her life running around the library after hours, endlessly reading and often “imagining who else held these books” that riveted her.

Her talents were recognized from an early age. In the second grade, the vice principal at her Upper West Side public school alerted her mother of her amazing academic ability and recommended sending her to Dalton, a private school for well-to-do families. While Sharon did receive a partial scholarship, the Washingtons scrimped and saved to afford the tuition.

Sharon describes the life of a little girl of “two worlds” – the haves and the family living in the library working to get by. Her classmates enjoyed extravagant, expensive private parties for their birthdays. For hers, she would have her best friends over to the library.

Families in Sharon’s economic situation relied on clinics and other social services for their medical care, but the Washington family enjoyed quality health care provided through George’s good union job. “As a child, I never went to a clinic,” Sharon recalled in an interview. “I had a regular doctor. When I went off to college, the doctor I had most of my life wished me well. I had a doctor because of DC 37,” New York City’s largest public employee union and an AFSCME affiliate.

Her father would always say, “It’s that union. They took care of everything,” Sharon recalled. “My father was really proud to be part of a union.”

When her father retired and moved to South Carolina, his union health insurance continued. Sharon said that was a “great relief” for her.

Asked why she decided to tell her family’s story now, through her play, Sharon said, “I want to preserve the history for me and everyone else.” Memories were fading even for her, she explained, and wanted to “keep the story alive” through her writing.

Her father’s story is an important part of the history of working families in New York City, one that far too few know about. If not for that job, her family may not have had a place of their own to live. If not for the children’s librarians reading to Sharon, she might never have become a storyteller.

Sharon’s play, “Feeding the Dragon,” will have its world debut at the Pittsburgh City Theatre in Pennsylvania, on Oct. 22, 2016. It is as if Sharon’s new furnace is the life and legacy of her loving union parents. Even though technology has rendered the coal furnaces and the live-in maintenance worker obsolete, Sharon remains committed to sticking to her family’s motto, keeping the story alive and not letting the furnace go out.

Workers and Community Stand United to Save Howard University Hospital

by Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  September 28, 2016

Workers and Community Stand United to Save Howard University Hospital Howard University Hospital workers rally to raise awareness of the high quality health care they provide to the Washington, DC, community. (Photo courtesy Howard University Hospital)

On Saturday, hundreds of Howard University Hospital (HUH) employees and community members rallied to highlight the important role the hospital plays in the community. From providing healthcare to freed slaves during the Civil War to its current role as the  only teaching hospital attached to a historically black college or university, the HUH, formerly Freedmen’s Hospital, has a rich history of addressing the needs of under-served communities with high quality healthcare.

Attendees demonstrated their continued commitment to their community with free health screenings and information about the services available at HUH. Members of 1199DC National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees (NUHHCE), AFSCME, which represents over 600 workers, are working together with hospital management to enhance hospital operations and improve the quality of care for DC residents.

“The women and men who work in Howard University Hospital understand the significance of the vital services they provide to their community and are committed to preserving and improving them. We have worked with the hospital administration to turn around the hospital,” said Wanda Shelton-Martin, District 1199DC NUHHCE, AFSCME, area director. “It is important that we spread the word that the hospital is open and provides high quality care to the surrounding community.”

The hospital faced tough economic times, resulting in lay-offs. Shelton-Martin warned, “if the community doesn’t return to the hospital, they will continue to have cuts and eventually close. It would be a disgrace to the legacy of one of DC’s most important foundations to have it close and hurt the surrounding community.”

Emergency services in the District are outsourced and patients select where they want to be taken, unlike the rotating system that previously existed. Workers and management alike realized how important it is that the community know that top-notch services are available right in their own neighborhood. Following the rally, the union and hospital management intend to launch their next campaign ‘Take Me to Howard’ to encourage residents to choose HUH. Often EMS drivers pass HUH on their way to other city hospitals.

“If we are going to survive and preserve the amazing history of Howard, we must all come together,” said Henry Nicholas, president of NUHHCE and an AFSCME international vice president.

Presidential Debate Reaffirms Clinton as Choice for Working Families

by Pablo Ros  |  September 27, 2016

Presidential Debate Reaffirms Clinton as Choice for Working Families Sec. Hillary Clinton

Working families across the country tuned in to watch last night’s presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and what they saw should reaffirm their choice of Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.

In her answers, Secretary Clinton shared a vision for our country that is aligned with the values, hopes and economic interests of American middle class families. She would make the wealthiest in our nation pay their fair share of taxes to invest in the future of our communities; she would make college education more affordable and alleviate the burden of student loan debt; she would raise the federal minimum wage and add protections for workers who have no paid sick days or parental leave.

“The central question in this election is really what kind of country we want to be and what kind of future we'll build together,” she said. “Today is my granddaughter's second birthday, so I think about this a lot. First, we have to build an economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top. That means we need new jobs, good jobs, with rising incomes.”

Trump, by contrast, would give the very rich a tax break, promoting a failed theory that when the rich get richer the rest of us somehow benefit as well. Called trickle-down economics, it’s a failed theory that has contributed to income inequality over the past three decades.

“I don't think top-down works in America,” Secretary Clinton said. “I think building the middle class, investing in the middle class, making college debt-free so more young people can get their education, helping people refinance their debt from college at a lower rate. Those are the kinds of things that will really boost the economy. Broad-based, inclusive growth is what we need in America, not more advantages for people at the very top.”

AFSCME members support Hillary Clinton because she is committed to fixing our out-of-balance economy and to raising incomes for hardworking people. We want a President who will make it easier instead of harder to join together in strong unions and stand together for wages and benefits that can sustain our families.

Hillary Clinton will tackle the issues that affect ordinary Americans’ quality of life, and last night’s presidential debate reaffirmed that. She shares AFSCME’s values and is a proven champion for working families.

Corporations Rake in Profits, so Trump Wants to Lower their Taxes. Huh?

by Clyde Weiss  |  September 26, 2016

Even though corporate profits are way up, taxes collected on those profits are at near record lows, according to research compiled by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF). This is a recipe for damaging the nation’s economic wellbeing at a time when we need to lift the middle class the most.

Tax loopholes allow corporations to both rake in tons of money and decrease the tax they pay on those profits. Among the biggest loopholes, according to EPI and ATF, is a legal scheme called deferral. Through it, “American multinational corporations can indefinitely postpone payment of taxes owed on profits held offshore.”

The EPI/ATF report said corporations stockpiled $2.4 trillion in profits in foreign subsidiaries. Just four companies – Apple, Pfizer, Microsoft and General Electric – control one-quarter of those profits,” the report states.

If taxed in the U.S. those offshored profits would add $700 billion to the national treasury.

Corporations Rake in Profits, so Trump Wants to Lower their Taxes. Huh?

“These large multinational corporations can certainly afford to pay the taxes they owe,” said EPI budget analyst Hunter Blair.

Yet billionaire real estate mogul and Presidential candidate Donald Trump wants to give himself and his corporate buddies an even bigger tax break. Under Trump, the corporate tax rate would be cut from 35 to 15 percent. That would reduce federal revenue by $1.9 trillion over the next decade, reports The New York Times.

Why should we care?

“When corporations avoid paying billions of dollars of U.S. taxes they would otherwise owe, the tax burden on responsible corporations and citizens is unfairly increased,” states a resolution passed at AFSCME’s national Convention this July.

Trump says he wants to help working families, but in the topsy turvey world of Trumponomics, it’s the wealthiest Americans and corporations whose profits are already at record high levels that would profit the most from his ill-conceived tax-cutting scheme, according to EPI’s Blair.

The EPI/ATF report is a wake-up call for voters and lawmakers who think Trump’s plan to slash the corporate tax rate is the solution for the nation’s economic ills. In reality, it will only add to them.

Your Newest Union Benefit: Free College

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  September 23, 2016

Your Newest Union Benefit: Free College Beverly Payne

Working families are getting squeezed in all kinds of ways these days, but few expenses are more frightening than higher education. Whether you’ve got kids graduating high school or you’re looking to move forward in your own career, you’ve probably wondered how you’ll manage to keep up with skyrocketing tuition costs.

There’s less to worry about thanks to a new benefit for AFSCME members and families. Starting this summer, every member or retiree member, as well as spouses, children, grandchildren and dependents of AFSCME members, can earn a two-year degree online for free. That’s right — free college just for being a member in good standing.

Flexible Options for Working Families

AFSCME is partnering with Eastern Gateway Community College to provide all members and families access to their classes online. Eastern Gateway is an accredited, non-profit public institution with campuses serving eastern Ohio, but AFSCME members can enroll in the distance learning program from anywhere in the country. Right now you can earn an associate degree in Business Management or Criminal Justice, or you can complete an Associate of Arts program that can be transferred to a four-year college.

The enrollment process is simple. Just visit and verify your AFSCME membership. From there, you can fill out a simple Eastern Gateway application form and an online financial aid form. You will be contacted by an enrollment advisor to help you with any questions you may have about enrollment. You may also contact your local or council. AFSCME members around the country are being trained to help one another through the process.

This program has been running in Ohio for a year now, and hundreds of AFSCME members and their families are already taking advantage of it.

Beverly Payne, a member of Local 416, OAPSE/AFSCME, has been working full time as the secretary and transportation coordinator for a preschool for 30 years. She spends her days helping children get a start on learning. But her own educational goals were on the back burner until now.

“I had wanted to go to college a long time ago, but with four children I never had time,” she says. “When I heard about this program I decided to finally get my degree at 71 years old.”

Learning Without the Price Tag

Payne wasn’t sure how she’d adjust to student life after 50 years in the workforce. But the program allows her to take one class at a time, and her professors have been very supportive. The online, self-paced classes offered in the program are broken into two eight-week sessions each semester.  She’s acing her classes so far — and her positive experience has encouraged her family members to enroll, too.

“My daughter is enrolled right now, and another daughter is looking into it, as is my granddaughter,” she says. A third daughter has her bachelor’s degree but is thinking of taking additional courses to further her career.

The Department of Education estimates that the average associate’s program costs $3,440 per semester. It would ordinarily cost tens of thousands of dollars to put six family members through school — but thanks to AFSCME, Beverly Payne can do it simply by keeping up-to-date with her union dues.

“Public service workers are passionate about their jobs. They strive to do better for their families and their communities, and they want their union’s help to grow personally and advance professionally,” said AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders. “We know the important role education plays in the lives of so many working-class families — helping them learn new skills and climb the ladder of opportunity. This partnership will help public service workers and their families prosper, and live their best lives.”

AFSCME Free College

Standing Strong in Illinois

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  September 22, 2016

Standing Strong in Illinois Glenn Sago

Glenn Sago has been fighting for his union rights for 10 years, and he’s been through plenty. “It’s a lot of work,” he said. “It’s all worth it to know that your rights will be respected. I became a steward to stand up and make sure the contract was followed.”

But he’s never seen anything like the current situation in Illinois, where he works for the state in law enforcement support services.

Since Gov. Bruce Rauner was elected in 2014, AFSCME members there have been under fire like never before. “I’ve done negotiations with the previous governor, but this is a different battle,” says Sago, an executive board member at Local 448 (Council 31) in Rockford who also serves on the state bargaining committee.

The list of attacks is unprecedented. The governor has held the budget hostage for more than a year, blocked the state from fulfilling its promise to issue back pay to thousands of state workers, and wants to double health care costs and freeze wages for four years to implement his extreme agenda.

AFSCME Council 31's bargaining team members have told the Rauner administration repeatedly that they want to continue bargaining, but he walked away from the table in early January, seeking instead to impose his extreme demands. It seems reasonableness, compromise and collaboration are not in the governor's playbook. He's a billionaire bully, blaming the state's budget situation on working families and contending state workers make too much when, in fact, politicians in Springfield mismanaged the state's funds.

We Won't Back Down

In July, the state Labor Relations Board rejected Rauner's attempt to fast-forward a hearing process that will decide whether the parties are ordered to resume bargaining. Roberta Lynch, Council 31's executive director and an AFSCME International vice president, applauded the decision.

“We have been and remain ready to return to the bargaining table, to do the hard work of compromise,” Lynch said. “We want to reach an agreement that is fair to all. The fact that the Rauner administration pushed for this unprecedented short-circuiting of board procedures demonstrates just how fiercely determined the governor is to try to impose his own harsh terms on state employees.”

In the face of Rauner’s anti-worker agenda, Sago and his colleagues are working harder than ever to connect with their co-workers, face-to-face. These conversations are a powerful tool against Rauner’s misinformation campaign.

“Every time Rauner makes statements about us, we are out talking to members and telling them the truth,” said Sago.

National Support

AFSCME members nationwide are standing in solidarity with their sisters and brothers in Illinois. “Council 31, your fight is our fight,” Pres. Lee Saunders declared during his keynote address at AFSCME’s 42nd International Convention in July. “Your struggle is our struggle.”

Thousands of Convention delegates agreed. They voted to “stand in solidarity with AFSCME Council 31 members in state government who are directly confronting one of the most fiercely anti-union governors in the country today.”

Members of Council 31 are ready to meet whatever challenges come next. “We’ve stayed the course this long,” said Sago. “We’ve fought over a year and a half at the bargaining table and in the Legislature. It may get to the point that we have no choice but to go on strike, but the members have to vote and make that choice.” 

Over 10,000 Rally in Illinois, Demanding Governor Rauner Stop His Hostage-Taking Ten thousand rally in Springfield, demand Governor Rauner stop hurting Illinois. (Photo by David Kreisman)

Just Doing My Job

by Tiffanie Bright  |  September 21, 2016

Just Doing My Job Bus driver Renita Smith is honored for her heroism at Queen’s Chapel UMC church. (Photo courtesy Queen's Chapel UMC, Beltsville, MD, The Reverend William E. Butler, Pastor)

It was a clear, sunny September day when the unthinkable happened. But for Maryland school bus driver Renita Smith, the unthinkable was something she was well-prepared to handle.

Smith, a member of Local 2250 (ACE-AFSCME in Prince George’s County), had just made her third stop of the afternoon, dropping students off at their homes. Then, she said, “My bus started making noise,” and she prepared to pull over and notify her office. It appeared to be an inconvenience, but not a life-threatening emergency.   

That’s when she began to smell smoke. And the children did too.

“Miss bus driver! Miss bus driver! We smell smoke!” her students cried out, Smith said. “Miss bus driver, we see smoke!”

Smith immediately pulled over, seeing flames in her rearview mirror. Calling in to her supervisor wasn’t going to help solve this crisis. “I put my radio down and got my babies up and in a straight line in the aisle. I had them hold hands.”

As the fire intensified, Smith led all 20 children safely off the bus and to a neighbor’s yard away from the smoke and fumes. Smith then did the incredible. She went back onto the bus — its windows melting around her — checking every aisle for a sleeping child, making sure all of them had gotten off.

“There wasn’t a bus attendant with me that day to do the count,” she explained of her heroism. “So I knew I had to go back on the bus to make sure I got all my babies.” Because that’s what her instincts and training told her to do.

That’s the “never quit” spirit that AFSCME members bring to their jobs every day, whether they’re bus drivers, first responders or other public service workers. And they do it without expectation of special recognition.

“I was just doing my job and what’s expected of me,” said Smith, herself a mother of two. “Serving my community means that you’re not being selfish. You’re thinking of how to do something for others and not expect anything in return. For God to give me a supernatural power to do what I did and save those babies, I pat myself on the back and say, ‘Job well done.’ I’m proud because my babies are all home.”

And we’re proud she’s a member of our AFSCME family.

Burned school bus The charred remains of driver Renita Smith’s school bus. (Photo by Kevin Kennedy, Local 2250/ACE-AFSCME, Prince George’s County, Maryland)

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