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The Rev. Dr. Barber: Get Together and Win!

July 18, 2014

In an electrifying address that had Convention delegates on their feet and cheering repeatedly, the Rev. Dr. William Barber on Thursday underscored a message of coalition building and solidarity with references pulled from the civil rights and labor movements, as well as Scripture.

“We are all trade unionists. We are all civil rights activists. And it’s about time for all of us to get together and organize America like never before! It’s time to say to America, ‘We will not turn back now!’” he declared.

The Rev. Dr. Barber, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, and president of the North Carolina NAACP, is the architect of the Moral Mondays-Forward Together movement that began in North Carolina and is spreading across the nation. He charged that political extremists, backed by corporate billionaires like the Koch brothers, are pushing “an immoral agenda” that includes denying rights to workers, immigrants, women, African Americans, the LGBTQ community and others.

“And all these agendas intersect because all the same people fighting labor rights are fighting civil rights. So if they are together, by God, we ought to get together and fight them back!”

Working with allies is a winning strategy, President Saunders told delegates, pointing to the immense challenges we face. “The people who are trying to take out our union have a lot of money. That’s where they get their power,” he said. “But for workers like us, we get our power through solidarity. Solidarity with our union sisters and brothers, but also with a broad coalition of workers, retirees, students, clergy, community groups and even business owners who believe every worker deserves respect and dignity.”

The power of alliances with community organizations was demonstrated in an address by Barb Kalbach, board president of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Her fight with corporate-backed forces began with a personal fight to preserve her fourth-generation family farmer way of life.

But her fight is also AFSCME’s fight, she said. “What’s happening in farms is happening to you, too,” she said. It’s a “deliberate plan” by corporations and billionaires to “enhance their power in order to generate more profits,” she said. Fighting back “will take all of us pulling together, but when we’re done, family farms will then be passed to a new generation,” and we will have an economy “that values all of our public-sector workers.”

Paul Moist, president of our sister union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), offered his union’s support for AFSCME Michigan Council 25 in its fight against privatization of water services. He and members of his union will march over the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit and Canada next week.

The march is to show solidarity with AFSCME in opposing Detroit’s decision to turn off the taps to thousands for failure to pay their bills, and also to oppose privatization of the city’s public service jobs and to support the municipal retirees, who are faced with cuts to their benefits because of the city’s bankruptcy.

Among the successful member and ally campaigns showcased was one launched two years ago by New York’s Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000, which joined forces with New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, a statewide coalition of more than 130 community and consumer-based faith, labor, environmental, human services and other groups, to stop a planned downsizing of the State University of New York Health Science Center at Brooklyn (SUNY).

“Two years ago, mismanagement and budget cuts led the state to question our hospital’s mission and explore outsourcing its services,” said CSEA Region 2 Pres. Lester Crockett. “For us, this wasn’t just an attack on our jobs; it was an attack on patient care, our community and a proud New York institution.”

Together, CSEA and New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness put up a fight that made the difference. Crockett said hospital staff joined patients and preachers to make public demonstrations to save the institution.

The state backed down and “threats of cuts, outsourcing and closings stopped,” Crockett said.

Describing a successful campaign to raise the minimum wage in Minnesota, Dennis Frasier, a member of Council 5’s executive board, was joined by Kris Jacobs, executive director of the Jobs Now Coalition. Working together, they were able to get lawmakers to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2016.

AFSCME’s efforts to create a Medical Interpreters program in California were also highlighted during the program. Carlos Garcia, an interpreter and a member of UDW Homecare Providers/AFSCME Local 3930 explained how the union expanded its reach with the help of allies.

“To ensure quality of care and communication between health care providers and patients, the members joined forces with more than 40 organizations statewide including the Korean American Senior Association of San Diego County,” Garcia said.

Delegates approved 29 resolutions, including support for comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act, which would provide an avenue for undocumented immigrants to attend college. Maricruz Manzanarez, an executive board member of Local 3299 in California, shared her family’s story of struggle to stay together and achieve their American Dream.

“No matter your politics; no matter your birthplace; we are all human,” she said. “And the human dignities of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have no boundaries.”

Hard-working Cab Drivers Seek Union

by Joe Lawrence  |  July 17, 2014


CHICAGO  More than a thousand delegates to the 41st AFSCME International Union Convention hit the streets Wednesday in support of 12,000 Chicago cab drivers organizing as part of AFSCME Council 31. Delegates converged across the street from City Hall to show solidarity with the drivers, who are part of Cab Drivers United-AFSCME Council 31.

AFSCME International Union President Lee Saunders joined Chicago Federation of Labor President Jorge Ramirez, Illinois AFSCME Council 31 leaders Henry Bayer and Roberta Lynch, along with national civil rights leader Rev. William Barber, in addressing the rally. Cab Drivers United members David Mangum and Maxwell Akenten also spoke.

A report issued by AFSCME last month documented that Chicago’s 12,000 cab drivers on average are losing $7,531 annually as a result of regulations enacted in 2012 by City Hall. Increased lease rates, reduced work hours and increased credit card fees are among the regulatory changes that have drastically reduced the income of the drivers, most of whom work 60-70 hours a week for less than the federal minimum wage.

“Driving a taxi cab has never been an easy job,” Mangum told the rally. “But now it’s unbearable … they’ve put the squeeze on cab drivers.”

Drivers began organizing themselves into Cab Drivers United in the spring and have been rapidly gaining membership. Wednesday’s rally is another step forward in their campaign to win a voice in the regulatory process that controls their livelihood.

“They will be more powerful with AFSCME, and AFSCME will be more powerful with them!” AFSCME International President Lee Saunders told the delegates. “So let’s join their fight! Let’s stand together! Let’s join hands in solidarity and unite with the cabdrivers of Chicago!” “My brothers and sisters, thank you for standing with us in our fight for justice,” driver Atenken told the crowd. “We are AFSCME. Know that we will always stand with you, too. We will not forget this day.”


Sec.-Treas. Reyes: Unions Make A Difference

July 15, 2014

In a rousing keynote address at AFSCME's 41st International Convention in Chicago, Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes told the assembled delegates that unions do make a difference:

"Yes, we have endured bumps and bruises along the way, and no doubt there will be more to endure tomorrow, but we all still stand in a better place right now!… The countless families of public service workers are not the only beneficiaries of our work. Our efforts have paved the way for an immeasurable number of non-AFSCME and even non-Union American working-class families, so they too can find a way to a better life and ultimately, move this nation’s economy towards one that thrives…Unions make a difference."

You can watch highlights from her speech below, and visit the Convention website throughout the week for more videos, photos and updates.

America Will Succeed When Unions Succeed

July 17, 2014

On Organizing Day at the AFSCME Convention, delegates got a surprise video message from the President of the United States, and a boost of energy from the Secretary of Labor on Wednesday.

On a day when delegates heard the stories of brave member activists and Volunteer Member Organizers (VMOs), and adopted six resolutions setting forth the union’s organizing strategy going forward, President Obama’s message told delegates: “If I were looking for a good job with good wages that lets me build some security for my family, I’d join a union.”

Labor Secretary Perez followed by saying, “America will succeed when unions succeed! Make your voices heard. That’s the most important thing we can do to grow the middle class.”

Perez also urged us to mobilize to get engaged in the elections in November. “Too many people still don’t have a job,” he said. “Too many people are working a full-time job and living in poverty.” But that can change through political action, he noted. “Make sure that your voices are heard. Elections have consequences!”

Ramogi Huma, president of the newly formed National College Players Association, told delegates why he became involved in organizing for the rights of college athletes
and recounted his group’s efforts to help Northwestern football players organize. The players won a major victory in March when a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board determined, for the first time, that college athletes are employees and have the right to form their own union.

“After they signed the cards, many doubted that we’d win,” he said. “They stood up, they stood together and they won!” He said their victory “ends a period of 60 years in which the NCAA made a pay-for-play system” to skirt federal labor laws.

“I am fully aware that workers’ rights are under attack in this country,” he noted. “College athletes are not exempt from this.... Those who would try to strip away the rights of college athletes are on the wrong side of history.”

Standing up for workers’ rights – by organizing – was the theme of Wednesday’s special program. VMOs from several states told Convention delegates of their personal experiences about building union strength to protect their rights. They were joined by new AFSCME members from several states who explained why they chose to sign up.

Among them were Susan Rowe, RN, a VMO with Iowa Council 61, and Cory Quist, a law librarian with the state library of Iowa and a newly organized member of Council 61.

Quist and his co-workers were ‘at will’ employees without union protection. “Because we were not covered by a union contract, the governor could and did target us,” he said. “He wanted us to dig into our paychecks and fork over more for health insurance while the state was sitting on a pile of surplus cash. We knew that the only way forward was with the power of a strong union. So we organized!”

“I became a VMO because now more than ever it’s important for all us to do our part and organize non- union workers,” Rowe explained. “We know the only way to survive in a right-to-work state like Iowa is to grow membership, and to stand united against attacks on rights and benefits.”

Vermont home care provider Mary Warren received a warm welcome from Convention delegates as she recalled a three-year effort by the state’s providers to build a union with AFSCME. It culminated last year in one of the largest union elections in the state’s history and was the nation’s biggest organizing win in 2013.

“To the people I care for, my job is vital and I wanted to build a union so that home care workers in Vermont could advocate for ourselves and our clients,” she said. “I traveled throughout the state knocking on doors, having kitchen-table conversations with hundreds of home care providers just like me who wanted a voice. And just last year, Vermont’s 7,500 home care providers came together and overwhelmingly voted for AFSCME!”

Warren said it was “the biggest union election in Vermont history and the largest organizing win in the nation in 2013. And it is already changing lives. The contract we fought so hard for will lift thousands of providers out of poverty. In fact, we went from $7.25 an hour to $10.80 an hour.”

Delegates passed seven resolutions: Building Power: Winning Full Collective Bargaining Rights (3); Organized, Quality Health Care Interpreter Services (13); Organizing Retirees to Build Union Capacity (46); Building Power for EMS Workers (68); Organizing the Unorganized (91); Volunteer Member Organizers (99); and Beyond the Challenge of Harris v. Quinn (88).

Delegates also showed their determination to build union strength by passing seven constitutional amendments:

  • An amendment to include Organizing Committees among the groups whose affiliates may unite to send delegates to the International Convention
  • An amendment to increase the maximum value of a paper ballot, increasing the cap from 500 to 5,000 votes
  • An amendment on convening a Special Legislative District Convention to elect an International Vice President
  • An amendment to give a subordinate body 45 days to appeal after advance notice is given by the president of the establishment of an Organizing Committee within its jurisdiction
  • An amendement to allow the electronic printing and distribution of International Convention reports
  • An amendment to provide for electronic meetings of subordinate bodies

An amendment that allows councils and local unions to adjust per capita tax rates and dues each year by directly applying the average percentage increase in membership pay to their established rates.

Unions Are The Last Line of Defense for Working Families

July 15, 2014

We kicked off the 41st International Convention in Chicago with some big news: our union is 92,155 members stronger today than it was just a few months ago. 

President Lee Saunders made the announcement on Monday in his keynote address.

You can watch an excerpt of his speech below, and visit the Convention website throughout the week for more videos, photos and updates.

Melvin Hughes Elected to Executive Board

July 18, 2014

Members on Thursday elected Melvin Hughes as International Vice President representing the Southwestern Legislative District. Hughes won the seat with 12,349 votes. He is president and a founding member of the Houston Organization of Public Employees (HOPE)/AFSCME Local 123.

As president of HOPE, Hughes negotiated two labor agreements and four across-the- board raises for City of Houston employees. He oversaw a major campaign which reduced health care costs for all city employees, and he was part of the successful push to raise the city’s base wage.

Hughes works in the Department of Public Works and Engineering in Houston, and has worked for the city for 20 years. He will finish out the unexpired term of outgoing IVP Greg Powell.

A Message from President Obama to AFSCME Members

July 16, 2014


Today, President Obama urged our 4,000 delegates at the 41st AFSCME International Convention in Chicago to keep up the fight for working people:

“It’s people like you who make America work,” the President said. “And it’s unions like yours that helped build the greatest middle class the world has ever known.”

He vowed to stand with union members in the fight for better wages, retirement security and more flexible hours.

“Wages you can live on, and savings you can retire on, and workplace flexibility you can count on — whether you are a sanitation worker, a child care worker, or a home health aide. That’s what Americans who work hard and play by the rules deserve. That’s what we can achieve together, if we are bold, brave and determined enough.”

IVP Lillian Roberts: Living Legend

July 16, 2014


In recognition of a career spent fighting for the rights of working women and men in New York and Illinois, AFSCME on Tuesday honored International Vice Pres. Lillian Roberts with the AFSCME Lifetime Achievement Award.

Roberts, executive director of District Council 37, New York City’s largest public employee union, is serving her fifth term in that capacity. She also serves as vice president of the New York State AFL-CIO, vice president of the New York City Central Labor Council, and is co-chair of the Municipal Labor Committee.

President Saunders called Roberts “a friend, a colleague and a mentor to me personally and to countless others. Over and over again, she has stood up and fought for the hard-working people of New York City. Whether it’s for a fair contract, or against an outsourcing scheme, whether it’s getting members into affordable housing, or fighting harsh budget cuts – this sister has never, ever backed down.”

When she moved from Chicago to New York to join DC 37, she said, “all I cared about was the dignity of work, and I knew that I needed a union so I wouldn’t have to kiss somebody’s behind.”

That, she said, “is why we have a union. It’s the only force that you have that gives you the dignity. This union is the greatest in the world. It’s your mouthpiece for justice.”

AFSCME Adds More Than 92,000 Members

July 14, 2014

CHICAGO – AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders today announced that, even in the face of attacks from anti-worker politicians, billionaires and judges across the country (including the United States Supreme Court), AFSCME gained more than 92,000 new members during the past six months.

AFSCME nearly doubled the goal set in early January 2014 when the union launched its “50,000 Stronger” organizing campaign.

“Today, we are 92,155 members stronger, with new members from EMTs to home care workers, and we will continue our fight for the middle class and the future of this country,” Saunders said.

“Our opponents want to deplete the labor movement of resources, steal our power and silence our voices. They are even undercutting the most fundamental right we have as Americans: the right to vote. Yet, no matter the challenges that face us, the answer remains the same: Organize. Organize. Organize. ”

Included in the 92,000-plus new members are more than 20,000 home care workers, who were the target of the National Right to Work Committee funded lawsuit, Harris v. Quinn, which was recently decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. These caregivers joined AFSCME to protect quality care for children, seniors and people with disabilities.

Saunders announced the organizing victories during his keynote address on the first day of the union’s 41st International Convention.

“Just two weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court undermined the freedom of home care workers and child care workers. But if anybody thinks we’re giving up because things got harder, they are wrong,” Saunders declared.

VIDEO: We Are 50,000 Stronger

July 14, 2014

AFSCME members across the country took up the challenge of organizing thousands of new members as part of the 50,000 Stronger campaign.

This video follows Freddie Seavers, a corrections officer from local 2173 in Tennessee; Orson Williamson, a facilities electrician from local 304 in Washington State; and Nana Nash, a care coordinator from local 328 in Oregon in their bold, brave, and determined efforts to organize new members.

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