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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 disastercustomerservice@sba.gov.

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 http://freecollege.afscme.org/

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.”

The Voting Rights Act at 51: Why It Must Be Restored to its Full Power

by Erica Nash-Thomas  |  August 06, 2016

The Voting Rights Act at 51: Why It Must Be Restored to its Full Power

The 51st anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is August 6. Signed by Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson, the law sought to make sure African Americans – and all Americans – could exercise their right to vote freely. Unfortunately, exercising one of democracy’s most cherished rights remains a challenge for too many people.

The VRA was meant to end race-based barriers to the voting booth, such as poll taxes and literacy tests that Southern states, in particular, used to keep African-Americans from voting. Over time, because of the law, many of those barriers came down. Then, in 2013, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which held that a key provision of the VRA was unconstitutional.

The ink barely dried on that decision before the drive to suppress votes resumed, mostly in the form of voter identification (ID) laws aimed at keeping African Americans, other people of color and young voters away from the polling booths. North Carolina passed its voter ID law just days after the Shelby ruling.

Proponents of voter ID laws ostensibly claim concern about voter fraud. Yet experts keep looking for instances of rampant voter fraud – and they keep coming up empty. People have a greater chance to be struck by lightning than commit voter fraud, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

The Department of Justice also found “no apparent cases of in-person voter impersonation” after a review of its databases and other sources. That’s the same conclusion drawn from academic studies and investigative reports by journalists.

That is increasingly the view of the courts as well. Recently, courts have either limited or struck down voting restrictions in several states.  

A federal appeals court last month struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law, describing its provisions as a way to deliberately “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision” in an effort to reduce black turnout during elections.

Another federal court found that the Texas voter ID law violated the VRA. A federal judge also found parts of Wisconsin’s voter ID unconstitutional, and North Dakota’s voter ID law was blocked by a federal judge who said it unfairly burdened Native Americans. In Kansas, a judge blocked the state’s two-tier voting system, which required proof of citizenship to vote in local and state elections, but not in federal elections.

These victories underscore the true intent of voter ID laws – to deprive certain groups of citizens of the right to cast a vote. Unfortunately, that still leaves 15 states with new voting restrictions, just in time for the November elections.

Those are 15 reasons why we need to restore the VRA by passing the Voting Rights Advancement Act, pending before Congress.

VRA made a big, bold step in the right direction 51 years ago for the full right of the ballot box. It’s only right to honor that achievement. But we will really honor that achievement when the right to access and exercise the vote is fully protected.

Victory for Seniors: AARP Drops Membership in Right-Wing ALEC

by Clyde Weiss  |  August 05, 2016

Victory for Seniors: AARP Drops Membership in Right-Wing ALEC

AARP, acting in response to calls by a coalition led by AFSCME to withdraw its support for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has decided it will not renew its membership in the right-wing group.

"We will not renew our membership to ALEC,” AARP said in an email to Politico’s Anna Palmer. AARP reiterated its decision on its Facebook page, and added, “We would never work against the interests of older Americans and our engagement with ALEC was NOT an endorsement of the organization’s policies, but an opportunity to engage with state legislators and advance our members’ priorities.

The coalition had just begun circulating an organizational sign-on letter calling on AARP to cut ties with ALEC, pointing to the organizations history of crafting and pushing model legislation that would threaten retirement security, harm seniors, undermine workers’ rights and damage the environment, among other issues that are part of its corporate-backed agenda.  ALEC is funded by right-wing extremists such as the billionaire Koch brothers.

“ALEC has been at the forefront of protecting drug companies and their ability to charge unreasonable prices, has been a strong advocate against the Affordable Care Act and has opposed Medicaid expansion, forcing lower-income retirees to make terrible choices between paying medical bills and buying groceries,” the letter stated. “ALEC pushed voter ID laws that make it harder, not easier for seniors and people of color to vote. ALEC also blocks action on climate change, causing irreparable harm to the world we will leave our children and grandchildren.”

ALEC’s ties to AARP recently made headlines with news that AARP was on a list of sponsors of ALEC’s 2016 annual meeting in late July. Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Michael Hiltzik noted:

“ALEC has pushed for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which has saved Medicare enrollees millions of dollars by closing the Medicare drug benefit ‘donut hole.’ It has opposed Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. It has targeted public pensions, pushing to cap benefits and shift workers toward defined contribution plans, which layer more market risk on individual workers’ shoulders.”

AARP, like AFSCME, is a powerful advocate for retirement security and many other issues affecting retirees and those who are about to leave the workforce. By removing its support for ALEC, AARP has demonstrated that it will not be a partner in ALEC’s extremist agenda.

America Has Gone Seven Years Without a Raise

by Olivia Sandbothe  |  July 26, 2016

America Has Gone Seven Years Without a Raise

It’s now been seven years since the federal hourly minimum wage was raised to $7.25. Since 2009, the cost of living has risen by 11 percent—but many workers are stuck with the same paltry paycheck.

Last year, 2.6 million hourly workers earned wages at or below the $7.25 minimum. More than half were older than 25. For minimum wage workers, even basics like housing are out of reach. If the minimum wage were raised by just 10 percent, the number of people living in poverty in the United States would be reduced by 2.4 percent.

In fact, the minimum wage would need to rise by nearly 25 percent to match the purchasing power of the 1960s wage. During that same period, CEO salaries have increased by more than 700 percent.

If you work, you should make enough to make ends meet. Nobody can support themselves or a family on only $170 a week. The Coalition of Labor Union Women and allied organizations are drawing attention to the outdated minimum wage with the hashtag #RaiseItDamnIt. Please take the opportunity to contact your elected representatives and demand a raise for America’s low-wage workers.

Reyes Reelected Secretary-Treasurer

July 22, 2016

Reyes Reelected Secretary-Treasurer Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes celebrates with delegates after the announcement that she was re-elected at the 2016 AFSCME Vegas Convention Thursday, July 21. (Photo by Tessa Berg)

AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes was reelected to a second term on Thursday with 912,547 votes. "I’m humbled by this honor, and I look forward to working with President Saunders to continue the progress we've made over the last four years," Reyes said.

Secretary-Treasurer Reyes is the first woman to serve as AFSCME’s secretary-treasurer.

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