March This Weekend, Organize for the Next Four Years

by Lee Saunders  |  January 20, 2017

The inauguration isn’t the only mass gathering in Washington this weekend. In response to the swearing-in of the new president, thousands upon thousands of Americans are flocking to the nation’s capital to give voice to their views and their values — many of which are in conflict with the incoming administration.

I salute everyone who is taking to the streets for these marches, to speak their mind about the direction their country should take — there is no greater expression or exercise of our rights in a free society. Some of the labor movement’s finest hours were at events like these. Our nation is great precisely because it encourages this kind of demonstration.

The question is: Now what? After everyone has gotten back on the bus, how do we continue to apply pressure and generate heat? If these marches were nothing more than a one-off, then we have wasted an opportunity. With all the challenges facing our country, the progressive movement needs to build a sturdy and sustainable infrastructure from the bottom up, one that is capable of galvanizing people to take action locally. That’s when politicians in Washington — and in your state or community — take notice and respond.

What does this mean exactly? It means greater involvement in schools, workplaces and civic groups. It means rallying neighbors, for example, to save a health clinic that could close because of budget cuts. It means building coalitions to protect children and seniors, to reduce inequality and expand opportunity. It also means organizing workers, helping them achieve greater bargaining power and growing the ranks of labor unions. This engagement can take many forms — local marches, like many also taking place in cities and states nationwide this weekend, are an important movement-building tool.

President-elect Trump ran on a promise to directly address the very real economic anxieties of working people. Now, it’s time to make sure he keeps his word. Early signs are that he will govern on behalf of the 1 percent and corporate special interests, and on the backs of people struggling just to pay the bills. A tax cut for the wealthy is in the works. The Affordable Care Act is in jeopardy. National right-to-work is a real possibility.

The hard work of holding the Trump administration to account has to happen in Akron, Dubuque and Kalamazoo; in Tucson, Greensboro and Tallahassee. A series of crowd events in Washington, D.C. won’t provide a magic bullet; they have to be the launch, not the culmination. We have to harness the tremendous progressive energy in these marches, bringing it back to our hometowns to build power and make change.

If you’re marching this weekend, make sure when you go home that you talk to your family and neighbors and start building a groundswell. Carry a sign on Saturday, but organize and mobilize on Monday. We need more than catharsis; we need community action.

Lee Saunders is the President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO

The Women’s March is for Everyone

by Pablo Ros  |  January 19, 2017

The Women’s March is for Everyone

The Women’s March on Washington, which will be held Saturday – the day after Republican Donald Trump is inaugurated as the nation’s 45th president – is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people to our nation’s capital. More than 1.3 million people are expected to take part in sister marches around the world.

Since we came razor close to having a woman president, it’s perhaps fitting that the largest gathering to date of people in opposition to Trump’s misguided rhetoric is being led by women.

But the events are not exclusive to women. In fact, it’s not even an anti-Trump event. The march, in the organizers’ words, is “for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

Organizers of the Women’s March are calling on “all defenders of human rights to join us” and reminding the public that “women’s rights are human rights”.

Having said that, the reasons for participating in the march will likely be as varied as the marchers themselves. That’s because when it came to picking fights and distributing insults, Trump was equally offensive toward every minority group. Saturday will be a day to stand up for women’s rights – and to remember that the gender pay gap is real – but also LGBT rights, immigrant rights, workers’ rights, religious rights, transgender rights and more.

AFSCME members will participate in the march, and not just out of solidarity, but because the collective bargaining rights of public service workers will likely be under assault during Trump’s presidency.

Here are the event details for the march in Washington, D.C. Here you can find answers to common questions about the march. And here you can find a sister march close to you.

Iowa Vets to Pols: Our Issues Are Working Family Issues

by David Patterson  |  January 19, 2017

Iowa Vets to Pols: Our Issues Are Working Family Issues Veteran and AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President Danny Homan speaks at Iowa’s Veterans Lobby Day. (Photo by Tiffany Ricci)

AFSCME members were among hundreds of military veterans who gathered at the Iowa Legislature to demand support from state lawmakers for issues that veterans and working families care about.

Joined by Will Fischer, executive director of the Union Veterans Council of the AFL-CIO and other military veterans, AFSCME Iowa Council 61 President and International Vice President Danny Homan reminded his fellow veterans Wednesday that they have the same concerns as working families.

“Veterans want quality care and services, a government that works, a system that holds those who deliver services accountable, and educational policies that work for them and their families,” said Homan. “Working families want those things too. It’s the dream of every parent to see their child graduate college and find a rewarding career. It’s at the very heart of the work they do each day.”

More than 200,000 veterans live in Iowa and make up nearly one-tenth of the state’s population. Vets face nearly the same unemployment rate as other Iowans. Six percent of Iowa’s veterans live in poverty.

AFSCME Council 61 represents thousands of veterans who work as public employees at the state, county and municipal levels. Currently, many of these veterans face attacks on their collective bargaining rights from anti-union legislators in the statehouse.

According to the Iowa Starting Line, an online news site, Fischer said the rhetoric from politicians who claim to be pro-veteran doesn’t always match their actions.

“You can’t call yourself pro-veteran if you’re anti-worker,” Fischer said. “The veteran class and the working class is one and the same.”

Union Plus Scholarship Deadline: January 31

by Clyde Weiss  |  January 18, 2017

Union Plus Scholarship Deadline: January 31

Don’t miss the opportunity to apply for a Union Plus Scholarship, awarded annually to union members and their families, including those in AFSCME. The deadline is just weeks away –Tuesday, Jan. 31, at noon (ET).

Sponsored by the Union Plus Education Foundation, the Union Plus Scholarship program offers eligible applicants from AFSCME and other unions a way to defray the rising cost of higher education. During the past 25 years, over $4 million in scholarships have been awarded to students from more than 2,700 working families.

To learn more and apply, click here. Go here to learn about the eligibility criteria.

Scholarships are one-time cash awards ranging from $500 to $4,000. Students may re-apply annually. Scholarships offered for study starting this fall will be announced May 31 and recipients will be notified by postal mail during the first week of June. All applicants also will be notified via email.  

Don’t delay. There are just a few weeks left.

Those who apply for Union Plus scholarships are also eligible to apply for a Gerald W. McEntee Scholarship, honoring the legacy of McEntee, AFSCME’s president from 1981 until 2012. Under his leadership, AFSCME grew from 960,000 members to 1.6 million.

The scholarship is awarded to the applicant who best exemplifies McEntee’s commitment to growing stronger by joining together, building political power for working families, defending workers’ rights and supporting public services. It is a one-time award of $5,000 and may not be awarded twice to the same member.

The Union Plus scholarship application serves as the application for the McEntee scholarship. Information about the McEntee award can be found here. McEntee scholarship applications will be accepted through Jan. 31, 2017. Winners will be announced May 31, 2017. Read about the 2016 winner here.

Tom Price Is Coming for Your Health Care

January 17, 2017

Tom Price Is Coming for Your Health Care Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga.

On the campaign trail, President-elect Donald Trump promised not to gut Medicare. Just this week, he promised to replace the Affordable Care Act with an alternative that will include universal coverage.

But Trump’s choice to oversee federal health care programs has radically different ideas, calling into question Trump’s commitment to keeping his word.

Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, faces Senate confirmation hearings this week, starting Wednesday. He needs to answer many questions about his record and philosophy.

HHS is responsible for managing the programs that millions of Americans rely on for their health care coverage, and with Price running the show, all of them will be in jeopardy. Price is a longtime opponent of the Affordable Care Act, but Republicans don’t plan on stopping at repealing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. They also have their eyes set on privatizing Medicare and returning Medicaid to the states. 

All three moves could make health care inaccessible for millions of working people and retirees.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act, which is at the top of the agenda for Trump and his allies in Congress, could immediately take away health care for 18 million people and eventually remove some 30 million people from the rolls.

The Republican plan to privatize Medicare – long a favorite idea of House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. – would endanger the program by replacing guaranteed insurance for retirees with vouchers that could become worthless over time as health care costs rise.

Returning Medicaid to the states means less regulation to ensure quality care; in states run by politicians hostile to the social safety net, it could virtually disappear.

Price needs to answer questions about why the Republicans want to dismantle the programs that have provided health care for millions of people. That’s not all he needs to answer for; there are some serious questions about his ethics as well.

Dr. King, Labor Leader

by Lee Saunders  |  January 16, 2017

Dr. King, Labor Leader Friends and aides of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on balcony of Lorraine Motel pointing in direction of gun shots. (Photo by Joseph Louw)

The photograph is iconic. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., only 39 years old but the nation’s most prominent civil rights leader, lay fatally wounded on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. His lieutenants stood over his body, pointing frantically across the parking lot in the direction of the shooter.

Dr. King was in Memphis to support the city’s sanitation workers — members of the union I’m proud to serve as president, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees — who were striking in protest of poverty wages and dangerous, degrading working conditions. Their fight for dignity and respect was expressed with a simple, compelling slogan: “I Am a Man.”

Throughout his life, Dr. King (whose 88th birthday the nation celebrates today), highlighted the struggle of all working people to get a fair shake.

He’s best known for advancing the cause of racial justice. But he also had close ties to the union movement. Indeed, the 1963 March on Washington featured a prominent economic message. The marchers’ demands included a higher minimum wage, job training and a stronger Fair Labor Standards Act.

King understood the unbreakable links between labor rights and civil rights; he knew it was impossible to have one without the other. The needs of black Americans, he said at the AFL-CIO’s 1961 convention, “are identical with labor’s needs — decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”

AFSCME President Lee Saunders honors the life of Martin Luther King Jr. at the 45th Anniversary Celebration of the Memphis Sanitation Workers strike AFSCME President Lee Saunders honors the life of Martin Luther King Jr. at the 45th Anniversary Celebration of the Memphis Sanitation Workers strike. (Photo by John Focht)

There’s extra poignancy in this year’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. After all, it comes as the first African-American president prepares to leave the White House, a few days before the inauguration of a new chief executive who has stoked racial resentment. Just as civil rights are imperiled, Dr. King’s vision of economic fairness and the dignity of work is also under attack. Although the incoming president was elected on promises to lift up the working class, the available evidence suggests that his populism will turn out to be more rhetoric than reality.

And around the country, emboldened state officials are systematically undercutting the rights of working people to organize, bargain collectively and raise their voices at work. The result will be lower wages and benefits, less secure retirements and a hollowed-out middle class. And when public service workers — like the 1.6 million AFSCME members who pick up the trash, staff schools, drive the buses and answer the 911 calls — are disrespected, it also weakens our communities.

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we must not only promote diversity and racial progress, and commit to serving others. We must also meet the challenge of economic inequality and defend the labor rights that were a pillar of Dr. King’s work. We must do more to empower working families and expand opportunity for people of all races.

Lee Saunders is the President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO

When the Food Seems Part of the Punishment

by Pablo Ros  |  January 13, 2017

When the Food Seems Part of the Punishment

If you could take your favorite food to a desert island, what would it be?

This fun formulation is cruelly ironic for hundreds of thousands of prison inmates across the country who are stuck with their least-favorite food: Aramark’s offerings. The food is reportedly so bad (sometimes it comes infested with maggots) that it’s been the source of complaints and protests for years.

On Saturday, the Free Alabama Movement, an inmates’ rights group, will travel to Washington, D.C., to join a civil rights march and protest Aramark.

Aramark is a private food-service vendor that serves more than 380 million meals in U.S. correctional facilities each year. Prisoners say the food is often served spoiled and is anything but nutritious.

Because bad food tends to stir anger among inmates and can lead to riots, corrections officers represented by AFSCME have long advocated against the outsourcing of prison food to privateers like Aramark.

Minnesota learned this the hard way but corrected the problem by insourcing food service, while other states like Michigan can’t even hold Aramark accountable for admitted violations.

Let’s Not Forget: Obamacare Saves Lives

by Raju Chebium  |  January 13, 2017

Never mind the doomsday rhetoric coming from Obamacare’s critics.

Fact is, the Affordable Care Act barred insurance companies from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Obamacare also made it possible for 30 million people to get insured. Bottom line: The law saved lives.

That point was sharply underscored at a recent CNN town hall meeting by a former Republican voter – also a cancer patient and a small business owner – who asked House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., why Congress is rushing to repeal ACA without a replacement in place.

Then Jeff Jeans added: “I want to thank President Obama from the bottom of my heart because I would be dead without the Affordable Care Act."

Like Jeans, numerous others would also be dead if not for Obamacare. Remind the Affordable Care Act’s critics of that critically important fact.

Sign our petition to oppose Obamacare repeal here. Call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121, ask to be connected to your members of Congress and tell them to leave the law alone. 

A Threat to Public Service Workers is Headed Our Way – We’re Ready

by Clyde Weiss  |  January 13, 2017

A Threat to Public Service Workers is Headed Our Way – We’re Ready

“Something Wicked This Way Comes,” the title of a Ray Bradbury novel, is also a warning to millions of public service workers who have built lives of dignity and respect, thanks to their unions.

The “wicked” in this case are court cases backed by corporate billionaires like the Koch brothers that may soon get a hearing before nation’s highest court. It’s part of their campaign to weaken labor unions. They tried it before and failed, but this time they hope to succeed.

Public service workers – whether or not they belong to a union – could lose not only their bargaining power to improve wages and benefits, but also their ability to have a strong voice on the job and improve the services they provide to make their communities run.

We can see into the future by looking into the past – specifically, at what happened to private sector workers when their unions declined or disappeared.

“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,” according to a report the Economic Policy Institute issued last year.

In that time, wages hardly moved. In fact, for men without college degrees who weren’t unionized, “real wages today are substantially lower than they were in the late 1970s,” according to the report.

Coincidence? Not at all. This is what happens when unions are weakened, whether because of a decline in membership or because extremist politicians pass laws depriving workers of their collective bargaining rights.

There is a solution. “Rebuilding collective bargaining is one of the tools we have to reinvigorate wage growth, for low and middle-wage workers,” said Washington University sociologist Jake Rosenfeld, one of the report’s authors.

Corporate-backed groups are going after unions by pushing so-called right-to-work (RTW) laws at the state level. At the national level, they pushed a U.S. Supreme Court case called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which would’ve made right-to-work the law of the land. That effort failed. After Justice Antonin Scalia died last year, the eight remaining justices deadlocked and the case was returned to a lower court, where it remains.

But that’s not the end of the matter. Several cases that make essentially the same anti-union arguments as Friedrichs – and seek to undermine public service unions across the country – are making their way through the court system. After Donald Trump’s choice to replace Scalia is approved by the GOP-controlled Congress, the Supreme Court could accept one of those cases and side with those same forces that were behind the Friedrichs case.

It’s possible that even a justice nominated by Trump and approved by the current Congress may see through the deception at the heart of these cases. Regardless what happens, AFSCME will continue to fight for its members.

“The question before us, then,” asks labor organizer Dave Kamper, “is: how much stronger can unions make themselves before the full force of the onslaught hits us?”

Here’s our answer: Plenty.

We’ve already increased our membership despite the attacks. We’re determined to grow even stronger in the years ahead. We’re AFSCME Strong and we never quit making our communities and our nation better places to live.

You can do your part to protect yourself by joining AFSCME today. Find your local from this directory and sign up for membership without delay.

30 Million Reasons Not to Repeal Health Care

by Pablo Ros  |  January 12, 2017

30 Million Reasons Not to Repeal Health Care

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act took their first step to repeal the health care law without a replacement proposal. This is as bad as when Indiana Jones tried to steal the Golden Idol by replacing it with a bag of sand, and the consequences could be just as scary.

The Senate vote was 51 to 48 in favor of a fiscal 2017 budget resolution that sets up the repeal process, which is expected to take several weeks.

If congressional Republicans repeal the ACA, also known as Obamacare, but don’t replace it with a viable alternative, 30 million people are in line to lose their health coverage.

Senators who understand that the lives of millions of people depend on continuing health coverage were dismayed at the recklessness of their colleagues. One Obamacare supporter after another gave their reasons for voting against the resolution, even though no debate was allowed on the floor: Because there’s no replacement plan; because a yes vote would amount to stealing health care from the American people; because health care shouldn’t be just for the healthy and the wealthy; and so on.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said it was a matter of life or death, since “up to 30 million Americans will lose their health care, with many thousands dying as a result. Because you have no health care and you can’t go to a doctor or a hospital, you die.”

The millions of Americans who rely on ACA for their health care could provide millions more reasons against repealing the law. What are yours?

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