Blog Feed Blog Tue, 3 May 2011 05:00:00 +0000 AMPS en hourly 1 California AFSCME Local Raising Funds After Workplace Death Thu, 24 Apr 2014 13:21:00 -0500 In his five years as a custodian at the University of California, Berkeley, Damon Frick was known as a dedicated worker who cared deeply for his family and for the UC students he worked among.

“Damon was always the first person I saw and spoke to on Saturdays and Sundays, when he worked on the fifth floor [of International House],” student Jeff Schauer recalled in the Daily Californian. 

On April 7, Frick was cleaning windows in a campus auditorium when the mechanical lift he was standing on collapsed. He passed away in the hospital the next day. 

Frick was a proud member of AFSCME Local 3299, which has long advocated for stronger safety standards for workers at UC. The local is now raising funds to help his family.  

Frick is survived by his partner, Denise, and two children.   

“He loved his kids,” says co-worker Cliff Addison. “That’s all he talked about – his kids.” 

Local 3299 raised more than $3,000 for the Damon Frick fund. You can help with a donation by visiting this page.

Florida Governor’s Drug Testing Policy Unconstitutional Thu, 24 Apr 2014 12:00:00 -0500 The U.S. Supreme Court stood with Florida state employees Monday when it refused to hear Gov. Rick Scott’s appeal to a circuit court decision that found his random drug testing policy unconstitutional.

Governor Scott’s 2011 executive order mandated all 85,000 state employees submit to invasive drug testing, without any suspicion of drug use. In response, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida filed a lawsuit challenging the order on behalf of AFSCME Council 79, which represents 40,000 public workers. The U.S. Supreme Court decision ends the appeals process for Governor Scott, leaving in place a ruling by the 11th Circuit Court, which found that the random testing violates Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches.

“The public servants who would be impacted by this executive order have been working under a needless cloud of suspicion, treating them like suspected criminals ever since the executive order was signed by Governor Scott,” said AFSCME Florida Council 79 Pres. Jeanette D. Wynn (also an AFSCME International vice president) on Monday. “Today’s decision by the court lifts that cloud once and for all and says that people don’t lose their constitutional rights simply because they work for the public. We hope the governor finally reads the writing on the wall and stops demonizing the tens of thousands of public workers who, under his executive order, would be required to sacrifice their right to be free from invasive searches as a condition of their employment.”

The Supreme Court decision is the latest in a series of victories for the privacy rights of state employees. The Scott administration wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars trying to defend unconstitutional drug testing policies.

That’s why the ACLU of Florida also filed a public records request to determine how much money the state spent fighting court decisions that declared its drug testing policies unconstitutional.

“Despite his claim that he is a small-government conservative seeking to limit the power of government in our lives and government expenses, Governor Scott spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars defending policies that require people to submit their bodily fluids for government inspection,” said ACLU of Florida Exec. Dir. Howard Simon. “The courts have spoken time and again on this issue, and it’s time for Governor Scott to cut his losses and face the facts. The government can’t subject entire classes of people to urinalysis without reasonable suspicion or a genuine threat to public safety.”

Investigative Reporter Wins Prestigious Prize for Coverage of Private Prison Abuses Wed, 23 Apr 2014 17:18:00 -0500 Pat Beall, a reporter for the Palm Beach Post, won the 2014 Hillman Prize for Newspaper Journalism for her investigative series shedding light on human rights abuses and corruption within the private prison industry.

Beall’s multi-part investigation linked a pattern of human rights abuses to corporate cost-cutting.

In bestowing the award, the Sidney Hillman Foundation noted that Beall compiled 13 years of national data to document “the squalor, violence and abuse” that result from a pattern of hiring too few corrections officers or officers with little experience.

Just as importantly, Beall’s investigation traces the nationwide push for private prisons to laws crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, an extremist group funded by the Koch brothers that is also responsible for crafting and pushing anti-worker laws that seek to destroy labor unions.

ALEC-backed laws encouraged growth of the private prison industry and “bloated prison populations, even as crime rates inched downward,” the Foundation noted.

Read Beall’s full investigative series here.

BOLD Action in Minnesota Preserves High-Quality Public Service Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:46:00 -0500 When residents and workers of the small town of Olivia, Minn., discovered that its school board members planned to outsource its custodial staff, they made a BOLD move to stop it – the Bird Island Olivia Lake Lillian District (BOLD) coalition sprang into action.

BOLD quickly mobilized with AFSCME custodians, the teaching staff, paraprofessionals and the food service staff in the school district, as well as parents and local residents to hold a rally to show strength and solidarity with the custodial staff. School custodians, members of AFSCME Local 1686, first heard about the outsourcing scheme in March.

In mid-April, a special school board meeting was called to vote on the action to secure formal proposals to outsource the work, and that’s when BOLD really showed its strength. More than 150 concerned citizens contacted school board members and packed the board meeting to voice their concerns and tell the board they did not support outsourcing the custodians’ jobs.

Outsourcing often has a negative impact on the quality of public services and lowers wages in a local economy.

The call to preserve high-quality public services by preventing outsourcing was heard loudly and clearly. The board voted six-to-one against taking bids for the work.

“We really mobilized in the community and made sure that the school board members understood that parents and taxpayers and school employees did not support the outsourcing ploy,” said Council 65 staff representative Serena Vergin. “BOLD showed that the entire community stood with these workers.”

The AFSCME custodians are now in contract mediation with the school system and hope to reach a contract settlement covering them through 2015.


Union Families, Not Just Members, Are Better Off Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:30:00 -0500 We all know that union members are paid more and receive better benefits than their non-union counterparts.  But that doesn’t mean that union contracts only help union members.  When it comes to retirement and health benefits, unions are good for the whole family.

A new study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that workers with union contracts are far more likely than nonunion workers to receive benefits that their family members can use. The effect is particularly dramatic when it comes to workers who are in same-sex domestic partnerships.

Workers who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement are about four times as likely to have a retirement plan that includes survivor benefits for a same-sex partner, married or unmarried.  And union health care packages are almost twice as likely to allow same-sex partners as beneficiaries.

LGBT Americans have long struggled to secure their rights at work, and benefits for same-sex partners still lag far behind those for heterosexual couples.  But as the BLS statistics show, unions are a critical voice in the fight for equality, and AFSCME will continue to fight for families of all kinds.

Four Ways Paul Ryan Will Jeopardize Your Future Health Care Coverage Mon, 21 Apr 2014 13:06:00 -0500 The federal budget bill, authored by U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and approved this month in the House of Representatives, privatizes Medicare and takes billions from Medicaid.  It’s so unfair to current and future retirees that even many arch-conservatives refused to endorse it.

One of its worst provisions would raise the age when people can start receiving Medicare benefits. Here are four ways that could hurt you:

  • The House budget would delay the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67, starting with baby boomers born in 1959. Those retiring at 65 without employer sponsored health care coverage would be left to fend for themselves for two years. This section of the Ryan budget should be called, “Good luck to you – just don’t get sick.” 
  • Retirees who do have employer coverage also could be in trouble. The reason is that employers would carry the full cost of health care for those ages 65 and 66 – retirees who currently have Medicare as their primary insurance. If the eligibility age were 67 today, employer health costs would be $4.5 billion higher. So it would be no surprise if many employers shift these costs to retirees by raising premiums, deductibles and co-pays. Even worse, some employers will drop early-retiree coverage altogether to avoid paying so much more.
  • Retirees who are 65 and 66 won’t have an easy time buying individual insurance policies. That’s because the Ryan budget repeals provisions in the Affordable Care Act that protect consumers from the worst insurance company abuses.  Once again, insurers will be able to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. So, if you’re one of the millions of younger retirees who had cancer, high blood pressure or diabetes, good luck buying health insurance at any price.
  • Finally, if the eligibility age was 67 today, Medicare’s Part B premiums would go up 3 percent for all participants. Why? Because the healthiest and youngest retirees would no longer offset spending for the sickest and oldest retirees. The result would be higher costs across the board for all who remain in Medicare.  

Americans need a federal budget that sets a course for a better future, not one that curtails health care coverage for those who need it most.

Click here to see how your member of Congress voted to change your health care coverage.


PayWatch Raises Awareness about Income Inequality Mon, 21 Apr 2014 12:57:00 -0500 The average CEO in America made $11.7 million in 2013, or 331 times as much as the average worker, according to AFL-CIO’s 2014 Executive PayWatch, which helps raise awareness about income disparity in our nation.

According to PayWatch, the average CEO made 774 times more than minimum wage workers.

“America is supposed to be the land of opportunity, a country where hard work and playing by the rules would provide working families a middle-class standard of living,” the report observes. “But in recent decades, corporate CEOs have been taking a greater share of the economic pie while wages have stagnated and unemployment remains high.”

On PayWatch, you can hear from a Walmart worker who makes $12,000 a year as a customer service manager. That’s less than many CEOs make in a single hour. So many Walmart employees are in need of government assistance, in fact, it’s estimated that taxpayers subsidize the company’s profits to the tune of nearly a million bucks per store per year.

Check out PayWatch and help spread the word that income inequality is taking our country in the wrong direction.


Minnesota AFSCME Partners with Autism Society to Improve Children’s Lives Mon, 21 Apr 2014 12:54:00 -0500 ST. PAUL – Child care providers are in a unique position to identify the signs of autism in a child, since these become apparent between the ages of 2 and 3.

That’s why AFSCME’s Child Care Providers Together (CCPT) in Minnesota joined hands with the Autism Society of Minnesota to launch a pilot program that is the first step toward offering affordable autism training and certification to providers across the state.

Maria Thor, a CCPT member and provider from St. Paul, emphasized the usefulness of this pilot training program.

“They gave us some great tools and techniques to help children self-moderate and self-regulate,” she said. “These are useful not only with children on the autism spectrum, but everyone. Because everyone is on the same page and has the same expectations, nobody feels ‘different’ or is given special treatment.”

Providers are also learning the different ways to talk to parents about certain behaviors they may notice in a child, and how to encourage parents to have their child evaluated for autism.

Through this and other training programs organized by AFSCME’s Child Care Providers Together, providers and parents can team up to assist the child’s progress with activities specifically designed to help children with autism.

Twenty Minnesota child care providers participated in this innovative training, which is another example of how partnerships between AFSCME members and other local organizations improve lives in communities across our nation.

AFSCME Member to NLRB: Bring Fairness to Union Elections Mon, 21 Apr 2014 12:43:00 -0500 To Brenda Crawford, a registered nurse in California, and her colleagues at Universal Health Services, Inc. (UHS), forming a labor union to have a voice on the job proved to be a very difficult task.

UHS management did everything it could to make it impossible for their workers to have a fair union election. Management launched an aggressive campaign to block the union, including making anti-union communications to employees every few days, in person and by sending messages over the company’s internal electronic mail system.

Anti-union text message blasts were sent to the registered nurses’ personal cell phones, even though use of the system was previously limited for emergency messages.

That’s why Crawford, who since began working a second job and is now a member of United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals (UNAC/UHCP), an AFSCME affiliate, is speaking out against these unfair practices. This month, she testified before the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, in Washington, DC, to help other workers form their own unions without having to overcome unfair obstacles employers often place in their way. The NLRB is considering changes to union election rules that would bring fairness to workers who wish to have a voice on the job.

Crawford told the NLRB there was nothing union organizers could do to respond with equal vigor or speed to UHS management’s ugly tactics. The workers seeking to join the union held their election last July and lost. Crawford said workers’ personal phone numbers and email addresses should be shared with the union in order to level the playing field.  

Crawford also said she supported other NLRB proposed rule changes that would remove obstacles from workers seeking union representation.

In addition to Crawford’s testimony, UNAC/AFSCME also filed a statement with the NRLB supporting the proposed rule changes designed to bring fairness to union representation elections. Despite opposition to the changes by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, AFSCME will continue to fight to make sure workers are allowed a voice on the job.

A City’s Turnaround Point, Led by Its Public Workers Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:20:00 -0500 Monroe, La. – When Monroe City Attorney Nancy Summersgill earlier this month announced she would terminate AFSCME Local 2388’s contract, it was a low point for a community where public services were neglected for far too long.

In recent years, reductions in city personnel deteriorated public services. Just a few years ago, 13 sanitation trucks served local residents.  Now, only five do.

But city workers who are members of Local 2388 stood up to this latest attack on their community’s wellbeing and rallied immediately in support of protecting public services and their contract. They pointed out major contract violations and convinced Summersgill and Mayor Jamie Mayo to reverse their union-busting position. Today, city government is more willing than ever before to speak directly with workers.

AFSCME workers are fighting to increase city personnel and for an across-the-board $1-an-hour raise. They want all workers to make at least a living wage of $10 an hour.

“Now that we’ve protected our rights, we can do anything,” said Robert Johnson, president of Local 2388. “We’ve doubled the size of our union since this fight began. We’re always stronger if we stand together on behalf of the community and the workers.”

California Pensions Boost State Economic Growth Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:07:00 -0500 Public employee pensions benefit more than just the retirees who receive them. As a new report out of California shows, pensions are good for the whole economy.

The state-conducted study concludes that CalPERS, the California public employee retirement system, creates more than $30 billion in economic growth each year.

When workers save for retirement, they are ensuring they will have money to spend at local businesses in later years.  California’s retired workers spend enough to add $30.4 billion to the state’s economy. The study estimates this spending is responsible for creating more than 100,000 jobs. That’s in addition to the $20.7 billion the CalPERS portfolio invests in local businesses.

When people like San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed talk about dismantling California retiree benefits, they’re not just threatening the livelihood of retired public servants. Pension “reform” is a danger to jobs and growth in every part of the economy.

AFSCME President Urges Students to Be “Disrupters” Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:04:00 -0500 State College, Pa. – AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders encouraged Penn State University students to be “disrupters” and join the labor movement if they want to make a difference today, much like the sanitation workers of AFSCME Local 1733 did in 1968.

Saunders gave the 23rd annual Philip Murray Memorial Labor Lecture this week at Penn State’s School of Labor and Employment Relations. The audience included students, faculty members, AFSCME members and members of other unions.

The lecture is named for Murray, the first president of the United Steelworkers of America, who was also the second president of the Congress of Industrial Organizations. It brings labor leaders together with members of the university community to talk about the role of the labor movement in a democratic society.

Saunders said the sanitation workers were risk-takers whose bold strike “upset the social order” and challenged the status quo. He also talked about the labor movement’s role as the last line of defense for people who are beset by student-loan debt, low wages, disappearing retirement security and other financial pressures. He reminded the audience of the labor movement’s achievements and said unions are the key to an economy that works for everyone.

Unions are more important than ever at a time when there is a tremendous gap between the very wealthy and the average working family, he said.

“Look, we aren’t bashing the rich. This isn’t about income envy,” Saunders said. “What we’re saying is that our nation isn’t going to get any stronger economically if money keeps flowing out of workers’ pockets and into Donald Trump’s.”

There is another problem with tremendous income inequality, he said. “When so much wealth and power rests with so few people, they exercise outsize influence on our political system, drowning out other voices.  They rig the system.”

Unions are the answer, he said, because they “play a role in lifting up all workers whether or not they’re in unions. The contracts we bargain put pressure even on non-unionized employers to increase wages and benefits. In areas where there is a union, you get paid more. Not just if you’re in the union. All of you get paid more.”

Saunders mentioned the walkouts by workers in fast-food chains, as well as the recent move by football players at Northwestern University to join a union. In 2014, he said, “people view joining a union as radical.”

“Learn about and become part of the American labor movement,” he said. “Be a disrupter, just like the sanitation workers of Memphis were in 1968.”

AFSCME Ohio Members Protest Pay Discrimination Wed, 16 Apr 2014 12:32:00 -0500 Public employees of a child support agency in Mahoning County, Ohio, are trying to figure out why they were excluded from a pay increase given to other county employees in exchange for agreeing to pay more in pension contribution costs.

The workers are members of AFSCME Local 3577, Council 8, and they are protesting what they see as unfair treatment on the part of the county government. They are employed at the Mahoning County Child Support Enforcement Agency, or CSEA.

“We are not asking to be rewarded,” said Local 3577 Pres. Jeannette Droney. “CSEA employees are only asking to be treated the same as other Mahoning County employees.”

In 18 other county agencies, including the county commissioner’s office, all affected employees received a cost-neutral pay adjustment that makes up for the increase in individual pension costs. The so-called “pension flip” places the full pension contribution costs on the employee and ends the county’s past practice of covering a significant portion of them.

“We’re not against paying our share of pension costs,” Droney said. “We just want to have the county make up the difference to our members like they did with everyone else, including CSEA management.”

David Arquilla, vice president of Local 3577, said it was an issue of fairness.

“We want to know why our members are singled out,” he said.

Wisconsin to Connecticut: 2011 Could Happen to You Wed, 16 Apr 2014 11:58:00 -0500 Ken Weaver, a Wisconsin AFSCME member who fought with thousands of others in 2011 to try to preserve workers’ collective bargaining rights, recently spoke to hundreds of Connecticut union members, warning them that the same could happen to them if they’re not vigilant.

Weaver, a retired Wisconsin Department of Transportation construction inspector and member of AFSCME Local 758, Council 24, spoke at the “We Are Not Wisconsin” forum held in Middletown, Conn., and sponsored by the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), of which AFSCME Connecticut Council 4 is a member.

Despite its name, the forum is meant to bring home the reality that Connecticut, like any other state, could lose its union rights if right-wing lawmakers gain control of the Statehouse and the governor’s mansion.

Weaver noted that Wisconsin was once a union-friendly state. Then elections in 2010 turned the tables on workers, bringing in a right-wing governor, Scott Walker, and tipping the balance of power in the Legislature to favor anti-union forces.

“That is all this is – politics,” Weaver said.

Weaver told his Connecticut sisters and brothers that though workers in Wisconsin “may have been knocked down, we’re fighting every day. The war is long from over. It never ends.”

Dawn Tyson, president of Connecticut AFSCME Local 538, Council 4, was among those impressed by Weaver’s message. A processing technician for the Department of Social Services, she said Weaver’s comments “really brought it home for me. They made me feel energized. But they also awakened me and made me realize the threat is very real. It is an ever-present danger.”

In Anti-Worker Vote, Missouri Legislators Bow to Outside Donors Wed, 16 Apr 2014 11:50:00 -0500 Despite strong opposition from both sides of the aisle, extremist lawmakers in the Missouri state Legislature are pushing ahead with a so-called “right-to-work” law that could mean a big pay cut for the state’s middle class.

HB 1770, sponsored by Eric Burlison of Springfield, stalled this week after nearly a third of House Republicans voted against it in a procedural vote.  But Speaker Tim Jones says he’ll do whatever it takes to get the votes he needs to pass the bill.  Why?  Because big national donors like the Koch brothers and fiscal radicals like Grover Norquist issued their marching orders, and House leadership isn’t about to disappoint the people who help pay their bills.

Many members of the Legislature know that “right-to-work” isn’t right for Missouri, and Missouri’s workers don’t support it. Republican John McCaherty says he voted against it because he knows that “right-to-work” will hurt his constituents. If HB 1770 were to pass, he says, “here in the St. Louis area we undoubtedly would see a drop in wages.”

But concern for the people you represent is no way to get ahead in a political climate that’s all about out-of-state money.  One Republican representative, Ron Hicks of St. Louis, found himself hounded by interest groups who smeared his name and even sent robo-calls to his home phone number following his “No” vote.

“I understand right-to-work is a big issue across the nation, but I think I should still be able to vote the way my constituents want me to vote,” he told the Washington Post. “This one time I’m going outside the box to stick up for my constituents and all the sudden I’m a RINO [Republican in name only]?”

If the bill passes the Legislature, the measure will appear on a statewide ballot in August, where wildly misleading ballot language will obscure the real intent of the law.

But Missouri voters should make no mistake: “right-to-work” isn’t about your rights at all. It’s simply an attempt to sow division among coworkers and drain union resources so that workers can’t bargain for better pay and conditions.

Jersey City Medical Center Workers Fight off Attacks, Ratify Contract Wed, 16 Apr 2014 11:46:00 -0500 Jersey City – Despite a year and a half of threats and attacks from management and its union buster attorneys, workers at the Jersey City Medical Center successfully voted recently to ratify their contracts by overwhelming majorities.

In doing so, more than 600 center employees, who are members of AFSCME Locals 2254 and 3680, District Council 52, cemented their desire to preserve a long collective bargaining history.

Workers at the JCMC were subjected to undue intimidation and harassment, and several union leaders were terminated and disciplined. These unprecedented attacks did not deter our sisters and brothers from the fight to protect their collective bargaining rights. They voted to authorize strikes and filed charge after charge of illegal activity with the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, which sided with AFSCME members.

“By approving and signing their contract, workers at JCMC made clear that bully tactics and illegal acts will not silence the workers,” said Rich Gollin, executive director of AFSCME District Council 52. “They stood strong, preserved 40 years of collective bargaining rights and sent a clear message that workers’ rights cannot be bought and sold.”

Having survived the million-dollar union-busting attacks, Locals 2254 and 3680 will rebuild to strengthen their resolve to prevent future ones. With the help of DC 52 and AFSCME International, workers at JCMC will continue to have a strong voice in their workplace.

Public Libraries, Loved by All, Remain Under Attack Mon, 14 Apr 2014 10:30:00 -0500 Despite an overwhelming majority of Americans who love and use their public libraries, legislators are slashing library budgets and cutting back on library services.

According to a recent report, more than two out of three Americans “are actively engaged with public libraries.” And even those who aren’t regular users recognize the value libraries provide to the community.

Despite this, funding for libraries has declined in recent years, and like other public service workers, library employees’ benefits are under attack. In Detroit, for example, library workers are facing serious threats to their retirement security after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder pushed the city into bankruptcy.

Local and state decision-makers across our country should heed citizens’ calls to support library services. Public libraries remain central to the life of their communities.

AFSCME is proud to represent more than 25,000 library workers and trusted helpers nationwide, more than any other union. We are also a leading advocate for equitable pay for library workers and for full funding for public libraries.

On National Library Workers Day, April 15, we extend a special thanks to our sisters and brothers who are employed in public libraries for the valuable services they provide. And we encourage everyone, during National Library Week, April 13-19, to visit your local library, check out that book you’ve been meaning to read, and thank the library employees.



In Mudslide Recovery Effort, Value of Strong Community Services Fri, 11 Apr 2014 15:58:00 -0500 A month after a mudslide devastated the small community of Oso, Wash., killing at least 35 people, the community is still picking up the pieces. As rescue crews search more than 250 acres of wreckage and engineers work to control further flooding, people in the surrounding Snohomish County are trying to rebuild their lives. At times like these, the value of strong community services and dedicated public servants becomes most apparent.

“I’m immensely proud to be governor of a state that so quickly rallies around those in need, and to work with employees who care so deeply for the people they serve,” Gov. Jay Inslee recently said in a statement of appreciation to Washington state employees who are helping in the recovery effort. “Keep doing what you’re doing – it matters.”

AFSCME member Darren Bowerman, a corrections officer with Local 1221/ WFSE, lost six family members in the mudslide. WFSE established a fund to collect donations for the Bowerman family in this difficult time. If you would like to contribute, you can write a check to the Foundation for Working Families with a note that the donation be disbursed to the Bowerman family. The check can be mailed to:

Foundation for Working Families
Bowerman Family
314 First Ave W
Seattle, WA  98119

More than two dozen state agencies are involved in the recovery effort.  While workers with the Department of Transportation are clearing roads and monitoring safety conditions, the Department of Fish and Wildlife is transporting personnel and equipment at the scene, and the Department of Social and Health Services is working to coordinate the delivery of food aid and mental health services to the people affected.

But these first-line services are only part of the story. State workers with the Department of Revenue and the Office of the Insurance Commissioner are helping people who lost homes and property to find financial assistance. The Department of Licensing has set up an on-site station to help people replace identification documents that were lost in the mudslide. And the Department of Early Learning is working with child care providers to make sure they are prepared to respond to these kinds of emergencies.

Our AFSCME sisters and brothers in Washington are earning well-deserved praise for the valuable services they provide at times of emergency. But it’s important to remember that they help strengthen their communities through their work not just when disaster strikes, but year-round.

California Votes for Responsible Public-Private Deals Fri, 11 Apr 2014 15:52:00 -0500 California elected officials are standing up to protect the public services in their communities from corporate outsourcing.  The state Assembly in Sacramento recently passed HR 29, a resolution that urges the state to embrace the principles of the Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda.

The Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda is a set of guidelines for responsible public-private partnerships developed by In the Public Interest, a group that advocates for public control of public services. By adopting these principles, governments pledge not to enter into contracts with private companies unless those companies pay their employees a living wage and make their financial records open to the public. The agenda also calls for competitive contracts that can be canceled if corporations fail to uphold their promises to taxpayers.

California is the largest jurisdiction to pass the agenda so far.  Even though the resolution is nonbinding, it sends a strong message to corporations that see public services as an opportunity to turn a profit on the taxpayer’s dime.  In recent years, the Golden State was targeted by corporations trying to buy up everything from its universities and prisons to its water resources.

Many of these outsourcing projects replace quality programs that employ highly-skilled civil servants with shoddier services that pay workers less than a living wage.  It's a bad deal for workers and for the public.

“We believe the civil service system is the way to provide the best quality services at the lowest price for California’s taxpayers, and the pathway to a sustainable economic future for our state,” said AFSCME California Political and Legislative Dir. Willie Pelote.


AFSCME New Mexico Questions Governor’s Priorities Thu, 10 Apr 2014 14:40:00 -0500 New Mexico legislators and labor leaders are questioning whether Gov. Susana Martinez cares more about weakening the influence of labor unions or critical issues like job growth. Concerns about Governor Martinez’s priorities grew following a recent speech in which she announced she will fight to end the deduction of union dues from state workers’ paychecks.

“This is another example of Governor Martinez pandering to the ultra-right wing at the expense of working families and their legal rights through collective bargaining,” said AFSCME Council 18 Exec. Dir. Connie Derr. “The governor’s statement that no one should speak against her ideas was an ill-advised attempt to bully and intimidate public employees. She is very much out of touch with state employees and the services provided.”

Several New Mexico senators are saying the governor’s focus should be on more important issues such as job creation, lack of transparency in state agencies, education reform, and water conservation and preservation.

“New Mexico has a strong history of respecting worker and union rights,” said State Sen. Michael Padilla in a statement. “The governor’s desire to limit those rights is the wrong direction for New Mexico.”

Padilla points out that New Mexico lost 40,000 jobs since Governor Martinez took office. “How is she planning to address that, other than promoting the tax cuts she’s given to large corporations?” he asks. “The Legislature, through the Jobs Council, has created a solid plan to create 160,000 jobs, over the next 10 years, targeted at high growth industries to get our state back on its feet.”

Immediately following Governor Martinez’s malicious statement against working families, AFSCME Council 18 began circulating a petition urging New Mexico residents, families, union members, and friends to urge the governor to abandon her divisive tactics.

AFSCME Fights 2009 Wisconsin Layoffs Thu, 10 Apr 2014 11:29:00 -0500 AFSCME District Council 48 is fighting to regain the jobs of more than 20 Milwaukee County courthouse janitorial workers who were laid off in 2009 by then-County Exec. Scott Walker, as punishment for their membership in the union.

Walker, who is now the state’s governor, and the Milwaukee County Board, which carried out the dismissals, are named in a lawsuit AFSCME filed recently in federal court. The suit seeks a court order to end the ill-conceived and illegal subcontracting that followed the layoffs. It also demands the custodians who lost their jobs because of Walker’s unconstitutional actions be rehired, and be given back pay for their lost time.

The former custodians unsuccessfully fought to be reinstated and lost their rights to seek preferential treatment for other county job opportunities in December 2012.

“Our union believes the secret e-mails that recently came to light showed Walker and his county government advisors routinely sought to punish workers for their membership in and association with the union,” said Milwaukee District Council 48 Exec. Dir. Boyd McCamish. “We have seen that some politicians, like Scott Walker, are willing to use any illegal and unconstitutional tactics to interfere with citizens’ rights. Our union will fight any governmental interference with the right of free association.”

Legislators, Business Leaders and Workers Urge Increase in Minimum Wage Thu, 10 Apr 2014 11:28:00 -0500 A wide variety of advocates and speakers, from legislators and business leaders to minimum wage workers, came together recently in support of an increase in the federal minimum wage.

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders led the rallying cry at the event, held inside the Capitol in Washington, DC. He called on all legislators to do the right thing by American families and vote to raise the federal minimum wage, which is $7.25 per hour.

“Nobody who works every day should live in poverty,” Saunders said. “Nobody who works every day should struggle to put food on the table. Nobody who works every day should have to choose between keeping the lights on and feeding the family. We are better than that! The workers who get up early, go to bed late, and sometimes go straight from one job to another deserve better than that!”

Speakers at the event were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, Ruben Jones, a wage worker who makes $8 an hour, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, Anna Hovland, a server at two restaurants and a member of the Restaurant Opportunities Center, California Rep. George Miller, AFL-CIO Sec.-Treas. Liz Shuler, Gina Shaefer, co-owner of a group of independent Ace Hardware stores and a member of Business For a Fair Minimum Wage, and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken.

AFSCME co-sponsored a Minimum Wage Bus Tour led by Americans United for Change that traveled to 11 states with a simple message: Give America a raise!

Senator Harkin and Representative Miller introduced legislation to give America a raise. Their bill would increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by 2015, adjust the minimum wage each year to keep up with the rising cost of living, and raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, which is at $2.13 per hour.

Help us give America a raise by calling on your representative in Congress. Dial 888-851-1916.

AFSCME Sec-Treas. Laura Reyes Joins Women’s Fast for Families Wed, 09 Apr 2014 12:00:00 -0500 Despite stereotypes to the contrary, the majority of immigrants to the United States are women and children. And as the number of deportations of undocumented immigrants increased, women are disproportionately impacted.

That’s why AFSCME Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes this week joined 100 women leaders, from across the country, in the Women’s Fast for Families. Calling for both comprehensive immigration reform and an immediate end to all deportations, Reyes and AFSCME allies are putting pressure on President Obama and congressional right-wing lawmakers to do the right thing. Their two-day fast follows a month in which more than 1,600 women in 35 states, Mexico City and Washington, DC, fasted for 24 hours.

“In fasting we hope to feed the courage of our elected leaders to pass immigration reform,” Reyes said. “We want to show our solidarity with immigrant families who are torn apart by deportation. We must continue to pressure lawmakers to fix our broken immigration system.”

Nearly 30 years passed since the last federal immigration overhaul in 1986, signed by Pres. Ronald Reagan. When President Obama halted deportations of “Dreamers” in 2012, it was presumably in recognition of the fact that immigration reform was long overdue. It didn’t make sense, many agreed, to punish individuals who arrived in this country as children through no fault of their own.

But while the number of deportations of young immigrants slowed, outdated and unjust immigration laws continue to be enforced for everyone else. Since Obama assumed office in 2009, 2 million people have been deported. And the damage caused by these deportations affects countless families, including many American children who end up in foster care.

 Immigrant workers have held up this country’s economy for decades. We urge President Obama to take administrative action now to grant relief to the millions of families who are victimized by deportation.

Backroom Deals in Arizona Enrich Private Prison at Taxpayer Expense Wed, 09 Apr 2014 12:12:00 -0500 A private prison corporation already rakes in $45 million in taxpayer dollars each year in the state of Arizona, with a contract that virtually guarantees the company fat profits no matter how it actually performs.  But that wasn’t enough for the GEO Group, as a recent flap in the Statehouse reveals.

The GEO Group operates 59 private prisons across the United States, making it the nation’s sixth-largest prison system.  Last year the group turned $115 million in profits and paid its CEO nearly $5 million. But they didn’t get there through healthy competition or better business practices. 

When State Rep. John Kavanagh, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, drew up this year’s corrections budget, he didn’t listen to the Department of Corrections, which did not request additional funds this year.  Instead, he turned to the advice of GEO’s lobbyists.  The result was a $900,000 handout.  Kavanagh’s generosity toward the corporation may have something to do with the fact that they were the top donors to his most recent campaign.

The $900,000 budget item was removed by the Senate following a public outcry.  However, GEO Group continues to benefit from sweetheart deals in the state of Arizona.

GEO Group has contracts with the state of Arizona that include lockup quotas of 95 to 100 percent.  This is an exceptionally high rate among private prisons.  Lockup quotas are guarantees the state will provide a prison with enough inmates that the operator can meet its bottom line.  Unsurprisingly, this practice comes with some unintended consequences.

In GEO’s case, this includes hundreds of cases of abuse and neglect in chronically understaffed prisons, all while costing Arizona taxpayers $3.5 million more per year than state-operated institutions.  But then again, why bother providing a quality public service when politicians are willing to prop up corporate profits no matter what?

Who’s Afraid of Wisconsin Voters? Thu, 10 Apr 2014 12:00:00 -0500 Madison, Wis. – In an effort to make it difficult for voters to cast ballots against him, Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill that restricts early voting.

The new law will make it harder for people who want to vote early and in person. Opponents say it is Governor Walker’s attempt to limit turnout in the heavily Democratic cities of Milwaukee and Madison, where voters were permitted extended hours during the 2012 Presidential election.

Low-income voters (especially those who work two shifts, lack transportation or child care) often find it difficult to work their schedules around traditional voting times. Now, such voters will have to cast their ballots no later than 7 p.m. on weekdays in the two weeks prior to an election. Making it even more difficult, early voting is no longer legal on weekends.

Walker, who repealed collective bargaining rights for public service workers in 2011, may want to tamp down the Democratic vote that could end his Presidential hopes, but he’s not shy about courting favor with rich corporate and other lobbyists. While limiting voting hours for those most likely to oppose him, he privately signed a bill that expanded by seven weeks the time friendly lobbyists may start making campaign donations.

Walker has become a skilled practitioner in the art of undermining democracy. Showing him the way out of Madison in the 2014 election is a top priority for labor, progressives – and all of those in Wisconsin who believe in fair play.