Blog Feed Blog Tue, 3 May 2011 05:00:00 +0000 AMPS en hourly 1 NYC District Council 1707 Mourns Loss of Organizer Pioneer Wed, 20 Aug 2014 12:54:00 -0500 AFSCME District Council 1707 in New York City is mourning the passing of Betty Powell, one of the original organizers and members of the nation’s first Head Start locals in the nation. 

Powell was respected throughout the union movement and by child care advocates as a pioneer for child care workers’ rights.  Her passion for the labor movement and workers’ rights went far beyond her local and New York City, as she traveled the nation to participate in AFSCME International conventions, New York State AFL-CIO COPE conventions, and meetings of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women and other national organizations. 

DC 1707 Exec. Dir. Victoria Mitchell said that Betty Powell was an inspiration to her and so many others. 

“Betty never stopped championing for the rights of child care workers and all workers to have basic dignity and respect,” Mitchell said. “She will be missed and she can never be replaced.  She was regal in her stature and she was always a lady, but she was always a fighter for just causes.” 

As the president of AFSCME Local 95, Powell’s efforts helped secure fair wages for Head Start workers. She was also treasurer of District Council 1707. After Local 95 became chartered by AFSCME in 1976, it became a leader in striving for higher wages and expanded benefits. Today, Local 95 still has the highest wages of Head Start workers in the nation.

Powell started her Head Start career in 1966 when she became a Head Start family worker.  Her last position was as an adult education coordinator. She attended elementary and high school in New York City and later attended the School of Continuing Education at New York University.  She obtained an associate’s degree in Social Work at City College and furthered her education at Empire State College. 

She is survived by two daughters, six grandchildren, a brother and a sister.

Powell will be missed, but the benefits of her successful leadership and activism will live on.

LA Unions Try Innovative Community Approach Wed, 20 Aug 2014 12:45:56 -0500 Los Angeles labor and community organizations joined forces in an innovative program of coordinated bargaining that seeks to “Fix LA” services and economy at the same time.

The goal of the coalition is to negotiate labor issues such as wages, benefits and workplace safety along with community issues like improving public safety, increasing city efficiency and creating more affordable housing. The hand of public service workers will be strengthened with the involvement of individuals who benefit from city services the most.

The coalition is comprised of six city labor unions: SEIU Local 721, AFSCME District Council 36, The LA/OC Building and Construction Trades Council, LIUNA Local 777, Operating Engineers Local 501, and Teamsters Local 911. They are joined by several community partners, including the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC), National Action Network, Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE) and the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE).

The group believes that changes in the economy require that they modify the traditional approach to bargaining. This new platform allows community and labor groups to bargain and work side-by-side.

“Every decision the city makes about our city services and operations affects our lives, our neighborhoods and our families,” said the Rev. William Smart, a Fix LA clergy member with the SCLC – Southern California. “We’re excited to be a part of this historic approach to the bargaining process and to have a seat, literally at the table. Our joint demands are designed to lift up the voices and needs of all Angelenos.”

Fix LA’s campaign to address pressing community concerns officially launched in March with its groundbreaking “No Small Fees” research report. It disclosed the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars spent by the city each year on toxic “swap” deals with Wall Street banks and unnecessary banking fees.


BBQ & Politics Potent Mix in Kentucky Thu, 14 Aug 2014 16:03:45 -0500 The green machine was in the house earlier this month at the 134th annual St. Jerome Parish Picnic in Fancy Farm, KY.

Known as the world’s largest picnic, the event is equally famous for its political speeches as it is for its barbeque, and AFSCME members came from all over the state to hear from the candidates.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic challenger, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, were the star attractions at this year’s picnic. Lundergan Grimes lambasted McConnell for turning his back on the concerns of Kentuckians.

“Thanks to you, D.C. stands for ‘doesn’t care,’” she said.

Lundergan Grimes said she is the candidate who cares about Kentucky, explaining how she would focus on helping women, students and coal miners.

“It was obvious to me that the energy and attendance favored Alison Lundergan Grimes,” said Gary Watson, a computer science instructor at Jefferson County Public Schools and the political chair of AFSCME Local 4011. “When her supporters paraded into the picnic, you could really see the grassroots energy.”

AFSCME members are not just concerned about the Senate race. Just as important are the down-ballot races for Kentucky’s state legislature – especially making sure that lawmakers continue to fend off efforts to pass a regressive “right-to-work” law.

Kentucky is one of only two southern states that have resisted “right to work,” which undercuts wages and weakens the voice of workers. The Kentucky House has a majority of members who are pro-worker, but only by five seats.

Only by casting our votes for pro-worker candidates in November may we continue to protect our bargaining rights, wages and benefits, as well as our voice on the job.

A Higher Earning Principle at Kentucky State Wed, 13 Aug 2014 14:06:00 -0500 Maybe the Koch brothers can learn something from Raymond Burse, interim president of Kentucky State University (KSU). Burse, after learning that some two dozen university workers were earning as low as $7.25 an hour, decided to give up more than $90,000 of his salary so each would make at least $10.25.

Burse has high expectations and demands for his staff.

"I thought that if I'm going to ask them to really be committed and give this institution their all, I should be doing something in return," he told The Washington Post. "I thought it was important."

Burse's salary was set at $349,869. But before accepting that salary, Burse asked how many university employees earned less than $10.25 an hour, an amount some say is a living wage. Burse then started talking with members of the KSU Board of Regents about the gesture more than two weeks before the board met to approve his contract.

"This is not a publicity stunt," he said. "You don't give up $90,000 for publicity. I did this for the people. This is something I've been thinking about from the very beginning."

Burse's salary is now set at $259,745. The raise in pay for those employees will stay in place after a new president is selected and it will be the rate for all new hires as well.

Renewing Voting Rights Wed, 13 Aug 2014 14:01:00 -0500 This month marks the 49th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965, a law signed by Pres. Lyndon Johnson that was intended to enforce the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees all citizens the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

But that law has been undermined during the last several years by extremist governors, right-wing legislatures and the U.S. Supreme Court, making the promise of the Voting Rights Act just that – a promise without sufficient legal guarantees.

There are many reasons AFSCME is calling on Congress to swiftly pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014. Here are a few:

  • Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, gutted a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act. AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders said in response to the court’s ruling that it “pushed our nation in reverse after decades of hard work to make voting accessible for every American.”
  • In Wisconsin, anti-worker Gov. Scott Walker recently signed a bill that restricts early voting, making it harder for young persons, persons with disabilities, and low-income voters who sometimes have to work two shifts to make ends meet, to get to the polls. 
  • In Ohio this year, Gov. John Kasich scrapped rules that allowed people to register to vote and, at the same time, cast early in-person absentee ballots.
  • A report just issued by the National Commission on the Voting Rights, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, reveals that one year after the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, minorities continue to experience discrimination in their efforts to cast votes in several Southern states affected by the court’s decision.

What can you do? Click here to sign a petition to your Senate and House members urging them to move forward with the Voting Rights Amendment Act.

Senate Faction Rejects More Jobs Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:59:00 -0500 Members of Congress had a real opportunity to prove to the American people that they truly care about creating jobs. Not just by their words – they could have proved it with their deeds.

But extremist right-wing senators led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) showed their true colors by voting to block a bill that would have meant more jobs for American workers.

The measure they scuttled on July 30, the Bring Jobs Home Act, was introduced by Sens. John Walsh (D-MT) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). The legislation would have eliminated some tax incentives that corporate CEOs use to increase their profits by sending our jobs overseas.

“Millions of American jobs have been sent overseas in recent decades,” Representative Walsh said on the floor of the Senate. “Too many large corporations have opened factories in countries like China or Mexico, while closing factories in the United States. We need to do what we can to stem the tide and reward companies that bring jobs back.”

The bill would close the loophole that some multinational corporations use to claim a tax deduction for the costs of moving jobs overseas. It also creates a new 20 percent tax credit for companies that bring jobs back to the United States.

AFSCME has long opposed outsourcing jobs overseas and strongly supports this legislation.

Next time this comes up – and it will – members of Congress must side with American workers. Profits will rise when people have money to spend, and that money will come from good American jobs.

AFSCME’s Got Talent! Tue, 12 Aug 2014 12:03:00 -0500 We asked AFSCME members to share their talent on stage at the 41st International Convention and the results were amazing.

The grand prize winner (the contestant who raised the most money overall, throughout the contest) was Jack Campbell, Local 1771 (Pennsylvania Council 13), who sang a song he composed called “Lifeline,” about “becoming united and being together as one.” Campbell, a member of the Local 1771 Executive Board, won two airline tickets anywhere in the contiguous United States. 

The contest’s “PEOPLE’S Choice” winner (the contestant who raised the most PEOPLE contributions on the day of the finale) was Reuben Simmons, president of New York Local 814, Unit 6662, Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA)/AFSCME Local 1000. He won a two-night stay at a Hyatt or Hilton hotel anywhere in the contiguous United States.

The competition raised more than $14,000 for the PEOPLE fund.

When Simmons isn’t busy in his maintenance job with the City of Beacon, New York, he uses his musical talents to bring the union message to young people. He began rapping in 2010, when he was newly elected in his local and was becoming active in the Next Wave program.

“When I first got involved with CSEA, they sent me to the AFL-CIO Young Workers Summit in Washington, DC,” he says. “I started hearing about the challenges that young workers have and the importance of getting young people involved so that the union lasts.”

He continues, “I always felt that music motivates people, and especially the younger generation.  Right now people aren’t hearing about the union.  We built this country, but people, and especially young people, think that we’re dinosaurs or that we aren’t around anymore.”

Simmons says he worried at first that his union-flavored hip-hop was too corny, but after performing at conferences and conventions, he’s seen the positive influence it can have on people – even those who aren't in his target audience.

“I started doing it as a way to inspire younger workers and Next Wave members, but it touches the older generation too,” he says.

You can see highlights of more performances here

San Jose Cuts Endanger Public Safety Tue, 12 Aug 2014 11:36:00 -0500 Cutting the pay and pensions of city employees has become a public safety issue for one of California’s largest cities.

After San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed implemented the cuts, an alarming number of city employees left to pursue better wages and benefits elsewhere.  As a result, the San Jose Police Department’s 911 Emergency Dispatch Center is operating at critical staffing levels.

Every 911 dispatcher is now required to work at least 30-plus hours of mandatory overtime a month so emergency calls can be answered. Also, many are required to work four hours beyond their normal 10-hour shift and given just a few hours advance notice. 

“People are leaving because of the attack on our pensions,” says Kellie Carroll, a 24- year veteran of the Police Department and former dispatcher who since transferred to a lower paying job in the Police Department to escape working 14-hour days.

“It’s not just our pensions,” Carroll adds. “The mandatory overtime and inability to hire qualified people has slashed our morale – people don’t feel valued anymore. We have fewer and fewer qualified job applicants because potential dispatchers would rather work at a smaller agency that pays more and has better benefits. We’re no longer competitive.”

Radio dispatchers and 911 call receivers are faced with making critical life and death decisions everyday. It takes unique skills to accomplish these tasks successfully, which results in increased difficulty attracting capable people willing and able to assume these tremendous responsibilities.

“Longer work hours create a difficult work environment,” says Jennifer Hern, police radio dispatcher and AFSCME Local 101 shop steward. “It hurts morale. This is not only unfair to employees, but it’s also unfair to the residents we serve. They count on us to be prompt and efficient to ensure their safety and comfort in an emergency, but if we are overworked and understaffed we can’t guarantee them that satisfaction.”

Newly hired dispatchers (following months of pre-employment testing and background checks) require 18 months of combined classroom and one-on-one training before they can function as solo dispatchers, so it is impossible to increase staffing in a hurry. San Jose cannot compete with career opportunities in neighboring cities, and staffing levels continue to decline. Communications staffing in its police department is down more than 30 percent of authorized positions.

“Everyone who lives in San Jose should expect public safety to be the mayor’s top concern, yet our staffing levels continue to drop, causing 911 calls to wait longer and longer before being answered,” says Karen Schlussel, a 911 call taker. “Letting any 911 call wait longer than it has to is not acceptable to me as a professional or to the public when minutes could mean the difference between life and death.”


Psst! Income Inequality Is Hurting the Country! Tue, 12 Aug 2014 11:18:00 -0500 Standard & Poor’s, a major credit rating agency headquartered in New York City’s financial district, provides financial research and analysis on stocks and bonds. Lately S&P has been telling wealthy Wall Street banks and investors something they may not want to hear: Income inequality is hurting the country.

Economists at Standard & Poor’s Rating Services recently published a research study that concludes “the current level of income inequality in the U.S. is dampening GDP growth, at a time when the world's biggest economy is struggling to recover from the Great Recession and the government is in need of funds to support an aging population.”

In other words, income inequality is hurting long-term economic growth, which is bad for everyone, Wall Street included.

The S&P study is “a small but important sign of how a debate that has been largely confined to the academic world and left-of-center political circles is becoming more mainstream,” according to New York Times columnist Neil Irwin.

It’s about time the 1 percent heard from one of their own about the harmful effects of income inequality.

Our Election Work Starts Now! Tue, 12 Aug 2014 10:14:00 -0500 AFSCME members are at the leading edge of an intensive labor get-out-the-vote effort across the nation, with early voting already underway in many states. Unless we can increase voter turnout for candidates who support working families, anti-union forces will continue to undermine our rights and living standards.

In 2010 too many working families stayed away from the polls, allowing a wave of tea-party politicians to sweep into governors’ mansions and congressional offices, where they turned their backs on working women and men with policies that favor corporate chiefs and billionaires.

“We cannot have a repeat of 2010,” President Saunders said. “If we get our people out, we win. If we don’t, we face a real disaster for public service workers, and all working families.”

This November, AFSCME will work overtime to support candidates who will protect collective bargaining rights, preserve retirement security, ensure that every American has decent health care coverage and stand as a bulwark against the corporate billionaire-backed, tea-party agenda. Every race is critical, including these gubernatorial contests:

To win, we must vote in greater numbers than our opponents. It’s time to register to vote and vote early where available. If you want to volunteer to help, you can fill out a form here.

Mo’ Maggots, Mo’ Fines Tue, 12 Aug 2014 10:07:00 -0500 For the third time this year, in two different states, food service outsourcer Aramark was hit by fines for violations involving its operations at corrections facilities. State authorities should apply an old umpire’s rule of thumb – “Three strikes, you’re out!” – and cancel Aramark’s contract.

The latest penalty, a $130,000 fine, was imposed in July by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections for ongoing violations, including maggots in prison kitchens. 

This followed a $142,000 fine imposed in April for short staffing.

And in March, Aramark was hit with a $98,000 fine by the Michigan Department of Corrections for violations that included unauthorized meal substitutions, not preparing sufficient meals for the inmates and employing workers who fraternized with prisoners. 

That’s a grand total of $370,000 in fines!

“When is enough, enough?” Christopher Mabe, president of Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA)/AFSCME Local 11, asked earlier this year. Good question. 

Last week, at a hearing before the Ohio Legislature’s Corrections Institution Inspection Committee, President Mabe, who is also an AFSCME International vice president, testified that Aramark’s numerous infractions left the prison system unstable. In addition, he said, outsourcing work to Aramark costs taxpayers money in staff and monitoring.

“Not only are these contract violations causing unsafe prisons," Mabe said, “but costs also are shifted over to food service by additional monitoring, staff reallocation, additional inspections and increased security.” 

Last month, the OCSEA leader called on lawmakers to end the state’s contract with the outsourcer.

“Aramark has a pattern of not only poor food quality, but food shortages, low staffing levels and security breaches,” he recalled. “It’s well past time to pull the plug on the Aramark contract.”

New Koch, Same as the Old Koch Mon, 11 Aug 2014 14:09:22 -0500 Don't be fooled by the recent USA Today column in which Charles Koch, a man who made billions while trampling workers' rights, shares his supposed deep concern for working families, young people and the disadvantaged.

The column is all part of a larger, cynical public relations campaign meant to reform the brothers' now-tarnished image. Thanks in part to progressives and labor unions, the Koch brothers backroom machinations have come to light. Thus, the Kochs have moved into damage control.

But behind Charles Koch's newfound faux-populism are the same dangerous ideas that he and his brother David have peddled in secret for decades.

It began in April with a Wall Street Journal article in which Charles Koch portrayed himself as a freedom fighter and pledged to uphold the values of dignity, respect and equality for all.

Read the full article here »

Is Detroit About to Repeat Chicago’s Parking Meter Debacle? Thu, 07 Aug 2014 16:09:00 -0500 By In the Public Interest

Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr announced he plans to ignore the lessons of Chicago’s parking meter debacle – and an overwhelming vote by the City Council – and seek bids to outsource the city’s parking department.

Chicago taxpayers are still being raked over the coals after a 2009 contract to outsource the city’s 36,000 parking meters to a Wall Street-backed corporate consortium. The 75-year contract was hailed as a cure for the city’s budget woes, but ultimately cost the city $1 billionin lost revenue and control over its parking services. Now Orr is on the verge of making the same mistake in Detroit, with plans to issue a request for proposals from private firms to buy or manage the city’s parking meters, parking garages, and towing operation, in spite of the Council’s six-to-two vote against the proposal. 

Outsourcing deals, like what Orr proposes, sacrifice the city’s long-term interests in the name of a quick fix to a short-term budget crisis. He would be wise to take a lesson from Chicago’s experience.


Wisconsin Community Rallies Against Outsourcing Thu, 07 Aug 2014 15:59:00 -0500 Labor and community allies continued grassroots efforts, with a rally and a march, to protect the jobs of 28 custodians and grounds crew at the University of Wisconsin-Superior.

Earlier this summer, UW-Superior administrators sent “at risk” notices to the frontline employees. Since then, the workers and the greater Superior community have come together to say “not in our town.”

Nearly 4,000 people signed a petition to oppose the outsourcing of these jobs.  Add your name here.

AFSCME Retirees: Also Bold, Brave, Determined! Thu, 07 Aug 2014 15:52:00 -0500 The AFSCME Retiree Council reelected its officers for another two-year term and made plans to step up retirees’ political involvement in the 2014 elections at its annual meeting, held in Chicago in conjunction with the recently convened 41st International Convention. More than 230 AFSCME retiree leaders attended the meeting, and more than 50 were official convention delegates.

Reelected were: Chair Gary Tavormina (New York Retiree Chapter 82); Vice-Chair Phyllis Zamarripa (Colorado Retiree Chapter 76); and Secretary Jim Moore (North Carolina Subchapter 165).

“It’s amazing how the AFSCME Retiree Council has grown since I first became involved,” Zamarripa said. “We now have almost 250,000 dues payers in 43 chapters. Just like the working members, we’re focused on organizing.”

The Retiree Council agenda included an organizing workshop and featured presentations by International staff on topics such as political and legislative action, Social Security and Medicare, pension protection, the Harris v. Quinn legal decision, PEOPLE fundraising and AFSCME Advantage member- benefits, all of which led to lively discussions.

The retirees also heard from two members of Congress, Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Stephen Horsford (D-NV), and from AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders and Sec.-Treas. Laura Reyes.

“We’re seeing attacks on collective bargaining, union rights, voting rights, pensions. We have to make our voices heard every day,” President Saunders told the retirees. He emphasized the importance of the elections this November, with 36 governors’ races and hundreds of state legislative races.

“It’s critical that we get rid of the people who are trying to destroy us, like Govs. Scott Walker and Rick Scott,” he said. “When it comes to fighting the bad guys, some of our best foot soldiers are the retirees. We clearly need your help this fall.”

“The retirees are ready,” Tavormina said. “In fact, we’ve been training for fights like this all our lives. For most of us, that’s a pretty long time.”

For more information on AFSCME Retirees, click here.


AFSCME Members Help Toledo Residents During Water Crisis Thu, 07 Aug 2014 15:45:11 -0500 TOLEDO, Ohio – Last week, a toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie forced city officials to close the drinking water supply to 500,000 residents. AFSCME members jumped into high gear to make sure bottled water was distributed to humans and animals endangered by the natural disaster.

The three-day crisis, now officially ended, began Aug. 2 when a massive patch of green slime, apparently caused by phosphorus from the runoff of farm fertilizer, spread throughout the lake, which supplies fresh water to Toledo’s residents. The governor declared a state of emergency and public service workers began to distribute bottled water.

Members of AFSCME Local 101 (Council 8), who work in the Dayton region, were joined by AFSCME members from Cleveland and Columbus to buy and transport bottled water to residents of the stricken city. Council 8 also turned its union hall into a distribution point.

“This affected the entire city and Toledo’s AFSCME members – from city workers, county workers, child care providers, to our members at the Toledo Zoo – we were all on the job,” said Sandy Coutcher, AFSCME’s Toledo regional vice president.

Such a huge water crisis left no one untouched. That meant members of AFSCME Council 8 were even helping other AFSCME members obtain safe bottled water. Among those expressing gratitude was Rita Wilson, a child care provider who offers 24-hour care to as many as 15 children during a day.

“I’m glad the union was here to help us,” said Wilson, who is an executive board member of Ohio Child Care Providers Together/AFSCME Local 4027. “Even though the water was declared safe to drink this morning, with the small children I care for, I am glad to get more bottled water for them for the next day or two until things get back normal.”

“This crisis put us to the test, and it may not be over yet,” said Don Czerniak, president of AFSCME Local 7 (Council 8), representing city workers – including water department employees who participated in the bottled water distribution efforts. “We’re ready to do whatever it takes to serve our community and the people of Northwest Ohio and Michigan who depend on Toledo water."

Shhh! Don’t Make the Rich Guy Feel Uncomfortable Wed, 06 Aug 2014 12:18:00 -0500 Something fishy is going on with Rhode Island’s pension funds. Consider the evidence:

• Before Gina Raimondo was elected State Treasurer in 2010, the Rhode Island pension system had few dollars invested in risky Wall Street hedge funds, private equity and venture capital. Today, it has $2 billion invested in them.

• If you’re taking more chances with your money, you should earn a higher rate of return. But instead, Raimondo’s hedge funds have performed poorly, delivering below average returns.

• In addition, investment fees paid by the state are higher than normal – three times higher than before Raimondo came along. She has shelled out some $70 million in fees to Wall Street.

• Some of those fees could be flowing to Point Judith, a venture capital firm created by Raimondo herself! And while she claims to have no conflict of interest, it certainly doesn’t look good!

• Raimondo has stolen pension benefits from public employees by diverting $2.1 billion in cost-of-living adjustments for state workers to pay new fees for hedge funds.

• Not surprisingly, these hedge funds are in love with Raimondo and have showered her with campaign contributions. If Raimondo gets elected governor of Rhode Island in November, it’ll be in large part thanks to her Wall Street friends.

It’s only natural that Rhode Island residents would want to know the details of the contracts Raimondo has signed on their behalf. More specifically, they want to know how much hedge fund managers are reaping in profits.

But when a Rhode Island newspaper asked this very question of Raimondo, her office replied in a letter to the assistant attorney general that the public will never know this information if she has a say in it because she doesn’t want to make Wall Street executives feel uncomfortable.

“Fund managers keep this information confidential to help preserve the productivity of their staff and to minimize attention around their own compensation,” Raimondo’s office wrote.

“Treasurer Raimondo shows time and time again whom she really cares about – hedge fund managers and Wall Street operatives,” said J. Michael Downey, president of AFSCME Council 94. “We will continue to demand transparency in regards to all pension information. The time has come for the Treasurer to treat public employees and taxpayers in Rhode Island with the same respect she has for her Wall Street friends.”

Ryan’s ‘New’ Plan Is Same Old Tue, 05 Aug 2014 17:39:00 -0500 Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) keeps trotting out the same old plans to shred the U.S. safety net but calls it something else. His most recent scheme to cut anti-poverty programs comes with buzzwords like “innovation,” “flexibility” and “individualized services,” but it’s the same tired ideas.

We know that successful federal programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) and Head Start reduced the nation’s poverty rate by more than one-third between 1967 and 2012, lifting 45 million Americans out of poverty.  But Ryan’s poverty scheme, like the Ryan budgets that preceded it, would leave millions of people at greater risk than they are today. The focus of this “new plan” is to cut public services by combining programs, reducing spending and lowering accountability for the states.

Specifically, Ryan’s plan would combine 11 federal programs into one funding stream for the states.  Among the programs he would combine are SNAP, child care, job training, public housing, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and energy assistance. Giving states flexibility to eliminate standards and safeguards in return for dwindling federal dollars is no bargain for millions of Americans, many of whom hold jobs that fail to pay a living wage and rely on these programs.  This is a plan to shred the safety net, not strengthen it.

Under the Ryan formula, when the next economic downturn strikes, states would be forced to cope with increased needs with reduced revenue collections.  As a consequence, they would be forced to cut funding for these programs, cut funding for other public services, or both.

Rather than cut anti-poverty programs, we need to grow the economy and create jobs, and ensure that jobs pay a living wage and workers are free to organize. Ryan’s plan wouldn’t do that. Nor would it expand access to education and job training, or safeguard access to affordable child care and transportation. For all those reasons, it’s a nonstarter.

‘Don’t Mess With Texas, ALEC!’ Fri, 01 Aug 2014 12:00:00 -0500 It’s that time of year when the American Legislative Exchange Council, better known as ALEC, brings together wealthy corporations and the politicians who do their bidding at its annual meeting, held this week in Dallas, Texas.

For ALEC’s 41st annual meeting, out-of-touch politicians are giving their full attention to corporate lobbyists instead of being back in their districts creating jobs. They are treated to high-priced steak dinners and staying at a luxury hotel that boasts the largest collection of art and antiques ever assembled in an American hotel.

Given that the group has been around for more than four decades, it’s a wonder the middle class hasn’t suffered more damage from ALEC. But it’s done plenty of it and with the help of its wealthy donors seeks to inflict more.  ALEC was behind the 2011 Wisconsin law that took away collective bargaining rights from public employees.  And it also took away people’s voting rights.

Much of ALEC-drafted legislation is designed to lower the wages of working families and outsource our jobs. And it never stops trying to undermine our government’s efforts to clean up our planet and regulate cancer-causing pollutants.

ALEC’s donors include the Koch brothers, Charles and David, who rank fourth on the Forbes list of wealthiest Americans and who help fund an entire mob of anti-worker groups.

That’s why a broad coalition of concerned citizens and organizations named, “Don’t Mess With Texas, ALEC,” welcomed ALEC to Dallas this week by protesting its anti-democratic practices and demanding an end to the group’s pay-to-play operation.

The coalition held rallies that drew hundreds of people and panel discussions on the role of ALEC and how it subverts democracy. They emphasized how ALEC matches out-of-touch politicians with out-of-town businesses to write one-size-fits-all legislation that corrupts communities across America.

One thousand ALEC bills are introduced by lawmakers each year and approximately 20 percent become law.

Texas State Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor against Democrat Wendy Davis, and Joe Straus, the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, were among Texas politicians who attended the ALEC meeting. National figures included former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Make Organizing a Civil Right Fri, 01 Aug 2014 12:00:00 -0500 Standing up for workers’ rights to organize, U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and John Lewis of Georgia, on Wednesday, announced they are introducing a bill allowing workers to file civil litigation against employers who fire them for trying to organize a union.

“Labor rights really are civil rights,” said Representative Ellison at a Capitol Hill press conference. “And that is what we are here for.”

The National Labor Relations Act, which covers private-sector employees, has been weakened over the years by Congress and employers have taken advantage, Representative Lewis said. “This bill is a simple and clear response to continued problems, to remove the scarlet letter from current and former labor union members,” he said. “It provides stronger protections from workplace retaliation.”

The problem, said Representative Ellison, is that “nobody is scared to be anti-union,” a reference to employers who consider current federal penalties for firing workers for organizing simply the cost of doing business. “We need to create a stigma associated with being anti-union,” he said.

Through their bill, the Employee Empowerment Act, the lawmakers hope to create that stigma by allowing workers who are fired for organizing activities to seek punitive and compensatory damages and injunctive relief, and take other actions against an employer who retaliates against a worker for organizing.

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders applauded Representatives Ellison and Lewis for their efforts to make union organizing a fundamental civil right.

“The unfortunate reality is that discrimination in the workplace persists and employees are still wrongly fired or demoted for union activity while employers have ample resources to intimidate workers for organizing,” President Saunders said.

He added that the legislation “will enhance workplace protection by allowing victims to receive remedies, including back pay and damages….Workplace discrimination hurts all workers, and disproportionately hurts minorities and women.”

Among those who spoke at Wednesday’s press conference was Keyona Dandridge, a sandwich shop employee at the federally owned Union Station in Washington, DC, who was fired for her activism in support of a higher minimum wage.

“Firing workers for organizing is illegal but employers think they can get away with it,” Dandridge said. “But thanks to clergy and community people for protesting, I got my job back a few days later. People should not have to protest to protect their legal rights. That’s why I support making union organizing a civil right.”

Why the Anti-Union Argument Loses Every Time Wed, 30 Jul 2014 16:05:41 -0500 Opponents of labor unions were rubbing their hands gleefully earlier this summer when Justice Samuel Alito and his band of right-wing brothers ruled that home care workers in Illinois didn't have to pay "fair share" fees to support a union's work on their behalf.

In Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court made it more difficult for employees who work outside a traditional workplace to raise their voices collectively on economic issues that concern them all. They pointed to pending court cases that could eventually expand the ruling to undermine collective bargaining for all public employees, and not just those who work in private homes.

But we at AFSCME are not hanging our heads. Instead, energized members are helping us grow in the face of the raging anti-union storm.

Read the full article on the Huffington Post.

Record Attendance at Indiana-Kentucky Union Leadership Academy Fri, 25 Jul 2014 09:29:31 -0500 LOUISVILLE, Ky. — More than 48 union activists from locals throughout Indiana and Kentucky gathered earlier this summer to attend the Indiana-Kentucky Organizing Committee 962’s Local Union Leadership Academy (LULA).

Attendance was at a record high for the organizing committee, tripling from last year’s LULA. It is just one of the trainings and events held to rebuild the committee in the wake of the revocation of collective bargaining rights for Indiana state workers and Indiana’s “right-to-work-for-less” law, which led to declining membership.

Union activists learned how to create strategic plans for their locals, including membership development, forming relationships with allies, and engagement with the political process. They also learned more about union governance.

“It will really help me to mobilize my members,” said participant Stephanie Croft, a library worker at the Louisville Free Public Library and president of Local 3425. “I have some great ideas to take back to my local.”

Outsourcing Fight Involves Community Fri, 25 Jul 2014 09:21:00 -0500 SUPERIOR, Wis. – When the custodians and grounds crew at the University of Wisconsin-Superior received “at risk notices” alerting them their jobs would be outsourced to a private company, AFSCME Local 42 (Council 24) and the greater Superior community decided to fight back.

AFSCME members mobilized immediately to spread the word throughout the tightknit Superior community. They also partnered with their sisters and brothers from the American Federation of Teachers, the United Steelworkers, and the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. Within a couple weeks, an online petition to UWS officials generated nearly 3,000 signatures.

Tom Van Overmeiren, a custodian with 26 years on the job at UW-Superior, is encouraged by the level of community support they’ve received, but concerned about the precedent being set.

“After 26 years working at UW-Superior, I’m really upset the administration would treat people like me, making under $15 per hour, this way,” he said. “Outsourcing the custodians and grounds crew at UW-Superior will cause unnecessary harm not just to the university, but also to our community. They tell us we can be hired back, but without any benefits. Many of us have worked our entire careers to keep the university running, and I don’t think any of us expected to be treated this way.”

Van Overmeiren added that, “Since the news broke, we’ve received an incredible amount of support from our community. People from all over the area are rallying around our cause because they understand how outsourcing jobs like ours can hurt an entire community.”

In yet another important signal of support, during the first week of July, the Superior City Council passed an advisory resolution encouraging the university to find ways to balance the university’s budget without terminating the hardworking custodians and grounds crew at UWS.

Atlanta Bus Drivers Win Raises, Full-time Positions Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:11:41 -0500 ATLANTA – A year of activism paid off for Atlanta public school bus drivers and monitors, members of AFSCME Local 1644, with an agreement that provides for across-the-board raises and fair pay for a 2013 dispute. In addition, all part-time workers were transferred to permanent full-time employee status, giving them access to much needed benefits and retirement security.

The 2013 dispute was a result of Atlanta Public Schools (APS) withholding pay and/or time off when workers were called in early for training. In violation of their contract, the bus drivers and monitors were not paid for the five days they worked. After an agreement reached this month, all bus drivers and monitors will receive fair pay checks closing out the fiscal year in August.

Members also received a 5 percent pay increase, the first increase in seven years. The agreement to extend permanent full-time status to part-time bus drivers and monitors, some of whom were considered part-time since as early as 2007, means they now have access to benefits and retirement security. Local 1644 plans to implement safeguards to ensure workers aren't dragged along as part-time year after year.

Since last summer, Local 1644 marched on APS Headquarters, the home of Superintendent Erroll B. Davis and to bus yards, held labor-management meetings, helped elect Board of Education members who support them, and hosted political forums to air potential innovative solutions for APS officials and Board of Education members.

This month, Local 1644 sponsored a Town Hall for Common Sense and Strong Services at the Atlanta City Council Chambers, drawing panelists that included Ceasar Mitchell, president of the City Council; Board of Education members Eshe Collins, Jason Esteves and Steven Lee; and Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams. Other council and school board members attended, as well as 150 Local 1644 members.

At the Town Hall, Patience Taylor, who's been a bus driver for seven years, said, "We're getting treated with more respect than ever before and it's because we demanded it. We care so much about Atlanta's kids and now we're able to do our jobs without some unnecessary stressors. This is the beginning of a new era in Atlanta and the only place to go is up."

Iowa Member Is a Hall of Famer Thu, 24 Jul 2014 16:51:11 -0500 Phyllis Thede, a member of AFSCME Iowa Council 61, will be inducted Aug. 1. into the Iowa African American Hall of Fame for her efforts as a state legislator and member of Iowa’s Human Rights Board.

The Iowa African American Hall of Fame (IAAHF), housed in Iowa State University's Black Cultural Center, “recognizes the outstanding achievements of African Americans who have enhanced the quality of life for all.”

Thede said being inducted into the Iowa African American Hall of Fame is “overwhelming.”

Thede is an attendance secretary at Williams Intermediate School, located in Davenport. She is also an active member of AFSCME Local 751, serving in past years as local president, vice president, contract negotiator and grievance chair.

Thede also is one of four African Americans serving as a member of the Iowa House of Representatives. First elected in 2008 to represent the Bettendorf/Davenport area, she is currently running for her fourth term. Thede is a member of the Iowa House Appropriations Committee, an important panel responsible for all expenditures in the state budget. She is also ranking member of the Ethics Committee and sits on the Government Oversight Committee, the Local Government Committee and the Natural Resources Committee.

As a legislative representative on Iowa’s Human Rights Board, Thede says she endeavored to “help people of diverse groups to be successful in their communities, whether African American or Indian or Asian.”

Thede says she hopes her induction will serve as encouragement to young people across Iowa and people of diverse backgrounds. “If one of us wins something like this, it serves as a message to all young people that they can be successful as well,” she said.

“Phyllis Thede is an inspiration to her AFSCME sisters and brothers,” said Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61, and an AFSCME International vice president. “She is a strong voice for all of her constituents. She has championed treating everyone with dignity and respect. Her work has made Iowa a better place to live, work and raise a family.”